may 2020 reading round up

2020-05-31

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~12 min read

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2305 words

Some of the articles I read this month that I enjoyed, made me pause, and or think. Inspired by Tom MacWright’s Recently series.

Opinion | McDonald’s Workers in Denmark Pity Us - The New York Times Despite the baiting title, Nicholas Kristoff makes a compelling argument for another way.

At a time when a pandemic lays bare longstanding inequities in the United States, maybe we should approach the Nordic countries with a bit more curiosity and humility. Be curious. Be humble.

Second-guessing the modern web - macwright.org Coming of age as an engineer during React’s reign, much of what Tom writes about in this piece surprised me. To a degree, React is what I know, even while I’m aware it’s only part of a larger universe. Tom is inspiring me to continue to dig deeper and learn other ways to address problems.

Trump Has Lost the Plot - The Atlantic

But the most important thing to notice about the Trump-Fox blizzard of mania is how remote it is from anything that real-world voters care about. In 2015, Trump apprehended that most Republicans were talking about things that Republican voters did not then care about: deficits, taxes, productivity, and trade. In 2015, Trump apprehended that nobody was talking about things that Republican voters did care about: immigration, drugs, the declining status of less educated white men.

That Trump is gone. Today’s Trump has lost the plot. He’s talking about things most voters could not even understand, let alone care about. Yes, Flynn lied to the FBI. But you have to see, the FBI’s interview was not properly predicated …

Opinion | Ahmaud Arbery’s Killing Shows Running Has Long Excluded Black People - The New York Times

Mr. Arbery’s death and the ensuing outcry is in some ways the latest data point in the sick mash-up of structural racism, gun violence and vigilantism that’s become a hallmark of American life. But it’s also an example of the glaring whiteness of recreational running — a hobby that 47 million Americans embrace in part because of its enticing illusion of universalism, but that has never been, and still is far from, an equal-opportunity endeavor.

Remains of the Day: Issue 07 - Remains of the Day So many interesting and thought provoking pieces in this run down by Eugene! I loved the photographs to start - it felt like a different world. But right now, Covid’s on my mind a lot, so the reflections on parenting during Covid, like the following:

This meme going around about the difference in the pandemic experience of single people and parents is so real to me right now. Just know that if you’re a single person complaining about boredom or horniness or procuring flour, or if you’re a single person hailing the productivity boost of working from home full-time, somewhere a parent stuck at home is flipping you off (with a child in the other arm).

The running in a degraded state and what a pandemic reveals:

America has thrown an area rug over a lot of the cracks in its foundation for a long time. But patches in a complex system are meant to handle normal levels of turbulence. This pandemic is not that. We can grumble about tying healthcare to employment but do nothing about it when unemployment is low, but when a pandemic puts tens of millions of people out of work in a month, we are left naked with our failure.

Rebuilding our tech stack for a new Facebook.com - Facebook Engineering Quite a bit to chew on in this one with lots of ideas about how to optimize a website built with React. This pairs well with Tom MacWright’s piece on SPA fatigue, because while the FB has built an SPA, in this post two engineers talk about some of the problems they faced and considerations made when rearchitecting the desktop app.

A Message from Co-Founder and CEO Brian Chesky

Some final words

As I have learned these past eight weeks, a crisis brings you clarity about what is truly important. Though we have been through a whirlwind, some things are more clear to me than ever before.

First, I am thankful for everyone here at Airbnb. Throughout this harrowing experience, I have been inspired by all of you. Even in the worst of circumstances, I’ve seen the very best of us. The world needs human connection now more than ever, and I know that Airbnb will rise to the occasion. I believe this because I believe in you.

Second, I have a deep feeling of love for all of you. Our mission is not merely about travel. When we started Airbnb, our original tagline was, “Travel like a human.” The human part was always more important than the travel part. What we are about is belonging, and at the center of belonging is love.

To those of you staying,

One of the most important ways we can honor those who are leaving is for them to know that their contributions mattered, and that they will always be part of Airbnb’s story. I am confident their work will live on, just like this mission will live on.

To those leaving Airbnb,

I am truly sorry. Please know this is not your fault. The world will never stop seeking the qualities and talents that you brought to Airbnb…that helped make Airbnb. I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing them with us.

Personal Projects as a Programmer for Hire

If you love the programming craft, I think personal projects are pretty natural to pursue, bounded primarily by bandwidth.1

[…]

  1. To be clear, I’m not saying that this is not a trivial bounding by any means: some months the time for personal projects feels strictly like a luxury. I would never take the absence of personal projects to imply the absence of love of programming. The presence of personal projects, however, I take always to be an indication of that love.

How Coronavirus Will Disrupt Future Colleges & Universities

I’ll have 170 kids in my brand-strategy class in the fall. We charge them $7,000 per student. That’s $1.2 million that we get for 12 nights of me in a classroom. $100,000 a night. The gross margins on that offering are somewhere between 92 and 96 points. There is no other product in the world that’s been able to sustain 90-plus points of margin for this long at this high of a price point.

[…]

We’ve defunded government and made these people wealthier than most governments. They’re not elected and they get to decide who gets a COVID test, and they get to decide who gets to benefit from the technology that might emerge from putting a man on Mars. I think Jeff Bezos is going to offer the COVID-19 test as part of Prime membership. I think that’s where we’re headed.

