Longreads + Open Thread

Obesity, Narrative, Cloud, The Coin, Reputation, Virtue

Longreads:

  • The Browser interviews Slime Mold Time Mold, authors of an excellent series on obesity. One key point: academic research creates a huge amount of raw material that can be converted into something popular; the obesity blog post series is partly a summary of available research, and partly a way to make the totality of that information more widely known.

  • Kevin Kwok on narrative and fundraising. Don't miss the bit about the Perception-to-Reality ratio, a form of leverage with all the attendant opportunities and dangers of other kinds of leverage.

  • Protocol on how IBM lost the cloud: IBM and other cloud companies did a lot of listening to customers, but if you listen to bigger customers who are already spending money on other services, you'll get a very different message.

  • This piece came out last year, but is worth reading now because of the perennially interesting question: should the US mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin to avoid breaching the debt ceiling? Everyone agrees that this is a stupid question, but there is a vigorous debate over which part of it is stupid: the gimmicky solution, or the problem? (For what it's worth, minting the coin does technically appear to be legal.) One point the piece makes, which is an important one, is that minting the coin is an arbitrary ritual with real significance—so, depending on your perspective, it's either a ritualistic acknowledgement of how much the government does for people or a ritualistic acknowledgement that the US government spends a lot of money.

  • A16Z's Future has thoughts on monetizing reputation. Part of the trouble with making reputation explicit is that it's a single variable that's actually used to describe how a person from some defined group feels about some other person. So you can have different reputations in different domains of your life, and find that they're not especially fungible. Abstractions tend to get digitized over time, though, so the right bet is that there will be some software representation of reputation in the future, though it's still hard to say what it will look like.

Books:

  • Machiavelli's Virtue is a collection of essays on Machiavelli's works, including the famous ones and some more obscure pieces like The Art of War. The book, like other Machiavelli commentaries, is an effort to figure out what he was really thinking, which turns out to be less a statement about any particular kind of government, or even any particular moral standard, and more a commitment to realism—which includes both an understanding of devious amoral conspiracies and the realization that a country ruled by successful schemers is probably not going to be a great place to live.

Open Thread

  • Drop in any links or books of interest to Diff readers.

  • There are stories about individual investors who made staggering amounts of money investing their own capital in the stock market, generally due a combination of 1) decent excess returns, and 2) a long lifespan. (If you're compounding at 15% annually, the difference between doing it until you're 70 and doing it until you're 90 is another 1,537%.) Here is a good example. What's the largest personal fortune created without outside investment in global macro, though? There are big macro fortunes, but many of them come from management and performance fees, not from compounding. One subscriber suggests Hetty Green. Any others? (An edge case answer is that some fortunes were made in post-Soviet Russia from essentially being short the ruble and long natural resources. And this implies a corollary: many of the big “macro” fortunes of this kind might come from people who were only obviously making such a bet in retrospect.)

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