Posted on January 1st, 2020
The book that etched the deepest grooves in my mind last year was Against the Grain by James C. Scott. It explores how the unique characteristics of grain-based agriculture shaped the early history of states.
While I did learn many interesting historical facts and trends from the book, what stood out to me most was Scott's emphasis on epistemics. When he pointed to the archaeological record, he wouldn't simply cherrypick a basket of facts tha...
Posted on January 1st, 2020
Here are some notes and quotes that particularly stood out to me from each chapter of Against the Grain. This isn't a summary of the book. It's mostly for my future self to refer back to (and thus probably missing a lot for someone who hasn't read it), but the tidbits are so interesting that I figured I'd share it nonetheless in case it's remotely helpful to someone else.
You can read my more coherent review of the book here.
Posted on December 26th, 2019
Language skills are highly multi-dimensional*, so while learning a language, it's important to come at it from lots of different directions. Here are some of the tricks I've used to practice Spanish that I haven't heard so many other people use. (They're likely useful for other languages too, of course.)
(1) Translate past writing you've already published in English
One fun exercise is to take something you wrote in English, translate it t...
Posted on October 21st, 2019
Music enthusiasts will tell you there's nothing quite like "tube sound", the warm, rich sound quality that old vacuum tube amplifiers bring to the music played through them. And they'll pay top dollar for it! Once considered obsolete, vintage vacuum tube amps now sell at a premium, because audiophiles want to reproduce the harmonic distortions this old tech is so famous for.
This now-beloved distortion was initially seen as a bug, not a featur...
Posted on September 9th, 2019
Recently, Ayaz Matin sent me an email asking the following question:When I was looking at your website I came across these words:
Individual liberty is the single most important value that society should uphold.I’m more utilitarian and communitarian now.I still believe we should be extremely skeptical of sacrificing individual liberties for the sake of a greater good (in practice if not in theory), but I no longer hold liberty as sacrosanct.Th...
Posted on August 11th, 2019
You're not allowed inside the Duomo with your shoulders uncovered. We learned this the hard way. I was wearing a spaghetti strap dress (it's 92℉/33℃ and humid here in Milan), so they stopped my little group at the entrance, after we'd already purchased 3 tickets.
Luckily, we only had about 15 seconds of frustration. I said "Ah that's a shame", Sebastián responded "Oh I'm sure there's a shop around here somewhere", Tyler said "Markets in eve...
Posted on July 10th, 2019
My friends say that my calendaring practice is atypical (and mock me incessantly for it). They're not wrong, but I'll contend that most people underutilize this ubiquitous tool. A calendar is not just a reminder device for keeping track of external events. Used right, a calendar can be a full-fledged tool for thought. For me, it's a dynamic journal with a wide range of useful, meaningful, and surprising perks.
Here are some of the more idiosy...
Posted on June 9th, 2019
I snapped many photos while wandering Haifa last week, as I always do whenever I see something new or interesting while exploring a city. I was with my friend Tyler, who conspicuously does not take photos while exploring a new place. I asked him why, and his answer was, "It's a distraction, and I can find better images online."
The first half of his answer really resonated with me. I too find it distracting to document something in the midst ...
Posted on May 12th, 2019
For ages, I've wondered why Google Docs still clings to the sheet-of-paper metaphor when lots of its users never print out most of their documents.
Of course it does make sense for "Print layout" to be an option. Many people do print docs, and students make up a huge portion of the users. What I find strange is that Google Docs imposes this UI—you cannot escape the sheet of paper with its edges and isomorphic physicality even if you're just c...
Posted on April 7th, 2019
A special characteristic of open source software (OSS) is that you don't need institutional support to get started. It's interesting to compare this to physical infrastructure, like dams or railroads. Before you can begin those projects, you need upfront capital, permits, rights-of-way, environmental impact reviews, community hearings... and so much more.
By contrast, all you need in order to begin a digital infrastructure project is an inte...
Posted on March 23rd, 2019
I recently spent a day at Sea Ranch, a strange and beautiful place. Sea Ranch is a planned community with a distinctive architectural style: simple timber-frame structures clad in wooden siding, and gardens all planted with native flora. The Sea Ranch Design Committee enforces strict design rules on all 1,800 homes along that 10-mile stretch of the Northern California coast. The result is a cohesive, calming aesthetic unlike anywhere else I've...
Posted on February 9th, 2019
Many people have reached out asking what books have been most impactful in shaping my views on cities. I've written and rewritten answers enough times that I figured it's most efficient if I just write it up one time here and share the link. 🙂
Order Without Design by Alain Bertaud
Reason to read this: Offers rigorous yet humble models for how urban systems work. This kind of analytical rigor is incredibly rare in urbanism!
This was one ...
Posted on February 3rd, 2019
I. Loan application
Before serving time for mortgage fraud, Toby Groves seemed like the last person who would get into that kind of trouble. His older brother had been sentenced for the same crime twenty years earlier, and Toby had seen how it destroyed his family. He swore he’d never make a similar mistake.
Then in 2003, the company he’d founded ran into problems. Out of a sense of responsibility to his employees and their families, Toby to...