Top-notch essays, blogs, and other reading

UPDATED 16 Jan ’14


I really like reading certain blogs* online. Specifically, my favorites tend to be ones that (a) are written by a single author with a lot of life experience, and (b) where each entry is more or less standalone and about a topic, rather than a “life update”, “news update” or even an advertisement for some other thing (“hey look at this cool weight loss/time-saving tool”). I just finished a tech internship where I spent a lot of time reading such blogs. Here are some of my favorites:

Paul Graham:

Paul Graham’s famous in the Silicon Valley startup world, but I was only barely familiar with him when I moved out to San Francisco. I hear he’s really good at Lisp and at seeding startups via Y Combinator, but as far as I’m concerned, his biggest contribution to the world is through his essays. By this point, I think I’ve actually read all ~150 of his essays. A handful of my favorites: Writing, BrieflyHow to Do What You LoveYou Weren’t Meant to Have a BossHackers and Painters (I often underestimate how good this one in between re-reads) — Why Nerds are Unpopular  — Lies We Tell Kids — What You Can’t Say  — Good and Bad Procrastination

Joel on Software:

Joel Spolsky (Microsoft Excel, Fog Creek Software, Stack Overflow) is another big name in the software world after Paul Graham, but he focuses more on the nuts-and-bolts of how to make good software, how to build good teams, how to engineer things well, how to have a positive and productive environment. He doesn’t go into the history-changing stuff that Paul meanders into. He’s also a lot funnier! Some favorites highlighted:

The Joel Test — Getting Things Done When You’re Only A Grunt (SO useful in my current position, and I’ll look to it as I play the “long game”)– Strategy Letter III: Let Me Go Back —  Things You Should Never Do, Part I (a great treatise on a big software development mistake) — The Law of Leaky Abstractions — and many other good ones.

The UnStudent:  

Mikhail Klassen has great ideas about how grad school is like entrepreneurship. See his manifesto: and his summary on astrobetter:

Nomadic Matt:

For my 22 day trip to Europe, I depended on Nomadic Matt for all of my questions and intuition, and I was not disappointed. One good article of a jillion:

Matt Might:

Perspectives on academia that I find really down-to-earth. Some favorites:

Stephen Bond:

“Why I’m no longer a skeptic”: a really insightful analysis of unchecked privilege masquerading as solidarity.

“Ender’s game”: on gratification, and similar these as above.


Other Essays —

Atul Gawande‘s blogs are some of the best things I have ever read. Please sit down and read these two if you have gotten this far: Slow Ideas and Letting Go

A Mathematician’s Lament: Paul Lockhart wrote this essay

Politics and the English Language, George Orwell

Cargo Cult Science, Richard Feynman

Edward Murrow‘s speech, 1958:

Mr. X (Carl Sagan) — interesting, but I can’t confirm any of it yet:


I would love for the comments section to fill up with other readings that you have found meaningful. Please leave comments letting me know what you liked and what I might like!


* In this context, “blog” means any website that contains content that has been added to over time in discrete chunks, regardless of its platform or how it looks. Wikis, news aggregators, other things are excluded.

in situ

It’s been a while since any of us have posted so I thought I’d drop in and say a quick thing about myself.


I am in astronomy grad school, and there are two things I want to say about this.

one: A goal of mine is to remain conscious of the pitfalls and strange aspects of academia as a human institution, and to never forget what it’s like to be a human-who-is-not-an-academic. I think that the pressures and politics of the Academy have a way of warping people into forgetting what’s relevant or meaningful about academic study as it relates to the human condition, and I want to keep my perspective as broad as possible while being able to successfully navigate academia well enough to do good work.

two: Doing astronomy is so, so, so much better of a fit for me than working at LiveRamp that it surprises even me. Most of my complaints about grad school are oriented on (a) the cultural things I outlined above, which I feel sometimes get people to forget why astronomy’s cool or why people would care about it, and (b) how there is a bunch of stuff asked of me (classes, eventually teaching, etc) that gets in the way of me doing new astronomy stuff — the creation of new knowledge and whatnot. I think these are okay problems to have at this point.

Making sure I stay happy and well-balanced, and that my sense of purpose continues to carry me forward, is the main challenge, I think, at this point of my life.  Things are good.


PS — I love this: