Advice on writing

Posted on August 5th, 2018

Sergey Zavadski emailed me today asking for advice on how to start writing, and I figured I'd share my response here and open an invitation for suggestions from others! The biggest advice I'll give is to find ways to hold back from self-censoring. There are three key tools I use to do this myself, though there are probably other clever ways I haven't considered. One is called The Most Dangerous Writing App, which deletes your writing if you ...

A day in Bangalore

Posted on August 2nd, 2018

I spent Friday, 9 March 2018 in Bangalore, India, the last of the cities I visited that week. Of the five, Bangalore was the one that pleasantly surprised me the most. I had never been to India before, and I prepared myself for an underdeveloped, hectic urban experience. Its infrastructure was substandard, and it was not a sparkling metropolis like Singapore or a viscerally ambitious culture like Beijing, but it had a dynamism and cosmopolitan...

Thoughts on spaced repetition

Posted on July 24th, 2018

A common argument against spaced repetition goes something like this: If an idea or fact is useful enough to memorize, your brain will retain it anyway. If it's important, it'll just stick, because you'll use it enough times.There's some validity to this. If you find it is really difficult to remember something, you may want to examine whether it's really worth expending that memorization effort. Maybe you just don't need to know it that badly...

Agglomeration effects (might) change the YIMBY calculus

Posted on July 15th, 2018

Epistemic status: Pretty sure of the structure of the argument (~80%), not so sure of the valence of the coefficients (~60% that agglomeration does not overwhelm the supply-demand effect). Epistemic effort: Medium effort. This idea has bounced around my head for almost a year, and over that time I spoke with several friends about it. Then, I had a long conversation in which I formalized it a bit more, at which point I decided to write it down....

What do NIMBYs, lawyers, and ICE have in common?

Posted on July 11th, 2018

Zoning, occupational licensing, and immigration are all the same problem, just in different forms. They all reduce individuals' ability to move to the places with the greatest opportunity, and a few concentrated interests are overrepresented, trouncing the broader social interest. In the case of zoning, NIMBYs constrain the potential of a neighborhood or region for the sake of their own stability, comfort, and home values. Future residents are...

Tools & Craft: An Interview with Andy Hertzfeld 

Posted on June 19th, 2018

I am so excited to announce Tools & Craft, an interview series I've been working on with Notion for the past few months! In this first episode, I spoke with Andy Hertzfeld, who designed the operating system of the original Macintosh. I've always been fascinated by the process of creating new tools and interfaces, especially those that amplify our thought and communication. We’ve all seen the legendary Apple keynotes and how personal comput...

A steelman for tradition

Posted on June 3rd, 2018

Epistemic status: High confidence about the pros/cons discussed regarding my own experience, fairly low confidence about the parts I heard secondhand. Epistemic effort: Low-to-medium effort. I realized these things were connected while I was in the shower last night, then I spent two hours stream-of-consciousness writing to get them onto the page. I then read it over once for minor editing and shared it with a friend to sanity check. 1. "Bik...

Amateur space program of the day

Posted on May 31st, 2018

Today I learned of the existence of Copenhagen Suborbitals, the "world's only manned, amateur space program". From their website: Since 2011, we’ve built and flown 5 homebuilt rockets and space capsules from a ship in the Baltic Sea, and some day one of us will fly into space. It’s all crowdfunded and nonprofit, and has only come this far because people all over the world donate money that pay the materials, tools and rent. Our goal is simple:...

North American vs Japanese zoning

Posted on May 30th, 2018

I originally published these notes in April of last year in one of my old blogs. These notes come from reading two blog posts from the wonderful Urban Kchoze blog:Urban kchoze: Japanese zoning (here is the annotated and cached copy)Urban kchoze: euclidian zoning (here is the annotated and cached copy)The Japanese system is inclusionary, as contrasted to the exclusionary system common here in the US. The typical zoning form in America is calle...

Japanese street networks

Posted on May 22nd, 2018

I originally published this in May of last year in Idea Collector, one of my old blogs. Epistemic status: This is a quick write up of my personal experience wandering Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo last May. I'd be curious to learn how it compares to objective measures, models, others' experience, and so on! Epistemic effort: I noted my impressions in bullet-point form while wandering around the cities, then when I returned from the trip I spent ~1h ...

