💠 Sunday Scaries (09/20/20)

Investment memos, emergent behavior in complex systems, hippie counterculture

Hi everyone,

Writing to you from Venice, CA.

I’m putting together a small digital conference called “Actions Towards Progress” with a few colleagues from the Progress Studies community. The conference is intended to provide actionable advice for people working in fields like science, healthcare, and technology.

Most conferences are 75% broadcast and 25% conversation. We're using a virtual format as an experiment to reverse this trend. Speakers get five minutes to articulate their main point. The rest of the time is spent in focused conversation with people interested in applying the advice to their situation. Think "YC Office Hours for Progress."

I’ll provide more details in the coming weeks, but if you’re interested in applying as a speaker, please consider completing the interest questionnaire. If you know someone who would make a good speaker, I would appreciate it if you forwarded them this email.


What’s New From Me:

  1. (🔒) Truth Decay: Subscribers-only post describing four trends that are increasing polarization among Americans.

  2. Maintenance and Machine Learning: Earlier this year, I noticed a trend of smart and highly technical people wearing continuous glucose monitors. I wrote this post to explain why this was happening and how to get involved.

In This Week’s Edition:

[⚙️ Business] Memos for Twilio, LinkedIn, Twitch, Shopify, and more: A recently released treasure trove describing the rationale behind investments in popular companies. The memo is an underappreciated form of expression. For most people, the term “memo” brings up an image of dry corporate-jargon filled with platitudes. In reality, the best memos offer a clear and unique window into the author’s worldview. These documents are required reading for anyone interested in finding early-stage technology companies with growth potential.

[🔬 Science] More is Different (1972): A description of emergent phenomenon in our universe — this post explains how very simple rules can lead to complexity. For example, the rules that describe how atoms interact (particle physics) create the field known as chemistry. In turn, chemistry can be used to understand the fundamentals of biology. This is important because it provides a way to organize scientific fields into hierarchies, like a Russian doll. Practitioners at each level require an understanding of the fields whose rules are applied to their own. However, this doesn't mean that you can just learn the bottom levels like physics or math as a cheat code. Each new level of complexity has its own emergent phenomenon that require inspiration and creativity to understand. Notes.

[🌉 Culture] Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1967): A first-person account of the counterculture movement on Haight-Ashbury in the late 1960s. Written by Joan Didion after a series of trips to The Haight, it provides a fantastic window into the unique culture of San Francisco. At the time, Haight-Ashbury was the center of the free-wheeling drug culture associated with the hippie movement. Joan’s stories include LSD-dropping five-year-olds, a drug-dealer named Deadeye, and a pair of high school runaways named Jeff and Debbie. Notes.

My favorite quote:

Almost everybody I meet in San Francisco has to go to court at some point in the middle future. I never ask why.

Didion in Golden Gate Park San Francisco in April 1967 reporting the story that became Slouching Towards Bethlehem. That...

Joan Didion, 1967. Photograph by Ted Streshinsky / Corbis courtesy of The New Yorker.

Photo of the Week

This photo was taken during a recent daysail in the Santa Monica Bay. The patch on my left arm is a continuous glucose monitor. In Maintenance and Machine Learning, I described why these devices are key to the next wave of self-monitoring and personal fitness.

After writing that essay, I connected with the CEO of Levels Health. Levels specializes in creating software for non-diabetics interested in the benefits of continuous monitoring. I’ll be wearing the device for the next month to understand how changes to my diet affect metabolic health.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday Scaries is a newsletter that focuses on content that has stood the test of time. Because of The Lindy Effect, this means that the topics covered will still be relevant in the future. You can subscribe by clicking the link below. 👇