Sunday Snapshots (22nd September, 2019)

Clarity vs. Mystery, Quantum computers, Bill Gates, and South Indian food

Hey everyone,

Greetings from Evanston.

It’s been a relaxing week of setting up my new house, spending time in Chicago, and figuring out what I want to do after graduation. It’s so rare that I get uninterrupted time to reflect on the past and consider the future. I’ve also had many long, uninterrupted conversations with my friends who have moved in over the week.

This week, I want to talk about:

  • Design, Clarity, and Mystery

  • A request for your advice

  • Quantum computers and longshot bets

  • Bill Gates, Ambition, and PR

  • And more!

Personal update of the week

I start my final undergraduate year of college this week. If you spent any time at a university, I have a question for you:

What did you do at college that you most regret or what didn’t you do that you most regret?

Just reply to this email to answer.

Book of the week

After reading a long biography, I like to break things up with a couple of smaller books. I was at the amazing Open Books in West Loop and picked up Chip Kidd’s Judge This. Chip Kidd is a book cover designer who don’t like the motto “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” He argues that “design, by its very nature, demands to be judged when you initially encounter it” and it’s his job to make sure that that first impression is great. The biggest takeaway from the book is the concept of the “Mysteri-o-meter.” Every design can be rated on a spectrum of absolute clarity to absolute mystery. Which one you want to optimize for depends on the task at hand. If you’re designing direction signs for the subway, clarity is obviously way more important. On the other hand, if you’re designing a poster for a movie, maybe a little bit of mystery isn’t so bad.

Kidd goes through different designs and uses this framework of clarity vs. mystery to evaluate them. Occasionally, he’ll redesign them. These are my favorite parts of the book. He also discusses some of his own work.

It’s not a must-read but a good book to flip through on a train ride or flight.

Business move of the week

Google claims to have reached quantum supremacy

Massive value is created and destroyed when the assumptions of doing business are changed. An example of such a paradigm shift is the zero marginal cost of serving another customer on the internet.

This week, Google allegedly took an important step towards such a paradigm shift – cracking the mysteries of quantum computing. Their processor computed a calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful classical computer approximately 10,000 years to do.

That’s 0.00000006% of the classical computer time! While the researcher note that this was a technical calculation and that application of quantum computers is still years – if not decades – away, this is an important milestone.

If you have more than $100B in liquid cash reserves, these are the longshot bets that you should be working on. I think there is something very neat about the idea that all of us are funding this research through our interactions with Google every day.

Random corner of the week

Taking about longshot bets, I watched the Bill Gates documentary that came out last week. It’s a 3-part exploration of the work done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, through the . I actually think the documentary was pretty impartial and the interviewer pushed Gates when his answers were not satisfying.

Here were my three takeaways from the series:

  • Don’t trust the report: Last year, I read Rich Cohen’s The Fish that Ate the Whale, a biography of Sam Zemurray of the United Fruit Company. Sam was famous for visiting the banana fields in Latin America himself to ensure that corrupt executives were not distorting results. In a similar way, Gates goes straight to the source of the knowledge. When he’s lobbying states to adopt his solutions, he reads boring thousand-pages long state budgets. When he wants to learn about sanitation in the developing world, he reads the World Development Report and supplements that with visits to the countries he’s concerned about. If one of the most influential people in the world can do the grunt work, then so can all of us.

  • Complimentary strengths in your partner: The dynamics between Bill and Melinda Gates was an under-explored part of the documentary. Melinda seems to have an analytical mind with a bent towards the human interaction piece of solutions. That’s different than Bill, who has is still a programmer at heart and looks at solutions in terms of scalability and utility. Every partnership must have complementary strengths, and the Gates family definitely has it figured out.

  • PR turnarounds: Whoever worked with Bill Gates to change his public persona from a ruthless monopolist to a philanthropist working on improving the lives of the bottom 10% of the world’s population needs to get a raise. While it’s true that Gates has done incredible work in developing countries, many rich people do that but don’t get the goodwill that comes with it. The Gates family does.

  • Ambitious, even for Bill Gates: Towards the end, the interviewer asks Gates a question: “Have you taken on projects that are too ambitious for you?” Things like re-inventing nuclear energy, ensuring clean sanitation, and eradicating polio. That struck as a very powerful question. Things are not a cakewalk, even for Bill Gates.

I definitely recommend the documentary series.

Meal of the week

When you think about Indian food, you probably imagine a nice tomato-based curry and a naan. That cuisine from the northern part of the country. While I swear by the fact that North Indian food is way better, I definitely enjoy South Indian food. My dad grew up in the southern state of Kerala, so he loved going to South Indian restaurants and even cooking it at our house.

Here in the US, South Indian food is rare. So when I learned that there was a spot in West Loop where you get a satisfying South Indian meal, it was a no brainer for me. Thattu in Politan Row on 111 N Aberdeen St is an amazing food stall run by a lovely couple who will greet you with the biggest smile.

I had the Chicken Coconut Curry, Appam, Ghee Rice, and Fried Chicken. Amazing food, definitely worth a visit.


That wraps up this week’s Sunday Snapshots. If you want to discuss any of the ideas mentioned above or have any books/papers/links you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of Sunday Snapshots, please reach out to me by replying to this email or sending me a direct message on Twitter at @sidharthajha.

Until next Sunday,

Sid