How Starcraft can help your career.

Did you know that Starcraft 2 is remastered, and free to play now? Or that it can help your career? No, you don’t have to become a pro gamer.

We are organizing another Remote Meetup with my team and I was searching for a game we could play together to bond. Shopify CEO, Tobi Luttke is a huge fan of Starcraft 2, and (contrary to me), a gamer. I struggled to reconcile that with my prior experience – I just didn’t like that game so much when I played it first.

I firmly believe that I learned more about building businesses from playing Starcraft than I’ve learned from business books – Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke

Years ago, I preferred the “landrush” approach to strategy games (my fav being Red Alert 2 mostly because of corny soviet-inspired humor). I would get all my factories in place, get my ducks in a row, produce a giant army (of soldiers, not ducks), and only when I was ready, I would attack the opponent.

What makes Starcraft different (and was bugging me at the time) is that you cannot wait too long. The battlefield is always evolving, and waiting for the conditions to be perfect is a losing strategy. It immediately became an experience similar to my workday, where I have to prioritize things as they come along, not as I wish them to be.

Mike has an excellent article on Starcraft & Shopify that goes DEEP into this topic:

StarCraft is like a constantly evolving game of chess with incomplete information about the opponent’s layout, pieces, and attack/defense strategies. You must continually “read and adjust” your go-to-battle strategy as you learn more about your opponent’s positioning, buildings, and army composition. It’s an iterative loop.

Speaking of Shopify, Alex Danco has a great article “Six Lessons From Six Months at Shopify”, where he points out another game popular there:

It’s the one game that anyone at Shopify can expense. Because it’s just bound to be good for Shopify if people play Factorio for a little while. We’re building supply chains for our customers; logistics networks; and Factorio makes a game out of that kind of thinking. And you know what, it’s actually not surprising, cause that kind of thinking is super fun.

(I’m also super proud of my Brother-in-Law who helps make Factorio. Go Jerzy!)

Alex’s article also has a really good piece of career advice, that I have used inside Automattic with great success:

Familiarize yourself with the dozen senior people at Shopify who have the final call on really important decisions, from Tobi and Harley on down. You need to familiarize yourself with their operating philosophy around business and around how Shopify works. Go consume every written memo and every podcast episode (we have a great internal podcast called Context) they’ve ever done, get inside their heads, learn their perspectives and their preferences, and learn what gets them to say Yes to things.

Having an “internal model” of your “superiors” is an excellent way of not only doing what they want, but also making them do what you want.

If you know how somebody thinks, and operates lets you frame your ideas in a way that is appealing to them, or adjust them to meet mutual goals. It’s a first step of leading UP the chain of command.

Games and other media can help you understand well, the game being played around you. Don’t be clueless.

Surprising Consequences

Free stock & Free PR.

Austin Distel is a recurring revenue consultant that found an interesting way to stand out. He contributed loads of high-quality, free, and useful stock photos to Unsplash.com – THE site with free images for your blog posts. In return, he gets powerful SEO, branding & recognizability.

Check it out – chances are, you might have seen his face on the web. It’s the type of win-win solution that I love the most.

What can you do to help others help yourself?

Tyler Cowen is a Remote Believer now.

Tyler Cowen is a professor of economy at George Mason University. He has a wildly popular blog Marginal Revolution, and a podcast “Conversations with Tyler”. For the podcast, he used to interview interesting people from around the world, travelling to meet them.

However, the Covid remote work experiment has forced him to try doing that over the Internet. Despite his previous conviction that remote interviews will not be the same, to his surprise the episodes were just as good as the one in-person. There are milions of such stories.

Of course a fair amount of the economic activity will return to in-person. But enough people got forced to try otherwise, and didn’t resent the experience. Tyler still plans to travel post-covid, but estimates that a significant number of interviews are going to be remote from now on.

And that is the beauty of Real Remote™️. You can choose to do it, whenever it makes most sense, and you don’t have to be committed one or the other mode of operation.

Lessons Learned from Apple

Avy Faingezicht has shared his lessons he learned at Apple. I’m going to leave a few quotes here:

Everyone is winging it. Yes, experts too. What we call expertise is nothing but a mix of self-deception, ruthless focus, pattern matching ability, and just enough training data.

Truly, there are no adults.

Things happen because people make them happen

People are willing to listen to faceless systems more than they are willing to listen to other people’s opinions. Bake opinions into CI checks and no one will break them. Pick your rules carefully.

“Rules” that have long outlived their use is one of my biggest pet peeves.

Addressing the unaddressed

I recently stumbled onto this mythology-inspired artist. “Leonardo Di Vintage is my favourite”:

From mythology studio

Everybody knows how an address looks like, and everybody has one – right?

The first time I traveled to Japan I was shocked to learn that the addressing scheme works differently than in the west: The blocks are the ones that have names, not the streets. A few years later, contracting in the middle east taught me about whole countries having problems with addressing, and have to resort to landmarks.

Irish Postal system (AnPost) has a very flexible addressing scheme. This Tumblr blog set out to test just how flexible.

Starlink, 5G, and Mobile Internet are all rolling out in parts of the world known as “developing”, and bring with them the opportunities of the global economy, and the global job market to previously underserved populations.

Despite the Internet being very much location-agnostic, banking services, and regulatory requirements are not. Several projects are looking to address the unaddressed, bridging the gap between digital and physical location.

