RoW: Links for 18th September, 2019

  1. How was London’s tech scene built?
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  2. If you ever get the chance to pick a train journey…. for me, this one, for sure.
    “And so it was no small relief when, there the next morning, was the train at the platform. Its Chinese provenance was confirmed by the ethnicity of the “Captain” ushering people aboard, and by our salmon-colored tickets, the same as those issued by China’s National Railway.An hour later, we were enjoying a rare sensation: swift, ceaseless movement through a sub-Saharan landscape.”
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  3. Or wait, hang on
    “For most of human history, it was impossible to grasp the range of the habitable world in a single day. Beginning in the mid-20th century, one could fly from a cool region to a hot region in one day. But that was an artificial experience—you missed everything in between. That all changed in 2012, when China built a high speed rail line from the north to the south of the country. Now you could board a train at 9am in cold, snowy Beijing, and get off 8 hours later in tropical Guangzhou, at the same latitude as Havana.

    A few years later the line was extended further south to Hong Kong, where you arrive an hour later. For the first time ever, humans can see the gradual change in landscape from the temperate zone to the tropics, all in a single day.”
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  4. “In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow.”
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    Especially given the context, the rest of this first paragraph is some of the finest writing I have ever read. That is not an exaggeration.
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  5. “But improving American higher education would be the final plank of the Tyler Cowen industrial policy.”
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    Tyler Cowen on industrial policy in America.
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Tech: Links for 17th September, 2019

  1. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity“.
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  2. Jason Snell reviews the iPhone launch event.
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  3. … as does Ben Thompson.
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  4. The importance of the U1 chip.
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  5. I don’t quite remember how I landed up here, but this was interesting for a variety of reasons. On a company called OKCredit.

ROW: Links for 31st July, 2019

  1. “There are things government could do if it were bold enough. How about a series of state-specific visas to foreigners, designed to encourage them to settle in Alaska and other underpopulated states? Alaska’s population could well rise to more than a million, and then the benefits of a good state university system would be more obvious, including for cultural assimilation. In fact, how about a plan to boost the population of Alaska to two or three million people? What would it take to get there?”
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    Especially read together with the last paragraph, this article is an excellent example of straight thinking – and one wonders where this might apply in India’s case?
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  2. I’m breaking one of my own rules (but hey, that’s kind of the point of owning this blog), but here’s a short video about a tyre scultpure out of Nigeria.
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  3. “Nonetheless, reading the testaments of people who’d come through a period of great uncertainty in the late 1920s and early 1930s, with the liberal order seemingly spent, it’s hard not to hear faint echoes in our current plight. As they do now, people then craved simple, emotional answers to complex economic and political problems.”
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    Learning more about the lives of ordinary people in the past is something I want to do more of. Germany and Germans when they realized the Russians were coming.
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  4. “The official history of China’s economic reforms is rather more sanitized, but the memoirs of Gu Mu (谷牧), who was vice premier in the 1980s and in charge of foreign trade, do help show how export discipline was applied in the Communist bureaucratic system (see this post for some more interesting tidbits from Gu’s memoir).”
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    If there is one book that I would want a student of modern Asia to read, it would be Joe Studwell’s “How Asia Works”. This article begins by tipping its hat to that book, and speaks about how China instilled a sense of export discipline.
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  5. A very long, mostly depressing article on an intellectual purge in Turkey.

