Nadia Asparouhova

I often scribble half-baked ideas, reactions to things I’ve read, or something useful I’ve heard. Sometimes they turn into longer blog posts or projects, but most of them sit in my notes app, unused.

I’ve decided to start publishing some of these as a faster way to get ideas out there. They’re updated monthly below. Topics loosely cover governance, how people organize, research culture, ethics, online interactions, and all other sorts of randomness.

When quoting a private conversation, I’ve defaulted to anonymity for obvious reasons, but if you see something you said that you’d like attributed to you, just let me know and I’ll add your name.

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(Please note: you are crawling my brain. These are rough notes, which means ideas are experimental and conviction level is highly variable!)

2019 Notes

Browse by year: 2020 - 2019 - 2018


Despacito as deus ex machina


(from convo with a friend) When you’re not spending time close to something with a “beating heart” (ex. working at/on a company or collaborating on a project with others), how does that affect your day-to-day


I like imagining my friends and I crossing paths in other worlds, before we knew each other, like college campuses or old online games or communities. Like it’s entirely possible I played Neopets with someone I’m friends with, even if we didn’t know each other back then!


I like how even if I don’t physically move away from SF, I can just shift my online social circles / information diet to pick up a different strain of energy from another geographic location, without actually having to change locations


We’re collectively incentivized not to make prison conditions better / more humane bc the worse prisons are (from a public reputation perspective), the better of a deterrent they are for ppl who might consider committing crimes (Which is not a good thing!)


Haunted by superego


There’s something sort of interesting about how Instagram ads can be a form of revealed preference / signal / curating our social tastes, in the way that merely, e.g., “wearing a jacket from a brand I like” used to be


Duck face as the MVP of Facetune


When does parroting someone else cross over from “stealing”/plagiarism to a commonplace saying? Thinking about the whole joke stealing thing on Twitter - jokes that are passed down over generations (“why did the chicken cross the road”) aren’t seen as stealing. Theoretically, once a joke gets popular enough, you should be able to tell it without attribution and not be shamed for stealing

I think part of it is that the expectation is when you tweet something w/o original attribution, it’s original content…also I think the fact that you stand to gain reputationally from it (likes/followers) makes it considered bad form. So maybe the point where it stops being considered plagiarism is when repeating it no longer accrues a certain reputational benefit to you? Dunno if that actually makes sense though


There aren’t just “solved conversations” (aaron’s term for, e.g., small-talk type convos where you already know the outcome), but also solved relationships (“I don’t need to bother getting to know this person bc I already know how this will turn out”)


If ostracizing is a necessary form of sanction for undefined constituencies, I wonder if we’d reframe our revulsion to cancel culture as the actually barbaric, Luddite response. In other words, if cancelling is the modern corrective response used by digitally-native social systems, maybe it’s us, who are so constrained and used to clear geographic boundaries and well-defined legal systems, who are “primitive” for not being able to wrap our heads around it. (Not saying I agree with this! Just trying out a diff way of thinking about it)


I want a name for like, “degenerate wealth”: the kind of money acquired by fringe-y people, who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten rich, that gives them the financial freedom to pursue other odd ideas (ex. online poker, Bitcoin, camming, gold rush?). Feels like every generation has some “black market” option that ends up bankrolling a particular class of weird ppl


1999: don’t be evil
2019: don’t be Gab

As in – there is this “Gab moral paradox” where you might be personally fine with allowing whatever content on your platform, but without thoughtful curation, you inadvertently become the preferred destination for undesirable content, which ends up driving everyone else away. By trying to remain neutral, your reputation ends up skewing towards something you didn’t necessarily want to be known for (you just wanted to be fine with allowing it on there!).

I think the implication is that a bunch of curation is required in order to successfully pull off the appearance of being neutral - hence the paradox. Is it possible for any content platform to actually be neutral? Does “being neutral” mean projecting neutrality or being neutral in terms of internal company culture?

(There’s some way of positioning this concept wrt “Cthulu swims left”…for individual media producers in aggregate, like newspapers, Cthulu swims left, but for content creators within any given platform, Gab swims right? Something like that? And if so - why?)


Public vs private spheres of curation


(from convo with a friend) Tags/topics on your notes create instant “geometric spaces” in which to traverse parts of your brain – even better when it’s two tags together that create a specific intersection. Like creating a section of a bookstore that you can explore

(Previously, I think I’d thought of tags as more of a filing system for my notes - “which drawer do I put this into”. But I almost never open the drawers again to sift through the pile of papers I’ve accumulated. I like the idea of thinking about tags as vectors for creating geometric spaces!)


Funny how you can technically reach anyone anywhere online, but there are def ppl I’ve lost touch with simply bc I don’t “pass their way very often anymore” – ex. they use FB and I use Twitter, or they use Whatsapp and I use FB Msgr. I just like, can’t check all of the apps all the time, and so I only primarily support a few communication channels

We’ve sort of created these “desire lines” in our online spaces, where yes, technically we can get ahold of each other no matter what, but if we mostly spend time on diff social/messaging apps, we see each other more rarely or not at all. Despite the theoretical accessibility of being online, in practice, it’s not much different than if you’d moved to a different state or country


(from convo with a friend) Ideas are shared as a mix of “open source” and “proprietary” knowledge (when you write about an idea, you’re often intentionally sharing part but not all of it - Straussian read that rewards the careful reader)


(from convo with a friend) Latest version of tech e-girl is a “manic pixie dream girl who breaks the fourth wall”


Are there universal markers for cities as they become more culturally developed/colonized (depending how you want to think of it ;)? US and/or globally. Ex. first the sidewalks are improved, then the gastropubs appear, then the third-wave coffee shops, then the hipster barber shops, etc


A sad thing about switching to a different knowledge domain is knowing that you have this insane encyclopedia knowledge built up around your current domain, and inevitably some of that is gonna atrophy (to make room for new things! But still). Like right now, I can still pull up a lot of random knowledge about open source, but I know that in a year or two, my mental index will have deteriorated quite a bit. I wish I could just snapshot and archive that all somehow, then be able to temporarily re-load those states. Like creating different libraries from your mind that you can still re-enter someday


I guess we undervalue the amazing views from an airplane bc we feel like we didn’t “earn” them. An objectively worse view, but one that you hiked all day for, will be appreciated more than the stunningly better one from a plane


When I see mountains dusted with snow, it makes me think of chocolate cake dusted with powder sugar…but the cake itself was inspired by the mountains, not the other way around. Feels like my brain is trapped in a simulacrum loop: the mountains make me think of cake, but the cake only exists bc of the mountains. Is there a word to describe this pattern? (Also, the cake evokes an stronger feeling of “tradition” than the original thing that inspired it - the mountains - and that feels weird to me)


(from a group conversation) Top-down vs bottom-up approaches to building identity in public

Top down is like broadcasting yourself and a thesis and a brand. Any content you put out is sort of gut-checked against your internal sense of identity. Bottom up is like thinking out loud, learning in public. You’re figuring yourself out as you go. Eventually you step back and try to figure out what it all means


Given what appears to be a growing wave of employee organizing / protests at big tech companies, I’d like to better understand different organizational theories wrt how “The Company” should interface with its employees. Basically I think I want to read political theory for companies, like if the company is a nation-state, how should it govern its citizens? How should employees think of themselves as a political constituency, if at all? It feels like something along this train of thought died with unions…I want to understand how that framework fits into modern practice, what should come after unions if anything, etc?


Wondering if there’s been a shift in the balance from “corporate accountability” in the 1990s -> “person accountability” (e.g. cancel culture). It feels like nobody seems to particularly care what Apple, Exxon, Nike, or Monsanto does today, but they care a lot about what public individuals with lots of influence are doing

i.e. are people the new corporations? Maybe they’re not mutually exclusive though (there are surely a new wave of companies that ppl are concerned with “taking down”, I’m just not really sure what they are. Maybe Facebook/Google?)


Your Uber rider rating as social credit rating for how polite / decent of a human being you are


It’s funny that walkouts and strikes are considered a legitmate form of protest, but not voting is considered lazy or irresponsible. I wonder if there’s an organized campaign that treats not voting as a kind of walkout. Like going on strike, but from your own country


Will messaging/DMs slowly kill email? The same way we thought Craigslist would never die, but eventually better options started taking over. Email will never totally go away, ditto CL probably, but eventually become a second-class citizen?


I suspect part of why newsletters have made our inboxes feel fun again is partly bc it gives you something fun and semi-personal to read, combined with the fact that you feel no obligation to respond. All the fun of email / longform messaging, with less of the guilt


I wonder if the failure of the small plane industry to overtake the major airline hub and spoke model, despite being clearly more resilient and liberating, can be read as a cautionary allegory for promises of decentralized technology. Then again, I guess the (temporary?) triumph of personal cars over public transport could be read as the exact opposite tale? So who knows. I think the difference though is that AFAIK cars weren’t trying to be a “system” the way it seems they’re positioning small planes to be a “system” that’s designed to replace the status quo

So maybe the best tactic here is to make small planes so cool and affordable and liberating and accessible that ppl start to prefer them over commercial carriers. (Kinda like what happened with Tesla, well after ppl had declared the electric car to be dead) Small planes could win, but not if we define their value in the shadow of the status quo


Surprised we don’t talk more about the air travel system as public infrastructure (…or maybe we do and I’m just not paying attention?). Just bc operators are private (I’m including gov’t carriers as private in the context of air travel more generally) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider the broader system as a public good?


(from group convo) “Infrastructure as an operating system”


Is infrastructure getting more expensive bc of the equivalent of technical debt? (Infrastructure in e.g. 19th and 20th century was “greenfield”, now anything new has to build upon existing systems, and maintenance is expensive)


Curators as “maintainers” of knowledge infrastructure - help us sort through all the information out there to get to the relevant bits, helps others decide what’s important. And by leaving stuff out, they also tell us what’s not important


(from convo with a friend) “Alright, who’s got muddy boots?” re: wanting to know if ppl have practical rather than purely theoretical experience


Vouching for someone vs. speculating on someone - the latter allows for reputation network to extend beyond 1st and 2nd degree value. Me vouching for someone is only valuable if you trust my opinion (which requires you knowing me, or at least knowing of me), so it’s hard for the value of that data to grow beyond a certain size. And speculation could behave like a public market, with all the same potential upside and downside (bubbles, self-correcting, mimesis, etc) that theoretically obviates the need for 1st/2nd-degree vouching. i.e. is the public market more correct, or at least competitive to, the opinion of a single person with deep inside knowledge


Request for podcast: an interview series about how diff people structure their social time, friend groups, etc


Ppl talk about religion missing in our lives in terms of community and personal meaning, but what about confessions? What plays the role of confessions, repenting, asking for forgiveness, today? Ex. Rosh Hashanah or Catholic confessions

(I kinda feel like for some ppl, it’s the “public square”, e.g. social media? But there’s hyper-public confessions, and then there’s the more personal, private sort of confessing that e.g. a priest might serve)


Is there a Genius/Fermat’s Library for code?


(from convo with a friend) “We’re a private club, but we’re not a secret club” (meaning that members can still invite guests, they do public performances, etc…but full membership still requires going through an approval process) – love this as an example of distinguishing between semi-private / semi-public spaces


Maybe it wasn’t likes (or “claps”), but the WSIWYG editor, that destroyed writers on Medium. If you all think the same, you write the same

In other words, did the pressure to santitize our words come from the homogeneity of demand (writing for others’ approval), or the homogeneity of production (writing for the text editor’s approval)?


Wonder if it’s a contradiction to be pro-minimum viable authoritarianism as a means of enabling “true” libertarian ideals…I don’t think so, and I think it’s almost sort of an elegant implementation, because it is so non-intuitive. By contrast, liberal democracy always seems to nudge you towards this sort of linear path to implementation (A+B=C, “gov’t is of the people, therefore people should actively participate in gov’t”, etc etc), but I think you could also take a couple of non-linear leaps and jumps to get to the same goal

I think part of why I’m so intrigued by the platform-creator relationship, from a governance perspective, is that it’s an experiment in exactly this, right? I think it’s fair to characterize the tension as: what is the right calibration of platform policy/influence that enables its creators and users to have the maximum possible freedom? It’s not 0%, and it’s not 100%, but I think we’re still trying to figure out where the balance lies


Many-to-many communities can exit more easily when they have enough members (and arguably this makes FB’s primary focus on Groups a dangerous one), it’s individual creators who are tied to the distribution / cost-reducing benefits that platforms offer


Would be cool if you could theoretically sell newsletter subscriptions that produce a limited run. Ex. I know I want to study XYZ topic for the next 1-2 years, so I sell a $50 annual subscription, if I can get X number of people ppl to sign up initially, I’ll do it, and then I can continue selling monthly subscriptions (with access to the back issues) throughout the rest of my run

That way I’m not mentally committed to researching this topic forever, and it actually functions a little bit like a pre-sale/crowdfunding campaign, to test demand, before I go all-in on the topic. Then you basically have crowdfunded research fellowships!

Bc I think there is a real q of “what happens if I want to change newsletter topics”, or have multiple newsletters, etc….essentially, the “maintenance” q that plagues content more generally. If you’re selling subscriptions, you’re committed to a recurring funding model, which can make it feel harder to quit (for the same reason that OSS maintainers can find it hard to step away from a project)


Community could actually be a pretty interesting moat for platforms that don’t offer a natural distribution advantage, as opposed to overly focusing on discovery. Similarly to how GitHub grew as a platform. Yeah, you can discover projects on GitHub, but their native discovery features have never been amazing, it’s more like…you google for something you need, or someone links you to their project. But a big reason why projects stayed on GitHub (in addition to benefitting from security, UI, infrastructure, etc) is bc of its community features! e.g. issues and pull requests - both not easily transferable, but also just a nicer experience on GitHub, tied to your GitHub identity, etc. And so similarly, newsletters aren’t particularly disposed to cross-list distribution, but I could see the value of having e.g. comments/discussions on a single platform. Like your email list == Git (it’s always yours), but community features == GitHub (value add that makes GitHub extra-special)


Arranged marriages, but for jobs (more generally: embracing semi-randomness as a means of breaking out of nihilistic maximizing status games)


Will there be any more generation-defining moments (e.g. JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor) after 9/11, given that information isn’t distributed through centralized channels anymore?

And in that sense, really, “generation-defining moments” were kind of a historic anomaly, right? A brief externality of radio/TV as distribution channels, but before/after that time period didn’t really work like that, I think?


Are sustainability and monarchy two sides of the same coin? “Long-term thinking” manifested by left vs. right values


(from convo with a friend) “Knowledge is being stockpiled with wealth” (trapped inside companies, proprietary data). At least in the past, wealth monopolies led to universities, libraries, etc


What’s the role of talismans today, if any? What sorts of talismans do we keep (including in a digital sense)?


