October 2022 BenGoldhaber(.com) Newsletter
Clear eyes, good content, can't lose.
Purchases that have improved my life in October
Lasik: You know what’s incredible? You can go under a machine that shoots lasers into your eyes and in two minutes have 20/20 or better vision. I had hemmed and hawed on getting Lasik done for years, and in hindsight it’s obvious I should’ve done it a long time ago - an upfront cost and a day or two of discomfort for the benefit of a.) not having to worry about or pay for contacts ever again, and b.) a much better shot at surviving a zombie apocalypse. I also am really taken with the idea that I can turn money into superhuman powers like being able to see clearly when I wake up in the night and go to the bathroom. We live in an age of wonders.
Kensui EZ-Vest: A cleverly designed vest that lets you attach olympic plates to increase the weight when doing calisthenic exercises. I appreciate the simplicity of being able to crank out pushups and pull-ups in my home - every additional minute of travel time to the gym is a 5% reduction in the likelihood I’ll actually go - but at some point you top out in gains that can be made from your bodyweight alone.1 Normal weight vests are expensive for the limited range of weight options they present. This lets you easily add and subtract weight as you see fit per exercise, with a ludicrously high, aspirational ceiling of 300lbs.
A separate monitor stand: This will probably not be widely applicable, but I absolutely *hate* seeing my monitor vibrate when I type. It drove me crazy for a long time, until I purchased a projector stand and put my monitor on it, removed from the table where I slam my fingers onto my keyboard.
Introducing Steve Yegge: An essay from Steve Yegge on coming out of retirement for ‘one-last-score’, working for Sourcegraph to build better source code analysis. I include this because it’s a lucid description of an interesting business, and because it reminded me of Steve Yegge and his phenomenal essay/rant on Amazon and Google. I still think of that as the best single case study of tech companies and how their culture determines and is determined by their tech stack and business model.
Ten years of YIMBYism have accomplished a lot: An essay by Matthew Yglesias on the YIMBY movement and how dramatically the debate and landscape around building new housing has changed. I like this as an antidote to a form of political nihilism that I am, at times, guilty of - it’s easy when you’re well versed in all of the systematic reasons government fail time and time again to become cynical about the deliberative, democratic process. But it is in fact possible through longterm, consistent effort, to overcome concentrated special interests.
Why High Speed Rail Hasn’t Caught On: In case you thought I’ve gone soft and somehow forgot that California is in fact a banana republic2, here’s an article, in conjunction with a NYTimes piece, detailing the many ways in which the now 113 billion dollar high speed rail project was *never* going to work. The article talks about the fundamental economic reasons rail tends to underperform airplanes, and the NY Times goes into the corruption and political horse trading of CA politicians, but what is really important to remember is from the moment this was proposed this was extremely obviously going to be the outcome3. There was never a world, with the California government that actually exists and the project as designed, where the rail system was going to be efficient and competitive.
“SNCF, the French national railroad, was among bullet train operators from Europe and Japan that came to California in the early 2000s with hopes of getting a contract to help develop the system…. they told the state they were leaving for North Africa, which was less politically dysfunctional. They went to Morocco and helped them build a rail system.’ Morocco’s bullet train started service in 2018.
ExplainPaper: An impressive early prototype of an interface for large language models to help understand and decipher academic papers. I can see a version of this dramatically speeding up technical education, and helping to level the playing field for people when deciphering legalese and contracts.
OpenAI Whisper-YouTube Translator: The text transcription model from OpenAI is really fantastic, top-tier transcription capabilities. This is a Github Repo with a nice frontend to the model, where you can put in a link to a youtube video and get the transcribed text back. By default it only runs for eight minutes, but you can modify that in the settings.
Chip Explorer: An extremely in-depth, very well visualized explainer/overview of the semiconductor supply chain.
Classic Disney Stable Diffusion: A stable diffusion model trained on classic Western Animation, for making old-school Disney inspired AI art. This is from an independent ML creator who publishes a lot of fine tuned diffusion models - note the Disco Elysium character model (!)
House of the Dragon: I forgive you HBO for the final Game of Thrones season. This is great, a return to form echoing some of the best political intrigue moments of the early seasons of GoT.
The Mole: A fun social deception reality TV show on Netflix, where a team tries to accomplish tasks for money while one player seeks to undermine them.
The Golden Enclaves: The final book in the Scholomance trilogy, one of my favorite recent fiction series. Worth reading!
Practical Shooting - Beyond Fundamentals: I’m a terrible shot - though I am an aspiring expert marksman - and so I picked this book up when Dan Luu mentioned it as containing wisdom on not only shooting good, but in general how to git gud at any activity. After reading it I was most struck by the similarity with Inner Game of Tennis, another classic. They both preach the same advice that top tier performance comes from relaxing into the moment and not trying too hard. I intend to force that into my head one way or another!
I am aware I could hypothetically start doing crazy, one armed, pullup twirls or whatever instead of adding weight, but in that hypothetical I have far more balance and coordination than I’ve ever actually possessed.
For humanitarian reasons the United States should invade California and install a new government in Sacramento.
There are many instances where I will be modest and note how uncertain the future is and how we should be humble when we look back, but in this case it was truly written in stone this would be the outcome. For a more academic take on this immutable fact, consider this overview of the history and nature of Megaprojects, and then pair it with an article on the $1.7m dollar San Francisco toilet project.