I'm a software engineer living in Vancouver, BC.

When I'm not working, I can usually be found buried under a giant backlog of reading, or in the gym. My interests range over the set of business, technology, ethics, economics, psychology, politics, science, and education, in no particular order.

Ezra Savard

Here is a short list of things that I’ve read in the last few weeks that were interesting/impactful enough to remember them for more than a few days:

Alex Tabarrok on Buying Coal Mines
One of the more interesting notions on how money could be spent directly to discourage coal by limiting supply and thus increasing prices. The crux of the argument is that the right to mine coal is much cheaper than the coal itself, because coal mining is expensive. As a result, it is very cheap to buy the right to leave the coal in the ground, relative to the cost of all the coal, even before prices rise from limiting supply.

Scott Alexander Reviews Peter Thiel’s “Zero-to-One”
When a blog that I’ve found super influential reviews a book I found super influential. There are some excellent thoughts here on Thiel’s contrarian takes on both monopolies and efficient markets. To attempt to summarize, Thiel thinks taht only firms with monopoly profits can afford the luxury of long-term thinking. On efficient markets, Thiel argues that a belief in secrets (thinking you know something that most people don’t) is fundamental in discovering new value. That’s another way of saying that value is created by discovering an ineffiency in the market, and doing something with it. Scott Alexander has some nice skepticism on these fronts. Secrets are tough to balance: believe that none exist and you will never take any risks, believe that you know many and you will just be arrogant and often wrong.

Facebook vs Twitter: Fake News Spread Differences
Bad news for people who like fake news? TLDR: fake news engagement on Facebook relative to Twitter has fallen by 60% since 2016. I would love to see some info about how much money per user-capita each company is spending on combating fake news spread. How much of this is company effort, how much is network structure, and how much is network culture? My limited searching didn’t find any hints to these questions yet.

Using a Hololens to Lay Bricks Better
I think things like this are underrated applications for mixed reality. This shows a pair of brick layers doing in 6.5 hours a job that they estimated would take two full weeks, with more accurate results. This technology is really not very good right now, so it is even more exciting to see such a viable application.

Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Development
I am not a nuclear engineer, but I’m really optimistic about these molten salt nuclear reactors as a long-term (next century) energy solution until fusion becomes useful. The article provides a lot of detail and makes a strong case for this technology. It also gives some history on how we got to the nuclear reactor technology in use today, and why the waste products are so bad (short answer: prevent proliferation of fissile material).

Giant Airships - Industry Size Estimates
Giant airships are super cool, for aesthetic reasons. I also think they bring a lot of the same benefits as shipping, without being anchored to using coastal ports, specific canals, etc. They also seem to fit into a currently unpopulated niche in the speed/cost balance for transporting goods. This linked post shares a lot of great info, including actual estimates of the future industry size.

Status as a Service and Proof of Work in Social Networks
Warning: massive read (took me over 2 hours of actual reading time). Eugene Wei provides a great deep-dive on social networks and their various mechanisms for providing social status and utility, including some fun comparisons to ICOs by discussing proof of work via wit, or dancing.

Tim Sweeney is Building the Metaverse via Fortnite?
I’ve never played Fortnite, but after spending countless hours standing around Dalaran (World of Warcraft) chatting with people and jumping back and forth over a fountain, I get the appeal of having 3D avatars in your chat room. What I find interesting here is:

  1. Doing it across so many platforms
  2. Doing it with a userbase that is not just MMORPG players
  3. Pulling in traditionally non-virtual forms of group entertainment like the much talked about Marshmellow concert

I wonder how they plan to reach the point where users create content without running into the “sea of dicks” problem, e.g. Second Life (not quite NSFW).

Scott Alexander Makes Conspiracy Theory Posters for Real Things
Basically, he tries to use the language/style of conspiracy theorists on the ordinary beliefs they often want to debunk. Some of this stuff got me to actually “lol” in public in a non-idiomatic but literal way. There are some gems in the comments too, like this one arguing that Israel might actually be run by Jews.

In my life, I’ve mostly approached achieving my goals via rigid self-discipline. I’ve viewed any mis-steps as a sign of weaknesses to be overcome through willpower. This approach emphasizes confronting obstacles head-on and feeling morally superior for overcoming them.

A present-day evangelist of this attitude would be Jordan B. Peterson. I think his message of self-reliance and confronting our own weakness appeals strongly to young men who want to prove themselves in the world, as it did to me. I’m not exactly sure how I was introduced to it, but heroically rising up against obstacles and triumphing by sheer force of will is not exactly a rare message in fiction consumed by young boys.

Using this model, I felt like a total badass each time I chose not to eat some free cake. It follows the same narrative as my childhood heroes. I felt empowered and in-charge of my own destiny, and that is why it was so seductive. I now I see this approach as a way to feel like I am making progress, but not a good way to actually achieve my goals.

As I’ve grown less arrogant with age, I’ve come around to the idea that I can’t fully control myself, and moreover that it is a waste effort to try. I now prefer to think in terms of strategies that help me succeed most of the time, without constant effort. Usually this comes down to avoiding real-time decision making.

A good system results in achieving my goals by either doing nothing or doing whatever is easiest in the moment. The challenge is to create an environment so that I, through normal day-to-day activities, will progress toward my goals at an acceptable pace.

It’s been occurring to me that I don’t post on this blog often because I don’t have anything “worthwhile” to say. Most of the time I am thinking pretty shallow thoughts and sometimes I think bigger, heavier ones. Of course, if I only post the heavy thoughts, then this site would be ridiculous and pompous. Eh. Let’s change that.