Gists III

“The meritocrat’s blind spot is that he considers his place in the world well earned by dint of intelligence and hard work. This belief short-circuits his capacity to truly listen to critics.” — The Atlantic

Misc

  • The word “gimmick” is believed to come from “gimac” — an anagram of “magic” — and likely first used by magicians, gamblers and swindlers of the 1920s
  • One in ten Google queries are misspelled
  • Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency. Even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation. Amazon has won capitalism; the question for the democracy is, are we okay with that?
  • Lawyers are programmers writing error-handling code
  • Technology, as we learn time and again, is no cure for human nature. Power accrues, even when the goal is to eliminate it. (consolidation of big tech)

CIA

  • Slang name “the Christians”
  • In the 1970s, performed LSD experiments on unwitting Americans and investigated Vietnam War protestors — leading to a bar on domestic law enforcement
  • “Intelligence laundering” by concealed entries to Helios, a federal drug smuggler database. Violation of DoJ guidelines and obstructing legal proceedings.

Mafia

  • In 1992, two anti-Mafia prosecutors where killed in separate car bombings
  • In 1973, $3 million ransom paid after J. Paul Getty’s ear was sent to his family in the mail

North Korea

  • North Korea surpasses uprising with a “generational penalty” — instituted by the original Great Leader, Kim Il Sung — that extends punishment to family members and the subsequent two generations of their family (children and grandchildren)!
  • In 2017, Kim Jong-Un had his half-brother, and eldest son of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Nam assassinated at the Kuala Lumpur Airport by two women who thought they were taking part in a prank; two men who organized the killing immediately flew back to North Korea. The women smeared separate non-toxic compounds which combined to form the VX nerve agent. Shortly after Nam went into a seizure and died en route to the hospital.

Cells

  • The circulator system doubles as a communications network; blood vessels with routing of immune cells
  • Bone marrow produces billions of immune cells each day
  • Almost every cell is constantly scanning for invasion. Every day some cells grow into cancers and are dispatched by the immune system.
  • Foreign gut microbes outnumber human cells tenfold
  • DNA is the software of the body. Every cell in the body contains the full DNA but only transcribes some segments into single-stranded RNA, which are the blueprints for proteins that do most a cell’s work. DNA is the operating system, RNA is the current running program.
  • B cells (named after a bird organ where they were discovered) produce antibodies randomly and nearly all are discarded. Only those that match an antigen it clones itself with mutations allowing for a better match. After a couple of generations the best-fit antibody is “constructed” in our lymph nodes and spleen. A Darwinian weapons factory working.
  • T cells are incredibly destructive but selective inspectors of proteins built in cells and loaded onto molecular rafts. Some T cells live indefinitely as “memory T cells” carrying a record of all defeated viruses. Certain viruses take up more T cell memory (20% devoted to HCMV herpes — a strain with no symptoms).
  • B and T cells allow the immune system to update itself as fast as cells replicate

Viruses & Immune Response

“The immune system has simply, in the face of pathogen attack, staggered from one emergency to the next… The result is a system of great flexibility and power, which, pushed the right way, can be made to collapse upon itself.” — Robert Jack

  • Cells under attack send two signals: interferon molecules to neighboring cells to slow the spread, and cytokines to the circulatory system summoning white blood cells
  • White blood cells are dispatched and routed via the bloodstream to destroy virus and healthy cells (carpet bomb). They collect dismembered protein parts from the virus, which are transported via the lymph nodes to bone barrow to create (over the following days) adaptive virus-specific antibodies and killer T cells.
  • Antibodies attach to invaders to block entry into cells and tag them so white cells can more easily identify and attack them
  • A virus substitutes some of the RNA software — typically less than 1%; Covid replaces around 60%
  • Vaccines also require a harmless irritant (or adjuvant) to work
  • As people age, no matter how healthy, the immune system becomes chronically activated causing swelling, redness and stiffness. Cellular senescence is partly responsible for increasing inflammation.

Immunology

  • In 1882, Russian zoologist Ilya Metchnikoff discovered cellular immunity (i.e. demonstrating cells defending themselves) and won a Nobel Prize. Cellularists. In 1901, Emil von Behring won the first Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for discovering antibodies (in diseased blood). Humoralists.
  • In the 1940s, discovered the brain, eyes and reproductive organs are walled off from much of the immune system — the “blood-brain barrier”
  • In 1955, B cells discovered
  • CRISPR is perhaps the most important scientific discovery of our time

Trump

“A self-pardon would be the ultimate act of constitutional onanism for a narcissistic President.” — Jon Meacham

  • 1 impeachment, 2 divorces, 6 bankruptcies, 26 sexual assault allegations, and around 4,000 lawsuits
  • Between 2020 and 2024 payment deadlines for over $300 million in personal guaranteed loans and about $900 million worth of real-estate debt will come due
  • An adverse ruling in an IRS could cost an additional $100 million

