Cash, Ideas

3/30 - What's Next

Hey, hope you have a great week.

Enjoy the newsletter.


Articles to Read.

Cash is King: Flows, Balances, and Buffer Days

  • The median small business has average daily cash outflows of $374 and average daily cash inflows of $381, with wide variation across and within industries. The median small business holds an average daily cash balance of $12,100, with wide variation across and within industries.

  • The median small business holds 27 cash buffer days in reserve.

Pro drivers are competing with gamers after F1 and Nascar Canceled Races

For many, the cancellation of major sporting events was the moment that made the coronavirus pandemic feel real for the first time. But while fans of baseball, basketball, soccer are left wondering when they’ll see players back in action, racing fans don’t have to wait — because many of their favorite drivers are already competing in online sim racing competitions that were spun up in the days since the first real world races were canceled.

The first few of these substitute sim races, held last weekend, were successful in ways that surprised even the organizers. Now, many of the people who put them on have spent the intervening week trying to figure out how to use that momentum to fill the gap left by real world racing, as fans around the world hole up at home in a collective attempt to slow the spread of a global virus.

The top idea in your mind

Everyone who's worked on difficult problems is probably familiar with the phenomenon of working hard to figure something out, failing, and then suddenly seeing the answer a bit later while doing something else. There's a kind of thinking you do without trying to. I'm increasingly convinced this type of thinking is not merely helpful in solving hard problems, but necessary. The tricky part is, you can only control it indirectly.

I think most people have one top idea in their mind at any given time. That's the idea their thoughts will drift toward when they're allowed to drift freely. And this idea will thus tend to get all the benefit of that type of thinking, while others are starved of it. Which means it's a disaster to let the wrong idea become the top one in your mind.

I suspect a lot of people aren't sure what's the top idea in their mind at any given time. I'm often mistaken about it. I tend to think it's the idea I'd want to be the top one, rather than the one that is. But it's easy to figure this out: just take a shower. What topic do your thoughts keep returning to? If it's not what you want to be thinking about, you may want to change something.

Breathing and Exercise: Strength Training for Your Diaphragm

The average person breathes more than 23,000 times a day, often without second thought. Breathing comes naturally to most of us, so we often don’t think about things like a proper breathing technique. However, using the correct technique can help maximize performance during aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling or swimming.

Breathing involves taking air into and out of the lungs. When you participate in aerobic activities your bodies uses this air to fuel your muscles so they can function properly. While all of your body’s muscles play an important role in your ability to perform, the diaphragm is among the most important. It’s the muscle that’s responsible for 80 percent of your breathing. This muscle’s main function is to support breathing, which can help your body adjust to increases in intensity during your workout. Like your other muscles, you can do exercises to train your diaphragm and boost your overall aerobic performance.

To get the most out of your breathing during these diaphragm exercises, make sure you focus on the following: The mode, The intensity, The frequency, The duration of exercise stress.

The Rise and Fall of Facts

Early newspaper printers had more interest in opinion and polemic than objectivity. There was little premium on facts—readers wanted the news, but they wanted it slanted. This began to change with the advent of wire services, where space was precious. In 1854, Daniel H. Craig, the head of the Associated Press, sent out a circular to his agents detailing a request for only “material facts in regard to any matter or event”—in as few words as possible. “All expressions of opinion upon any matters; all political, religious, and social biases; and especially all personal feelings on any subject on the part of the Reporter, must be kept out of his dispatches.” Wire reports couldn’t afford to expend wasted verbiage on opinion or local idiom—they needed to distill newsworthy content to its bare minimum. Doing so was a good business: the Associated Press packaged its content as the raw material that local newspapers could fashion into their own opinion and spin.

Facts sped up the rate at which news could be produced and consumed. This was a double-edged sword, since it led to an increased fear of “honest inaccuracies,” as Ralph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, explained in an address at Columbia University in 1912. Soon after, the World established its Bureau of Accuracy and Fair Play in an effort to reduce the number of errors in an increasingly complicated system of correspondents, writers, editors, and layout editors. Its work was mostly retroactive, focusing on catching deliberate fakery and printing apologies rather than fact-checking material before it went to print.

