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Rationalist horoscopes: A low-hanging utility generator.

62 Post author: AdeleneDawner 22 May 2011 09:37AM

The other day, I had an idea. It occurred to me that daily horoscopes - the traditional kind - might not be as useless as they seem at first glance: They usually give, or at least hint at, suggestions for specific things to do on a given day, which can be a useful cue, allowing the user to put less effort into finding something useful to do with their time. They can also act as a reminder of important concepts, rather like spaced repetition, and have the possibility of serendipitously giving the perfect advice in a situation where the user would otherwise not have thought to apply a particular concept.

This seems like something that many people here would find useful, if they weren't so vague, and if they were better calibrated to make useful suggestions. So, after getting some feedback, and with the help of PeerInfinity (who did most of the coding and is currently hosting the program), I put together a tool to provide us with a daily 'horoscope', chosen from a list provided by us and weighted toward advice that has been reported to work. The horoscopes are displayed here, with an RSS feed available here. Lists of the horoscopes in the program's database can be found here, with various sorting options.

One of the features of this program is that the chance of a given horoscope being displayed are affected by how well it has worked in the past. Every day, there is an option to vote on the previous day's horoscope, rating it as 'harmful', 'useless', 'sort of useful', 'useful', or 'awesome'. The 'harmful' and 'useless' options give the horoscope -15 and -1 points respectively, while the other three give it 1, 3, or 10 points. If a horoscope's score becomes negative, it is removed from the pool of active horoscopes; otherwise, its chance of being chosen is based on the average value of the votes it has received compared to the other horoscopes, disregarding recently-used ones.

There is still a need for good horoscopes to be added to the database. Horoscopes should offer a specific suggestion for something to do that will take less than an hour of sustained effort (all-day mindfulness-type exercises or 'be on the lookout for X' are fine) and that can be accomplished on the same day that the horoscope is read. Horoscopes should not make actual predictions, but may make prediction-like statements that are likely to be true on any given day, like "you will talk to a friend today". Horoscopes can be submitted here, or left in the comments. EDIT: Any comment anywhere on the site that contains the phrase "Horoscope version:" or "Horoscope:" should now automatically be emailed to me, so feel free to horoscope-ify new posts in their comments, unless this comes to be considered spam.

Comments (77)

Comment author: PeerInfinity 22 May 2011 09:58:32AM *  20 points [-]

The code for this project can be downloaded here

The code is written in PHP, and uses a MySQL database. A cron job is set up to post each day's horoscope to the Tumblr account.

This is completely free software, so you're welcome to do whatever you like with it.

Contributions and feedback are appreciated.

Update:

A git repository for this project is online now at https://github.com/PeerInfinity/Weighted-Horoscopes

Comment author: saturn 23 May 2011 03:28:10AM 3 points [-]

Why not put it on github (or similar service)?

Comment author: PeerInfinity 23 May 2011 07:30:13AM *  2 points [-]

I still haven't bothered to set up a github account. But if someone else wants to put it oh github, they're welcome to.

Comment author: Rain 23 May 2011 06:44:06PM *  8 points [-]

Today is a good day for sharing. Take a moment to overcome trivial obstacles which may be preventing you from sharing useful endeavors, insights, or wisdom with those around you. Alternatively, offer something useful to a friend, or give something away.

Comment author: PeerInfinity 24 May 2011 12:19:36AM 4 points [-]

I'll admit that after I first read that comment, I was about to make this mistake:

"When faced with a choice between doing a task and attempting to prove that it's unnecessary, most people immediately begin on the latter."

(I'm probably misremembering that quote. I tried googling but didn't find the original quote, and I don't remember where it's from.)

So a more appropriate course of action would be for me to at least check how much effort would be required to set up a github account. And so I did. I discovered that it was more complex than I expected, but I started to set up a github account and the project repository anyway. After about an hour of setting stuff up, I got to the step where I need to choose the project name. Another hour later, I still hadn't thought of an obviously correct choice for the project name. "Rationalist Horoscopes" wouldn't be an appropriate name for the project, because there's nothing especially rationalist about it without the database of good horoscopes, except the scoring system. There is already another project on github titled "horoscope". Other names I considered were "Scored Horoscopes", "Rated Horoscopes", or "Weighted Horoscopes", but none of these seemed clearly better than the others. I have lots of trouble making decisions like this, and github doesn't let you change the project name after it has been created. And so I decided to post a comment here asking if anyone can think of a better name, or if any of the names I thought of so far sounds better than the others.

