Venkatesh Rao Profile picture
Conversational account. For work follow @ribbonfarm, @breaking_smart, @artofgig. Tweets are 90% vacuous views, apathetically held. Mediocritopian. IKEA builder.
@reenum Profile picture eDo Profile picture Thyag Sundaramoorthy Profile picture Cameron Priest Profile picture Olivier Kitenge 👨🏾‍💻 Profile picture 64 added to My Authors
23 Nov
People really like to have both sides of conversations. You’d think this is a sort of stylized performance element but it isn’t. Many people have a real style that a,punts to: have both sides of a conversation, get mad when live counterparty goes off script, to force them back on
It’s like a telemarketer script but with every alternate layer modeling their response being a Procrustean bed:

Q: Have you thought about wage theft?

A1: [Procrustean bed 1]
A2: [Procrustean bed 2]


A failure mode in any helping profession with a principal-agent asymmetry (lawyers etc) is being so script-locked you can’t hear. Good ones rise above, viewing the (procedurally necessary) script as an eventual compile target rather than a way to confine a free-form conversation.
Read 16 tweets
22 Nov
This flippant commitment has proved to be seriously interesting. I need to think it through and take it seriously.
Projects : second brain :: neurogenesis : first brain? To a first approximation, no more neurons after infancy barring exceptional conditions. To a first approximation, no more projects after middle age barring exceptional conditions. Cc @fortelabs…
Not arguing for closing off your brain or becoming hidebound with age, which of course is a risk this strategy can exacerbate. Just arguing that the “new projects” area should perhaps be off limits by default. Things with commitment to produce long-term outcomes.
Read 10 tweets
22 Nov
I don’t know how to feel about this 🤔
To be clear, I mean that literally. I have no positive or negative reaction or mixed feelings. This thread is like reading a weather report from another place. Ok they have different weather there.
In a way weather is a good analogy. Governance systems are like natural phenomena. Perhaps some are just more dangerous than others. Maybe living in a western liberal democracy is like living in an earthquake or hurricane zone. You get some nice views but you pay with risk.
Read 10 tweets
22 Nov
Still can’t believe the official Chinese Covid fatalatity statistics of just over 4634. Even if it’s “only” an order of magnitude off and the real number is 46k it’s still unbelievably good. Hard to believe authoritarian control works that perfectly. Anyone have alt estimates?
Accepting 100x as high US fatality rate as correct, and factoring out aging population, obesity, I’d like to see a real estimate of “cost of freedom” fatalities vs “cost of trump” fatalities. We’ll never know for sure. I’d guess Trumpism added 20% on top of basic Americanism.
I do believe the India numbers, currently at 133k. More like China in size and culture, more like US in governance. Accounting for much younger population, I’d say the better performance is entirely a result of the early strict lockdown that they couldn’t keep going long enough.
Read 5 tweets
21 Nov
Fighting as a psychological behavior has almost no relation to fighting as a skill
If I ever get into a “fighting mood” I’m almost certain to lose. Seems to correlate positively with winning for some people though. Honor warriors.

Guardian syndrome combat vs commerce syndrome combat?
Note I’m not thinking only of traditional physical fighting with weapons. I’m also talking fighting bureaucracy, customer service, yelp comments, marital conflict, parenting, business litigation... the universe of fighting is vast.
Read 11 tweets
21 Nov
1/6 Sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from economics

2/6 Sufficiently institutionalized economics is indistinguishable from religion

3/6 Sufficiently conservative religion is indistinguishable from politics

4/6 Sufficiently disinterested politics is indistinguishable from philosophy

5/6 Sufficiently thoughtful philosophy is indistinguishable from instrument-making

6/6 Sufficiently clever instrument-making is indistinguishable from science

This is Clarke’s Circle of Life of Mind
My Friday morning thought*

* took my Saturday yesterday so it’s Friday on my timeline today Image
Read 11 tweets
20 Nov
The Yak Collective @yak_collective has been doing a futures project called Astonishing Stories, led by @SachinB91 and @WabiSabiFutures to explore near-future scenarios. The output is a series of short stories being published as an evolving anthology…
The stories are based on some structured design fiction type visioning based on something called The Thing from the Future. Project participants spent a few weeks doing the exercises, then writing the stories.…
I’m not part of this project, but I’m gonna read all the stories (5 out so far and more on the way) and live-tweet my reactions. This will be my 🍿 critical review thread. I don’t quite get the process they used to get to this output, but I don’t think I need to as a reader.
Read 22 tweets
20 Nov
Poll: Have you heard of Dalton’s law and the principle of partial pressure? If so, where/when did you learn it?
Dammit, trending small majority not heard of it 🙁

Wanted to use it as a metaphor for a piece. Didn’t realize it was that obscure.

I think I learned it in 8th grade by which time I think STEM kids were already on a separate track. For the curious ones:…
I keep forgetting how early STEM forks off from mainstream. In my high school, there were 4 tracks: CS and biology on STEM side (targeting engineering and medicine for college) and commerce and arts for humanities/social science side. I think ~40% was STEM and that was high.
Read 4 tweets
20 Nov
What Trump is up to is some true 4th world shit. Worse than third world because when first worlds fall, they fall below third world levels.…
In 2016 he just looked like many third world politicians. But the salting-of-the-earth type of vandalism he’s attempting now out of sheer rage is not something I’ve seen in even the worst third world politics.
Talking to my mom in India in 2016, I explained “he’s like Lalu Yadav” (archetypal modern Indian populist, CM of the state I grew up in through much of my childhood; eventually went to prison for corruption). Now I have to say: Lalu looks more civilized…
Read 5 tweets
19 Nov
Feeling unreasonably cheerful because I’ve made a tiny start towards starting a personal space program 😎
The first step is admitting you have a space program
Rocketry is easily the hardest subfield of aerospace engineering and one I don’t know much about. So I feel a bit guilty when someone says something like “ha ha so you’re an actual rocket scientist!”