Would actually pay money for someone to research and write a piece about why Jennifer Aniston still graces the cover of so many tabloids


So if color, sense of direction, etc is supposed experienced subjectively (not just for biological but cultural reasons), can you control how you experience it? Seems like you could really go to town reassigning variables in your head for fun. Kinda like non-invasive biohacking?


Spaced repetition, but with your own writing / blog posts / etc


I wonder how much sexual violence gets lost from our political history simply bc it’s considered inappropriate to teach in schools (ex. comfort women, Nanjing Massacre, not things I learned about in school)


Tbh, not worried about deep fakes given the incredible ability of Twitterverse to track down and shame “stolen” tweets


(from a group convo) “Wedding cake” (scientists who want to make things perfect) vs. “cookie” process (engineers who can take those ideas and make millions of them)

Science vs. tinkering (discovery through philosophy/theory vs. practice)

Problem with tinkering is you can have a collection of practices that work out overall, but they inevitably include some practices that are completely ineffective, and you don’t know which is which


(from convo with a friend) Drupal talks about contributing to the project in terms of “time, talent, and treasure”. Apparently this is also a faith-based concept re: how to think about giving and stewardship


Is the scientific method the lean startup methodology of science? (somewhat trolling here, but: both sorta propose that science, or startups, can be distilled down to A-B-C, and also that you can generate innovation through empirical methods. Both are also flawed/incomplete for this reason, IMO. They sanitize the mysticism/tinkering/practice from the process)


Polanyi’s personal knowledge theory is sort of like Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism? The curator/analyst/storyteller is part of the narrative


(from a convo with a friend) Getting older is “permission to be weird”


Thinking about ppl/institutions who are touted by outsiders as symbols of a sector they know nothing about (and oftentimes, these ppl tend to live on the fringes / exploit that information asymmetry). Ex. Salesforce is often cited as a tech company by outsiders, which it is, but it’s largely not considered to be “tech culture” by insiders. Or, Theranos was seen as an example of Silicon Valley’s failings, but in many ways was not a SV story

Need a word to describe this phenomenon!

And obviously we (in tech) do the same for other sectors: media, politics, etc. But you’re sort of blind to your own failings, bc you don’t know enough about the sector to discern who’s who, unless you’re looking out for that actual pattern of behavior (self-promoters without many insider credentials?)


Being pro-immigration kinda feels like recruiting/evangelizing for your startup or employer

If you love where you live (or work), why would you not want the most awesome ppl to live/work here with you


What’s the equivalent of redpill content for women? (Not “women who read/write redpill content”, but rather: what’s the feminine corollary? i.e. what is the feminine equivalent of a gender-first, secret society-type community. Maybe New Age-y content?)


Need a term like crazy cat lady, but for ppl like me who work from home with their pets and start to see them as their coworkers


(from a convo with a friend) “The 1950s housewife was the first early widespread UBI experiment, and it massively failed”


I wonder what a subset of anthropology would look like for digital worlds: examining social media, programming languages, etc and their implications on human society

There are plenty of academics that look at this stuff, but they all feel sorta disjointed from each other. Like they’re just applying classical techniques to online communities, vs. something that feels more native…somehow. I can’t really put my finger on what I mean

Like it feels like the best they can do is be an outsider, observing what “those people” do, as opposed to something a little more forward-thinking? Like…how is this all actively shaping the world? Maybe that’s the part that’s missing. What are the real-world implications of what we do online? And not like, social media addiction or psychology, but like…geopolitics, culture, etc. I don’t know if that’s exactly what I mean either…but something like that. Taking our online world more seriously, I guess?


(from a convo with friends) Kid survivalist fiction is a thing, e.g. Hatchet, Slake’s Limbo, Island of the Dolphins. Musing that it appeals to children bc they’re grappling with a need for independence (trying to run away, etc). I love that this genre exists for that reason…feels like it gives unexpected insight into the very real challenges / growth opps that children face


Listening to podcasts is my new “googling someone before you meet them”. It’s like getting to listen in on a bunch of conversations they’ve had with others, and you always pick up some interesting trivia about them


For traditional print media, I wonder what % of subscribers actually read the issues they receive? (Curious to benchmark against % opens/reads for newsletter subscribers)


Thinking about how to a certain extent, paying for some tasks is resolved by a different economy

Ex. I could’ve scheduled a Goodwill pickup (or paid Goodwill’s official partner, TaskRabbit) to get rid of my stuff when moving. But it turns out there are SO many ppl who want free stuff that all I have to do is post it to Buy Nothing (FB group) or Craigslist and ppl will come take it away for free

And in some cases ppl will even pay ME money to do the tasks that I would’ve paid someone else to do. Ex. I didn’t feel like disassembling my bed frame, so I just sold it for a low price. Someone came, took it apart for free, and paid ME to do it

There’s some parallel here to open source (and ofc the whole “gifting economy” thing), like Buy Nothing works great for the same reason casual contributions do. Super easy, tightly scoped, nothing deeper expected from the transaction. Whereas maintenance tasks are different

And with the bed frame, it’s just crazy to think about how I could either pay someone, or get paid, for the exact same task, depending how incentives differ! Has nothing to do with inherent $$ value of the task, but how it’s positioned, and to whom


Maybe one reason why best sellers are always like super famous ppl or whatever (beyond the obvious reputational reasons) is bc you kinda have to be rich and/or financially secure to be able to write a book

Kinda weird to think about that, like being able to spend dedicated time writing a book often requires financial stability (or hiring a ghost writer!). And so all these ideas we’re getting exposed to in books are inherently more representative of ppl who’ve had the means to do that


It seems like tech-specific publications (TechCrunch, Pando, Mashable) are becoming less of a thing. I think it’s a sign of when tech shifted into the mainstream, bc tech didn’t really need industry-specific press anymore. The only thing ppl still needed them for was for announcing product launches and fundraises, and Product Hunt made that obsolete, they were the final nail in the coffin

Bc open source is kinda similar to that, too, right. The reason why open source-specific conferences, etc have declined, at least according to other ppl, is bc “open source” as a meta-topic isn’t really a thing anymore. Open source is just mainstream software now, and so now developers go to language-specific conferences instead (React, Python, whatever). And if we were to draw a similar parallel here, the only thing ppl still need O’Reilly for is technical books, but that’s also starting to come apart with the rise of educational content from developers

Seems like there’s an opportunity to make that developer content platform, in the same way that Product Hunt filled the need for annoucing product launches? Ideally, it’d be something that GitHub would do. But maybe e.g. will have to de-risk it first, the way Open Collective did for GitHub Sponsors

Also maybe on a similar token: are tabloids (TMZ, Gawker, etc) dying (if they even are dying, I actually have no idea) bc social platforms fill that need now?


Would be cool to have a one-click-to-publish for emails (where all parties agree to share ofc)…kinda like adding a public web link for a Google Doc. Sometimes I find myself writing a long email and want to share with others!


Thinking about what it means to have “authentic” experiences when traveling. That scene from the office with Michael standing outside the Sbarro eating “real New York pizza”: is he having an authentic experience bc he’s there on business? Is it more authentic to eat at Sbarro in NY while traveling on business (bc you have a “legitimate” reason for visiting), vs. eating at a local pizza place while traveling as a tourist (bc you’re just mimicking what locals do)?


A funny thing to realize is that e.g. working on your laptop poolside is a sign of status in tech (and similar industries), but I think for anyone else it’s like wtf are you doing. Like the tan as status symbol thing (a lot of Westerners prize being tan, but plenty of other cultures still prize being pale)


Trying to explain how you think about a research topic that nobody else really yet understands feels like being a two year-old who hasn’t yet learned to talk. You can communicate by pointing and gesturing, but inevitably you get frustrated by the gap in communication


Are tech companies a kind of proprietary community, a la McCallum’s thesis? If so, would be interesting to study them through that lens


“Power hungry but not ambitious” is a thing


Postrats = fantasy genre
Rationalists = sci fi genre

(Mostly thinking about the former in that, it’s all very sensual and escapist, but doesn’t necessarily add up to anything)


A German word for that feeling of regret when you had a good thought you didn’t tweet, and then you see someone else randomly tweet it and get all the credit


Request for product: a publisher who just consolidates popular writers’ blog posts into books

Basically how do you provide that same level of validation to consistently popular contemporary online writers who are shaping modern discourse/culture

(Might even be a fun side project!)


Is venture capital the business model to philanthropy / grantmaking? (As in: these aren’t two separate industries, but VC represents the evolution of grantmaking, by figuring out how to tie philanthropy to the market. A few large exits pay for other experimental losses)


What if Disney, Star Wars, DC, Marvel, etc are like Grimm’s fairy tales? As in: these folk stories were created for the modern era, at the advent of modern movies/media/etc, and now they’re the ones we’re gonna keep retelling for decades or centuries to come

Similar to my feeling on tech companies: what if we already created the major ones and now this is just what we’ll have to work with for a very long time

(Even more similar, in fact, if you compare production studios like MGM, Paramount, Disney, Pixar, etc to major tech co’s and consider that their prevalence is prob the reason why we do keep seeing these same stories told over and over again. The same way we keep using Instagram, etc bc it’s what the higher “powers that be” decided we should keep using)

Stories / fairy tales are like apps, their longevity ensured by the underlying institutions willing to make sure they stay top of mind for us for a very long time (They’re quite literally “tastemakers” except maybe a bit more sinister than that. “Taste dictators”)


Newsletters are just magazines? Maybe the rise of newsletters = the democratization of magazines?


Ppl talk about the creation of “third places” on the internet, but maybe more underappreciated is that we’re witnessing the birth of a new public space entirely? Like, IMO thinking about being online as a “third place”, vs. a true extension of our offline public sphere, is thinking too small


This framing from Rob Reich’s Just Giving: Gov’ts job is to represent majority interests. Civil society’s job is to provide a realm for minority interests. (And both are important, and ideally complementary!)


The LinkedIn problem is a lot like the Patreon problem, now that I think about it. LinkedIn loses out over Twitter or Instagram bc it’s not the place where ppl actually talk to each other, i.e. show what they can do. Without a good social layer, it’s just a glorified resume website

Similarly, Patreon loses out over native platforms (Sponsors, App Store, Spotify, whatever) on funding bc it’s not the place where ppl actually talk to each other. Without distribution layer, it’s just a glorified payments processor

On Twitter I can actually show you why I’m an interesting/smart/capable person, and then translate that into value re: meeting interesting new ppl. On GitHub I can actually show you why I’m an interesting developer, then translate that into value. Etc

I guess this is a continued defense of “why funding layers need to be built into social platforms / own the distribution or discovery, instead of being standalone”


Govt- / market-based “exits” for philanthropic funding = IPO / acquisition “exits” for VC investments

i.e. foundations fund things that, if successful, ppl find useful enough that it attracts govt subsidy (like Carnegie’s libraries, national 911 system) or paying for it (market-based solutions). But neither foundations nor VC should ideally be funding stuff into perpetuity

In this sense, nonprofits that get eternally propped up by big foundation grants are sort of the equivalent of pre-IPO Uber or AirBnB or whomever where we’re like “VCs can’t keep funding X company forever, it’s not sustainable!” But they continue to survive anyway

One q I have: do we reasonably expect govt to ever be the success outcome in today’s world? Like, how DID libraries or 911 end up actually getting funded by the govt? It’s hard for me to picture how that works…like it’s a thing ppl just love so much that eventually private operators started talking to govts about it?


Foundations could work like VC funds to avoid existing into perpetuity. You raise \(and then spend the fund and then have to raise the\) again

Only diff of course is that VCs raise from LPs, whereas foundations also partly serve a role in giving private wealth a place to park their $$. Who would foundations “raise money” from?

Could also maybe go back to Rockefeller’s proposed provision that endowments must be fully spent after X number of years? So maybe not like the LP fundraising aspect of VC funds, but at least the $$ is still being spent


One of the common arguments for long-term thinking is you can take more risks when operating on a more patient timescale. But then why are all these institutions so risk-averse? I don’t think it increases their risk tolerance at all; we typically associate risky behavior with institutions who live and die by the market. Whereas long-term institutions become more like the elves in Rivendell, unconcerned with earthly matters of mortal men. Risk taking is better aligned with the short-term thinker. There’s no urgency in long-term thinking

Maybe “patient capital” is a better term for it - but patient is not the same thing as risk-taking


Would love to see people making guesses about the long-term effects of cancel culture, bc right now everyone seems all flustered about its effects in the moment. What will happen to cancelled people in 1, 5, 20 years?

My guess: ppl will eventually come back around, hardly anybody gets long-term cancelled (like gordon’s tweet: “In the future, everyone will be cancelled for 15 minutes”). 15 min of fame -> 15 min of cancellation

Would be kinda fun to examine cancel culture as sort of the necessary death-and-life overhaul of cultures as ecosystems, and a primary way of introducing sanctions at global scale. Basically, analyze cancel culture through an anthropological / sociological rather than political lens; treat it as a means of adjusting to democracy at scale


Serious q re: philanthropy and democracy…if this process of distributing social responsibility (i.e. self-directed philanthropy, everybody pitches in) doesn’t work, does democracy actually achieve the aims of social safety net as well as other forms of govt

(That doesn’t mean democracy doesn’t have other benefits that might make it a better form of govt, but on this particular dimension)


Science is overrated, maybe we need a mysticism movement to balance it out


Long-term thinking is a fundamentally conservative position

Not just conservative but maybe also authoritarian? (imposing present will onto future generations)

And like…that seems obvious when you think about it, but is funny to think about when we consider long-term political issues through that lens. Ex. is worrying about climate change a fundamentally authoritarian position? If so, is it morally wrong to take action? When does it become morally right (i.e. if it become immediate enough that it affects present living generations)? How many generations out is it “morally right” to worry about?

The other strange thing to me is that we keep talking about wanting to set up long-term institutions like it’s a morally good thing, decrying short-term thinking in the present. But then we spend our present day work trying to undo today’s bloated, “bureaucratic” institutions. Which someone in a previous generation probably branded as “long-term thinking”…!

What would it look like to just live in the moment, destroying institutions as soon as we’re done with them, instead of trying to preserve them?

