Learning in public 😊

The Order Without Design podcast is out!

Hello to new friends on this mailing list. Most of you newcomers are probably here from this tweet.

Well, today’s the day! We just published the first full episode. You can find the audio, transcript, and photos here.

Episode #1: Tea time in Yemen

I wanted to share a bit about the process of making this first episode, because it greatly deepened my belief in the value of learning in public… which is saying a lot, since I valued it highly already!

We recorded the raw audio months ago, but I wasn’t quite sure how to produce the show to a level of quality I’d be proud of. Frankly I was a bit intimidated, so I sat on the audio, constantly telling myself I’d do the final steps of publishing it soon. But in the back of my head I knew I wasn’t even sure what else I’d want to do to improve it.

Two weeks ago, it struck me that I’d never be certain, and that I had to stop letting that hold me back. I also realized that I could do a “soft announcement” to ask for feedback. I figured this would help me gauge if there were important things I should improve before publishing it broadly or if I was being overly skittish.

So, I tweeted that I was looking for feedback and would give access to anyone who DMed me. I expected that a few urban planning nerds would be excited about it and that would be it.

Let’s just say I underestimated the power of learning in public.

Within a few hours, hundreds of friendly people had sent me a message. Many of them ended up writing up multiple paragraphs of thoughtful, helpful feedback. Better yet, multiple people offered help I hadn’t even thought to ask for:

  • A former audio-engineer-turned-economist said he’d love to help improve the audio quality (and believe me, it needed it) and also offered to write a music score especially for this podcast. Michael Kleyn, you’re the bomb.

  • A few offered to create a nice logo for the podcast. (I still haven’t taken them up on the offer… but perhaps I should.)

  • A non-profit called Market Urbanism reached out offering to sponsor the production. I’d planned to pay all costs out of pocket, but this support will make me feel more comfortable doing everything at top quality.

  • I love the Sphinx Cats, a song written by my friend Wheezy. So I asked him if I could pay to use his song for the intro of the podcast, and he said no — instead, he insisted that we use it for free.

None of this would’ve happened if I hadn’t shared my process. The serendipity that comes from opening up about your work, seeking feedback, and stating your needs directly continues to surprise me. I should know better by now—I feel like the internet teaches me this lesson nearly every week.

Hopefully by writing this down, the lesson will stick for me a bit more this time. And maybe it’ll inspire you to learn in public more, too.

Sphinx Cats

Here’s the YouTube video of the original, unabridged version of Sphinx Cats, the song we used as the intro for the podcast. It will transport you straight into a bustling bazaar, which is exactly the energy that the Bertauds’ stories evoke for me.

Following up on high-context newsletter experiment

In my last newsletter many months ago, I mentioned I might experiment with making this mailing list paid. The input you all shared was super interesting, thanks!

I decided that I won’t go down that route soon if at all, for two reasons:

  • The key reason I was interested in making it paid was to increase the sense of context I have with you, and I realized that I already feel a high sense of context and trust with this mailing list. Thank you for that. It’s nice. 😊

  • Right now I’d rather spend my brain cycles thinking about other things besides the dynamics of paid newsletters. I’m still intrigued in this concept of a high context space with some sort of filter, but I have enough other projects I’m working on.

Essays I’ve written recently

Digital vs analog error correction – Digital components correct for errors better than analog ones. (This is one reason why modern electronics are always digital.) I wrote up a little explanation of how this works to make sure I understood it. Figured others might find it interesting, too!

Book review: Against the Grain, by James C. Scott – The book that etched the deepest grooves in my mind last year was Against the Grain. It explores how the unique characteristics of grain-based agriculture shaped the early history of states.

Honestly I wouldn’t have bought something on this topic if it hadn’t been written by Scott, who wrote another of my favorite books. But through this book I came to realize that archaeology is in fact fascinating—I just hadn’t been looking at it through the right lens. It taught me consider archaeology as an epistemic exercise, rather than just memorizing a series of dates and facts.

Unconventional strategies for practicing Spanish – My boyfriend is from Argentina, so it’s important to me to improve my not-quite-fluent Spanish. I’ve found that it’s helpful (and more fun) to come at it from lots of different directions, since language skills are so multi-dimensional. This essay is more of a listicle, where I’ve collected the more unconventional tricks I’ve used to practice Spanish.


Here are interesting things I’ve recently read, heard others say, or contemplated that have lodged into my brain:

  • I spend enough of my life on my computer that taking photos now feels like taking a screenshot of a memory

  • “The ultimate sign of a well abstracted API is the closure property. Roughly, every operation and data type can be combined with every other operation and every data type. This is only aspirational though. Not even the real numbers are “closed” under the operation of division: zero is the ultimate edge-case.”

  • “A spider thinks with its web”

  • “Mija, they moved the border on us.” — A friend’s grandfather whose family has lived in a southern part of Texas since before it was part of the United States

  • “Let’s say you take a taxi and it takes 10 minutes when walking would take 20. Mathematically, you save 10 minutes. But in those 10 minutes in a taxi, you didn’t experience anything… Memory depends on time and spatial awareness.”

  • “Scientific [open source] software is interesting—because of its academic affiliation, they often have a steady revolving door of contributors who follow a student cycle.”

Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife—choosing off what’s incomplete and saying “Now it’s complete because it’s ended here.”

— Frank Herbert, Dune

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