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- In 1984, Joe Nocera wrote a wonderful profile of Texas real estate developer Trammell Crow for Texas Monthly. Full of great aphorisms ("In real estate, it’s hard to make a mistake, because you’ve got the stork on your side" explains both why there were so many real estate fortunes made in the 70s through 00s and why China Evergrande is in so much trouble today.) One thing the book talks about is how often Crow would pack buildings with amenities, like nicer-than-necessary fixtures, new elevators, or an atrium. Obvious? Sure. All of that stuff is completely obvious until you start adding up the square footage, multiplying it by market rent, thinking about the mortgage, thinking about the calls you'll get from partners when they learn how much rent you're giving up, etc.
Via Ethan Monreal-Jackson.
- Max Levchin on Shamir Secret Sharing, or how PayPal almost made its data so secure that the company itself couldn't access it. There's a lot to enjoy in this piece. Among other things, it has some wisdom to offer on how to ship irreversible updates while suffering from sleep deprivation.
- A team at Microsoft Research on A/B testing when the effectiveness of changes follows a power law distribution. Particularly helpful in the context of this piece on the limits of A/B testing at scale. One striking stat: the top 2% of A/B tests run on Bing were responsible for 74.8% of the overall improvement. That's an extremely skewed distribution, and tells you that for the median test you run, if it isn't an obvious and visible winner it's probably a loser.
- Another throwback: a 1974 intelligence assessment of China's prospects in the 80s and in the year 200. There's a mix of perceptive analysis (they will be nominally Maoist but will be very flexible about what that means) and major underestimates of China's potential for growth. Most striking is that there's no mention of the possibility that the USSR could fall. One of the claims is that the country would be run by a committee after Mao. It's always hard to tell how true that is—centralizers have an incentive to create a cult of personality, but there's also an incentive to make every decision look like a unanimous consensus—but the report underestimates the impact that one leader like Deng Xiaoping could have (even if much of that impact, at least at first, was from refusing to veto local decisions rather than a top-down mandate for reform).
Via Benedict Evans' newsletter. And see this piece from a friend of The Diff , ChinaTalk, for more analysis.
- Rob Terrin in Tail Risk writes about the Great Stagnation, with an anatomy of its potential causes. There's a popular narrative that we're escaping that period of stagnation (the period of super-normal productivity growth in the mid-20th century was about as long as the period since 1971—Packy McCormick makes a good case for optimism). But to really know whether it's an inflection point or a wiggle on the same old chart requires knowing why the chart inflected the wrong way in the first place.
- And in this week's Capital Gains, we look at why demographics matter to investors (Trammell Crow is not the only one to be betting alongside Big Stork). Matters of death and birth have been on my mind lately.
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- I've been thinking recently about different ways we consume news. In particular: when market-moving events happen, many people will look at a stream of Twitter comments while also checking prices; on election night, we'll often do the same thing, alt-tabbing between Twitter and FiveThirtyEight. For most news stories, you can't combine text updates with a live numeric measure of the outcome/impact—but that's how many people are following the LK-99 saga, by looking at the prices and comments on the Manifold Markets page. Will the "text stories plus number/graph" grow as a mode of media consumption, or does it only really work in niche cases?
Companies in the Diff network are actively looking for talent. A sampling of current open roles:
- A concentrated crossover fund is looking for an intellectually curious data scientist with demonstrated mastery in analytics. Experience with alt data, web scraping, and financial modeling preferred. (SF).
- The leading provider of advanced options analytics — “the ASML of options trading” — is growing rapidly, very profitable, and looking for a generalist who can excel in chief of staff and business development functions. A trading, quant, or similarly technical background is a big plus. (Connecticut, NYC)
- A company building the new pension of the 21st century and building universal basic capital is looking for fullstack engineers with prior experience in fintech. (NYC)
- A successful crypto prop-trading firm is looking for new quantitative developers with experience building high-performance, scalable systems in C++. (Remote)
Even if you don't see an exact match for your skills and interests right now, we're happy to talk early so we can let you know if a good opportunity comes up.
If you’re at a company that's looking for talent, we should talk! Diff Jobs works with companies across fintech, hard tech, consumer software, enterprise software, and other areas—any company where finding unusually effective people is a top priority.