Hello, world! My name is Devon. I’m a writer of code and words. The thing that matters most to me is unlocking human potential, so I think a lot about incentive design, tools for thought, and cities.
What keeps me busy these days:
- I'm building a Chautauqua of the West.
- I interview computing pioneers for a video series called Tools & Craft.
- I write about incentive design, land use policy, tools for thought, placemaking, and more on this blog (you're looking at it).
Previously, in reverse chronological order:
- I founded GitHub Sponsors, a tool for funding open source software. This stemmed from research I did about coordination problems, market design, and anthropology in open source.
- I was a software engineer on the Identity team at Affirm.
- In college, I was Editor in Chief at The Stanford Review.
In my free time I read weird blogs, build side projects, and ride my bike. I love reasoning about, improving, and designing systems and infrastructure.
I also have a Spanish-speaking twin named "Devon número dos" who impersonates me around the web. I let her publish Spanish translations of my writing here every once in a while, and she tweets @devon_dos despite my efforts at restraining her.
I update this page in a sporadic and unceremonious fashion, so no promises that it's up-to-date. [Last update that I remembered to record: August 2021]
Strong opinions, weakly held
- Cities can be wonderful places to live, and they are key to a good future for humanity. Density—when done right—is green, encourages innovation, results in better communities, and makes us happier and healthier.
- The way we live is shaped by our infrastructure, so it’s important to get it right. At the same time, infrastructure is systematically undervalued. This is bad, but on the bright side it means that infrastructure of all types is a high-leverage place to devote your energy.
- Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
- Disneyland is the pinnacle of American art.
- 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.
- More detail in this post: On [there being more than] liberty
- All of your views need to be internally consistent.
- This is still something to aim for, but I no longer believe we should sacrifice all intuitions for the sake of consistency.
- If you enforce consistency above all else, you’re likely to be totally wrong about everything. If even just one of your base assumptions is slightly wrong, the entirety of your world view that is based on these assumptions is now incorrect.
- Powerful type systems can make programming more fun and productive.
- Unambiguous Webpack config with Typescript on the Webpack blog
- Important caveat — I don't think that types are always better, I just like them for much of the software I personally write.
- Mainstream politics are an intellectual black hole.
- Many of the topics people debate in mainstream politics are deeply important to making the world a better place, but the actual debates themselves are more performative than transformative. I try to avoid them and instead focus on taking action on the issues I think I can impact directly.
- You should always aim for direct manipulation of systems you're trying to change, because that results in the tightest feedback loop.
- To understand what I mean, watch Bret Victor's talk Inventing on Principle.
An abridged list of things I want to learn more about:
- Coordination problems & incentive design
- Urban planning, especially transportation
- Architecture, but not the magazine kind
- Tools for thought
- Bret Victor’s Ladder of Abstraction
- Michael Nielsen's call to incorporate emotional impact, change habits of mind, and reduce the burden on people's short-term working memory
- Steve Jobs' description of computers as "bicycles for the mind" doesn't go far enough
- Ethics & meta ethics – What’s your utility function? Really! Let me know!
- Synthetic biology
- Transhumanism and the idea that humanity is a "work in progress"
- Cooking – I’m really bad at it, but I like food
- Rationality and biases
- Group and organizational
- Cryptography, stenography, and information theory
Learning in public
I remember ideas best when I have the opportunity to discuss or explain them to other people. This blog is an experiment to see if summarizing, writing up reactions, and reiterating the highlights of what I’ve thought about or learned each day can have a similar effect.
I aim to write frequently enough that readers don’t ascribe posts as my static opinions but rather a stream of thoughts, caught in the middle of updates. A few things to expect as a result:
- Most of the time I’m not going to be super careful about editing. In my past, I was a perfectionist, and it paralyzed me. I’d prefer to do things at 90% of their maximum potential quality than to hobble myself and not let anything out unless it’s at 100%.
- I might change my mind. If I do, I’ll try to remember to make a note.
- I might write something just for the sake of exploring that idea, but I might not actually be sure if it’s a good idea. I’ll try to remember to include an epistemic status that indicates as such.
I’ve experimented with many different tools for augmenting the experience of reading and even tried building some of my own. These have been valuable to varying degrees, but nothing has had as great a ROI as simply teaching and exploring the ideas with another person.
I planned on simply writing these collections for myself as an extension of the isolated reading experience, but I realized that having an audience is probably an important part of what makes explanations so valuable in the first place – even if nobody reads these, the fact that they’re out there for eyes other than only my own will raise my standards and help me focus my writing for a particular audience.
This is meant to be a tool to augment my own personal learning as much as a way to share what I’ve learned, so if you disagree with any of the facts, summaries, or conclusions, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
My writing has moved around several times, and not everything survives each transition. You can find more of my work on Medium, my old site (devonzuegel.github.io, previously hosted on this domain), The Stanford Review, Strong Towns, and Market Urbanism. A subset of this site was originally hosted at ideacollector.tumblr.com (aliased to notes.devonzuegel.com). I used to maintain a list of projects I've worked on here, though I haven't updated it in many years.