Roundup: January – June 2014

by Venkat 07.02.2014

Here’s the mid-year roundup. Not counting procedural posts, we’ve had 23 essays in the first six months. The Now Reading page also been updated for the year, check it out for the current state of the ribbonfarm reading radar. Free, as in Agent Consent of the Surveilled The Poor Usability Tell (Jordan) Technical Debt of the […]

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Portals and Flags

by Venkat 06.25.2014

The point of complex debates is not to prove your side right and the other wrong. Smart people make this mistake most often, and end up losing before they ever get started. The point of complex debate is always seduction: winning-over rather than winning. You do this not through logic or even novel insight, but […]

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The Physics of Stamp Collecting

by Venkat 06.18.2014

Ernest Rutherford’s famous line, “all science is either physics or stamp collecting,” has bothered me ever since I first heard it. I’ve used it to make fun of biologists, and I’ve used it as a critical perspective on physics. Rutherford almost certainly meant it as an insult to non-physicists, but there is a deeper and non-prejudiced […]

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The Deliberate Practice of Disruption

by Venkat 06.11.2014

Recently, I concluded that our understanding of expertise, especially in the sense of the 10,000 hour meme, is seriously flawed. Even though there is something real there. And I don’t just mean the understanding conveyed by Malcolm Gladwell, who popularized the idea. I include the primary researchers such as K. Anders Ericsson on whose work the popular […]

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Saints and Traders: The John Henry Fable Reconsidered

by Venkat 06.04.2014

I only recently learned (from Sarah Constantin, whose new blog is worth checking out) of the American folk legend of John Henry, a steel driver who raced against a steam drill and won, only to drop dead right after. Wikipedia tells the story thusly: He worked as a “steel-driver”—a man tasked with hammering a steel drill […]

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Artistic Forestry: 2014 Annual Letter

by Venkat 05.29.2014

For the past three years I’ve been doing a sort of annual letter to shareholders/call for sponsorships a la Warren Buffet’s Sage of Omaha act, roughly around March-April. I am about two months late this year. I am just going to start calling this my annual letter from now on. I plan to make it approximately […]

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The Logic of Uberreaction

by Venkat 05.20.2014

I recently made up a word: uberreact. To uberreact is to  insist that regulations which exist for the benefit of  incumbent producers in a market (and their political patrons) are there to protect the interests of consumers. The inspiration for the term, of course, is the very predictable pattern of response by taxicab companies when Uber enters a […]

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Power Gradients and Spherical Cows

by Jordan Peacock 05.15.2014

Jordan is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home turf on Google+ and hewhocutsdown.net. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal had a comic recently explaining the argument against evolution based on the 2nd law of thermodynamics: “Life on Earth can’t get more complex because that would require energy, and the sun doesn’t exist.” The understanding of entropy is there, […]

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Science! and Other Off-the-Wall Études

by Venkat 05.08.2014

Last year,  around this time, I posted a selection of attempted aphorisms from my Facebook wall (you can follow my public posts if you want the live firehose). I thought I’d do another selection, this time focusing on a new length I am practicing: sub-300-word études (inspired by the corresponding form in music) written as single dense […]

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Replaceability and the Economics of Disequilibrium

by Sam Bhagwat 04.30.2014

Sam is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home blog at Moore’s Hand. One characteristic of personal meaning is irreplaceability. If you’re the only one who can do what you’re doing, your actions suddenly seem a lot more important. We’re familiar with this principle in our personal relationships — perhaps a friend needs a piece of […]

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