In 1923, Briton Hadden and Henry Luce revolutionized the role and purpose of facts. Their fledgling publication—Time magazine—would gather up other outlets’ work and edit it into bite-size reports and commentary. To ensure before publication that every printed word was objectively verifiable, they added another major innovation: a research department, or what we now call fact checking. (The working title of the magazine was Facts.) Editor John Shaw Billings crowed in 1933 that “We can ask what dress Queen Mary wore last Thursday and have an answer in twenty minutes.”

To Get Good, Go After The Metagame

Real-world metas come in roughly two flavours: ones that are defined by external changes to the rules of a game, and ones that are shaped by a dynamic equilibrium of competition within a stable system of play. Unlike games, however, real-world domains have no set rules: they are vastly more complicated and interesting, because the rules change only when someone notices the rules have changed.

How do you balance between locating the meta and chasing boring fundamentals? The short answer to that is to do trial and error. If you can’t master a particular skill, drop back down to its component elements and practice each of them in isolation. If you don’t get good conversions in your content marketing, drop down to practice publishing at a regular cadence. If you can’t get a throw to work, break it down to arms, then legs, then body position, then into one complete motion.

How do you learn to do this? I think the best way to do so is to get good at a single, well-structured skill … and preferably, to get this experience as early as possible in one’s life.

The Ingenious Way TV Logos Were Made Before Computers

It’s easy to forget that there was a time when every identity design or title sequence was made physically.

The 1969 BBC1 logo, nicknamed the “mirror globe” ident. The logo was made using a device created by the BBC to film its idents called the Noddy camera. With the novel system, announcers could control the camera remotely, directing it to pan and tilt or move both vertically and horizontally across a matrix of prearranged physical objects.

In another example, a 1983 video by HBO shows the behind-the-scenes making of an opening it made to introduce its new programming during the same year. It starts with a viewer watching HBO on his television in his apartment. Then the camera pans out through the window and through the entire city with an aerial view.

More to Check Out: 
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Coyotes are being seen on the empty streets of San Francisco
Record Rise in Unemployment Claims Halts Historic Run of Job Growth
Letter to myself in late 2008 (Dalton Caldwell)

My Update:

  • Working in SF.

  • Trying not to focus on the micro (long-term optimistic), but have worry about what will happen on the next payday. How many more people will be laid off? How many small businesses will close? Are we doing enough?

  • Finished a bunch of books: Three Women, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone — (view my full bookshelf and recommend me books!).

Tough, Enemy

3/23 - What's Next

Hey there.

Have a great week — “tough time never last, only tough people last” — hope you are staying safe. You got this!


Articles to Read.

Some facts I put together that you may find interesting:

  • 27% of land in the US is government owned

  • Wheeled luggage was invented in 1972

  • There are an estimated 3.5 million youth sport coaches in the United States

  • 11% of Americans have never traveled outside of the state they were born

  • 13% of Americans have never flown in an airplane

  • population of China doubled (150 million to 300 million) between 1650 and 1800

  • the fastest pigeons can fly up to 95 mph

Common Enemies

We are all of us children of earth; grant us that simple knowledge. If our brothers are oppressed, we are oppressed. If they hunger, we hunger. If their freedom is taken away our freedom is not secure. – FDR, 1942

Everyone wants a map. Just a simple guide to what’s going to happen next.

Is this like 2008? Similar to 9/11? Is this like the 1918 flu pandemic? Or maybe the Great Depression? But none of those fit today’s ordeal.

Today’s halt in economic activity is worse than 2008. The enemy is more invisible than 9/11. Our medical knowledge far exceeds that of 1918. Policy response is now faster and deeper than in the Great Depression. Pandemics kill people and recessions ruin people. Saying they have silver linings is a step too far.

But I wonder if the best map we have that tells us what to expect next is the kind of extreme cooperation, solidarity, and empathy we last saw in the 1940s. And I wonder if we’ll look back at COVID-19 as one of the worst things to happen to us, yet triggering something positive that couldn’t be achieved any other way.

History never repeats itself, but man always does.