Th inconvenience of posting this to github ended up being a lot less trivial than I expected.

Comment author: Rain 24 May 2011 02:21:57AM *  1 point [-]

Thank you for putting in the effort! I like "Weighted Horoscopes".

Comment author: PeerInfinity 25 May 2011 04:30:00AM *  1 point [-]

The git repository is online now at https://github.com/PeerInfinity/Weighted-Horoscopes

Comment author: Zvi 26 May 2011 11:50:26PM 6 points [-]

Fortune cookies used to be deeply cool, because they made predictions. Then at some point, they turned into Advice Cookies, complete with a back telling you to learn Chinese. At that point, they became far less interesting, including both in and except in bed.

I think in general the phrasing/attitude is off on these horoscopes. "Today is an excellent time to start a new project" is superior to "Start a new project today, and spend two hours on it." Yes, the second is more actionable, but may not be possible or wise, which makes the user feel bad and damages their link to the horoscopes. The first encourages something new, but without imposing a burden and leaving the person with full agency.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 27 May 2011 12:34:43AM 1 point [-]

This seems to be a matter of personal preference - I also had a request to make the horoscopes more concrete, in the discussion area.

I have added a few more vague horoscopes to the database, in the last group, so if there's a clear preference for one style or the other it should show up in the voting. This also might be worth running another instance of the program for, with a separate database.

Comment author: pthalo 01 June 2011 03:01:03AM 4 points [-]

I think it would be useful to be able to rate a horoscope "confusing." This wouldn't be a numerical rating that got averaged in, but a separate tally. Then now and then you could look at what is most frequently rated "confusing" and see if it's an issue of jargon or if it's just too vague. They need to be vague enough to apply to a broad scale of people but not so vague that they stop applying.

For example, today I rated yesterday's horoscope as "not useful" because I spent the entire day trying to figure out what it meant, how I could apply it to my life and interactions with the universe and never came up with an answer. (It was "Are you asking the right things?" which I guess isn't the right thing to ask me. I wasn't really sure what 'things' meant in this context, or 'asking' or 'right' but I don't think it's a jargon problem.

Most questions I ask myself are ones that I go on to find answers to. The most recent one was "Hungarian used to have a lot more grammatical tenses than it currently does. I've seen them enough in old texts that I have a vague sense for their meaning but I wonder how they were differentiated from each other." so I googled and bookmarked a few pages and if I read through it a few more times I should be able to communicate effectively the next time I travel to 16th century Hungary, for all the good it'll do me. Most of my questions are of this type: how does x work? what is y like? and then i do research and find out.

One question that puzzled me for weeks was "how can I get the cat to stop pooing on the chair?" The answer ended up being "by putting some paper trash in a corner for the cat to poo on instead." (Keeping the litter box clean was my first hypothesis, but the cat disproved it.)

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 02 June 2011 11:32:57AM 1 point [-]

I think it would be useful to be able to rate a horoscope "confusing." Then now and then you could look at what is most frequently rated "confusing" and see if it's an issue of jargon or if it's just too vague.

This might be worth implementing. Even if it is an issue of jargon or some other situation where explaining the idea within the horoscope would take too long, it's possible to include links to external resources in the horoscopes, so external explanations can be written and linked to.

For example, today I rated yesterday's horoscope as "not useful" because I spent the entire day trying to figure out what it meant ... It was "Are you asking the right things?" which I guess isn't the right thing to ask me.

The assumption there is that most people ask questions and pursue answers to them as part of trying to reach larger goals, and that it's common for people to skip steps in figuring out what strategies to pursue, often without noticing that they've done so. For example, in your cat situation, if you'd unintentionally assumed that it had to be a litterbox cleanliness issue, and only asked 'how often do I have to clean the litterbox to get the cat to use it', you might have missed the less traditional but easier solution altogether. In that case, being reminded to back up and ask whether 'how often do I need to clean the litterbox' was a good question would hopefully be useful. (I should probably re-word that one anyway to mention goals, though.)