(I think it would be a little insane for other reasons, but I still like thinking about it)


Wanna find more MMOs with cooperative game mechanics (thinking about Things We Lost in the Flood)

I mean I guess e.g. raids are an example of cooperative game mechanics, but thinking more about the game overall, I guess? Ex. cooperative puzzles. If we fail as a group, everyone dies / the whole game loses

Part of why I want to find more examples in an MMO context specifically is to watch how those cooperative mechanics would scale, if the game gets super popular


A Pattern Language, but for elements of social architecture online

e.g. The Comments Section, The News Feed, The Like, The Replies Between Mutuals, etc - the evolution and function of each, when one element is more or less useful to employ than another, etc)


Biggest opportunity that I think gets missed about open source (thinking about recent response to the Standard JS funding thing): solo maintainers aren’t community projects, they’re more like creators

We wouldn’t tell an Instagram model or Twitch streamer to parlay their audience into “getting a job”, we expect them to find ways to monetize their following. That sort of independence is totally uncontroversial in other creative industries. I don’t understand this whole “you gave the code away for free” thing, I mean, so does literally every other online creator, the fact that OSS code is freely given away is totally unremarkable in today’s world

I think it’s open source’s political history wrt licensing that makes ppl focus on it more, vs. other types of content. Like, there’s Creative Commons, but that didn’t really become a thing in the way that open source licensing did. In practice, so much of how other content gets shared online seems to be governed more by common law

So in open source it’s all about the freedom of the “code”, instead of the people behind the code. Whereas with other types of online content, we don’t really think a whole lot about e.g. where the image for a meme came from or whatever

(I also get why code needs more legal stuff than sharing images around or whatever, bc companies use it, developers needed to protect themselves from liability, etc. Not saying it was necessarily avoidable, just that it is different, and I think open source’s strong legal roots are part of why we’re seeing some of these cultural conflicts today. It sort of stunted the growth of open source, vs. other creative industries)


Something I’d like to have: the equivalent of a comments section, but for newsletters. Feels weird having people respond to me directly, but not to each other, when they say things that I’m sure other ppl would want to hear

I get that we’re just slowly re-inventing blogs, and maybe the point of newsletters is to have those 1:1 conversations instead. But as they get harder to respond to (volume-wise), I’d love to direct that commentary somewhere else, but I don’t know where…?


Wish it were easier to try new notetaking apps without transferring everything over. In the end I stick with Google bc I know it’ll outlast anything else, but not necessarily bc I love it. What I most value in a notetaking app is security and convenience, but that’s often at odds with good design

Like I wish there were some universally recognized format (like HTML, RSS) that I could store all my notes in, and then I could export it and upload it to different notetaking app interfaces until I find one I like


(from a convo with a friend) “The more I yearn for it, the more I seek to categorize it and name it, the farther astray I know I am”


Love to occasionally use an out-of-character writing style when sending emails to someone I don’t know. Feels like talking up a stranger at a bar and making up a backstory


Stoicism is the new David Foster Wallace


Urban “terraforming” (moving to up-and-coming small cities, and/or moving to a rural town with a bunch of friends) = modern equivalent of colonialism? (or Manifest Destiny or w/e). In the sense that: ppl who move to these places also bring their own ideas and wanting to change how things are done, reform local politics, etc bc they truly believe their views are the “one true way”, with mixed results


Morning radio shows are the OG podcasts

And monasteries / nunneries are the OG universities. Socially acceptable, funded way to lock yourself up to think and write all day


Do we need long-term institutions to effect long-term change? Eg. is the idea of a foundation helpful or detrimental to long-term thinking? We seem to hate bureaucracy, etc for this reason, so then why do foundations get the “warm glow” that bureaucratic institutions don’t?

I think I’ve assumed, as others do, that there’s some value to having these long-term institutions (like endowments) to represent long-term interests, but is long-term thinking itself a sham? Does progress even come about that way, or does it come from short bursts of activity that we then spend years analyzing and unwinding? i.e. If long-term thinking is actually impossible from a present-day vantage point, isn’t projecting our desires onto future generations immoral, bc it’s us assuming what future ppl will want?

I’ve heard this argument before, of course…I guess I’m just thinking about it more in relation to other stuff. Ex. I think it relates back to the whole “accelerationism is actually incrementalism” thing, and a couple of other things I’ve been mulling over (like the mutability of our memories), but I can’t quite tie it all together in my head just yet. It’s all about how long-term and short-term vantage points distorts our thinking…or something like that. “Present self” is a sort of blindness that distorts how well we can understand the past and the future, and that’s true on both an individual and societal level


Just like how the answer to funding open source projects isn’t that different from typical business models / companies, I think the answer to funding open source developers isn’t that different from typical influencer models

If you want to fund a project, you can charge for support, freemium, get grants, etc - I’m generally pretty skeptical that open source is exempt or radically different from what works for organizations overall, despite claims to the contrary

And ditto if you’re an individual developer who wants to get funding, you build an audience and a following, get them to back your work like any other creator (merch, advertising, donations, sponsors, etc). Bigger problem is that this isn’t yet a cultural norm in OSS (and is often even discouraged)


I wonder if this whole YC for writers, request for authors, etc is basically the impending monetization layer for curators. Which helps institutionalize the practice into a “thing” that people can do

Like you have ppl who are recognized curators / experts on a topic, and influencing public discourse about it, so you’re giving them a pipeline to amplify their voices and be heard. I guess?

Need multiple publishing outlets to feed them into, though (magazines, printing presses)…they’re cropping up, but it’s still nascent. Also there just isn’t that much money in writing for those outlets, like I don’t really know how it will become enough to sustain an entire industry

So does that require making a more formal institution for ppl to be employed at? Eg. the equivalent of think tanks or universities? Also still v nascent in tech

And yes maybe we’re just rebuilding the system in parallel over here, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the worst idea, either. Maybe we just need to reinvent them from scratch to incorporate modern concepts and principles (like maintaining old messy code vs. writing new software! Sometimes the costs of starting anew simply outweigh the benefits)


What if instead of putting up paywalls, we treated it more like onboarding new community members? Like if someone were coming to your church for the first time, you wouldn’t be like “ok that’s it, you’ve attended three free meetings, now pay up.” It’s not highway robbery or a tollbooth. You’d kinda ratchet up their experience and slowly draw them in so that they’re excited to join and pay up

I wonder what that design / experience would look like if we were to port it over to the online paywalling experience. Draw them in behind the scenes, show them the ppl behind the stories, etc experience until they feel enough of an affinity to want to pay up / join of their own accord


I kinda love having no clue where newsletter subscribers come from, and no way to find out. It’s such a refreshing change from social media. Feels like this delightfully analog way of being, where I know my words are seeping through porous rock, spidering their way through the underworld. I have no idea where it’s going, and I can’t control the distribution or flow (I guess maybe some ppl find that terrifying, but I think it’s great?)


Getting a lot of inbound support qs as an open source project is of course some baseline signal of its popularity, but I don’t know that you necessarily want to have a ton of q’s either? Isn’t that also a sign that it might be hard to use, thus leading ppl to ask lots of questions?


We criticize the wealthy for not giving back today, but I think this critique misses a deeper problem, which is that values have shifted in an, e.g. democratic, post-Enlightenment society, so that there is no real incentive/obligation to give back anymore. Democracy encourages individualism, which made it more “everyone on their own”. The responsibility of providing a social safety net was shifted from the elite -> government. Need to come up with new reasons today if you want ppl to participate


Weird that I can think about my brain as an external thing that some “I” interfaces with, and ditto my body, but I don’t have that same sense for my soul? (Maybe a soul = that which arbitrates between “me” and my brain/body?)


Is reflexivity principle a direct contradiction to accelerationism? The latter suggests there will be a “crash” so we need to get to it quickly, the former says we can theoretically go on forever without a crash?


Taxonomy of failed / fragile / thriving political states, using the geopolitical definitions, but mapped to tech properties. Ex. Tumblr, Vine, Snap, Insta, etc

“The Death and Life of Great Internet Cities”


Is maintenance just a subcategory of curation?

Like what is the relationship between creator, curator, and maintainer roles wrt a single piece of content (or community)


I wonder if “influencers” are actually sort of recursively-defined communities? Ppl (otherwise unassociated with one another) gather around a single point of focus, but the act of them all being there in itself creates a meta-community that then also influences the influencer (in terms of what they put out). It’s not quite collaborative between members like a typical community, it’s something else

Ex. I might choose and share whatever I ultimately find interesting, and ppl might sign up / follow bc they want to read the things I say. But also, ppl reading my stuff leads to them suggesting other interesting content to me, which then helps me (and others) find more things to read. So it’s less that I’m just “telling” them something and more that I’m like a “member” of my own community that is centered around me. If that makes sense?

There’s gotta be some parallel here to the “is a hotel a community” q, also…everyone’s there as part of their own contract with the same person (the “influencer”), but the act of them all being there, in itself, engenders a community

Also the side interactions that take place when everyone is gathered in one place, but I’m not sure that part falls under recursiveness


Levels of journals kept, from most -> least private:


Things that seem bad but might actually be better than they seem:

Things that benefit from “warm glow” but might not actually be as good as they seem:

…what else


Female nihilism as a declaration of power - we’re always expected to be put together, so overtly displaying the opposite aka IDGAF is a pure power move. That’s why it’s more compelling to see vs. male nihilism (which can also be a power move, but in a different way)


An amusement park where you get to play with heavy construction equipment


Do murder methods have “trends” that wax and wane over time, depending on what’s easier to get away with / what’s rewarded at the time? And if so, how and why do they spread? Ex. kidnapping more common in the 1990s (not sure that’s the case but I think abductions have declined, presumably bc it’s easier to track ppl’s locations?), glory killing and shooting sprees more popular today (presumably bc of social media / performative incentives?)


Why is the stereotype of a stay-at-home mom this super overworked and underappreciated person, and the stereotype of a stay-at-home dad is the guy who plays video games and hangs with his kids all day? (What does that diff tell us about ourselves?)


Productivity tools are like dev tools - everyone wants their own hand-rolled version

What is that class of problem called? Some tools we don’t mind using out-of-the-box versions of, but other types we want autonomy over (also easier to choose/create vs. other types of tools, i.e. more substitutability)


It seems like when institutions actually go into decline, they do so with a whimper. So the fact that everyone is loudly proclaiming that SF is on the decline seems to suggest to me that it’s definitely not. If and when it does actually decline, it’ll be when nobody’s really paying attention anymore


Twitter is “publish or perish” culture

Feeling increasingly less convinced by arguments that academia “doesn’t work” (despite initially starting from the opposite position!). Or, rather: maybe our current academic system doesn’t work well, but it’s hard for to me to imagine any other system that, as it formalizes, wouldn’t eventually be subject to the same sorts of problems. I just don’t really understand what ppl would do differently given the chance, it feels like a reactionary critique rather than a fresh vision for something better.

In other words: I think the critiques of academia are valid, but they’re critiques of a mature system, rather than something like, inherently corrupt or broken about academia itself. And mature vs. incubative systems can exist alongside one another - same as startups and big corporations. It’s fine to not want to work for a big company, but it’s not really comparable to startups, just two different systems serving diff needs


(from a convo with a friend) “cash flow positive” businesses as opposed to bootstrapping, lifestyle, etc


(from a convo with a friend) “Writing isn’t a factory”, it comes in waves, hard to just sit and write full-time


If e.g. Starbucks was a global brand made to feel local, Instagram aesthetic is, weirdly, a local (?) brand that’s gone global? Maybe “local” isn’t the right term, but like a Schelling point for local?


Twitch / gaming figured out moderation faster than other social platforms for a lot of reasons, one I think being that e.g. Twitter etc started out as a many-to-many use case and then slowly is trying to backwards adapt to the one-to-many use case. Whereas livestreams were one-to-many from the beginning, with a more clearly defined space to moderate (eg. rooms or streams), vs this big wild frontier of e.g. all of Twitter


(from convo with friends) Plastic straws galaxy brain (least -> most galaxy brain):


Sunglasses are sensory deprivation goggles for ppl who live in cities


Foundations should have scout programs like VC firms, I feel like they would especially benefit bc they seem to be even more removed from the “operator” side (I think?)


Teslas look like Buicks


Juuls are kinda like baby bottles for adults, or security blankets for kids. Something comforting to have and hold and passively consume


Thinking about how if big failures are part of making engineering better (e.g. the argument that bridges collapsing are not actually preventable in many cases, but instead how we discover new engineering knowledge), and so I think big social/political failures could be seen the same way. Like in a similar way, we “need” these massive social failures to move us forward. If it’s true about engineering, why not also true about social organizations / society / whatever. Maybe why I don’t feel as worked up about politics etc as others seem to be? They’re experiments that need to happen in order to collectively move forward


Our insides are like black holes, easy to get lost in there if you’re not tethered to the physical world. Maybe all our bodies/souls are connected like an aspen, underground, with vast unexplored territory, and this physical world is the bounded solid shell we’re all playing in. i.e. the external world is wrapped up inside the shell of our inner world, and all our inner worlds are connected to each other


I kinda like playing with this mode now, where external environment represents safety and solid ground, and internal thought is where you’re exploring and are prone to getting untethered/lost. “Getting lost in your head” has real meaning now. But you can still tether yourself to your physical environment. Feels like a relief somehow to invert that focus, I think. “Swimming to the surface”


Common wisdom is that reason is useless against mobs, but I think it’s maybe the best weapon against them. Respond to frenetic, anxious attacks with a calm, collected demeanor, and they eventually settle down in response


If mobs are our new form of decentralized online government, they’d be like the legislative and the judicial branch. Individual influencers and powerful figures are like the “executive branch”. Mobs are the only check we have against the executive branch, so we need them to continue to exist. They serve an important political function, as a collective conscience (even if sometimes it swings in a direction we later regret or renege on!)

(can I break down mobs = judicial and mobs = legislative even further?)


Theory around why open source software has succeeded where open science seems to have stagnated (haven’t deeply thought this through, but it’s an idea): software developers don’t tend to directly make money off the code they release, they have day jobs. Whereas in science, in the end you’re judged by your publications / citations. Your value is directly tied to continuing to buy into this closed-off system. So they can’t really make the choice to do things differently, unless it’s stuff they’re doing just for fun (is there an equivalent of weekend projects for academia? Research that ppl do just for fun, in addition to their day job?)


Are annotations (eg Fermat’s library) the new peer review, the way tweets partly became a lightweight replacement for blog posts? And how does that fit into a spectrum along w/ ppl who just tweet out their reactions to/analysis of a paper to their followers?

Still feels like peer review serves a purpose in having a small group of dedicated readers, w/ lots of context, who help refine your ideas pre-publishing though, which is different from annotations (those are more like commentary after the fact, though I guess theorertically they could also help the author iterate upon their paper? Ongoing development vs. “publish and done”)


Crazy idea: what if enough PhDs move to industry from academia that the whole publishing papers, citations, etc problem becomes moot (industry PhDs have different standards of success, maybe? I guess it depends on the company)


Two social use cases that I want to see more of:

1) “One-way mirror”: (creators put stuff out there, but audience doesn’t participate back) - YouTube videos / Insta w/o comments, newsletters, etc

2) “Fly on the wall”: Conversations bw mutuals in public (audience doesn’t participate in the convo, but they get to witness a conversation they wouldn’t otherwise be able to join) - podcasts, twitter mutuals, wechat, etc are early examples of this


I think what I find cool about the antilibrary thing is it shifts the idea of books from being a conduit of information -> being an asset. You can value a book for the ideas it contains, and/or, you can value it for its aesthetic appeal, social signaling, etc. Books don’t need to be consumed to transmit value


Exclusive, private communities vs. public communities / tourist destinations that are relatively unpopulated “hidden gems”, despite being freely discoverable. I think that’s the distinction I’m particularly interested in, seems like we always swing towards fully public/private within considering the in-between option


Would love to have a separate place to keep and organize screenshots, like Pinterest but for my images/screenshots

I know I can use existing tools for this (iOS photo albums, Pinterest itself, etc), but for whatever reason I’d rather have a separate, dedicated app for this


Would like to find a catalog of all the diff schools of philosophy around “kid culture”, i.e. culture of children / schooling / play


SF-the-city feels so dystopian bc SF-the-idea isn’t really tied to a physical location, its skyscrapers are built on digital frontiers


Our bodies are like buildings (biological ecosystems, infrastructure, “windows” to the outside, decay), so crowds of people are like cities (collections of buildings, each human = one building)

All organic beings are containers (ike the cube rule for sandwiches, but for people)


What’s the relationship between hipster culture and internet culture? Did hipsters exist before we came online?

