Tangential Tuesday #56

Cricket philosophy, 2019 Reflections, American Dream, Test Hacking, Stillness...

Hello, welcome to this week’s newsletter.

Life has felt a bit hectic since jumping back into work mid-week last week and with the holidays quickly approaching. Definitely feel like I’ve been surviving a bit more than thriving lately… let’s get into it 😃


I published 2 articles this week. 2019 Reflections and Bourbon infrastructure, Cereal, Engineering as an abstraction (a fun piece mostly taken from last week’s newsletter).

They are more journal entries than insightful articles so, to be honest, they might not be particularly interesting for y’all 🤷‍♂️.


Stillness is the key

Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite authors. Conspiracy was one of my favorite books of 2019. But I’ve been a bit disappointed thus far.

It’s not that the book isn’t well written with logically constructed arguments. It absolutely is - and I love some of the examples Ryan uses.

The main let down for me is that I (along with most people reading this book) are already convinced of the thesis. Stillness is key for clear thinking, good decision making, happiness, the list goes on. I have absolutely felt this to be true in my own life.

But the more interesting aspect is how we can achieve this in the modern world. Especially those of us that work in front of a computer all day, being constantly bombarded with slack pings.

I few tactics I’ve experimented with:

  • Not bringing my phone to work

  • SelfControl

  • Not putting my work email/slack on my phone

But honestly… I still find it really hard and could do a lot better…


Opportunity Atlas

“Which neighborhoods in America offer children the best chance to rise out of poverty?”

That’s the question this map tries to answer. Now I’ll admit I haven’t taken the time to understand all of the methodologies behind the study, but it’s fascinating. And the granularity of the map is insane.

A few observations:

  • North Dakota is WAY better than I would have expected (and the mid-west in general).

  • Major cities (SF, NYC, etc) are not as good as expected. I suspect this is because there is a mass exodus from cities as wealthy professionals get married and have kids.

  • The entire southeast is significantly worse off than I would expect.

See the map here.


🏫 The Lesson To Unlearn

It appears Paul Graham is back to writing regularly.

If tests truly were tests of learning, things wouldn't be so bad. Getting good grades and learning would converge, just a little late. The problem is that nearly all tests given to students are terribly hackable. Most people who've gotten good grades know this, and know it so well they've ceased even to question it. You'll see when you realize how naive it sounds to act otherwise.

I suspect most of us have felt this at one point or another. It’s a major reason why grad school had absolutely no appeal after finishing my undergrad.

But now I realize how naive that was. Working at a company is hackable to a certain extent as well. In different ways, and maybe less egregiously, but hackable nonetheless.

I suspect this is why me and so many others that came into computer science from less traditional routes have been so successful. I never learned computer science by hacking tests. It was pretty obvious that the only reason a company would give me a chance was if I built an absurd amount of projects.

I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m “above” hacking tests. Quite the opposite. I hacked my Chemical Engineering degree to death 😬. And it’s hard to blame students for this. They are simply acting on the incentives laid out for them.

you can't blame teachers if their tests are hackable. Their job is to teach, not to create unhackable tests. The real problem is grades, or more precisely, that grades have been overloaded. If grades were merely a way for teachers to tell students what they were doing right and wrong, like a coach giving advice to an athlete, students wouldn't be tempted to hack tests.

This essay also helped me clarify why I think I will join a fairly early-stage startup when I choose to leave Thumbtack.

I believe startups are pretty close to unhackable. The default is to fail. It’s usually pretty obvious if you’re providing real value or not.

Read the article here.


🤔 The ethics of walking in cricket: from Socrates to Nietzsche

It’s hard to say exactly why… but I love this article.

I love how unique the ethical dilemma is to the game of cricket. Culturally it’s hard to imagine something like this existing in an American sport. If an umpire in baseball made the wrong call in favor of your team.. you would absolutely never correct them.

There are plenty of opportunities for cheating in other sports and you can choose to reject them. Nudging your ball so it lies a little easier in the rough. Feigning assassination in the 18-yard box to win a penalty, then adding a flamboyant roll and clutching the face for the bonus of a sending-off. Calling “out” when your opponent’s backhand hits the line. But walking is different. It isn’t cheating to stand your ground. There is nothing in the laws of cricket that says you can’t wait for the umpire to make a decision.

