Interesting Links I’ve Come Across Lately

1. This Kenyan Olympic Javelin Thrower Taught Himself with Youtube Videos, Now He’s a Champion

Video included.

2. BBC Try Before You Buy

The BBC’s new Taster platform let’s you explore beta versions of TV shows.

Is there an audience out there for classic natural history programming à la David Attenborough, but dubbed over with more absurd commentary from the comedy band Flight of the Conchords (“New Zealand’s 4th most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a-capella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo”)?

3. Why an Exotic Dancer is Financially Just Like Your Hairdresser

“…That was the night I tipped out $700.”

4. One Car Can Prevent a Traffic Jam

Driver-education schools try to train students to stop tailgating, leave wide gaps between cars and take turns when merging, but “people have to unlearn what they’ve been taught” about standing in line, says Dave Muma, president of the Driving School Association of the Americas, a trade group. “Kids are trained at a very young age that they have to get in line and not let people cut in front of you”—rules that work well on the playground but cause gridlock on the highway, says Mr. Muma, owner of a Holland, Mich., driver-education company.

5. How to Visit Every US Zip Code in the Most Efficient Roadtrip Ever

6. FilmMeets Art II from Vugar Efendi on Vimeo.

7. Two Links on Death

…That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

What happens when you make an AI version of your dead best friend?

Someday you will die, leaving behind a lifetime of text messages, posts, and other digital ephemera…new services will arrive offering to transform them — possibly into something resembling [a virtual version of yourself that can speak from beyond the grave]. Your loved ones may find that these services ease their pain. But it is possible that digital avatars will lengthen the grieving process. “If used wrong, it enables people to hide from their grief…”

8. The Only Plane in the Sky

Reflections on the immediate aftermath of 9-11 from those aboard Air Force One”

Rep. Adam Putnam: There was one van, maybe a press van, that was parked too close to the plane’s wing. I remember a Secret Service agent running down the aisle; they opened the back stairs, he ran down to move the truck. He never made it back on board. They didn’t wait for him.

9. How to fake your own death

Hint: get lost hiking.

10. A delightfully odd and informative Paul Holdengräber interview with Malcolm Gladwell at the New York Library

Paul Holdengräber, upon hearing an ongoing chirping noise: “There’s that sound again. I’m not sure if I like it or don’t like it, but it’s very present.”

11. A Short History of Barbed Wire

Barbed wire was surprisingly crucial to the development of modern life, both for better and worse.

12. What Was it Like to Buy and Own a Car in the USSR

Remember that famous Ronald Reagan joke about buying a car in the Soviet Union? If you haven’t, it goes like this: a guy in a Soviet country is told he has a 10 year wait for a car.

This man laid down the money, and the fellow in charge said to him: Come back in 10 years and get your car.

The man answered: Morning or afternoon?

And the fellow behind the counter said: Ten years from now, what difference does it make?

And he said: Well, the plumber is coming in the morning.

It’s funny because it’s basically true.

13. Employee Number 1 at Apple

When I was in seventh and eighth grade I went to Cupertino Junior High School, which was just behind my backyard fence. I think maybe halfway through seventh grade Steve Jobs came to the school. He and I were both deeply introspective, very philosophical. Neither of us wanted to play the social games that you needed to play to be accepted into any of the numerous cliques that define the social scene for 13 and 14 year olds in junior high school. So we eventually gravitated towards each other and started hanging out. We became fast friends. I got him interested in electronics…

14. P-Values are Back in the News

One of the better explanations of the problem. See my previous post on p-values here.

15. Quantum Stuff

Quirks and Quarks Description of Quantum Teleportation, only nine minutes, but one of the clearer explanations I’ve heard.

Quantum computing (aka quantum hanky-panky)

16. On the Rise of Trump

This short Cracked article channels much of the more thoughtful research on the rise of Trump (these sources are more empathetic to supporters than thoughtless dismissiveness one commonly hears). For example, see Ezra Klein’s interview with Arlie Hochschild, commentary from Mark Bauerlein on the appeal of Trump as an asshole, George Patton’s speach to the Third Army before the invasion of northern France during WWII (isn’t Trump somehow, if perhaps pervertedly, channeling this sentiment and doesn’t it still strike a chord with many Americans?), Brian Caplan on how bad economic policies — many of which you probably believe — don’t prevent one from voting for politicians that support those policies, Tyler Cowen’s thoughts here, here, and here and also Tyler’s interview with Ezra Klein in which they discuss the lack of good language for non-racist expressions of cultural anxiety, this book review of Democracy for Realists by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, or Chris Arnade writings/rants/links on Twitter.

17. Ken Bone is Even More of An Everyman than We Realized

18. Susan Athey is My New Favorite Economist

Here is her talk on bitcoin (the best I’ve heard).

Here is her keynote at a conference on “Artificial Intelligence: The Economic and Policy Implications” hosted by the Technology Policy Institute.

Here is Susan’s interview on EconTalk, which can be enjoyed fruitfully with this interview from Cathy O’Neil on her new book Weapons of Math Destruction (get it?)

19. Entrepreneurs and Startups

I recommend The Twenty Minute VC podcast. The host is only 20 himself, and somewhat of a wunderkind in the VC community.

I’m excited for Season 4 of StartUp, it sounds like it will be quite good. The twopart story of Coss Marte was my favorite from Season 3.

Kara Swisher is always strong on Recode Decode. Currently listening to her interview with Aileen Lee, the woman that invented the term “Unicorn” (which refers to a startup that obtains a billion dollar valuation within 10 years of its founding).