  • What3Words is a geolocation scheme based on a combination of 3 words. The globe is covered by a grid, and every square is identified by 3 English words. For example, our family’s favorite tree is located at Require.Travel.Blues. The problem with the adoption of what3words has been the licensing system of the company behind it.
  • Google has recently rolled out something similar – “plus codes“. You can find them in your Google Maps App when you try to share the location. The same tree is located at 9G4352QH+PX (11 characters), or “52QH+PX Warsaw, Poland” (7 characters + locality).
Google Maps App has an interface to find the plus codes.

Helping Non-Profits

I’ve helped a couple of non-profits in my programming career. They are always full of optimistic, energized, driven and fun people – completely opposite to most of the ‘corporate’ workplaces. I quickly learned, that every coin has two sides, and corporations are still around for a reason.

As with everything in life, the downsides are directly correlated to the upsides. Yes, in a Non-Profit, you can be a bit unpredictable and inexperienced. It does not feel like work and you get a breather from a corporate feel of a professional workplace. But guess what – other people get to do that too.

More advice on how to manage your relationship with the NGO you’re helping in “The price of free time: programmer’s guide to helping a Non-profit”.

Deliberate Internet

I miss my bar

Stuck at home during a yet-another lockdown? I miss My Bar will recreate a Main Street cocktail bar ambient sounds in your headphones, while Sounds of The Pub will do the same for a hip Pub.

Yes, I am sick of lockdowns, too.

Nirvana Fallacy

Anne-Laure wrote an article that I wanted to tackle for a long time. Only better. In “Nirvana Fallacy”, she dissects a limiting belief that prevents constructive solutions:

Nirvana fallacy is based on faulty reasoning, where an argument assumes that a solution should be rejected because some part of the problem still exists after the solution is applied

Here is an example straight from 2020:

Fallacy: “Wearing a mask is useless because it will not fully protect me or others from coronavirus.”

The public debate very often misses the point that done is better than perfect and there is an opportunity cost to waiting for well, nirvana:

In each case, the danger is clear: by aiming for a perfect solution, we may ignore a useful solution; by aiming to completely solve a problem, we may fail to at least improve a situation.

Happy International Forest Day! Here is a podcast.

Yes, I am writing about Trees AGAIN. How could I not? I just learned that today, March 21 is designated as International Forests Day! And I was just sitting here thinking that 1st day of Spring is a nice holiday.

You can celebrate that important day by listening to the superbly named “Completely Arbotrary” podcast, where hosts review and rate a new tree every week.

Competence is fractal. Plus transgenic trees.

Imagine being hired at your dream company. Finally, you move from the current pond limiting your potential to an ocean of new possibilities and challenges. You’d get to learn from the smartest people you ever hoped to meet, and challenge yourself in ways you never thought possible.

And yet, after a while, you’d find yourself shocked that in your new peer group not everybody is the smartest fish in the sea. Some of your new colleagues would be less driven, less experienced, or less capable even than you!

How can that be? In my dream job, a pinnacle of workplaces, and the awesomest place on the planet earth™️?

I came to the conclusion that competence is fractal. Companies, rooms (and reservoirs) have a different average competence. But inside those, the competence is distributed unequally – there are people less competent, average, and spectacularly capable. You can also keep “zooming”, and any subset will have a similar distribution.

In the 1960s, Benoit Mandelbrot has observed the same property of chaotic events in financial markets. Inspired by this behavior, he continued the work on what he later named Fractals.

8 MANDELBROT SET IMAGES ideas in 2021 | fractals, benoît mandelbrot, fractal  art
A “Mandelbrot Set” – a particular fractal. Click for a trippy fractal video.

Assuming your dream workplace will be full of superstar players may be caused by the over-prescription of Gaussian distribution. As Nassim Taleb points out in Black Swan, the Gaussian curve only works for properties physically limited to a certain range – like height. In my experience, competence is not such a phenomenon.

Any room you enter will have a broad distribution of competence, and I like to focus on 2 particular consequences:

  1. It’s better to enter the rooms where I have more to learn, but will be at the lower end of distribution at the beginning,
  2. I have every right to be at this lower end. Somebody has to.

Trees!

I know right? Always a good time to talk about trees.

Transgenic Chestnuts

Richard Powers’s “Overstory” inspired me to write about trees previously. One of the heroes of the book is American Chestnut, an iconic and once plentiful tree that sadly is not around anymore. As the Sierra club recounts in “The Demise and Potential Revival of the American Chestnut”:

Between 1904 and 1940, some 3.5 billion American chestnut trees, the giants of the Appalachian hardwood forest, succumbed to a fungal blight called Cryphonectria parasitica.

From the same article I learned that thanks to genetic engineering, there is hope:

The fungus in question attacks only the trunk of mature American Chestnut trees. Roots of these once ubiquitous giants are constantly (100 years later!) producing offshoots, which meet their gruesome fate after few years but still are able to pollinate. The American Chestnut Foundation has a blight-resistant, genetically engineered specimen (“Darling 58”) that could mate and produce healthy (and genetically diverse) offspring of the currently attacked millions of wild trees. Wild.

Aside: The same Nassim Taleb praising Mandelbrottian distribution over the Gaussian one is a huge opponent of GMOs. His argument is that there is too much we don’t know about their interaction with the environment.

