Longreads + Open Thread

Construction, EDM, Talent, Aerospace, Applied Divinity Studies, Black Wednesday


  • Construction Physics has another excellent piece on complexity, community, and construction. One way to look at some fields is that they are to closed-source software what closed-source is to open-source: the standard practices are not only compartmentalized, but they're partly subconscious, so it's hard for people to articulate why things work the way they do. The Construction Physics newsletter is partly a long analysis of why building houses is such a hard business to automate, which turns out to be a more broadly illuminating question.

  • The Hard Fork has thoughts on EDM DJs as prototypical creator/entrepreneurs. This is especially worth following because a DJ aggregates content from other people and produces a valuable product—which describes a lot of new media models, both platforms and individual publications, today.

  • Tyler Cowen: talent curator: one way to look at an intellectual lifecycle is that there's a long period of reputational capital accumulation that slows down production. It takes a while for an academic to get tenure, even if they're quite talented. And just as there's a global surplus of savings that pushes real interest rates down, there's a global surplus of social capital that makes it hard to accumulate a reputation. This piece is a great look at how to escape that system. Hopefully it can be scaled. (Disclosure: I share an Emergent Venture grant with Tobias Huber, which funds the book we're working on.)

  • Austin Vernon suggests an American aerospace renaissance is at hand. This is important: if face-to-face meetings are the highest-bandwidth form of communication, and if planes are the fastest way to move people from one place to another, then plane speeds set the limit for certain kinds of communication. Much of the optimism in his post is about space travel, which is indeed an exciting sector, but see this piece for more on commercial aviation. Changes in industry cultural norms can start with one product category, but they'll end up spreading as people move from company to company.

  • A wonderful interview of the pseudonymous blogger Applied Divinity Studies, by Uri Bram of The Browser. It's a great meditation on effective subcultures, anonymity, and curiosity.


  • In Office: People sometimes tell me I'd like the show Yes, Minister, and now I feel like I've read the book. In Office is a memoir by Norman Lamont, who was the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer in the early 1990s, one of many exciting periods for British financial policy in the twentieth century. A lot of the book revolves around the weird and passive-aggressive internal maneuvering as politicians try to simultaneously make policy, win elections, and overcome internal power struggles. Lamont is also interesting because he was, more or less, the person who took the other side of George Soros' famous bet against the pound. It’s either a testament to the positive-sum nature of markets or to the to the accuracy of public choice theory that Lamont was not altogether unhappy with the outcome.

Open Thread

  • Drop in any links or books of interest to Diff readers.

  • One thing founders worry about as their company gets bigger is how to ensure that the company doesn't become a classic Big Company. There are some programs that try to fix this, like Google's APM and Amazon's Technical Advisor to the CEO. And it's a theme that comes up a lot in fiction (the statute of limitations for Dune spoilers is probably back in effect because of the movie, so I won't go into detail there, but The Diamond Age asks this question often, too). Do any organizations get it right?

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