Interesting stuff

  1. Here are five interesting (to me) essays by Paul Graham to read:
    1. Mentoring doesn’t scale… but peer networks do.
    2. The Best Essay… is not the goal — it’s to improve your writing. Also: Writing is thinking.
    3. Experts don’t have crazy ideas — they have insights. Also: Genius comes from undirected obsession. Also: This essay (“Beyond Smart”) really describes me well, not because I am smart, but because I have lots of new ideas — the point of the essay. That difference reconciles, I think, my average intelligence with my above average ability (to me, sorry if this is egotistical) to engage with ideas.
  2. In his second 1967 essay on the “Industrial state” (dominated by large companies), Galbraith claims that large corporations “control demand” to match their production targets, a claim that many anti-capitalists are parrot without reservation. Not that Galbraith had any himself. Indeed, he goes on to say: The planning functions of the state are not ad hoc or separate developments. They are a closely articulated set of functions which supplement and fill the gaps in the planning of the modern large firm — a bold claim that does not deserve defence, especially given the fact that shortages and inflation (i.e., planning failures) were already damaging the US economy (and society). Semi-related: Paul Graham writes on the aberration of the “big company 60s” compared to the long history of start-up culture in the US.
  3. Listen: The True Story of America’s Supremely Messed-Up Immigration System
  4. Read (and make changes): The environment in which kids grow up today [with smart phones and social media] is hostile to human development.
  5. Read: They still make shoes in America.
  6. Listen to this interesting history of the notebook, and thus paper, thinking and creativity.
  7. Read a few of Paul Graham’s thoughts on sort up culture (in his essay on how he went from programming to painting to start ups — and back again):

    I learned some useful things at Interleaf, though they were mostly about what not to do. I learned that it’s better for technology companies to be run by product people than sales people (though sales is a real skill and people who are good at it are really good at it), that it leads to bugs when code is edited by too many people, that cheap office space is no bargain if it’s depressing, that planned meetings are inferior to corridor conversations, that big, bureaucratic customers are a dangerous source of money, and that there’s not much overlap between conventional office hours and the optimal time for hacking, or conventional offices and the optimal place for it.

    But the most important thing I learned, and which I used in both Viaweb and Y Combinator, is that the low end eats the high end: that it’s good to be the “entry level” option, even though that will be less prestigious, because if you’re not, someone else will be, and will squash you against the ceiling. Which in turn means that prestige is a danger sign.


    It’s not that unprestigious types of work are good per se. But when you find yourself drawn to some kind of work despite its current lack of prestige, it’s a sign both that there’s something real to be discovered there, and that you have the right kind of motives. Impure motives are a big danger for the ambitious. If anything is going to lead you astray, it will be the desire to impress people. So while working on things that aren’t prestigious doesn’t guarantee you’re on the right track, it at least guarantees you’re not on the most common type of wrong one.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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