Hungry Trees

Yes, more trees. this time swallowing trespassing signs. Because we shouldn’t be telling trees what to (or not to) do.

Go for a walk (preferrably in the forest)

“It’s a Superpower’: How Walking Makes Us Healthier, Happier and Brainier” (The Guardian)

One of the great overlooked superpowers we have is that, when we get up and walk, our senses are sharpened. Rhythms that would previously be quiet suddenly come to life, and the way our brain interacts with our body changes.

Read more about the benefits of walking on deliber.at

History is not that Deliberate

History is not only written by the winners. It’s also rewritten by people with an agenda.

Scholars and experts not only scour past events to highlight their favorite version but also according to their own philosophy of history. The most common are:

  • Great Man Theory – Churchill, Lincoln, Caesar, Charlemagne, Stalin. The greats have disproportionate influence over the events, and everything is basically backdrop. These heroes are the causes, and the rest of history is the effect.
  • Parametric Determinism – Geopolitics, class struggle, famines, droughts, and migrations are the lead dominoes causing history to play this way, or the other.

These theories pretend like the history is unfolding neatly, and if there is something the western culture cherishes it’s neatly categorized explanations. But I don’t buy it.

The world is chaotic, messy, and unpredictable. Random shit happens, and I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to subscribe to the random shit school of history, also known as the Butterfly Effect. In a sufficiently complicated system, the interactions between events are often random and tangled. The result is neither the intended outcome nor the best one. Moreover, once something catches on, it’s hard to change, even if the situation is clearly suboptimal.

  • QWERTY keyboard layout is by far the most popular in the world. It’s also objectively the worst. It was designed to prevent ‘locking’ in the mechanical typewriters, so it makes you move your fingers around the most, which is why your wrists hurt. Colemak and Dvorak on the other hand (pun intended) – were modernized for computers and the English language.
  • Tesla had to prove that electric cars are a viable alternative to the combustion engine. But we almost had electric cars since the birth of motorization. Edison thought electric cars are superior technology and Henry Ford was working on prototypes.
  • Recommended daily exercise is 10 000 steps because Japanese character for 10 000 looks like a man walking: 万

Almost everything you see around you is not that way because it’s a final evolutionary stage, but because of the complicated and mostly random history behind it. Except for crabs. Crabs are the final evolutionary stage of everything.

The answer? Be Deliberate. You should accept expert opinion, but dig in, and strive to understand it from the first principles. The world is messy and simple causal relationships are rare. Most explanations you hear in the news make up a good story, nothing more.

Some absurd stuff to keep you on your toes

One

In 2006 the Scottish government set out to rename their fleet of de-icing trucks (gritters), and they asked the most capable crowd for help: they ran a competition in primary schools. The result was glorious, as you can see on the live map. Some of my favourite trucks are named:

  • Lord Coldemort
  • David Plowie
  • For Your Ice Only
  • Gritney Spears
  • I Want To Break Freeze
  • Ice Breaker
  • Luke Snowalker
  • Sir Grits A Lot
  • Yes Sir Ice Can Boogie

Two

Soviets planned to build a fleet of nuclear-powered Zeppelins because what the Hinderburg catastrophe clearly lacked is an atomic bomb.

Three

After Home Offices became the mandatory workplace of no choice in 2020, Fisher-Price decided to also teach the new reality to the young ones:

Four

There is an official international standard for brewing tea – ISO 3103

Roam TODO exploder

If you use Roam Research, you might enjoy the plugin I made that makes your TODOs explode when you complete them. Here is a video.

Welcome to the talent wars

I believe (and hope) that the war as we know it is fundamentally an outdated concept. Jurisdictions (like Miami) will compete to attract talent, but that is not good news for unskilled labor, like gig workers.

  1. When we were fighters, we were fighting over herds of game and their territory,
  2. Then, the agricultural revolution came. The most important asset became fertile land, and the wars were fought over that.
  3. After the Scientific Revolution, we learned to process raw resources like metals, coal, and later oil.
  4. We are now experiencing the digital revolution. The new resource is going to be talent and talent is not easily captured in traditional warfare.
ValueAfter RevolutionWhat are wars fought overCountries that benefit
Fertile landAgricultural revolutionLand & peasants
You want to conquer easily arable land
Fertile Crescent, Mediterranean
Mined Resources (Metals, Oil)Scientific RevolutionResource-rich landColonial powers, plus resource-rich countries like Germany and the USA
TalentDigital revolutionNo wars, but hostile takeovers of talentAnybody who started educating in STEM like crazy 10 years ago

Two classes of employees.

Remote Work transition is certainly accelerating, but not everybody is benefitting from this situation. It has also lead to a new sort of class divide:

  • Talent” – highly skilled, and specialized experts that are constantly honing their craft and navigating the changing demands of the job market. During lockdowns, these people are known as the “Zoom Class” (because they can ride out the pandemic while working over zoom).
  • Gig workers“, who we treat as a utility, and depend on to provide us with the endless stream of Amazon purchases and Uber Eats orders. Also known as the “Heroes

Nick Rimedio, who serves on the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said the lockdowns had widened a class divide. While quarantine has been almost relaxing for what he called the wealthy “Zoom class,” it has been a nightmare for the poor and middle class who have storefronts or work service jobs in businesses in the area, he said.

