The back-end and front-end of the American Cloud

Venkatesh Rao on the dichotomy of the vast Hamiltonian ‘cathedrals’ across the US mainland and the carefully crafted Jeffersonian bazaars of the coasts.

The vast back-ends, a national infrastructure of “grain silos, power plants, mines, landfills and railroad yards” built in Hamiltons’s image of America and supported by governmental structures and legal frameworks are hidden behind their citizen front-ends exemplified by Whole Foods to preserve “a theatre of pre-industrial community life” that was Jefferson’s ideal and what, according to the writer, is America’s vision of itself.

Structurally then, the American cloud is an assemblage of interconnected Hamiltonian cathedrals, artfully concealed behind a Jeffersonian bazaar. The spatial structure of this American edifice is surprisingly simple: a bicoastal surface that is mostly human-habitable bazaar, and a heartland that is mostly highly automated infrastructure cathedrals. In this world, the bazaars are the interiors of cities, forming a user-interface layer over the complex tangle of pipes, cables, dumpsters and loading docks that engineers call the last mile — the part that actually reaches the customer. The cities themselves are cathedrals crafted for human habitation out of steel and concrete. The bazaar is merely a thin fiction lining it. Between the two worlds there is a veil of manufactured normalcy — a studiously maintained aura of the small-town Jeffersonian ideal.

To walk into Whole Foods is to recognise that the Jeffersonian bazaar exists in the interstices of the cloud rather than outside of it. Particular clouds might have insides and outsides — smartphone apps live outside, datacentres live inside; gas stations live outside, oil supertankers live inside — but the cloud as a whole has no meaningful human-inhabited outside. It subsumes bicoastal America rather than being book-ended by it.



Bombay real estate is nuts. People in my teams over the last ten years have commuted (and do) from Panvel, Kalamboli near the start of the Poona Expressway, and beyond Mira Road. I’m not sure how sustainable startup work + this sort of travel is going to be for them health and quality-of-life wise. And if apartments in Malad and Chembur are going to cost this much, they aren’t going to be able to move to the ‘city’ for years yet.

From the article:

(the Kandivali apartments) are android-enabled, letting you control the coffee maker to the fan, Aarambh in Malad comes with a mezzanine loft that can double up as a study while some of the bedrooms in Chembur Central rest on a platform with a pull-out bed underneath. Swish interiors, pretty tiles, wooden flooring, and modern bath fittings add to the appeal.

Somehow this is incredibly saddening.

On compounding and starting early

On the power of compounding:

What if Buffett got serious about investing when he was age 22 – just out of college – instead of age 10? Imagine he spends his 20s learning about investments, and his net worth at age 30 was in the still-impressive 90th percentile. Using today’s net worth percentiles and adjusting them for 1960s-era inflation, that would mean he’d be worth about $24,000 at age 30.

Now we can do some fun calculations.

If, at age 30, Buffett was worth $24,000 instead of the $1 million he actually accumulated, and went on to earn the same returns, how much would he be worth today?

$1.9 billion.

That’s 97.6% lower than his actual net worth of $81 billion.

The punchline is that 97.6% of Buffett’s current success can be directly tied to the base he built in his teens and 20s.

The whole article is a wonderful read; it’s unfair to quote just this bit.

Investor Dean Williams once wrote:

“Expertise is great, but it has a bad side effect. It tends to create an inability to accept new ideas.” Those who learned how to invest in the ‘70s and ‘80s never quite shook the idea that low inflation could persist as long as it has. Those who invested through the late ‘90s will perpetually see a bubble in anything that trades over 20 times earnings. Anyone under age 25 will have an easier time seeing the potential of blockchain than those over age 55. Same was true for the internet 30 years ago.”