April 3, 2021
Big month! I finished my batch at The Recurse Center and will be starting a new job in April.
"Craig was really big on craigslist not looking commercial, on it not looking slick. [He'd say,] 'I just want it to be a list'"
An Internet for the People is an interesting read and fun book about craigslist. I love craigslist, and this is the first book that’s been published about it. Interviews with early employees and Craig Newmark himself are especially great. I do have some quibbles–Lingel talks about how some craigslist transactions subvert capitalist logic but argues this point imprecisely. It’s a bummer because the pieces are pretty much all there for a stronger case. I’ll write about this in the near future.
That was the only book I finished in March. I’ve been slogging through Michel Aglietta’s Money: 5000 Years of Debt and Power, and I’m about 3/4 of the way through it. I still don’t know how I feel about it.
I did end up reading a lot of interesting blog posts and articles this month, though.
“[N]o macroeconomic outcome is really able to validate the morals believed to underpin microeconomic behavior. It makes ideas of agency and responsibility a huge muddle, and is part of why saying that the unemployed should simply “learn to code” in an environment of long-term insufficiencies in aggregate demand is so insulting. Their unemployment is overdetermined by the system, if they learn to code, and even if they get a job, that overdetermination doesn’t go away and at best the outcome just moves to someone else. Aggregate-level problems require aggregate-level solutions.”
The best thing I read this month was the veb account’s The Post-Keynesian Worldview in Five Principles. Just go read it.
“The friction of having to write, to structure thoughts in plain text, to remember the name of the person I need to reference on this page: that is the point. Frictionless note-taking produces notes, but it doesn’t - for me - produce memory.”
Tom MacWright wrote a piece about how software tools are getting complex again, and I thought it was great.
I read 3 tribes of programming, a 2017 post about different schools of thought for programming, after someone recommended it at Recurse Center. I had been thinking about a similar taxonomy (basically a gradient from “code is for hardware” to “code is for people”), so I liked this post a lot. I disagree on a few of the finer points. For example, Rich Hickey can justifiably be placed in any of the three tribes; sure, he talks about programming in a math-y way, but he also emphasizes the importance of language runtimes and practical end products. I also think that Jonathan Blow is right that he would have had to rewrite a lot of the Unity engine to get The Witness to run as well as it did–I played it on laptop-grade hardware and was surprised by its excellent performance. The author responded to similar critiques in 2019.
“Silicon Valley is a mirror of what is wrong with our economy and corporate governance, not the cause of it, or even the worst exemplar.”
Tim O’Reilly’s article The End of Silicon Valley as We Know It was solid. What I appreciated most about it was how O’Reilly emphasizes that Silicon Valley is not the central pivot of our economy–that’s what finance is.
This talk by Mike Acton has a ton of practical advice for software engineers. The most interesting part for me was when he laid out his method for practicing software engineering. Acton recommends taking 30 minutes a day to find gaps in your abilities and then to do drill-like exercises to fill them. He says explicitly to separate practice from other personal projects and to discard practice work.
“If you go to an auction, out comes the Picasso, dead silence. Once the hammer comes down on the price, applause. Okay? So, we live in a society where they applaud the price but not the Picasso.”
Pretend It’s a City follows Fran Lebowitz around while she says Fran Lebowitz things. It’s mostly funny but sometimes quite insightful.
Jonathan Blow argues that games can be used in education to build intuition about systems in a way that other mediums can’t. Sure, makes sense to me. Sounds hard, though. The part I liked most was when Blow argued that “gamification” is a total misnomer. Badges, medals, and other awards have literally existed for millennia, and achievement-like mechanics are a relatively recent addition to games.
I started playing Apex Legends with some friends from high school and college this month. I like it a lot, not least because I’m decent at it–its gunplay is basically lifted straight from Titanfall, a game I had a 2.6 K/D in (by far the highest of any game I ever played).
What I like most about it, though, is the need for rapid planning, decision making, and communicating. If you and your team are deliberating, you’re losing. In Apex, it’s almost always better to commit quickly and fully to a suboptimal course of action than it is to spend time debating what to do.
Vegyn put some new music out.
I sat in the park and listened to this podcast episode on a whim–I actually have no idea how I got to it. It was a great introduction to positivism and antipositivism in philosophy and their analogues in theology, cataphatic theology and apophatic theology.