January was busy and felt long, but in a good sort of way - I read a fair bit and learned a ton.
John Maynard Keynes was a slog, and I wouldn’t recommend it to most of my friends. I loved it. John Maynard Keynes is not a biography - instead, it’s heterodox economist Hyman Minsky’s reinterpretation of Keynes’s work with a heavy emphasis on uncertainty, finance, and the inherent instability of a capitalist economy. If that sounds interesting, but you're not sure about jumping into the book, this short article (The Deflationary Bloc) from earlier this month is a great place to start.
Though How to Do Nothing's subtitle is “Resisting the Attention Economy,” it’s less a screed about modern technology and more an exploration of the concept of attention and the question of how we direct it. I have some qualms with the book (I’ll write those up in the near future), but I thought it was good nonetheless.
The Asset Economy is a short book about how asset ownership, particularly home ownership, is central to the state of the modern economy. The authors argue convincingly that governments' focus on asset appreciation has increased inequality. They also say that there's no easy way out. It's a great read, and I was delighted to see the book's heavy emphasis on Hyman Minsky's understanding of uncertainty and speculation.
The Case for a Job Guarantee is a case for a job guarantee. Contrary to my expectations, I got the more from the author's rhetoric than I did from any empirical evidence. My favorite parts of the book are the questions Tcherneva raises: Why do we guarantee the price of agricultural commodities but not the price of labor? Why did economists target a specific level of unemployment (NAIRU) when it would be unthinkable to target a specific level of illiteracy or starvation?
I’ve watched this video probably half a dozen times since it was first posted, and I felt compelled to come back to it after reading How to Do Nothing. Shore’s description of photography as a tool for learning to see “with conscious attention” resonates with me. I haven’t taken a serious photo since the pandemic began, but I’ve retained that ability to see, and it sustains me, it “feeds part of the mind.”
Not Just Bikes is a channel dedicated to urban design and transportation, primarily in Amsterdam. I watched almost all the videos on the channel in January. I think this one on moving is especially great.
At the beginning of January, I joined Dialup, a voice chat app that connects you with random people. I’ve been surprised at how diverse the crowd is. I expected a bunch of techies in California, but instead I’ve spoken with people in Montana, Ohio, upstate New York, D.C., Nigeria, and South Korea. It's been good to talk with normal people (well, not exactly normal, it seems like an educated group, but at least outside of the tech bubble) - it reminds more than anything of my time at college, where it was easy to have serendipitous conversations.
Learning computer stuff
I enrolled in Bradfield School of Computer Science’s January / February computer architecture class, and it’s been awesome. I finally understand how to write assembly, how logic gates are chained together to make useful components, how state is preserved in a computer, how a CPU works, how UTF-8 works - so much that I didn’t have a handle on before. I strongly recommend the course.
I’ve also decided to join Recurse Center for a Spring 1 (starts on February 15) half batch. I’m looking forward to continuing to fill in the gaps in my knowledge there - I’m hoping to write an interpreter / compiler and dig into a functional programming language!