Week of January 13, 2020

A few things of note from around the Internet this week:

Rehabilitation

Who would have thought that treating inmates like actual humans and teaching them valuable life skills might help fight the incarceration problems we have in this country? A profile of the Rikers Coffee Academy.

The barista program (it’s unpaid at Rikers) and a handful of others like it nationwide give inmates a new set of professional skills and a way to pass the time, but they also reflect a growing theory in the criminal justice system that the $88 billion coffee industry can soften the blow of incarceration and provide a critical link to employment. A job — even one that pays $10 to $15 an hour, roughly the wage range at Starbucks — can help end the cycle of crime and recidivism, experts say.


Simple

Great, in-depth analysis of Leslie H. Goldberg’s (CEO of Bowl America, Inc.) annual investor letters by Brandon Beyloe of Macro Ops.

Bowl America is the Chick-Fil-A of bowling centers. Excellent customer service is a large competitive advantage. It’s also one of the hardest to achieve. Top-notch customer service requires employees to buy-in to the company’s long-term vision.

Not only that, employees must enjoy working for the company. Reward your employees and they’ll reward the business.


iPhone

Read this product designers account of life before the iPhone. After that, check out his personal website 🐐


Cancelled

Eugene Wei writes an incredible essay once every couple of months. This essay comparing John Wick 3 to cancel culture is a must read if you’ve seen the movie.

John Wick 3 begins directly after the events of the previous film, and at first, all seemed familiar. But after having spent two films worth of time in this universe already, sometime midway through the third film, it dawned on me. The rules of this film franchise mapped with uncanny precision to something that everyone had been complaining about to me for years now: cancel culture.


Fire

There are a tremendous number of fires (still) burning in Australia. However, like the US, Australia is a very big continent so the impact might not be felt quite as heavily on the West coast as it is on the East coast (a la fires in California having little impact on New York).


Simple pt. 2

Like Bowl America, there is something about businesses that do one simple thing exceedingly well that resonates deeply with me. Josh Brown talks about getting his wife’s engagement ring repaired.

All of this is happening without a single dollar changing hands right now. It’s a store taking care of a customer who bought something in the past and will now likely buy more in the future. They’ve actually transformed my wife from a customer to a client. A client for life.


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Week of January 6, 2020

A few things of note from around the Internet this week:

Pizza Toast

Craig Mod has a pizza toast obsession that grew into a Showa obsession, a kissa obsession, and then a community hub and aging population and “shuttered town” obsession. Really beautiful writing.

Warnings that implore parents not to leave their infants in their cars as they play, hypnotized for hours by small metal balls. This was the belt of Japanese road I had now been walking for two days. A belt where parents accidentally roasted their children.

But then that stretch of sin and sameness fell away. Homes, small gardens, marks of human scale began to appear, and just outside of Gifu city proper, I spotted a sign. A tiny square with modernist design impulses that spelled out “Yashiro” in Japanese. As I neared and saw the gently radiused windows, the petite frosted-glass globe above the doorway, I was pretty certain they’d have what I was looking for: pizza toast.


Darts

Come for the incredibly bad predictions that are compiled in this post, stay for a great summary of the book Superforecasting.

Before you make serious portfolio changes based upon some urgent warning, be sure you are well aware of the risks and opportunity costs of doing so…and make sure you know the full and complete track record of the forecaster upon which you are relying. Very few “expert” forecasters will talk about their misses. And they all have lots of misses.


Assassin Marketplace

The future is going to be great. Brian Merchant reports on online assassination marketplaces and the very real people that are being targeted.

She fidgeted in her seat, and when she spoke, she mostly looked down at her plate. Seeing her in person made it abundantly clear: whoever had targeted Stern had succeeded in shattering her sense of security and well-being.


Drowning

Everything in personal finance is relative. Auren Hoffman writes about individuals that are financially drowning while making $300,000+ per year.

As is the case with privilege in any form, one cannot speak of it as it is essentially a heretical topic. 95% of Americans would slap you in the face if you told them you made $300k a year and were having money problems. Most would gladly trade places with you in a heartbeat. Nevertheless, it helps to understand the history and metrics we use to we measure income disparity at the very top – how can we quantify who is struggling when people are making enormous sums of money?


PJs

I remember reading about parajumpers in high school—maybe in some alternative universe I actually followed through on that interest and became one of these cowboys.

For many across the armed forces, however, the PJ is a cowboy. PJs embrace the image, tattooing green footprints on their ass cheeks to commemorate their wild legacy, the footprints taken after impressions PJ helicopters would leave on Vietnamese landing fields. Their wild legacy contains numerous exemplars: PJs jumping with patients from exploding helicopters, PJs flying into hurricanes and 80-foot waves, PJs taking bullets to the head and then returning to combat. One story tells of two PJs wrestling in an Afghan hut after a grenade rolled by; each tried to shield the other, competing over who should save whom. The grenade never detonated.


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Week of December 30, 2019

A few things of note from around the Internet this week:

CapitalOneism

I suspect that a lot of people harbor some sort of denial of the harm being done as a result of their job. This is just a particularly egregious example.

The real question, of course, isn’t whether a credit card with a 27 percent interest rate and a $39 late fee is better than a payday loan. It’s whether Capital One’s marketing campaigns push people into debt who would have otherwise avoided it; whether it is actually in a person’s best interest, desperate though they may be, to borrow money at an exorbitant rate; and whether this enterprise is ethically defensible—in particular, for the decent, hard-working employees who toil every day to make Capital One’s mercenary strategy a reality. Because the ugly truth is that subprime credit is all about profiting from other people’s misery.


