Etc: Links for 9th August, 2019

  1. “The laborious and inefficient production process adds to the costs. As it turns out, the jumbo baristas take a long time and a lot of raw material to produce one kilogram of elephant poop coffee; it ‘takes 33 kilograms (72 pounds) of raw coffee cherries to produce 1 kilogram (2 pounds) of Black Ivory coffee.’ A big portion of the beans gets chewed up, broken, or get lost in tall grass after being excreted.”
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    I couldn’t resist, in spite of the obviousness, and I beg forgiveness, but: that’s some expensive shit!
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  2. “Big companies dominate consumption. This is not a bad thing in itself. Companies get big by winning customers, and they win customers by providing a good product and/or service, which is the whole point of consumer markets. Different divisions of large companies may compete against each other; consumers are often unaware that they are choosing between two products owned by the same company. The problem comes if success leads to incumbency, with large, powerful companies able to use their power to shape regulations to suit them, rather than assist their competitors. Being market-friendly is not the same thing as being business-friendly, a confusion common to politicians. Big is neither beautiful nor bad, so long as regulators remain faithful to consumers, rather than the companies serving them.”
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    An interesting read from the Guardian about consumer choice over the day – or rather the lack if it.
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  3. “Thefirm invests $60 million of a $112 million fundraising round for home-sharing site Airbnb, which is already in some 186 countries and more than 16,000 cities.Airbnb embodies the idea of “software eating a traditional business,” a trend Andreessen expounds on a month later in his now-famous manifesto. In his “Why Software is Eating the World” article, he writes that software firms will become “highly valuable cornerstone companies in the global economy, eating markets far larger than the technology industry has historically been able to pursue.””
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    A useful timeline of A16Z, and how it evolved over time. If you have not read the article mentioned in this excerpt, please do so! Ritholz’s newsletter is worth subscribing to.
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  4. “Looking out across the City of Light—the new Place du Carrousel, the theaters around Châtelet, the boulevards stretching their long arms across the city from the Arc de Triomphe—filled one Parisian with disgust. “We weep with our eyes full of tears for the old Paris,” wrote nineteenth-century journalist-turned-politician Jules Ferry. “We see the grand and intolerable new buildings, the costly confusion, the triumphant vulgarity, the awful materialism that we are going to pass on to our descendants.””
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    The Paris that I loved so much last year was nothing more than ‘awful materialism’ about a century or so ago.
    …in the eye of the beholder…
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  5. “The Speedmaster—a “mechanical” watch, meaning it is powered by a mechanism—remains one of the most popular Swiss watches around. Besides telling time, it has a chronograph, which basically means it can also work as a stopwatch, and a tachymeter, which measures speed. It also looks remarkably, to use a technical term, cool.”
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    I don’t collect watches, but I did enjoy reading about this story about the Speedmaster.
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Etc: Links for August 2nd, 2019

Links to five games that you can play on your smartphone. Yes, timepass, but also, teach you to think differently, or better (or both!). Some of these you have to pay for – I have purchased and played all of them, and have found them useful.

  1. Monument Valley. (1 and 2)
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    Beautifully designed, haunting music, and for a person like me, who struggles with three dimensional visualization, this game was a literal eye-opener.
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  2. Threes!
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    The free copycat version became much more popular, but this game is rather more challenging, well designed, with better music and sound effects.
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  3. MiniMetro
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    I loved playing this game because it taught me how to think about designing public transportation. To be clear, real world public transportation design is much more difficult, but that’s kind of the point. If this is as difficult as it turns out to be…
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  4. Flipflop Solitaire
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    Solitaire reimagined. That is the point of this game for me – unlearning a lifetime’s worth of conventions is fun in its own right.
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  5. Peak
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    Games, they say, for your brain. I don’t know if that is true, but I have purchased the annual subscription, and made it into a habit. So far, I am enjoying playing these games everyday. I score the least in the Focus category (surprise, surprise) and do the best in language (ditto, ditto).

Of the five, I currently have the last two on my smartphone.

