Thijs Niks

I’m a product manager who likes to create human-centered services. Originally from the Netherlands, briefly in Beijing, and currently exploring San Francisco — which Patrick Collison accurately described as the Schelling point for optimistic people.



Contact

You can reach me at thijs@niks.nu, follow me on Twitter, or check out my resume. I enjoy learning things and meeting new people, so consider this a standing invitation to reach out!

Join my email list for infrequent updates.


Work

Some of the things I have published.


Books

Reading great books is one of the joys in life. Books are also one of the most affordable, highest leverage ways of learning. You rarely find other opportunities that upgrade your mind for $15 and 6 hours of your time.

Below are the ones I enjoyed, found valuable, or wish more people would read.

Fiction

Non-fiction

Unread

Most of my anti-library is on Goodreads, with some notable ones below.

Feel free to send book recommendations to thijs@niks.nu


Articles

Some amazing stories are shorter than a book. I loved the ones below.

  • by James Meek — “The price of driving down the cost of bulk mailing for a handful of big organisations is being paid for by the replacement of decently paid postmen with casual labour and the erosion of daily deliveries.”
  • by C.J. Chivers — “On the first day of school in 2004, a Chechen terrorist group struck the Russian town of Beslan. Targeting children, they took more than eleven hundred hostages.”
  • by Ronen Bergman — “At 6:45 a.m., the first members of an Israeli hit squad land at Dubai International Airport and fan out through the city to await further instructions.”
  • by Malcolm Gladwell — “This ‘talent mind-set’ is the new orthodoxy of American management. It is the intellectual justification for why such a high premium is placed on degrees from first-tier business schools, and why the compensation packages for top executives have become so lavish.”
  • by Amy Harmon — “The overarching quest of many in this first generation to be identified with Asperger syndrome is the same as many of their nonautistic peers: to find someone to love who will love them back.”
  • by Russell Shorto — “Yet despite the lack of paychecks, few if any employees had left the paper (which has since filed for bankruptcy), for the good reason that there was nowhere else to go. Which pretty much sums up Greece.”
  • by William Langewiesche — “It’s the dark romance of the French Foreign Legion: haunted men from everywhere, fighting anywhere, dying for causes not their own.”
  • by Martin Sandbu — “Poor countries dream of finding oil like poor people fantasise about winning the lottery. But the dream often turns into a nightmare as new oil exporters realise that their treasure brings more trouble than help.”
  • by Paul Ford — “So that’s what I’m writing: my view of software development, as an individual among millions. Code has been my life, and it has been your life, too. It is time to understand how it all works.”
  • by Edward Jay Epstein — “The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance.”
  • by Joshuah Bearman — “Blanchard eluded the police for years. But eventually he made a mistake. And that mistake would take two officers from the modest police force of Winnipeg, Canada, on a wild ride.”
  • by Jeffrey Zeldman — “You are watching your family move on without you, you are discovering all over again, as if for the first time, that your family has exploded, your wife does not love you, does not need you.”
  • by Brett Forrest — “Chris Eaton, FIFA’s head of security, arrived in Rovaniemi. He knew exactly who Perumal was. Eaton informed Finnish investigators that they had just caught the world’s most prolific criminal fixer of soccer matches.”
  • by William Langewiesche — “For years before they caught him, the Italian police had no idea that Paolo Di Lauro was one of Naples’s most powerful crime bosses, running a drug and counterfeit-goods empire—and responsible for a peace his turf had rarely known. Now authorities may long for the days when he was in charge.”
  • by Alison Fairbrother — “Stepping back from the sprawling scope and maddening complexity of the menhaden story, there’s a near-comical aspect to the image of this silvery fish, darting around in a pail of briny water or frozen in a carton of bait, confounding the American system of governance.”
