Longreads + Open Thread

Speed, Glucose, Enron, Philanthropy, Sewer Robots, Fracking, SoftBank


  • Thoughts on moving faster, with a focus on programming but with very broad applicability. Speed matters in basically every domain, and while it's easy to imagine a tradeoff between speed and quality, there's a meta tradeoff there, too: sometimes quality is a function of taking advantage of a few hours or days of maximum inspiration, so the output you get is bounded by how habituated you are to efficiently using your time.

  • Adam Braff on the Wearable Challenge and how life changes when you continuously monitor your blood glucose. This post is Gwern-level quantified self data and analysis. Highly recommended. (I also did the Wearable Challenge, and recommend it to anyone who is curious about how individual foods affect their health.)

  • Russell Gold in the reliably great Texas Monthly on Enron as a talent incubator. One way to look at the company is that its aspirations were always a few steps ahead of reality, which meant was good at raising money and recruiting. There were parts of the Enron thesis that were broadly right and had critical flaws—the bet on Enron was that it was going to revolutionize the energy industry once it spun off its old assets, but one of those spinoffs, EOG, really did revolutionize the energy industry by successfully applying fracking techniques that worked in natural gas to oil.

  • Tyler Cowen interviews David Rubenstein, who is an able interviewer himself. Especially interesting for his thoughts on philanthropy and where it fails. Long lifespans (especially for the well-off) and a forty-year decline in interest rates mean that there's a large amount of capital right now that will be allocated to charity in the coming decades, so it's important to figure out what works.

  • Christopher Mims in the WSJ on robots versus fatbergs and the automation of sewer cleaning ($, WSJ). There are many environments where robots are less effective than one would think because the environment is designed for humans, and we're a surprisingly mobile and dexterous species with lots of sensors. Environments that are built by humans but not designed to be regularly used by them can often be a better place, which means early adoption of robots will be literally invisible to most people.


  • Green and the Black is a wonderful book about the shale revolution, partly a memoir about investing in it and partly th estory of how we got to where we are. It is, as the title indicates, a book that talks extensively about the environmental impact of shale (and also, as the title's allusion indicates, a book by someone with literary flair—he may in fact be the world's most frustrated novelist since his nonfiction book about fracking appears to have outsold his prior two books, which were fiction). Very much worth reading for a broad look at shale, and one that's quite funny.

  • Aiming High is a biography of Masayoshi Son, which appears to have been originally published in Japanese and more recently translated into English. (It includes some asides explaining the US to a mostly Japanese audience, which are an interesting anthropology bonus in addition to the book's main narrative.) Son caught two of the best trades of all time—taking material positions in Yahoo in 1996 and Alibaba in 2000. And the rest of his track record is very much what you'd expect from someone with the risk tolerance necessary to make those investments.

Open Thread

  • As always, share any links that Diff readers would enjoy.

  • Trucking, chips, and insurance are industries that follow a cycle, but a cycle that's not entirely determined by the broader macro cycle. What are some other industries with boom/bust dynamics that don't line up with the general economy's booms and busts?

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