I feel like there’s some connection here that I can’t quite articulate…is it like the globalization of “what’s cool”? Like a sanitized, mimetic, universal version of what’s cool, bc ideas and trends can spread more rapidly. And maybe to that point, will hipsters every become less of a thing if we disintegrate from “globalization” back to tribalism? (Except I feel like there is this global-local culture that’s being formed, e.g. Instagram aesthetic, so…)


Is it just me or does it seem that at least some genres of movies are selling less off of brand name actors and actresses? Like it seems like a lot of popular movies are now headlining with unknown actors and actresses


Why are hackers so anti-centralization (platforms, centralized governance), when centralization seems to embody the principle of “don’t repeat yourself”? Shouldn’t they love centralization? I guess it’s sort of weird…I feel like in some ways developers hate doing repetitive work, and in other ways they’ll go to extreme lengths to customize things that don’t need to be customized. So maybe they hate centralization bc they love designing their own governance (but that doesn’t make centralized governance inherently bad)

There’s like: developers who love it bc automating away things allows them to focus on higher level cognitive tasks; and then those who hate it, bc they want to be able to tinker and customize everything themselves? Are these just personality / ideological differences in the relationships ppl have to computers?

And is there any parallel here between that ideological split, and the classic split of “are computers meant to enhance or replace human ability?”


Funny to think about how the medium of content reflects the culture of its audience and creator. Ex. why are political biographies always like 1,000 pages, I think it’s bc both the author and avid biography readers loooveeee diving deeply into that stuff. Whereas ex. short TikTok/Vine/YouTube videos suggest that their creators/audience don’t take themselves as seriously

If the medium itself can be thought of as a “tool” for transmitting content, then tools reflect the qualities of the ppl who use them


If I end up taking this view that the external world is the “real world” and our inner lives are the “fake world”, this also explains why I find hard science to be kinda boring - bc they feel like knowable, discoverable problems. The reason why problems of organized complexity are so fascinating is bc one of the inputs is a black box (our brains), which are not just unknowable as a class of thing, but each one is different from the next! Introduces utter chaos into the system…which makes it very fun to study, precisely bc it makes them inherently unpredictable + results are not “reproducible”

I guess this philosophy is a refutation of solipsism? Though in some ways it feels like it still ends up with the same result. I guess both suggest that inner experience is subjective, but one says “therefore it’s the most valid thing I have” and the other says “therefore it doesn’t really matter”


Thinking about child-to-adulthood as existing on a spectrum, rather than a binary transition…not a new thought I’m sure, just one that I think I find more helpful. Maybe we feel vaguely disappointed by adulthood bc we are eternally children. I don’t even really know what “being an adult” means, but what if that’s actually ok and not a problem?


If IG models are somewhat anomalous to porn stars in, say, the 1990s, what does that say about our changing relationship to women and sexuality

Like I think it’s higher cachet to be an IG model than a porn star today, but that’s the 1:1 comparison, vs. comparing them to, say, actresses. But IG models don’t have to show as much skin or do as much stuff as porn stars do, and also just obviously have a lot more agency over what they do

Not quite sure what I’m trying to say here, but I think it’s something like…the fact that we seem to be more satisfied with less explicit sexual content, suggests that maybe the pie has grown somehow for adult entertainment, in a way that’s favorable to women?


Employers as political affiliations - not true for every company, but for some, the employer you choose to affiliate yourself with def suggests something about your views, or at least the views you’re willing to tolerate (ex. working at Glitch vs. Palantir)


I know that 5 is green, but is it because it’s really green, or because I’ve been conditioned to remember that relationship and have developed an attachment to it, same as how I’ve been conditioned to “know” the sky is blue, even though others might see it as a different color? This is where I get uncomfortable in convos about synesthesia or aphantasia, as though ppl just experience a fundamentally diff mode of thinking, whereas I suspect it could just be that some ppl are more attuned to the inherent weirdness of their own brains than other ppl. Is there a base layer below our sensory experience that even we can’t access or articulate or externalize?

Maybe it’s not that certain concepts evoke sensory associations, but that I have a bigger palette to describe those concepts. Verbal/words/sight are one way, but I just use more of my senses to describe the shape of a thing. It’s a bigger “vocabulary”, rather than that my wires are crossed. Ex. ppl describe colors to blind ppl by using other sensory imagery (“yellow is sharp, like the taste of lemon”)

But the experience is still real, in the same way that the author (Perplexities of Consciousness) says that you can read “in color”, which is that you form mental imagery of colors based on what you read. Or you might really experience your dreams in color, even if they’re not actually in color. But it’s more than a metaphor bc you don’t know what baseline is. It’s not that you know dreams are black-and-white and you’ve chosen to think of them in color. It’s that you can’t fully describe what the underlying thing is, so you use this imprecise language and sensory experiences to connect with it, knowing that it’s imprecise and you don’t even know what precise actually means. These concepts are inherently indescribable with the sensory vocabulary we currently have


Are raffle drums / tumblers actually an effective way to randomize votes (like do the physics work out) or do they just look pretty


These days it seems more effective to “shame” someone by just not giving them your attention (ignoring them) instead of calling them out publicly. The former actually gets the job done (if we all cooperate..!), the latter feels more like self-serving / reputation boost


Realizing that a big component of work satisfaction for me is an element of risk: feeling like I’m taking chances and making decisions where the outcome is uncertain. The times when I’m feeling excited about work is when I’m not entirely sure how things will pan out


Everyone says friendships are becoming more superficial and transitory now, which I think is true for most social interactions, but I also think it’s become easier to stay in touch long-term with old friends bc of group chats. Gives ppl an online space to “hang out” even if you don’t see each other as often


(from convo with a friend) Hard to imagine a new sport like basketball being created today, but esports kinda reflect a modern interpretation: we can’t reach consensus around following one specific game for decades anymore, but we can invent an umbrella category of “esports”, and then iterate more rapidly on specific games that are played within that

Though I guess some ppl might argue that certain esports will have staying power? Kinda feels like there should be crossover learning between programming languages and esports re: what conditions need to be in place to give a game/language staying power. What’s the JavaScript of esports? (Is LoL the Java or JavaScript of esports?)


(from convo with a friend) Vine as Pompeii: a ruined city, but preserved for all time


(from convo with friends) Security vs. accountability as systems of protection. Do you put hard prevention mechanisms in place bc you assume strangers are malicious, or do you build up social norms that discourage ppl from doing things in the first place

Initially I was thinking this is trustlessness (security / on-chain) vs. trust (accountability / off-chain). But I’m also often in favor of trustlessness, while generally anti-security / on-chain approaches…trying to think how I reconcile the two. Hmmm.

I guess it depends on the total population size you’re dealing with? In open source it feels necessary to design for trustlessness, given the number of strangers you’re casually dealing with. But then, among a smaller, trusted group of maintainers, it feels like you want to switch to accountability/trusted mechanisms. How do you know when you need to switch? Is there a “moment” or does it happen gradually? Is it possible to practice “accountability” for bigger populations, other than federated models which seem to kinda break down / get crappy eventually? Is tribalism the only answer? Why is bureaucracy so hard?


(from convo with friends) Is divination just a form of technocracy? If technocracy = Western medicine, you can initially imagine divination as a version of Eastern medicine, but the idea of being able to predict the future still splits into two camps: running “brute force” simulations to find the right combination (algorithmic) vs. relying on intuition and illegible methodologies (shamanism/”methodological anarchism” – love this term). I’m def more interested in the latter


(from convo with friends) Crying becomes a sign of power, rather than weakness when you’re on top, e.g. Steve Jobs

This kinda reminds me of the idea that beautiful ppl love wearing really ugly things as high fashion. Or maybe also powerful ppl who make really ridiculous petty requests (blue M&M trope)

Kinda fun to think through the psychology of this - like, I think the power comes from inadvertently forcing everyone else to normalize something that is otherwise abnormal, and only a powerful person could override prevailing social norms in that way (and/or, forcing others to do that is what makes you powerful?)


Thinking about what a Freudian interpretation of left-right politics would look like, i.e. “rebelling against public space as parental authority”

Like in both cases I think it’s a reaction to failed promises/disappointments of the role public space is “supposed” to play, much like children who, as adults, grapple with, and externalize, their disappointments of the role that parents were “supposed” to play

Bc the right’s complaint that public space is anti-free speech/censoring us (“cthulu swims to left”) AND the left’s complaint that public space is too homogenizing (i.e. “too white”, with no space for our differences) are both really just complaints about authority, I think? They’re both about an individual desire to express oneself / one’s differences, coming up against the collective need to wipe those differences away

And so given that interpretation, I think it’s worth asking: what if that’s just the function of public space, the same way the function of a parent is to give children something to rail against, to make meaning of their life story? We need antagonists so we can envision ourselves as heroes.

In some ways, I think it’s a feature, not a bug, that some views are best expressed in private. Private spaces are an incubator for bringing views into a public space. They’re a place to be experimental and weird. If you had to do that in public, you’d be miserable

Part of what I like about semi-public / filtered spaces, where you’re visible, but maybe less obvious / harder to find. Helpful to think of public-private more as a gradient than a binary


Paywalls are valuable not bc you’re paying for the content itself, but as a way of drawing boundaries around your readership and making that audience more meaningful. Which is why paying for one-off content misses the point: paywalls are for monetizing your following, not your content


Behind every online content curator is a small group of their trusted curators, who give them really good content that they then share with a broader audience

Kinda like deal flow: an investor might get the credit/visibility for deals, but most of those ppl have a small group of really good, trusted sources who feed them the best deals, but don’t do it as a FT job - hence the interest in scout models that cut out middlemen

Scout models for curators…one day, eventually? Though I don’t know what the benefit would be (unlike scout models for investing)


Security bounties are a way of attaching status to open source work. Hackerone, etc made this an entire “marketplace”. But I think it works less well for bounties for other types of tasks bc there isn’t as much glory in, say, doing triage work, whereas security is an entire subculture of its own. Not necessarily a problem, just speaks to the limitations of bounties


I want to read a piece about independent ppl who make money as Amazon sellers…feels like there are some really weird/fascinating stories there


Activities where you’re actively seeking connection with others (raves, parties, festivals, etc), vs. those where you’re seeking a deeper connection with yourself (silent meditation retreats, solo camping, etc)

I guess a lot of activities have aspects of both (ex. hiking with friends) but those are like the two functions you’re playing with, maybe


Faraday hotel: cozy solitary confinement rooms (no phones, internet) to go on vacation from the world


Wish I had the option to annotate photos that I take, even if just a short character count to add names, handles, etc…like writing on the back of a physical photograph

Ditto being able to add footnotes to photos attached to tweets (instead of having to put links in the body of the tweet)


Do LA ppl constantly predict the imminent demise of Hollywood as entertainment capital of the world as often as ppl do SF and tech?


Seeing the state of someone’s desktop is kinda like seeing the inside of someone’s home, with all the value judgments that come with it


I have no idea how these things actually work, but wondering: if record labels weren’t a thing (centralizing ownership), how would Spotify have gone about licensing the rights to all that music?


It kinda gives me a thrill to donate books with annotations in them, bc I get brutally honest in the margins. I like knowing that some stranger is going to read my unfiltered thoughts and be like “wtf”: sort of like having an alt or sending someone an anonymous letter, it’s a form of exhibitionism

I also like thinking about how my deepest darkest thoughts are scattered and distributed across the margins of all the books I read, so that no one will ever find them and put them all together, unless they were able to track down every book I’ve annotated. Like writing a letter, tearing it into a hundred pieces, and scattering them off a rooftop. Hidden in plain sight


I think one of the unique strengths of digitally native (“internet-first”) politics is precisely that they are divorced from legal or geographic constituencies. It’s harder to explore “real world” politics from a purely philosophical lens bc it is sort of necessarily tied to geographic politics. Whereas being free of those constraints on a digital frontier gives our minds freedom to roam and wander, and really think about strange things, before we have to condense it back down to reality

And I think this goes back to the idea of “pure” ideologies, too. Like some might critique these philosophies as not being “applied” enough, but I feel like we do need a space where we can open up the costume box and try on different hats and get weird with one another, before we put our plainclothes back on and return to our daily lives, perhaps privately changed or touched by the experience. Doing that in a half-assed way - philosophy that must ALWAYS be informed by real world implications - seems to sort of defeat the purpose of exploration, I think

(It is also true that real-life experiences are necessary to drive changes in our worldview, but I guess I just think of that more like the proving ground, but we still need a laboratory to complement it)


Thinking about how whether nature or nurture, it’s still implicitly your parents’ fault

I don’t know why but I find this funny


Wonder if the near future is gonna go super poly or super trad


I wish we would stop clinging to the idea of journalism as neutral or unbiased, I think it’s actively holding back the conversation. I don’t want an institution that falsely claims to be an “unbiased” truth machine, who can hide behind that label when it’s convenient to them. I’d so much rather have obviously biased opinions out in the open, agendas laid bare before their readers, so I can filter and decide what I believe according to my own values and interests. Not sure why this is so controversial


I think creative writing for me is like making a tiny, intricate diorama: I can only do it in shortform. When writing something longer, I need to switch to a bigger brush, painting in wide, broad strokes to cover a larger surface area.

