- Doug at Fabricated Knowledge has a wonderful overview of the market for timing: quartz crystals, Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, and the many use cases of each. The products in question vary in cost from $0.05 to $100 depending mostly on what kind of tolerance they need. A good reminder of how complex the world is, and how individually complicated manufacturing processes are in fact made up of the outputs of other complicated processes. And also a good reminder that software eating the world is a subset of a bigger phenomenon: "silicon is one of the cheapest and highest reliability manufacturing techniques available to humans."
- Casey Handmer argues that high-speed rail is, most of the time, economically nonviable. This piece spends a lot of time on the physics—since the force exerted by wheels on rails is proportionate to the square of velocity, for example, a 40% increase in speed means at minimum a rough doubling of annual maintenance. And it ends with a brutal comparison between the economics of California's high speed rail plan and the cost of transporting the same number of people, faster, with planes.
- This Joel Spolsky post from 2000 is a classic look at solving chicken-and-egg problems with backwards compatibility, including good anecdotes on how Windows 3.0 and Windows 95 ensured that older software could keep running. Reading this post decades later, it becomes clear that 1) for all their faults, Windows' various iterations have been amazing success stories, and 2) finding high-level solutions to technical debt is important, because it's always accumulating somewhere. (Via Ars Technica.)
- The Economics Almost-Nobel Prize was awarded last week to Bernanke, Diamond, and Dybvig for their work on financial crises. This 1983 paper from Bernanke is a great read on the topic of how financial crises impede banks' ability to interact with the rest of the economy, making the crisis worse. The fact that this is well-understood today but was original in 1983 makes the paper well worth reading. It's a good look at how to take a simple model of the economy in which these crises don't happen, add a few details about nonzero transaction costs and uncertainty, and get a model that fits much more closely with reality. (It's also a nice case of someone studying a topic as an academic and then ending up being the single person with the most authority to solve a similar problem later on.)
- This Dan Luu essay on why to try to increase productivity and velocity is wonderful. Luu gives an easy-to-argue-with example: programmers and writers should learn to type fast! He notes that a reduction in time spent typing means a lower "tax" on writing up longshot ideas (whether those ideas are memos or functions). The appendix adds another reason: fast typing helps with managing your own short-term memory—the faster you go from having a notion to having written that notion down, the less likely you are to forget it (or, worse, to give yourself a tantalizingly brief note that hints at some great idea you've since forgotten). Not only is it good to be faster, but the ways in which it's good are only obvious in retrospect once you're fast enough to take advantage of them.
- The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket: a much more pessimistic version on Michael Ruhlman's Grocery, this book is basically a series of vignettes about what it's like to work in the American food supply chain: doing a shift at whole foods, and spending time in the cab of a long-distance trucker, and shadowing the inventor of Slawsa as she tries to get her product on more shelves. The author seems negative. Maybe he isn’t. Let’s just say he has a keen eye for detail and many details about his subjects make them look bad.
- Drop in any links or comments of interest to Diff readers.
- There are good examples of companies that grew for a while and collapsed, and good examples of turnarounds. But within turnarounds, there's a special case: companies that had a "reset" where they realized they were overexpanding because they'd overestimated the growth opportunity, and who survived by switching to a slower cadence. What are the best case studies of this kind of sudden adjustment to a slower-growth environment. (And note that in some cases, like Microsoft in the 2000s and Oracle in the early 90s, the reset doesn't preclude a later reacceleration in growth.)
Another way some writers make money is by using the ideas they come up with to generate alpha on their PA.
I did an essay once on Shelby Davis, who was a writer that thought he would make money by opening up a brokerage firm focused on insurance, and that he would write a regular insurance stock newsletter to his clients and generate commissions on insurance stock trades and underwriting revenue from insurance issuers. He wrote the newsletter all his life, but it was his personal investments in insurance stocks that made him one of the richest men in America:
This isn't that rare. Warren Buffett didn't exactly write a newsletter but when he was younger he published some of his ideas in a journal and got one or more of his early investors that way. Ben Graham wrote two best selling books that are read today but ultimately made his fortune as an early GEICO investor. There are probably other examples.
There seem to be a lot of bloggers that separately have entrepreneurial success. Paul Graham is the best known example, and his wife/YC partner, Jessica Livingston wrote one of the best books on entrepreneur ship. I always enjoyed Joel Spolsky, who is very successful. Rob Rhinehart, who is a bit more eccentric, founded Soylent. Anyway, apparently lots of ways to skin the cat.
If writing is both a good way to raise money and a good way to deploy it, that's great news for writers. Perhaps Mark Sellers got it right!
And from Nate Meyvis, speculation on why layoffs may be higher among data scientists than in other technical roles in response to yesterday’s subscribers-only piece ($).
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Companies in the Diff network are actively hiring now! Open roles include:
- A boutique talent agency is looking for a new team member who can help spot emerging enterprise software executives and connect them with growing companies. (US, multiple locations)
- A high-growth company building a new way for restaurants to connect with customers—atoms and bits—has multiple roles in growth, finance, and operations. (SF and LA)
- A company building "Excel for ML" seeks machine learning engineers. (NYC)
- A company building the software stack for aerospace seeks backend engineers with experience building reliable, scalable systems. (Los Angeles)
- A company building tools to reshape how developers write code and spot bugs is looking for multiple roles, including engineers with a deep knowledge of Linux and the ability to make it run faster, and an ML engineering lead. (Northern Virginia)
And if you're thinking about your next role but not sure when, please feel free to reach out; we're happy to chat so we know what to keep an eye out for.
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