Sunday Scaries (01/03/21)

An introduction to DNA for computer scientists, an antifragile commencement address, and an essay on legibility

Hi everyone,

Writing to you from Miami, FL.

I spent the weekend celebrating the New Year with friends. This is the first time in a long time that I stayed in for the occasion. Rather than hanging out with strangers, we cooked a huge meal at the house and enjoyed each others company.

I’m excited to get back into the groove of things. Let’s dig in.


What’s new from me

Best links of 2020: I spend all year collecting the best ideas that I come across online. I've put them into a single mega-post so you can read them too. With topics that range from science, to design, to philosophy and more, this post is like a shortcut into my brain. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, I recommend starting with this link before going any further. It’s the best thing you’ll read all week - I guarantee it.


In this week’s edition:

🧬 Biology

DNA seen through the eyes of a coder

The best summaries of technical fields often come from amateurs since they remember what it’s like to not know anything. This post is a fantastic introduction to DNA that teaches by way of analogy.

In computers, we group 8 bits into a byte, and the byte is the typical unit of data being processed.

Nature groups 3 nucleotides into a codon, and this codon is the typical unit of processing. A codon contains 6 bits of information (2 bits per DNA character, 3 characters = 6 bits. This means 2⁶ = 64 different codon values).

If you’re looking for something more recent, the author also has a great primer post on how mRNA vaccines work.

Lindy score: 2035

💎 Philosophy

Nassim Taleb 2016 Commencement Address

Nassim Taleb is a former quantitative trader and author of the Incerto, a multi-part series on probability and risk. His work spans philosophy, economics, finance, and storytelling. This commencement address is an unfiltered look into his worldview. If you like this piece, I recommend reading the rest of his Incerto. Start with Antifragile.

Lindy score: 2026

⏳ History

A Big Little Idea Called Legibility

This post is an excellent introduction to Ribbonfarm, a niche blog written by Venkatesh Rao. Highly influential within the rationalist community, Ribbonfarm provides in-depth analyses of books and social commentary. The ideas in this essay stem from a book called Seeing Like a State which explains a common failure pattern across large scale human projects. I’m planning a deep dive of the book later this week, but for now this is a great place to start.

Lindy score: 2030

Thanks for reading,

Phil