More Fun stuff, 23/08/18

I really like everything in this post: so much super fun stuff! (I genuinely want to-re-read almost all of it.) There are a decent amount of long reads in here: recommend that you save them to Instapaper/Pocket and not try get through all at once. You might also find a pattern in these links that might or might not be related to my mental state :P.

Casually Explained: How to Read the Stock Market
If you haven’t heard of Casually Explained, have you really lived life? Not a particularly funny one, but worth it for the joke at 1:53. Brian, check this out!

The Japanese Ghost Characters Haunting Unicode
“In 1978 Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry established the encoding that would later be known as JIS X 0208, which still serves as an important reference for all Japanese encodings. However, after the JIS standard was released people noticed something strange – several of the added characters had no obvious sources, and nobody could tell what they meant or how they should be pronounced. Nobody was sure where they came from. These are what came to be known as the ghost characters”

Modern Love: Taking Marriage Class at Guantánamo
“Even so, talking about women was our favorite topic. Not in a bad way; as Muslims we are forbidden to talk about women in a bad way. But we talked about women because it relaxed us. When someone would tell a story about a woman, we all would listen. While being surrounded by men we imagined loving women.”

This is Your Life in Silicon Valley
”You are the director of business development at your start-up. You aren’t even sure what that means, but the start-up seems to be doing well. Your company recently raised a round and was featured in TechCrunch. You have 5,000 stock options. You aren’t exactly sure what that means, but that must be good. If you exit, maybe that will mean money toward a down payment. Your day starts at Salesforce. You have to e-mail a bunch of people. You briefly contemplate a business idea you have that will totally kill Salesforce and Facebook at the same time. But you need a technical cofounder. Eventually, you’ll get to it — after all, you’re smart and destined for greatness yourself. And your friends all tell you how you should start something someday. Your 27-year-old CEO calls an ad-hoc all-hands meeting and regales about company culture and how your mission is to “kill e-mail because it’s broken.” He wants to make every enterprise company in the world switches to your product. He’s never worked for an enterprise company or any other company at all.”

This set of satirical pieces is absolutely fucking hilarious. But also terrifying at the same time, in part because this stuff seems to be so heavily grounded in reality. And if I haven’t plugged the HBO Silicon Valley yet, do yourself a favour and watch it! (JJ, check these out LOL) More: You are Now Fully Optimised,This Is Your Life in Silicon Valley, Two Years Later, Thank You for Your Undivided Attention, Don’t Worry, She’ll Respond, This is Your Life in Social Media, Your Company is Going to be Huge.

Shanghai’s Ling M juxtaposes sketches of ores against the landscapes he finds on Google Earth.
From an old friend’s blog. Cannot find source, but very cool nonetheless.

How an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monopoly Game and Stole Millions
“Brown traveled to South Carolina to “find” her prize, because too many recent winners now lived in Jacksonville. “It was so secretive,” she recalled. Colombo and a cousin drove Brown to a McDonald’s and parked a safe distance away. They coached Brown what to tell McDonald’s staff, but doubts suddenly consumed her. “I had to just tell, you know, outright lies,” she realized. She thought about running. Do I lose it all or do I keep going? But she did the deed, and afterward found the two Italians sweating. “They were a little nervous because it took so long,” Brown recalled. They helped her fill out the prize form, writing her name along with the cousin’s South Carolina address. To make it appear like she lived with the cousin, Brown recorded the message on his answering machine, and later told reporters a long-winded story about finding the winning ticket while cleaning out her car.”

Fantastic investigative piece; riveting from beginning to end.

Let’s Bury the Hustle
“The grind doesn’t just feel apt because it’s hard on an individual level, but because it chews people up and spits ’em out in bulk. Against the tiny minority that somehow finds what they’re looking for in that grind, there are legions who end up broken, wasted, and burned out with nothing to show. And for what?”

I love how signal v noise keeps things real. The word hustle as a shorthand for entrepreneurial spirit or drive is immensely unhealthy because it conflates the grind and always trying to do more (and normal not being enough) with valuable output.

Ted Chiang’s Soulful Science Fiction
”His first published story, “Tower of Babylon,” which appeared in 1990 and won a Nebula Award, follows Hillalum, a Babylonian stonecutter tasked with climbing to the top of the world and carving a doorway into its granite ceiling. It has the structure of a parable and an uncanny and uncompromising material concreteness. At the top of the tower, Hillalum finds that the roof of the world is cold and smooth to the touch. The stonecutters are eager to find out what lies on the other side of the sky, but they are also afraid, and, in a prayer service, Chiang writes, “they gave thanks that they were permitted to see so much, and begged forgiveness for their desire to see more.” Chiang goes to great lengths to show how ancient stonecutting techniques might actually be used to breach the floor of Heaven. He writes the science fiction that would have existed in an earlier era, had science existed then.”