New York Times

Talent is the new Oil

Automation is coming after our jobs, and I have written before how to protect yourself against that. But in the meantime, workers take time to train. With technological progress, complexity in many industries is unfathomable and requires highly trained labor. Which takes time, and can be rushed only to a point.

Training somebody to do basic programming tasks can be done in 6 months, but the way of thinking about the world needed to succeed in the information economy takes years to acquire.

We are post-scarcity on almost everything else, and I believe the talent will be the new frontier.

On the commodity metaphor

While drafting this newsletter, I wanted to compare “Gig Workers” to commodity and “Talent” to differentiable products. But I don’t think that’s entirely correct. There is a huge pool of the talent group that has commodity-like properties.

The majority of tech workers are uniform and replaceable enough. I’m sure that’s the case in many other specialized fields – creme de la creme will be irreplaceable, but the others will eventually be automated away.

The promised talent wars

War is a bit of a clickbait, but various initiatives around the world are trying to capitalize on the location independence of the “Talent” group.

  • When you bring together talented people who like to create things, Startups & new industries will take care of themselves. We have seen this in Florence, Venice, Paris, and later New York and Silicon Valley
  • These people tend to be compensated well (an argument can be made that unfairly so), which means higher tax revenue
  • They also have more discretionary income, some of which they will spend locally,
  • Children of educated&motivated people tend to turn out the same way. This is a flywheel for the community.

Miami

For a while now, Silicon Valley is downright hostile to the tech industry, behaving like an abusive partner that took your passport. Lockdowns took away any benefit of staying in San Francisco (meetups, conferences, and chance encounters), and multiple tech giants have adopted Remote Work (latest big news is Spotify pointing out that “Work isn’t something our people come to the office for, it’s something they do”).

Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami jumped on the chance of turning the city into a tech hub and his efforts are inspiring. He is personally helping tech influencers move to his constituency, and now he’s reaching out to SV employees by the means of a billboard. In San Francisco.

“Thinking about moving to Miami? DM me”.

I’m not able to put together a coherent sentence about how transformative can it be to have supportive, effective, and accessible local legislation. Books will be written about the emergence of the Miami tech hub.

It’s not only about talent. It’s a fight for taxes

Municipalities seeking tax revenue is of course nothing new. But traditionally, the way to do that was to create jobs, which would both provide income to residents and attract talent.

Remote Work is changing that. Having a job in one place, and living in another is now possible, and something I myself practice. But in this new world, how do cities fight for taxes? Are they even entitled? The problem is already here.

Japan’s home tax

Every country with a “superstar” city has this problem: smaller towns are investing in family-friendly infrastructure and education, only to see its citizens move to the one superstar city and continue paying taxes there.

Japan has an interesting solution, called ふるさと納税 (Furusato Nouzei or, roughly, the Hometown Tax System). In an interesting quirk, a taxpayer can select a town at her discretion, and the towns started to compete on “gifts” they would send to incentivize choosing their municipality for the ‘donation.’ From Patrick Mckenzie:

The three farming communities we’re using all had a monthly subscription option for things produced locally, and they sound like e.g. “A rotating box of seasonal fruits produced in our town. Here’s the schedule: January, 500g of… February, a box of… The aesthetics of that are brilliant; fruit on our table will have come *from a place.* The economics are brilliant; probably half of the fruits are things we, like a typical Japanese family, wouldn’t generally choose to eat in a year.

For a while, cities even offered a “kickback” in the form of travel vouchers and other cach equivalents. Government had to put a stop to it in 2019. Read more in this essay and Tweetstorm for an incentive-exploration filled ride.

Furusato-tax.jp is a comparison site that lets you browse the best offers for the “thank you” tokens. Caviar? Wagyu beef? Sushi? They got you covered. This wouldn’t be possible without the Internet.

Specialized cities

Just as Japan’s towns are specializing in Wagyu-beef-for-tax-donation schemes, other cities are seeking to attract Nomads and professionals:

What will happen next?

Each of the revolutions outlined at the beginning of this post has shifted economic opportunities from incumbents to new countries:

  • The agrarian revolution has brought prosperity to those with fertile land and water access
  • The industrial revolution brought demand for steel, potassium, and eventually, oil, which meant prosperity for Germany and the USA
  • The Digital revolution will shift the production centers to places abundant in highly educated and motivated workers,

Two countries in particular are well positioned to benefit from this new world order:

  • China, which has a head start because the industry has already shifted here,
  • India, which I’m especially optimistic about, because of their proficiency in English. Programming languages are all modeled after English grammar and English is already lingua franca. For better or worse.

Since I like having skin in the game, I’m investing in the Indian stock exchange. I started this thread on Reddit, and people shared great pointers. One thing I took away from GameStop is that Reddit has sold financial advice.

While the world order will be reshuffled, cities will specialize in attracting a certain kind of worker, with unique preferences. The concentration of artists and professionals in cities like Florence has led to Renaissance, and I hope it will lead to something good this time as well.

And I also hope we’ll find a way to trickle down these benefits to gig workers too. Wars may be over, but revolutions can turn out bloody too.

Penguins and Effective Advice.

