Six Links: Knowledge, Data, Abuse

Here’s the second installment of Six Links! I’ve been neglecting Thought Distiller far too much lately; consulting, unknown to most, is in fact a seasonal business that is light in the summer and heavy in the winter. So with a lot of work in the pipeline for this holiday season, I thought I’d at least carve out some time to post something small. Here we go:

Concept Shaped Holes Can Be Hard to Notice by Scott Alexander:

And there are concept-shaped holes you don’t notice that you have. You can talk to an anosmic person about smell for years on end, and they’re still not going to realize they’ve got a big hole where that concept should be. You can give high-school me an entire class about atomization, and he can ace the relevant test, and he’s still not going to know what atomization is.

Put these together, and you have cause for concern. If you learn about something, and it seems trivial and boring, but lots of other people think it’s interesting and important – well, it could be so far beneath you that you’d internalized all its lessons already. Or it could be so far beyond you that you’re not even thinking on the same level as the people who talk about it.

Alternative Data: The Next Frontier of Quant? by Corey Hoffstein:

Alternative data sources offer the allure of untapped alpha.  However, we believe that extracting signal from noise will continue to prove difficult.  In particular, without a rich history, establishing statistical certainty in a new investment factor will be difficult.  Enhancing systematic decision making with new data may be a faith-based endeavor.

Something is Wrong on the Internet by James Bridle:

What we’re talking about is very young children, effectively from birth, being deliberately targeted with content which will traumatise and disturb them, via networks which are extremely vulnerable to exactly this form of abuse. It’s not about trolls, but about a kind of violence inherent in the combination of digital systems and capitalist incentives. It’s down to that level of the metal. This, I think, is my point: The system is complicit in the abuse.

How College Sets You Up to Fail by Alexander Cortes (tweetstorm):

The gap between “real life” & education has widened, and it handicaps your thinking dramatically. 1-You don’t know how to lead yourself. A degree provides a “done for you plan,” all the steps are laid out. This engrains being a follower. You think you are focused & productive, but if that plan was taken away, and you had to design your own education, you’d be at a total loss.

The Greatest Sales Pitch I’ve Seen All Year by Andy Raskin:

There were many great speakers at OpenView’s Boston headquarters that morning — JetBlue’s VP of marketing, senior execs from OpenView’s portfolio—yet none moved the crowd quite like Drift director of marketing Dave Gerhardt. By the time Gerhardt was finished, the only attendees who weren’t plotting to secure budget for Drift’s platform were the ones humble-bragging about how they’d already implemented it.

The Level Above Mine by Eliezer Yudkowsky:

I’d enjoyed math proofs before I encountered Jaynes. But E.T. Jaynes was the first time I picked up a sense of formidability from mathematical arguments… For whatever reason, the sense I get of Jaynes is one of terrifying swift perfection—something that would arrive at the correct answer by the shortest possible route, tearing all surrounding mistakes to shreds in the same motion. Of course, when you write a book, you get a chance to show only your best side. But still.

It spoke well of Mike Li that he was able to sense the aura of formidability surrounding Jaynes. It’s a general rule, I’ve observed, that you can’t discriminate between levels too far above your own (e.g., someone once earnestly told me that I was really bright, and “ought to go to college”). Maybe anything more than around one standard deviation above you starts to blur together, though that’s just a cool-sounding wild guess.

The Contours of Memory

Roy Batty, Rutger Hauer’s character in Blade Runner, dies after giving one of the most famous monologues in modern history: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like…

Extending the Peter Principle for General Competence

The Peter Principle is a management concept posited by University of Southern California professor Laurence J. Peter in the late 1960s. The principle states that employees get promoted based on performance in their current roles, rather than on their qualifications relevant to their intended roles. Therefore, employees stop being promoted only when they become ineffective in…

Request for Startup: Machine Vision for Haircuts

I recently got a haircut and one thing I’m always struck by is the inconsistency of quality. Even if I’m going to the same barber or hairdresser for successive haircuts, I still face a risk of getting a subpar haircut. That realization got me to thinking about whether something could be done to fix haircuts.…

Six Links: Contracts, Options, Brevity

I’ve decided to try a new format of blog post today; I wanted to share some of the more interesting things I’ve been reading, emphasizing those that I believe other people are not likely to be reading. In some sense, I’m trying to curate signal in the midst of all of the overwhelming noise in…

Why Escapist Fantasies Are So Compelling

I spent the last month writing a lot about work and careers, and I want to get away from that a bit to better fulfill the promise of this blog: Connecting and condensing the world’s most useful information, not all of which is about careerism, obviously. So today, we’ll discuss why people seek out escapist…

The Easy Way to become an Expert-Generalist

I often think about what skills people need to succeed in their careers. And this generally leads me to inquire whether educational institutions teach their charges the right skillsets in order to prepare them for an increasingly uncertain world. By and large, I think most fail on this count. The average grade school or university…

How Deciders Prevent Dilution of Vision

In June, I wrote about why leaders in many situations would be better off acting as benevolent dictators. I remarked in that post that, “when decisions are made by committee or consensus, debates slow down progress and the vision that drives things forward is diluted by too many voices.” I wanted to flesh this out…

Let’s talk about the Apple Keynote

This is my first Tuesday post ever, deviating from my normal post days of Mondays and Thursdays. I’ve decided to try a variable publishing schedule if I miss one of my regular days but have a good idea later. So here goes! I was deeply underwhelmed by the Apple Keynote this year, and have been…

The Modern Knowledge Worker is a Sprinter

In June of this year, Naval Ravikant (the founder of AngelList) tweeted an interesting insight: “Forty hour workweeks are a relic of the Industrial Age. Knowledge workers function like athletes – train and sprint, then rest and reassess.” That caught my attention because I regularly work anywhere from 45 to 80 hours a week, and…