  • by Craig Silverman — “The New Yorker currently has sixteen fact checkers […] Roughly eighty full-time people work in fact checking and the research/library at Der Spiegel.”
  • by Joshua Davis — “A phone rings. Rich Habib opens his eyes and blinks in the darkness. He reaches for the phone, disturbing a pair of dogs cuddled around him. He was going to take them to the river for a swim today. Now the sound of his phone means that somewhere, somehow, a ship is going down, and he’s going to have to get out of bed and go save it.”
  • by Jason Sheeler — “The painter’s style was so popular that in the past thirty years, the company had commissioned fifteen more original designs from him. He was the only American artist ever to have designed scarves for Hermès.”
  • by Charles Duhigg — “For companies like Target, the exhaustive rendering of our conscious and unconscious patterns into data sets and algorithms has revolutionized what they know about us and, therefore, how precisely they can sell.”
  • by Dinei Florêncio & Cormac Herley — “A few criminals do well, but cybercrime is a relentless, low-profit struggle for the majority.”
  • by Ken Auletta — “The Ibrahim Prize, which bestows five million dollars on an African leader who is elected to office, promotes democracy, does not steal from the people, and cedes power peacefully. Essentially, Ibrahim pays leaders to stay honest.”
  • by Molly Ball — “Yet [the campaign] failed, like all the others, and in a sudden, breathtaking epiphany, Zepatos saw why. The advocates of gay marriage had successfully convinced people that gay marriage was something different from regular marriage.”
  • by Emma Williams — “If you want to start a peaceful revolution, call Srdja Popovic.”
  • by Sean Michaels — “Whereas the Mexican Consolidated Drilling Authority are dedicated to events, the Untergunther are the organization’s restorers. In September of 2005 they came here, to one of Paris’s most important monuments – and they went to work.”
  • by Kelly Crow — “How the powerful art dealer uses his global network of galleries and blue-chip clients to fetch ever higher prices for his artists.”
  • by Paul Ford — “When it comes to in-vitro fertilization, nothing is normal. Your world is upside-down. Your doctor compliments your wife on her monkeys. Then, when every dollar and exertion has gone toward a single hour of hope, it begins to snow.”
  • by Michael Joseph Gross — “Stuxnet is the new face of 21st-century warfare: invisible, anonymous, and devastating.”
  • by Steve Randy Waldman — “Cash is not king in financial markets. Risk is. The government bailed out major banks by assuming the downside risk of major banks when those risks were very large, for minimal compensation.”
  • by Phil Mattingly and Robert Schmidt — “After years of unsuccessful pleas for relief from the courts and Congress, some 20 representatives from big retailers gathered in downtown Washington in July 2009 to discuss whether the time was ripe for another try.”
  • by Joshua Davis — “The vault was thought to be impenetrable. It was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. The robbery was called the heist of the century, and even now the police can’t explain exactly how it was done.”
  • by Sean Flynn — “The butler did it! That was the tabloid take on the unprecedented breach of security that shook the Vatican last year, when a trove of secrets plucked from one of the most impenetrable places on earth—the pope’s private quarters—was leaked to the media. But why did he do it?”
  • by Jason Del Rey — “Charlie’s idea was this all-you-can-eat shipping service. But the idea itself wasn’t about fast shipping. That was when Jeff took it a step further. I remember him saying at the time that nobody wakes up every day hoping that their shipping would be just a little bit slower.”
  • by Joel Spolsky — “Every product in the marketplace has substitutes and complements. A substitute is another product you might buy if the first product is too expensive. Chicken is a substitute for beef. If you’re a chicken farmer and the price of beef goes up, the people will want more chicken, and you will sell more. A complement is a product that you usually buy together with another product. Gas and cars are complements.”

Feel free to send article recommendations to thijs@niks.nu


Memos

Some of the clearest writing happens inside organizations, and we can only hope more of those memos reach the outside world.