Comment author: pthalo 02 June 2011 08:37:09PM 1 point [-]

I think using hyperlinks in some of the horoscopes would be useful.

Thanks for explanation about the one I didn't understand. You're right that I could've easily missed it. I did originally assume it was a litterbox cleanliness problem, but I very early on I noticed that I'd clean the litter box, and then within an hour, the cat would go in it, pee, bury it, hop onto the chair, and poo right in front of me. I've been reinforcing "not on the chair" with a fan pointed at the chair. The cat hates the fan, but apparently there are too many other places she's willing to poo if the chair is too windy. So she went on the floor, and then I cleaned it and put some trash down on the spot she'd went on, and now at least we've got the trash solution. Maybe she just doesn't like the location the litter box. I could try moving it.

I think "Are you asking the right questions to accomplish your goals?" would be a suitable rewording.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 25 May 2011 07:26:31AM 4 points [-]

The following horoscopes have been added. There are now 33 horoscopes in the database, with 1 scored below 0; horoscopes can repeat at most once every 16 days.

  • Today, before you ask for someone's opinion, consider the answers that they might give. What kind of answer would you consider useful? If their answer is not the one you want to hear, what will you do?

  • When you notice yourself procrastinating about something, figure out the first step, count down from 10, and then do it.

  • Today, before making changes to something, make sure you understand why that thing is in the state it's in. Just because something appears wrong or sub-optimal doesn't mean it is.

  • Today, give moment-by-moment attention to something you usually do.

  • The precedents that you set for yourself may be the most important factor determining your behavior. Make a point of setting a good precedent or repairing a bad one today.

  • Today is a good day for sharing. Take a moment to overcome trivial obstacles which may be preventing you from sharing useful endeavors, insights, or wisdom with those around you. Alternatively, offer something useful to a friend, or give something away.

  • Project your voice and speak loudly.

  • Smile!

  • Keep eye contact with everyone you talk to today. If you find your gaze wandering, force yourself to focus on the person you’re talking with.

  • It is a good idea to change your passwords once in a while, even if they are secure and well crafted passwords. Take the time today to change your passwords on many accounts both online and on your computer.

  • Today is a good day to finish up a project you’ve been working on that is almost done.

Comment author: Halceon 15 June 2011 08:40:07AM 1 point [-]

For the past 2 days the horoscopes have been repeating. With only 33 choices it's bound to happen, but it does seem a bit often.

Also, my english is letting me down. Does "repeat once every 16 days" mean "no more than one instance in any 16 day period" or "no more than 2"?

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 15 June 2011 08:47:52AM *  0 points [-]

"Repeat at most once every 16 days" means they can repeat twice in 17 days (once on day 1, no more for the rest of the 16 days, and again on day 17), but don't have to. And in this case, they mostly shouldn't be repeating every 17 days. I'm not sure if we're seeing a bug in the horoscope-choosing code or it's just that the unused ones aren't being given enough of the probability mass, but if it's been three days in a row I suspect the former. I'll look into it.

ETA: There's at least a bug, since horoscope 8 came up twice with about a week between instances. Hopefully Peer will have time to take a look at it tomorrow, and while we're poking at the code anyway I'll have him change the default functional score of the unused ones to 3 rather than 1. There may still be another couple days of repeats while we iron things out, though.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 15 June 2011 09:55:29AM 1 point [-]

This suggests an exercise in mathematics and programming:

Given a set of N objects, generate an indefinitely long sequence of random members of the set, such that:

  1. No object is drawn more than once in any consecutive P drawings, for a given P <= N.
  2. Every object is drawn at least once in every consecutive Q drawings, for a given Q >= N.
  3. The probability distribution of the next drawing, given only knowledge of the last P-1 drawings, is uniform over the remaining N-P+1 objects.
Comment author: AdeleneDawner 15 June 2011 10:09:10AM 0 points [-]

I think 2 and 3 are mutually exclusive - 3 is a pretty strict specification of how an item is chosen, and doesn't lend itself to making 2 guaranteed to happen at all.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 15 June 2011 10:14:47AM *  1 point [-]

(3) only says what you know about the next one, given the last P-1. The actual algorithm can know the entire previous history. So if object X has just been passed over Q-1 times, it must be chosen next by (2), but that doesn't violate (3), because that information isn't available from the last P-1 drawings.

