Re: Flaking

Posted on February 13th, 2018

Dan Wang emailed me with some interesting additional hypotheses regarding the question of flaking that I raised last week: I liked your piece on flaking. When I moved to New York, I found that flaking declined dramatically. So I think that any piece that talks about flaking in SF has to explain why it happens less in NY. Here's what I'd offer: SF is made up more of tech people, who like to spend long periods of time on their own, and aren't often customer-facing. NY is more sales driven, and...

Special snowflakes and canonical examples

Posted on February 9th, 2018

I’m proud to be a beginner! But when it comes to the concrete steps of learning something new, I often feel undue shame about my approach. At first, I thought it was a fear of not knowing things or, more likely, a fear of other people seeing of me as a beginner. This doesn’t add up though. I don’t hesitate to ask questions when I’m stuck, and I pride myself on my love of picking up new skills and learning new things. In fact, going from zero to some knowledge on a topic is one of my favorite...

What's in a name?

Posted on February 6th, 2018

I often use a thesaurus while coding, and I mentioned this fact to a non-programmer friend today. He was shocked, and he said that he thought that programming was mathematical, not lexical. But it’s not so easy to separate out—naming is one of the most important parts of programming (and math!), because it’s how you reduce complexity down to something that you can understand, explain, and maneuver. The conversation reminded me of a post I read from Jane Street’s blog a while back: Newell onc...

Teach a girl to fish

Posted on February 5th, 2018

My favorite aphorism might be "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime". It's a useful idea to incorporate into your life philosophy, both for yourself and others. It's nice to offer help to someone with a problem that you can solve, but far better to teach them how to do it.* On the flip side, when there's something you don't know how to do, I encourage you to find someone who will both help you solve the problem and teach you how to ...

Why is pop culture obsessed with battles between good and evil?

Posted on February 2nd, 2018

This essay from Aeon makes the observation that folktales weren't always about fighting for a noble value. Rather they were just about getting what you want, without framing actions in a strong moral light: Stories from an oral tradition never have anything like a modern good guy or bad guy in them, despite their reputation for being moralising. In stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk or Sleeping Beauty, just who is the good guy? Jack is the protagonist we’re meant to root for, yet he has ...

Why is flaking so widespread in San Francisco?

Posted on February 2nd, 2018

In an email exchange with Brian Lui, he asked me an interesting question about the rate of flaking in San Francisco: I had a brief question too. I've read that the rate of "flaking" in San Francisco is really high, because everyone is so busy and there is so much to do. But then I thought, wouldn't that lead to an extra strong norm against flaking, because your time is too precious to get flaked on by someone? Apparently this doesn't happen and it's socially acceptable to flake. I feel really...

Other people are just as multifaceted as you

Posted on February 2nd, 2018

Most people seem to think of themselves as “at the edge" of several communities rather than defined by a single identity. It’s easy to think of yourself as special and that other people are more singularly defined, but that’s a bias stemming from the fact that you’re mostly seeing people in the context of just one of the communities they’re a part of. It can be hard to remember: you just don’t have visibility into their other thoughts and other aspects of their life.

Japanese street networks

Posted on February 1st, 2018

Street networks in Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo are highly connected. The streets are narrow, and the blocks are short, which feels more human-scale and creates more opportunity for diversity. Pedestrians feel comfortable in these dense networks, which encourages walking and biking. This Kyoto side street would barely be enough space between buildings to conform to most American zoning codes, let alone to count as a street. Short blocks break the social isolation of wide, long streets. Pedestria...

Empathy for the Devil

Posted on October 8th, 2017

History is too often reduced to stories of good versus evil. We get the impression that we are somehow different from the people who were bad, and we take for granted that we would never make similar choices. We should learn to empathize with those who make terrible choices — not to pardon their choices nor to deny ourselves the right to grieve, but to recognize when we might be heading down a similar path. If we see them as people and understand where they went wrong, we can avoid making the...

Subsidizing Suburbia series

Posted on July 30th, 2017

Subsidizing Suburbia: A forgotten history of how the government created suburbiaFinancing Suburbia: How government mortgage policy determined where you liveExempting Suburbia: How suburban sprawl gets special treatment in our tax codePaving Suburbia: How federal projects reshaped your community around the automobile (coming soon!)Zoning Suburbia: How single-use zoning is responsible for your 45-minute commute (coming soon!)