  • Thoughts on Flash by Steve Jobs at Apple — “The mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.”
  • Road Kill on the Information Highway by Nathan Mhyrvold at Microsoft — “One day however people will realize that their little Information Highway Computers are more powerful and cheaper than Personal Computers - just as we have finally done with mainframes.”
  • Google vs Amazon Platforms by Steve Yegge at Google — “Bezos realized that he didn’t need to be a Steve Jobs in order to provide everyone with the right products: interfaces and workflows that they liked and felt at ease with. He just needed to enable third-party developers to do it.”
  • The World is Changing by Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney — “With success came bigger budgets and bigger names. We found ourselves attracting the calibre of talent with which ‘event’ movies could be made. And, more and more, we began making them. The result: costs have escalated, profitability has slipped and our level of risk has compounded. The time has come to get back to our roots.”
  • Burning Platform by Stephen Elop at Nokia — “Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem.”
  • Evaluation of Space Program by Wernher von Braun at NASA — “In my opinion, the most effective step to improve our national stature in the space field, and to speed things up, would be to identify a few (the fewer the better) goals in our space program as objectives of highest national priority. (For example: Let’s land a man on the moon in 1967 or 1968.)”
  • Letter to the Discharged Soldiers by General Wainwright of the U.S. Fourth Army — “We are all determined that what happened in Europe and in Asia must not happen to our country. Back in civilian life you will find that your generation will be called upon to guide our country’s destiny. Opportunity for leadership is yours. The responsibility is yours. The nation which depended on your courage and stamina to protect it from its enemies now expects you as individuals to claim your right to leadership.”
  • Strategy of the Cold War by Paul Nitze et al. — “The assault on free institutions is world-wide now, and in the context of the present polarization of power a defeat of free institutions anywhere is a defeat everywhere […] It is only by developing the moral and material strength of the free world that the Soviet regime will become convinced of the falsity of its assumptions and that the pre-conditions for workable agreements can be created.”
  • Letter from Birmingham Jail (text) by Martin Luther King — “The Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

Speeches

Great orators are rare, so here are some examples of speeches that had style, substance, and impact. As Ted Sorensen said: “Speeches are great when they reflect great decisions.”

  • Earl Spencer’s eulogy for Princess Diana (audio): “It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this: a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.”
  • Churchil was a great speaker and especially his first three speeches of the Second World War are remarkable:
    • First: “I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind.”
    • Second: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
    • Third: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
  • Roosevelt’s first inaugural address (audio): “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
  • Mandela’s statement at the Rivonia Trial (audio): “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
  • Eisenhower was well aware of the cost of war:
    • Chance for Peace (audio): “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
    • Farewell address (video): “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
  • Khrushchev critizes Stalin: “The cult of the person of Stalin has been gradually growing, the cult which became at a certain specific stage the source of a whole series of exceedingly serious and grave perversions of party principles, of party democracy, of revolutionary legality.”
  • Wilberforce argues in the House of Commons for the abolition of slavery: “As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might,—let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.”
  • John F. Kennedy was another gifted speaker:
    • Inaugural address (video): “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.”
    • Moon speech (video): “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
    • Report on Civil Rights (video): “One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.”
  • Reagan at the Berlin Wall (video): “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
  • General Marshall on the economic recovery of Europe: “It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.”
  • General Patton’s speech: “Thirty years from now when you’re sitting by your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks, ‘What did you do in the great World War Two?’ You won’t have to cough and say, ‘Well, your granddaddy shoveled shit in Louisiana.’ No sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say ‘Son, your granddaddy rode with the great Third Army and a son-of-a-goddamned-bitch named George Patton!’”
  • Martin Luther King (video): “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
  • President Johnson (audio): “Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.”

Quotes

Khan even blames Uber, the taxi app company, for disrupting the curry trade: A lot of people in London have joined Uber . . . including chefs, tandoori chefs, waiters, managers — even the owners of restaurants, he says. We do not have the profits we used to and now a lot of people value the freedom of that life. They do not have to have the headaches of running six people in a kitchen, and if your food is not consistent, you are responsible. In a cab company you just go there and drive the car.

Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you.

I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.

Somewhere along the line, I figured out, the only thing really, I think, eventually a parent can do is say I love you, there’s nothing you can do wrong, you cannot hurt my feelings, I hope you will forgive me on occasion, and what do you need me to do? You offer up that to them. I will do anything I can possibly do in order to keep you safe. That’s it. Offer that up and then just love them.

My children have opinions. Take Willow. She had this huge record, ‘Whip My Hair’ and she cut off all her hair in real life. Her mother tells me, I’m okay with that, sweetie. I was wondering if she would get flack for cutting off all her hair. But it was also so obvious to me that you have a young woman here. How can you teach her that she’s in control of her body if I tell her that I’m in charge of what she can do with her hair? Someday, she will replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She has to have command of her body.


Podcasts

Podcasts are the perfect companion for commutes and chores. Here are some great ones!

  • is the gold standard for podcasting and makes “stories that are like movies for radio.”
  • is an offshoot of This American Life and like a friend explaining the economy over a drink.
  • blurs science, philosophy, and the human experience.
  • , by Radiolab, covers the impact of the Supreme Court on American life.
  • discusses what “goes into the things we don’t think about.”
  • documents “what it’s really like to get [Gimlet] off the ground.” Season 1 is exceptional.
  • is a show “about the internet.”
  • is a fantastic mini-series about how she built her television empire. covers his early political career. And comes out soon.
  • In , Malcolm Gladwell “goes back and reinterprets something from the past.” Love season 1!
  • is where CGP Grey and Brady Haran discuss YouTube and the internet.
  • takes an in-depth look at why civilizations fell apart.
  • Watch HBO’s incredible Chernobyl television series about the nuclear disaster and then listen to the about how they made it & which changes they made for dramatic effect.
  • is about how Elizabeth Holmes started Theranos to develop a blood test to detect 100s of diseases, but none of the technology worked and everyone was deceived. Much better than the book or television documentaries.
  • first season focuses on how they pieced together the evidence that Russia shot down Flight MH17 over Ukraine.
  • tries to find the founder of the multibillion dollar OneCoin scam.
  • chases the rumor that the CIA wrote the hit song.
  • investigates America’s fentanyl opioid adiction crisis.
  • Each season of Slow Burn focuses on a different defining moment in American politics: the , the , and the .

People

This is an incomplete list of people who I have followed over the years, as they do interesting work and share insightful material. It’s, unfortunately, not very diverse.


Things

As a student of industrial design, I admire products that just work well and/or bring joy. Here are some of my favorites.


Software

Neat software to make your life easier.

  • — “Save your passwords and log in to sites with a single click.”
  • — “No-nonsense bookmarking site for people who value speed.”
  • — “Quick access to your Mac clipboard history.”
  • — “Automatically turn on Do Not Disturb when screensharing starts.”
  • — “Simpler than a spreadsheet and more powerful than a calculator.”
  • — “Offline maps using OpenStreetMap data.”
  • — “Save recipes from anywhere on the web.”

Travel

Visiting countries and learning about cultures is one of the great privileges of our times. Below is an incomplete list of countries I visited and want to visit.

I use Foursquare to save my favorite places around the world: Amsterdam, Paris, San Francisco, Brussels, and other cities.

Visited

  • United States
  • China
  • Japan
  • Europe
  • Mexico
  • Argentina
  • Turkey
  • Kyrgyzstan

Want to visit

  • India
  • Cuba
  • Iran
  • Iceland
  • New Zealand

Name

Thijs is a common name in the Netherlands and derives from Matthijs and Mattheus. It’s the name of one of Jesus’ twelve apostles and means “gift of God.” The English version is Matthew.

It’s a hard name to pronounce, so don’t worry about that. I have learned to listen to all variants and often use Matt myself.