When to Copy Ideas, When to Steal Ideas

"Good artists copy. Great artists steal" plays on a truth that whenever we build something new, we're really building upon what's currently there, and that ought to be acknowledged and embraced unashamedly.

It's very important to note that while more skill is implied the further you go towards stealing, copying is not bad. On the contrary, it's explicitly good. An artist needs to do both. The question becomes, when to copy and when to steal?

You don't make a whole cake out of icing - you don't even start there - you make the sponge base first. That's exactly what this person was saying. Copy the same sponge any cake could use, then using your own creative talents as icing to make something uniquely great in the areas that make a difference in your product's niche.

We’re not going back to normal

photograph of a single car on an highway

Social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. It will upend our way of life, in some ways forever.

To stop coronavirus we will need to radically change almost everything we do: how we work, exercise, socialize, shop, manage our health, educate our kids, take care of family members.

So how can we live in this new world? Part of the answer—hopefully—will be better health-care systems, with pandemic response units that can move quickly to identify and contain outbreaks before they start to spread, and the ability to quickly ramp up production of medical equipment, testing kits, and drugs. Those will be too late to stop Covid-19, but they’ll help with future pandemics.

In the near term, we’ll probably find awkward compromises that allow us to retain some semblance of a social life. Maybe movie theaters will take out half their seats, meetings will be held in larger rooms with spaced-out chairs, and gyms will require you to book workouts ahead of time so they don’t get crowded.

Ultimately, however, I predict that we’ll restore the ability to socialize safely by developing more sophisticated ways to identify who is a disease risk and who isn’t, and discriminating—legally—against those who are.

The quick economics of bodegas

Economics_Of_Bodega

Convenience stores: Imagine a world without them. You wouldn’t wanna live in it! Whether you’re cruising in for a six-pack, or you live in the big city and depend on your corner store for, well, just about everything, they’ve usually got you covered. But how do they survive selling nothing but inexpensive merchandise? Also, what’s with all the random stuff on the shelves — detergent, a key-making machine, old DVDs, dollar-store toys — and how’d they get there?

Usually around 80 percent of a store’s revenue comes from Cigarettes and Lottery Tickets.

The Story of Henry Ford's $5 a Day Wages: It's Not What You Think

There's an argument you see around sometimes about Henry Ford's decision to pay his workers those famed $5 a day wages. It was that he realised that he should pay his workers sufficiently large sums to that they could afford the products they were making. In this manner he could expand the market for his products.

It should be obvious that this story doesn't work: Boeing would most certainly be in trouble if they had to pay their workers sufficient to afford a new jetliner. It's also obviously true that you want every other employer to be paying their workers sufficient that they can afford your products: but that's very much not the same as claiming that Ford should pay his workers so that they can afford Fords.

So, if creating that blue collar middle class that could afford the cars wasn't why Ford brought in his $5 a day wages, what was the reason?

Actually, it was the turnover of his staff.

Why It Took So Long to Invent the Wheel

Wheels are the archetype of a primitive, caveman-level technology. But in fact, they're so ingenious that it took until 3500 B.C. for someone to invent them. By that time — it was the Bronze Age — humans were already casting metal alloys, constructing canals and sailboats, and even designing complex musical instruments such as harps.

The tricky thing about the wheel is not conceiving of a cylinder rolling on its edge. It's figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to that cylinder.

The invention of the wheel was so challenging that it probably happened only once, in one place. However, from that place, it seems to have spread so rapidly across Eurasia and the Middle East that experts cannot say for sure where it originated. The earliest images of wheeled carts have been excavated in Poland and elsewhere in the Eurasian steppes, and this region is overtaking Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) as the wheel's most likely birthplace. According to Asko Parpola, an Indologist at the University of Helsinki in Finland, there are linguistic reasons to believe the wheel originated with the Tripolye people of modern-day Ukraine. That is, the words associated with wheels and wagons derive from the language of that culture.

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Just Walk Out (by Amazon)

My Update:

  • In SF. Lucky to be able to work remotely. Thinking about what’s going on in the world right now.

  • Blocked Twitter.

Serious, COVID-19

3/16 - What's Next

Hey, hope you are doing well. This is not a typical edition of my weekly newsletter.