YC Office hours are always fun to watch. And now a comprehensive startup course from YC is free online!

The New Yorker has a long-form profile on Sam Altman, that is quite good.

In a class that Altman taught at Stanford in 2014, he remarked that the formula for estimating a startup’s chance of success is “something like Idea times Product times Execution times Team times Luck, where Luck is a random number between zero and ten thousand.

In this interview from Sam Altman Elon Musk reveals he gets nervous when he makes business decisions just like everybody else.

On Wooden Skyscrapers

This Economist article talks about the many benefits of modern wooden skyscrapers.


…the construction site would be a lot quieter without the heavy plant required to pound deep foundations, pump concrete and install steel supports.


…for every lorry delivering timber for a wooden building, five lorries would be needed to deliver concrete and steel. All these things may mean that once the total construction costs are calculated, a wooden building can work out cheaper.

Carbon emissions:

Using wood could reduce their carbon footprint by 60-75%, according to some studies.

The biggest concerns are strength, fire, and rot, but with current technology these are overcome:


A wooden building is about a quarter of the weight of an equivalent reinforced-concrete structure, which means foundations can be smaller…In much the same way that aligning carbon-fibre composites creates stronger racing cars, aircraft and golf clubs, CLT [Cross-Laminated Timber] imparts greater rigidity and strength to wooden structures.

Fire resistance:

In general, a large mass of wood, such as a CLT floor, is difficult to burn without a sustained heat source—for the same reason that it is hard to light a camp fire when all you have is logs…with other fire-resistant layers and modern sprinkler systems, tall wooden buildings can exceed existing fire standards.

There is also a method that combines small concrete layers on top of a wooden foundation between floors to help reduce floor-to-floor noise and further improve fire resistance.


What about woodworm and rot? “If you don’t look after it, steel and concrete will fail just as quickly as timber,” says Michael Ramage, head of the Centre for Natural Material Innovation at the University of Cambridge in Britain.

Ryan Avent Interview

This Derek Thompson interview with Ryan Avent is interesting throughout. Here is one bit:

It is ironic that liberals, who in the abstract support more inclusive immigration and shared wealth, often live in coastal metros areas that are exclusive by design—they are built around water, limit housing height, and declare certain zones out-of-bounds for further construction. As you point out in the book, one of the tallest buildings in New York City is a residential tower on Park Avenue that is home to a stack of billionaires who, although they could live in any ZIP code on the planet, have chosen to live on top of each other, like candies in a Pez dispenser.

And this (on life after automation):

The very rich will still want people, their own personal shoppers and assistants. Being able to retain human labor would be a sign that you’re wealthy. So even in a future city that had a lot of laborers replaced with technology, you might still have artisanal service sector workers.

Public Feelings on Nuclear Power Make Me Sad :(

I sometimes get frustrated with the mass opposition to Nuclear power in favor of green energy.


Nuclear power is the greenest type of energy. 

Nuclear power is the safest type of energy (yes, even including indirect deaths of Chernobyl and Fukushima).

There are even possible innovations that would make it very difficult to use the fissile material to make bombs.

Nuclear power can be economical if given a level playing field.

Nuclear power does not have the intermediacy problems of wind and solar.

Nuclear is good all around.

Driverless Cars Available in Pittsburgh

As early as next month Uber will begin experimenting with commercially available driverless cars in Pittsburgh. Passengers will not know ahead of time whether they have summoned a driverless car and Uber has not revealed what percentage of the Pittsburgh fleet is driverless.

In fact, the term “driverless” is a bit of a misnomer because an Uber staff member will also be in the car to act as co-pilot should the car need assistance. While this is an endorsement of the technology it is perhaps a bigger step forward in regulatory allowances for self-driving cars (even if they’re technically only semi-self-driving). If things go well more cities may follow suit, but if things go poorly it seems regulation of self-driving cars could be stymied, at least until new generations of technology help assuage fears.

There is more here.

Surprisingly, the most interesting part of the article to me wasn’t about self-driving cars, but rather this paragraph:

Rajkumar says the Uber cars will have a lot to learn about local roads and quirky customs like the so-called Pittsburgh left turn: When cars are at a traffic light, the light turns green, and you are the first car in line that wants to turn left, he explains, “you basically get to [go] first, before vehicles going straight from the opposite direction.” It’s only the first left-turning car — not the others, just the first. [Emphasis added]

This practice is apparently common throughout the northeast. How have I not heard of this before?

The Mundanity of Excellence

That is the title of a 1989 article in Sociological Theory by Daniel Chambliss (which I found through this blog post titled “Does one have to be a genius to do maths?” written by the famous mathematician Terence Tao).

The paper is excellent and inspiring. Chambliss follows swimmers of various levels and finds that what sets Olympic-caliber swimmers apart is not that they do more of something, but that they concentrate on very small and very specific parts of their swim over months and often years. They don’t swim, say, two times longer than club-level swimmers, but instead might spend several months concentrating on the mechanics of a flip-turn and all its components, whereas a lower level swimmer may focus only passingly on the flip turn, or not focus enough on all its individual elements. The paper has many examples both in swimming and in other endeavors.

The paper concludes with this:

…there is no secret; there is only the doing of all those little things, each one done correctly, time and again, until excellence in every detail becomes a firmly ingrained habit, an ordinary part of one’s everyday life.

See also this Michael Phelps commercial:

See also Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and David Epstein’s The Sports Gene, which add points of view. There is also of course my recent post on athletic performance.