Nietzsche says we all have to forge our own morality. In this view there is nothing to stop the strong and the brave trampling over the weak and the dim. Nietzsche would not have walked.

Epicurus would have been most concerned about the mental consequences of not walking – the guilt, the anxiety, the fear of a confrontation with that angry bowler after the game. He probably would have walked and advised you to do the same.

Read the article here.


⚔️ Steelmanning Censorship: An Argument for the Removal of Content

Culturally speaking, America is intensely heterogeneous. Sizable portions of the population have wildly diverging ideas about foundational issues, about how society is, and about how society should be. 46% of the country believes the Earth is under 10,000 years old, and I’ve lived in 3 major cities in 3 states across 2 coasts over 14 years and never met a single one of them. Google says that works out to 30 million people living in greater metropolitan areas around me, 10% of America, and — just like Scott in that link — I couldn’t find any overlap with the young-earth folks? Talk about a bubble.

6 months of left-wing videos (turquoise) is all it took to turn Caleb Cain from a radical alt-right figure into a left-wing progressive, which you should primarily take as terrifying evidence that a small group of people are incredibly easily swayed by persuasive video content and have abnormally low “ideological inertia” — remember how he became “radicalized” in the first place? No matter where you live, I firmly believe your average friend could watch 500 alt-right videos and not become a Nazi-lite.

Read the article here.


More to check out

Embedded Fintech: Part 1 & Part 2

How to Feel Nothing Now, in Order to Feel More Later

How Chinese Sci-Fi Conquered America


😮😃🙌❄️❄️🏂🎿


Thanks for reading.

- Taylor

Tangential Tuesday #55

Bourbon, CRISPR, Personal Brand, $ for babies

Hi - Happy Tuesday 🎉. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll likely be on a plane back to San Francisco.

I’ve been in Brandenburg Kentucky for the past few days visiting my grandma and spending some time with family. It’s been a much-needed period of slowing down. But I’m excited to get back 😃.


Bourbon.

I took a tour of Bardstown Bourbon Company while in Kentucky. The bourbon was great. And the tour reminded me that I do actually love thinking about engineering problems in the real-world (and not just on a computer).

The most interesting part, however, was the business model. In just 3 years they’ve become the 7th largest bourbon distillery in the world. That’s insane. Jim beam was started over 200 years ago. Most famous distilleries were started at least 100 years ago.

How?

They changed the game with a completely different business model.

Other bourbon companies work with Bardstown Bourbon Company to manufacture bourbon in their name. The company has complete creative control over the:

  • Mash bill (mix of grains used to make the whiskey)

  • Type of barrel the whiskey is aged in

  • Temperature of various steps in the process

  • Over 500+ parameters in the process that impact the flavor.

This brings me to the other genius part of the business model. As soon as the whiskey is barreled, it becomes the property of the bourbon company Bardstown Bourbon Co is working with.

To add some context: It takes ~72 hours to go from the start of the process —> barrel. Most whiskey is then aged in the barrel for 6-15 years (!). This is what typically makes it so difficult to start a whiskey distillery. You have to purchase millions of dollars worth of equipment, and you cannot even start to recoup this money until ~6 years have passed.

But because Bardstown Bourbon Company is selling barrels, they can start to recoup money almost immediately. Genius.

They’re essentially the AWS equivalent for bourbon. Bardstown can hire the best bourbon process engineers in the world to design a flexible, maintainable, and effective whiskey production process. And both them and everyone they work with benefits.

Companies working with them can focus on the more creative aspects: Branding, and crafting a unique recipe / flavor profile. Meanwhile, Bardstown handles the engineering challenges to keep the flavor consistent and help companies scale.

A few fun facts about bourbon:

  • Must be at least 51% corn

  • Rye gives spicier flavors, wheat is sweeter.

  • Can't be barreled at anything higher than 120 proof

  • Must use new charred oak barrels for the aging process.