Last week’s deliberate newsletter issue about Tesla, Bitcoin, and Ducks turned out to be a spectacular success, so I have an important update to share with you today. Did you know how flamboyant Northern Rockhopper penguins are? Well, now you do.

Image courtesy: @kaleybrauer

Another important piece of information about penguins is that there are penguins in Africa! I had the privilege to swim with them in Cape Town.

Best Advice is what NOT to do.

My mom loves sharing unsolicited advice with me, and my grandpa is a master mansplainer. He would ask me for help on something I do for a living and later interrupt me to explain a detail I just told him. (I think I may have inherited some of this advice-giving enthusiasm since, well, here is another email from me.)

We live in a post-scarcity world of information. The shortage of opinion is not a problem we have to solve. Quite to the contrary – we are bombarded with options and would gladly defer to someone to remove some of the choice.

And yet, people still act as if “just another idea to consider” is something we crave. My personal pet peeve is googling an article full of general non-information ending with “you should act in accordance to your personal situation and consider other sources.”. I know that, but JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO.

If you want to be most helpful, here is my advice-giving algorythm™️ (also on Twitter):

  1. Ensure that the other party is indeed seeking advice. It’s very likely that they’re seeking support or encouragement. Professional problem-solvers tend to skip this step.
  2. Good advice is NOT a truckload of other things they could worry about. People seeking advice are overwhelmed already. The best help is curing that overwhelm.
  3. The best advice is: “at your stage skip all this and all that. Here is the step you should focus on. Here is how you start”.
  4. The best way to know is to ask “What have you tried?
  5. Remember that advice is about helping THEM. Not giving you an opportunity to finally regurgitate all you know about a topic and prove that you haven’t wasted 5 years studying it. Give them a starting point. The simpler the better and don’t overwhelm them with information.
  6. The best advice is “don’t worry about these 10 things. It’ll sort itself out, or you can look at this later”.

Julia Evans, in her article “How to Answer Questions in a Helpful Way” recommends prefacing the answer with even more prompts:

  • Rephrase a more specific question back at them (“Are you asking X?”).
  • Ask what prompted their question.
  • Ask, “Did that answer your question?

Surprising Consequences of the Internet

Superstar Cities Are in Trouble (the Atlantic)

The Remote Work experiment of 2020 has caused a massive exodus from the world’s biggest cities. Employers had no choice but to permit working from home, and that has allowed deliberate choice about where this home should be.

Beyond anecdotal accounts of bankers fleeing Manhattan and tech workers saying sayonara to the Bay Area, we have loads of private data to back up the story that superstar cities are in trouble.

Redistributing workers (and tax revenue) to smaller towns is the most exciting consequence of Remote Work. I have been betting on this outcome for a few years and I’m really happy to see it start.

Superstar pain could be America’s gain—not only because lower housing costs in expensive cities will make room for middle-class movers, but also because the coastal diaspora will fertilize growth in other places.

Working From Bed Is Actually Great (New York Times)

Continuing the trend of surprising consequences, it’s now socially acceptable to work from your bed! Mostly because nobody cares. What you do in your bed is your business, even if that means business.

Working from bed is a time-honored tradition upheld by some of history’s most accomplished figures. Frida Kahlo painted masterpieces from her canopy bed. Winston Churchill, a notorious late riser even during World War II, dictated to typists while breakfasting in bed. Edith Wharton, William Wordsworth and Marcel Proust drafted prose and verse from their beds. “I am a completely horizontal author,” Truman Capote told The Paris Review in 1957. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down.”

“Being in bed is great,” he said. “I wish, in general, there were fewer norms and standards around where it is and isn’t acceptable to work.”

Almost a Jurassic Park (Traveller)

Clive Palmer wanted to build a hotel resort in secret, so he disguised it as a “dinosaur park” in documents. He thought he’d get less attention that way.

“…Then, in Paris and London and Frankfurt and Beijing, they started writing these articles to say that we were going to clone dinosaurs here.”

“We had 500 scientists applying for jobs, which got me thinking – there must be something in this dinosaur thing,” he said.

Bitcoin, Tesla, Bears, and Ducks

Bitcoin and Tesla.

Yeah, I know – such a tech bro topic, right? I’m only going to mention this to squeeze in “I told you so”. I concluded last week’s Deliberate Internet issue with:

Maybe this all will accelerate cryptocurrency adoption similarly to COVID accelerating Remote Work? We’ll see.

Turns out Tesla has bought 1.5 Billion USD in BTC this January. Here is the Bitcoin price over the last week (32% increase):

Despite being a finance guru, and a clairvoyant to the future, I am more skeptical of BTC than your average tech industry worker. I don’t understand how debt is supposed to work in a Bitcoin-first economy, and it’s bugging me.

Debt is an integral element of the economic cycle and small or big “busts” are both expected, and necessary. You can learn more in this 30-min video by Ray Dalio.

Since Bitcoin has a “hard limit”, it cannot be inflated and in consequence – disallows Quantitative Easing. If you have an idea how QE will work in a BTC world, let me know (also let me know if you want me to expand on this question). Until then, I’m going to treat Bitcoin as a speculative investment vehicle.

A few things I wrote

I have drafted all these pieces some time ago, but haven’t found the time to publish them before. Enjoy!