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is here — I am by no means an expert or authority — and I wanted to use this platform to push an important message. 

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

You will remember this month for the rest of your life. Your future kids will ask, “where were you when the entire country shut down?” 

I encourage you to take 10 minutes to understand the severity of this situation.

Panic is not the answer but neither is ignorance.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” - Theodore Roosevelt

This is a very very serious situation (that is growing exponentially). This is a global emergency that affects everyone. It requires everyone take action (young and old).

This is not the typical flu. If your friends tell you this, they are wrong. This is not just some political ploy. This is not an overreaction.

Please take this seriously.

Do your part as if the world depended on it...because it might

What you can actionably do

  • Stay home. Physically distance. Wash your hands.

  • Get your friends and family to stay home as well. Convince them that this is serious. It is not a snow day. Flatten the curve. Quarantine will last several weeks (and maybe months) — make sure you have what you need.

  • Find things to do at home. Read, write, learn, work, cook, and clean. Stay healthy! Do planks, pushups, and sit-ups. Build the project you’ve always wanted to build.

  • End Corona Virus has some good resources.

  • Consider skipping social media for a few days. The headlines can be overwhelming. Check in every once in a while (can follow this Twitter list with informative updates) but be careful not to overdo it.

Need things to read?

Personal update

  • I am in San Francisco, safely quarantined with lots of food. Very lucky to be able to work remotely. I am working tons on my company and reading lots of books.

  • If we haven’t spoken in a while, text/email me. I want to hear how you are doing. Let me know if I can help with anything.

Invention, Safe

3/9 - What's Next

Hey, happy Monday! Hope you have a great week.

Enjoy the newsletter.


Articles to Read.

“Why did it take so long to invent X?”

In seeking to understand the history of progress, I keep running across intriguing cases of “ideas behind their time”—inventions that seem to have come along much later than they could have, such as the cotton gin or the bicycle. I’ve started collecting a list here, and will update that page with new analyses as I find them.

A related question: how surprised should we be that it took X years for invention Y after enabling technology Z? Inventions do not spring forth immediately upon becoming possible: ideas and information take time to spread, experiments are required, funding must be secured, laboratories organized, materials obtained; and at end of the day all this is performed not by automata or some clockwork mechanism, but by unpredictable individuals with their own vision, inspiration, hopes and fears, operating in complex network of teams, contracts, partnerships, and other social structures. Even in the best of circumstances, a gap of a decade or more from a key enabling technology to the commercial release of an invention is not surprising; if the enabler is a scientific discovery, two or three decades does not surprise me. And chance can intervene—the path to an invention can be derailed by a sudden disease, a financial panic, a war.

In general, I think we should be more surprised at long gaps for inventions that have obvious, predictable impact on major industries. For this reason, the cotton gin and the flying shuttle are more compelling gaps to me than the wheeled suitcase, role-playing games, or the bicycle, which merely offer convenience or entertainment. I think we should also expect longer gaps in places and times that had lower population, less education, less economic surplus (to fund R&D), fewer or less effective financing mechanisms (such as venture capital), less political stability, etc.

Why does the coronavirus spread so easily between people?

As the number of coronavirus infections approaches 100,000 people worldwide, researchers are racing to understand what makes it spread so easily.

The new virus spreads much more readily than the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS (also a coronavirus), and has infected more than ten times the number of people who contracted SARS.

To infect a cell, coronaviruses use a ‘spike’ protein that binds to the cell membrane, a process that's activated by specific cell enzymes. Genomic analyses of the new coronavirus have revealed that its spike protein differs from those of close relatives, and suggest that the protein has a site on it which is activated by a host-cell enzyme called furin.

This is significant because furin is found in lots of human tissues, including the lungs, liver and small intestines, which means that the virus has the potential to attack multiple organs, says Li Hua, a structural biologist at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. The finding could explain some of the symptoms observed in people with the coronavirus, such as liver failure, says Li, who co-authored a genetic analysis of the virus that was posted on the ChinaXiv preprint server on 23 February2. SARS and other coronaviruses in the same genus as the new virus don't have furin activation sites, he says.