ETA: A simple algorithm that I think works is this:

1. Generate the first P-1 items at random, all distinct.
At each subsequent step:
2. If there is an item that has not appeared in the last Q-1 drawings, choose it.
3. Otherwise, choose uniformly from among those that have not appeared in the last P-1 drawings.

This isn't the only possible algorithm. Instead of a uniform distribution in part (3), one might weight it towards those that were last chosen longer ago, with (2) being a special case of that.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 16 June 2011 03:04:26PM 2 points [-]

I couldn't resist programming it. I have a MATLAB function randchoiceseq(N,P,Q,K), where N, P, and Q are as above and K is the length of sequence to generate. If it would be useful for the horoscope site, I can send a copy. Result of randchoiceseq(33,16,40,100):

 8 16 19 18 5 2 15 33 28 1 25 24 26 31 32 10 4 27 20 7
3 16 23 6 33 17 22 13 21 12 14 30 9 19 29 8 11 2 5 18
15 28 25 4 24 26 1 10 32 31 27 3 20 7 16 33 23 19 17 6
13 8 22 21 12 14 30 29 9 25 15 5 2 11 18 28 26 24 32 4
27 1 20 10 3 31 33 23 7 16 17 19 13 29 6 8 14 24 22 21
Comment author: Will_Sawin 16 June 2011 03:15:25PM 0 points [-]

I second the claim that it works.

Comment author: fontgoddess 04 June 2011 08:54:04AM 0 points [-]

"Project your voice and speak loudly," is not rationalist advice, unless your goal is to be loud. If your goal is to be heard and maybe listened to, I suggest advice that matches those goals, where volume and projection are tools rather than the goal.

So, um, in the interest of providing a constructive replacement rather than solely offering criticism, Horoscope: Speak effectively. Start with speaking so you can be heard clearly by your audience, whether it is one person or a group.

"Smile!" is a bold and simple exhortation, but I think it is worth one crucial adjective. Horoscope: Smile sincerely.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 22 May 2011 02:31:01PM *  4 points [-]

Don't try to change something unless you've paid attention to it first.

This is a piece of advice I figured out that I need because I have a bad case of free-floating perfectionism-- a standard comes into my consciousness, and I'll immediately try to make things "better" (the things are frequently my state of mind) without any further consideration.

I suspect that the lack of respect implied by this habit contributes to depression and akrasia.


Give moment-by-moment attention to something you usually do.


Is there a chance that something you're doing to make things better is actually making them worse?

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 22 May 2011 10:24:34PM *  1 point [-]

The first and last of these are a little short on actual 'do this today' implementation advice, so I'm trying to re-word them. The first one looks good as "Today, before making changes to something, make sure you understand why that thing is in the state it's in. Just because something appears wrong or sub-optimal doesn't mean it is.", but then it's not clear how the last one is different enough to get a separate entry. Perhaps you could clarify that a bit?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 May 2011 01:20:17AM 0 points [-]

The first also implies that something could be wrong, but your first idea about what needs to be changed might not be accurate.

The first one is about a specific discovery I made as a result of following the second.

Now that you mention it, the third is a somewhat different angle on the first-- I didn't realize how closely linked the three are. The first one is about my finding out a very specific bad approach I've been using.

The third isn't as specific about the problem, but acknowledges that even actions which jam problems into place are well-intended. It was actually a revelation that a mistake I'd made was an effort to improve my life instead of generic evidence about how fucked up I was.

At this point, I'm curious about whatever people might want to say about problems which aren't related to perfectionism.

Comment author: EvelynM 27 June 2011 04:41:14PM 3 points [-]

Project Premortem. Imagine your project has failed in the worst possible way. What does that look like? How did it happen? What can you do now to prevent that from happening?

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 09 October 2011 08:21:18PM 5 points [-]

I found it amusing to pretend this was to be applied to the horoscope project, not a submission to it.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 09 October 2011 09:00:37PM 1 point [-]

Any ideas?

