Newsletter 15

This week features an eclectic mix of reads with something for everyone. Compassion, empathy, and communication are common themes throughout (okay, maybe not the heavy technical articles.). These are qualities we can all continue to develop. A lot in here to keep you busy.

Have a great week.



Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance - Every person in the Democratic Party should read this book. My family isn't from anywhere close to eastern Kentucky, but I found J.D.‘s story somehow relatable to growing up in rural Iowa. There is a growing disconnect between social and educational classes that has developed into the populist politics we see across the US and the world. I recommend you read this book.

A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World by Daniel Goleman - The Dalai Lama is someone I deeply respect (for not having met). Empathy and compassion are sorely lacking in the present. Goleman does an exceptional job of putting the Dalai Lama's thoughts and voice onto paper. This probably isn't a book for everyone, but I wish it would be. The message is needed in today's world.


Some extraordinary episodes from this week:

Defining Radical Candor – and How to Do It - HBR Ideacast - Kim Scott communicates well and her book on Radical Candor is one of my favorites.

Why Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm is a must-read for Ambitious Startup Founders

Lessons of Greatness: Why You Need to Nail a Niche before Going Big

Extreme Capitalism With Jason Calacanis- ReWork - I don't get upset often while listening to a podcast, but Jason's thought process is so disconnected from reality. David challenged him well and explained the actual circumstances of the gig economy and capitalism.

Special Guest JJ Allaire - Not So Standard Deviations

Michael Milken - Planet Money

Brian Deese on What’s Driving ESG Investing - Masters in Business

Geopolitics, Technology, and Risk - Exponential View

Competing With Spotify And Regulating Acquisitions - Exponent

Storytelling With Data: What Is Data Visualization

Frank Stephenson: Pushing the Limits of Innovation - The Knowledge Project


rstudio::conf 2020 - All of the videos from rstudio::conf 2020. I haven't made my way through most of them, but there looks to be a solid mix of concepts talked about.


The Lost 110 Words of Our Constitution - A buzzword title, but a deep dive into the history of the second article of the twelfth amendment. I don't recall that being discussed in U.S. history class. Do you?

This Is How Scandinavia Got Great - On the heels of J.D. Vance, the Scandinavian education system contrasts from the US. I'm especially for their system of early childhood education.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. 2019 Annual Report - At my first actuarial internship, my manager would tell me that any time I don't have things to work on to read through Berkshire's annual reports. (It makes a little more sense given it was at Berkshire.) I consumed all of them that summer and have kept the habit going forward. Warren has been vocal about the nonsense that happens with accounting practices, and he explains it again here. A former colleague would always tell me, “GAAP is crap.” He may have been on to something.

The Myth of the Barter Economy - Even if the claims the article makes aren't true, it's an interesting thought experiment, and if the claims are true, then it's an interesting case of perpetuating a myth to the point of false fact.

“No example of a barter economy, pure and simple, has ever been described, let alone the emergence from it of money,” wrote the Cambridge anthropology professor Caroline Humphrey in a 1985 paper. “All available ethnography suggests that there never has been such a thing.”

Disruption 2020: An Interview With Clayton M. Christensen - One of if not the very last interviews by Professor Christensen before his death.

Breaking the Salary Sharing Taboo - Not discussing salaries in the workplace leads to workers getting taken advantage of and not getting paid what they're worth. It's sad to see it not talked about more.

Intuit Near Deal to Buy Credit Karma for $7 Billion - Do you think the FTC will block this? If this isn't anti-competitive practice, then I don't know what is..

Inside TurboTax’s 20-Year Fight to Stop Americans From Filing Their Taxes for Free - Case in point.

Back To The Future - The third piece I've linked to involving Peter Theil. That's three more than I thought I would. I had no idea he wrote book reviews, but I'd be interested in checking this one out.

The Economics Of Clean Code -

One thing is clear; it’s something that’s really on a lot of developers mind. Clean code makes projects more comfortable to work with and improves shelf life. It’s the antagonist of vile legacy codebases that are unmaintainable.

