Links – 009 (Sunday)

1. The number of 15-year-old male students in Sweden who don’t speak the mother tongue jumped from 5.7% in 2016 to 11.1% in 2019. (Article in Swedish, but Google translate does a good enough job)

2. BART’s sharp turn in Oakland was built to avoid a hardware store.

3. Duck feet!

4. Decoupling, US-China edition.

5. Outsiders, on the top 8 CEOs of the 20th century by value returned to shareholders.

…a very select group of men and women who understood, among other things, that:

  • Capital allocation is a CEO’s most important job.
  • What counts in the long run is the increase in per share value, not overall growth or size.
  • Cash flow, not reported earnings, is what determines longterm value
  • Decentralized organizations release entrepreneurial energy and keep both costs and “rancor” down.
  • Independent thinking is essential to long-term success, and interactions with outside advisers (Wall Street, the press, etc.) can be distracting and time-consuming.
  • Sometimes, the best investment opportunity is your own stock.
  • With acquisitions, patience is a virtue… as is occasional boldness.

If you’re skeptical:

…on average they outperformed the S&P by over twenty times and their peers by over seven times

Airframe IP spillover effects into engines

From a working NBER paper by Walker Hanlon and Taylor Jaworski:

Our main empirical analysis documents two patterns consistent with the theory. First, after IP protection became available to American airframe producers, the rate of improvement for key performance measures accelerated. This is apparent either when focusing only on changes within the United States over time or comparing the United States to other countries. Prior to 1926, innovation in airframes was typically slower in the United States than in comparison countries; after 1926, the rate of innovation was faster. This suggests that providing IP protection had a positive effect on technological progress in airframes, as predicted by the theory. Second, we find that the rate of innovation in aero-engines slowed after 1926. Again, this pattern appears when looking at the United States over time, as well as relative to available comparisons countries. Since there was no change in the availability of IP protection for engine technology, we attribute this slowdown in the United States to the spillover effects of granting IP protection to airframe producers.

Links – 006 (Monday)

Czech-Chinese relations.

Mark Fisher on ancient texts in modern politics.

The strangeness of Berlin. “So what’s attractive about Berlin is precisely what’s missing in the cities that are beautiful. It’s not perfect and it cares not to be. Walking through its streets and thinking about the place is unsettling; you don’t know if something strange and unfortunate is going to happen next. That gives it an incredible vibrancy, a freedom that comes from knowing that it doesn’t have to be gorgeous or be beholden to the aesthetic past.”

Stock markets in the rise of the Nazi party. “After the summer of 1932, the rising tide of Germany’s recovering economy lifted all boats. Following the “seizure of power,” investors may have cheered the appearance of a more broadly based government. In addition, those firms that supported the Nazis financially or had business leaders with strong links to the NSDAP on their boards experienced share-price increases many times larger than the general rise in the market… The modal return on Nazi-affiliated firms was about 8 log points higher than for unconnected firms.”

Who killed the railroads?

This has been bothering me for a while now. I don’t fully buy the argument that cars outright destroyed the US railroad industry between 1900-1930. Passenger rail, maybe, but railroad conditions and use had steeply declined by the 1920s, (less than?) a decade after the Model T and the implementation of the assembly line at Ford(1). By the time the rails were being ripped out to build roads, they were in terrible, sometimes unusable, condition.

I haven’t read a whole lot on the development of trucks, but my assumption is that cargo trucking didn’t develop as fast as commercial auto. Roads were pretty bad until the 20s, when Thomas Harris MacDonald took over the Bureau of Public Roads. It couldn’t have been the shipping container, either, because that wasn’t widespread until after the 1950s.

So, what gives? What additionally led to the decline of railroads? Did their use decline even during World War I (adjusting for wartime passenger rates)? Did road building actually speed up the decline of railroads much more than I had assumed? Is my understanding of the whole thing wrong?

If you have any recommendations to answer any of the above, please let me know!

(1) Contrary to popular belief, Ford did not invent the assembly line. The idea was implemented by William Klann, a Ford production manager, after visiting a Chicago butcher shop.

Links – 003 (Sunday)

It’s been a while since I did one of these!

An oral history of Gordon Teal. The Engineering and Technology History Wiki has some neat rabbit holes in general.

Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army. One of the most niche and interesting books I’ve read recently. I don’t think most people fully appreciate and comprehend the massive empire he was able to build in just seven (!!!) years through nonstop conquests.

Man’s Rights and The Nature of Government by Ayn Rand.

Starlink is a very big deal. “Even taking into account its ludicrously low usage fraction, a Starlink satellite can deliver 30 PB of data over its lifetime at an amortized cost of $0.003/GB, with practically no marginal cost increase for transmission over a longer distance.”

Divided Highways by Tom Lewis. A bit repetitive at times, but an overall good book on the history of American highways.

Oral history of Tom Perkins, by the man himself. (video)

The Soviet Union’s consecutive week (and why it’s a very bad idea).

The loss of dexterity in surgical students.

Dabbawalas are underrated.

Virginia Trimble has seen the stars.

A company in Japan makes life-like human-wearble masks of pets.

Skip the small talk (part one)

I’ve been running an experiment where I ask people at least one of the following questions to understand their thinking and personality better. I feel like a lot of time is wasted on small talk and discussing work, so I encourage you to skip all of that and see what interesting conversations come out of these questions!

  • If you were going to be frozen tomorrow for a one-way 1000-year interstellar voyage, what would you most want to communicate (and to whom) before you leave?
  • What do you think you’re most likely to regret on your deathbed?
  • What do you miss most about your past that could be recreated today?
  • What’s the most important thing to remember daily that you haven’t been able to?
  • What help could you most use that you haven’t asked for?
  • What is your one piece of advice to everyone here?
  • What was the last thing you fell in love with?
  • When was the last time you felt unbounded optimism?
  • Who was the last person you felt inspired by?
  • What simple thing still blows your mind?
  • What sparked your curiosity in whatever you’re most curious about now?
  • What’s the most useful concept you have that doesn’t have a name?
  • What’s something you believe but can’t defend?
  • What taste do you have that most people don’t have, where does it come from, and how has it helped you?
  • What is your most radical belief?
  • Do you think it’s more important to follow the “written” rules or the “unwritten” rules? What is one unwritten rule that you’ve learned?
  • What is the most significant thing you’ve changed your mind on in the last year? Why did you change your mind about it?
  • Which fictional character would be the most boring to meet in real life?
  • What’s the closest thing to real magic?
  • If you could know the absolute and total truth to one question, what question would you ask?
  • Which question can you ask to find out the most about a person?
  • What do you want your epitaph to be?
  • There are two types of people in this world. What are the two types?
  • What is something you are certain you’ll never experience?
  • Who is/was your most interesting friend?
  • What small gesture from a stranger made a big impact on you?
  • If you had a clock that would countdown to any one event of your choosing, what event would you want it to count down?
  • What are three of the most significant numbers in your life?
  • Which of your personality traits has been the most useful?
  • Imagine you have a closet full of robots at the ready. Which of your various obligations would you assign to a robot? Which tasks and activities would you keep to yourself, because you enjoy them too much to delegate them to even a robot who is better than you?
  • What is the best measurement of how an idea is absorbed into culture?
  • Do you think you’re undervalued as a person? If so, why?
  • Why are some people so addictive?
  • What color best describes your personality?

Part two will be up when I come up with new questions!