Jamie on Software

Links, July 2022

ETHCC Paris, The Idler Festival, dinners at the Liberal Club, work on the book, actual work, and learning to fly; it’s been a busy month in which I deadlifted 100kg for the first time, only read a couple of books, submitted the first few chapters of Products, Protocols, and Platforms, and have found myself exhausted. I am more energised when I am productive, and more productive when I am energised, so ascertaining how to bootstrap myself into either productivity or energy is I think a high-leverage activity with which I’ll be experimenting for the rest of the year.

Perhaps the most important thing I read this month was Eichmann in Jerusalem. I didn’t quite realise how much of a journalist Arendt was, and look forward to reading more of her political theory in the future. It’s rare, nowadays, to go from in-the-trenches journalism to academic theorising. (Counterexamples: Gramsci, sort of? Maybe Robert Caro? Anne Applebaum, perhaps?)

Also supplemented Arendt with Richard Evans’s Third Reich in Power, the second volume in the series. I read the first volume maybe a decade ago and enjoyed it. The second was more of a slog.

Just finished Hard Drive, a book about Bill Gates and the early days of Microsoft. Gates was a lot more competitive and ruthless than I knew, though I’m not surprised.

Political science is horribly underpowered. I am in a cynical mood right now, so don’t expect these findings to change much.

A logarithmic map of the entire universe.

A good post from Tanner on the decline of history majors and the relationship between the sciences and the humanities. Also a very well-written letter on decolonising the curriculum and the contradictions inherent in it.

There’s something very distinctive about the ‘long-form interviews with macho men for a predominantly working-to-lower-middle-class white male audience that leans right’ format, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. It’s far from anti-intellectualism: the hosts and their guests are smart and eager to grapple with complicated ideas. It’s not quite one-sidedness, because they can surprised you. It’s almost an aesthetic property, a flavour of self-assuredness, the eschewing of the effete. Whatever it is, this interview with Erik Prince was swimming in it.

Wonderful lecture on the F-22 Raptor and the engineering decisions behind it.

Justin E. H. Smith reviews his two years on Substack.

Ordinary citizens have essentially no influence over government in the United States. What the elites want, they generally get. It’s amazing that US society is generally so stable.

End degrowtherism now.

There are some good old episodes on the PricedOut podcast, covering planning reform, the commercial incentives of house building, etc.

11:35am. August 3, 2022.

Links, May 2022

May was a fine month with lots of social engagements, less writing than I wanted, but quite a lot of reading. I ran the Edinburgh Marathon, my first marathon ever, in four hours and 33 minutes. I wrote a piece on Decentralisation as a trade-off space.

To prepare for a debate with my friend David, I read two books on the history of housing development: All That is Solid and Municipal Dreams. The latter was very good. The former descended into Tory-bashing in the key of Owen Jones, which might be righteous but is also a little tiresome. I also read bits of Order Without Design, which was truly excellent; it’s good to see urban theory that grounds itself in, and has respect for, economics.

I also read the second volume of Alastair Campbell’s diaries, covering 1997-1999 and the first few salvos of a triumphantly New Labour. The diary format is excellent, since you get an obviously singular perspective as it unfolds. I hadn’t realised quite how little communication mattered in the civil service prior to Blair; lots of Campbell’s agonies involved getting various govt departments to coordinate messaging, routing comms through Number 10. I also had very little idea of how much work went into the Good Friday agreement, or how tenuous it was. Many many chances for it to fall apart. Had Paisley or Trimble or Adams woken up on the wrong side of bed on the wrong morning and the whole thing would have been doomed. From inside government policy seems much more chaotic and stochastic than I had suspected (which might be a reason to be less worried, at least on the margin, about Moloch tendencies.)

I listened to In the Shadow of the Moon while falling asleep most nights, a very thorough set of biographies and history of the Gemini missions, up to Apollo 11.

As for other links, and continuing on the theme of housing, I also read a few good papers worth reading if the subject appeals to you. Anthony Breach’s Capital Cities: How the Planning System Creates Housing Shortages and Drives Wealth Inequality was extremely clear and thorough, UK-specific, and perfect for preparing for an argument with David. The Housing Theory of Everything helps drive home why this matters so much. YIMBY is a moral argument as much as an economic one.

Campbell’s diaries got me on a bit of a New Labour kick, so I watched last year’s excellent series on Blair and Brown and the 13 years of New Labour government. I’ve also been enjoying The Rest is Politics podcast, hosted by Campbell and Rory Stewart.

Dwarkesh Patel wrote a good post on applying the ‘Barbell Strategy’ to everyday life: reframing habit formation and intellectual projects in terms of oscillating between intense focus on one thing and the simplest, lowest-effort thing possible –– which is often nothing at all.

Ken Shiriff is writing some truly excellent, deep work on the technical substrate of the Apollo missions. This is a post on the premodulation processor, the signal combinator and splitter in the command module.

We can now make clocks so sensitive that they can detect the relativistic difference caused by being one milimetre deeper in the Earth’s gravity well.

Facebook open-sourced a logbook documented while building and deploying one of their NLP models. More companies and people should do this sort of stuff.

Finally, I signed a contract with Apress this week to publish a book on Product Engineering on Ethereum. My aim is to raise the relative status of product engineers – those of us who build everything around smart contracts, UIs, tooling, infrastructure – and explore how the unique processing model of Ethereum puts important constraints on the way we build software. I’ll be posting some pieces here as I work through the first draft, so keep an eye out if you’re interested.