Amazing things other people wrote

  • The Town That Went Feral
    I’ve mentioned one argument why I am careful around Bitcoin. The other being that it sounds a little too libertarian. People have learned to cooperate via social norms for a reason, and hard libertarians tend to learn that lesson a little too late. The Town that Went Feral is a story of Bears and Men. Particularly, libertarian Men.
    A group of libertarian activists attempted to take over a tiny New Hampshire town, Grafton, and transform it into a haven for libertarian ideals (…) Enter the Bears (…) Free Town Project began to come apart. Caught up in “pitched battles over who was living free, but free in the right way,” the libertarians descended into accusing one another of statism, leaving individuals and groups to do the best (or worst) they could. Some kept feeding the bears, some built traps, others holed up in their homes, and still others went everywhere toting increasingly larger-caliber handguns.
  • The Career Page Crisis
    Paul Millerd has browsed corporate career pages and has found claims ranging from unsettling to hilarious to cult-like.
    Companies started to market working at their companies and use language like “find your calling” or “do the most important work of your life.” AirBnB’s page tells people that they can “life their best life” at AirBnB.
  • Australian Duck Fashion Show
    Nuff said.

January 2021: GameStop, Parler, censorship, and crypto.

You thought 2021 is going to be an oasis of tranquility compared to the dumpster fire of 2020? After 31 days, there is A LOT to unpack in the events of January 2021, but I’m going to focus on events relating somewhat to the Internet. Keep in mind that this is all fresh and we’ll likely see consequences in the future:

USA Coup d’etat and subsequent bans.

Image
For a “foreign national” from a country that the USA has been patronizing, I can definitely empathize with the Kenyan national newspaper coverage of the situation.

An angry mob has stormed the US capitol trying to capture votes declaring the victory of Joe Biden as the next US president after Donald Trump. In more than 220 years, the capitol has not seen violence like this. More on Wikipedia.

Attackers coordinated via Parler – a social network with minimal focus on moderation, funded by right-wing activists. They were also encouraged by Donald Trump on Twitter. Following the attack:

  1. Twitter has banned Donald Trump’s account (for some illegally, for some too late)
  2. Parler has been banned by App Store, Play Store, Twilio, and Amazon Web Services. This has sparked a debate about the nature of private censorships and corporate control. Here is an excellent thread by Cory Doctorow.
    But we have a duopoly of mobile platforms, an oligopoly of cloud providers, a small conspiracy of payment processors. Their choices about who may speak are hugely consequential, and concerted effort by all of them could make some points of view effectively vanish.
  3. Researchers have also exposed a slew of security vulnerabilities, and what can only be described as comedy of errors in Parler.
    Leaving location data inside photos, exposing ‘private’ content publicly, and allowing everybody to create an admin account, and so on. Considering that some users (including public officials) were live streaming their insurrection, it’s just a treasure trove of legal evidence that’s going to be very helpful for law enforcement.

The bans and ‘censorships’ have sparked a debate since US Social Media platforms are benefiting from a regulation called “Section 230“. Platforms like Facebook are not liable for the content people post there unless they act as a publisher. An argument can be made that editorial decisions (aka bans) are making them more like a publisher, thus liable for stuff people post there. And there is A LOT of questionable user-uploaded content. We’ll see what happens next.

Stock Market Tea Party (aka Gamestop)

Look at the scale on the right. GameStop has gained over 1000% in the last month. The growth highlighted by Google is 67% TODAY.

We have seen some interesting behaviour in the Stock Market. Here is roughly the order of events:

  1. A company called GameStop is like a BestBuy for games. Since the company is being effectively replaced by the Internet, hedge funds have put bets on it failing,
  2. These bets on failure (aka Shorts) are leveraged – it means that they have the ability to put disproportionate loss or profit. The hedge funds were betting so much on GameStop failing that the sum of these bets was 140% of the stock’s total value. This makes no sense but is not explicitly forbidden,
  3. People on Reddit, in particular, a user named DeepFuckingValue, has figured out that if they can make GameStop stock rise, the hedge funds will start bleeding money because when the stock goes up, shorts expire in a way that makes the stock go even higher. It’s called “a short squeeze.”
  4. Most of the Redditors are trading via an app called Robinhood, which allows trading stocks for free. Their business model relies on selling your trading data before your trades close. The firm which buys that data (Citadel) presumably is doing automated sentiment analysis. Some people speculate that this sudden spike in interest has triggered bots that joined in on the trading, compounding the following issue:
  5. Reddit users banded together, motivated each other with hilarious memes, bought the GME stock, which made it skyrocket and bankrupted Melvin Capital (a particularly nasty group of scoundrels and also a 13 billion dollar hedge fund) in the process. DeepFuckingValue has turned 50 000 USD into 13 million.
  6. Wall Street freaked out. NASDAQ CEO has suggested halting trading for the big institutional players to “recalibrate their positions,” and CNBC has been showcasing a parade of ‘industry experts calling for stopping this.

The problem with “containing” the situation is that Redditors did nothing wrong. They have just beaten hedge funds at their own game. They were even more ethical than the usual crowd since they gambled with their own money, as opposed to somebody else’s.

The trick worked, because Redditors (and everybody who joined them) were not only seeking profit, they wanted to make the suits (hedge fund managers and other members of the financial inner circle) bleed. They were willing to risk a lot only to showcase how rigged the system is against the retail investor.