I feel like responding, “no, I specialize in somewhat easier stuff”
Read 6 tweets
17 Nov
When you don’t solve problems they just go away, which is kinda a nice feature of the universe
This is my thread of true facts
The true facts will continue until morale improves
Read 4 tweets
17 Nov
bluecheck invasion ruining substack a bit 😬
I have more hope for the platform than for Medium or Patreon (that's why I'm on it). It has less of a top-down cultural feel, and little to no cross-talk/cross-flow across newsletters, which is a good thing. Sacrifices content-network effect for diversity.
Basically the bias-variance tradeoff writ large. An aggregator platform will either have a large bias or a large variance. So far, unlike Medium or patreon (or livejournal or tumblr or what have you) substack is heading towards higher variance. x
Read 40 tweets
17 Nov
Anyone actually enjoy the zoom-conference circuit? I’ve pretty much entirely avoided it. I’ve realized that to the limited extent I enjoy conferences at all, it’s 100% about getting to travel to places I want to visit. Take that out and it’s just feels like work to me.
The one thing I enjoyed was a very lowkey set of maker-skill demos hosted by a local repair cafe.
Looking back on a couple of decades of conferences, the memorable things I actually remember are the local side trips.
Read 4 tweets
17 Nov
There’s an episode of Star Trek: Voyager (S5E1, “Night”) where they’re crossing a vast void with no stars visible because black clouds shroud starlight. The crew is going crazy. Then stuff happens, but it’s the set up that interests me: featureless darkness as a psychic stressor.
It’s a nice allegory for why a dark age might be stressful even if things are otherwise fine. The lack of macro patterns makes microstructure of life start to empty of meaning and purpose. The Voyager doesn’t need visible stars to navigate but the crew needs them for sanity.
Ancient cultures made up constellation maps and astrology out of otherwise mostly useless night sky landmarks to create macro patterns I suspect. Limited navigation and calendars needs don’t explain the overfitting of mythologies to the skies.
Read 17 tweets
17 Nov
I’m getting good enough at spotting very precise tropes now so I spoil tv shows for myself. 😖
The one that inspired this tweet: a passenger left alone in a car while driver goes into a store will discover a secret in the glove compartment. It’s not really a trope but a shot clue: if they show the left behind person rather than follow the other character there’s a reason.
An annoying one: in a detective show, a recognizable character actor showing up in an early scene in a minor role with unnecessary lines is probably the murderer. You don’t need to know the plot to guess that they wouldn’t use a speaking role established actor as an extra.
Read 4 tweets
17 Nov
Ok I’m not starting any more projects. At least not top-level projects. From now on I’m only finishing projects or killing them.
My biggest achievement of the last couple of years was effectively ending Refactor Camp the conference on a graceful high note. Second biggest was handing off the refactorcamp dot org the mastodon server to someone more able to keep it going
Feeling very post-mid-lifey, leeward sloping. Turned 46 last week. Maybe act 1 is starting all possible projects, act 2 is shutting them down at the natural times.
Read 8 tweets
16 Nov
“It is 2020. 250k are dead from a raging pandemic; a private space company is launching crewed missions NASA can’t. A mad president is live-tweeting a painfully slow psychotic break, refusing to leave office. The planet boils.” —Blurb from “2020” obscure sci-fi book from 2007.
I seriously couldn’t have imagined this plot in 2007
Actually I can’t imagine it right now either, even though it’s literally happening all around.
Read 6 tweets
15 Nov
brrrcore: the thing that goes brrr, assuming it exists, when you remove deadening constraints, complexity, ornamentation, and superfluity from a thing, and distill the rest to it’s essence. The id or kundalini of the thing. For eg, the tweet is the brrrcore of the blogpost.
brrrcores are pure and unstable. Unstable positive feedback loops at the heart of anything that shows signs of exponential aliveness. The (auto)poiesis principle animating it. Getting to the brrrcore is the essence of any alchemical pursuit. Eg Network effect in product adoption.
Once the brrrcore is uncovered and allowed to energize itself, you can gradually add back the “impurities” you threw away while looking for it.
Read 6 tweets
14 Nov
This is what in the tech-managerial world is usually called the “commoditize your complement” strategy. The farmers in this case have been reduced to interchangeable learning-loop probes.
I think Cory has the causality backwards in this case. Monopoly is the effect, not the cause. If you focus relentlessly on cost and efficiency, the advantage goes to a centralized learner aggregating all the data and deciding how to run the DoE (design of experiments) matrix.
Having the farmers compete by (for example) exiting the contract and cooperating by swapping notes etc. will not learn as fast, or as much, even ignoring the legal hurdles to forming a rebel alliance (I imagine they might be in a capex debt trap?)
Read 28 tweets
14 Nov
Life huh
Homer has had an awfully destructive life
Read 4 tweets
13 Nov
V3. What is possible depends on who you’re willing to leave behind.
The 3 versions from 2015, 2016, and 2020, mark my transition from universal humanist to Thanos
I’m leaving behind everybody who does not support a universal basic mansion policy
Read 4 tweets