Sugar

  • Sweet taste receptors are much less effective (nearly a teaspoon in a glass of water compared with bitterness at a few parts per million — tuned to the level of a ripe banana), and only around 20% of sugar connects with taste receptors producing a “sugar sensation.”
  • Sugar intake tells the pancreas to produce more insulin and release gut microbes to absorb glucose.
  • Two types of taste bud sweet receptors, but one only activates if calories are also present. Receptor cells all over the body (intestine wall, digestive tract, central nervous system, skin, testes, lungs)!
  • Sucrose is derived from cane sugar or beets; glucose (3/4 as sweet) from grapes; fructose (1/2 as sweet again) from fruits; lactose from dairy; amylose from starch; maltose from malt. Rare sugars from freshwater algae, insect secretions, mastic (tree), trehalose (shrimp, shiitake mushrooms), tagatose (fruit, dairy, cacao), and even meteorites!
  • Henry Tate introduced the sugar cube to Britain and started Tate & Lyle, which developed Splenda in 1976. Also sells allulose as Dolce Prima.
  • Up until the late 18th century, very little consumption of added sugars. In 1800, most Americans never consumed a single manufactured candy; today an average of nine daily teaspoons. In 1960, obesity rate was 14%; today 40%. By 2035, half of the world population will be overweight or obese; and 1/6 Americans diabetic!
  • “Revealed preference” is surveys between what people say they want (e.g. healthy choices) and purchasing patterns. Customers care about taste above all else, value (to a certain extent), and all other claims far behind.
  • In 1991, after twenty years searching professor Ken Izumori discovered an enzyme capable of producing allulose (which occurs naturally in small amounts) in the soil bacteria behind the faculty cafeteria! Allulose is 70% as sweet, but 10% the calories. FDA ruled it not a sugar.
  • Sugar reduces ice-crystals in ice-cream, adds crispness to baked goods, volume to dough, viscosity to drinks, emulsion stability in dressings, reduces grittiness in chocolate, and increases shelf life. For these reasons used in everything from potato chips, mayonnaise, bread and hot sauce. 75% of all packaged foods contains added sugar!
  • Israeli company DouxMatok (“double sweet”) created Incredo Sugar that makes sugar taste sweeter — therefore requiring 30–50% less. Sugar alternatives require reworking of recipes. Alternative: “Can’t we just eat less sugar?”

Mail-in Voting

  • Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Utah have used mail-in voting for some time with few issues
  • No meaningful difference between absentee and mail-in voting
  • Have a much higher rate of disqualification (20% Manhattan, 30% Brooklyn!) — mainly because the envelope wasn’t signed or tap was used to seal the envelope. The USPS has also failed to postmark or deliver ballots correctly.
  • In the early days some state legislatures, not the public, voted for the President and still (via Constitution Article II) have the power to “take back the power to appoint electors” (i.e. ignore citizen votes and bypass democracy)
  • In 1876, Florida and South Carolina sent two conflicting certifications for President forcing Congress to improvise and establish an electoral commission of five senators, five House members and five Supreme Court Justices that voted on the President (in 1877, voted eight to seven). After two more close elections created the Electoral Count Act for resolving disputed elections
  • If a state fails to submit votes by the deadline, the decision goes to Congress. The process on what would happen is unclear, potentially leading to a deadlock where no votes are cast (and fewer than 270 votes reached by either candidate).

Space Debris

  • The ISS is humanity’s most expensive real estate and the fastest (17,000 mph) structure
  • Since 1957, nearly 10,000 satellites launched — with only 2,700 operational — on the understanding it’s cheaper to abandon then reclaim.
  • Other debris from jettisoned liquids (urine, ammonia), lost tools during spacewalks (camera, glove, bag containing $100,000 of tools)
  • The US military tracks 26,000 objects larger than 10cm orbiting Earth. Estimates of a hundred million 1mm in size; and a hundred trillion that are one micron! The NORAD catalogue includes objects №1 (Sputnik 1), №4 (Vanguard), №24779 (ashes of Gene Roddenberry), №43205 (Tesla Roadster with mannequin driver).
  • Retrieving anything from space is very difficult and only done on a handful of occasions. Space debris is legally still sovereign property, further complicating retrieval.
  • Kessler advocated for protecting orbit from debris and outlined a worst-case scenario where nearly all near-Earth space is unusable — a ring like Saturn, but made of garbage
  • In 1978, nuclear-powered (60 pounds of enriched uranium) Soviet Kosmos 954 fell from the sky into Canada, scattering radioactive wreckage for hundreds of miles; recovery crews struggled with extreme conditions to recover it. In 1979, Skylab (the first US space station occupied for 24 weeks) fell raining tons of debris across the Australian outback (nobody hurt) — earning one man a $10,000 reward for the first to return a fragment to the San Francisco Examiner, a large piece was displayed during the 1979 Miss Universe contest, and a small town named the Shire of Esperance issued NASA a (still unpaid) $400 littering ticket!