The latter is less enjoyable to me (like painting a house vs. painting a figurine), but I guess sometimes you need to switch to the right tools for the job (couldn’t paint a house with a mini brush)


Maybe crypto-flavored governance porn is less interesting to me bc I’m more interested in an underlying q: how do we design constituencies in such a way that we don’t need to overengineer governance (meaning complex, “democratic” processes) at all? Feels like they’re more focused on band-aids instead of prevention


I kinda want to read a piece about the hidden social function of cemeteries as a place where ppl come to reflect on their mortality, history of their community, etc. How do ppl design a cemetery to evoke a certain feel, which gravestones are chosen to be put where, etc


Commitment as a form of beautiful suffering - we all have some extent to which we think suffering is worth it, ex. working out even though it’s painful and it sucks. White picket fence life is like performing ballet: making it look easy/effortless to outsiders requires a lot of hard work behind the scenes. When done well, both should LOOK simple from the outside

Also, I think this analogy helps address the question of what’s “in our nature” to do re: relationships. Re: ballet, your body isn’t supposed to look like that, to bend like that, to work like that. And yet we do it because it’s beautiful. Maybe commitment is unnatural too, but it doesn’t really matter, bc it’s also beautiful in its own way. Commitment as performance art


(from convo with friends) Postrats as ideologically “pure” bc they don’t have an agenda (which makes them infuriating to some, and maybe is also their weakness, but to me also feels like the only place where ppl are intellectually honest bc they have no other agenda). The lack of politics is both frustrating and liberating


I wonder if gossip flies around a lot more quickly now, given how much easier it is to screenshot and send stuff to ppl. Lower friction. Like normally the opportunity to gossip would only come up when you see someone in person next time, and if you think to talk about it, but now it’s crazy easy to just text ppl immediately


Facebook as a decaying city: its reputation now among my peer group is “the place you go to watch train wrecks”, whereas you go to IG or Twitter to see attractive or successful ppl. Actually ghettoizing social interactions, although the crazy part is there’s nothing actually stopping anyone from switching to diff platforms? Are there crossover policy implications there for physical cities? But mobility is much harder in physical cities. Also, it kinda reminds me of how Jane Jacobs found these neighborhoods that ppl considered to be “ghettos” but were actually functioning quite well, they were just made up of diff ppl. Like the concept of a ghetto is in itself classist: neighborhoods can “fail” regardless of socioeconomic strata (ex. an overly planned town that never catches on, like an overdesigned social app that no one uses). Which takes us back to this q: is FB actually a decaying city (as in, a “failing neighborhood”), or does it just now attract the riffraff that nobody else likes to mingle with (as in, the classist interpretation of a “ghetto”)?


I wonder if what some ppl call burnout is actually just you evolving into another life stage, like in Pokemon. You might not like that next form that you take, and it feels foreign to you, but it’s actually just the next evolved version of you, rather than a lesser form. Loss of innocence, perhaps


Sexuality as a Kadinsky painting


Star Wars as “Big Sequel”, i.e. embodiment of the movie sequel industrial complex


(from convo with friends) Fractal tourism scheme: everywhere you go they advertise something another half distance away, into infinity. This would actually be fun to do as an Easter egg


(from convo with a friend) Isolationism as a philosophy: ppl who advocate that too much connection with others is bad for innovation (I guess this is just waldenponding?)


(from convos with others) Better to accelerate research by creating a problem to rally around (e.g. Mars, or whatever) vs. distributing $$. Both solve for resource constraints, but if ppl feel a sense of urgency, they also have a motive to create. Need both resources AND motivation (maybe this is another way of saying you need both freedom and constraints?)


I think the main takeaway of weightlifting is not necessarily about getting stronger (this linear direction going “up” towards something), but helping you learn that your body is malleable. Sort of detaching your sense of self/ego from your physical shell. The empowering aspect doesn’t come from gaining strength, but from realizing that you can make your body look however you want. Like reskinning your character in a game! I think that’s why I find steroids, plastic surgery, self tanning, etc to be just as cool as running, biking, or powerlifting. They’re just all diff ways to change your outward appearance, but you can make yourself look however you want: super tiny and lean, or disproportionately enormous, etc

The point of it, to me, is that you can always change yourself if you put in the hard work, rather than that you can go from being “this thing” to “that thing”. Getting too attached to the strength aspect feels like it just feeds into a fear of vulnerability. I do like getting strong bc it feels like putting on armor (like that Iliza Shlesinger bit about how makeup = war paint), but I don’t necessarily want to encourage seeing myself / the rest of the world that way


Experiencing/accessing old childhood memories via textures/tactile experiences, rather than visuals/stories etc


Kinda weird to think that we expect ppl to learn for a defined period in school and then never study again. Feels like a “waterfall” approach to education. Given how much is happening, and how quickly the world changes, and also how our own interests change! - it feels like we ought to promote continuous learning, which goes hand-in-hand with practical experience


Third wave coffee culture is the new Starbucks - not re: cultural zeitgeist, but re: ability to make me feel at home whichever city I go to (if they have third wave coffee shops)


Would be cool to do a deep dive of technologies that get hijacked for social purposes: airdrop, gdoc comments, wifi names, etc


Externalized brains as input data for magic/forecasting: combine and recombine between ppl until you find resonance


Are newsletters a growing trend outside of tech? Or is it mostly a tech crowd sort of thing atm? (doesn’t mean it won’t get mainstream eventually, just wondering what the state of it is right now, bc it feels trendy but maybe I just live in a bubble). (e.g. by contrast, podcasts are definitely more mainstream now)


Writing a blog post feels like writing a spell! Crafting it just right to produce the effect you want

Also bc you’re collecting all these components/”ingredients” from other blog posts, scraps of ideas, etc together and brewing and calibating them to produce the right effect

Might flesh this out further


Stages of basic:

Being basic as a form of gray manning?


(from a convo with a friend) “There’s something strange / perverse about the mining of knowledge without the intent to actually use it”

I think there is something to this, although I’m not exactly sure where to draw the line…purposeless exploration seems useful for certain phases of life, but not indefinitely. But how do you know if you’re in one vs. the other


We should treat relationships/networks no differently from material wealth/money: fine if they accumulate and have positive benefits, but we should retain a sense of detachment about their value in order to not get too caught up in it


Intellectual labor is the new working class (“mining of ideas”), the new luxury is gonna be to not engage in anything that drains the mind at all. “Basic as high-end” -> non-intellectual / non-status signaling as high status. Kinda relates to vgr’s stuff on mediocrity. But I think it goes one step further: mediocre implies self-awareness and choice, basic says you never even had to try

The god of mediocre is sloth; the goddess of basic is an ingénue


I wish you could have a way to mark product ads online as “I already bought this”


“Is human progress really a thing” – the elegant part is being able to make this case without being nihilistic, existential, or cynical about it. It’s not that the world is going to shit, nor is it that progress is inevitable, perhaps? What if we’re just…trying stuff out?

The thing is I don’t even know if I believe that progress isn’t real, bc I do intuitively feel that the world is getting better over time, but I think what I mean by better is just “not stagnant” which doesn’t always necessarily mean learning?

Maybe the best argument to make is that we can’t even define progress in a nonsubjective way, bc progress is always a function of the present, and the present is always changing, so the q is moot. Like you kinda have to go one level deeper to get to an answer here


Shorter feedback loops as a means of grasping towards the future we so desperately crave, but actually longer feedback loops might be better to make actual progress, bc shorter leads to incrementalism?

i.e. is accelerationism just a form of incrementalism? Is it the equivalent of our sugar craving for the future, masked in the form of progress? Ditto productivity porn? And so we tell ourselves working faster, even if it’s consciously about destruction (in the case of accelerationism), is going to get us to our answers faster, but actually the only way to move faster is to slow down? Like smacking the surface of water, vs. slipping your hand beneath the surface


Seeing BART ads for a dev school that promises an “Ivy League salary” rather than “Ivy League education” - v telling on what people actually value, and how they’ll find ways to circumvent in order get to same results faster


My fav conspiracy theory group: people who leave Amazon reviews that their product is fake or tampered with bc they don’t trust buying from Amazon, even when the vendor is the actual company that makes it

Related favorite group: beauty product reviewer conspiracy theorists who claim that a product’s “formula has changed”


Highlighting things in a book = “liking” things on social


The shift from WoW/Second Life to Twitch feels a lot like the shift from Linux/Apache type projects to GitHub (i.e. from communities to broadcasting). And similarly, most research seems to focus on the former era vs. the latter


Thinking through what would be “the pro-govt argument for anti-regulation” in tech…

When ppl say “there is no platform X without their Y users” (ex there is no GitHub without developers, or FB without its users) I think they mean it in the sense of rent-seeking, like, “your users generated all this value for you and they aren’t seeing any of it”. But another lens for that is “there is no government without its constituents”

I.e. Platforms could be seen as farms with sharecroppers, OR they could be seen as governments with citizens. In the latter form, the platform exists purely as a function of its users; if they didn’t appear, a different platform would’ve. I think that makes it different from the sharecropper analogy. It’s not just that “platforms need users to generate their value”. Users need platforms to generate THEIR value, too! The same way you pay taxes, services and infrastructure that you never even think about bc the govt is taking care of it for you, similarly, platforms provide users with so much value that we take for granted.

Like I guess the subtle distinction for me is that platforms didn’t originate as a separate entity and then recruit users to cheaply create value for them. Platforms appeared as a means of organizing a certain group of people (i.e. their constituency)

And so if platforms are gov’t, and a gov’t is defined as the institution that serves its constituency, then also this feels like a strong anti-regulation argument, bc the platform IS the government. Why would you want some other government weighing in on its decisions? Asking the American govt to intervene on FB is like asking Australia to intervene on the French govt

Also, for me, resolves the q of why users should be considered independent contractors and not employees of certain platforms, bc the latter assumes the relationship is somehow extractive. You don’t “work for the govt” just bc you benefit from its services, and it’s probably better that you don’t, either

The counterargument is “but these ‘govts’ are still being regulated like companies” which is fair, but we at least need to at least start from the assumption that these are not really companies anymore from a normative standpoint, then adjust laws accordingly, instead of trying to fit current forms to past models


Roleplaying, but for political philosophies/ideologies


(from a convo with a friend) Online convos are harder to remember than in-person ones, even if they were meaningful/enjoyable. For some reason I feel this way about Twitter, email, FB messenger, and maybe whatsapp, but not iMessage. Not sure why! Maybe bc it’s often with someone I know and it feels more intimate/memorable

Makes me think of someone else (I forget who’s) observation that it’s harder to remember things you read on Kindle vs. physical books bc the format is so standardized that your memory has nothing to hook into

It’s interesting to think about in which cases you want homogeneity (for speed) and when you want heterogeneity (for memory anchoring, calm, etc). Like how we don’t want cities to have uniform buildings bc it just depresses us. When is uniformity a design principle vs. anti-pattern?


Maybe we assume the world is making progress bc we make local progress in our own brains (I learn all these things as a human progressing from age 0 to age 90 or whatever) and extrapolate up to global scale

Trapped in our own brain ecosystems, where we get really into our own mental worlds and assume that one small world is as significant as the rest of the world


(from a convo with a friend) Describing a friend of theirs as someone who “wilts when you take him out of his home city”

I love the term “wilting” to describe how people change from environment to environment. Around certain people and groups and social settings you brighten up like a flower in sunlight, and around others you wilt, but you’re still the same flower (i.e. person) no matter where you go


(from convo with a friend) thinking about how maybe progress isn’t actually linear, but cyclical: diff ideas that take turns becoming more/less prominent at diff times. To me, this is not at odds with an optimistic view of the world, in the same way that understanding bull vs. bear markets is neither nihilistic nor cynical, but observational

Also what I don’t understand is if progress IS always “going up”, is it asymptotic? Is it possible to ever be “done” or is progress always expanding, like the universe? I think it’s weirdly maybe EASIER for me to think of it as cyclical, then, rather than linearly upwards


Taking your partner’s last name is like getting a tattoo. You can attach all this meaning to it, or maybe you just do it bc you feel like it. You’re in the mood for something new and semi-permanent, like etching a story on your skin


How to design games (video games but even in-person board, card games) that are designed to be just as enjoyable while spectating? Like some games are fun to watch other ppl play, while others are boring. When is one true vs. the other? I think ease of entry matters: if you don’t know the rules, it’s hard to follow along. Etc, what other principles are like that. What would a spectator-first game look like? (And I mean this for casual spectators, not e.g. esports where people watching are already familiar w/ the rules) Also, how do/don’t those principles cross over to physical sports? E.g. soccer or basketball tend to be more fun for a casual spectator to watch than baseball or football


(from a convo with a friend) We use the word “company” to refer to lots of different kinds of companies, nobody thinks the same business model should apply to all of them. Same for open source, need to get past the idea that there will be a one-size-fits-all solution, but instead learn when diff models work better / encourage ppl to experiment with diff things

(Also makes me think of gamers - the term “gamer” is often associated with first person shooters, but there are so many subcultures to gaming. Indie gamers are v different from CS:GO players, or whatever, we don’t assume one must imply the other. And similarly, open source projects are each so different that experiencing one doesn’t necessarily transfer to another)


Interesting to see how Playdate launched - they could’ve done it as a Kickstarter, but didn’t, and didn’t really need to, either. Will everyone need KS less when they have their own followings? Having a waitlist of 70,000 ppl is basically as good as taking preorders via KS

Kinda makes me think of other framings of platforms’ limited usefulness (ex. Medium, Twitter): build your following on a platform initially, bc you benefit from their distribution, but eventually you can just take your following elsewhere


A kind of horrifying thing about writing books is that as they start to take shape, you realize all the ideas that you expected you’d finally get a chance to expess, that AREN’T going to be included after all, bc they just don’t fit into the narrative anywhere


Social platforms are evolving to look like two-sided marketplaces, with “creator” and I guess generic “user” accounts? The same way, e.g. Etsy has sellers and buyers, IG has creators and users, YouTube has partners and viewers, etc. Creators/”sellers” ideally have diff account settings, permissions, etc. Like the vast majority of ppl don’t deal with harassment on Twitter, but it’s more likely that an influencer deals with it on a regular basis, and that’s a fundamentally different kind of content moderation problem vs. an individual who doesn’t have an audience

Some platforms (e.g. Twitter, GitHub) don’t yet have these differentiated account types in a way that’s either meaningful or persistent throughout the site, but they probably should


Have thought about how streamers and OSS developers are both creators, but also, open source itself is actually a sort of “high-latency streaming”. And so viewed through that lens, what new opportunities open themselves up to OSS developers


I like the distinction that there’s one kind of celebrity who becomes famous as a byproduct of something they did (songs, movies, etc), vs. another kind where your “product” is externalizing your internal thought processes. The latter gets called “microcelebrity” but I feel like that downplays how big they can get

Though I guess you could make the argument that playing a game well = the former type of celebrity, but the performative aspect of streaming feels more like that latter to me

Anyways I don’t think the right distinction is “micro” vs. “regular” celebrity, but I do think differentiating between them somehow is useful wrt implications re: what success looks like, how they live their lives, how they adapt to celebrity life


Given a number of content curators with their own dedicated followings, but who all fall into the same general set of issues - will those curators eventually converge into one curator, or will they always have separate audiences? At what point do their audiences overlap enough that the curators themselves become substitutable? Probably not at 10 or 15% overlap, but 50% overlap? 80% overlap?