Does My Data Fit In Ram? - Hint: it does.

Computer Vision Basics in Microsoft Excel (using just formulas) - Absolutely amazing piece of creativity.

JuliaLang: The Ingredients for a Composable Programming Language - Julia fits the niche of numerical computing programming right now, but it's a joy to use. I hope it gains more traction in industry.

Haskell in Production: Riskbook - Amazing use of functional programming and Haskell in production. I'd never heard of Riskbook before, but I wager that functional programming practices give them a competitive advantage. I'll maybe expand on that thought in a future post.

Why are we so bad at software engineering?

Building a Backtesting Service to Measure Model Performance at Uber-scale and Transforming Financial Forecasting with Data Science and Machine Learning at Uber - two articles from Uber engineering. I'd be really interested to see how their backtesting and forecasting could be leveraged in the financial services and insurance industry. If someone without the legacy inertia to hold it back and with the needed capital, I wonder how dramatically it would change the industry.

Kurt Hornik: stringsAsFactors - This is exciting to see. stringsAsFactors trips up many interns that I've worked with.

Tidy Discounted Cash Flow Analysis in R (for Company Valuation) - More financial professionals would be better suited using a programming language for analysis. There's many pros (and a few cons) including the ease of reproducibility. The tidyverse is especially well suited given how intuitive and expressive the packages can be.

What 8 years of side projects has taught me

Lesson 0: Programming in a void is worthless Lesson 1: Building a programming language is hard, but rewarding Lesson 2: Organizing my thoughts is important, but tricky to figure out Lesson 3: Search is a great tool for debugging and flexible organization

How to Write Usefully - As always, I enjoy Paul's essays.

Learning Technical Writing Using the Engineering Method

How to write the perfect pull request - Great advice for writing a quality pull request, and I'd like to see actuaries use some of these software developer concepts in their work as well.

How to do High-Bar Code Review Without Being a Jerk - Whether it's a code review or project review, the advice in this article is common sense, but it's good to read about it again.

What Are The Best Software Engineering Principles? -

Measure twice and cut once Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY) Occam’s Razor Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) You Aren’t Gonna Need It (YAGNI) Big Design Up Front Avoid Premature Optimization Principle Of Least Astonishment S.O.L.I.D. Law of Demeter

An Opinionated Guide to ML Research

Mathematics for the adventurous self-learner - I can't give a complete recommendation of everything the author says, but I can recommend Spivak and Rudin for anyone wanting to delve into Calculus and Real Analysis. Those two books and 18.06 Linear Algebra by Professor Strang are the start to a quality understanding of mathematics.

Holes in Bayesian Statistics

Data Scientists Get all the Glamour But, Wow, Is There a Need for Data Engineers - Legacy systems throughout the Fortune 500, especially financial services and insurance, hinder companies’ ability to do the glamour work of data science. Data engineers need to be highly valued in the enterprise. Not investing in the appropriate infrastructure will result in a bunch of garbage.

Economics Simulation - Very approachable and a good motivating example of the possibilities of even basic code to gain insights.

This is a simulation of an economic marketplace in which there is a population of actors, each of which has a level of wealth. On each time step two actors (chosen by an interaction function) engage in a transaction that exchanges wealth between them (according to a transaction function). The idea is to understand the evolution of the population's wealth over time.

Suspicious discontinuities - Discontinuities occur artificially throughout our society; it warps our optimal decision making. The article goes through a few examples of this being the case.

Systems Thinking And Quality - I like the author's comments on the differences between the features of the system's parts and the features of the system itself.

Ben Popper is the Worst Coder : Complexity is the Constant

Zeno's paradoxes

That's it for this week.

Are there any topics or concepts you'd like me to write more about? Send any suggestions to

Thanks everyone who sent me links and recommendations this week. If you stumble across something interesting, send it my way! You can send any recommendations to If you haven't done so yet, subscribe to get all my posts delivered directly to your email.