The Robber Bank

Wells Fargo “collected millions of dollars in fees and interest to which [it] was not entitled, harmed the credit ratings of certain customers, and unlawfully misused customers’ sensitive personal information,” according to the Justice Department, which announced on Feb. 21 that the banking company has agreed to pay an additional $3 billion to settle potential charges stemming from its unauthorized creation of several million customer accounts between 2002–16. Fees and penalties in relation to this scam alone had already totaled more than half a billion dollars.

Good news, right? That looks like accountability, and $3 billion is a lot of dough. But that $3 billion represents only a small part of the bank’s takings from just this one scam—customer money to which, by its own admission, it “was not entitled.” From that perspective, the DOJ basically caught a gang of thieves and let them scoot right back to their den with most of the loot. Worse still, criminal prosecutions—for a bank that openly admits it stole money from its own customers—are off the table for now: “The criminal investigation into false bank records and identity theft is being resolved with a deferred prosecution agreement in which Wells Fargo will not be prosecuted during the three-year term of the agreement.”

That 1970s Feeling

CAMBRIDGE – It is too soon to predict the long-run arc of the coronavirus outbreak. But it is not too soon to recognize that the next global recession could be around the corner – and that it may look a lot different from those that began in 2001 and 2008.

For starters, the next recession is likely to emanate from China, and indeed may already be underway. China is a highly leveraged economy, it cannot afford a sustained pause today anymore than fast-growing 1980s Japan could. People, businesses, and municipalities need funds to pay back their out-size debts. Sharply adverse demographics, narrowing scope for technological catch-up, and a huge glut of housing from recurrent stimulus programs – not to mention an increasingly centralized decision-making process – already presage significantly slower growth for China in the next decade.

Moreover, unlike the two previous global recessions this century, the new coronavirus, COVID-19, implies a supply shock as well as a demand shock. Indeed, one has to go back to the oil-supply shocks of the mid-1970s to find one as large. Yes, fear of contagion will hit demand for airlines and global tourism, and precautionary savings will rise. But when tens of millions of people can’t go to work (either because of a lockdown or out of fear), global value chains break down, borders are blocked, and world trade shrinks because countries distrust of one another’s health statistics, the supply side suffers at least as much.

On being a generalist

You have a choice. You can be a specialist, or a generalist. Which route should you choose?

Specialist means your skills are 80% ONE THING, one field. You dedicate 80% of your time to that, and you have no interest in expanding your knowledge outside of it. Generalist means you have your hands into 4 different broad topics, and you dedicate 25% of your energy to each of them.

Some companies only hire specialists. If you’re Google, it makes little sense to hire a generalist, I think. They have entire teams doing that very specific thing. An early-stage startup might hire a few generalists instead, because they are more flexible and ready to change their focus at need.

The History of the URL

On the 11th of January 1982 twenty-two computer scientists met to discuss an issue with ‘computer mail’ (now known as email). Attendees included the guy who would create Sun Microsystemsthe guy who made Zorkthe NTP guy, and the guy who convinced the government to pay for Unix. The problem was simple: there were 455 hosts on the ARPANET and the situation was getting out of control.

This issue was occuring now because the ARPANET was on the verge of switching from its original NCP protocol, to the TCP/IP protocol which powers what we now call the Internet. With that switch suddenly there would be a multitude of interconnected networks (an ‘Inter... net’) requiring a more ‘hierarchical’ domain system where ARPANET could resolve its own domains while the other networks resolved theirs.

Having a single file list every host on the Internet would, of course, not scale indefinitely. The priority was email, however, as it was the predominant addressing challenge of the day. Their ultimate conclusion was to create a hierarchical system in which you could query an external system for just the domain or set of domains you needed. In their words: “The conclusion in this area was that the current ‘user@host’ mailbox identifier should be extended to ‘user@host.domain’ where ‘domain’ could be a hierarchy of domains.” And the domain was born.

Always Be Journaling

Of the many techniques you’ll pick up over the course of your career, one worth investing in early is journaling. Journaling might not seem like a worthy endeavor at first. Capturing important moments of your life on a daily basis might even seem like extra work on top of everything else you are juggling in your life but, in time, journaling will pay dividends if you stay disciplined and detailed. As you grow older, the details of earlier experiences will grow foggy in your mind. Being able to reconstitute past experiences in order to apply to them to present situations will help you make more informed decisions.

