Good Reading -- June 2019
Quoted “When I work I have no sunk costs. I like changing my mind. Some people really don’t like it but for me changing my mind is a thrill. It’s an indication that I’m learning something. So I have no sunk costs in the sense that I can walk away from an idea that I’ve worked on for a year if I can see a better idea. It’s a good attitude for a researcher. The main track that young researchers fall into is sunk costs. They get to work on a project that doesn’t work and that is not promising but they keep at it. I think too much persistence can be bad for you in the intellectual world.” -- Danny Kahneman (via Morgan Housel's blog)
Facts and Figures 28% of U.S. households -- comprised of 35.7 million people -- consist of a single person living alone. In 1980 only 23% of Americans lived alone, and in 1960 only 13% did. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)
Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed -- This book is more than 20 years old, but it's aging very well. It's a great time capsule of incredible people doing amazing things.
El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America -- I was an immediate sucker for the book given its title, book jacket, subject, etc. I will say that it is an impressive piece of scholarly research, but it could have been half as long (I never really got into it and skipped more than half of the chapters).
What Really Happened to Malaysia's Missing Airplane -- William Langewiesche is an exceptional writer, and this article is riveting. Highly recommended.
The author also wrote one of the most interesting articles I've ever read, The Human Factor, about the crash of Air France 447. I've sent it around three times and I've read it three times, and it's still worth revisiting.
Another related masterpiece: The Crash of EgyptAir 990.
The Peculiar Blindness of Experts -- David Epstein has a new book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, from which this essay is adapted. It leans heavily on work by Tetlock and others, tackling a favorite subject of Munger and others. It's a very interesting debate. This goes well with the Jared Diamond article below.
When Evidence Says No, But Doctors Say Yes -- Epstein wrote this in 2017 about unnecessary and unhelpful medical treatments. It's an awesome combination of thoughtfulness, research, and writing quality.
Jared Diamond: There's a 49 Percent Chance the World as We Know It Will End by 2050 -- I liked "Guns, Germs and Steel," but this...well, I have questions. I'd start with "Why 49%? Not 48%? Or Even 47%? It's a full 49% chance that the world will end in 2050? And not 2051? Can't we at least get to 2051???" (Also, that epic late-May snowstorm in Boston never happened; the latest-ever snow in Boston was 0.5" inches on May 10, 1977.)
The making of Amazon Prime, the Internet's most successful and devastating membership program: An oral history of the subscription service that changed online shopping forever -- The title says it all, but it is stunning that there is no mention here about retail subscription-programs like Costco...
Rise above it or drown: How elite NBA athletes handle pressure -- Even the best athletes in the most competitive league in the world suffer from pressure. A study found "detrimental self-focus": in home games with the outcome at stake, free-throw shooting declined as compared to similar situations on the road. But responses varied greatly by athlete. Larry Bird never felt nerves once the game started. Magic, LeBron, and Steph Curry all overcame early-career setbacks. Steve Kerr and Kevin Durant have learned to cope. "The last thing I want when I play is to be in my own way."
Buildings Can Be Designed to Withstand Earthquakes. Why Doesn't the U.S. Build More of Them? -- This article adds to some prior articles about the surprising lack of standards in engineering combined the geological prospects for big earthquakes in California and the Pacific Northwest. I thought the design principles -- especially the Apple headquarters' "triple friction pendulum isolator" -- were fascinating.
On the Trail of the Robo Call King -- I recently subscribed to Wired, which I should have done years ago. This article -- about the explosion of spam phone calls -- is a good example.
They Want It to Be Secret: How a Common Blood Test Can Cost $11 or Almost $1000 -- Exhibit 4,948,938,993 in the Inanity Files of Healthcare.
How a cheap, brutally efficient grocery chain is upending American's supermarkets -- A wonderful profile of the wonderful business that is Aldi, with important implications for branded goods/companies of all kinds.
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