I'm imagining new submissions decline in quality and the old ones become less relevant over time. At the same time, more and more people believe that these horoscopes are able to predict the future, and a diabolical conspiracy begins using them as a mind-control device.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 27 June 2011 05:14:18PM 3 points [-]

So my scraper catches this:

Horoscope: Do a project premortem: Imagine your project has failed in the worst possible way. What does that look like? How did it happen? What can you do now to prevent that from happening?

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 27 May 2011 02:56:39AM 3 points [-]

In the interests of removing trivial inconveniences, I'm in the process of setting up a system that will forward any comment containing either "Horoscope version:" or "Horoscope:" to my email. Hopefully this will encourage others to horoscope-ify new posts as they're made. The same system will also pick up any posts that have either of those two phrases before the jump.

(This is not actually a good way of drawing my attention to things, since these emails are shunted to a folder that I'll only look at when I'm ready to update the database.)

Comment author: EvelynM 28 May 2011 03:26:44PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for doing this Adelene.

I've found similar sorts of positive affirmations helpful in my life. I think of them as a way of counteracting negative environmental messages (media, self-talk) with positive ones.

This site has quite a few tips for general improvement: http://theenergyproject.com/tips Some of them might be suitable for inclusion.

Horoscope-ifying posts sounds like a bite-sized writing practice. I can help with that.

Evelyn

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 28 May 2011 05:57:18PM 1 point [-]

Awesome. Thanks for the help!

Comment author: endoself 23 May 2011 01:20:11AM *  3 points [-]

If a horoscope's score becomes negative, it is removed from the pool of active horoscopes; otherwise, its chance of being chosen is based on the average value of the votes it has received compared to the other horoscopes, disregarding recently-used ones.

Why not use a Bayesian method, like the one described here.

EDIT: I misremembered; this is not actually a Bayesian method.

Comment author: Cyan 23 May 2011 02:39:25AM *  2 points [-]

That's not a Bayesian method -- it's a frequentist shrinkage method. That said, it's a good one to use for this purpose.

Comment author: endoself 23 May 2011 02:45:22AM *  0 points [-]

Sorry, I read the page a while ago and linked it without rereading.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 23 May 2011 01:37:25AM 2 points [-]

Is that compatible with the idea of having multiple 'strengths' of upvotes and downvotes? I'm not following the math well at all, but it seems not to be, and having things that are rated harmful disappear quickly and automatically seems important.

Comment author: endoself 23 May 2011 01:46:01AM *  2 points [-]

Rereading the article, I'm not sure whether the method is actually Bayesian. If it is, you could do that by saying that the probability of a 'harmful' rating is very low if the horoscope is not actually harmful.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 23 May 2011 01:51:46AM 2 points [-]

So we'd track 'chance that it's harmful', 'chance that it's not useful', etc. separately, and combine those probabilities somehow to get the score that's used to determine the horoscope's chance of being picked?

Sounds convoluted, but I could see that working.

Comment author: endoself 23 May 2011 02:48:21AM *  1 point [-]

Essentially. It wouldn't be that complicated. You'd use a multinomial distribution for your conditional probabilities and the factors of usefulness and harmfulness should combine linearly if your utilities sum over people.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 23 May 2011 03:02:08AM *  0 points [-]

There's a reasonable chance that what you just said will be parseable to Peer, but it goes over my head.

Alternately, some non-us person could do the relevant coding, since it is open-source.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 24 May 2011 03:19:21AM *  1 point [-]

I think I've figured this out. I still can't implement it, since I don't write PHP, but I'm going to drop it here anyway, to get a sanity check and in case seeing it written out will be useful for anyone else. (Hint, hint.)

Edit: On further examination, I think my conclusion is wrong... or rather, the first set of numbers I got was right, and just not useful for this purpose.

I started with a set of sample data: A horoscope with 2 votes for 'not useful' and 3 votes each for 'sort-of useful' and 'useful', totaling 8 votes.