Kids

Paul Graham on having kids:

What I didn't notice, because they tend to be much quieter, were all the great moments parents had with kids. People don't talk about these much — the magic is hard to put into words, and all other parents know about them anyway — but one of the great things about having kids is that there are so many times when you feel there is nowhere else you'd rather be, and nothing else you'd rather be doing. You don't have to be doing anything special. You could just be going somewhere together, or putting them to bed, or pushing them on the swings at the park. But you wouldn't trade these moments for anything. One doesn't tend to associate kids with peace, but that's what you feel.


Unknown

It seems inevitable to me that mining on the seafloor will occur, whether this year or in the decades to come. My hope is that we’ll use all of the technological progress we’ve made to minimize the impact we have on an environment we know almost nothing about.

Drazen is an academic ecologist; Venter is not. Venter has been accused of trying to privatize the human genome, and many of his critics believe his effort to create new organisms is akin to playing God. He clearly doesn’t have an aversion to profit-driven science, and he’s not afraid to mess with nature—yet when I asked him about the prospect of mining in deep water, he flared with alarm. “We should be very careful about mining in the ocean,” he said. “These companies should be doing rigorous microbial surveys before they do anything else. We only know a fraction of the microbes down there, and it’s a terrible idea to screw with them before we know what they are and what they do.”


Plunder

An unfathomable number of invaluable antiquities we’re plundered from China over the past several centuries—now the Chinese people, government, and conglomerates want them back.

Even art-crime experts, though, are quick to acknowledge that the situation might look different from China's perspective. Noah Charney, a professor of art history and founder of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, says that when it comes to winning back their lost art, the Chinese can't imagine how such a thing would be wrong. “It's almost like there's a fog around it from a criminological perspective,” he said. “It's like another planet, in terms of the way people think about what art is, what authenticity is, what is socially unacceptable to do.”


Treasure

An incredibly reported story about a life-long fisherman who finds a potentially life-changing treasure. Unfortunately, finding the treasure is the easiest part.

His obsession was hard for his loved ones to understand, but to him it made perfect sense. He had spent his whole life fishing blind, never seeing his huge net do its work. Now, for the first time, he could observe his most important piece of equipment and the cold, dark water through which it moved. A mysterious realm, suddenly illuminated. And then, one night, he saw something that he never expected to see. He saw a flash of gold.


2020

A quick Wait But Why post looking at where we are in modern history.

But the weirdest thing about kids today: most of them will live to see the 2100s.


🎇 Have a Happy New Year 🎇

Week of December 23, 2019

A few things of note from around the Internet this week:

Internet Adventure

An incredible adventure involving Netflix, a lot of disparate adapters and converters, and hours Googling for arcane answers on the Internet. My favorite part is the pile of adapters that keeps getting more and more tangled as the story progresses.

I’m looking forward to watching some new movies, and I think it’s annoying that Netflix makes it so difficult to see if you’re getting what you pay for.

I realise that this makes things much easier for customer support: They don’t have to field calls from customers saying “I’m on the 4K plan, and I’m watching a Star Wars movie, but the bitrate says 6Mbps”. Understandable! But if you sold a product in a different arena, and made it virtually impossible for any normal customers to check whether you get what you’re paying for, then there’s be consequences. Perhaps?

Perhaps not.

Oudh

The fabulous and fabulist story of the eccentric royal family of Oudh. This will definitely end up as a Netflix Original (that's funny if you read the article preceding this one).

“Everything is a lie,” Khalida said. “They are dead. Just leave them. God forgives them, so we should also forgive them.”

Exponential

Globalization and the march of technology continue to shrink the world; a wonderful thing for humans and pandemics alike. This essay explores the question of how to track and monitor diseases as they spread around the globe and the lessons that can be learned from the spread of Spanish flu and invention of steamships.

An official military report on the voyage described the scene: “Pools of blood from severe nasal hemorrhages of many patients were scattered throughout the compartments and the attendants were powerless to escape tracking through the mess, because of the narrow passages between the bunks.”

The real horror of the outbreak aboard the Leviathan, though, was that it wasn’t an isolated event. Around the world, the same scene was playing out among soldiers and civilians, from isolated islands to teeming metropolises, from North America to Auckland, New Zealand. A horrifying flu had hit eerily fast and hard, striking the healthiest of people.

I thought this was a remarkable sentence:

The Russian flu [1890] killed around 300,000 (maybe more) people worldwide, which wasn’t enough to create a public health stir.

There is only one conclusion: cruise ships and other marine vessels are the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of terrible illnesses.

A 2016 study in Nature declared the obvious about the health risks posed by these floating apartment buildings: “Long-term personal contact, complex population flows, a lack of medical care facilities, and defective infrastructure aboard most cruise ships is likely to result in the ship becoming an incubator for infectious diseases.”

Broken

One of the better podcasts I've listened to recently. Laura Arnold is an incredible interviewer and Meek Mill has a unique perspective as a celebrity, activist, and victim of an incredibly broken criminal justice system. After you're done listening, take a few minutes to read about Arnold Ventures and read this Wired article.

Mill began his fight for probation and parole reform after receiving a multi-year prison sentence for minor probation violations, including popping a wheelie on his dirt bike. He is one of more than 350,000 people sent to prison each year for probation and parole failures, which can include infractions as minor as improper paperwork or missing a curfew.

Cool Ideas

This compilation from David Perell has a lot of really interesting facts and ideas. For example, Kobe Bryant’s reading habits:

I made a point of reading the referee's handbook. One of the rules I gleaned from it was that each referee has a designated slot where he is supposed to be on the floor. If the ball, for instance, is in place W, referees X, Y, and Z each have an area on the court assigned to them.

When they do that, it creates dead zones, areas on the floor where they can't see certain things. I learned where those zones were, and I took advantage of them. I would get away with holds, travels, and all sorts of minor violations simply because I took the time to understand the officials' limitations.

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