Presidential Records

  • Washington took his papers to Mount Vernon, loaned them out, were damaged by rats and dampness, taken to Massachusetts, partially thrown out or given away, and the rest eventually published in 1837 as The Writings of George Washington.
  • Harrison’s papers were destroyed when his log cabin burned down. John and Zachary Tyler’s were largely destroyed during the Civil War. Fillmore’s son ordered his papers destroyed (44 volumes were discovered in the attic of a house on verge of being demolished). Arthur’s son has most of his papers burned in garbage cans. Cleveland left no paper trail by refusing to hand over paper the Senate demanded. Harding’s wife destroyed all the papers she thought would harm his memory. Coolidge instructed his secretary to destroy all his personal files (some were saved). In 1924, papers from the Taft, Wilson and Harding administrations were found in the White House attic. Reagan tried to erase all his email. In 1993, Bush Sr. deleted computer files, defiling a court order baring the destruction of files as Clinton was entering office. Bush Jr. disabled automatic email archiving and nearly all senior staff used private Republican email accounts; they later claimed to have lost, then found, 22 million emails. Hillary Clinton used a private email server as Secretary of State. Ivanka used personal email for official communication; Jared used WhatsApp; Sean Spicer warned not to use encrypted messaging.
  • In 1814, the congressional library burned down. In 1933, Hoover created the National Archives. In 1950, Truman signed the Federal Records Act requiring federal agencies to preserve records. In 1955, the Presidential Libraries Act encouraging Presidents to deposit their records. In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled against executive privilege and ordered the Watergate tapes — then Congress passed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Prevention Act to prevent Nixon from destroying his records.
  • In 1978, the Presidential Records Act makes the records public domain released after five years (extendable to twelve), but what counts is contested with the archivist of the US appointed by the President and limited to giving advice — which can be ignored. The Justice Department argued courts cannot review a president’s compliance.
  • In 2001, Bush Jr. signed Executive Order №13233 allowing a president to veto records of past presidents, their heirs, and vice presidents (protecting his father Bush Sr.). To challenge the order you must ask for specific, detailed things that you can’t possibly know about. Obama revoked the order on his second day.
  • Governments that commit atrocities regularly destroy their own archives — Brazil ordered the destruction of documents relating to slavery; the British Empire set fire to archives as they left colonies; Nazi Germany; South Africa after apartheid.
  • Records are now ammunition for prosecutors incentivizing people to stop keeping records, interfering with candid discussion and deal-making

Nonviolent Protest

“Working in concert, [people] have more agency than they are led to believe.”
“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

  • “Democracy backsliding” over the past fifteen years. “The best way to prevent a power grab is to keep it from happening in the first place.”
  • Successful nonviolent campaigns did four things: mass participation; defection of notable figures; diversify between demonstrations and non-cooperation (e.g. boycotts, strikes); and stayed disciplined when repression escalates.
  • The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1973) lists 198 actions — with the majority being non-cooperation

Venture Capital

“In the traditional capitalist model, the most efficient and capable company succeeds; in the new model, the company with the most funding wins.”

  • Venture Capital helped invent synthetic insulin in the 1970s and now dominated by a few dozen firms controlling hundreds of billions of dollars. Specialized and concentrated, the ten largest firms raised nearly a third of all new funding. Most major VC deals are “syndicated” among the big firms, similar to drug cartels.
  • Almost half of professional VCs went to Harvard or Stanford, and 80% male
  • Dwindling managerial oversight (“founder friendly”) making some investments look like speculative trading-floor bets. Theranos ($700 million, Rupert Murdoch and Betsy DeVos) was a fraud; Juicero ($700 wifi juice press) raised over $100 million (partially from Google’s investment arm); Wag! ($300 million, Uber for dog walking, pair of brothers with little business experience) was poorly run and lost dogs!
  • Shortcut winning by overfunding, allowing companies to “win” by undercutting incumbents and destroying economic value (i.e. undermining sound rivals) — disruption without long-term (potentially cheaper in the short-term) social benefit
  • Only way to protect from copycats (e.g. Uber had 300 copycats after one year) is to get big fast
  • Uber IPO’d at a $75 billion valuation (stated it “may not achieve profitability,” claimed it could capture 15% of the entire global GDP market), today is worth $78 billion, and has never made a profit (lost $3 billion in 2018; $8.5 billion in 2019!)

“Masa decided to deliberately inject cocaine into the bloodstream of these young companies.” “Masa is not a particularly deep thinker, but he has one strength: he’s devoted to buying more lottery tickets than anyone else.”— former SoftBank executives

  • Masa lost almost $70 billion during the 2001 bubble, but Alibaba survived and SoftBank’s stake currently worth over $100 billion
  • WeWork received $4.4 billion from Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank $100 billion Vision Fund (largest VC fund) after less than 20 minutes! Growing rapidly it opened a new location (528 locations in 29 countries) nearly every day, but was losing $219,000 every hour! By early 2019, Neumann started missing board meetings. In 2019, 350-page IPO document released “to the energy of We.”
  • Before WeWork Adam Neumann ran a company selling collapsable heels and baby clothes with kneepads — but he was a very charismatic person. Sex at WeWork HQ was commonplace; women were referred to as “bitches,” “sluts” and “whores”; a senior-vice president claimed she was given a date-rape drug; reports of top executives using cocaine at events; Neumann used drugs and once punched his personal trainer during a workout!; was allowed to invest $13 million in wave pools and millions on “performance mushrooms”; spent $60 million on a corporate jet, some used for various surf trips; smoked marijuana on a private jet to Israel, then hid it in a cereal box; purchased buildings and rented them out to WeWork (self-dealing); sold the “We” trademark to his own company for $5.9 million (later returned); board-approved loans and stock sales worth $700 million; ate lamb for dinner the night his wife abruptly announced the company would go meat-free; took a multi-week birthday party in the Maldives during IPO; claimed he wanted to be the “president of the world.”
  • Enabled by the board (“You can’t blame Adam Neumann for being Adam Neumann…he never pretended to be sensible or down to Earth…but you can blame venture capitalists”)— who were hands-off, gave Neumann voting control, and unanimously voted on every decision — until his negative press during the IPO became an obstacle to everyone’s ability to cash out (“The board let Adam get away with terrorizing employees and wasting billions…but once he threatened their personal payouts, they cut his throat”). Unanimously approved selling to SoftBank and paying Neumann $725 million, making worthless more than 90% of employee stock options.

