Longreads + Open Thread

Chips, Cloud, Roads, Jobs, Luttwak, Banks, Feedback



Open Thread

New - Reader Feedback!

A reader recently pointed out that open threads have a cold-start problem: if you read right away, there won't be any comments, and if you wait too long, you might miss responses. With that in mind I thought it would be good to highlight some feedback each week. In last week's post, I asked what makes some institutions hard to disrupt. From Philo:

I think it's mostly the characteristics of the industry rather than the individual institutions. A lot of our leading universities have been there since the 17th or 18th century, it's not just Harvard. Most of our leading banks were leaders since the 18th century (or late 19th century in the case of west coast banks), and so on. Organizations and industries are Lindy for sure.

It's interesting that people intuitively think there is turnover and natural replacement within industries but you don't see it that much after the first generation, we're all using most of the same consumer products brands that were popular 75-100 years ago. I suspect it's more consumer stickiness than recruiting employees - "a ham sandwich could run Coke" etc.

Which raises the question: what leads to an unusually high- or low-turnover industry?

Two other pieces of feedback from this post on applying the concept of type-safety to emails and other corporate communications ($): Umang Jaipuria has an earlier post expanding on the broader concept of a cultural vocabulary, and Nate Meyvis has thoughtful pushback. Specifically:

Programs that have good correctness checks can be bigger: stronger typing is one way to accomplish this, but only one. Good testing is another approach (I don't mean to imply that it's an orthogonal one). And I've seen strong typing prevent a code base from growing: complicated, ill-defined types can be so brittle that engineers either (i) leave the code in place, unable to change the types, or (ii) switch all those complicated types to Any (or some analogue of Any) when they need to change something.

There's often convergent evolution towards the same endpoint that uses mutually incompatible and path-dependent efforts to get there. Maybe if you're obsessed with type safety and you treat software as an instantiation of a theorem, you won't be able to inhabit the mindset of someone who uses good testing and might analogize their program to a factory—a factory where the ideal defect rate is zero but where the achievable one is nonzero and it's critical to weigh costs and benefits.

(Another conclusion here is that if you borrow a mental model from a field you're less familiar with, there is a good chance that someone who actually works in that field will respond with a much more thoughtful set of analogies. Please use this trick responsibly.)

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