Meta: Where I’m going with this newsletter thing

I doubt that many of you lovely people are sitting there thinking, Hey, I wish Paul would write something about where he is going and what he is doing with this newsletter thing. Never one to resist the opportunity to piss strangers off, this is that.

I started this newsletter, as the joke goes, ten times for every once I actually turned it concrete. A commitment phobe of a particularly extreme form, the idea of doing anything on a regular basis — beyond personal grooming, and even that, in my view, can be let slide a few days given sufficient new snow — is more or less anathema to me, especially if it’s something people think I should be doing because that’s what other people do in the same context. I know, I know, but still.

Nevertheless, this is now a newsletter thing, complete with a surprising number of subscribers, and there are a bunch of people in the Schrödingerian state that is having subscribed to something briefly lovely, but that will almost certainly turn tedious, predictable, and solipstic — that is, you’ve subscribed, but like me, you’re just waiting for an opportunity to unsubscribe — causing you to regret your brief and unjustified foray into optimism that made you subscribe to Another Damn Newsletter in the first place.

I’m here for you. I get you. I feel the same way. But, you know, screw it, right?

So, having taken a year off Twitter, and then gone largely broadcast-only on Twitter, I got to thinking: Twitter is too short for some of the longer things with which I would like to burden people. Sure, tweeting out periodic “tl;drs” with snarky summaries of research papers is fun, and I like stretching the boundaries of Twitter’s 280-character limited with lists of links, but it still feels like dancing about architecture, as the saying goes. Having stalled long enough, meandered a little, and retailed some hoary jokes, where do I want to go with this? Good question. Here is what I’m currently thinking:

  1. Regular links of things, with comments about why it appealed to me, in areas that interest me, but may not interest you. Finance, math, and medicine interesting me most, but I can’t guarantee there won’t sometimes be snow forecasts or critiques of zero-drop trail shoes.
  2. A weekly single other thing. Currently those other things are videos — and by “currently”, I mean “twice”, which is how often I’ve actually done this so far. (Notice how quickly I end-run the whole having done something to reminisce how I have done something. Let that be a lesson to all of you in po-mo efficiency.)
  3. Less regular essays. I have a backlog of Long Thoughts About Things that I mostly wrote for me, and then didn’t do anything with. I also have a bunch of things like that I’m in various stages of writing. (Notice how carefully I avoid calling these Long Thoughts About Things “blog posts”. This is not an accident, given that the word “blog” gives me hives.)
  4. Other things. I have other things I want to do, some of which are entirely automated and I’ve always wanted to inflict on people on a regular basis. I’m planning to charge millions and millions of dollars for this feature, as you can imagine.

This is usually the point at which right-thinking people say something like, Let me know what you think, or Send me an email with other ideas, etc. But, honestly? I could do that, but I don’t really care. Not because I don’t think you’re all lovely people, deserving of every good thing that has happened to you in life, path dependency issues aside. I just can barely keep up with my own inadequacies, and I don’t need other people to add to the list. So, imagine me asking you for suggestions, imagine you sending them, and then let’s both not do that.



P.S. I promise not to do this sort of “meta” thing very often.

Readings: Cheating casinos, dumb spouses, codgers, and the future of life

Finance & Economics





Video of the Week: The ecology of society, from microbes to public goods

Ecological and economic systems are alike in that individual agents compete for limited resources, evolve their behaviors in response to interactions with others, and form alternately exploitative and cooperative interactions. The talk looks at the evolution of resource allocation and the evolution of cooperation in dealing with public goods, common pool resources and collective movement. It includes examples from bacteria and slime molds, to vertebrate, to insurance arrangements. Dense, but fascinating stuff, from a recent Santa Fe Institute talk. 

2019 03 01 09 31 59

Reading: The grandmother effect, Lyft, and digital minimalism





Readings: Smart socks, bad medicine, and the case for stealing more


  • Can Medicine Be Cured?, a fierce book by an Irish gastroenterologist about medicine’s failings, especially over-promising, researchism, and a fondness for health hyperbole
  • This whole video series by an Irish gastroenterologist is excellent, but this one, in particular, is very good: The stupidest nerve in the human body



Readings: Vegetarians, ETFs, energy, surveys, and eagles






Voids, competitions, Norwegians, and Talk Talk





Videos of the Week: 23-02-2019

Two videos worth sharing this week, one recent and one less so.