  • A LOT of the flavor comes from the aging (we tried distillate and it was not pleasant to drink 😊)

  • All bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon


CRISPR

If you’ve never heard of CRISPR, it’s the latest advancement in gene-editing technology. It stands for Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats.

I decided to dig into the tech a bit this week and learn more. I’m extremely happy I did. This stuff is seriously exciting (!) and I think it will make you (cautiously) optimistic about the future.

A quick overview: CRISPR is an enzyme that acts as a really tiny pair of scissors that can be “programmed” to find a gene, snip it, and then replace it with another gene.

The technology is still in its infancy and has a lot of challenges that need to be solved.

A few things that make me particularly excited:

  • Anyone can start using this technology in their garage today with some fairly standard equipment and about $150.

  • It’s already being used in some clinical trials for HIV/AIDS treatment

  • We haven’t found an organism that CRISPR doesn’t work for yet

A few WiLD potential use cases:

  • Solve the organ donor problem by making pig organs compatible with humans

  • Correct the genetic errors responsible for sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis (and more)

  • Smarter, more beautiful humans 🤓 (arguably questionable ethically…)

Best resources I’ve found if you want to learn more:

I’m hoping to play around with the technology myself in the coming months so… stay tuned for that. I have a ton more digging and learning I want to do related to CRISPR. If you have any related resources, please send them my way 😃🤓.

Learn more here.


👨‍💻Personal Brand as Moat, Personal Brand as Soft Landing

It’s important to remember that consistency is the key component of a strong brand, not excellence. As Housel notes in his piece, it’s entirely possible to build a great brand on a subpar experience — take McDonald burgers, for instance, which are consistent regardless of whether you eat them in Vienna or Vietnam.

It is for this reason that I am suspicious of people who have huge personal brands in their 20s and 30s, without the rare and valuable skills needed to justify them. My reasoning for this is that I look at people in their 40s and 50s today and find that very few of them built their brands in their 30s; nearly all of them spent that time building a rare and valuable combination of skills.

Read the article here.


Hungary government scheme sparks marriage boom. Will babies follow?

A big new scheme this year offers couples that marry before the bride’s 41st birthday subsidized loans of up to 10 million forints ($33,000). A third of the loan will be forgiven if they go on to have two children, and the entire debt wiped out if they have three.

The central statistics office (KSH) said there had already been a 20% surge in the number of people getting married during the first nine months of this year. The number of weddings recorded was the highest over that period since 1990.

Read the article here.


More to Check Out


Personal

FAR from perfect… but progress 🙂

  • Missed my first flight ever 😂🙈

  • Sooo is much happening

  • Excited for ski season


Thanks for being here.

- Tay

Tangential Tuesday #54

Egyptian squash dynasty, spaghetti carbonara day, early facebook...

👋Happy (early) Thanksgiving y’all. I’m flying to Kentucky tomorrow to spend some time with family 😃. Safe travels to everyone traveling over the holidays.


🦃 Calvin Trillin's Thanksgiving Campaign: Spaghetti Carbonara

“It does not require much historical research to uncover the fact that nobody knows if the Pilgrims really ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving dinner,”

“The only thing we know for sure about what the Pilgrims ate is that it couldn’t have tasted very good.”

This is a legendary reading of Calvin Trillin’s classic piece of Thanksgiving satire. It’s become a bit of a ritual for me to listen to this every year. Take the 10 minutes to listen. I think it will make your day better.

Listen to Calvin here.


🇪🇬 Egyptian Squash Domination.

El Tayeb and fellow professionals are not chasing riches, at least by the standards of more popular professional sports. The average professional squash player earns about $100,000 a year, and the top player earned about $280,000 in all of 2018, according to the website Improve Squash. That’s roughly what tennis players earned for reaching the round of 16 at the United States Open in 2019.


But squash has plenty of social capital, and it is often a path to a spot at a top American university or prep school. There are four Egyptian players at Harvard. Behind many of the best young players in Egypt are parents hoping their children will get the finest education.

This is a fascinating look into how fast a country can rise to the top of a sport. And I think a lot of the lessons apply more broadly to how a city or country can become world-class at anything.