“And you know what? If it had worked and we had gotten rich, then everyone in tech and Wall Street would be saying Adam was a genius right now, and that WeWork is an example of how American capitalism is supposed to work.” — former WeWork executive

Woolworth Building Pinnacle

New York Luxury Real Estate

Link.

“And so a familiar cycle begins. Owners set a budget but ask for more than they can afford. Architects overpromise and contractors underbid, knowing the plans are somewhat notional. Construction starts and a blizzard of change orders ensues. A project scheduled to take a year and cost a thousand dollars per square foot balloons to twice the length and price, and everyone blames everyone else. If it’s off by only a third, they call it a success.”

“There is nothing about this style of living that I want.” — Mark Ellison

  • Too much money and too little room — the combined pressure sending glass towers rocketing into the air.
  • Apartments need to be carefully dismantled (walls packed into drums and sprayed to settle the dust, then sealed in plastic), with many buildings insisting on “summer rules” (construction only between Memorial and Labor Day when owners are in the Hamptons) and neighbors eager to complain
  • Logistical challenges with no driveways, narrow sidewalks, and tight elevators. Space utilization (plumbing, wiring, etc.) similar to a yacht. Building a ship in a bottle.
  • “The building code is written in blood…and annoying letters.”
  • Examples: Woolworth Building Pinnacle ($79 million), SkyHouse (80-foot slide, rock-climbing girder, before renovation featured in the films Inside Man and Synecdoche)

How Disaster Shaped The Modern City

  • In 1842, Edwin Chadwick report on British sanitary conditions caused a revolution in the ethos of public health in the West
  • In 1848, Public Health Act and Diseases Prevention Act (paved streets, clean water, sewerage disposal, etc.) increased life expectancy to 40 in England by 1880 — and 60 by 1940
  • New York is built on disasters: The Croton Aqueduct is a result of the 1835 fire; the subway from the 1888 blizzard; eight-hour workday and emergency exits from the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.
  • Calamity stirs from complacency, forcing people to ask questions about the world.

Buried Treasure

  • British law defines treasure as any object over 300 years old and at least 10% silver or gold. Anyone who finds treasure is legally obliged to report it, and splits the market value with the landowner.
  • In 2009, an unemployed man discovered England’s largest stash of Anglo-Saxon precious metalwork — known as the Staffordshire hoard — and valued at over $5 million
  • In 2015, two Viking (meaning “raiders”) hoards found in England

Wikipedia

“Knowledge isn’t the data. It’s what you do with the data.”

  • 1,000 articles within a month, 200,000 within three years, and today over 55 million in 313 languages. Second-most visited site (1.03 billion per month) after Youtube.

Neoliberalism applied to knowledge.

  • The neoliberal The Use of Knowledge in Society (1945) by Friedrich Hayek was a major influence on Jimmy Wales. Markets of self-optimizing mechanisms for additions and self-correcting.
  • Articles are copyleft (used without permission), maintain a neutral point of view, must be verifiable (ideally citations) and include no original research — keeping scholars in business.
  • One of the few popular sites with no personalization or monetization.
  • Encyclopedia Britanica first published in 1768 and the gold standard for centuries with 65,000 entries. Online-only since 2012 and still ranks 40th (32 million per month) in visits!
  • In 2005, Nature study a turning point for legitimacy and acceptance after finding it averaged only one more error per article compared with Britanica

Jeopardy!

“A reaction-time test tacked onto a trivia competition.”

  • In the 1950s, scandal revealed most TV game shows were rigged (as winning streaks increase viewership) — leading to a Communications Act amendment making it a federal crime; also banned hosts talking with contestants off-air.
  • Debuting in 1964 at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the concept is credited to Merv Griffin’s wife, who proposed getting around the Communications Act rules by giving the contestants the answers instead! Merv Griffin also wrote the theme music (claiming to have made $70 million from royalties) and created Wheel of Fortune.
  • Over 8,000 episodes and a record 39 Daytime Emmy Awards as well as a Peabody Award
  • Most contestants train and know many of the answers making the outcome about the fastest buzzer press (must wait until the question is asked, otherwise a 0.25 second delay). Travel and hotel expenses are not covered. To incentivize aggressive play second and third place don’t keep the money they “won,” instead receiving $2,000 and $1,000 respectively. The average amount winners take home is around $20,000.
  • Reportedly makes $125 million per year, with the host receiving $10 million (for 46 days work). During Ken Jennings streak ratings increased 55% making it the second-rank show in all television.
  • Ken Jennings 74-game, six-month $2.5 million winning streak (highest game show winnings at the time); Brad Rutter has the highest show-related winnings with over $5.2 million; James Holzhauer won 32 games in a row (took a year off from his occupation as a sports gambler to study!) and holds the highest single-day record with $131,127; four contestants have won with just $1!
  • From 1985, annual Tournament of Champions (whose format was devised by Trebek). In 1990, Super Jeopardy! featuring the top 35 champions. In 1993, Tenth Anniversary Tournament. In 1997, as an April Fool’s joke Trebek swapped with the host of Wheel of Fortune. In 2002, Million Dollar Masters for Trebek’s 4000th episode. In 2005, The Ultimate Tournament of Champions pitted 145 former champions against each other, with two winners moving on to face Ken Jennings in a three-game final for $2 million. In 2009, Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational featuring 27 past celebrities. In 2011, IBM Challenge where Watson defeated Ken Jennings. In 2014, 30th anniversary of the Trebek version Battle of the Decades in which 15 champions apiece from the first, second, and third decades competed for $1 million. In 2019, The All-Star Games was six teams with three former champions each. In 2020, Greatest of All Time tournament between the three best (Jennings Won).
  • Alex Trebek was the host from 1984 to 2020 and never missed a taping (even after being diagnosed with cancer)! The same cancer killed the original host of the show, Art Fleming.