In other words: it seems that curation is becoming increasingly valuable, but is there a ceiling to the value of that skill? Will we find equilibrium at a world of 10,000 curator tribes, or consolidate into a couple of big ones?

(And what factors in any given curation market would contribute to this in one way or another? Ex. limitations of platforms / distribution)


Generalists are good at identifying and synthesizing and exposing problems, but they don’t usually have enough skin in the game to solve them. I think this is also why interdisciplinary fields have useful but limited application


Inevitable swings:

bull/bear markets
liberal/conservative politics
more/less progress?


Do books represent the beginning or the end of understanding an idea, for the author? Like for the audience, it’s the beginning: they’re exposed to a new idea, the author goes around on a book tour, etc. But writing and publishing a book is also like the end of an idea/period of exploration for an author, bc it represents the capstone of your research. Weird conflict between what reader wants vs. what author wants


I find it confusing that there are true morning ppl and true night owls but then also supposedly these overarching biological rules about human sleep cycles? How are both true?


Starting to think of these book drafts as Cylon models (“Six”, “Seven”, etc), each with their own personalities, aspirations, and defects that ultimately led me to abandon it in favor of another attempt, hoping always that this next one will be the perfect embodiment of what I’m trying to achieve and express


Thinking of group chats not as chats, but as chatrooms: physical spaces where you can drop in and see who’s around. Messaging apps are ostensibly asynchronous, but actually also synchronous?


I kinda like that one positive outcome of “you can’t say stuff in public online anymore” is the rapid development of private online spaces (bc now we have a reason to want them). It’s like we bought the land, made some laws, and now we’re building the real estate. Or like breaking up a giant land mass into smaller islands, which drives biodiversity and speciation


If open source licenses only refers to the consumption side of things, how do you disguish models on production side - e.g. distributed vs. centralized production?

Ex. you can have an open source license but centralized production (one company/person is BDFL), and proprietary licenses but distributed production (ex. remote corporate teams using GitHub to build software…? Does “distributed” refer to geographic location or employee/non-employee relationships or what?) Open source licenses with distributed production = open source community projects. Proprietary licenses with centralized production = your typical software company


Helps to encourage ppl to not just “if you do X, LMK how it goes”, but to create artifacts from it (blog posts, videos, etc), e.g. “you should write about X”. The former offers validation, but impact doesn’t really extend beyond the person suggesting it. The latter increases positive outcomes by increasing the number of other ppl who might learn from it, and increasing potential for reputational rewards to the person (plus you still get to enjoy it too)


Service dog status is the medical marijuana license of urban pet owners


(from a convo with a friend) “How would you know if you failed” as a clearer way to frame what’s important in work, even moreso than “what does success look like”

Kinda reminds me of “what’s your idea of the good life” as a moral q - I could come up with lots of things that look like success, but knowing what would make you feel like you’ve failed does a better job of highlighting what matters

Also points to idea that people WANT to feel like they could fail, bc it adds urgency and meaning to their work. Not being able to know whether you’re failing is hard (e.g. research, VC, which have longer feedback loops)


Would be cool to be able to have multiple devices tied to one phone number, e.g. I could switch between my iPhone and a dumb phone, the same way I can seamlessly switch between my laptop/iPhone/iPad, with persistent identity across devices

I love the idea of having a cheap throwaway phone without all my apps etc installed for when I just want the basics (call/text), but I don’t want to get two phone numbers to do it


Cities, like software, never die. Or, they do occasionally die, but it’s hard and often tragic. Thinking about Vine in relation to this - sort of like the artificial razing of a city before its time, whose death is still being mourned


A word to describe the conundrum when you want to text someone but you haven’t spoken in years and don’t want to draw attention to your last conversation in the thread


(from a convo with a friend) Rituals for yourself, vs. rituals you have that involve other ppl. I definitely seek out the former, but tend to avoid the latter, bc I think spontaneity/being naturally top of mind is a more meaningful sign of commitment to me (similar to faith/feeling spirituality vs. meaningless rituals in religion). But interesting to realize that others might feel differently!


Kinda wish all my friends had public Amazon wishlists, just to see what they’d put on there (like browsing other social feeds to get a sense of their interests)


Death-oriented vs life-oriented people: difference in personalities where you’re either barreling your way fearlessly towards death vs. trying to avoid death by squeezing every last hour of useful output from your life. (Maybe another way of saying it is high vs. low discount rate ppl)


Would like to see someone quantify the negative economic impact to Beyonce of Lemonade being locked up on Tidal for 3 years, hugely impactful album that missed out on its reach for the first 3 years of its release (Also, kinda semi-ironic that she made that sacrifice with Lemonade specifically to support Jay-Z’s platform. Subtle performance art?)


Cool thing about prompt Twitter (where you ask an open q to your followers, ex. “tell me about a time when…”) is you create a mini, hyper-ephemeral community. All these strangers gather around your q and interact with each other, and you can see some of them are playing certain characters/roles (responding to other ppl, liking everything, etc). The life of this “community” is short: like setting paper on fire, which produces a big flame but then dies out quickly. Maybe similar to the dynamics of a house party or a festival

The other thing I like about it are the non-zero sum rewards. Someone who provides a good response might get lots of likes (local currency/validation, valuable within the context of the prompt “ecosystem” itself) or also new followers (global currency/validation, valuable beyond the life of the prompt). But because anyone can read the prompt thread, it’s virtually boundless how many additional likes and follows your original prompt might “mint” for the entire network. And the rewards don’t just go to the original prompt creator, but potentially to anyone who jumps in

Would be cool to look at more of these ephemeral communities on a micro (e.g. house party) and nano (e.g. Twitter prompt) scale…


Is there a term for thirst traps, but for performatively stoking sympathy from strangers (ex. talking about something bad, but ultimately kinda trivial, that happened to you)? Crocodile traps?


If we separate out artifacts from organisms, it makes sense why ex. a popular YouTube video or random viral post or GitHub repo or whatever might not actually require additional money/support. If the artifact is “done”/stands alone, and the creator isn’t making more stuff like it (ex. viral tweet from someone who doesn’t have tons of followers) and there’s no additional temporal costs involved, then no further action is required, really

But it makes things confusing bc we can look at two popular GitHub repos and value them very differently. Need to measure value by looking at who’s behind this stuff (and their reputation/status/expected future behavior) instead of the actual content. Ex. having one random popular YouTube video, vs. being someone who makes popular YouTube videos. The videos could be the same but the people behind them are very different

This is also why I think information and infrastructure behave so similarly, even if calling popular YouTube videos “infrastructure” is a bit of a stretch. But, e.g. a road is valuable not based on its physical attributes (valued it as an artifact), but how it’s used (valued as an organism)


Restraint instead of excess as a symbol of wealth (ex intermittent fasting, dressing down, meditation, routines) - wonder if it’s just self-discipline to retain your sanity and/or find meaning in abundance. Either that, or it’s a means of establishing control when you’re under a lot of stress / sensory input (which I think is how these things are usually interpreted)


(from a convo with a friend)

Working “at”
Working “for”
Working “from”
Working “with” a company…

…choice of prepositions makes a difference / says something either about your relationship with your employer, or how you see yourself


Semi-joking q asked at dinner tonight that I actually think is a fun silly “if a tree falls in a forest” type icebreaker q: “Is Hogwarts real?”

Basically gets to: Hogwarts exists as an idea in our heads, so are ideas more real than reality? If it has impact on our real lies and we all buy into the idea, and we have “memories” of it, does that make it more real than if it were a physical place we’ve visited?


Still really on this pro-constraints kick. Am fascinated by the idea that creative work requires a certain degree of freedom to execute well, BUT creative work also requires constraints (time/capital) to produce anything interesting. And constraints can, in themselves, become inspiration for creative work, like a grain of sand in an oyster. I don’t think I’ve yet developed an intuition for how much to calibrate in either direction, but it’s delightfully torturous


Thinking about how “developer” is both an actual role in an OSS project, and also a personal identity. Not everyone’s role in an OSS project is that of a developer (as in, they might not write code for the project). But pretty much everyone in an OSS project probably personally identifies as a developer (otherwise, why would you get involved in a software project?)

You might primarily identify as, e.g. an evangelist, or a designer, or community manager, but everyone still probably shares SOME identity overlap with the “developer” label


New term I just discovered and like: “Wanderjahre” (the years spent exploring yourself) / journeyman years


A metric for tracking how your ideas are being received by the outside world: seeing how your inbound changes over time (in terms of the types of cold emails you get - functions like an ink dye trail, tracking where your ideas are spreading)


Knowledge as object-oriented programming for information


Is there a term like freemium, but pay-what-you-want? You’re not paying for a different product, but some ppl are more willing to front the costs for ppl who don’t care enough (eg. “patrons” vs. casual consumers), so that the content is freely available for everyone

2019-04-12, but for dating inbound


Funny how the primal desire to feel “close to nature” manifests in good and bad ways…like, the desire to own houseplants stems from the same desire for physical violence (maybe?), both are oddly relaxing bc they’re an outlet for releasing our animal selves


Thinking about how blogs, podcasts, and other more permanent artifacts are better forms of “passive social capital building” than Twitter or IG, bc people will continue to discover them for longer (via search, links, etc). Whereas the trajectory for a viral social post is explosive, then dies off - it’s harder to stumble upon old tweets/posts. I wonder if one is actually better, though, or are they just different approaches? The latter just feels so frenetic to me, you have to constantly keep creating more short-lived content, instead of fewer, longer-living artifacts.

Also, regardless of which is better, it’d be cool to see social platforms help surface old-but-relevant content. Like if you search on the web for a topic, you find all these great old posts from years ago. You can always search on (some) social platforms, but given the volume, it’d be even better if they could, e.g. proactively surface old content from ppl you follow


Everyone seems to be trying to predict or build the next SF….what if the right move isn’t moving to a new city at all, but doubling down on divorcing physical from online reality? i.e. Move to a small town wherever, with your primary social/work interactions happening online. Remote workforces are a thing, so why not remote cities?

Like when I think about the biggest sources of serendipity for me today, they originated from online, not in-person relationships (ex. meeting someone at a party). Then again, maybe I’m underestimating the value of meeting in person, even if you first discovered each other online. The spark to connect might happen online, but the real bond is formed when you meet in person


More thoughts on “mobs as a force for good”: group level signaling as an advocate for individual achievements. Instead of mobs working against individuals, what are the ways in which they pave the path for individuals? (Ex. hero worship of prominent figures can get annoying, but also creates demand for individuals to do interesting things, i.e. you too can be the next Bezos or Jobs) - prompted by Samo’s post on “how Elon is making engineers cool again”


Do we read/enjoy/get less out of fiction as we grow older, possibly bc our mental models of the world are more fully formed?


Twitter is kind of like a virtualized library/librarian: ask for recommended reading on a topic, get a whole stack of interesting stuff back


(from a convo with a friend) “All the work we deeply pursue is basically therapy”


Board games: the ultimate zero latency gaming experience


Kinda amusing how the classic nerd stereotype is dudes who aren’t having sex bc they’re at home on computers all the time, and now apparently that’s what’s happening to the entire young male generation. Like in the end the “revenge of the nerds” narrative that I grew up with kinda slyly won out by turning the entire world into nerds. Meme-viruses infecting the world


The problem with A/B testing is a lot like the problem with voting: might help resolve the question when you’ve hit a stalemate re: what to do, but should be treated as a tiebreaker/last resort


Platforms as a hybrid of monopoly vs. decentralized production - “Anybody can become a creator…on Instagram”. Platform and creator co-share the costs of production

Kinda like the “libertarianism only exists in the bubble of democracy” thing (ok, slightly overreaching here, but still) - you can have this fantasy of decentralized production, that even has merit and brings joy, but it all necessarily happens within the bubble of a monopolistic platform (bc costs are too great for individuals to bear otherwise - need economies of scale)

Interesting to consider whether there are any stress points or fractures in the system that we can observe to predict future behavior. Ex. email still exists independently of these platforms. And maybe that’s the model we’re moving towards? Everyone uses platforms for initial discovery and building an audience, bc it’s like the “public sphere” of our digital lives. Like a common path is to start blogging on Medium, then switch to newsletter once you’re big enough. Or tweeting -> newsletter or whatever. But you couldn’t START with a newsletter, bc how would anyone ever find you?

So maybe platforms will become where reputations begin, where new talent is discovered, where brands are built, but longer-term, you build a more independent “stack”? Like what would that stack even look like? Does it live and die by email? What are other midding components (does portable identity matter)? Also, would that independent stack ever actually take over platforms, or only exist in mature stages of accrued social capital?


Mailing lists as a decent old school example of “one-way mirror” interactions (you can make them public, but read-only, and you have to be a member to post to it)


Hoping someone will poke holes in this, but I find something sort of elegant about the fact that Uber is inherently more resistant to bad actors bc of the nature of the transaction. Each person in the driver-rider transaction holds a “key” (name, destination, license plate) that allows them to verify the other’s identity. Also a solid example of how decentralization is a really fuzzy concept (identity verification is arbitrated by the Uber app, but still has decentralized elements)


Life is about figuring out which echo chambers you can actually stand to be in for awhile and making yourself a little home


Mario Kart as modern application of Aristotle’s peripatetic doctrine


IG/Twitter/FB/etc as externalized brains: “here’s everything you need to know about me”, so you don’t have to do as much of the upfront tedious small-talk work of getting to know someone new, and instead focus on more meaningful exchanges


If cafes are becoming the “public squares” of cities, if we were to redesign a city from scratch today, would we have fewer actual public squares?


Theory: nostalgia is a biological encouragement mechanism for having children. You feel nostalgic for the past, so you have children, bc it’s the closest you can get to reliving your childhood


(from a convo with a friend) “social public” vs. “social private” as a way of distinguishing between e.g. FB/IG/etc vs. e.g. Messenger/WhatsApp/etc. I dunno if this is well-known terminology that I had just never heard of, but I like it


There’s something that bothers me about the critique that parents secretly paying off admissions officers means the system itself is corrupt (i.e. ppl saying that this is the beginning of the end for university degrees). Cheating at a game doesn’t make the game itself rigged, it just means you should remove the cheaters

I think something that sits weirdly with me is that bartering for favors is an expected part of any social system like unversities (or getting into YC, or raising investor $$, or getting a job, or whatever). Ex. asking for warm intros is a form of bartering for favors. Is the problem specifically that money is involved? Whereas reputation / networks need to be earned (I can ask for that warm intro, but I can’t transfer that value to you), if anyone can literally “buy” their way into a social system, it means the system is no longer special?

