4 min read

April Links

April Links

One day I will own a home and tile my bathroom in aperiodic monotiles.

My friend Nolen is making a video game ~once a week. His games are fun, and his blog posts are awesome – not just as reflections on working, but on transitioning to self-directed work after years in finance. I recommend them!

While I'm plugging things, I wrote a GPT-based app that answers questions in using content from Marginal Revolution. Give it a spin and let me know if it breaks! It gives particularly good travel advice for exotic locations.

This person made an LLM fine-tuned on messages with his friends in a group chat. This is awesome, and I’d like to try it one day.

I find Nadia Asparouhova’s posts generally very good. Her most recent article is on talent distribution, in which she claims there are three distributions: normal, Pareto, and bimodal.

Most conventional jobs, like manufacturing, are normal — companies want to standardize quality as much as possible. Pareto companies are ones where prestige and conscientiousness are good signals of success. They’re the ones elite school students go to — consulting, big tech, investment banking. And bimodal companies are centered around extremely weird, ‘creative’ people. They end up with antisocial, creative geniuses who form supporting pods around that genius. Apple under Steve Jobs and fashion design houses are examples.

The most interesting insight I got out of this was that Big Tech is now Pareto-distributed but was originally more bimodal. Many of the things I think of as 'hacker-y' are a result of that bimodal influence, and I think this helps explain why Big Tech pays lip service to hacker culture without actually integrating it into its culture. (Specifically, this is because technical innovation requires creative people, operational excellence in sales/distribution requires Pareto people, and most tech companies nowadays are not technically innovative.)

I appreciated this piece about how Bryne Hobart made his career after dropping out of college. Given how influential he is nowadays, it’s pretty interesting that he didn’t go the conventional high-prestige route (by contrast to Matt Levine, who defines prestige!)

In more experimental-school writing, I liked this post on a family’s unlikely homeschooling journey. They did remote school the right way:

- Each child could work at their own pace, largely through playing educational games and apps that adapted to where they were. There was no particular endpoint that the kids needed to get to at the end of the semester.
- Group video calls were limited in size to no more than 6 kids (and often smaller), so kids got lots of personal interaction with their tutors and each other. Even as an adult, I find video calls larger than 6 people overwhelming.
- Regular movement breaks, where the kids had jumping jack competitions, did Cosmic Kids yoga videos, held dance parties, and ran around the house for scavenger hunts.
- Took advantage of existing materials: the program did not reinvent the wheel but instead made use of excellent, existing online videos and educational apps.

This is what remote school should have been! The tragedy of Zoom School is that we took all the worst parts of school and combined them with the worst parts of video calls.

Here is another piece on Living near your friends. This is very useful because it offers a straightforward list of tips:

  • Tip #1: Host events regularly.
  • Tip #2: Enable short-term stays - specifically, offer your friends a one-month sublet.
  • Tip #3: Help your friends get leases
  • Tip #4: Do roommate matchmaking

I appreciated this Crimson article on tensions at Harvard between the descendants of enslaved people and the children of well-educated African immigrants.

The complexities of immigration are often far more nuanced than people notice, and I find the history underlying waves of immigration to the US fascinating. At the elite college where I went to school, I noticed a similar pattern with Chinese Americans – most of those classmates were second-generation immigrants from well-educated Chinese or Taiwanese families, and almost none were third much less fourth, fifth, or sixth generation Chinese immigrants. In educational outcomes, it is useful to distinguish the effects of class from race.

I have half-joked that I will write the history of medium-frequency quantitative trading when I am retired and post-scarcity. I find the relationship between SIG and its spin-offs (and its spin-offs’ spin-offs) fascinating. So I was happy to find this 2007 article, which is an excellent profile of Jeff Yass. One of the crazier stories includes:

Once, Yass offered his golf caddie a ridiculous amount of money (company lore has it at one million bucks) if said caddie could make a hole-in-one. Yass clearly decided, a long time ago, that he was going to have fun getting rich — and then more fun spending his dough.

An interesting piece of trivia about Yass is that he didn’t come from the reputationally concerned New York elite. Prop trading, like investment banking, is now the thing that upper-middle-class Ivy League math grads do for a guaranteed ticket into generational wealth. But Yass and his friends were crass and not naturally ‘finance’ people. Were they part of that bimodal talent distribution? [edit: A friend points out that Yass was Jewish during the era of quota discrimination – the article highlights that he went to SUNY Binghamton, but he probably would have gone to a very different school today.]

I’ve been trying to take this piece on rest in motion to heart. A strange thing I’ve realized is that my rest is better when my life is busy. I found it difficult to feel good about my downtime when my life was idle. But now I’m busy and enjoy the non-work times much more.

Advertisements and media often push the narrative that the purpose of all our toil is to win a chance at relaxation. We’re supposed to work hard at boring jobs in order to earn our vacations. We’re supposed to work hard for decades so that we can retire. (We’re supposed to conceive of heaven as a place where nobody does anything except lounge on clouds.) I call bullshit. For almost everybody, inaction is boring. That’s why we pick up books, go exploring, and take up hobbies. The ground state is an active state, not a passive one.

And yet, most people have this model of the world where whenever they’re not resting, they’re taking damage. When the homework isn’t done, they’re taking damage. When they’re reading a textbook, they’re taking damage. When they go to sleep with work unfinished, they’re taking damage. When they’re at a large social event, they’re taking damage. Some part of them yearns to be in the rest state, where they don’t need to do all these things, and insofar as they aren’t, they’re suffering a little.