The Big Short: A Roundtable

The first one is from a roundtable of the cast and director of the finance classic The Big Short, along with writer Michael Lewis. While the interviewer is so-so, at best, the discussion is surprisingly interesting, especially some of the musings about the health effects of being a short-seller, the trouble with being outside the consensus,

Beyond the Pistes: A Winter in the Life of a Ski Patrol

The second is very recent, and it documents a year in the life of a top French ski patrol at a major resort. It is wonderful, haunting, and has breathtaking scenery, but amidst the successes and losses, it is a lovely homage to teamwork, risk management, and mountain life.

Five Things: Newsletters

Every Friday I’m going to put out a list of five things, somehow related, that are worth thinking about, getting, subscribing to, etc. It could be anything, albeit legal, with the main thing linking them — wait for it — is that there will be five of them.

I’m not the first to do this, of course. You can, among other things, think of this an homage to the excellent Five Books. Whatever, though: These are my Five Things.

This week my list is newsletters. While there are too many of them, of course, almost certainly including this one, they are still useful, filling an interstitial somewhere between tweets, blog posts, and, heaven forfend, columns. The best newsletters combine intelligence, serendipity, commentary, and regularity in the right mix.

My five-picking criteria:

  • Not just blog posts that are mailed around, which is perfectly line, but not really a newsletter.
  • Not obvious, like Matt Levine’s maddeningly excellent Money Talk. If you don’t subscribe to Matt, that’s on you, and me mentioning it here isn’t going to fix anything. (There are many others like that, like Bill Bishop’s Sinocism, of course, so my focus will be on ones that you’re probably not reading, and that are worth checking out.)
  • Not paid. This is a hard one, because I like people getting paid for things, especially me getting paid for things, but this time around I’m focused on free letters.
  • Not stocks or investing. While those can be fine, and some are sort of entertaining in small doses (like this one or this one), they are too focused for what I’m trying to do here, and that takes all the fun out of it.
  • Fairly regular, but not too regular. I hemmed and hawed on this one, in particular, because I’m hardly one to talk here, but I want newsletters that show up less frequently than Gap promotions, but more frequently than, say US elections. Sadly, that rules out a few excellent ones, like my friend Sam Arbesman’s Cabinet of Wonders, but this why I’m here: to make the tough, completely arbitrary choices.

Btw, notice how I’ve cheated here, saying that I’m going to mention just five newsletters, and I’ve already mentioned five in saying that I won’t mention them below, which means I’m ten newsletters, which is not five, no matter how you think about it. Yes, I’m prone to cheating like that — get used to it.

So, here are five newsletters worth checking out. If I did this list on a different Friday I might very well end up with a different list, but these five will do today.

1) Annie Duke

Annie, a former gambler, wrote a great book about how to think probabilistically, and now she collects her thoughts and puts them out every Friday in a letter. It is smart, informal, and entirely worth reading.

2) 5it: Alexis Madrigal

A man about intellectual town, as well as a journalist, Alexis ranges widely, but always thoughtfully. Topics touched on include the history of capitalism, docks, containers, and the meaning of work. He makes it work, no pun intended-ish.

3) Internal Exile: Rob Horning

Rob writes about consumerism and technology, but does it in a deep and nuanced way. A recent piece about the nature of textual engines and deep fakes was a good example, with it taking issue with both alarmists and scientists in equal measure.

4) Book Marks

A sort of Rotten Tomatoes of books, this is a bit of a cheat on my part, but it’s still useful and overlooked. It puts out a weekly meta-review of books, classifying the tenor of professional reviews from raves to run away, more or less. Many interesting things pop up.

5) BIOMCH-L literature update

Another pseudo-cheat, but still too wonderfully bizarre to miss. This is a regular compendium of all the latest noteworthy publications in the biomechanics literature. If you only read it for the closing “Unique Topic” and “Pick of the Week”, your applied biological work will be done for the week.

So that’s five newsletters worth checking out. All interesting in their own right, but also a nice cross-section of the sort of things worth tracking when you get outside the beaten path of WSJ/NYT/Medium letters that you don’t need to read because everyone else you know already does and can’t wait to tell you about it.