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Off-Topic Discussion Thread: April 2009

11 Post author: MBlume 05 April 2009 03:23AM

Dale McGowan writes:

And it needs to go well beyond one greeter. EVERY MEMBER of EVERY GROUP should make it a point to chat up new folks—and each other, for that matter. And not just about the latest debunky book. Ask where he’s from, what she does for a living, whether he follows the Mets or the Yankees. You know, mammal talk.

In this spirit, I propose the creation of a fully off-topic discussion thread.

Here is our monthly place to discuss topics entirely unrelated to Less Wrong that (of course) have not appeared in recent posts.

ETA: There are two behaviors I would love to see associated with this thread. First of all, discussions often drift off-topic in the middle of a thread. In these cases "let's take this to the off-topic thread" would be an excellent response.  Secondly, given who's doing the discussing, I could easily see, say, a discussion about recent developments in some webcomic blossoming into a LW-worthy insight, in which case someone could spawn a new thread.

Comments (67)

Comment author: thomblake 07 April 2009 03:07:24AM *  6 points [-]

Just how off-topic does something need to be in order to post it here? Do we get extra credit for things that are more off-topic?

XKCD

Hey, did you know that a duck's quack doesn't echo?

http://thomblake.mp A site with links to my web places - get yours at chi.mp

Singularity; Artificial General Intelligence; Coherent Extrapolated Volition!

Do I win yet?

ETA: Hey, why are people upvoting / downvoting all my stuffs? Please comment nine times to explain!

ETA2: Hey look a lolcat

Comment author: komponisto 07 April 2009 03:29:29AM 1 point [-]

By the way, what does "ETA" stand for? (Besides "Estimated Time of Arrival", or the Basque paramilitary group.) I can discern from context that it denotes a later edit, but what do the letters actually mean?

Comment author: ciphergoth 07 April 2009 08:13:19AM 1 point [-]

Have added this to the wiki :-)

Comment author: MBlume 07 April 2009 03:30:48AM 1 point [-]

Edited To Add =)

Comment author: thomblake 07 April 2009 03:30:29AM 1 point [-]

"Edited To Add"

Comment author: CronoDAS 07 April 2009 08:08:51PM 1 point [-]

Hey, did you know that a duck's quack doesn't echo?

I strongly suspect that's an urban legend, and I think I remember reading a debunking somewhere.

Comment author: thomblake 07 April 2009 08:26:46PM *  3 points [-]

They actually did this one on Mythbusters. As it turns out, a duck's quack has an odd waveform that tends to cancel itself out better than a lot of other sounds. What actually happens is that an echoing quack sounds just about like a non-echoing quack - that is, a duck's quack sounds like it's echoing even when it isn't, so if you're familiar with what ducks sound like, you won't notice it echoing.

Actually, don't read the above. It's terrible. Instead, read the synopsis at Wikipedia

Comment author: Annoyance 07 April 2009 08:12:33PM 1 point [-]

Yes, CronoDAS, it's a modern myth. Physicists haven't missed an obvious way in which their understanding fails to predict the world.

Well, at least not involving that particular obvious way.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 06 April 2009 12:39:12PM 5 points [-]

Even at the risk of touching upon Topics That Are Not To Be Named - Eliezer's prediction of an AI figuring out the laws of physics from a few frames of video doesn't sound very implausible anymore.

Comment author: infotropism 05 April 2009 06:11:27PM 5 points [-]

I've never been terribly good with casual chatting. What would people discuss usually ? I don't know which of my limited and eerie pastimes would not scare them away either.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 April 2009 03:14:34AM 4 points [-]

People with eerie pastimes generally talk to other people with eerie pastimes, about their eerie pastimes. If for some reason you have to talk to a normal person, try asking stuff about the person you're talking to, the theory being that people like to talk about themselves.

Comment author: badger 05 April 2009 09:33:05PM 4 points [-]

I'm not great at socialization in a context like this either, but I think these threads are a chance for those of us too sparsely distributed to meetup to get to know each other.

So what are good non-rationality related topics? On other forums I see discussion of: fiction, movies, tv, food, jokes, relationships, love, sex, school, work, requests for advice, silly polls, anecdotes, games, forum games, music, current events, diet, exercise, gadgets, software, comics, quotes, hobbies, science, politics, etc.

Even though this thread is off-topic, should there be any restrictions on what goes down here?

Comment author: infotropism 06 April 2009 02:58:41PM 5 points [-]

Oh I see. This might even be useful, relaxing effects notwithstanding. So what's people's here take on romantic relationships ? What does it mean to you, to begin with ? Romance, relations, love, sex, how does that interplay, how do they relate ? Do you find it interesting, fulfilling ? Easy, difficult ?

That one has me puzzled for a few years. I still don't know what I should think about it. There seems to be a lot of great reasons for them, none the less that it feels appealing. Still, to be so obsessed, to have one's mind and soul sucked out like that, I find it not a little bit unnerving. Is there more to it, and is it worth the investment in time and energy, when that investment might be better placed somewhere else (in other words, you do not seek love to optimize happiness, you just seek it because you can't help it, regardless of whether you're successful or not, regardless of whether it makes you happy or not) ?