Additionally, journaling serves a dual purpose as it makes you a better writer. This is a wonderful skill to have which shouldn’t be underestimated. In addition to technical expertise, being able to express your thoughts succinctly, supported with documented details, is a sought after skill. Inadvertently exercising this part of your mind, on a regular basis, will allow you to keep this skill sharp.

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My Update:

  • Working.

lonely, Math

3/2 - What's Next

Hey there, happy Monday!


Articles to Read.

Is there a loneliness epidemic?

The media seems to have agreed that rich countries are experiencing a ‘loneliness epidemic’. There are literally thousands of newspaper articles that use this exact expression.

What is the evidence for this? The word ‘epidemic’ suggests that things are getting much worse and loneliness is increasing rapidly. But does the data in fact show that societies are becoming lonelier?

Despite the popularity of the claim, there is surprisingly no empirical support for the fact that loneliness is increasing, let alone spreading at epidemic rates.

It is true that more people are living alone around the world. But loneliness and aloneness are not the same. As we explain in a companion post, spending time alone is not a good predictor of whether people feel lonely, or have weaker social support.

As we explain later, today’s adolescents in the US do not seem to be more likely to report feeling lonely than adolescents from a couple of decades ago; and similarly, today’s older adults in the US do not report higher loneliness than older adults in the past. Surveys covering older adults in other rich countries, including Finland, Germany, England and Sweden, point in the same direction – it’s not the case that loneliness is increasing across generations in these countries.

Math is your insurance policy

We live in interesting times. For instance, we are witnessing several extinction events all at once. One of them is the massive extinction of species. The other is the extinction of jobs. Both are caused by advances in technology. As programmers, we might consider ourselves immune to the latter–after all, somebody will have to program these self-driving trucks that eliminate the need for drivers, or the diagnostic tools that eliminate the need for doctors. Eventually, though, even programming jobs will be automated. I can imagine the last programmer putting finishing touches on the program that will make his or her job redundant.

But before we get there, let’s consider which programming tasks are the first to go, and which have the biggest chance to persist for the longest time. Experience tells us that it’s the boring menial jobs that get automated first. So any time you get bored with your work, take note: you are probably doing something that a computer could do better.

One such task is the implementation of user interfaces. All this code that’s behind various buttons, input fields, sliders, etc., is pretty much standard.

I’m often asked by programmers: How is learning category theory going to help me in my everyday programming? The implication being that it’s not worth learning math if it can’t be immediately applied to your current job. This makes sense if you are trying to locally optimize your life. You are close to the local minimum of your utility function and you want to get even closer to it. But the utility function is not constant–it evolves in time. Local minima disappear. Category theory is the insurance policy against the drying out of your current watering hole.

Legendary Technologist And Essayist Paul Graham On Walking Into Ideas, The Test Of Good Writing, And Becoming A Connoisseur Of Bad Writing

Do you have any pre-writing rituals or habits before you sit down to write?

Ideally not. Ideally I already have the next few sentences lined up in my head, and I just sit down and start writing. But unfortunately that only happens about 20% of the time. When it doesn’t, I’m in trouble, because I do things like check Twitter, which is not good for the brain. You’d think by 55 I’d be more organized, but apparently not.

How do you know if something you’re working on is not worth publishing or not any good? Have you developed any criteria that lets you evaluate your own work?

I have a trick for this. I think the goal of an essay is to surprise the reader. And if you write about a topic you understand fairly well and you’re able to discover things you didn’t consciously realize when you started writing, they’ll probably surprise most readers too. That’s the test: am I surprising myself?

A Text Renaissance

There is a renaissance underway in online text as a medium.

I want to take a stab at lightly theorizing this renaissance. And also speculating, in light of this renaissance, about what might be the eighth and penultimate death of blogging. And the future of books. So it’s going to be a sprawling, messy hot take on the State of Textual Media. Or at least a simmering take, since I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a year on the backburner.