In particular, I love the idea that what kids want to be when they grow up (and most adults) has very little to do with how much money you make, but rather who you idolize.

There’s a saying that the kids growing up in the U.S today want to be YouTubers and kids growing up in China want to be astronauts. Some people might find this depressing. But honestly what has NASA done in the past 10 years to get kids excited about space? YouTubers, on the other hand, engage with these kids on a weekly or even daily basis and show them what it looks like to push the bounds of creative output.

It helped Egyptian squash that as it rose, rivals declined, in part because children in other countries where squash is popular, like Britain, had more options.

I love this quote. To be great at something, you have to give up a certain amount of optionality. San Francisco is often criticized for being a tech monoculture. But maybe it is such a special place because of this monoculture rather than in spite of it.

Read the article here.


🚌 The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius

This Paul Graham essay will be in everyone’s newsletter this week… but I love it so I’m including it anyway 🤷‍♂️.

Everyone knows that to do great work you need both natural ability and determination. But there's a third ingredient that's not as well understood: an obsessive interest in a particular topic.

Which leads us to the second feature of this kind of obsession: there is no point. A bus ticket collector's love is disinterested. They're not doing it to impress us or to make themselves rich, but for its own sake.

In a way, this post captures a huge reason why I started this newsletter. To create a habit for exploring my curiosity each week.

When I think of some of my favorite moments over the past few years, many of them have come from exploring a random curiosity. Mushroom foraging, backcountry skiing, freelancing for a crypto company, brewing beer in a dorm room, unicycling, curing meat, learning to code… The list goes on. In some cases, there is a theme that ties these interests together (I like food). But in many cases, they are totally random.

Although I do these things for fun, I also consciously make decisions that allow me to pursue these curiosities. Any good ideas I come up with in the future will probably be some weird combination of these disparate interests.

But there are some heuristics you can use to guess whether an obsession might be one that matters. For example, it's more promising if you're creating something, rather than just consuming something someone else creates. It's more promising if something you're interested in is difficult, especially if it's more difficult for other people than it is for you. And the obsessions of talented people are more likely to be promising. When talented people become interested in random things, they're not truly random.

Read the article here.


2005 Facebook Interview (h/t @jeremy_p_batch)

This is a hilarious look back at what it was like to work at Facebook in 2005. There are so many gems in this interview series, including Dustin Moskowitz doing a keg stand..

I highly recommend watching both for entertainment and a refreshingly unfiltered look at the early days of Facebook.


Tweet of the week


More to check out


Personal

  • Hosted Friendsgiving over the weekend. It was a blast. Always thankful for good food & great people.

  • Still journaling… 😊

  • Booked my flight to Italy over Xmas 😮

  • Posture 📈

  • Took home some hardware @ the 1st annual Thumbtack pie baking competition 🤣


Thanks for reading. Super thankful that I get the pleasure of writing to all of you people each week.

- Taylor

Tangential Tuesday 53: Status, Drugs, CEO DJ..

Writing this from NYC 🏙️. Feeling super lucky that this trip came together 🤞.


Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution

This article is FASCINATING. It reminds me in some ways of Eugene Wei’s Status as a Service (which by the way is still the blog post that has influenced my thinking the most in 2019).

Geeks welcome mops, at first at least. It’s the mass of mops who turn a scene into a subculture. Creation is always at least partly an act of generosity; creators want as many people to use and enjoy their creations as possible. It’s also good for the ego; it confirms that the New Thing really is exciting, and not just a geek obsession. Further, some money can usually be extracted from mops—just enough, at this stage, that some creators can quit their day jobs and go pro.

Read the article here.


Status Update, and How Everyone IPO'd in the 21st Century

Speaking of Eugene Wei - he recently published status updates. It’s not nearly as mind-blowing as StaaS, but it’s much shorter and still pretty good.

Billions of humans IPO'd, whether we were ready for it or not, explaining why the concept of a personal "brand" became such a pervasive metaphor.