Etc: Links for 26th July, 2019

  1. “Novak Djokovic has a way of winning even when he’s losing. He has a way of patiently absorbing his opponent’s most devastating play, doing just enough to stay alive, and choosing precisely the right moment to strike back. He’ll lose a spectacular rally and then, while the commentators are still gushing about the other player, unspectacularly win the next point. You’ll think he’s getting run off the court, and then he’ll absolutely maul a couple of forehand winners, and suddenly you realize that he’s about to win the set. Tennis is a game of moments hidden inside a game of runs. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player who knows how to exploit that duality better than Djokovic.”
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    Brian Philips on the phenomenon that is Novak Djokovic.
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  2. “Let’s make copies of these videos and send them to schools, to young athletes, coaches, administrators, parents, teams. Youngsters need to appreciate every part of sport, especially this, the professionalism of showing up and looking the questioner in the eye. The strength that it requires to be honest, to let people glimpse your despair and also witness your conviction. On their worst days, the great athlete is only beaten, not broken.”
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    Rohit Brijnath on the phenomena that are Kane Williamson and Roger Federer. As I said on this Sunday – sports has a lot to teach us.
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  3. “The idea of a power law is fundamental to under­standing the music market as well as the superstar phenomenon. The distributions of streamed songs, album sales and concert revenue are all closely approximated by a power law. And so are the numbers of Twitter followers, YouTube subscrib­ers and Facebook likes that musicians attract.”
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    I have a sneaking suspicion that I linked to this when Alan Krueger passed away, but still – worth reading again. On the economics of Rihanna’s stardom.
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  4. “However, while physicists have studied the physics of mixing concrete, fewer have taken a close look at the forces at work in chocolate conching, as the process is called. Now a team of physicists, funded in part by Mars, the confectionary company, published a paper last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing just what happens as the ingredients of chocolate are given a stir on their way to becoming a delicious treat.”
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    My word for the day: conching.
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  5. “On the other hand, the fish are huge—Bolbometopon muricatum can reach up to 4.5 feet long, and 165 pounds or so—and fairly funky-looking. Their foreheads are almost comically bulbous, like they’ve just been clonked on the head. Their mouths, with 1,000 strong, sharp teeth that demolish coral, algae, and squishy polyps, make them look like perpetually startled horses. And then there’s the reason scientists were in the water to begin with: to collect their prodigious amounts of poop.”
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    Fish, poop, science and research. This piece markets itself.

Etc: Links for 19th July, 2019

  1. “Almost half of all U.S. rice comes from Arkansas. When a rice farmer who was also a state legislator bought some and tasted it, he decided the label had to be banned. So, during March, Arkansas legislators prohibited the cauliflower rice name from all food labels in the state. Saying that the word rice has to refer to actual rice, the law included a $1000 fine for a “mislabeled” product.”
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    What’s in a name? A rice by any other name, it turns out (forgive the pun), ain’t quite the same thing, legally speaking.
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  2. ““By lowering the barrier to initiate communication, the hidden side effect is that Slack has the quiet capacity to exponentially increase communication overhead. Resulting in much more voluminous, lower quality communication.”In other words, talk is cheap and we’re spending like crazy.”
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    The problem with all these awesome tools that help us communicate better is that they help us communicate better. Folks with GIPE id’s… tried out Hangout Chat on your phone just yet?
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  3. “I kind of have a perfectionist type of mentality. Things kind of irritate me and get more and more irritating over time and it was just really confirmed to me that I couldn’t make it better. So I threw out this problem to the group: “Wouldn’t it be great if customers just gave us a chunk of change at the beginning of the year and we calculated zero for their shipping charges the rest of that year?””
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    The most popular form of the sunk cost fallacy in the world: it’s origins explained. If you’re confused about how this is about the sunk cost fallacy, ask yourself this: how often have you checked the Flipkart app after you became a Prime member?
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  4. “Influencers won’t receive a cut of the sales their posts generate. They will, however, have access to a shared analytics dashboard with robust metrics that the tagged brand can also see. Previously, influencers relied on screenshots and other imperfect methods to communicate engagement numbers with brands, so tying their influence directly to sales was nearly impossible. Having a more streamlined framework and detailed analytics will be incredibly valuable for influencers. “It gives you more leverage when you’re negotiating rates,” says Aimee Song, a fashion influencer.”
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    The evolving economics of Instagram influencers. What do you think will happen next?
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  5. “In his time around Italy, especially in Venice, Ghosh was struck by the fact that the language he heard the most after Italian, is Bengali. He explains, “The people who literally keep Venice going are Bengalis. They are the ones making the pizzas, the hotel beds. They play the accordion even. Bengalis have absolutely become the working class. It is such a striking thing that people don’t seem to notice. The tourists don’t notice. Even the Indians who go there, don’t seem to notice. Venice is like a gigantic stage set. So people only notice the setting. They don’t notice who keeps it going; it is literally the Bengalis.””
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    Just in case you have not read any of Amitav Ghosh’s works, this might get you interested in them. If you are looking for a good place to start, I’d suggest The Hungry Tide.