SaaS (Status as a Service)

Link.

  1. People are (highly attuned social) status-seeking monkeys
  2. People seek out the most efficient path to maximizing social capital

Social currency.

  • Social networks as proof-of-work (photo, tweet, relevance, funny) systems with rewards (likes, followers, money) and scarcity (user attention) — some PoW (Proof of Work) that depends on actual skill (e.g. TikTok dance routine, painstakingly-taken photo) or chance (e.g. model looks, celebrity sighting) to differentiate among users. If it does then it creates, like an ICO (tokenization of utility, social capital), some new form of social capital currency of value to those users.
  • A network is a mix of social capital, utility, and entertainment — with each choosing how much to emphasize each dimension. Over time built-in scarcity as the fight for resources (i.e. attention) becomes harder — even as more users join — because of the influx of celebrities with huge followings.
  • Facebook started with a PoW hurdle — you needed a Harvard email address (exclusivity), then the rating by attractiveness (sex, competition).
  • General fame (e.g. Brad Pitt) translates to social networks. Conversely if every photo is similar there’s no difference and the system begins to fail.
  • Metcalfe’s Law network effect on telecommunications networks states: The value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n²).

It’s hot takes and cool proverbs all the way down.

  • Late-stage performative posts (less about mundane life that dominated the early years); harmless status updates was a less-thirsty scene, but not much of a business; the halcyon days when not every post was a thirst trap. Every post hungry for likes and retweets, everyone a trained pundit or comedian.

Lastly, young people have a surplus of something which most adults always complain they have too little of: time.

  • People seek out the most efficient path to maximize their social capital by testing the effectiveness of different strategies (e.g. post across different networks, delete post if not enough initial likes). Most humans excel at this, and young people have more time on their hands to spend on it. Traditional adult status-seeking games include qualifications, job, money, spouse, house, car, sport, airline status, etc. Compared to adults, young people are social capital poor. People will flock to the status game at which they were particularly suited to win.
  • Graph-based social capital allocation mechanisms can suffer from runaway winner-take-all effects (i.e. rewarding early users with lots of followers with added exposure leading to even more followers). This prevents new users from catching up to the “old money,” which can lead to lost incentive to play the game (“rigged”) — and leave for a new network where their work is more rewarded and status mobility is higher. A form of social capital inequality. Same barrier applies to online video games where new players are constantly crushed by veterans.
  • The reason young people left Facebook for Snapchat was in large part because their parents had invaded. You don’t leave a party with your classmates to go back to one your parents are throwing just because your dad brings in a keg and offer to play beer pong.
  • Stories, by putting the onus on the viewer to pull that content, allows everyone to publish away guilt-free, without regard for the craft that regular posts demand in the ever escalating game that is life publishing. In a world where algorithmic feeds break up your sequence of posts, Stories also allow gifted creators to create sequential narratives.

You can take the monkey out of the status-seeking game, but you can’t take the status-seeking out of the monkey.

  • It’s difficult to overstate what a momentous sea change it was for hundreds of millions, and eventually billions, of humans who had grown up competing for status in small tribes, to suddenly be dropped into a talent show.

“It was as if the panopticon inverted itself overnight, as if a giant spotlight turned on and suddenly all of us performing on Facebook for approval realized we were all in the same auditorium, on one large, connected infinite stage, singing karaoke to the same audience at the same time. humans who had grown up competing for status in small tribes, to suddenly be dropped into a talent show competing against EVERY PERSON THEY HAD EVER MET.”

  • A gold rush for social capital accumulation. We talk about the miracles of machine learning in the modern age, but as social creatures, humans are no less remarkable in their ability to decipher and internalize what plays well to the peanut gallery.
  • The launch of an algorithmic feed raises the stakes of the social media game. Even if someone follows you, they might no longer see every one of your posts. As DiCaprio said in Django Unchained: “You had my curiosity, but now, under the algorithmic feed, you have to earn my attention.”
  • What matters is less our absolute status than how are we doing compared to those around us. By taking the scope of our status competitions virtual, we scaled them up in a way that we weren’t entirely prepared for.
  • The tighter the feedback loop, the quicker the adaptation. The problem with network effects is they unwind just as fast.

Status is a relative ladder. By definition, if everyone can achieve a certain type of status, it’s no status at all, it’s a participation trophy.

  • Twitter took off after introducing a global leaderboard for the most popular tweet. Facebook after introducing the feed (competition between posts) and like button. Snapchat messaging streaks. Prisma made any photo look like a gorgeous painting; no single photo stood out (the star is the filter, not the user); and provided no status game or skill-based network and therefore failed.
  • TikTok feed by algorithm, not connections, results in a feedback loop that is much more tightly wound that other social networks; both in the positive and negative direction. The feed is alignment with your personal interests rather than the drawing from the work of accounts you follow.