The text renaissance is an actual renaissance. It’s a story of history-inspired renewal in a very fundamental way: exciting recent developments are due in part to a new generation of young product visionaries circling back to the early history of digital text, rediscovering old, abandoned ideas, and reimagining the bleeding edge in terms of the unexplored adjacent possible of the 80s and 90s.

I imagine, to traditionalists already bemoaning the slow decline of print-based media like books, newspapers, and magazines, these technologies I want to talk about might seem like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. But whether they strike you as renaissance or apocalyptic technologies, they’re here, so let’s meet them.

How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America

Wherever it began, the pandemic lasted just 15 months but was the deadliest disease outbreak in human history, killing between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide, according to the most widely cited analysis. An exact global number is unlikely ever to be determined, given the lack of suitable records in much of the world at that time. But it’s clear the pandemic killed more people in a year than AIDS has killed in 40 years, more than the bubonic plague killed in a century.

The impact of the pandemic on the United States is sobering to contemplate: Some 670,000 Americans died.

In 1918, medicine had barely become modern; some scientists still believed “miasma” accounted for influenza’s spread. With medicine’s advances since then, laypeople have become rather complacent about influenza. Today we worry about Ebola or Zika or MERS or other exotic pathogens, not a disease often confused with the common cold. This is a mistake.

We are arguably as vulnerable—or more vulnerable—to another pandemic as we were in 1918. Today top public health experts routinely rank influenza as potentially the most dangerous “emerging” health threat we face. Earlier this year, upon leaving his post as head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tom Frieden was asked what scared him the most, what kept him up at night. “The biggest concern is always for an influenza pandemic...[It] really is the worst-case scenario.” So the tragic events of 100 years ago have a surprising urgency—especially since the most crucial lessons to be learned from the disaster have yet to be absorbed.

The war on food waste is a waste of time

Food waste is frequently articulated as an environmental crisis, a claim that rests on two arguments. The first is clearly climate-oriented: When food waste ends up in a landfill, it rots and produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that warms the planet. In this argument, households are largely to blame, and the solutions put forward to address household food waste mostly center on policing behavior, whether through more judicious domestic labor or patronizing public education campaigns aimed at addressing consumer confusion.

Much like paper straws or canvas totes, though, well-meaning small changes miss the forest of structural change for the trees of lifestyle tweaking. The object of thrown-away food bears scrutiny, even though it is the way we dispose of food — mostly dumping it in landfills — that generates methane emissions. Large-scale composting or biogas generation, which could actually put a dent in this methane problem, often require public investment and political will — something consumer-focused finger-pointing does not.

This creative accounting suggests that wasting less food would somehow undo all of the harms of food production. But the nutrient cycle does not care whether or not you clean your plate. All the environmental impacts that brought that meal into being are done deals; in the parlance of introductory economics, they are “sunk costs.” In focusing so much on waste, we give a pass to the way things are further upstream. There is a rosy assumption that wasting less food would make it back up the supply chain in the most impressive game of telephone ever and signal to farmers to grow less food. But that seems unlikely in an agricultural paradigm staked by subsidies that incentivize the overproduction of four or five commodity crops, where farmers are subjugated by the demands of fewer and fewer agribusiness firms rather than consumers.

What Happened When Tulsa Paid People to Work Remotely

The first class of hand-picked remote workers moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in exchange for $10,000 and a built-in community. The city might just be luring them to stay.

Funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, an influential Tulsa-based philanthropy, Tulsa Remote is designed to put the small city on the national map, and shock it with a jolt of new energy, pulled from the outside in.

A year after Tulsa Remote launched, the first participants — a mix of expats from expensive coastal cities, wanderlusty young adults, and those with roots in the region — say they’ve found many of the things they were looking for: a more comfortable and affordable quality of life, new neighbors they like, enough of an economic cushion to ease the stress of buying new furniture, and a fresh start. Many say they’ll stick around past the end of the one-year program. More than that: Some of them tell stories of positive personal transformation that are so dramatic, they might appear too perfect, almost canned. But after checking in with participants over the course of eight months, I found that many of them remained just as effusive. Maybe it’s something about Tulsa. Or maybe it’s something about Tulsa Remote.

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  • Working in SF.

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