Catch Up Episode: Book writing, links and more.

Snippets 2, Episode 16.

Hello everybody! This week is a bit of an odds-and-ends catchup week: an update on how my book writing project is going, a few notes looking back on previous newsletter issues and what has happened since then, and a whole bunch of reading links that I enjoyed over the past month. Look for regular issues to finally return next week. Thank you for your continued readership during our parenthood hiatus! 

As you know, I’ve started the process of writing the book I’ve been thinking about for the last year: Scarcity in the Software Century. I’ve been writing first drafts of chapters and releasing them week by week; if you want to receive these first drafts, as well as help me think through and revise the book as it gets written in real time, you can sign up here:

Scarcity in the Software Century

One well known truth about writing (which Casey Newton was happy to affirm in our interview the other week) is that the reason why you write a first draft is so that you can look at it, throw it out, and then write the real thing you always intended to write but didn’t know it. It’s been really fun going through this process with Scarcity in the Software Century, as the last few months (especially July, being fully at home in a state of new parent sleep deprivation) have been a really good time for me to reflect, revise, and ultimately hone down what this book is going to be. The challenge is how to take a complicated subject full of abstract nuance and boil it down into a book full of comprehensible themes and talking points that can find paperback appeal. 

The added complication, which I’ve been enjoying but presents its own challenge, is the fact that I’m making these first drafts publicly available (well, semi-public; you have to be a subscriber. But still.) I think it’s ultimately going to improve the final product, but it’s been interesting writing chapters week after week that I know are not going to necessarily make it into the book by any means, but are a necessary part of constructing the scaffolding for then writing the real book. If this is interesting to you, I’d love it if you subscribed - both for the support and also for the extra eyeballs. People’s comments so far have been really helpful!

All in all, the hardest part has been coming up with a one sentence explanation for when people ask, “what is your book about?” After trying out various answers, the one I’ve liked the best is, to put it simply, “it’s a book about why software makes things better, but also makes things worse.” At first this was really a throwaway placeholder answer, but I’ve come to like it. Especially when phrased as two questions, which if you think about it, really are the two questions we need to grapple with right now: Why does software make things better? And why does software make things worse? These are simple questions but their answers are really complicated and really important! And they’re what my book is trying to answer. 

You can find an updated summary and week-by-week outline, which tells a pretty good picture of what I’m writing this book about, here:

Scarcity in the Software Century | 

Looking back on some previous issues: 

A few weeks ago, one Snippets reader pointed out astutely that there is an alternate explanation for a lot of the Tether story that fits with many of the patterns we’ve talked about: people trying to evade capital controls. Well, right on cue, a story came out this past week on that very topic: 

Millions in crypto is crossing the Russia-China border daily. There, Tether is king | Anna Baydakova, Coindesk

First of all, keep in mind the source. That’s all I’m going to say about that for the time being. That being said, this is a neat story and it does make plausible sense for where all of this Tether volume is coming from - with a convenient explanation timing-wise that all of this money transfer used to be done in BTC but then moved over to USDT right after the crash in 2018. I’m willing to be convinced that this a real potential use case for Tether (albeit an illegal one), and therefore a potentially legitimate source of trading volume. 

The thing is… it’s just a little too convenient an explanation. None of this is actual reporting; it’s “A crypto entrepreneur told us this was happening and now we are restating it as fact.” The big Mic Drop moment of that piece was the line, “Nobody here cares if Tethers are backed or not”, as if that’s this shocking but magically coherent explanation for why all of a sudden, one day, a big network of number of people all agreed to switch from Bitcoin to Tether, (which, conveniently, is why Real USD / BTC trading is way, way down) that happens to resolve a whole bunch of inconsistencies for which the New York State Attorney General will be looking for explanations. Anyway you can probably expect another post on this at some point. 

Also, there’s some really interesting discussion a few days ago on Hacker News about my post Cooking as a Service from a little while back.  Enjoying all the hypotheticals; hopefully you will too.

And finally, some of my favourite reading links from the past few weeks:

Commenting the Tour de France is an ironman sport | Louis Bien, SB Nation

Why Kodak used a different calendar from the rest of the world, got top secret nuclear clearance, and more (Thread) | @Foone

Thoughts on Facebook’s Libra Coin | Preston Byrne

Interoperability: fix the internet, not the tech companies | Cory Doctorow

The false narrative of the Fall of Rome mapped onto America | Sarah E Bond, Hyperallergic

Elvis Costello’s 500 most essential albums in music history | Far Out Magazine

The repressive, authoritarian soul of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends | Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker (who, by the way, has a book coming out this week called Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion that I’m so very much looking forward to reading. I think it’s safe to say it’s my most anticipated pre-ordered book of the year.) 

The Battle of Grace Church: a riot among the one percent over Brooklyn’s oldest nursery school | Jessica Pressler

Tech journalism’s ‘on background’ scourge | Brian Merchant, Columbia Journalism Review

Goals and rewards redraw the brain’s map of the world, representing physical space in a way that reflects personal experience | Jordana Cepelewicz, Quanta

The sinkhole that saved the internet: keeping the “kill switch” alive is the only thing preventing another WannaCry outbreak | Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch

Have a great week,