For almost every network, the number of lurkers far exceeds the number of active participants. Life may not be a spectator sport, but a lot of social media is.

  • First utility, then social capital: Instagram (filters first). First social capital, then utility: Foursquare (mayor first), IMDb, Wikipedia, Reddit — users come for the status and help to build a tool for the commons. Utility, but no social capital: Skype, WhatsApp, Amazon. Social capital, but little utility: Facebook (events? news?). Both social capital and utility simultaneously (holy grail): WeChat.
  • Ads are a utility, but not for user. Companies should track ROI on posts for new users — a likely leading metric that governs retention/churn.
  • First mover advantage is such that the leader with the dominant graph and the social capital can look at new features of fast followers and pull a reverse copy, grafting them into their more extensive and dominant incumbent graph (e.g. Instagram stories).
  • Could we have kept this social capital arms race from escalating? If one company hadn’t flooded the market with status, others would have filled the void many times over.
  • Algorithmic feed in order to maintain high signal-to-noise for most of its users at the cost of diminishing the distribution of any single post from any single user. Akin to the Fed trying to manage inflation by raising interest rates. Facebook did what central banks do to combat inflation and raised interest rates on borrowing attention from the News Feed.
  • It’s rare (anti-trust) to describe a product or service as having become too useful. That is, it’s hard to over-serve on utility. The more people that accept a form of payment, the more useful it is.
  • Many types of social capital have qualities which render them fragile. Status relies on coordinated consensus to define the scarcity that determines its value. Consensus can shift (tipping point) in an instant — usually with the “coolest” leaving first. The hot club can suddenly not be cool anymore. At that point, that product or service better have created as much utility as possible.
  • The Groucho Marx Conundrum (“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member”). It’s silly to order bottle service at a club if no one is sitting on the opposite side of the velvet ropes; a leaderboard with just a single high score is meaningless.
  • The fashion industry understands the recurring boom and bust of network effects. Some cabal of magazine editors and fashion designers decide each season to declare arbitrarily new styles the fashion of the moment, retiring previous recommendations before they grow stale. There is no utility change at all (a shirt is a shirt). The industry as a whole is simply pulling the frontier of scarcity forward like a wave we’re all trying to surf.
  • Don’t underestimate the ingenuity of humanity in its ability to weaponize any network for status games (e.g. Snapchat has no likes, but the hierarchy of everyone’s “friendships” is public, making the popularity scoreboard)

Social networks are always going to be a volatile game, prone to sudden and massive deflationary events, but while they work, they’re a hell of a drug.

Crypto

“Remember, the excitement about bitcoin was mostly about bypassing controls, to enable exotic new uses like Silk Road. It was some cool and edgy stuff, not just another PayPal.” — Timothy May

  • Identity (by reputation), data havens, autonomous programs, new financial institutions, time-released funds, security tokens (backed by an underlying asset such as real estate, tokenization of assets), dead drops (i.e. secretly place information for download), trustless money (not controlled by a central bank), trustless internet (architecture is free of trusted centralized data, users have more control over their data, networks compensate participants for economic value generated in the network), trustless finance (open software for equities, debt, derivatives, checking accounts, remittances, work contracts, retirement accounts, property, etc.). Liberal radicalism.
  • Reduced friction from rent-seeking third-parties (smart contracts will eat the SaaS industry). What comes after open source? Open services.
  • Six core technologies that paving the way for blockchain: Public-key cryptography (1970); cryptographic hash functions and Merkle Trees (1970s); Proof of Work (1993); smart contracts (1994); virtual machines (1996); and peer-to-peer file sharing (1999).
  • Adding computers to a centralized network increases power; adding to a decentralized network increases trust, not processing power.

“Blockchain governance generally comes in only three varieties: (1) Lord of the Flies, (2) lawyers, or (3) ruthlessly minimized.” Someone asked “Why ruthless?” “Otherwise the children or the lawyers will win.” — Nick Szabo