Been reading Ted Chiang’s stories, and instead of doing a review of Chiang’s stuff below, going to do a small one here. I really, really enjoy reading his stuff. Every story is certain to be if not mind-blowing then deeply immersive and logical? I’m not sure there’s a descriptor for this, but what I think I really like about him (and sci-fi in general) is how he takes things to their logical conclusions. It’s like stepwise and its rigorous and so sensible. My two favourites are The Tower of Babylon and Understand, this one about humans gaining superintelligence. Very relevant in the world of AI and everything from the game theory to the idea of values and iterative self improvement is super like !!! this guy is really smart !!! and tells great stories!!!

Mr Porter: The Godfathers of Athleisure
Everyone here looks so cool…

The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Jason Fried
“We don’t have that. We don’t have revenue growth number targets. We don’t have – okay, so we don’t have goals and we don’t have targets. We don’t have KPIs. We don’t have those kinds of reasons for doing what we do every day. The reason we do what we do every day is because we enjoy doing it and we want to make what we’re working on better. The thing that we’re making for others, we’re also making for ourselves. So, we technically want to make our own tooling better because it helps us do a better job with what we do.”

I love Jason Fried so much – so much of this is just who I want to be and how I want to live!

A Vaccine for Depression?
“Stress in moderation is not harmful, but motivating. Cortisol, a stress hormone, cycles daily; synchronizing with sunlight, it helps arouse us for the day. In health, the hormone spikes when we need to pay attention: a test, a job interview, a date. Studies on rodents and humans confirm that brief, mild increases in stress are good for the brain, particularly for memory. During these spikes, neurons are born and expand in the hippocampus, the seahorse-shaped finger of tissue responsible for forming new memories and understanding three-dimensional space, and rodents learn better. The student who gets stressed while studying is more alert and remembers more than the one who feels no urgency—up to a point. The problem comes when stress is either too intense at one moment, as in a rape or violent attack, or too sustained, as in long-term poverty, neglect, or abuse.”

Some people I’ve talked to are skeptical about Ketamine, particularly because for treatment-resistant depression symptoms return after about 6 months. That being said, always excited for medical breakthroughs. I’m convinced that from a utilitarian POV mental health is really a massive, massive deal, given how many people across the world suffer from debilitating mental disorders that greatly affect their quality of life.

Burned-out Millennials Are Quitting Lucrative Jobs
Hm.

Uncertain Love — Buddha, Quantum Mechanics, Logic and AI
Pinduoduo founder Colin Huang’s piece on the nebulousness of reality. I think this is a nice example of how clearly very intelligent and talented people can either lack the ability to express their intuitions clearly/ in an acceptable way in a strict analytical philosophical sense (tbf language barrier), or simply lack the rigour of philosophical thinking because being a brilliant entrepreneur and computer scientist necessitates spending more time in the real world than in abstract thought. The final paragraph sums up a classic intuition, but is preceded by poorly formulated arguments. A far better model here: developing ethical, social and cognitive competence.

Work-Life Balance Is About Years, Not Days
I enjoyed Alex Pang’s book (Rest). I think that while it’s probably true that the current conception of corporate/industrial working hours is limited in its conception what productive hours are like/can be, unfortunately because of how humans and the economy work the fantasy of starting real when you’re 40 doesn’t quite work out. Pang and Cal Newport both offer valuable ideas and I love their work and blogs, but they hold very, very privileged conceptions of work, conceptions that ignore grim reality, largely because they’re like. Academics.

A Stanford researcher says we shouldn’t start working full time until age 40
“We need a new model,” Carstensen says of the current norms around career pacing. The current one “doesn’t work, because it fails to recognize all the other demands on our time. People are working full-time at the same time they’re raising children. You never get a break. You never get to step out. You never get to refresh. . . .We go at this unsustainable pace, and then pull the plug. Longevity, as Carstensen sees it, is not about the biohacked immortalism popular in other parts of Silicon Valley. Her work focuses instead on redesigning institutions to accommodate the lives that people actually have—lives that are longer and in many cases healthier than at any time in human history. Instead, Carstensen says, a life’s work should be redistributed across the longer time frame many people can reasonably expect. Education and apprenticeships could stretch longer, she says, through the years when many people are starting their families and have young children at home. Full-time ideally would begin around the age of 40, rather than in our early 20s. Careers would be longer, with a gradual transition to part-time work in the later years before full retirement around age 80.”