Comment author: steven0461 07 April 2009 07:14:58PM *  3 points [-]

Probably the ability to decide consciously whom one does and does not fall in love with is an important rationalist skill. I've heard that one good technique toward the latter is to focus what people would look like on the inside (literally, the blood and guts and stuff).

Comment author: MBlume 06 April 2009 08:50:02PM 1 point [-]

Perhaps the pursuit of love does not maximize happiness per se, but on introspection, I find I value love for its own sake; that I value the part of me that needs love, and would not change it even if I could.

Were I able, however, I believe I would modify my pair-bonding circuitry so that a bond could easily be dissolved when the person in question is no longer bonded to me. I do not really think such a change would alter what it is to love another, and it would fix...an unfortunate bug which currently exists.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 April 2009 12:18:49PM 4 points [-]

Now I want to memorize that list for use at parties.

In fact, I can think of at least one other person who needs to memorize that list for use at parties.

Comment author: MasterGrape 06 April 2009 02:00:17PM *  2 points [-]

We want you to feel comfortable. Maybe we'll start yet another thread for off-topic Creepy chatting. All the subjects you dare not discuss outside the halls of Miskatonic University.

.. I think you chat about anything. That's what makes it chat. Here's something I found interesting, the new PS3 firmware update is going to revolutionize the PS3 by including text chat. . . . a technology that has been readily available on computers since the 1990's. http://blog.us.playstation.com/2009/04/01/ps3-firmware-v270-update/

This is supposed to be a next gen system. It costs lots of money. And it is just incorporating chat... and that chat is textual? In case you want to plug in a keyboard and pretend it's the nineties. They even used a video to explain the update. ugh.

Comment author: ciphergoth 05 April 2009 08:55:04AM 4 points [-]

What other blogs do folk here recommend? I'll recommend two: Greta Christina's blog which talks about sexual politics, atheism, skepticism, and politics in general, and FiveThirtyEight which covers the inside baseball of Washington DC according to a baseball statistician.

Comment author: badger 05 April 2009 05:55:38PM *  5 points [-]

I'll resist my urge to dump every blog in my feed reader, and just give the five that LW readers might not be aware of:

Comment author: byrnema 06 April 2009 03:49:08AM *  1 point [-]

Awesome links! Thanks so much.. I'm going to try the Shangri-la diet immediately. Such impulsiveness probably automatically exposes me here ...

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 05 April 2009 10:16:03AM *  2 points [-]

If you enjoy FiveThirtyEight, Andrew Tanenbaum's electoral-vote.com is in a somewhat similar vein (and for the CS nerds here, yes, that's the Dr. Tanenbaum you're thinking of). It's currently somewhat inactive though, as he only actively updates it during major election cycles.

Comment author: CronoDAS 05 April 2009 09:25:20PM 1 point [-]

http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ <---- Blog of David Brin, science fiction writer. Talks a lot about politics. http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/ <---- also recommended

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 05 April 2009 05:27:48AM 4 points [-]

I find my mind tends to wander when I read dead-tree books. This makes me a rather slow reader. Oddly enough, it doesn't happen when I'm reading stuff on the internet. Suggestions?

Comment author: matt 05 April 2009 09:42:17PM *  3 points [-]

I humbly propose that being a slow reader makes your mind wander (which is mitigated when reading bite size chunks on the Internet). Using your finger as a pacer will probably give you a 10-20% speed improvement. If that helps, consider a speed reading course (I did Evelyn Wood Dynamic Reading and found it excellent).

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 05 April 2009 11:11:57AM 3 points [-]

Do you actually want to read faster in those situations? I find the mind-wondering process essential to deeper understanding of the material, creativity on the issues I'm pondering in the background viewed in a new light, and aesthetic appreciation of the writing.

Comment author: matt 05 April 2009 10:15:35PM 1 point [-]

Consider (for material that justifies it) speed reading, but reading the material twice (with a few days in between). Your total time spent is the same, but your recall will be greater, and your second exposure will often let you see things you didn't the first time round.

Comment author: badger 05 April 2009 06:19:11AM *  3 points [-]

I am easily distracted while reading long works. That doesn't stop me from reading long comment threads, forum topics, or blog post after blog post, though. As best I can tell, the relevant difference is that the latter are broken up into small, easily processed chunks. Because I know I'll be done with the chunk I'm reading soon, my mind doesn't have reason to wander off. The commitment doesn't feel as large, so I have less reason to subconsciously question it. Just like with food, just one more small chunk won't matter....

My book-reading strategy lately is to discretize the material and be actively involved in the text. I scan each page, and if it looks interesting, I read it. I then try to write a couple lines of notes on the page or section I am considering. Focusing on what is worth writing down also keeps me from wandering off.