  • Private keys are generated offline in a secure environment, and split using Shamir’s secret sharing. Each private key is divided into parts, and some subset of the pieces are required to restore the secret. This way some pieces can be lost and the secret is still recoverable (redundancy). It also requires a quorum of key-holders to come together to restore a key (consensus). Key holders are geographically distributed and follow a protocol during key signing ceremonies to verify their identity and assure the integrity of the ceremony.
  • Burner wallets analogous to cash — small amounts that are versatile, but easy to lose
  • Air-gapped signing servers that boot from a hardened DVD/USB. Security enclaves within the hardware for performing the verification steps — without exposing the inner-workings to the outside!
  • Square’s open-source Subzero cold storage hardcoded to only send funds to a Square-owned hot wallet provided DiD (Defense in Depth); forcing an attacker to compromise multiple systems in order to extract funds. Beancounter tool for seeing the state at any given point in time, even for wallets with many transactions.
  • Onion model, with each layer a tradeoff of convenience vs risk.
  • Ethereum smart contract decompiler
  • Founded in 2006 (3 years before Bitcoin), Mt. Gox was originally a Magic: The Gathering Online eXchange! The first crypto exchange. Hacked for 800k+ BTC! Bankruptcy in 2014.
  • Bitcoin (2009); Namecoin (2011); Litecoin (2011); Peercoin (2012); Ethereum (2015)
  • Coinbase (2012) via Y-Combinator; in 2015 launched GDAX (Global Digital Asset Exchange) for advanced users (renamed Coinbase Pro in 2017). The leading crypto exchange that works with regulators. The first BTC $1 billion unicorn.
  • Kraken (2013)
  • Binance (2017): №1 in trading volume, ICO 10 days after whitepaper generating $100 million in only a few minutes, top 10 exchange in 42 days, top 3 in 143 days. $1 billion daily trading.
  • Vitalik Buterin. BTC programmer in 2011 (age 17) and founder of Bitcoin Magazine. In 2014, crowdfund $18 million to build Ethereum as a co-founder. In 2015, launched of Ethereum Frontier. In 2016, Homestead increased transaction speeds and simplified development.
  • Nick Szabo wrote Bit Gold (1998) and coined “smart contract” (1994). Co-founder of Ethereum.
  • In 2013, the first ICO (Mastercoin) raised $500,000 as way of crowdfunding. In 2015, only 18 days after the release of Frontier, the first Ethereum ICO (Augur) raised $5 million. In 2017, $4 billion had been raised by ICOs!
  • DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) eliminate the principal-agent problem (one person makes decisions on behalf of another). Digix was the first DAO.
  • In 2016, a DAO by Slock.it raised $150 million but was later hacked causing a hard fork during the 28 day holding period. Delisted and pursued by the SEC in 2017.
  • Zeppelin for standard, upgradable, reusable smart contracts
  • Off-chain state channels. Layer 2 for scalability; Layer 3 for interoperability.
  • Many different ERC token standards: ERC-20 (the most common), ERC-223 (upgrade), ERC-721 (NFT), ERC-777 (prevents loss), ERC-1400 (security).

“Web 3.0: Own data; get money for data. Data is money.”

  • Web 1.0 was read-only; Web 2.0 is read/write (AJAX, phones, social media, bandwidth, blogging…); Web 3.0 will be unmediated read-write.

“Innovation is fine. I saw a lot of it in the chip industry. But we didn’t have conferences EVERY WEEK! And we didn’t announce new products that had only the sketchiest ideas about. And we didn’t form new companies with such abandon. And we didn’t fund by “floating an ICO” and raising $100 million from what are, bluntly put, naive speculators who hope to catch the next bitcoin.”

Zero-Knowledge Proofs

  • Confidential transactions. Pedersen commitments express a statement about a value that can be verified while hiding the value itself
  • zk-proofs expand on this by challenging sender, but drastically increase transaction size. Bulletproofs are a more efficient zk-proof.
  • Allow a verifier to be convinced that the prover possesses knowledge of a secret parameter, called a witness, without revealing the witness to the verifier or anyone else (i.e. no need to share a private key).
    A function fn is run through generator G to produce (pk, vk) = G(C, lambda), where pk is the proving key and vk is the verification key. The lambda allows the creation of fake proofs, therefore requires elaborate creation ceremonies that do not save the lambda.
    A proof is created as prf = P(pk, H, s), where H is a the hash; s is the key from function C. The prf is given to the verifier to runs V(vk, H, prf), which returns true if the witness is valid.
  • Allow smart contracts to verify private keys without storing them on the blockchain. A generator is run off-chain to produce the proving and verification keys, followed by the creation of off-chain proofs. The general verification algorithm can then be run inside a smart contract, using the proof, the verification key and the public input as input parameters. The outcome of the verification algorithm can then be used to trigger other on-chain activity.
  • Challenges: Users would need to keep track of their balances, otherwise tokens are unrecoverable; balances need to use 32 bytes of data and encode entropy in part of the balance to prevent the ability to reverse hashes to figure out balances; need to handle the edge case of sending to an unused address.
  • zk-SNARK (Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge) is a novel form of zk-proofs popularized by Zcash
  • AZTEC protocol zk-proof issues notes in smart contracts. For each note it’s only possible to tell the entire total of all issued notes, not what a single note is worth. Notes are redeemed for NFT (Non-Fungible Tokens). Future notes are worth value and never need to exchanged back. Further anonymity can be achieved by making the public Ethereum address the private key required to decrypt.
  • https://github.com/iden3/snarkjs

