Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Reading Feed (December 2018)


Blog: Marginal Revolution | The difficulties of African supply chains — "[I]nteresting throughout, most of all for infrastructure supply chain nerds. I so, so wish there were more articles like this..."

Self: My Faults My Own | Donations 2018

Blog: Marginal Revolution | The difficulties of African supply chains — "Supply chain problems in Africa are quite complex, with most of them stemming from the sheer size of the continent. Africa’s land mass is greater than the USA, Europe, and China combined. Within this huge space there are 54 unique markets, few of which provide scale or adequate distribution infrastructure. Further complicating matters, there are over 2,000 languages spoken and very diverse cultural dynamics from one market to the next."

Blog: Shtetl-Optimized | Incompleteness ex machina — "I have a treat with which to impress your friends at New Year’s Eve parties tomorrow night: a rollicking essay graciously contributed by a reader named Sebastian Oberhoff, about a unified and simplified way to prove all of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems, as well as Rosser’s Theorem, directly in terms of computer programs."


Blog: Gates Notes | What I learned at work this year

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Demographics matters more and explains more than you think — "This paper shows that changes in population growth provide a unified quantitative explanation for these long-term changes. The mechanism goes through firm entry rates. A decrease in population growth lowers firm entry rates, shifting the firm-age distribution towards older firms..."

Blog: What's New | Jean Bourgain


Blog: Scott Sumner @ EconLib | Let's not emphasize behavioral economics — "One should spend more time on subjects that need more time, not things that people already believe."

Blog: Quartz | Twelve leading economists on the research that shaped our world in 2018 — h/t Al Roth

Blog: Marginal Revolution | What were the questions I thought about most this year? — "As for background context, I’ve for years wondered why people get so bugged by each other on Twitter. A second question is why political correctness — even if you think it is fully bad — occasions so much opposition compared to many other maladies..."

Blog: Tyler Cowen @ Bloomberg View | The Moral Horror of America’s Prisons — "Congress isn’t doing enough to fix the current U.S. penal system, which is a failure of historic proportions."


Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Card Rebalancing, Card Oversupply and Economic Considerations in Digital Card Games — in series: Don't Worry About the Vase | Card Collection and Ownership Don't Worry About the Vase | Advantages of Card Rebalancing

Blog: Marginal Revolution | What I’ve been reading


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Life at the margin? — "Heaney: I’m radical about this, but it seems strange to have discussions with people who don’t know anything and who overreact. They usually don’t have much to say. Maybe discuss literature with them the following year — after the class — when they’ve had time to have the material enter their memory. Until it’s entered their personality they can’t say much."


Blog: What's New | Elias Stein

Blog: Otium | Contrite Strategies and The Need For Standards

Comic: xkcd | Christmas Eve Eve — "Oh no."


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Income risk-sharing in baseball


Blog: Marginal Revolution | True, trivial and yet still neglected in import


Paper: Man-Computer Synthesis / The Computer as Communication Device — Licklider. h/t Tyler Cowen.

Blog: Schneier on Security | Drone Denial-of-Service Attack against Gatwick Airport

Blog: Thing of Things | Why Reduce Chicken, Not Beef?

Blog: Marginal Revolution | From the comments, on Facebook — "The problem with this paper is that it excludes, entirely, individuals and businesses who use Facebook as a (or The) e-commerce channel for their commercial activities. That’s a common mistake, especially in the US and Europe, where the platform is widely viewed as a means for non-commercial social interaction. But elsewhere in the world – especially Africa and India – it’s also viewed as a crucial commercial and trading platform (that Facebook is trying to leverage). Ask a Nigerian secondhand goods trader how much he’d accept to give up his account, and I’m pretty sure it’ll be more than $1k! "


Blog: Open Philanthropy | Suggestions for Individual Donors from Open Philanthropy Project Staff - 2018

Blog: Otium | The Pavlov Strategy — for Iterated Prisoners' Dilemma.

Blog: Marginal Revolution | The Top Ten Marginal Revolution Posts of 2018

Blog: Marginal Revolution | The value of Facebook? — from the comments: "[E]lsewhere in the world - especially Africa and India - it's also viewed as a crucial commercial and trading platform (that Facebook is trying to leverage). Ask a Nigerian secondhand goods trader how much he'd accept to give up his account, and I'm pretty sure it'll be more than $1k!"


Blog: The Verge | Prime and Punishment — on Amazon's internal court system, h/t Tyler Cowen.

Blog: Schneier on Security | Congressional Report on the 2017 Equifax Data Breach

Blog: Marginal Revolution | The Economist picks eight young top economists


Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Fifteen Things I Learned From Watching a Game of Secret Hitler — "Most of the policies democratic governments could pass are fascist policies that expand government power. / The remaining policies are liberal policies. There is no such thing as a conservative policy."

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Stunning Figures on Energy Efficiency


Blog: JeffTK | College and Earning to Give


Blog: Marginal Revolution | A social credit system for scientists? — Chinese scientists, that is, and fraudsters at that. What, would you rather be soft on fraud?


Blog: JeffTK | Taking a Safety Report

Comic: xkcd | arXiv — "...invaluable projects which, if they didn't exist, we would dismiss as obviously ridiculous and unworkable."


