Longreads + Open Thread
Geezer Teasers, Intel, Vaccines, Message Board Theorists, Roblox Correspondents, Projects
Before Cameo, there were the Geezer teasers: schlocky action movies with famous stars. It's a similar concept, selling a brief connection to a real celebrity. But unlike cameo, it comes bundled with unnecessary additions because of the nature of the industry.
Bloomberg goes inside Intel's difficult recent years. An over-simplistic way to frame the struggle might be that an Intel CEO needs to balance between people skills (it's hard to run an organization with 110,000+ employees without them) and technical skills. While these aren’t anticorrelated in theory, in practice there’s range restriction that makes it hard to achieve both at a given career level.
Caleb Watney at Agglomerations on solving the vaccine shortfall. A persistent problem with Covid has been anchoring to recent experience rather than making Fermi estimates about the magnitude of problems. Sometimes, a 10x increase in funding is a drastic cut in funding relative to the problem.
This Palladium piece is in part a profile of some Chinese political and economic thinkers, but also a profile of a media environment very different from what people outside of China are familiar with.
Politico on someone who became a White House correspondent as part of a Roblox-related dare. Politico uses terms like "digital impersonation" to refer to this, but that doesn't really make sense: they're profiling a working journalist who happens to be pseudonymous, but the story is not "this person behaves differently from other White House reporters," it's just "this person has a different backstory." As is true in other domains, if a credential itself is the dividing line between amateurs and professionals, there's no real difference.
A few weeks ago I asked about long-term projects undertaken during Covid. Some examples since submitted by readers: this book (note: previously advertised in The Diff), this privacy vulnerability, and the world's largest painting. There will, no doubt, be more.
Science and Corporate Strategy: Du Pont R&D, 1902–1980 is a very detailed look at the company that brought us Nylon, Lycra, Kevlar, Teflon, Cellophane, and less fortunately leaded gasoline and freon. It's a very detailed book, and ultimately ends up being a view into how corporate and government priorities changed over generations, and how one company adjusted. Early on, they were in a move-fast-and-break-things era, where they accidentally dyed a river violet and produced some deadly (but convenient!) new compounds; by the end, R&D was increasingly focused in minimizing risks—and increasingly the bearer of bad news about side effects of all those novel compounds.
As always, drop in links to any articles, books, blog posts, substacks etc. that Diff readers would find interesting.
Loop-driven businesses are always interesting. Are there any newly-discovered or newly-refined loops?
Over time, economic growth and improving technology seem to increase the maximum number of employees a given company could conceivably have, and at the same time reduce the minimum number of employees a given company could have. Which (non hedge fund, non PE) businesses get the most impressive return on headcount?