Jargon

  • Ablation. Revoking a percentage of experiment rollout.
  • Airgapped. Computer with no wired/wireless connection to the outside world.
  • Amortize. Gradually write off (e.g. tech debt).
  • Assert. Narrowing construct for compiler.
  • Attribution. Reason for an action caused by a user (e.g. “because you modified X”).
  • Baking. Baking time of a binary for QA testing.
  • Bankruptcy. Declare bankruptcy, delete everything and start fresh (e.g. email bankruptcy, bug bankruptcy).
  • Bastion host. Server whose purpose is to provide access to a private network from an external network, such as the Internet.
  • Bearer token. Auth token.
  • Benevolent dictator for life (BDFL). Title given to a small number of open-source software development leaders, typically project founders who retain the final say in disputes or arguments within the community. The phrase originated in 1995 with reference to Guido van Rossum, creator of the Python programming language.
  • Bikeshedding. Wasting time on something trivial (to focus on the bikeshed too much when designing a power plant).
  • Bitrot. Data degradation. Slow deterioration in the performance and integrity of data stored on storage media. Also bit decay, data rot, data decay and silent corruption.
  • Butter bar. Horizontal UX popup, looks like a stick of butter.
  • Canary server. Isolated server prior to full prod release — through a peak traffic period. “Canary in a coal mine.”
  • Canned responses. Predetermined responses.
  • Convolution matrix. Treatment of a matrix (e.g. filter on image pixels, Conways Game of Life) by another matrix known as a “kernel” — allows transitioning to a new state.
  • Curried function. Function that takes multiple arguments one at a time (e.g. a function with 3 parameters that takes one argument and returns a function that takes the next argument, which returns a function that takes the third argument, and the last function returns the result of applying the function to all of its arguments).
  • Death ray. Server with such high usage that it overwhelms (i.e. kills) other services (e.g. Twitter death ray).
  • Decorator pattern. Dynamically adding behavior to object.
  • DAMP (Descriptive And Meaningful Phrases). Increases maintainability by reducing the time necessary to read and understand the code.
  • DiD (Defense in Depth). Force an attacker to compromise multiple systems.
  • DRY (Don’t repeat yourself). Increases maintainability by removing duplicated code to isolating change (risk) to only those parts of the system that must change.
  • Duck typed. Dynamic typing where an object’s methods/properties determines typing (rather than class inheritance). “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.”
  • Fan-in and fan-out. Send tweet to all followers. Fan-in. Pull tweet for each follower.
  • Fix-forward. Fix a broken commit rather than rolling back.
  • Forcing function. Aspect of a design that prevents the user from taking an action without consciously considering information relevant to that action. Forces conscious attention upon something (i.e. bringing to consciousness) and thus deliberately disrupts the efficient or automated performance of a task.
  • Function composition. foo(b>c, a>b)=>(a>c), combine and chain functions as a new function, pipeline.
  • Gedankenexperiment. Thought experiment.
  • Grandmanager. Your manager’s manager.
  • Grungy work. Messy cleanup.
  • Happy path. Ideal user journey through an application.
  • Hardened. Mature, stress tested.
  • Holdback. Control group when releasing an experiment.
  • Hull design. Pattern where a “leak” doesn’t sink the ship — similar to ship design.
  • Indix operators. Operators between operands (e.g. the +sign in 2+2).
  • In-flight. Features that is launched, but not landed.
  • Jank. Janky. Jank-free.
  • JWT. Java Web Token. Pronounced jot?
  • KI. Known issue.
  • Lexical scoping. Also named static scoping. Arrow function this refers to surrounding scope and no further. Defines how variable names are resolved in nested functions. Inner functions contain scope of parents, even if parent function returned.
  • LG/LGTM (Looks Good / Looks Good To Me)
  • LOE (Level Of Effort). Work estimate.
  • Metawork. Superfluous work.
  • Nominal. Name-based. Nominal interface, nominally typed.
  • Non-hermetic code. Produces different results each time. Flaky.
  • OOMing. OutOfMemory-ing.
  • Orthogonal. Operations that change just one thing without affecting others. Independent and modular.
  • Partially applied function. Function which has been applied to some, but not yet all of its arguments. Has some arguments fixed inside its closure scope.
  • PascalCase
  • Playbooks. Step-by-step guides.
  • Plumbing. Plumbing through code.
  • Ponyfill. Pure alternative to a pollyfill. Link.
  • POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service)
  • Progression. Opposite of regression!
  • Puppy. Easy to adopt!
  • Rarefied. Esoteric, exclusive.
  • Release process. Series of decreasingly tolerant staging servers.
  • REPL (Read–Evaluate–Print Loop). Interactive shell.
  • RICO (Reversible ICO). Allows investors to pull out money at any time, others can buy in.
  • Rollforward. Rollback fix.
  • Scalar values. Singular (e.g. int, string) as opposed to arrays and sets.
  • SG/SGTM (Sounds Good / Sounds Good To Me)
  • Shapes. Deployment configuration (e.g. task shapes).
  • Stochastic computing. Collection of techniques that represent continuous values by streams of random bits. Complex computations can then be computed by simple bit-wise operations on the streams.
  • Stop-gap. Temporary solution.
  • Studies. Experiment “study.”
  • Surface. UX elements (e.g. surface web results to the user).
  • Swag. Pronounced “shwag.”
  • SWAG estimate. Scientific Wild-Ass Guess!
  • Tentpole. When a single person/team is holding something up. Generally bad as the entire tent will collapse.
  • Thrashing. Struggling without being efficient, wasting time.
  • Toast. UX modals that pop-up from the bottom like toast out of a toaster.
  • TODO, TODONT
  • Toil. Time-consuming work that should be automated (e.g. minimize toil).
  • Transpile. Translation between languages (e.g. TypeScript to JavaScript).
  • Treatment. Application (e.g. UX treatment).
  • Turn-down. Shut down a service.
  • Typed. Statically typed is when the compiler figures out each variable at compile time; dynamically typed at runtime. Strongly typed has restrictions between type conversions.
  • Unary function. A function which takes one argument.
  • µs. Millionths of a second (e.g. 5µs).
  • Wall time. Real-world time.
  • YAGNI (You Aren’t Gonna Need It). Principle of extreme programming (XP) that states a programmer should not add functionality until deemed necessary.

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