Last month’s links: 6/9/19

It’s been a busy few weeks, both in work volume and reading, starting with this 66 hour behemoth of an audiobook:

The Power Broker by Robert Caro, winner of the 1974 Pulitzer, sheds some light on questions like: how do large-scale, billion-dollar public works like bridges, highways and state parks get built? Who makes the decisions, what causes delays and snowballing costs (see Tyler Cowen and Scott Alexander on cost disease), and how can power be created and wielded to overcome these barriers? Between the lines, the book challenges you to think about what prices cities should be willing to pay, and the consequences (financial, social and humanitarian) when we overpay.

More commentary on high construction costs in the US. Example drivers of construction costs (9 total are listed in the article):
– Tunnels: NYC cost per km is much higher than peer cities; in part because the unwillingness to disrupt traffic flow disallows the otherwise-conventional cut-and-cover tunneling method and requires longer material transport times, higher costs, and potentially rising probabilities of delays.
– Sourcing: contracts are usually awarded in the U.S. solely based on price submitted by a construction firm; however, some firms underbid and then raise change orders, causing cost over-runs. On the flip side, NYC looks to minimize these events by overexacting specs, reducing flexibility, limiting the competitive pool, and increasing the price.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford. Like the Free Folk from Game of Thrones, the Mongols were historically a fragmented and nomadic set of tribes until united under Genghis Khan (here’s where the metaphor is more aptly suited for the Dothraki), when they conquered 16% of the world’s landmass (the largest contiguous empire ever), and contained 25% of the world’s population. Genghis (born Temujin) had tremendous success in uniting such a large empire under one ruler, no doubt driven by power and reputation for retaliation, but also supplemented by policies like sharing spoils of war with families and converting enemy leaders into followers.

The Economics of the Cloud – Microsoft (2010). Cloud services shift traditional IT economics via three key drivers: large scale data centers reduce costs per server (supply-side savings), server utilization rates are sustainably grown as aggregated user demand smooths variability (demand-side aggregation), and efficiency gains from a multi-tenant model reducing application management and per-tenant server costs – analogous to the AirBnb model (multi-tenant efficiencies).

Why bankers can’t stop running – Financial Times

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