Tech: Links for 30th July, 2019

  1. “In an ever-changing work environment, ‘AQ’, rather than IQ, might become an increasingly significant marker of success.”
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    I’m never sure that lists are a good idea, but I enjoyed scanning this one. 101 people, ideas and things that are changing the way we work today.
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  2. “Developer Chris Wetherell built Twitter’s retweet button. And he regrets what he did to this day.“We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon,” Wetherell recalled thinking as he watched the first Twitter mob use the tool he created. “That’s what I think we actually did.””
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    A lament for the creation of the retweet button. I disagree though – I continue to maintain that Twitter (and by extension the retweet button) are net positives. The article is interesting throughout, and some of the suggestions for “curing” the retweet problem are fascinating – and perhaps overdue.
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  3. “In this so-called golden age of television, some critics have pointed out that the best of the form is equivalent to the most enriching novels. And high-quality programming for children can be educational. But the latest evidence also suggests there can be negative consequences to our abundant watching, particularly when the shows are mostly entertainment.”
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    You are shaped by influences around you – relevant to Twitter (see above) and also TV.
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  4. “WeWork was born as a co-working space based partly on the idea that it should be easier for entrepreneurs like Neumann to get their ideas, good or bad, off the ground. Its core business is simple: lease offices from landlords — the company owns hardly any real estate — slice them up, and rent them out in smaller portions with an upcharge for cool design, regular happy hours, and a more flexible short-term lease. There are hundreds of co-working companies around the world, but what has long distinguished WeWork is Neumann’s insistence that his is something bigger. In 2017, Neumann declared that WeWork’s “valuation and size today are much more based on our energy and spirituality than it is on a multiple of revenue.””
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    A very long profile of WeWork and its founder.
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  5. “Our reporting finds that Alphabet is already generating several billion dollars annually from Google Maps, an amount that isn’t yet material to the company’s financial results. But although officials state they are taking a leisurely approach to monetizing Google Maps, which is a core part of Alphabet’s search business, revenue is picking up at a healthy pace as Google experiments with new local ad formats within Google Maps. As Google Maps gets around to targeting more verticals, the only thing that might stand in its way from becoming a ubiquitous superapp may be users’ mobile behavior and regulators looking to break up big tech.”
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    The app that underpins a lot more than you think: Google Maps.

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.

ROW: Links for 10th July, 2019

  1. “The radio station, whose call letters are KHIL, has long been the daily soundtrack for this frontier town (population 3,500) that prides itself on its cowboy culture and quiet pace of life. But six decades after the founding of the station, the property is in foreclosure, with utility disconnect notices coming nearly every month.”
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    Culture and Coase (an updated version) in rural America. For both of these reasons and more, worth your time.
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  2. “When Amnesty International U.S.A. started looking for a new headquarters in New York City, the human rights group settled on office space in a modest skyscraper in Lower Manhattan known as Wall Street Plaza.But just as the organization was about to sign a lease last week, the building’s owner said that its new parent company, a giant shipping conglomerate owned by the Chinese government, decided to veto the offer. The company, Cosco Shipping, did not want the United States chapter of Amnesty International, which has produced scathing reports highlighting human rights abuses in China, as a tenant, according to the group.”
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    Business, culture, nationalism, America and China.
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  3. “When you’re doing everything wrong, the best way to fix the problem isn’t usually to go through the list of things you’re doing wrong and fix them one by one. It’s best to step back and ask why you’re so bad at everything, whether a systemic problem is causing you to make so many separate mistakes. And in the case of the MTA, the root cause of its capital-construction failures is usually diagnosed as unaccountability: Nobody knows who’s in charge, so nobody has to be terrified of taking the blame for obscene costs and endless delays.”
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    Coordinating stuff is hard. The New York version of this story. Also, this is why Singapore deserves all the admiration it gets (and more)
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  4. “During the French referendum on the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, we observed that 60% of the voters with the lowest incomes, personal wealth or qualifications voted against, whereas the 40% of the electorate with higher incomes voted in favour; the gap was big enough for the yes vote to win with a small majority (51%). The same thing happened with the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, except that this time only the top 20% were in favour of the yes vote, whereas the lower 80% preferred to vote no, whence a clear victory for the latter (55%). Likewise for the referendum on Brexit in the UK in 2016: this time it was the top 30% who voted enthusiastically to remain in the EU. But, as the bottom 70% preferred to leave, the leave vote won with 52% of the votes.”
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    An article which helps you think a little bit more about the European Union and what plagues it.
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  5. “China’s overall external surplus is down. That’s not surprising—China’s general government deficit is somewhere between 4 percent of GDP and 12 percent of GDP, depending on what measure you use. The gap between China’s fiscal stance and that of Korea is even bigger than the gulf between Germany’s surplus and the deficit of France—and the gap between the euro area’s (tight) overall fiscal stance and the much looser stance of the United States.But the surplus of China’s neighbors, who have responded, in many cases, to the “rise” of China with policy stances designed to maintain weak currencies and protect their exports, has soared over the past ten years, and now is substantially larger than it was prior to the global crisis.”
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    A useful article about Korea’s macroeconomic choices, and the reasoning behind them.

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.