Tom MacWright

tom@macwright.org

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The most likely explanation for negative interest rates is far simpler. The economy has become a giant kill zone. In venture capital circles, the term “kill zone” has become quite popular to describe the phenomenon of having no places to profitably invest.

How Monopolies Broke the Federal Reserve convincingly connects the dots between the rise of monopolies, negative interest rates, and the rate of innovation. I found it very convincing, and my experience working in tiny companies that compete with huge companies matched up with some of its discussion of the ‘economic kill zone’ that results from highly-resourced players.

But none of those people are the richest person here, which means they will keep succeeding despite—not because of—the man who is. He doesn’t know what they know; he doesn’t have to know. No one like him does.

The Adults in The Room is a remarkable final article by a politics editor at Deadspin that eviscerates the idea of experienced managers who swoop in and monetize media businesses.

It is so rare to find a role-playing game like this. There is no plot, no mystery, no dragons, no romance, no treasure. I still don’t know who I am or where I came from: my amnesia is never resolved. But I know why I am here, and that is enough.

I read Where it is Easy to Do Good on a park bench in Chicago after a lovely but overwhelming conference, and it hit me hard. I was more familiar with Everest’s art and generative fiction, but this short, impacting story reveals a really great writing talent too.

“My good friend Richard Serra is building out of military-grade steel,” he says. “That stuff will all get melted down. Why do I think that? Incans, Olmecs, Aztecs—their finest works of art were all pillaged, razed, broken apart, and their gold was melted down. When they come out here to fuck my ‘City’ sculpture up, they’ll realize it takes more energy to wreck it than it’s worth.”

This article about Michael Heizer’s city-sized new artwork.

I also watched a few things, like The Last Black Man in San Francisco (incredible) and Midsommar (just okay). It really seems like A24 is coming up with hits left and right - their releases are almost the majority of films I’ve seen recently.

Enigma

Right now my Enigma Machine notebook on Observable is making the rounds on the internet, achieving a sort of virality I’ve never enountered before - somewhere north of 8,000 folks have ‘liked’ it on Twitter.

Since it’s just such eye-candy, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. There was a little constructive feedback that I implemented to make sure that it’s as historically accurate as possible.

This was a lucky project to work on. Sure, there’s the implementation, which was tricky and required a few interlocking areas of expertise. But anyone else, given enough time, could have created something similar. It’s more that – by knowing Dana, by reading Jason’s book, by noticing that the Enigma was neat looking, by working at a company focused on explaining things, by having the ability to set some 9-5 time apart to work on this project for months on and off – and confirming that nobody had already claimed the task of creating a cool visualization of it - it all sort of lined up, in a way that’s much more luck than skill.

I’ve worked on lucky problems before – the saga of the DC Code was one of them, where a few key factors, where the political and intellectual winds blew in the right direction. And worked on unlucky problems, ones where I spent as much or more time and energy, but they were too early or too late for their time.

The other thing that I should write about this project, before it slips from my mind and I again complain about having accomplished nothing to my patient but irritated friends, is that it took four major revisions. The rotors looked sort of like chord diagrams, then they were skeuomorphic and 3D, and then they were flat and 1-dimensional, and then they were a mix of all those things. The final design was a combination of all of those, plus Tarek Rached’s pithy comment on an earlier prototype.

The final revision doesn’t fit cleanly into any of the classic visualization types that I reach for. Which is something that I usually try to avoid: familiarity is the most surefire path to understandability and usability, and inventing something new is risky. But the final design cleanly represented what this was: a bunch of stacked 1:1 maps that rotate and change over time. Many of the visualizations I admire are simply plain charts done really well, like those at the Economist, but the outside-of-the-box style is best exemplified by the work of Eleanor Lutz, of Tabletop Whale. They have a visual polish and deep creativity that begs for them to be printed and used as posters or wallpaper or full-body tattoos.

September 02, 2019  @tmcw