Nerd Corner #47

Laws of software, food supply chains, and more!

Hi All!

My latest article is up on my blog. This time I talk about certain “laws of software” that I’ve found while working on software projects at various companies. 


What I am reading 📚

With my latest travels, I’ve decided to take a (short) break on books and have been getting up to speed with essays and articles from my reading lists. 

A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100 is one of the most revolutionary essays I’ve read. It is an attempt to describe how the mercantilist corporation, the East India Company, in particular, shaped the world we currently live in 

In its 400+ year history, the corporation has achieved extraordinary things, cutting around-the-world travel time from years to less than a day, putting a computer on every desk, a toilet in every home (nearly), and a cellphone within reach of every human. It even put a man on the Moon and kinda-sorta cured AIDS.

And how, thanks to technology we are almost at the end. The future won’t belong to the same style of corporations.

Culture is suspicious of technology. Politics is mostly indifferent to and above it. War-making uses it, but maintains an arms-length separation. Business? It gets into bed with it. It is sort of vaguely plausible that you could switch artists, politicians and generals around with their peers from another age and still expect them to function. But there is no meaningful way for a businessman from (say) 2000 BC to comprehend what Mark Zuckerberg does, let alone take over for him. Too much magical technological water has flowed under the bridge.

Go read it, you will be blown away. Ribbonfarm is becoming one of my favorite blogs out there. It has a lot of great and evergreen content to sift through.


Nerd Corner 🥗🥩

Our food supply chains have seen a massive shift towards centralization over the past 50 years. We went from a mostly rural economy where people would source their food close to home—either by producing it themselves or buying it from their neighbors or local market—to a mostly centralized system that is in charge of producing, processing and distributing to big supermarket chains everything that we consume.

For example, in the USA

"Farmers produce food in all 50 states, but agricultural production is concentrated in California and the Midwest. Some states have built robust local and regional food systems in which food is sold directly to residents at nearby farmers’ markets, restaurants, and CSA subscriptions, but the vast majority of food leaves farms and enters a complicated, interconnected web of transport and processing."

This vast interconnected web is one that—when working properly—gives us a lot of guarantees. We know, day in and day out, that we will find everything we need at our local supermarket. The supply chain plans for us, so we don't need to.

But when extreme events happen like the current pandemic, these "just in time supply chains" get disrupted. Why? Mostly because the statistical models on which these chains operate are wrong, or at least incomplete:

"Before the pandemic, those models accounted for shoppers buying roughly the same portion of food they ate every week—the remainder was eaten outside the home. So, when people were told to stock up and stay home, demand spiked, and that lean system wasn’t stocked with extra inventory."

Now, thanks to the pandemic many are trying to rethink our relation to this complex network that, at least in the USA is in the hands of a few big corporations that own and control everything from huge industrial monocrops to intensive farm operations and slaughterhouses.

We should focus on building a more antifragile supply chain. While technology might provide a solution for this—we've seen in previous editions that technologies like insect farming, lab-grown meat, and other practices might solve most of our current issues—we need to act faster. One way to solve the fragility of the current system comes from what we now call "short food supply chain (SFSCs)": farmers' markets, farm shops, collective farmers' shops, community-supported agriculture. The "buy local" marketing trend will pick up again but for different and better reasons.

Will you start buying local and being more mindful where you source your food or will you just wait for technology to change the very nature of the food we consume?


Cool Finds 🤯

  • I found this report by Reuters on police “qualified immunity” very helpful in trying to better understand the social situation that the USA is going through at the moment.

  • For all you nerds out there, these two links from Reddit and StackOverflow describe some of the tools, frameworks, and programming languages that engineers at SpaceX use to launch their rockets and astronauts into space!

  • I recently read about “Fast Radio Bursts” a type of magnetic burst that have been intriguing astronomers and physicists for over a decade. While there are theories and we continue to discover more and more about them, we still don’t know what may cause them. There’s also a wiki that tracks the latest FRBs!

  • Extra cool find: The Masks Masquerade by Nassim Taleb. Once again he is able to explain why we should be wearing masks in public and why it is wrong to think that we are safe without them in the absence of evidence. 


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Until next week, 

Alberto