I then used the wolfram alpha Wilson score interval calculator to get a pair of numbers for each of the 5 vote types, given 95% confidence:

  • 'Harmful' and 'awesome' have a lower bound of 0 and an upper bound of .324

  • 'Not useful' has a lower bound of .071 and an upper bound of .590

  • 'Sort of useful' and 'useful' have a lower bound of .137 and an upper bound of .694

I messed around with using those numbers directly to get weighted scores for the horoscopes, but they didn't work very well that way, so I adjusted each set to add up to 100%. For example, on the lower bound set, 'not useful' has (0.071)/(0.071+0.137+0.137)=0.206 of the adjusted votes. Multiplying these adjusted numbers by the weighting that I gave in the original post (-15, -1, +1, +3, +10) gave what look to me like sane numbers: My sample data got an adjusted lower bound score of 1.382 and an adjusted upper bound score of 0.216. (The adjusted upper bound score is low because 'harmful' votes are weighted more strongly than 'awesome' votes, and the upper bounds for those are closer to the upper bounds of the other types of votes - in other words, the 'upper bound' vote is more pessimistic because of how things are weighted.)

I could easily have done something wrong, there, but assuming not and assuming that it's easy to code a Wilson score interval calculator, this should be simple enough to add to the code once someone gets to it. (Peer appears to have become busy with something else.) The decision on whether to use upper or lower bounds seems to depend on how we want newer horoscopes to act in comparison to older ones, and I think using the lower bound (optimistic) one makes sense - I think new horoscopes should ideally be given a few opportunities to prove themselves at a higher rate of visibility before settling into their accurate place in the hierarchy, rather than having to claw their way up from enforced obscurity.


Numbers:

actual votes

0 harmful
2 useless
3 s/o useful
3 useful
0 awesome

score 1.25

-

lower bound 95% confidence

0.000 harmful (*-15 = -0.000)
0.071 useless (*-1 = -0.071)
0.137 s/o useful (*1 = 0.137)
0.137 useful (*3 = 0.411)
0.000 awesome (*10 = 0.000)

score (total weighted score divided by sum of Wilson numbers): 0.48475

-

upper bound 95% confidence

0.324 harmful (*-15 = -4.860)
0.590 useless (*-1 = -0.590)
0.694 s/o useful (*1 = 0.694)
0.694 useful (*3 = 2.082)
0.324 awesome (*10 = 3.240)

score: 0.2155

-

adjusted lower bound of 95% confidence (keep wilson numbers proportional to each other but make 'em total 1.0)

0.000 harmful (*-15 = -0.000)
0.206 useless (*-1 = -0.206)
0.397 s/o useful (*1 = 0.397)
0.397 useful (*3 = 1.191)
0.000 awesome (*10 = 0.000)

score: 1.382

-

adjusted upper bound 95% confidence

0.123 harmful (*-15 = -1.845)
0.225 useless (*-1 = -0.225)
0.264 s/o useful (*1 = 0.264)
0.264 useful (*3 = 0.792)
0.123 awesome (*10 = 1.230)

score: 0.216

Comment author: endoself 24 May 2011 10:58:20PM 0 points [-]

I just realized that I didn't mention this in a direct reply to you so I should mention now that this method was not actually Bayesian. It seems to work well enough for whatever sites use it but if you want I could do a Bayesian analysis of the data similar to the one you did.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 24 May 2011 11:56:51PM 1 point [-]

I don't really care whether a given method of Baysean or frequentist so long as it works in context. But it looks to me like the point of any predictive method is to give a higher score to something with more votes, and I don't think that makes sense here - there's a risk of ending up in a situation where a few dozen horoscopes (based on how often the horoscopes are allowed to repeat; out of hopefully at least a few hundred) have many more votes than the others, because they happened to be at the top of the heap at one point and started getting picked more often by the RNG, which got them more votes, which widened the gap in how often they were chosen, which got them even more votes....

Comment author: Cyan 25 May 2011 01:42:39AM 2 points [-]

To ensure churn, fix a lower bound on the probability that a horoscope will be picked, at least until it has been picked enough times to accurately rank it against horoscopes that have been picked more often.