Since the communication is happening on Reddit, it’s producing some particularly funny memes:

If you want to know more:

As with Bitcoin, I invested a small amount in GME to have a little skin in the game. And as with BTC, it immediately taught me a lot about my own investing psychology. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night to see that I gained 130% and see a 50% loss 15 minutes later. I sold everything a day after buying to stop looking. You may want to play with tiny amounts like this – you will learn surprising things about your own behavior.

What happens next?

Where it comes to interpreting these events I’m torn between two angles:

  • These events have the potential to accelerate decentralization. Parler bans have shown that there is a handful of companies that can control (for better or worse) many other startups. The aftermath of GME-gate highlights that the “free market” isn’t really free. There is a handful of gatekeepers, including SEC and they’re showing utter contempt for the retail investor.
    We finally have viable alternatives, and multiple “tech celebrities” have put #Bitcoin in their Twitter Bios over the last week. Maybe this all will accelerate cryptocurrency adoption similarly to COVID accelerating Remote Work? We’ll see.
  • This is just too much. Humans have limited f*cks to give (or, put in intellectual terms: people have recency bias). Even as I’m writing this, I have trouble remembering the beginning of the month, so I find it hard to care about events from the first week of 2021.

I think that is enough for both January 2021 and this edition of Deliberate Internet. I hope next week I’ll have less to report.

Most Deliberate reads of 2020. Plus a Baby!

Yes, I know you were missing the weekly Deliberate Internet installments and they have been the only thing that helped you survive 2020. I missed writing them too, but I took a little break to welcome my baby girl to the world.

Yes – I am a dad now, so you may expect a little bit more parenting content, liberally spiced of course by my tech, remote, and post-soviet perspectives.

And Yes – if you want to see something more personal, I’ve published a letter to my girl on Piszek.com, where I share my hopes and fears for this new journey of parenthood.

Ten best things I’ve read in 2020

Artur, wouldn’t it be cool if it were 20? Ha! See – I am a smart parent and resist the urge to be cool, but instead, go with being practical. This is what dads do. I’m so ready, cargo pants and all.

Turns out I didn’t read nearly as much as in previous years. When the Western society’s complete and utter failure in handling the pandemic became clear, I became disillusioned by intellectualism. I’ve read fewer articles and books since apparently being well-read does not necessarily translate to better decision-making.

This theme is also clear from these recommendations below. I spent the entire year (as I suspect many of us did) wondering a bit “where did the things go wrong?”. I’m currently working on a draft titled “All the [postmodern] world’s a stage” where I explore blaming postmodernism – stay tuned (or email me if you have thoughts on the topic).

#1 What’s the deal with these new vaccines? [berthub.eu]

Reverse Engineering the Source Code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine is an accessible, fascinating analysis of medical history unfolding before our eyes. The author lists all the clever breakthroughs packed in this new breed of mRNA vaccines and explains why the framework holds promise for other diseases.

For computers, this is RAM, for biology it is RNA. The resemblance is striking. Unlike flash memory, RAM degrades very quickly unless lovingly tended to. The reason the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine must be stored in the deepest of deep freezers is the same: RNA is a fragile flower.

#2 Brief history of the Corporation [ribbonfarm]

A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100 sheds light on the corporations through the ages. Following the COVID-19 economic turmoil, we can expect some big government bailouts which will predictably spark discussion around corporations holding too much power. (Currently, we are witnessing that discourse around censorship following Parler bans, but that is an entirely separate topic.).

If we want to discuss this productively, we have to recognize that this is not a new situation, and learn from past mistakes. Venkatesh’s post is an excellent, and entertaining overview of corporate economic history.

Conventionally, it is understood that the British and the Dutch were the ones who truly took over. But in reality, it was two corporations that took over: the EIC and the VOC (the Dutch East India Company,  Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, founded one year after the EIC) the Facebook and LinkedIn of Mercantile economics respectively. Both were fundamentally more independent of the nation states that had given birth to them than any business entities in history. The EIC more so than the VOC.  Both eventually became complex multi-national beasts

#3 Keep your identity small [paulgraham]

We’ve seen some interesting political turmoil recently. Keep your identity small posits that most of the disagreements in today’s world come from attaching too much of your identity to an idea. If your entire self is invested in being from a certain tribe, you will protect that point of view even if it stops serving you.

So it’s not politics that’s the source of the trouble, but identity.

On Paul Millerd’s amazing Substack, I have written a similar piece expanding on the idea in the context of Remote Work.

#4 It’s time to build [andressen-horowitz]

I’m not the only one fed up with the West’s performance over the last year of the Pandemic (YES, it has been a year!). Marc Andressen, creator of the first Internet browser (and a Venture Capitalist now) has published a call-to-arms urging everyone to just start building: It’s Time to Build.

You don’t just see this smug complacency, this satisfaction with the status quo and the unwillingness to build, in the pandemic, or in healthcare generally. You see it throughout Western life, and specifically throughout American life.

#5 The Art of Gig [ribbonfarm]

The Art of Gig is an exquisite Cyberpunk-themed corporate satire. If you spent any amount of time around consulting business, this short story will take you for a ride filled with truths so deep your diaphragm will hurt from laughing.

A good leader, when asked, “Do you want to be perceived as a Strong Big Man Leader or a Humble Servant Leader” will always reply “both,” and mean “neither.”