Etc: Links for 12th July, 2019

  1. “Often failure is simply failure, and a setback is exactly what it seems. But sometimes the obstacle that has been placed in our path might provoke us to look around, and perhaps to discover that a better route was there all along.”
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    Tim Harford on the Doris Day effect
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  2. “If I have to be curt, they’re famous for being famous. Another way of understanding how a family (+ dogs+friends+assistants) has risen to unprecedented levels of fame and fortune is by the Principle of Cumulative Advantage. This principle is also known as the Matthew Effect, and refers to the phenomenon of those who already have an advantage acquiring more of it. This concept is applicable to both financial and social capital.”
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    …and since the previous article mentioned it, Reshu Natani in Think Pragati on the Matthew Effect.
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  3. “The last time I saw Bourdain was a few months ago, at a party in New York, for one of the books released by his imprint at the publishing house Ecco—of his many projects, his late-career role as a media rainmaker was one he assumed with an almost boyish delight. At the bar, where I’d just picked up my drink, he came up and clapped me on the shoulder. “Remember when you asked me if I was a feminist, and I was afraid to say yes?” he said, in that growling, companionable voice. “Write this down: I’m a fuckin’ feminist.”
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    A lovely essay on the late Anthony Bourdain. Just in case you haven’t, do read this – the article that started it all.
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  4. “5-MeO-DMT is produced in large amounts by Bufo alvarius, a rare species of toad commonly known as the Colorado river toad or the Sonoran desert toad. When preyed upon, the toad secretes a venom that repels predators by causing them to, in scientific terms, trip balls. Psychonauts discovered that you can milk the toads’ venom, dry it out, and smoke it. The substance’s close relative, DMT, is an active ingredient in the traditional shamanic brew known as ayahuasca, but what they say about smoking the toad is that it’s like riding a rocket to the same place of total ego death that ayahuasca takes you to by riverboat.”
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    That, the excerpt above, is not what this article is about. It is about Mike Tyson. He, as the title says, smokes the toad.
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  5. “There are many ways to achieve success and fulfillment that do not involve attending an elite college. Instead of encouraging people to pursue options well-matched to their abilities, however, we tell young people that their self-worth hinges entirely on the brand name on their college diploma. This creates a perverse incentive to do whatever it takes to get into their dream school, to amass tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, and to select a major based not on the professional opportunities it will open to them but on the ease of the program’s academic requirements. Small wonder we now have a generation drowning in debt and struggling to meet the traditional benchmarks of adulthood.”
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    A long, but very reasoned rant about education in America, and about how it isn’t quite as good as it is made out to be. Also, that rare article that distinguishes between education (teaching) and research.

