September 2021

My cohort of the Bradfield CSI started in earnest last month, and it has been exceptional as Bradfield always is. So far the most mind-blowing part has been learning about and doing low-level optimization – doing loop unrolling, inlining functions, exploiting microarchitecture. It feels like black magic.

I also joined a larger tech company (hiring) in September, and so far my experience has been good. Coming from startups, there’s a lot to like – mature engineering practices, formalized onboarding, incredible scale, and, let’s face it, better pay. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been as apprehensive as I was to join a bigger company.

Watching

Chris at Clickspring is back with more videos about the Antikythera mechanism. In this one, he speculates about what the workshop where the mechanism was built was like.

Reading

Matthew C. Klein wrote two solid free posts this month in The Overshoot, his newsletter about macroeconomics. In The Federal Reserve Wonders What "Maximum Employment" Means, he examines the Fed consistently underestimated maximum employment in the wake of the Great Recession and how that’s interacting with Fed policy today. In America's Inflation Story Is Entering a New Phase, Klein looks at where and why inflation is showing up. For example:

“The possibility that some hotels, airlines, and car rental agencies increased prices too much over the summer in the expectation of a snapback of price-insensitive business travel, and are now reversing course”

I love this kind of thinking about inflation – the focus on very specific mechanisms instead of “quantity of money go up, inflation do up.” That’s not to say that the quantity of money doesn’t affect inflation. But it’s important to lay out channels and mechanisms to make plausible hypotheses about when and where it will appear.

Dan Luu wrote another winner this month, this time on the value of in-house expertise. Why does Twitter have a kernel team? Because at a certain scale, you run into kernel problems.

Zero to One by Peter Thiel was excellent. What I like most is his disdain for competition (informed by philospher René Girard).

"More than anything else, competition is an ideology––the ideology––that pervades our society and distorts our thinking. We preach competition, internalize its necessity, and enact its commandments; and as a result, we trap ourselves within it––even though the more we compete, the less we gain."

So how do you avoid competition? You differentiate yourself by choosing a path, making a plan, and committing to it. Optimizing for optionality is a great way to get stuck in a highly competitive profession that makes you miserable and dulls your achievement.

(On a similar note, I re-read Byrne Hobart’s piece Reasoning From First Principles: The Dumbest Thing Smart People Do. You can see a lot of Thiel’s influence there.)