#6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person [cracked]

Were it any other year, my biggest surprise would be recommending an article from Cracked.com. 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person is full of honest, timeless, and BS-free advice that we stopped receiving in Western Society. It’s also a quick read!

The human mind is a miracle, and you will never see it spring more beautifully into action than when it is fighting against evidence that it needs to change.

#7 The Meritocracy Fallacy [princeton]

If you have achieved any modicum of success, it becomes very seductive to attribute that success to yourself. This is known as the “Fundamental Attribution Error” and yet, we have turned this into an ideology – the Meritocracy.

In A Belief in Meritocracy Is Not Only False: It’s Bad for You, Mark Clifton explains why it’s as the title promises – false, and bad for you.

In addition to being false, a growing body of research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that believing in meritocracy makes people more selfish, less self-critical and even more prone to acting in discriminatory ways. Meritocracy is not only wrong; it’s bad.

‘paradox of meritocracy’ occurs because explicitly adopting meritocracy as a value convinces subjects of their own moral bona fides. Satisfied that they are just, they become less inclined to examine their own behaviour for signs of prejudice.

#8 How to pick a career [waitbutwhy]

I am not sure I’ve read this article in 2020, but it doesn’t matter. Go read “How to Pick a Career” because it may change your work life.

When it comes to careers, society is like your great uncle who traps you at holidays and goes on a 15-minute mostly incoherent unsolicited advice monologue, and you tune out almost the whole time because it’s super clear he has very little idea what he’s talking about and that everything he says is like 45 years outdated.

There are likely dozens of awesome career paths that beautifully match your natural strengths, and it’s likely that most other people trying to succeed on those paths are playing with an outdated rulebook and strategy guide. If you simply understand what the game board really looks like and play by modern rules, you have a huge advantage.

#9 The Internet of Beefs [ribbonfarm]

The Internet of Beefs is a strategic analysis of conflict modes on the web. It provides a framework for understanding how come there is so much vitriol on the web.

A beef-only thinker is someone you cannot simply talk to. Anything that is not an expression of pure, unqualified support for whatever they are doing or saying is received as a mark of disrespect, and a provocation to conflict. From there, you can only crash into honor-based conflict mode, or back away and disengage

#10 The trees. Oh, the trees. [amazon]

My biggest (in every sense of the word) recommendation is “The Overstory” by Richard Powers. A beautiful, captivating piece of fiction about Trees and humanity’s place around them. I wrote a little bit about the Trees on the Internet in a previous issue.

What were your favourite reads of 2020?

Do you have something I should read in 2021? Please do share! I’m currently searching for good Parenting-related content for obvious reasons, but I’m very curious about any topic on my mental atlas.

And have a splendid 2021! I know I will.

A Crow for Christmas

Winter is coming! Or – more accurately – the Winter Hollidays.

I will spare you a reflection on what an exciting year it was – I think you may have noticed. But instead, I will give you a peek into these scary Victorian Christmas Cards:

Writers Block Block

A few months ago, I wrote about GPT-3 – a new, best-in-class Artificial Intelligence text generator created by OpenAI. This week, I got access to the algorithm and proceeded to create a WordPress plugin that will help me write new posts.

I will keep you updated, but in the meantime here is a poem half-written by my lovely wife and half generated by a machine:

Don’t ask me
Why I tried to
Swallow the Ocean again


No human heart
Can contain
Koalas war and Betelgeuse


Pieces of me
Cloud of debris
Around what’s left of our world


It was the Ocean
That swallowed me

My Wife on her blog

And it will be the Ocean
That spits me out again

No one knows
What I’m after

And I’m not sure
I’ll be able to find my way home

Writers Block Block via GPT-3

Surprising consequences

Human-Made Materials Now Outweigh Earth’s Entire Biomass

In a shocking twist of events that is surprising to noone, humans have produced more materials than the nature itself – reports a paper published in well, Nature.

Their research shows that human activity including production of concrete, metal, plastic, bricks and asphalt has brought the world to a crossover point where human-made mass – driven mostly by enhanced consumption and urban development – exceeds the overall living biomass on Earth.

The amount of plastic alone is greater in mass than all land animals and marine creatures combined, the study estimates.

I will refrain myself from comment, since my recent delivery lifestyle is producing a lot of waste, but… damn. BTW – here is a video explaining why recycling is a sham.

Do you know how many people live in megacities?

Megacities are one of the more iconic examples of humanity’s footprint. According to Gapminder research – when people have estimated how many people live in huge agglomerations, they guess about 30%. Our culture is full of references to urban life and stories of high-powered middle-class families working in ‘the city’.

But as Gapminder reports, Less than 8% of the world’s population live in megacities.

Since products, laws, commercials and TV shows tend to be designed in those megacities, they are overrepresented and their inhabitants most tended to. The most impactful aspect of Remote Work may be the chance the other 92% of the world population may finally get on the job market.

The future of Work Is Written

While we’re chatting here about Remote Work, The Increment has published a very insightful article about writing skills as essential skills of telecommuting. I particularly enjoyed tying “the new” with “the old”:

Constitutional governments are great examples of how written artifacts can survive—and influence work—across centuries. For example, the U.S. Constitution passed down detailed instructions on how to make decisions without telling future participants in the governing process what decisions to make.

The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has been working at a distance for centuries;