This makes perfect sense! Kind of! From a strict optimisation point of view, like what you want for society is everyone performing their best over the longest time period, i.e. – not burnout. But we’re in our current equilibria for a reason. I’d love for this to work out, but it requires immense amounts of coordination across so many actors across society, because if you don’t have stuff that disincentivizes defection (ie working harder to perform better and get ahead), then like game theory et al. Also, the problems that millennials in the western world face are different from that of say people in India and whatever, so they’d be willing to work harder etc etc. The only way for there to be real change in how we work (towards stability) has to come from like. That change leading to genuine productivity, incentivising governments and companies to like want to have us not burn out and not have us chasing marginal short term gains to productivity at the expense of long term health et al.

Robin Hanson: Comparing Income and Sex Redistribution
”To me, these mostly fail as a basis for treating income and sex inequality and redistribution differently. Biologically, sex seems just as important as survival, and many go to great lengths to pursue it, including paying high cash prices and submitting to dominance. In our rich society few are at risk of dying from starvation or exposure due to insufficient income. The personal failings of the income poor and the sex poor seem similarly plausible as causes of their poverty, and in both cases the personal failings of violent or loud advocates seems mostly irrelevant to good policy, as they are such a tiny fraction of the population.

”Structural and institutional context seems influential for both sex and income, and such context can be unfair in both cases. The job pairings that produce most income today are fragile and complex, as are the sex pairings that make good sex. Neither are simple commodities, and both involve complex human choice. Just as good income policy should allow both employers and employees to veto particular pairings, good sex policy should allow individuals to veto particular sex pairings. But a great many policy levers are consistent with such vetos.”

Hanson got a lot of flak for drawing parallels between income and sex inequality after news about ‘incels’: sex-poor people who believe in using violence as a means to address their sex poverty. I’m pretty sure that as with most things (reddit karma, money, general effectiveness) sex inequality is a thing and follows a power law thing, so the next question: whether it is a sort of inequality that ought to be addressed via policy is interesting. I think Hanson draws a very fair comparison, and these inequalities aren’t the only ones out there, though they are a useful shorthand for other inequalities (looks inequality, stress tolerance inequality, social skills inequality, quality relationships inequality) in part out of how high they (sex and money) rank on our human desire scales. Because these are very human things and involve transactions and choices between humans being able to take a normative stance seems very important yet immensely complex: you’d have to think about rights and this and that and with economics policy and intervention is taken for granted; in human relations it is the opposite and the default reaction to sex regulation is disgust(though with the rise of the modern liberal/paternalistic state less so). But! I shall try make a simple case for a simple way to think about sex policy:

  1. Sex is a strongly desirable component of subjective well-being. (A stronger position would be to hold it as a fundamental human right, but that would be difficult to enforce)
  2. All things equal, any policy that allows for the promotion of such components of well being (e.g. population stress, population job satisfaction levels, % of population who find work meaningful) is desirable
  3. Such policies should be promoted insofar as there is no disproportionate harm caused as a result

In some ways my approach to this is a bit of a cop out: we can’t avoid making difficult tradeoffs and point 3 is perhaps the most contentious. But it would make policies such as legalisation and regulation of prostitution (and perhaps even state-level attempts to actively improve, support or even massively disrupt the sex industry) seem sensible. There’s also the values problem: not everyone thinks everyone deserves sex. Lastly, income and wealth inequality are addressed via redistribution: taxes enforced by coercive law. It’s difficult to even conceive of policies that help sex-poor people get a larger share of the sex that they aren’t having in any coercive way. The closest thing already exists: the fact that polygamy is illegal is an effective sex redistribution law. Perhaps then our instincts (should we truly and deeply wish to solve this problem) might turn to bizarre forms of making the competition fairer: state sponsored charisma lessons, emotional intelligence lessons, heck, even therapy. State-led action aimed at helping low-sex people get some. What has this post become.

How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million
“I could do this, I thought. I could change. I could be someone who pursued only the best. The ocean air. The sand. The sky. All the wellness, it was mine. I could stop smoking. I could exercise. I could hydrate. Look at all the kinds of waters we have! Look at all the kinds of moisturizer! All the ingredients, all of them so beautiful. Everything beautiful, lovely and clean. What if you could pay the price — time, intention, a serious allocation of funds — and make it all this way? I could. I would.

I finished my waters and headed to the airport, where I dropped my rental car and boarded the Hertz bus. But something was wrong at the airport, or it was just Los Angeles being Los Angeles, and the bus didn’t move. The normally 10-minute ride was now 20, and then 30, and then 40. I had to go to the bathroom so badly. My terminal was at the end and there was a stop at every single other terminal — even Air China. At 50 minutes, I realized I could no longer hold it and alerted the bus driver. Someone suggested I just get off at the next terminal and then pick the next bus up again. I screamed that I couldn’t! I didn’t have time! My kids and husband were waiting for me!”

