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February Links

Welcome to my blog! Astute readers will notice that it's not February. In lieu of a generic welcome post, I've chosen to repost something I sent out to some friends a month ago. If you like it, subscribe for more!

I didn't completely agree with this piece on what a Carribean think tank should focus on, but I thought it was insightful (and I learned a lot!). I didn't realize that four Nobel laureates came from the Carribean, or that:

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew looked to Jamaica as an early model good governance for small states.

I agree with the author that the Caribbean has, somehow, shot itself in the foot. As the author points out, the Caribbean is blessed with the natural resource of beautiful land, but fails to convert the dollars from the resulting tourism into services for its citizens. It is expensive, difficult to visit, and not a very nice place to live.

Here's my pet political take. Several countries in the Caribbean are blessed with strong legal systems (because of British rule) and proximity to the US. I suspect a charter city with generous immigration policy, a functioning port, regular flights to Miami and good internet would bring in a huge amount of talent and businesses that want access to the US market but can't live there because of restrictive immigration policy. (In effect, this is what Hong Kong and Singapore did – in fact, such a city that appealed to Asian immigrants would have a huge impact.) Why doesn't this city exist? Shouldn't it?

I enjoyed this conversation between Patrick Collison and Reid Hoffman. It's largely about Stripe is handling 'this macro environment', but I include it because I found this quote hilarious:

I, as a teenager, was really into programming languages and Lisp and all this kind of crazy stuff, but at least sort of aspired to being some kind of technologist. John was always super interested in business.It was early in Stripe’s history, and I pitched John on, “Well we should just make Stripe free because we’d grow much faster.” And John’s like, “Interesting. Can you explain the business model embodied in that, to me?” And, I didn’t really have one.

You may or may not have seen this Less Wrong post on the childhoods of exceptional people. You may or may not agree with the methodology, but at the very least it highlights how being raised amongst adults and tutored one-on-one might not actually be the worst thing for a child.

(On a related note, one of the coolest things I've heard about this month is Fusion Academy, which basically operates as school through one-on-one tutoring with a common space attached for kids to hang out in when they're not in class. As a result, you get a lot of freedom-you can take week-long breaks as needed, and you can study and move forward at your own pace. It's very expensive – on par with New York private schooling – but I think it would be cool if this educational model was accessible to all children who wanted it. Maybe AI can get us there?)

This piece is written by a 22-year-old Oxford graduate who apparently decided to move to Taliban-controlled Kabul as a foreign correspondent after graduating. I have done some crazy things, but even I am nowhere near that crazy. It is an interesting portrait. There are a few zingers, like:

“Nobody is going to hurt us, dude,” he said, curling his lips into a smile. “We’re not in San Francisco.”

But for the most part, he portrays life in Kabul as fairly mundane. Former suicide bombers put down their vests and now approve forms in office; Michelle Obama's Becoming features in book stores. People still worry about suicide bombs, but the bogeyman now is the Islamic State.

If you are a fan of home espresso machines, you will enjoy this piece on the history of home coffee machines. Spoiler: Decent Coffee is the pinnacle of modern home coffee technology.  

I've started to hear the phrase the 'professional managerial class' (or PMC) a lot. If you haven't heard this, think of the sort of job a McKinsey consultant grows up to hold. I enjoyed Marc Andreesen's take on the topic (in a podcast with Dwarkesh Patel), which was that the PMC is what you get in capitalist development after the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois capitalist owns and controls his business; in late-stage capitalism companies are owned by dispersed shareholders but managed by the professional managerial class.

The reason he's thought about this is because it's relevant to how startups scale:

When the companies we fund get to scale, they tend to get pulled into the managerial orbits, they tend to get pulled into the managerial matrix, which by the way, is when they stop being able to build new things, which is what causes the smart and aggressive people at those companies to leave and then come back to us and raise money and start a new bourgeois capitalist company.

My friend Sheon wrote a fun piece for Wired, making the Case for Software Criticism. I went in expecting to argue back that software is fundamentally boring and there's not much to say about it, but he was way ahead of me:

A software critic may begin with some requisite cultural history on the labor of writing, but then also provide a bit of technical (and even geeky) history-cum-explainer on how the operational transformation (OT) technology of Google Docs paved the way for real-time collaboration tools in other fields, such as Figma for design or Colab for programming. And how the research in conflict-free replicated data type (CRDT) could make this mode of working a default mode of collaboration in the future. And what that means culturally and sociologically.

If you're a certain type of nerd (and I am), that is pretty interesting. In the end, I left thinking that it's in fact a battle cry for more people to do a certain type of analysis that combines art history with engineering knowledge. If you're capable of placing a Renault in its social and historical context, maybe you should instead be placing modern consumer software in its social and historical context. (In fact, two writers I enjoy reading most – Matt Levine and Bryne Hobart – arguably appeal to me because they deeply analyze the social and historical context of major businesses). And maybe our schools and humanities system should value this the way they value art history.