on 12 October 2013
The genius of the minimum guaranteed income, and the reason that it could possibly appeal to both liberals and libertarians is because in this case it does precisely the opposite of what you're afraid of: the government doesn't pick anything. 
They give it to everybody. If you think that the government does a poor job of allocating the absolutely colossal amounts of money currently spent by social programs, or you recognize that trying to "do a good job" and prevent fraud, and all the other social engineering requires a vast, wasteful bureaucracy, then this is an interesting option 
This is a program that eliminates extreme poverty, but requires almost no infrastructure. You'd only need to verify that recipients are citizens and that they file their taxes. Since you can abolish Social Security, a stripped down social security bureaucracy, which already prevents people who haven't paid into social security from receiving benefits, could take over that task. 
It could allow one of the largest and most sweeping reductions in the size of government in our lifetimes. 
And if you believe in freedom, but also want to live in a country where people don't have to beg for food, then this is your best bet. You trust people to make their own decisions about what benefits them and their family. You don't discourage work or enterprise.

I think it's a political long shot of epic proportions, but also a great idea.
--DavidAdams discussing Rather than cuts, Switzerland discusses Star Trek economics.
on 19 September 2013
Regarding the article, Children Are Suffering from a Severe Deficit of Play 
Having grown up in the late 80s in an East Block country, this article resonated very strongly. Growing up in that place and time was akin to 50s America - no cable, consoles, arcades, VCRs or handhelds. We had TV, but it only had the single state broadcast channel which played only one cartoon.
The only thing to do was play which we did prodigiously - I was part of a large mix-aged group (6-12 kids, 5 years age difference) and we would play everything (sports, house, building things, demolishing things, raising stray animals, foraging fruit, fighting other kids). It was a great childhood and neither I nor my childhood friends (most of us are still friends, even across continents) would trade it for anything. Interestingly, it was almost the same childhood my mom and dad had.
My sister (the de-facto leader of our group) now has children and their childhood could not be any different - constantly shuttled from home to school to organized activity. Play only for a bit under heavily supervised conditions (ie, birthday party at another kids house) and filled to the brim with tablets, phones, computers etc.
I feel very bad for my nephew's effective lack of childhood, even more so because it seems that doing something differently is a big social taboo. My mom, siter and I have talked about this, and my sister described being almost powerless - who would they play with? Where? What are other parents going to think? etc etc.

When I go to places like rural Belize or small-town Costa Rica I see kids still playing and I wonder if that's not the best place to raise a small kid (4-10 years old).
on 18 September 2013
Golden nuggets, originally posted here

1. "All businesses need to be young forever. If your customer base ages with you, you're Woolworth's."
2. "There are two kinds of companies: Those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second."
3. "Your margin is my opportunity."
4. "If you only do things where you know the answer in advance, your company goes away."
5. "We've had three big ideas at Amazon that we've stuck with for 18 years, and they're the reason we're successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient."
6. "I very frequently get the question: 'What's going to change in the next 10 years?' And that is a very interesting question; it's a very common one. I almost never get the question: 'What's not going to change in the next 10 years?' And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two -- because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. ... [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that's going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It's impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, 'Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,' [or] 'I love Amazon; I just wish you'd deliver a little more slowly.' Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it."
7. "If you're not stubborn, you'll give up on experiments too soon. And if you're not flexible, you'll pound your head against the wall and you won't see a different solution to a problem you're trying to solve."
8. "Any business plan won't survive its first encounter with reality. The reality will always be different. It will never be the plan."
9. "In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts."
10. "We've done price elasticity studies, and the answer is always that we should raise prices. We don't do that, because we believe -- and we have to take this as an article of faith -- that by keeping our prices very, very low, we earn trust with customers over time, and that that actually does maximize free cash flow over the long term."
11. "The framework I found, which made the decision [to start Amazon in 1994] incredibly easy, was what I called a regret minimization framework. I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, 'OK, I'm looking back on my life. I want to minimize the number of regrets I have.' And I knew that when I was 80, I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed, I wouldn't regret that. But I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day."
12. "We innovate by starting with the customer and working backwards. That becomes the touchstone for how we invent."
13. "When [competitors are] in the shower in the morning, they're thinking about how they're going to get ahead of one of their top competitors. Here in the shower, we're thinking about how we are going to invent something on behalf of a customer."
14. "A company shouldn't get addicted to being shiny, because shiny doesn't last."
15. "I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out."
16. "If you double the number of experiments you do per year, you're going to double your inventiveness."
17. "If you never want to be criticized, for goodness' sake don't do anything new."
18. "If you're long-term oriented, customer interests and shareholder interests are aligned."
19. "Invention requires a long-term willingness to be misunderstood. You do something that you genuinely believe in, that you have conviction about, but for a long period of time, well-meaning people may criticize that effort. When you receive criticism from well-meaning people, it pays to ask, 'Are they right?' And if they are, you need to adapt what they're doing. If they're not right, if you really have conviction that they're not right, you need to have that long-term willingness to be misunderstood. It's a key part of invention."
20. "You want to look at what other companies are doing. It's very important not to be hermetically sealed. But you don't want to look at it as if, 'OK, we're going to copy that.' You want to look at it and say, 'That's very interesting. What can we be inspired to do as a result of that?' And then put your own unique twist on it."
on 25 July 2013
Change what you can. Accept what you must. And know the difference.
on 14 July 2013
Comfort sells easier than happiness. Comfort is easy. It requires no effort and no work. Happiness takes effort. It requires being proactive, confronting fears, facing difficult situations, and having unpleasant conversations. 
-Mark Manson
on 25 May 2013
A lot of people spend decades chasing something that someone convinced them they should want without realizing it won’t make them happy.
Derek Sivers
One of the lenses on my five-year-old frames popped out yesterday. I know it's around the house somewhere, but it seems to be doing an excellent job of hiding. Although I don't have horrible vision, having corrected-vision makes interacting with the world so much more pleasant. 