Bribery can certainly imply that a system itself is corrupt, ex. paying off police officers, but I think there’s something different being implied. Police officers, judges, etc are part of the justice system, which we explicitly want to be objective, whereas admissions officers / gatekeepers are expected to look at social signals. (And not just name-brand social signals, but even ex. if you see a candidate who’s on the robotics team, you associate that with a bunch of other aptitude/personality traits)

Obviously against the bribery, but trying to figure out where that line is crossed and why, given that we all seem tacitly fine with “soft bribes”. Also wondering: viewed through that lens, is meritocracy actually an obfuscated form of elitism? “Merit” = social signals that are only visible to the in-group, once they become too legible to the general population, the system becomes gameable, so we revise the rules to make them harder / less comprehensible again. Not saying this is even wrong (“meritocracy is the worst form of gov’t, except all other forms”), just trying to figure out whether meritocracy reconciles with democratic values, or whether it even should


Thinking about how pop music about love, happiness, etc is written and performed by people who probably have super dysfunctional relationships / aren’t that happy (not a judgment! but guessing based on the very fact of their success) and how that subtly shapes the rest of us.

So like…where does their inspiration come from for this stuff? At worst it’s totally fake, at best it’s aspirational/idealized but likely not something they’ve actually experienced. Which is weird bc we think of music as being creative output, but what if it doesn’t actually reflect anything inside their heads? Their music inspires us to want to love, but if they personally have no idea what love means, are they just empty carriers, spreading social norms like a virus? Are we all getting mimetic fantasy propaganda pumped into our brains?


I wonder if it’d be possible for the biggest newspaper brands (ex. NYT, WSJ) to pivot their business so they’re making money from something that’s not journalism entirely. The same way universities don’t make most of their money off of tuition, ex. Harvard, MIT, etc license their brand everywhere. (Maybe this is already what newspapers do, I don’t know)

Was thinking about this wrt NYT releasing software: like, could the biggest newspaper brands become an entirely different kind of business that becomes sustainable enough to fund their journalism at a loss, the same way Harvard is doing all this other stuff to ultimately fund their research at a loss? In both cases, their brand still depends upon the quality of the stuff they put out (i.e. they’re selling their brand, so they are incentivized to not do things that erode its value), so I don’t think it’d necessarily be a conflict


Kinda into the idea of “invisible” innovations that completely shifted the opportunity window for certain groups: ex. birth control for women, PrEP for gay men, tractor / mechanical farm equipment for rural communities

I’m not exactly sure how to phrase what I find interesting here…but just like, I don’t THINK day-to-day about how birth control changed my life trajectory, it’s one of those things you sorta take for granted now, but it did

If I broaden it far enough though, there’s probably too many examples to count…ex. clean drinking water, sewage systems, etc etc. Maybe this category is so generalizable that it’s meaningless, but I feel like there’s a class of interesting stories somewhere that could be all bundled together. (is this just technological determinism?)


Ok you know how we eradicate rats or pigeons by slowly introducing sterilization into the wild or whatever? I wonder if catcalling will slowly be eradicated by AirPods. They make it less satisfying to catcall (bc the person can’t hear you), and you also can’t always tell if someone’s wearing them, so ppl will do it less over time until it’s just not a thing anymore


Our brains are moving faster than our bodies, throwing our expected life-stage trajectories out of order. Ex. retiring before you’ve ever been in a relationship, etc, it makes all the standard life advice totally irrelevant


(from a convo with a friend) “Take a platform you love. Would you rather lose access to all the past content your connections have posted, or lose the connections themselves?”

Thinking about how social media can be viewed as “content over time” rather than just “content”. The strongest value being exchanged in social media is not the content itself (commodities), but the value of “person who curates content over time” (reputation). It’s not the likes you get on a tweet that ultimately matter (ex. someone’s one tweet can go massively viral, but they still don’t have many followers). It’s the follows that matter, because over time, those translate into leverage/audience for future posts

This also makes the reward structure of social media look fundamentally different than decentralized forums or many-to-many interactions. On forums, your reputation is only really visible / meaningful to other “regulars”, but on social media, it’s immediately visible / meaningful to everyone (i.e. follow counts)


It’s funny you can have this relationship with your work or your ideas that is very similar to romantic relationships, friendships, etc. It gets tiring, you question whether it still brings you passion, you explore other ideas, etc etc…some people break up with their ideas, while others come back with their faith renewed. Also, perhaps in the same way you shouldn’t mistake an affair for something serious, maybe don’t mistake your side passions/interests for your main thing (I know this is counter to common wisdom but I really think it can go either way)


I wonder if all subcultures can be defined as variance in response to trauma (diff coping mechanisms, responses to rejection, ways of seeking validation, etc)


(from our podcast interview with Timothy) Organized complexity as “the beauty-first approach to science”


Information is like water or perhaps sediment at the bottom, knowledge is the oil floating on top


(from a convo with a friend) “Serendipity engineering” as the process of combinining and recombining raw information inputs to synthesize and discover new knowledge


Knowledge as consensus protocol: society’s “active working knowledge” at any given point in time = our shared consensus as to which bits of information are most true/relevant (battled out daily in conversation)


(from a convo with a friend) “Even if you can’t put everything you’re thinking about into one piece right now, those are bits of raw material that will inevitably crop up again in future writing”

Trying to think about research less as “experiment -> result -> publish”, and more about tapping into ore deposits. I feel like I’ve unearthed plenty of interesting nuggets in the past 9-ish months, but I don’t have to refine them all at once. Instead of feeling sad that I can’t get everything out in one piece, better to think of it as great that I dug up all this raw material that I can work with for a long time


(from a convo with a friend) “Frustrating (for me at least) to realize that we only have finite ‘writing bandwidth’, and if I write for a living, welp, there it goes”

I think 2019 is more about finding meaning through constraints instead of freedom, which is basically the opposite of how I used to feel until v recently. I used to think freedom was simply a matter of removing all material barriers. It’s been hard to accept that my capacity for investing in meaningful friendships, relationships, producing good work, etc is actually finite, no matter how much you maximize your freedom

Hedonism is bounded asymptotically. Money, flexible hours, etc helps, but in the end it’s kinda up to you figure out what/who matters most and allocate your attention accordingly


Did horror movies ever go through the whole moral panic thing in the way that violent music and video games did?


Maybe it’s not that regulators don’t have a clue about tech specifically, but that regulators really don’t have a clue about any industry they’re charged with regulating


Songs are such little miracles to me. I really cannot imagine thinking on the wavelength that’s required to make music, and make beautiful music at that


(from convo with a friend) When you are explicitly trying to hire weird ppl, you will get some bad ones too. “Weirdness leads to more polarizing extremes in either direction”


“Small group effect” (the idea that interesting, generative people all hang out in the same group and support each others’ work) is really just another way of saying “teaching good taste”

In other words, I think the implication is often that “smart people tend to congregate with one another”, but I think it’s more like “getting exposed to the right people improves your taste” and thus increases your perceived talent. And there are tons of super interesting, smart, talented ppl who just haven’t yet been exposed to good taste


Twitter culture as another example of SSC’s “universal culture” theory. When I say I met someone through Twitter, I don’t always literally mean we interacted/got to know each other on the platform itself, but more that I have a certain social circle of Twitter-esque people that I’ve gotten to know. Similarly (to SSC’s original conception of universal culture), you don’t have to literally be from the United States to participate in the American ethos

To extend the metaphor even further: for both Twitter and the US, there are also users/citizens who are are active on the platform/live in the country, but don’t fit the idealized ethos we’re talking about when we say “Twitter/American culture”


Horseshoe theory for traditionalists


Jane Jacobs, but for elevator dynamics (optimizing how people use/manage/adapt our environment within buildings, not just between buildings, i.e. cities)

There should totally be a Brand-Jacobs mashup of this. “The city inside the city: death and life of how great American buildings learn”


Slight amendment to my “no bounties” stance: paying for one-off contributions can be useful when they are tasks that nobody (including the maintainers) want to do, but that the maintainers acknowledge are important/necessary


Sociology is basically mythology in terms of its purpose to society. Many ideas like tragedy of commons continue to persist, despite being repeatedly discredited. They last not bc they are true, but bc they reflect who we perhaps want to be / how we see each other


When the users of an open source project get upset about license terms changing, it suggests that maybe monetizing through licenses isn’t a great tactic; says nothing about whether community is upset about maintainers getting paid. Increasingly feel like “paying maintainers will piss off the community” is a misdirection. Maybe we’re just asking the wrong people to foot the bill


Creative careers (research, entertainment/media, writing, etc) are basically nomadic / gig-based. Very different from the linear career path. You still build reputation that you can take with you wherever you go, but you’re sort of more like a wandering gypsy or a renegade cowboy: finding a temporary place to rest your head, but always keeping one eye open and a shotgun on your lap, vaguely aware that you’ll need to pack up on a moment’s notice and find a new place to set up camp

It’s a weird feeling, bc even though one gig builds upon another, it can also cause this sensation of feeling like you’re not really moving “upwards” so much as laterally. Like structurally speaking, I actually don’t think my career path / job stability is much different from an artist whose work is gig-based


Weird to feel like I’m rooting for Netflix wrt beating out “old guard” Hollywood studios, but also afraid of it wrt monopolies. Ditto Spotify. Doesn’t stop me from rooting for them now, though…maybe that cycle is just inevitable


Games are a great way to appreciate the potential impact of different human-computer interfaces. I experience the same game totally differently when it’s on console vs. PC vs. Switch vs. VR headset, etc


I wish some crazy patron would fund an indie game on the scale of Skyrim/GTA/WoW/RDR/etc. Like, “indie games” always have a certain look/style to them in large part bc of resource constraints, but imagine if someone was like “fuck it” and funded an army of like 1,000 people to create an amazing open world RPG. It would kinda be like the modern equivalent of building cathedrals/temples/monuments/etc as legacy. Build an entire fantasy WORLD as your legacy


Maybe “dead” information goods are information, and “live” information goods should be rebranded as knowledge. Knowledge = information that’s active/”in production”


The monoculture of celebrity, i.e. WhatsApp/Instagram/Msgr are part of the same FB conglomerate, the same way Kylie/Kim/Kanye/etc are part of the same conglomerate


The love language of giving and receiving links to “an article you might like”

(3/21: alternatively, link sharing as “violence”)


We’re subconsciously moving towards tapbacks, emoji, reactions, etc as an adaptative strategy to reduce the cost of microinteractions at today’s scale. We could take the time to respond with proper words and lengthy messages, back when we interacted with a smaller group of people at lower frequency. For high-frequency interactions, we need a simpler, slimmer way of communicating to reduce mental overhead. (Maybe an obvious point? But I like this as an explicit starting point for product design)


(from convo with a friend) “Social media as the gold standard”: nobody really believes in it, but enough ppl are bought into it that we all participate and make it ‘real’


The phantom urge for completion that lingers between Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V


Free access to content as a positive externality of “privately funded” (aka CPRs, patronage, etc) content creators

Aka they’re able to give away their content for free bc they’re making money elsewhere, from members. This can be true for journalism as well! Instead of charging everyone who lands on the article for access. Reminds me of the Practical Typography author, who only shows the “request to donate” popup to ppl from certain companies

Not so different from ex. Google (Google docs, gmail as a positive externality of their ad business). Also like conceptually how you might think of casual contributors, or casual attendees of a church congregation. We don’t expect much from them, bc they’re not part of the hardcore member community, but they’re welcome to enjoy/benefit from the members’ work, as long as they don’t impose significant additional cost

Another way of describing it: when it comes to content production, maybe the “free rider problem” is a misdirection - it’s not that they’re free riding, it’s that they are a non-relevant audience, who distract us from seeing the actual business model. Manage them in a way that they don’t impose additional cost of consumption, then focus on the people who do matter and are willing to pay


Editors are to writers as code review is to developers. I rarely show drafts of my writing to anyone bc I’m very particular about style, and I like the idea of writing in a “pure” space. But as my ideas have become more unwieldy (for whatever reason), I’m seeing the value of having someone review your work and make it better. Similarly, there’s some code that developers are happy to write all on their own, but in other cases they derive a lot of value from code review - I get it now!


Finding that it really helps when you stop trying to come up with reasons why you keep behaving in an undesirable way, and instead start from the position of accepting responsibility. Shifts focus from excuses to action / remediation


(from convo with a friend) Paintings as “containers of meaning that survive centuries…but sometimes meanings change”


“Make something people want” seems very clearly at odds with doing things ahead of the curve. And yes, I understand there’s an underlying assumption that your goal is to make something that addresses a desire that ppl even they didn’t know they had. But I still don’t think that holds - or rather, if it does hold, it generalizes the original statement so much as to be meaningless (When is it clear that people “wanted it”? At launch? After a month? A year? 10 years? Did you cause that to happen, or did you finally just hit good timing?)

I find it sort of more delightful to think of ourselves as vessels for ideas that float about, riding us around like chariots, until they find the right timing/audience. But whether people “want” your idea or not, you can’t help but be the vessel for that thing. Some people are doomed to be bonded to an idea that nobody likes, but they can’t help but evangelize it. Others are lucky to find themselves attached to an idea that takes off immediately. But you’re not really guiding the ideas, they’re guiding you, and your job is to listen and serve as an intermediary between idea <> rest of the world


Theory: we gravitate towards the graphing concepts that are easiest to draw, ex 3x3s could be more useful but we can’t draw them as well so we use 2x2s


Nobody minds Google as an overlord as long as they don’t fuck with our day-to-day. Medium is messing with their UI so much that it’s turning authors off. But Medium has to do this to survive. Google can only afford to do so bc they don’t need to make money off certain products in the same way.

Which maybe implies that having just a few, monopolistic tech platforms, and fewer “startups” etc, might actually be a perfectly fine, even optimal system, as long as they don’t provoke “political dissent”. Just like how monarchy/aristocracy could be theoretically work, as long as none of their subjects felt that the king interfered with their day-to-day. It was when kings started collecting taxes from peasants living in remote territories who’d never even heard of the king that conflicts started to arise. But if that “tax” can be collected passively, will anyone ever notice/care?


Replication research, but for books. We take the core arguments from certain books as canon, and they inform our cultural norms, but if someone redid the research behind it today, we might have come up with entirely different conclusions. Which isn’t to say that the original analysis was WRONG, but perhaps inextricably linked to the times in which it was written. (Ex. how much of The Power Broker was influenced by researching and writing in the 1970s?)

Also possible that this validation process already happens naturally - ideas have no intrinsic value, we discover/gravitate towards different ones depending on our current tastes, so maybe it doesn’t really matter?