I quite like this article because of how it captures the tensions revolving around aspiration and wellness and doing things to become a Better Person things like that. I think that the point of view of someone who always finds trying rewarding and meets with success whenever they try to be disciplined tends to come with blindness as to how hard it might be for other people. If you struggle to not be lazy and end up being productive it’s pretty easy to just call other people lazy, but things might literally not work the same way for them. And a lot of the change is short lived and feel-good is placebo and comes from surface level change rather than deep change!

GIFs that make you cry a little
wobbly pursed lips

Emotional Training Model
Pretty much agree with this, not sure how to implement something for it. I suspect that if you want to realise any gains you need to really focus and dedicate time to building emotional bandwidth.

Pack Config
A pretty cool blog for seeing how people pack their bags… and stuff… Which I genuinely enjoy… Related blogs I’ve recently followed: everyday wear, the brooks review, pack hacker.

Foo the Flowerhorn
Deeply therapeutic video (and channel) where you watch a somewhat self-sustaining aquarium and the chronicles of the fishes in them. I think what makes this very good is the music, the detail in the video, and the fact that there are no voiceovers. It is evident much care has gone into these and each video feels like an act of love. I’ve linked the 9th month update of his tank but there are many other clips and they are all equally lovely.

See also: Primitive Technology (if you haven’t heard of this channel then you would benefit from the stuff this guy makes because you’re definitely like from when people were… primitive…ha…)

The World of Mechanical Keyboards
There’s a relevant XKCD for this: we can genuinely be snobs (and obsessive) about anything. But more recently I’ve discovered the odd world of mechanical keyboards and the people who spend thousands of dollars on them and own like 10. The scary thing is, I can totally understand why. I mean, look at this beauty, this delicious HHKB, this thing of joy, this modded leopold, marblelicious gundam colour schemes and even this adorable numpad. I mean, just listen to this! And like, people have meet ups! So I found a way to justify getting a pretty solid off the rack keyboard, the Leopold FC980M in white with Cherry Brown Switches. Mini review: sounds really satisfying and I like the switches! But tbh we can get used to lots of stuff so I’m going to try not let this become an unhealthy obsession.

Mini-reviews & interesting things:

  • Films
    • Shoplifters (2018) ★★★★
      I was very nervous going into this one, because while I remembered it being interesting when Liko asked if I’d wanted me to see it, I found out but right before I went into the cinema that it was a family drama. At that moment my couldn’t-sleep-for-two-weeks-after-Shutter soul had wished that I was going to watch Hereditary instead. But everything about this film was fantastic. Shoplifters is a film about a group of people brought together and who find that they can care deeply for others. It’s about the complex interaction between self interest and the conditions under which it breaks down. Real meaningful feels, unlike dodge Moonlight or Call Me by Your Name (actually the scene the title is named after was dodge af). Also it won the Palme d’Or I think. Also, don’t watch the trailer: spoilersh!!
    • Battle Royale (2000) ★★★
      I enjoyed watching this! It’s like the film which Hunger Games was a bit of a complete ripoff of. Decent number of questionable like logic gaps and somewhat trope characters but apart from that just the very innovative premise and fun scenes make this worth watching.
  • iOS games
    Been playing soooo many recently, so some very fun and high quality ones I’ve really enjoyed (all F2P):
    • Polytopia ★★★★
      cute novel turn based strategy game. Reminiscent of advanced wars
    • Soul Knight ★★★★
      Addictive and fun roguelike yet not addictive enough to make you feel bad. Also has multiplayer!
    • PUBG Mobile ★★★★
      Best with friends, and just so much better executed than Fortnite Mobile.
  • Books
    • Nicholas Nassim Taleb, Antifragile ★★★★
      I really enjoyed this and found it full of valuable insights. Unfortunately I am tired and not quite up to the task of a proper review, and will link one which I largely agree with: link. Though most people find Taleb’s ego insufferable, I find it very amusing so like whatevs haha. Defo a recommended read.
    • Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem Trilogy ★★★★★

      Absolutely riveting sci-fi. Not the most polished piece of work, but absolutely stunning concepts and storytelling. Haven’t read this fast for ages; getting engrossed in this trilogy (and reading like 7-10 hours of it daily over 3 days) brought me back to my childhood: fond memories of reading an exciting story till I was forced to go to bed, waking up the next day and reading it like crazy and pushing through all the fatigue because ya!! riveting!!

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