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