Etc: Links for 5th July, 2019

  1. “…in the series, Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), a member of the Academy of Sciences, lives in nearly the same kind of squalor as a fireman in the Ukrainian town of Pripyat. In fact, Legasov would have lived in an entirely different kind of squalor than the fireman did.”
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    This is one of many, of course, but that line above was particularly illuminating. A review of the excellent series, Chernobyl.
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  2. “The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent and why I very rarely accept speaking engagements. If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly. What replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time, and that will, with luck, be read by many people, there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons, and a few speeches given at various conferences.”
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    Neal Stephenson (whose books are excellent, and uniformly so) on productivity.
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  3. “Thanos, observing that there were too many people, decided to kill half of them. But this is curiously short-sighted for a man regarded by many as a policy prophet. Any exponential population growth process will soon replace the lost people: that is why exponential growth is such a headache in the first place. For example, if an economy’s resource footprint grows exponentially at a rate of 7 per cent, it doubles in just ten years — meaning that in less time than has elapsed since the first Iron Man movie, we could be back where we started.The only lasting solution is an economy that uses resources at a sustainable rate. Malthus’s qualms notwithstanding, contraception has been a very good start. The world population growth rate is steadily approaching a very sustainable-sounding zero.”
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    Tim Harford analyzes Thanos like only an economist can.
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  4. “Imagine you’re cooking a roast dinner for your family of four. You opt for beef with all the trimmings, safe in the knowledge that it’s a firm family favourite. But just as you’re about to serve up, your daughter announces she’s vegetarian, your partner texts to say they’re running late, and your son tells you he’s invited “a few” friends over for dinner too. Then, your dog runs off with the joint of beef while you’re desperately trying to work out how you are going to meet the needs of all these (quite frankly) very demanding and unruly individuals.”
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    The BBC on the problem of dynamic resource allocation. The excerpt, by the way, has nothing to do with the rest of the article.
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  5. “Because at the end of their pilgrimage, the weary are rewarded with two things: a footbath and a bowl of steaming noodles. The footbath is just a footbath, but the noodles are extraordinary. Su filindeu is—quasi-official designation here—the rarest pasta on the planet. The dish is made specifically for this occasion; its very existence revolves around this trek. So specialized and obscure and mind-bendingly intricate is it that only a few souls can make it. And only those who reach Lula will ever try it.”
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    The rarest pasta on earth. Why wouldn’t you want to read!

Etc: Links for 28th June, 2019

Five articles on the state of the music industry today

 

  1. “A “middle tier” of new artists, operating away from the million-dollar advances of streaming’s biggest acts, are increasing their share of the format’s economics. Or, to phrase it another way, streaming, slowly but surely, is creating a commercial ecosystem in which more artists are able to make a living — and forcing the biggest-earning megastars on the planet to share a chunk of their annual wealth.”
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    I’d recommend a deeper dive into the data for sure, but an interesting article nonetheless. Who is earning the streaming dollars?
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  2. “If we were to rewind just a few years ago, the idea of Spotify delivering drive-optimized playlists interspersed with news may not have sounded totally outlandish but it would nonetheless have only felt a distant possibility. But now that Spotify has extensive podcast capabilities under its belt and a very proven willingness to insert podcasts throughout the music user’s experience, the concept of what constitutes a playlist needs rethinking entirely…largely because that is exactly what Spotify has just done. The industry needs to start thinking about playlists not as a collection of music tracks but instead as a targeted, personalized and programmed delivery vehicle for any combination of content. In old world parlance you might call it a ‘channel’, but that does not do justice to the vast personalization and targeting capabilities that playlists, and Spotify’s playlists in particular, can offer.”
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    If you haven’t heard of anchor.fm – they were recently purchased by Spotify (as was Gimlet Media). Both of these are in the podcasting business. This article makes clear why Spotify acquired them.
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  3. “Please write. And I don’t say that because my podcast is all written. Even shows in the venerable genre of Two People Talking About Stuff become so much tighter, so much more listenable if you take the time to write an introduction to the conversation to orient the listener. Tell them where they’re going. Make them want to go there with you. And then get going.”
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    This advice applies to more than just podcasts. But speaking of podcasts and audio in general, a somewhat useful set of advice regarding starting one of your own.
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  4. “Without Madonna, we don’t have Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and maybe even Janelle Monae. The doubles she played with during each of her transformations — not only the religious Madonna but the virgin, boy-toy, material girl, dominatrix, dancing queen, mom, yoga mom, adopting mom and, now, sexagenarian claiming her space among artists two generations younger — were fun-house representations of conventional femininity. They refracted and reflected a future most of us didn’t know was coming before she showed it to us.”
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    On the importance of Madonna to culture at large today, and her ongoing importance to the music industry.
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  5. “Six years ago, when Thom Yorke memorably expressed his feelings about the music industry by calling Spotify “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse,” it was hard to argue with him. At that point, global sales of recorded music were headed for their 13th decline in 14 years, with the overall value of the industry nearly cut by half since the turn of the century. It looked like the digital revolution really did turn the music business into a moldering husk. But now, like any good zombie during an apocalypse, the industry is once again primed to devour the world on a massive scale.”
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    And as a fitting coda to the series, reflections on the Phoenix like rise of the music industry, and where it might head to in the years to come.