Blog: Thing of Things | Scrupulosity Sequence #3: Load-Bearing Things

Blog: JeffTK | Not losing things — "I almost never lose things, especially important things like my keys, laptop, or ear warmers. Here's an attempt to write up the system I use, in case it's useful to others..."


Blog: Tyler Cowen @ Bloomberg View | Macron Just Doesn’t Get It — "France now runs some chance of becoming the next Italy, complete with fiscal irresponsibility, and it is hard to see the nation as having the political strength or domestic consensus to hold the European Union together. The French have an amazing country: high labor productivity, a quality civil service, incredible vacations, and perhaps the most refined level of cultural taste in the world. Yet all that, sadly, is not enough. A quick comparison with 19th-century French culture, with its emphasis on progress, utopia and the rationalization of social systems, shows just how much the forward-looking perspective is lacking."

Blog: Open Philanthropy | 2018 Allocation to GiveWell Top Charities


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Tom Lehrer, man ahead of his time — "It would be hard to pull this off today. Yet, when I listen to Lehrer, perhaps because I know the historical context, I am not offended. Plus he is flat-out funny. He cited losing his 'nasty edge,' and starting to see things in shades of grey, as one reason for what appeared to be a quite premature retirement."

Blog: GiveWell | Staff members’ personal donations for giving season 2018

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Best movies of 2018

Comic: xkcd | Laptop Issues


Blog: Some Thoughts on a Mysterious Universe | AlphaFold @ CASP13: “What just happened?” — "This will be a long post. I will start with the science: the significance of DeepMind’s result, their methodology, and how it relates to existing methods. Then I will discuss the sociology: how people reacted, why we did so, what this means for the academic discipline of protein structure prediction (and life science companies), and how I think we ought to move forward..." h/t Tyler Cowen, of course.

Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Review: Slay the Spire

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Increases in Inequality Have Been Overestimated


Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Prediction Markets Are About Being Right — Counterpoint to Marginal Revolution | If you love prediction markets you should love the art world.

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Kenneth Tynan on Alec Guinness, circa 1952 — "...may be the only actor alive who could play a genius convincingly: Donne, for instance, Milton, Pope, or even Shakespeare…would be comfortably within his grasp. But he is not, and never will be a star, in the sense that Coward and Olivier are stars. Olivier, one might say, ransacks the vaults of a part with blowlamp, crowbar, and gun-powder; Guinness is the nocturnal burglar, the humble Houdini who knows the combination."


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Is the age of man-machine cooperation over in chess? — "But here’s the thing: right now there is only one AlphaZero, and AlphaZero does not play like God (I think). At some point there will be more projects of this kind, and they will not always agree as to what is the best chess move. Re-enter the human!"

Blog: JeffTK | Taking someone aside

Blog: Schneier on Security | Back Issues of the NSA's Cryptolog


Blog: GiveWell | Response to concerns about GiveWell’s spillovers analysis


Comic: xkcd | Middle Latitudes

Blog: Ross Douthat @ NYT | Why We Miss the WASPs — "Their more meritocratic, diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well." h/t Tyler Cowen

Blog: Otium | Playing Politics

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Tariff Man — "Now Paul is a real estate contractor / he’d like to buy things for his wife / but he canceled a deal because structural steel’s / more expensive—it’s doubled in price! / And the firms are all practicing politics / as their businessmen fly to DC! / Yes, they’re spreading a problem called poverty, / and calling it prosperity!"

Blog: Conversations with Tyler @ Medium | Paul Romer on the Unrivaled Joy of Scholarship — "We also discussed music, including Hot Tuna, Clarence White, and Paul’s favorite novel, dyslexia, what Paul has learned about management, and much more..."


Blog: Marginal Revolution | The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice — "I think it helps in answering this question to think of other countries say South Africa under Apartheid or China today among the Uighur in Xinjiang province…then be consistent. Note that resistance to state injustice may be unwise even when it is ethical."

Blog: Magic Daily | Ultimate Masters Art Descriptions

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Price discrimination markets in everything — "Parents who give up their phones during dinner will be rewarded with free meals for their kids at one U.K.-based restaurant chain..."


Blog: Gates Notes | 5 books I loved in 2018

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Fanfare classical music meta-list, and my favorite classical music of the year


Blog: Marginal Revolution | What I’ve Been Watching — by...Alex Tabarrok, for once!

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities — "[L]arger cities do not play the same economic role as smaller ones do. They complement each other’s activities. The increase productivity of larger cities is therefore linked to the existence and growth of smaller cities. In turn, smaller cities’ economic growth is dependent on larger cities’ innovations and inventions."

Blog: Tyler Cowen @ Bloomberg View | Trump Deserves Some Credit for a Truce With China — "Nonetheless, it’s not quite fair to describe the trade war with China as a problem that Trump started and then pretended to solve. The reality is that hostility toward Chinese trade practices has been building for some time. Anti-China measures have long commanded bipartisan support not only in Washington but also among corporate leaders, who see themselves as victims of unfair Chinese trade practices and espionage. This is an issue that predates Trump, and he deserves some credit for doing something to help solve it."