Now More Than Ever, Facebook Is a ‘Mark Zuckerberg Production’ - The New York Times

Mr. Zuckerberg, now less worried than ever about trying to make everyone happy, reiterated his position. When versions of the same question kept popping up during the session, he held firm.

“This is not a democracy,” he said.

The Lockdown Skeptic They Couldn’t Silence - WSJ

“I want this to be an open dialogue,” Mr. Ginn says. “But we shouldn’t have public-health people making economic policy. We need to have the policy makers who people vote for make those determinations.” After all, “we’re a democracy—we’re not China.”

I disagreed with most of this article, from the premise (that there’s some they that’s censoring certain voices that should be heard and that policy makers are not in charge) to the implied conclusion (that there’s good science that’s being silenced and, again, policy makers aren’t actually making policy). Still, interesting to read.

Scenes From the Class Struggle in Lockdown - WSJ

When you are reasonable with people and show them respect, they will want to respond in kind. But when they feel those calling the shots are being disrespectful, they will push back hard and rebel even in ways that hurt them.

This is no time to make our divisions worse. The pandemic is a story not only about our health but our humanity.

Inequality Everywhere You Look - A Wealth of Common Sense

Many in the wealthy class have the ability to work from home or flee areas where the virus is hitting the worst. There are people working right now because they have to not because they want to.

Many of these market and economic trends have been in place for years now and the pandemic is only speeding them up. Other issues feel like they’ve been created by a meteor hitting the earth out of nowhere. No one asked for this virus so it’s difficult to point a finger at anyone to blame them for the outcomes.

But this is turning into a situation where the rich get richer, the divide between the haves and the have not widens and the anger coming out of the crisis will likely be even worse than it was coming into it.

I don’t know what the unintended consequences of this anger will be but it can’t be good.

Building in public forces true competitive advantage

By building everything in public, you’re forced to do “what’s most valuable” as well as “ what isn’t easily copyable ,” whether that means the quality of your workmanship, the fortress of your business model, or a talent magnet.

It’s still possible, and occasionally advisable, to operate in secret. But sunlight isn’t just the best disinfectant, it’s the best way to forge durability.

Chips and Geopolitics – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Third, Intel, much like Compaq , is an allegory for where the U.S. seems to have lost its way. Locked in an endless pursuit of efficiency and shareholder value, the U.S. gave up its flexibility and resiliency in favor of top-end performance. Intel is one of the most advanced chip makers in the world, but it turns out that capability is far too constrained to its own needs to be of general applicability. Worse, to the extent Intel was willing to become a contract manufacturer, it wanted the federal government to pay for it , the better to satisfy shareholders. The government, rightly, in my mind, chose an operator that was actually used to operating in the world as it is, not once was.

How to Maintain Motivation in a Pandemic - The New York Times

“The stay-at-home edict has pushed so many of us into an external motivation mode that is making us face something that feels like lethargy and meaninglessness,” Dr. Goleman said.

[…]

Fear that we may never escape the threat of the new coronavirus can lead to feelings of futility. What is the point of doing anything if it will all come to naught in the end? Such thinking can certainly thwart motivation and result in a joyless, unrewarding existence. Instead, adopt a more positive approach by selecting goals that are attainable but still present a challenge.

[…]

But even more important than personal tasks you consider tackling, think about what you could do for other people within the constraints of social distancing or lockdown.

5 Ways to Cope with Professional Jealousy (Or Any Kind of Envy)

Take a step back, and stop yourself from conflating professional achievement with self-worth. You are not your work. Your work is not you. You aren’t how much you make, the title you may or may not have, whether or not you can afford next month’s rent. You are just you.

The Three Sides of Risk · Collaborative Fund While ostensibly about investing, this article is so much more than that. Morgan remains one of my favorite writers and thinkers.

I don’t know if Brendan and Bryan’s death actually affected how I invest. But it opened my eyes to the idea that there are three distinct sides of risk:

  • The odds you will get hit.
  • The average consequences of getting hit.
  • The tail-end consequences of getting hit.

The first two are easy to grasp. It’s the third that’s hardest to learn, and can often only be learned through experience.

We knew we were taking risks when we skied. We knew that going out of bounds was wrong, and that we might get caught. But at 17 years old we figured the consequences of risk meant our coaches might yell at us. Maybe we’d get our season pass revoked for the year.

Never, not once, did we think we’d pay the ultimate price.

But once you go through something like that, you realize that the tail-end consequences – the low-probability, high-impact events – are all that matter.

In investing, the average consequences of risk make up most of the daily news headlines. But the tail-end consequences of risk – like pandemics, and depressions – are what make the pages of history books. They’re all that matter. They’re all you should focus on. We spent the last decade debating whether economic risk meant the Federal Reserve set interest rates at 0.25% or 0.5%. Then 36 million people lost their jobs in two months because of a virus. It’s absurd.

Tail-end events are all that matter.

Once you experience it, you’ll never think otherwise.


Hi there and thanks for reading! My name's Stephen. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Want more? See about and get in touch!