Continuous urbanization in Japan

Posted on May 21st, 2018

I originally published this in May of last year in Idea Collector, one of my old blogs. Epistemic status: This is a quick write up of my personal experience wandering Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo last May. I'd be curious to learn how it compares to objective measures, models, others' experience, and so on! Epistemic effort: I noted my impressions in bullet-point form while wandering around the cities, then when I returned from the trip I spent ~1h ...

A day in Jakarta

Posted on May 21st, 2018

I spent Thursday, 8 March 2018 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Of the cities I visited during this trip, Jakarta was the one I disliked most. I try to be as positive as possible on the internet (it's just too easy to be negative), but in this case it would be ingenious. The parts of Jakarta I explored were unpleasant and a bit depressing. If Las Vegas and Mad Max had a baby... The main thoroughfare felt more like a highway than a street. This combine...

Memex: My personal knowledge base

Posted on May 16th, 2018

Epistemic status: This is a quick write up of my personal experience using Evernote as a PKB. The ideas/processes mentioned in here might work for others too, but I'm not prescribing them! There may be something that would work even better for you, and perhaps for me for that matter. (If you have suggestions please do tell me 🙂) Epistemic effort: I wrote up an email response to Nick quickly, and then I went back through it once to make sure n...

Scale-free travel

Posted on May 7th, 2018

Cities are fractal. You can always go a layer deeper and there’s just as much complexity. Following this principle, I sometimes think it might make sense to just stay in San Francisco my whole life and explore the infinite levels of that fractal. It’s cheaper than interstate or international travel anyway, and according to this framework you get the same amount of interestingness no matter how many levels deep you go. The catch is that whe...

Singapore and the international community

Posted on April 20th, 2018

A while back Daniel Frank emailed me about the essay I published about Singapore, and he was skeptical of the idea that the international community would act as a deterrent against authoritarianism in Singapore:First, I don’t think this applies to most countries (for example, look at the muted Western protest to changes in countries like Turkey and Poland). Secondly, I specifically think doesn’t apply to Singapore. The two most influential n...

A day in Singapore, Part I: Urban identity

Posted on April 19th, 2018

Epistemic status: My personal impressions from wandering the city for a day. Very likely that I'm missing important nuance in lots of places. If you notice a gap, please let me know! I'm so curious to learn more about Singapore. This is more of a diary entry than a worldview. Not sure how to put a confidence interval on that. 🙂 Epistemic effort: I jotted down notes throughout the day in the city and wrote up this post without lots of editing...

What would SB 827 mean for California?

Posted on April 17th, 2018

California's housing crisis is not a new problem, but for the first time there's a proposal facing the state legislature that could make a dent: Senate Bill 827, known as SB 827. The bill would change zoning around transit to allow for mid-rise housing. To get a sense of its potential, some friends and I created renderings to illustrate what the bill would make possible. Here's one of them: You can find the rest of the renderings plus more...

Strategically ignorant

Posted on April 1st, 2018

Effective software developers know how to manage their ignorance. Studying the inner workings of each dependency and every layer of your stack is a luxury you often can't afford, so it's important to know how and when to make leaps of faith. More than any explicit technical knowledge, this intuition is perhaps the biggest thing that differentiates experienced programmers from inexperienced ones. When I first started coding, painful awareness ...

A day in Saigon

Posted on March 22nd, 2018

I spent Tuesday, 6 March 2018 in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. I like the city’s pre-war name better (not a political statement—I just think it’s prettier ☺️), so I’ll use that throughout the post. Most of the signs around town used “Saigon" rather than HCMC, and some of the locals I spoke to called it that too, so I think it’s kosher. As with Beijing, I was also excited for the food, to get a sense of daily life, and of course ...

A day in Beijing

Posted on March 17th, 2018

I spent Monday, 5 March 2018 in Beijing. The urbanist nerd inside of me was thrilled to see China’s capital. I’d read so much about its astounding growth and change in the past few decade—finally a chance to see it firsthand! I was also excited for the food, to get a sense of daily life, and of course to build my mental map of the city. My key takeaway is that Beijing is an epicenter of cultural and technological change, but the experience ...