Would love to see more awesome lists (as in, sindresorhus/awesome), but as curriculum for getting quickly up to speed on different research fields / areas of expertise in a self-guided way


If user data (i.e. populating the database) is what makes the narrative of each web app different from each other, despite similar underlying code (ex. Instagram and Twitter are arguably not very different types of products, but actual usage makes them completely different experiences), I think the equivalent would be lived experience for humans, which make each of our narratives very different, despite similar underlying genetic “code”


I wonder if one of the reasons creators (ignore consumer demand for a second) are trending toward podcasts/newsletters is because of the lack of intense feedback loop. Yes, you can see number of listens/opens/subscribes, but both forms of media do a better job of embodying this idea of the one-way mirror. Longform, deeper dive, you can say what you want in a less reactive, ‘like’-free environment


We’re so eager to escape mediocrity that we can’t see how absolutely mired we are in it. If you’re stubborn and try to muscle your way out of it, it’s like quicksand, it’ll suck you down even more firmly. Better to kinda bob around in the sea of mediocrity and quietly observe it, so you really understand what you’re dealing with, then figure out how to slide through it


Instead of asking how some ppl manage to make money at casinos, try to understand why so many ppl are happy to lose money. Understand the baseline instead of focusing on outliers, bc baseline contains patterns, whereas outliers are often unpredictable / random, despite us wanting to find patterns among them

Ex. Studying why most venture funds fail to beat the market seems more interesting to me than studying why Sequoia etc have done so well. Easier to beat a game if you really understand how most people are playing, instead of trying to crib “the greats”


(from convo with a friend) People who get energy from observing others / being immersed in interesting experiences, but don’t necessarily want to super actively engage with them

I like this angle of “I want to be around people, but in a passive sense”, also the idea that doing so actively recharges one’s “creative energy” by providing inspiration


Am I crazy, or are there fewer bands in popular music these days? Like it seems like most popular artists I can think of now are single artists, not groups


(from convo with a friend) If gold is a “battery” for money (i.e. a way to store it), reputation is a battery for social currency


There is a distinct version of nihilism that is uniquely feminine


Theory: monetizing creative content will work best on vertical-specific platforms, e.g. Spotify, GitHub, YouTube, Apple Store (do those last two count?), etc. Or perhaps: the underlying theme is these platforms can operate at a loss, but having the monetization layer helps lock creators and their audience onto their platform, which is the actual benefit of having it. Whereas Patreon can’t sustain the business model as a dedicated funding platform that’s decoupled from distribution

One that I’m not sure about however is Substack, which seems promising despite being more of a “boil the ocean” play like Patreon. Maybe bc there isn’t really another obvious discovery/distribution platform for email newsletters, the way there is for music, code, podcasts, etc? Also, just too early to tell


Diversity exposes you to new ideas, but homogeneity helps you execute. You want serendipity at the edges, but your core “tribe” needs to be fairly stable to maintain sanity, get anything done, and have a coherent worldview. The edges keep things fresh, but they need to sort of “trickle” into the center in a filtered way (like groundwater filtering through soil back into the aquifers)


Platforms as robo-advisors for creators: much like wealth moved from active to passive management for most ppl, we no longer need “active management” via agencies etc for content distribution


Asking open source projects to take on “interns” is like asking artists to donate work to charity auctions


Feels like research is particularly suited to not having primary collaborators remain within your org, bc inspiration can strike from anywhere. For most other types of roles, they HAVE to collaborate with their colleagues bc they have the most context for your work. Engineering can be a slight anomaly with open source, but I feel like it’s really extreme with research, bc you just want to work with / take inspiration from whomever has the best ideas, and sometimes you don’t know who that’ll come from, like it could literally be a random conversation with a stranger at a cafe


Ideas use humans as “steeds” / pawns to fight their battles. Every conversation you have is a small skirmish in the neverending war of language (and ideas more generally!). Whichever idea prevails in that conversation goes on, tournament style, to fight another battle in another conversation with someone else


Encryption doesn’t favor the defender, it just favors whomever is holding the keys, which is borderline tautological, bc the same is true for basically all programming (ex. consider any root/sudo/admin permissions, when placed in the wrong hands they become a weapon). If anything, I think this underscores the painfully inherent “dumbness” of technology, bc that statement can ONLY be interesting if you read it through an ideological lens (assume “the defender” is worth defending). What happens when an undesirable actor gains control of the keys? Is the defender still worth defending? Police use dead people’s fingerprints to unlock iPhones. If defender(D) is a variable that can stand for anything, who cares?

Implicit in the original statement is a belief that it is possible to ensure freedom / maintain control through better technology, which I think is a dangerous line of thinking


Permabear as null hypothesis


They’re not all quite facing the stage, though. If you look closely at an audience, there are always observable patterns and norms, smaller clusters of groups, etc. There is still localized context, little villages and neighborhoods, even among an audience that is then ostensibly oriented towards something “bigger” than all of them

Maybe another way of saying: even superfans have their own subcultures. You have one identity that’s tied to the “stage” and another that’s tied to a smaller group of people (who all share that same “national” identity with you)


(from Death and Life of Great American Cities) Coordinating WITHIN each level of hierarchy is actually the hard part. We tend to focus on coordinating between levels (i.e. vertical coordination), but that’s comparatively much easier than within


The customer is not the creator, it’s the patrons (maybe!) And/or, treat as a two-sided market?


Underrated: celebrity endorsements now happen by advertisers paying to reach the celebrity’s audience, instead paying celebrities to appear in front of the advertiser’s chosen audience (ex. appearing in a TV ad). Even if ideally these are demographically similar, celebrity has more control over one vs. the other


Zuck is Chipotle and Jack is Taco Bell


Crypto projects have many contributors right now bc it’s a hot new space, which leads to a lot of assumptions about how we think it works, but they should also observe mature OSS projects to see how that’ll play out over time. (Or, who knows. Maybe the economics are/will be so fundamentally different that it will follow an entirely different trajectory)


Moving from collaboration -> coordination in OSS


Maybe part of the reason why ppl get so riled up about “who can participate” in OSS is bc it’s a utility. OSS infrastructure is not a hobby, maybe it’s code you NEED or rely on, so if you can’t participate, or you feel ostracized, that has a much bigger impact than not being able to join another type of community. On the other hand, it’s no different from a company providing you with a product (for free!) that you may not get a say in. Especially bc you can fork, and bc developer tools are such high substitute/elastic goods


Three types of maintainer roles: creators, coordinators, and curators


Knowledge loop is in the cloud, that’s humanity’s shared progress. But personal wisdom is only stored locally, which means you can’t share it with others, it will die with you. You can upload it to somewhere visible, but if someone clones it to their brain, they need to set up their environment in order to run it. And it’s setting it up on their local machine that’s actually the hard part, which we’re each doomed to keep repeating. Others can make their “code” visible to you, but they can’t run it for you.

I keep coming back to this idea…wonder how to better articulate the difference between these two types of knowledge (and why is it that humanity’s “knowledge loop” doesn’t have the same problem? Why is some knowledge more universally executable than others?)


Why are there like no mergers in tech? Was there a point that became the “death of the merger”, or were tech companies never destined to have mergers in the first place? Are mergers a uniquely non-tech corporate thing? Should tech M&A just be A? Would love to find something on this topic


Diffing the behavioral patterns of small, localized communities vs. large-scale societies


Seems that journalism is optimizing for objectivity over relevance, maybe they should focus on the latter instead, as a way of adapting to modern consumer tastes (meaning: I care less about “objectivity” in the news, would actually prefer to follow a high-quality curated POV / “expert”). Maybe the idea of being objective/trustworthy to a national audience just doesn’t make sense anymore


The social power dance of getting others to use your preferred messaging platform


What would a narrative for “mobs as force for good” look like? They feel overwhelming in the moment, but maybe it’s just how we realistically induce change over time. As an explicit alternative to gov’t / legislative process, seems like it is actually more appropriate in certain situations.

Libertarians seem to hate “mob mentality”, but maybe mobs are the purest form of libertarian government?


There’s a big difference between “getting paid” and “capturing value”. Maintainers could get paid a basic subsistence income, but that doesn’t resolve the q of “how do they capture the actual value of their work”


Who would a horse girl vote for


Tension around idea of a rating system for OSS libraries is bc maintainers don’t want to be asked to do more work bc there’s no reward in doing so, at a greater cost to the public (developers who need it, and by extension, consumers - i.e. all of us - who use their software). Both are acting rationally in the absence of better rewards. Good example of how a subpar incentive-reward system is constraining innovation


Curious why we aren’t reframing the decline of journalism as the rise of content creators? Still messy, to be sure, but there’s a great “unbundling” narrative of people being free to research, write, and report on interesting stories independently of an institution. Similarly to music artists breaking free of agencies and record labels. We haven’t yet figured out all the mechanics (i.e. $$, platform), but it still feels like the right direction to move towards


Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”, frozen and expanded into 300 years. Can we fit our entire lives inside in the moment when a glass vase shatters into a thousand pieces? (Perhaps this is a form of the hauntological?)


(from a convo with a friend) Hierarchies of cults as waterfalls. You’re “blessed” by someone else with a bigger following than you, and then you start to form your own cult as a result, many of whom are followers of that original cult leader. Their followers gravitate towards you. But each of you are managing your own little cults at different “tiers” of a bigger system, with “water” (followers) flowing throughout


Labels and other metadata help you compress jumbled ideas/information (i.e. categorize memories), but not necessarily expand them again (i.e. retrieve memories)


Tropical islands are the supermodels of the global economy. Their destinies have been sort of pre-decided for them based on their appearance (i.e. tropical islands become tourist economies). (Not saying this is good in either case, just observing!)


Cults of personality are like the church sermon (audience gathers to listen to one person, even though they have shared identity/values, given that they all showed up to the same event)

“Online communities” are like the church group after (ppl come together more loosely, mill around with cookies and lemonade, nobody’s in charge)

As our online social systems continue to move towards the former, need to update our mental models of what a community is


The creator-curator dynamic = Jesus and his apostles


Amazing how receiving emails as a digest gives me license to skim in a way that I didn’t feel comfortable before (when they come in one-by-one), even if the content is the same in both cases. Wonder where else that mechanic applies / where it’s underutilized


Twitter as an unofficial, opt-in reality show - you agree to live your life in front of a public audience in exchange for some “compensation” (reputation). Hanging out in person is like hanging out off-camera


(from a convo with a friend) Reddit is more of a “forum” than “social media”…what’s the difference? I think a forum is where people gather to discuss a common interest, whereas social media is more of one-to-many broadcasting?

A forum is all these people congregating onto one spot in sort of a decentralized fashion, whereas social media is the muezzin’s call to prayer, drawing everyone to the mosque


All power can be boiled down to information asymmetry (confidence low on this one, need to think about it more, but I think that’s a thing). Or perhaps: asymmetry of access to that information?


Do women report having massive life/philosophy shifts on hallucinogens as often as men do? I have zero data for this besides anecdotal, but although I know a roughly equal number of men/women who’ve tried hallucinogens, I can’t think of any women I know who’ve said it completely changed their reality and showed them “The Truth”, even if they enjoyed the experience. Wonder if it has anything to do with men not generally being given space (slash not being inclined to, however you think about it) for emotional vulnerability/introspection


Reality distorts at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum


Dubstep as Tibetan singing bowl -> “mental cleansing” activities


If you’re stranded in a desert, and your only source of input is a tin can, your life becomes about that tin can. If you’re stuck on an island, and all you have is a volleyball, that volleyball becomes your best friend. This is why the story of the Little Prince and the flower is so illustrative. And why maybe, in the end, it doesn’t really matter who you partner with, bc whomever you thrust into that position will become your world. You will find meaning in them, whomever they are

(And yet, some partners seem obviously better than others…why? Something to do with how they influence your experience of your environment, I think…we’re still all playing the game of life, even if the game has no inherent value, so you’d want a partner that helps enhance the experience, or at least doesn’t impede you?)


Writing-as-masochism: I think I weirdly enjoy baking layers into my writing, then feeling the pain when people miss the hidden meanings. Logically speaking, it’d make more sense to express the idea more blatantly, but it’s more fun to find just the right edge of nuance, fine-tuning as closely as you can without spilling the beans.

In other words: writing is usually seen as the process of finding clarity, but if you look at it from the other direction, what if the joy comes from the process of obfuscation?


What if the biggest existential threat is that ideas become more important than people. Tyrannical rule of ideas (i.e. memes-as-viruses) over their human hosts?

Feels like we focus on AI bc it’s more “humanlike” (not to mention something we seem to have more control over), but the runaway power of ideas seems much more dangerous!


Seems strange that co-parenting is bundled up with dating, when it could just as easily be separated out and reframed as an economic partnership. I guess dating is the biological collateral you put down on that contract?


Keeping a changelog of your identity: if journaling contains the raw data, would love to summarize and track the actual changes made, i.e. versioning my identities


Private thoughts are like raw steak, putting it out there is like ground meat. Once you start cutting into raw steak, you’ve exposed it to the air and pathogens around it, which starts to change its composition

Not always bad if/when you’re ready to expose private thought to others, but it is different from keeping it in a “sterile” state

Slightly separate angle: I think some kinds of thoughts (like self-reflection and personal philosophy) get corrupted when exposed to air, bc they are so easily exploitable, despite not really being teachable

Goes back to hypothesis that only some ideas (i.e. anything added to public knowledge loop) can propagate over generations, personal wisdom is always localized: can only be learned by you, and will die with you


Maybe instead of producers vs. consumers, should frame as cities (producers) producing content (goods) as an externality


Instead of thinking, “My old ideas were amazing, now I have to figure out how to do that again”, it weirdly helps to think “My old ideas weren’t that great anyways, you have nothing to lose”. Devalue the past to fear the future less


Decided I am pro-23andme bc I realized in most cases, the risk of not knowing what’s in my body is probably worse than the risk of my personal data falling into the wrong hands

Privacy fears go both ways: maybe with ads and social data we were too lax, but being too strict with your privacy can be just as bad. I’d rather be able to make informed decisions about my health. Think data privacy will be resolved in time on a macro level, but not by any singlehanded stance taken against it. You don’t want to literally die on this hill over an ideological position


“Big in Japan” phenomenon is growing: celebrities with sizeable tribes of devoted fans, but who aren’t known outside of their audience. Whereas previously I think it was more based on geography, or generational. Now it’s just that there are enough potential audiences to build your own sizeable fiefdom without being known outside of that. Memes/celebrity are no longer universally known, but relegated to internet “kingdoms”


The very rich and very poor can be quite similar in their political views, given that both feel dissatisfaction over the social norms being imposed on them. They want to be able to do things differently; they feel misunderstood by, and a general distaste for, the general population and “the way things are done”


How to think about a modern justice system that gradually escalates, instead of one mode (“leak all information to the public”)? Should start as a “local” matter for the people involved and that person’s immediate community. Escalating to public can be useful if and only if local routes have been exhausted without resolution. It’s like taking something to the Supreme Court when local courts fail. It’s an escalation tactic, but it’s not the first resort.


Limited attention for the number of books you read in a lifetime -> ditto for the people you spend time with. Much like choosing the best books to read, why spend time with people who are anything less than bespoke in your view (whatever that means to you)


If time/exclusivity/experience are the new luxury goods, then it seems attention allocation (more than $$!) is the most important socioeconomic dividing line worth examining today


Therapists are the boy in Omelas (we dump our emotions onto them so we can have happy healthy productive relationships elsewhere)