Since I was looking at the various options for purchasing glasses online, I thought I'd post my findings here. It's a short list, but at least it saves me 30 minutes of searching the next time I need glasses. 
They all have relatively high search-rankings and were mentioned a few times on various discussion boards. I have yet to purchase anything, so I can't comment on purchase-experience or product-quality. 
on 04 April 2013
Swedes are secure in their identity because even the poorest and least talented Swede can expect a good life and the richest, most talented ones don't grudge them their standard of living as "unearned" or "undeserved" the way capitalists do in the US and India.
This is not an argument for state socialism of the Swedish variety. It is perfectly fine to attempt to get there in other ways (through entrepreneurship or whatever).  It is perfectly fine to end up with unequal societies and launch moon rockets. So long as there is continued attention to raising the floor continuously. 
The important lesson to take away from countries like Sweden is that social identity and pride is NOT based on your greatest achievements. It is based on the things you are least proud of. The dark stuff. The stuff you like to sweep under the carpet. The stuff you put in closets when visitors show up at your home. Which in general translates to "how a society treats its least fortunate members."
Venkatesh Rao

on 26 February 2013
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
on 18 January 2013
I wasn't able to quickly find the answer to this question, so I thought I'd just figure out the answer and post it here for anyone else who is ever curious.

Question: How much bandwidth is consumed if a 56kbps connection is left open (and used to maximum capacity) for a month.
Answer: 17.3 MB

The easiest way to do the arithmetic is by making the numbers as small as possible right off the bat. Since 8 bits make a byte, a dial-up modem is able to push 7 bytes a second. And since there are 86,400 seconds in a day, we have a maximum of 604,800 bytes in a day, or 0.576782 MB. Multiply that by 30 and we find that the maximum capacity of a dial-up connection is 17.3 MB per month. Wow. That's nothing.

The reason I was thinking about this is because I just received a new Huawei cellphone for $15. It's a backup phone in case I ever lose my main one. For that price, you just can't go wrong. I'm surprised at how cheap and relatively full-featured it is, for a basic phone (though it does feel a bit like a toy). Since I don't make many calls at all, I was wondering what else could be done with something like this. Well, how about an always-on dial-up connection for a stop-motion camera?

But based on the math above, this wouldn't make much sense. The cheapest unlimited voice-only plans I've come across are $20 a month, which equates to over $20 per MB in this case. That's higher than roaming data rates in Russia. Nuts to that. I'll stick with a 4G connection, especially since there are at least a couple of new providers offering free data of up to 500 MB per month.
on 13 January 2013
You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.
-Winston Churchill-

I'm not sure if the attribution is correct (it may be--I just haven't checked). Regardless of whose words these are, the point is sound. Change is friction and friction is pain. Those who move cheese and rock boats are bound to piss at least a few people off--it just comes with the territory. But so what? Why is it so important to a nice person? I'd rather be an effective asshole than a pleasant bystander.
on 06 January 2013
I sometimes felt angry about how we were treated until one day I realized that they made a great parental sacrifice, exchanging their own popularity for our potential.
--edw519 on Hacker News
on 05 January 2013
I'm not sure how I came across the topic, but I'm a new fan of high altitude balloons. Actually, I do know why I'm interested in them, but I'll save that for a later post. High altitude balloons are generally used for measuring the weather, but there are also amateur radio enthusiasts (HAM radio operators and the sort) interested in this type of aircraft. Anyone curious about this subject should check out Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning

The amazing thing about these specialized balloons is that they can reach altitudes upwards of 10 miles--and they usually stay airborne for about 90 minutes. I would have thought they stay up for a longer period of time, but the balloons expand and pop at altitude. There are, however, some balloons that have much longer durations--I think they're referred to as long-duration high altitude balloons. I haven't read much about these high pressure balloons yet, but I seem to recall that they can stay aloft for days. If the normal weather balloons can travel a distance of 150 miles in just 90 minutes, then I wonder what kind of distance a balloon can cover over a few days worth of drifting? And this train of though led me to the question I've been researching for the last hour: 

What happens when a balloon crosses international borders into the airspace of another country?

I assumed that the answer would have something to do with the altitudes associated with sovereign airspace, but based on this paper published by the Space and Telecommunications Law Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, there is no universally agreed upon altitude limit for sovereign airspace (though 100km is starting to look like the going rate). But even if the figure is much lower and high altitude balloons are technically sailing in unregulated/unowned airspace, they still come back to Earth at some point. So the next question is: 

What if I launch a balloon that ends up landing in China? Is there some kind of international treaty that covers this scenario, as is the case with FAA regulations and domestic weather balloons? Or is this something that long-duration ballooners need to be constantly aware of?