Just as the SEC regulates what public companies say, social norms regulate what a person can say on social media. PR training today begins for all of us once we get our hands on our first smartphone. It's little surprise that just as many companies now stay private for longer, many people have retreated to private messaging groups, taking their thoughts back into the shadows, while those who stay public learn to code messages in memes or language so opaque and Straussian that even political dissidents would be impressed.

Read the article here.


🎹 DJ D-Sol (CEO of Goldman)

Shout-out to The Profile for this excellent article.

“You know what, it’s who I am, and nobody would tell me not to play golf,” Solomon says now. “And why shouldn’t I—because I’m a CEO?”

If you need someone to tell you you did a good job, Lemkau advised a colleague, “Go hire somebody to do that for you.”

I don’t follow finance companies very closely - so I found this profile of the Goldman Sachs CEO particularly interesting.

One related topic I’ve been thinking about and talking to friends about is: “How much of the finance industry is crony capitalism?”

In tech/silicon valley, there is a tendency to bucket almost all of finance as something that is zero-sum, and not creating much value in the world.

And honestly, this view might be correct. There certainly appears to be a lot of bullshit. But the problem is, I don’t think any of these people (myself included) know enough to say what parts of our financial system actually provide value, and which don’t. Most people don’t even understand how options work. So when people tell me they think the financial industry full of crony capitalism, it’s hard for me to believe they are thinking for themselves rather than just repeating the beliefs of those around them…

</tangent>

Read the article here.


🤑 How a $29 Marketing Scam Turned Into a Master Class on Behavioral Economics

My friend Kushaan published this hilarious (but also so real) article this week.

I’ve easily spent more money in 2019 than any other year of my life. Of course, a lot of that is not because my consumption magically skyrocketed, but rather because my parents no longer help support me financially.

But the point is I’ve been making a lot of purchases. Some of them and necessary. But some of them almost certainly not. This article does a great job of capturing the art of convincing people to buy stuff they don’t need.

Then, I looked at their reviews. 107 reviews. Five stars across the board. I tried to submit a negative review of my own to no avail — only positive reviews allowed by the burrito blanket overlords. I traversed the constant urgency — 48 hour flash sale. Even though, I had bought it months ago, the site today still holds a flash sale. What gives!?

Read the article here.


💊 How to Buy Drugs

I love reading true stories of random subcultures I know nothing about. The internet is crazy…

a student at Manchester University, needed to buy some MDMA for the weekend’s big party. So he did what he had been doing for the last two years: he opened up the Tor browser to get on to the dark web, and typed in the address for Dream Market, the world’s biggest and most dependable source of illegal drugs. Nothing happened.

The early mainstream(ish) use cases of the internet have become known as the 3Ps, Porn, Pills, and Poker.

And for whatever reason, these use-cases seem to come up again when we experiment with new platforms. Buying drugs (pills) was the 1st massive use case of cryptocurrency.

And AR/VR seems to be experimenting with both poker and porn…

Read the article here.


✏️ 3 Minute Journal

My friend Valentin showed me this super quick journal template he created with notion. I’ve only been using it for a week, but I’ve really been enjoying it.

Having prompts and a template removes all the friction from daily journaling. In particular - I love the “Short story of a moment today:” prompt.


Personal

Enjoying (hopefully will learn one day™):

Starting to learn:

  • I went to see Andrew Evans perform some magic 🧙‍♂️. It was… magical. I’m sensing a magic obsession coming.

  • Going to a Jeremy Zucker concert on Wednesday (!!!)

  • New York City is amazing.

  • Feeling inspired. We talked to an Electrician today where Thumbtack played a crucial part in helping him get his business off the ground 😍.


Thanks for reading,

Tay

Tangential Tuesdays #52

Falafel, Book notes, masculinity, gmail, polyamory, 4-day work weeks

Hi 👋 - hope your week has been good. Consider this your monthly reminder that we are closing in on the end of a decade 😮. Let’s get into it.


📖 Book Notes

I found myself going over some of my book notes/kindle highlights this weekend. Here are a few favorites:

“We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad” - Understanding Media. Published in 1964 but truer today than ever!

“Movies in America have not developed advertising intervals simply because the movie itself is the greatest of all forms of advertisement for consumer goods.” - Understanding Media.

“But wisdom, in one sense, is the opposite of love. Love survives in us precisely because it isn’t wise.” - Shantaram

“In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the twenty-first century censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information.” - Homo Deus. This quote is wild, and extremely relevant for understanding the current political climate.

“Education isn’t just about learning; it’s largely about getting graded, ranked, and credentialed, stamped for the approval of employers. Religion isn’t just about private belief in God or the afterlife, but about conspicuous public professions of belief that help bind groups together” - The Elephant in the Brain


🤷‍♂️ Man Enough

I found this web series (which also links to a bunch of interesting articles) through The Grand Session.

In the age of #MeToo - I find it hard to know who I should look up to as a man. How should I express my masculinity? I don’t have any answers, but I enjoyed these videos.

Watch here.


✉️ 1% better @ Gmail

There’s no article here - I think you mostly have to experiment on your own - but I’ve invested a bit of time over the past month to better organize my email.

As you can tell - I’m far from inbox 0. At least the way I use email, trying to get anywhere close to inbox 0 feels like a waste of time.

BUT I’ve started heavily using 1. Automatic filters, 2. Lables, and 3. Multiple inboxes. It’s dramatically improved the usefulness of email for me.

Here’s a quick shot of how my email is organized:

Most of us get a lot of emails. We probably spend at least 20 minutes on email (many of us much more) every single day. It’s worth spending an hour researching and organizing to get just a little bit better 😃


💜 Polyamory Is Growing - And We Need To Get Serious About It

I think this article is flawed in a lot of ways. I should also mention that I have 0 interest in “Polyamory” at the moment (trying to manage 1 intimate relationship seems hard enough!).

That said - it makes some interesting arguments. Especially since monogamy is something that we mostly just inherit from societal norms rather than thinking for ourselves.

“I’ve argued that a lot of human behavior is driven (unconsciously) by mating effort—the drive to show off our mental traits and moral virtues to attract sexual partners. These are costly signals, and we only bother to display them when they can yield mating payoffs. Monogamous exclusivity reduces those incentives. As mating effort gives way to parenting effort, traditional married couples often get lazy about their intellectual, social, and political lives. By contrast, open relationships incentivize people to stay healthy, fit, creative, and funny, because they’re always in the mating market.”

Read the article here.


🔨 4-Day Workweek Boosted Workers' Productivity By 40%

This article seemed to be everywhere this week. Probably because everyone wants to work less.

My thoughts:

First, let me say that I have no idea whether a 4-day work week would be a good experiment for more companies in the U.S to try.

There are many ways to skin a cat. China has become famous for the 996 schedule (9am-9pm, 6 days a week). China’s economy has been growing at an absurd rate over the last decade. Does that mean we should copy them?

Almost certainly not. Trying to beat China at their own game seems like a recipe for disaster. I think the same can probably be said for reading this article and assuming a 4-day work week is the way to go.

That said, the 40-hour work week is largely a remnant of the industrial age and should be reconsidered and experimented more than it currently is.

I generally believe that:

  • Almost everyone that started a great company worked insanely hard and well over 40-hours per week at the beginning

  • There is a lot of bull-shit and non-working time at most companies. Some of this is inevitable, but a large portion could be avoided.

More broadly - the real problem is less to do with how many days a week we work, and more to do with the fact that we even rely on an employer to set our work schedule in the 1st place. I hope that we will see a mass decentralization and increase of freelancers in the next decade, freeing people to work when and how they want.

Read the article here.


More to check out

- Asking a Stranger to go on a Date across the World!

- ByteDance / TikTok launch a phone

- Products I’m Enjoying: Gantri, Twice, Weighted Blanket, Block Shop Textiles


Personal

I’m headed to NYC next week for work. Won’t have much downtime, but let me know if you are in the city and want to meet up! Recommendations are always appreciated 😊

Falafel, Ethereally smooth hummus, Israeli salad, Banana Bread 😍

Cool x-rays of my spine. The green line is healthy. Red line is me 😬. Time to fix…


Thanks for reading! If you read anything interesting this week please send it my way.

- Tay

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