Comment author: 6thhour 31 October 2011 06:59:06PM 2 points [-]

Hello everyone, I am an artist working in the UK and I'm currently working on a project that involves the creation of a 'newspaper of the future'. To make it more realistic, we're having a back section with crossword puzzles, cartoon strips and horoscope. I came across your blog when searching for alternative horoscope generators, and not being a big fan of the traditional one, I was wondering if you would allow me to use some of your actually useful horoscopes in my project. Please let me know if I can provide you with any additional information. All the best

Comment author: MinibearRex 23 May 2011 12:05:57AM 2 points [-]

If a horoscope's score becomes negative, it is removed from the pool of active horoscopes; otherwise, its chance of being chosen is based on the average value of the votes it has received compared to the other horoscopes, disregarding recently-used ones.

Wouldn't this system doom a horoscope if the first person to ever get it didn't see anything valuable in it, even if other people would have found it more beneficial?

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 23 May 2011 12:17:30AM 2 points [-]

The functional solution to this issue at the moment is having several people see the horoscope on the same day - if three people are watching the feed, and one votes 'unhelpful' and the other two vote 'sort of helpful', the horoscope stays in the active pool, even if the 'unhelpful' vote comes in first. It does give whoever votes on a horoscope the first time it comes up an unusual amount of influence, but hopefully it'll be balanced enough for horoscopes to stick around long enough for a few rounds of voting.

Comment author: Pavitra 25 May 2011 09:21:57PM 1 point [-]

Maybe horoscopes should start at more than zero points when first created, or should never be removed if they have fewer than a certain quorum of votes.

Comment author: TrE 22 May 2011 04:11:37PM *  2 points [-]

"When you notice yourself procrastinating, you will be able to muster the courage to do what you're trying to avoid."

When I actually realize that I am procrastinating, I often can, by this pure insight, get myself to doing that task. To me, it serves as a mind-hack, similar to "The Game".

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 22 May 2011 08:35:57PM *  3 points [-]

How about: When you notice yourself procrastinating about something, figure out the first step, count down from 10, and then do it.

Comment author: TrE 23 May 2011 05:05:10AM 0 points [-]

I wasn't aware of that. Neat. And it's a better horoscope than mine.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 22 May 2011 04:56:17PM 0 points [-]

you are lucky in that regard. I have no similar power.

There may be some critical step I am missing that would make it that easy? I have insufficient wisdom to tell.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 May 2011 04:08:25PM 2 points [-]

I utterly lacked that power. Then someone said to me, "I used to have kleptomania, but then I talked to a therapist, and they told me that I'm only stealing things compulsively in order to prove to myself that there's something wrong with me. After I realized that, I stopped." I thought about that for a while, and decided that maybe the only reason I'm acting akratic is that I want to prove to myself that I do experience akrasia.

And now... well, I don't actually know if that has fixed the problem, or not. I haven't tried to use the method TrE mentions enough times to know how well it works. Send me a message in, oh, a week, and I'll get back to you.

Comment author: TrE 23 May 2011 05:03:23AM 1 point [-]

I don't know. Probably, it just works for me. It's a five-second-skill.

  1. notice procrastination
  2. think "I shouldn't be procrastinating, it doesn't help"
  3. convince myself to doing the task I ought to do
  4. do it.

I'd say the third step is crucial.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 22 May 2011 09:57:33AM 2 points [-]

Awesome! Well done for putting this idea into action.

Comment author: Dmytry 22 May 2011 01:27:13PM *  1 point [-]

I think making it depend to the birthday is also rational. Otherwise there is more possibility of some sort of resource congestion if horoscope compels every user (rather than 1/12th of the users) to do same thing. This is not a big concern in the Internet with few thousands users spread all over the world - but imagine a small village, where there's just 1 horoscope, and it tells everyone to think about failure modes of their plans - they are all farmers, they all think what they're gonna do if crops fail, they all try to buy same equipment at same day.

Comment author: PeerInfinity 22 May 2011 03:08:18PM 4 points [-]

one idea is to have 12 separate tumblr accounts, one for each zodiac sign, then the users subscribe to the tumblr account for their own zodiac sign.

Comment author: ata 22 May 2011 08:39:47PM *  3 points [-]

I don't think there's any good reason to depend on birthday or actually follow the zodiac; it would be simpler to just have a few horoscopes for each day and show them randomly.

