Remainders: From Systems Thinking to Stephen A. Smith
Been awhile since I got one of these Remainders posts out. For the uninitiated, it’s a chance to share some of what I’ve been reading/seeing. You can find past versions filed under Remainders. Also, if you want to subscribe to the email so you actually find out when things are published here (on the rare occasion they are), please sign up here.
Alright, let’s start with books. Since last time I’ve read:
- China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know (Arthur Kroeber): Long and probably way more detail than I needed, but offered an interesting glimpse into how China became the country it is. Definitely start with this podcast before you decide to read the book.
- Free-Range Chickens (Simon Rich): Simon Rich is funny and I needed a break after the China book. This is an hour or two of reading. You can also just start by checking out his humor writing in the New Yorker (go with Sell Out first).
- Jennifer Government & Lexicon (Max Barry): Two sci-fi(ish) novels by Max Barry. Jennifer Government is about warring loyalty programs and Lexicon is about mind-controlling words. The latter is better. Fun and easy.
- Men Explain Things to Me (Rebecca Solnit): Given everything that’s happened with #MeToo over the last year, it’s fascinating to go back and read this as it foretells a lot of what we’ve seen. Also, Rebecca Solnit has become a must-read for me and I’m looking forward to digging through more of her work.
- Born Standing Up (Steve Martin): Steve Martin talking about his life as a comedian (I did the audiobook for this one, which he narrates).
- E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation (David Bodanis): This was probably my favorite of the bunch. Sounds dry, but it’s a fascinating account of an equation I didn’t really understand. Takes you through in a step-by-step manner (it literally starts with “e” and then “=” and so on).
- Thinking in Systems (Donella Meadows): I’ve read most of this once before, but I thought I could use a refresher. This is a foundational text in systems thinking and is actually easier to read than it first seems.
- Bad Blood (John Carreyrou): The story of Theranos. Couldn’t put this down once I started.
Now onto the links.
Speaking of Donella Meadows and systems thinking, you can find lots of her work at the Academy for Systems Change site. Check out her writing on leverage points especially. Also, here’s her iceberg model:
This New Yorker story by Patrick Radden Keefe on a Dutch woman who testified against her mobster brother is amazing. Her book, which was a bestseller in the Netherlands, just came out in English this week (I thought it was coming out later this month … guess I know what I’m reading next).
Despite it’s $120+ billion market cap, Adobe is mentioned shockingly infrequently amongst the top software companies in the world. This piece by Blair Reeves does a lot to tell the story of how the company has achieved what it has.
For a few years now I’ve had a personal policy to try to give people on the street asking for money something if I’ve got it. This article makes a good case that it’s worth doing:
Much more research exists on giving cash to the poor in developing countries. Jeremy Shapiro examines the effects of giving money to people in need through his work as a co-founder of GiveDirectly and as a researcher with the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics. At GiveDirectly—a nonprofit that, as its name suggests, offers cash with no strings attached—he worked on a study in Kenya; between 2011 and 2013, the researchers determined, the program improved people’s food security, allowed them to buy other crucial goods (from soap to school supplies), and was beneficial to their psychological well being. Counter to my childhood lesson, recipients didn’t spend any more than they had in the past on so-called temptation goods like alcohol and tobacco. “The takeaway is surprisingly unsurprising—when you give money to poor people good things happen,” Shapiro said. “People eat more, they invest in businesses; you see people reporting being happier and less stressed out.”
Ray Lewis got inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame this week. 18 years ago he had some involvement in a murder. How he’s avoided talking about it and come to be revered is a story in and of itself.
- The origin of inches and centimeters from E=mc2: “The conversion factors seem arbitrary, but that’s because they link measurement systems that evolved separately. Inches, for example, began in medieval England, and were based on the size of the human thumb. Thumbs are excellent portable measuring tools, since even the poorest individuals could count on regularly carrying them along to market. Centimeters, however, were popularized centuries later, during the French Revolution, and are defined as one billionth of the distance from the equator to the North Pole, passing by Paris. It’s no wonder the two systems don’t fit together smoothly.”
- Surfers in cold water can develop a condition called surfer’s ear, a condition where additional bone grows in the ear canal, blocking hearing and making them more susceptible to ear infections.
- The cells that helped with finding a polio vaccine (amongst many other things) were taken from an African-American woman in 1951 and the family is only now getting some control over the widespread use of their genomic data.
- Phantom Kangaroo is a report of kangaroos or wallabies in places where there are none.
This is a good visualization of roster turnover in this year’s NBA offseason:
Really amazing piece by Guardian writer Hannah Jane Parkinson on her struggle with bipolar disorder.
- Reply All on QAnon
- All the episodes of Caliphate
- And then Rukmini Callimachi on Longform
- This episode of the Acquired podcast on Tesla is a fascinating deep dive
- American Fiasco is a short series on the disaster that was the 1998 US World Cup
- If you’re a total basketball nerd you probably already listened to the Dunc’d On Mock Offseason (part 1 and part 2). If you’re not, listener beware: It is like D&D meets fantasy basketball for nearly 5 hours.
This story about a fungi that drugs host insects with psilocybin has everything. This bit is my favorite:
And at some point during this work, it dawned on Kasson that he was working with illicit substances. Psilocybin, in particular, is a Schedule I drug, and researchers who study it need a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration. “I thought: Oh, crap,” he says. “Then I thought: OH CRAP. The DEA is going to come in here, tase me, and confiscate my flying saltshakers.”
The article that eventually ended up with Elon Musk calling one of the Thai cave rescuers a pedo is worth reading. It makes a case for specialization that’s interesting:
The Silicon Valley model for doing things is a mix of can-do optimism, a faith that expertise in one domain can be transferred seamlessly to another and a preference for rapid, flashy, high-profile action. But what got the kids and their coach out of the cave was a different model: a slower, more methodical, more narrowly specialized approach to problems, one that has turned many risky enterprises into safe endeavors — commercial airline travel, for example, or rock climbing, both of which have extensive protocols and safety procedures that have taken years to develop.
I love these pieces by the artist 1010. Here’s one:
Last, but not least, who doesn’t want to read a profile of sports-mouth(???) Stephen A. Smith? Also, if you haven’t already , go and read The Awl on Stephen A., which includes the canonical Stephen A. Smith parody tweet (for those that haven’t heard him before, he has an uncanny ability to get himself into a frenzy about anything and a willingness to always take the other side):
Thanks for reading. Please let me know if I missed anything, feel free to share with others, and subscribe to the email if you haven’t already. Thanks!