Unitary Advantage Windows: Scale, Schelling Points, and City Size

A simple, wrong model of human settlements is that they have a “tech tree” of amenities. As your population grows, you unlock more of them. Here’s an example with made up numbers:

pop 500: 1 elementary school, 1 convenience store
pop 5000: 1 bank, 1 Tim Hortons
pop 50,000: 1 movie theatre, 1 community centre
pop 500,000: 1 good independent record store, 1 local airport that no one uses
pop 5,000,000: 1 fancypants museum with Greek revival architecture and a wing dedicated to large dinosaur skeleton reconstructions, 1 large amusement park complex

As your settlement grows, the tech you unlock at lower populations proliferate. At a medium city of 500k, you might have 80 cafes, 35 elementary schools, 18 grocery stores, and 7 DMVs (the first one of each amenity being “unlocked” at a lower population, and then increasing every so often as the population grows). One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that there are often benefits of having specifically one of a specific entity, for reasons that rhyme with the concepts of schelling points, natural monopolies, and network effects.

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My Apartment Art Commission Process

When I know that I’m going to be moving out from an apartment soon, I commission a digital artist to draw it for me. Then I print it out and I have a cool art piece. If you love your current place but you don’t think you’ll spend the rest of your life there, you should consider doing the same.

Digital artists are much cheaper than I think they should be. I’ve paid artists between $200-$500 CAD for my commissions1, generally spread across one or two additional housemates. (You should expect to pay more – I limit my own commissions to the common areas since my bedrooms tend to be very plain, and solely used for sleep and other private activities. Also inflation.)

You can also consider hiring artists from developing countries if you want your dollar to go further, but I don’t have any advice on how to seek those folks out specifically.

You’ll be looking at around 10 hours of effort on your end, frontloaded but spread out across 2-4 months. I detail my process below.

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How Strong is Your Monkey Brain?

Related: What Universal Human Experiences Are You Missing Without Realizing It?

My friends talk about monkey brains sometimes as a shorthand for social urges that they themselves don’t want to have. Think: over-obsessing over some trivial social interaction with a sparkly new person, feeling FOMO even though not going to the party was the right move, feeling an urge to leave your objectively wonderful partner because what if there was someone else out there that was even better, that kind of thing. Generally the monkey brain is seen as a bad thing but also acknowledged as an important signal for if you’re missing some social nutrient.

This is obvious but I think it’s worth spelling out: for any problem they may face, people exist on a spectrum of [very strong and almost insurmountable monkey brain urges] to [people who have very weak and easily ignorable monkey brain urges].

Some things I have observed that have brought me to this conclusion:

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