Actually, one interesting variation on this theme would be a website which keeps a database of all of the rationalist horoscopes, lets people get accounts and rate individual horoscopes by usefulness, and uses that information to predict which other ones that user would find the most useful. That would be a lot more helpful than going randomly or by birthday.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 22 May 2011 08:58:33PM 3 points [-]

The basic idea can definitely be implemented in more sophisticated ways, though I'm not sure how quickly one would hit the point of diminishing returns.

At this point I think there's a clear advantage to having everyone using the same database; more feedback in the same place means we'll more quickly figure out how good the horoscopes are, so that the horoscope-choosing script is better calibrated and we have the data we need to know what kind of horoscopes we need to write more of.

The code as written does allow for several tumblrs to draw from and report to the same database, so if there's an advantage to having different people see different horoscopes even though each group has the same probability of seeing any given one, that can be implemented easily enough, but I'm not sure that's the case.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 27 May 2011 03:18:08PM 0 points [-]

I suggested something like this in the interest checking post: http://lesswrong.com/lw/5rb/rationalist_horoscopes_lowhanging_utility/47i7

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 22 May 2011 02:33:37PM 2 points [-]

I hope that there will eventually be patterns of some people getting more benefit from some horoscopes than others, so that some information will fall out about mental habits and personalities.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 27 May 2011 10:22:46PM 1 point [-]

12 groups is good, but why not let people sort themselves into groups of similar personalities & needs, so their votes will be more relevant to others in the group.

If dividing by 12 would mean too few votes per group, make them overlap. So if your sign was (for example) Slytherins for Sunshine, your votes would affect 3 Slytherin signs & 4 Sunny signs (double for the combination), but not the other 6.

Comment author: Louie 23 May 2011 03:37:36PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for creating this new service! I'll definitely check it out. Another service in this space that I'd also recommend is SmartUp.

They offer productivity/effectiveness/motivational tips designed to match what you're most likely to need given what time of day it is!

It's not perfect yet, but it's good and has been getting better the past few months. Also, I met the founder last year and was impressed with his overall vision.

Comment author: badger 22 May 2011 12:35:59PM 1 point [-]

Awesome! One suggestion: consider a different background or theme. I find that black on brown combination hard to read.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 22 May 2011 07:03:53PM 3 points [-]

I've changed the theme to one I knew was very customizable in terms of colors, and given it a rough approximation of LW's color palette. It should be significantly more readable now, but I'm still open to changing it if there are any other issues or suggestions.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 May 2011 04:16:21PM 1 point [-]

General suggestion: light text should go on dark backgrounds and vice versa. When I see difficult-to-read text in PowerPoint presentations that my classmates give, it's almost always because they didn't do this.

Huge text, like the "Actually Useful Horoscopes" title, doesn't have to follow this rule, but it doesn't hurt, either. Try making the title lighter and the background darker, or vice versa.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 24 May 2011 04:25:26PM 1 point [-]

I changed the title to use the lighter green that's used for some of the backgrounds.

I may, in the long run, wind up replacing the title text with a graphic.

Comment author: kpreid 25 May 2011 10:10:55PM 0 points [-]

Qualification: Whether a given color is "light" or "dark" for these purposes depends on the display medium (monitor (including brightness), projector, paper, ...), and the text size and viewing distance.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 June 2011 03:47:02PM 0 points [-]

How about making it possible to leave comments on the horoscopes? Probably with making optional to have them easily accessible, so they aren't too great a temptation to kill time?

Comment author: EvelynM 01 June 2011 01:50:19AM 0 points [-]

If you were starting over from scratch, what choice would you make? Sometimes we weight things we can't change too much, and need to give ourselves permission to look at the situation with a fresh start.

Comment author: brilee 24 May 2011 10:07:47PM 0 points [-]

Awesome idea! It just so happens that I've been thinking about daily goals - for example, "Strike up a conversation with a random person", or "Remember to project your voice and speak loudly", or even something as simple as "Smile!".

The interface for horoscope submission is somewhat awkward - if I want to submit multiple horoscopes, I have to re-type my name/email address each time.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 24 May 2011 10:40:31PM 1 point [-]

That is inconvenient. Unfortunately, it's part of tumblr, rather than anything I can actually change.

You can certainly submit more than one horoscope at the same time, though. Just leave a line between them or something so it's clear they're meant to be different things.