Longreads + Open Thread

Cybercrime, Publishing, Data, Mystery Seeds, Panic, Oil

Longreads

  • A look at coordination problems and corruption in a cybercrime investigation. Most businesses try to be as simple as they can, and avoiding unnecessary cross-border activity is a big part of keeping a business simple. But hacking benefits from the jurisdictional and cultural arbitrage: digitally, they exist in the sorts of high-trust countries where someone might give out a password over the phone, or download a random file without double-checking with the sender. But physically, they exist in low-trust places where they can convince law enforcement to leave them alone.

  • An interesting interview with a sort of Overton Window-washer: a publisher at a conservative imprint of a major publishing house. The business problem here is very different from moderation, but the social problem is the same: the user base of a social network can have very different norms and expectations than the people running it, and it takes deliberate practice for them to relate to one another.

  • Getting more data does not mean getting better answers. This is a meta case study in the general observation that social phenomena that exist broadly are most easily measurable in finance. Dumping lots of data on someone can obscure the real story; there's even a movie about this. But with financial data we have a sense of just how much. (It's important to note that, while the "risk factors" section in 10-Ks and S-1s is a lot of boilerplate, it does sometimes have specific disclosures, especially when the company has had a near miss that corresponds to one of their risk factors.)

  • A minor subplot in 2020 was the epidemic of people receiving strange seeds in the mail from China. If you had any lingering questions about that, this article mostly clears it up, at length.

  • Must we hide the truth during a crisis to prevent widespread panic? No, people are surprisingly well-behaved during disasters, including epidemics. This is clearly not universally true, and the article discusses several counterexamples. But it's a good corrective.

Books

  • The Prize is a good book to reread periodically. The oil cycle is probably the most important in the world—even when many countries have explicit plans to stop depending on oil over the next few decades, few of them have contingency plans to reduce oil dependency immediately in the face of higher prices. (One of the drivers of the early 2000s run-up, which is not covered in the book, was that a lot of the easy energy efficiencies had been mandated by either regulation or economic imperatives in the 70s; there was less room for conservation, so demand was less elastic.) Even though oil is consumed and produced around the world, sometimes the price is dependent on the decisions of just a handful of people.

Open Thread

  • Drop in any links of interest to Diff readers, including things you wrote.

  • Given yesterday's post, I'm especially interested in newsletters covering small-cap companies, or specific industries.

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