💡 how to think for yourself.

on the agenda this week: population density, broke ice cream machines and mrna.

📖 reading time: 5m 11s.

hi :) happy monday.

i hope you’re keeping well. stay safe and mask up .

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👂 earworm: listen to mal waldron.

📚 word of the week:


exceptionally pleasing to taste or smell; especially delicious or fragrant.

her dishes were threaded through with the islands’ smoke and spice and with the ambrosial sweetness of tropical fruit …
the new yorker, 2020

🧠 brain candy:

🕵️‍♂️ this article on why conspiracy theories are a lot like alternate reality video games provides an interesting backdrop to some of the current cultish trends like qanon.

📚 why companies should hire librarians to help organise all of their internal data and documentation.

🍦 meet the guy who reverse engineered mcdonald's internal api to figure out which locations have a broken ice cream machine.

🌲 read the atlantic’s take on our climate program: “in this era of greenwashing and sustainable everything, its program, called stripe climate, is one of the most compelling corporate climate initiatives now running.”

🏢 the sudden and dramatic shift of knowledge workers from the office to the home has killed spontaneity. read about some of the companies looking to use technology to create virtual spaces for teams.

🍂 did you know that running a leafblower for 30 minutes creates more emissions than driving a f-150 (pickup truck) 3800 miles?

🤪 mildly humorous:

💡 longer reads:

💡 how to think for yourself.

there are some kinds of work that you can't do well without thinking differently from your peers. to be a successful scientist, for example, it's not enough just to be correct. your ideas have to be both correct and novel. you can't publish papers saying things other people already know. you need to say things no one else has realized yet.

the same is true for investors. it's not enough for a public market investor to predict correctly how a company will do. if a lot of other people make the same prediction, the stock price will already reflect it, and there's no room to make money. the only valuable insights are the ones most other investors don't share.

you see this pattern with startup founders too. you don't want to start a startup to do something that everyone agrees is a good idea, or there will already be other companies doing it. you have to do something that sounds to most other people like a bad idea, but that you know isn't — like writing software for a tiny computer used by a few thousand hobbyists, or starting a site to let people rent airbeds on strangers' floors.

ditto for essayists. an essay that told people things they already knew would be boring. you have to tell them something new.

but this pattern isn't universal. in fact, it doesn't hold for most kinds of work. in most kinds of work — to be an administrator, for example — all you need is the first half. all you need is to be right. it's not essential that everyone else be wrong.
there's room for a little novelty in most kinds of work, but in practice there's a fairly sharp distinction between the kinds of work where it's essential to be independent-minded, and the kinds where it's not.

i wish someone had told me about this distinction when i was a kid, because it's one of the most important things to think about when you're deciding what kind of work you want to do. do you want to do the kind of work where you can only win by thinking differently from everyone else? i suspect most people's unconscious mind will answer that question before their conscious mind has a chance to. i know mine does.

👉 read more via paul graham.

🧬 the story of mrna.

the liquid that many hope could help end the covid-19 pandemic is stored in a nondescript metal tank in a manufacturing complex owned by pfizer, one of the world’s biggest drug companies. there is nothing remarkable about the container, which could fit in a walk-in closet, except that its contents could end up in the world’s first authorized covid-19 vaccine.

pfizer, a 171-year-old fortune 500 powerhouse, has made a billion-dollar bet on that dream. so has a brash, young rival just 23 miles away in cambridge, mass. moderna, a 10-year-old biotech company with billions in market valuation but no approved products, is racing forward with a vaccine of its own. its new sprawling drug-making facility nearby is hiring workers at a fast clip in the hopes of making history — and a lot of money.

in many ways, the companies and their leaders couldn’t be more different. pfizer, working with a little-known german biotech called biontech, has taken pains for much of the year to manage expectations. moderna has made nearly as much news for its stream of upbeat press releases, executives’ stock sales, and spectacular rounds of funding as for its science.

each is well-aware of the other in the race to be first.

but what the companies share may be bigger than their differences: both are banking on a genetic technology that has long held huge promise but has so far run into biological roadblocks. it is called synthetic messenger rna, an ingenious variation on the natural substance that directs protein production in cells throughout the body. its prospects have swung billions of dollars on the stock market, made and imperiled scientific careers, and fueled hopes that it could be a breakthrough that allows society to return to normalcy after months living in fear.
both companies have been frequently name-checked by president trump. pfizer reported strong, but preliminary, data on monday, and moderna is expected to follow suit soon with a glimpse of its data. both firms hope these preliminary results will allow an emergency deployment of their vaccines — millions of doses likely targeted to frontline medical workers and others most at risk of covid-19.

there are about a dozen experimental vaccines in late-stage clinical trials globally, but the ones being tested by pfizer and moderna are the only two that rely on messenger rna.

for decades, scientists have dreamed about the seemingly endless possibilities of custom-made messenger rna, or mrna.

👉 read more via the collaborative fund.

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🦀 vaccine supply chains.

🇺🇸 history is made.

🧻 wastewater watchdog.

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