Favorite Reads - May 2017


Steven Pinker - The Sense of Style

The New Yorker is the butt of so many jokes by linguists for its absurd stances on grammar on editing. So it’s not surprising that when we finally get a really great guide from a well respected author and linguist, they would be the only outlet to criticize the book. I feel like they at least should have mentioned their conflict of interest. The book is very critical of them. The New Yorker only seems to have skimmed the book, which they knew was on a topic they wouldn’t like, to look for conflicts over grammar that they will have popular support for among their readers.

The book is incredible as are many of Pinker’s other books. This is the first time I’ve seen anyone really coherently talk about how to write and edit good prose. Maybe that’s an exageration. The Oxford Guide To Writing and other similar books are good as well. They just don’t have the explanatory power as Pinker does with his background in Linguistics.

Liu Cixin - The Three Body Problem

Scifi often lacks the deep character development that happens in good literature. Regular literature can’t rely on fantastic ideas and scenarios to keep the reader’s attention. I’m at odds with most of my friends who read this. I found the scenes from the cultural revolution to be the most gripping part of it. The rest felt like a good idea that was made into a book. Many of the later chapters felt added on.


Maybe Just Don’t Drink Coffee

Hilarious. This is why I find most foodie related things to be oppressive and just silently avoid them.

This Product Prioritization System Nabbed Pandora 70 Million Monthly Users with Just 40 Engineers

I should probably have a separate section for click-baity works with embarrassing titles. The substance of the paper is that Pandora chose to use a market/voting system of sorts to prioritize features. I wish kind of thinking were more common. It makes me wish I had more time to study voting system, public choice, and the like.

Teller Reveals His Secrets

A short and well written introduction to the fundamental principles of deception. They sound surprisingly universal and important.

Why Walking Helps Us Think

This is the kind of article I remember Jonah Lehrer writing. He was very influential for me in college and I really miss this kind of work. I am a big fan of aimless walking. Since moving however, I haven’t enjoyed it as much. Cities don’t give you the same quality of distractionless walking that a small town does.

Where Have All The Insects Gone

Terrifying account of ecological destruction. The scary part is how oblivious we can be. Makes a great case for more environmental science and how important data collecting can be.

When Bash Scripts Bite

Well designed languages that provide guarantees for different domains are important.

Beware of Transparent Pixels

I do a fair amount of image processing and it honestly never occurred to me that interpolation with transparent pixels could cause a problem like this. File under leaky abstraction?

Mental Models I Find Repeatedly Useful

I enjoy stuff like this. It’s useful to try to list them all out, but I’m skeptical of the idea of approaching the list as an absolute thing or something that could be “correct”. It’s really more a document of what filters and lenses you use. It also might need to be some other kind of structure than a list.

How to Trick People Into Saving Money

The state lottery system is morally indefensible. Anyway, the article features the often maligned Walmart doing positive, significant work for low income people. This is the kind of work that I think really matters. It fits into the recent trend that shows how traditional banking has failed low income people and why those people prefer alternative banking services. It’s as simple as doing classical economics. Assume the consumer is acting rationally and try to figure out why they behave they way they do.

What I Saw at the Venice Biennale

This isn’t on the list for the article’s content (which is still interesting). What’s amazing is how its a structured video. I would have liked to see less linearity and more digressive content. Also, I would have had no idea how to correct say “biennale” without the video.

Warren Buffett’s “2 List” Strategy

Another embarrassing article. Most self help tips from Warren Buffet are good advice but kinda cheezy sounding.

Lists are a just one way of externalizing habits and desirable processes in our environment. They had a lot of problems, which is why I prefer to avoid them if possible. This article addresses this with a round-about anecdote.

Wikipedia Has Cancer

Most organizations have this problem. It baffles me. You can always start new companies and new projects instead of increasing the scope of them. I feel almost as if companies need a formal model that prevents this kind of feature creep.

On the other hand, is your company dying because it’s purpose is being phased out? Maybe let it die slowly and use its capital to fund new start up companies. cough Yahoo cough

Why We Are Self Publishing the Aviary Cookbook

Alinea is great. I’ve never been. But everything they write is great. This is a great look into the economics of publishing and how great the people who run that restaurant are.

How the Airlines Became Abusive Cartels

The entire United Airlines debacle is confusing to me. I rarely fly, but I very much understand that my reservations is not a reservation at all. Most of what I’ve read on this ignores the real economic (and therefore enviromental) need for airlines to be able to bump passengers from flights. This article doesn’t. Instead it provides a useful economic history of airlines that explains so much of their behavior. I would like to read a counter argument about the harm of government deregulation here, but this makes very compelling arguments.

Keurig accidentally created the perfect business model for hardware startups

I’m not a Keurig fan. I am a french press kind of guy and it disturbs me that the Keurig’s model is working. It’s a kind of artificial, inauthentic simplicity.Even worse, it covers up and abuses the concept of ownership with DRM. Products like this strip away people’s property rights. I guess in a way the model presented here is a form of an inverse loan and the article is a good analysis of it.

Why Self-Compassion Works Better Than Self-Esteem

That’s some real good Jon Kabat Zinn stuff right there.

Crispr Makes It Clear: The US Needs a Biology Strategy, and Fast

Biotech is terrifying. More terrifying to me than the advent of nuclear power and weapons.

Google’s 3 secrets to Designing Perfect Conversations

UX for chatbots. What a time to be alive. Never really gave it a thought until this article.

How to Win Your Next Political Argument

Would be a great article if it weren’t a list and were a coherent synthesis of the ideas it presents. Unfortunately that’s not what the public seems to want right now.

The alarming state of secure coding neglect

Yep. This is why there needs to be formal processes and workflows in software development.