Longreads + Open Thread

Nuclear, TikTok, Science, Berkowitz, Housing


  • Some environmental activists choose to advocate for nuclear power. It will be interesting to see how NIMBYs act as the swing vote here: in theory nuclear power plants are unsightly and perhaps scary (in practice, of course, they are extremely safe). But relative to solar and wind, they're compact, so fewer people have legitimate NIMBY concerns when the grid is more nuclear.

  • Eugene Wei on the many atomic concepts of TikTok. This is the "How" to his previous essays on the "What" and "Why" of TikTok. The company has created a status ladder that it owns, and can sell admission to each rung in exchange for more content and data. This essay looks at how that process works. (But also, see this piece on how TikTok's parent company blocks content objectionable to the CCP.)

  • Tyler Cowen interviews Patricia Fara. I have always enjoyed the fact that the tradition of majoring in physics and making a ton of money in finance actually dates back to the seventeenth century, or perhaps earlier. This interview looks at Isaac Newton's career at the mint, and many other tidbits from the history of science.

  • Canuck Investment Analyst reverse-engineers the rise and fall of Bruce Berkowitz. Reverse-engineering a successful investment or a disastrous one is a good exercise. Trying to do the same for a career is hard, because there are more degrees of freedom. Greatness followed by hubris makes the same prediction as a series of lucky coin flips followed by reversion to the mean. But it's very valuable to try.

  • Philo of MD&A looks at what you pay for when you buy a house. The more expensive the house, the more you're paying for the expectation that fewer houses will be built nearby.


  • The Grid by Phillip Schewe is a history of the electrical grid, mostly in the US (with brief interludes in other places). One of the later chapters in the book, in which he accompanies utility workers for parts of their shifts, is an illustration of the incredible scale of the modern grid. He watches someone repair a transformer, and notes that once the transformer is fixed, no human being will see the inside of it for a half-century or more.

  • Gretchen Bakker also has a book called The Grid, a similar work with much more focus on the limits to the modern grid and efforts to replace it. Recommended for good context on how renewables are changing things, for better and for worse.

Open Thread

  • One thing that makes the electric utility industry interesting is that the era of rapid growth in the US ended about fifty years ago, and fifty years is roughly the useful life of a power plant. What other infrastructural—physical or institutional—is due for more rapid turnover soon?

  • Diplomacy has existed for a long time, but some norms like the wonderfully petty act of expelling a country's ambassador to express displeasure, got codified relatively recently. Will social networks make contributions to the theory and practice of diplomacy as they figure out which governments count as legitimate-albeit-not-fully-democratic (e.g. Turkey) and which are beyond the pale (e.g. Myanmar). Or will they have to keep the decision process ad hoc instead of formalizing how they actually draw the line?

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