Tom MacWright


Tim Hecker performing at Pioneer Works

I saw Tim Hecker at Pioneer Works, and was astounded by the opener, Mizu. Bought the album as soon as I got home. It is, crudely explained, like if Zoë Keating dialed up the synths and pedals and rhythm, and it was also a remarkable live show.


I love shopping! I do. I love commerce — the dance of it, the etiquette. I love it as buyer and seller both. I love considering alternatives, and I love being considered. I love settling on favorites. I love stumbling across surprises.

Am I simply bourgeois? Yes, and I’ll wave that flag proudly. This is a big part of my politics: which is not a politics of “free markets” or “free trade”, but rather of systems that can support commerce and craft at every level, especially the smallest and most careful.

From Robin Sloan’s gift guide, this short passage struck me. Because I’ve really always felt the opposite: averse to talking about money, negotiating buying and selling. The tendency was ingrained early and has been hard to shake. It’s refreshing to read this, then - of someone who not only doesn’t dread the thing that you do, but enjoys it. Maybe it’ll be me, someday.

I have the kind of brain that erases everything that passes, almost immediately, like that dustpan-and-brush dog in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland sweeping up the path as he progresses along it. I never know what I was doing on what date, or how old I was when this or that happened–and I like it that way. I feel when I am very old and my brain “goes” it won’t feel so very different from the life I live now, in this miasma of non-memory, which, though it infuriates my nearest and earest, must suit me somehow, as I can’t seem, even by acts of will, to change it.

From Zadie Smith’s Feel Free. I love this passage too, for the opposite reason as Sloan’s – this is me. And I’ve long seen writers as otherworldy for their ability to remember so much. Their memoirs have realistic-sounding quotes from conversations they had years ago. Of course they’re interpolating, but the even my friends can remember the names of their teachers, of minor characters in our social scene in high school, and to me it’s all a blur. It was a relief, an affirmation, to read Zadie writing this.


  • Nick Magguilli wrote about sequence of returns risk. This might be finance content that puts your brain to sleep, but I think it’s a great example of applied statistics: if you have an average 10% long-term return but high volatility, the amount that you can safely pull from your investments is well below 10%, because in “down” years, that 10% is actually a much higher percentage.
  • Kasey Klimes on Land Value Taxes and Inclusionary Zoning is a great read. It was fun meeting Kasey this month and ranting at each other about Georgism.

Good ideas versus vibes

Something I’ve been encountering time and time again is the difficulty of getting both “good vibes” and “good ideas” in the same movement.

For example, fighting greedy housing developers has great vibes, a clear-cut enemy, lots of likeable compatriots, potential for good visuals. Sometimes it’s correct – developers are no saints, and they’re sometimes the bad guys – but a lot of the time it’s wrong. Fighting new development no matter what is the essence of NIMBYism.

YIMBYism often has bad vibes: we have to deal with loud, often-wrong twitter personas like Matt Yglesias speaking for the movement. There’s a lot of “well-actually” corrections and gesturing toward charts and numbers. But, most of the time it’s right. Every time you look at recent history, building housing has led to more housing, and not building housing has led to more homelessness.

Inclusionary zoning is the perfect encapsulation of the vibes-correctness spectrum, and that’s why it makes everyone mad. Basically, it’s a requirement placed on developers by local governments that requires them to create some affordable units in new ‘market rate’ housing. The basic principle is that some level between 10-30% of units being affordable at some percentage of local adjusted median income. You set the percentage too low and there isn’t enough affordable housing as “the market will bear”, you set it too high and developers won’t build because they can’t make enough profit to justify it. I think there’s something about this – that it’s based on some percentage that’s always less than 100%, some AMI that always seems too high, such that I’ve never anyone write about inclusionary zoning in a positive way. In places where developers can pay into a fund instead of building units, that’s seen as buying their way out.

I see this dynamic play out in a lot of contexts. For example, as you can read everywhere, everyone hates the Biden economy, but it’s pretty hard to tell why. There’s an enormous amount of disinformation on TikTok and elsewhere with wacky economic theories that play into this feeling. Which is why I was kind of fascinated when Biden tweeted this:

Let me be clear to any corporation that hasn’t brought their prices back down even as inflation has come down: It’s time to stop the price gouging. Give American consumers a break.

If there’s anything with great vibes and bad ideas, it’s this. Obviously, it’d be nice for prices to decrease, but the critique is obvious: when inflation slows, prices stop increasing. For prices to decrease overall, you need deflation, which has all kinds of bad effects: I haven’t seen any competent observer ever advocate for deflation.

He met a lot of opposition for this obviously-not-quite-right take, but is this the right vibe, a necessary evil to get people on his side? Maybe?


So, I wrote up about shutting down Placemark soon, and have gotten a lot of nice emails about it. Thank you, and sorry for taking many days to respond to those emails. I’m working on open sourcing it and all of the other administrava. None of it is fun, but I’m excited about the next phase of things.

I’ve already started on the docs, which are now open source, and the videos, whcih are on the Internet Archive. I should put the videos on YouTube! I think I’ve been foolish to ignore the power of YouTube all these years.

My channel has almost nothing on it besides this clip from a year ago of me attempting to use Filecoin and failing. I watched it now and checked the Filecoin site again, and the “Store your data” button now links to DeStor, which has a “Get Started” button that links to a contact us form. So much funding, still not possible to buy Filecoin and upload cat.jpg.

On another note, I’ve been open-sourcing things under Val Town. The angle is to open source things that we write that are non-obvious, annoying to figure out, and common issues. So, integrating CodeMirror and TypeScript, and converting exported Notion docs to more conventional Markdown.