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


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

- Taylor