2014

It seems typical for bloggers to write a year-end review post. Here are some belated reflections on a year of blogging, and other stuff too.

This blog…

I’ve published a total of 64 posts this year. Most are pretty short; about half are small notes or excerpts of books or articles I’ve read recently.

The most important posts are my essays. There are five of them, and each one is fairly substantial—the shortest is about 2000 words, and the longest is about 5000.

Not all of them were well-read, but two got quite a bit of attention. Each of them took the #2 spot on Hacker News, did well on different subreddits, and got lots of social shares.

One of these pieces, a catalogue of Peter Thiel’s evidence of a technological slowdown, was especially well-read. It was covered by Marginal Revolution, Noahpinion, and other econ blogs; and it was linked-to by The Browser, FT Alphaville, the BBC, and Bloomberg View.

I have to say that I’m bemused that my most popular post was the one with the fewest of my own words. If you’re curious, my definite favorite essay is the one about the mechanics of nuclear bombs and American nuclear deterrence strategies. Here are all of them, listed in order of publication:

How are collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps structured (2800 words) — Goes through the entire process of how mortgages are packaged, re-packaged, re-re-packaged, etc. into CDOs. Then I explain how CDSs can be set up to bet against CDOs.

Civil asset forfeiture: When the law confiscates from the poor (2000 words) — Explains the procedures of civil forfeiture, its legal and historical basis, and how its revenues has been spent. I also highlight a few of its victims.

What are hedge funds, and what social functions do they serve? (2400 words)  — Goes through the distinguishing characteristics of hedge funds (limitations on raising capital, 2-and-20 etc.) and describes a few of the bigger players (historical and contemporary, including LTCM, Renaissance, and Quantum). Then I present an argument that hedge funds should be allowed to bear more risk in the financial system.

This second part was controversial, and many people didn’t like my framing of the topic. Most people didn’t like that I said that hedge funds serve any kind of “social function” at all.

Why is Peter Thiel pessimistic about technological innovation? (2000 words) — Collects some of Thiel’s evidence that we’re no longer technologically accelerating, organized by subject matter. These include his remarks on energy, space, computers, finance, etc. This was my most widely-read essay, mostly because of links from Marginal Revolution, the BBC, etc.

The logic of nuclear exchange and the refinement of American deterrence strategy (5000 words)  — My favorite. The first part is about the mechanics of nuclear bombs: their construction, delivery, stockpiles, effects upon explosion, etc. The second part is about the evolution of the views of America’s nuclear strategists, and how policy correspondingly changed. The heroes of this story are Thomas Schelling, William Kaufmann, and Robert McNamara.

Before I talk more about blogging, here’s one big note about the present…

I’m spending the next four months in Germany, all the way until May, when I graduate from Rochester.

I live and study in the city of Freiburg, a (small) city framed by the Black Forest in the state of Baden-Württemberg. It’s in the southwest, sitting close to that corner where Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland meet. The closest major cities are Strasbourg, France; Stuttgart, Germany; and Basel, Switzerland. Frankfurt, Munich, Bern, and Zurich are not far away. This area is gorgeous. Here’s a picture of the center of Freiburg, which I took from the top of a nearby mountain called the Schlossberg:

Freiburg from mountain

It’s my first time in Europe. My program also takes me to Berlin, Prague, Luxembourg, Paris, Stockholm, and London. I plan to spend lots of time in the Black Forest, and also to France and Switzerland which are so close. For the next few months, instead of researching and blogging about the stuff I’ve been interested in, I’m going to write as often as I can about Germany and Europe.

I’ve set up Instagram specifically for this trip. If you’d like to see what I’m up to, follow along here.

Some notes on blogging so far…

I’ve always found writing to be satisfying, so keeping this blog has been great fun. And it’s been productive in addition to the simple pleasure of writing out ideas.

I’m a big fan of James Somers’ idea that writing makes you more curious. When you have a regular commitment to present your thoughts to an audience, you start to notice more, you remember more, and you think differently about everything you see. It’s like a more attention-intensive form of being on Twitter, where you look for things to tweet about and package ideas concisely.

Here’s something else to mention since I brought up James. Before this year, my blog consumption consisted exclusively of economics professors. Only recently and with the help of Quora and Twitter did I discover that there are many kinds of bloggers out there. Three people in particular have been inspirations: Kevin Simler, Vera L. Te Velde, and James. They blog about all sorts of things informed by their intellectual backgrounds; it’s something that I’d like to do. They’ve all been at this for a while, and I wish that in a few years that I’d build as much as they have.

Blogging’s given me the chance to meet people online. Some very cool people have reached out, on Twitter or by email, after reading one of my posts. It’s new and novel that I get to know people by doing this.

Highlights of last year…

For those curious, here are some of my personal highlights of 2014:

Going to China. My grandfather passed away in November, 2013, and I spent the entirety of the following January with my family in the southwestern city of Kunming. This was my third and most meaningful trip after I left at age 7.

Working at Shopify. I spent the remainder of the year working at Shopify’s office in Toronto, as a content marketing intern on the growth team. It was exciting to be there. Shopify was growing so quickly that I was “older” than ~31% of the company after eight months. There’s no work experience like the one in a growing tech company.

Going to Public Choice Conference. In June I headed to D.C. for the Public Choice Conference run by Alex Tabarrok. In addition to Alex, I got the chance to chat with Tyler Cowen, Robin Hanson, and Bryan Caplan, all of whom I started reading since I started college. I also got to chat with the very cool Donald Marron, who has one of the most interesting economist resumés I’ve seen.

The books I most enjoyed…

Here are the books I had trouble putting down:

Wrapping up…

Where should I visit in Germany? I’ve been to Frankfurt and Berlin, and plan to head to Munich, Nuremberg, and the Cologne area. I’ve visited the nearby cities of Colmar & Basel, and want to explore all of the Black Forest. What else should I see in the next few months?

I love book tips. I’m currently reading Peter Watson’s The German Genius, Wolfgang Palaver’s biography of Girard’s ideas, and re-reading Moby-Dick. What should I pick up next?

Also, please feel free to give me other tips. I know that some people find it hard to follow this blog. What can I do to make it easier for you to find my posts? And I’m really quite a newbie photographer. Let me know how my pictures on Instagram could be better. Finally, do write me if you think that there’s something I’d enjoy learning about.

I’ll be writing a proper post on Germany soon. Consider subscribing to this blog, and/or following me on Twitter or Instagram.

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