This strategy probably wouldn't work as well for fiction, but that usually requires less motivation. I hope my personal observations are of some help.

Comment author: DavidNelson 05 April 2009 07:02:08AM 6 points [-]

I have the same problem with finding it much harder to concentrate while reading an actual book as opposed to forum posts etc. I used to have a huge attention span for books of any sort when I was younger, so I wonder if being used to the short content you tend to find on the internet is the issue.

My trick is to go somewhere away from my house to read. Weather permitting, I walk to a park bench about 10 minutes from where I live. It makes it much easier to focus when I know I can't check my email or reddit almost instantly. Although it is annoying when I want to, say, look up the definition of a word.

Comment author: AlexU 05 April 2009 08:08:45PM 4 points [-]

I use Google SMS for that. Just text 'em with "define [word]" and you've got a dictionary at your fingertips.

Comment author: billswift 05 April 2009 11:15:10PM 1 point [-]

I have the opposite problem, I tend to really zip through stuff on screen, which I have discovered makes it harder to remember details later. So I basically just read fiction and do general "fishing" type reading on screen.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 05 April 2009 10:17:33PM 1 point [-]

Interesting. I have the reverse effect - it's much easier to concentrate on the physical books, which don't need to constantly compete for attention with all the distractions of the web, like the impulse to check your e-mail every five minutes.

That's mostly just for long books, though - reading comment threads such as on LW isn't a problem. The hypothesis below, that it's because of their discretized nature, sounds quite plausible.

Comment author: Loren 05 April 2009 06:59:16PM 1 point [-]

I find my mind tends to wander when I read dead-tree books.

Interesting. I have the opposite problem My mind tends to wander when reading stuff on the internet. To truly comprehend what I see on my computer screen, I have to print it and read it from a piece of paper.

Perhaps this is because I need to highlight passages and make notes in the margins. If it was easy to do this with anything I read on the internet, maybe my ability to comprehend from the computer screen would be just as good?

Comment author: steven0461 07 April 2009 07:03:48PM 3 points [-]

Anyone have recommendations for online audio materials? Here are some.

Comment author: Peter_de_Blanc 06 April 2009 08:52:19PM 3 points [-]

I'm interested in probability calibration games, but I don't want to put a lot of work into finding good trivia. Does anybody have a good database of one-line statements, marked as true or false?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 April 2009 09:24:08PM 6 points [-]

IAWYC but this comment is off-topic because it's not off-topic.

Comment author: Cyan 06 April 2009 09:14:14PM *  2 points [-]

The CIA World Factbook isn't exactly a database per se, but the text version might be regular enough to be machine-readable.

Comment author: steven0461 07 April 2009 07:09:13PM *  1 point [-]

Not really an answer either, but along the lines of the other replies, nationmaster.com and statemaster.com are good resources.

How many do you need; is it more like 50 or 5000?

Comment author: Peter_de_Blanc 21 April 2009 10:30:03AM 0 points [-]

More like 5,000 (or more).

Comment author: steven0461 21 April 2009 02:13:17PM *  1 point [-]

One other thought: given a not too long list of locations with map coordinates, it should be easy to auto-generate statements like "X and Y are farther apart than A and B".

Comment author: MBlume 06 April 2009 08:54:12PM 1 point [-]

It seems Wikipedia could easily be data-mined. Look at country statistics, for example, make up a different number, and ask for over-under probabilities

Comment author: dfranke 06 April 2009 06:10:04PM 3 points [-]

How is the Summer of Code application pool looking for Opencog? I'm mentoring for Battle For Wesnoth, and while we've gotten a pretty bad ratio of serious to unserious applications, we're more than making up for it in volume and we'll easily have an excellent student per every mentor.

Comment author: Technologos 09 April 2009 02:46:43AM 1 point [-]

I love that game--and in particular, I love the variety of new units that you can discover by leveling up ones you already know about.

Comment author: taw 05 April 2009 10:16:25AM 3 points [-]

Is there any PDF program that converts two-column PDFs into one-column PDFs? Two columns, which way too many papers use, is just completely unusable on a computer screen. I'm sure many of you read a lot of research papers, so I guess you must have figured some way better than printing them out.

Comment author: matt 05 April 2009 09:27:35PM *  1 point [-]

Select-all, copy, paste somewhere else sometimes works (depending on how the pdf is created; this is what makes it a difficult process - some pdfs are internally organized to be small otherwise unordered text snippets absolutely positioned on the page).

Comment author: Alicorn 05 April 2009 07:02:19PM *  4 points [-]

As long as we're being completely off topic and talking about our interests, is it cool for me to plug my side projects? I have:

A webcomic, HTHT

A fantasy prose serial, Elcenia

A food blog, Improvisational Soup

I should probably mitigate the self-aggrandizement with links elsewhere, so:

Money, game theory, etc: Mind Your Decisions

Politics and culture and some scantily clad persons: The 1585

Unintentional comedy: Chick tracts

Comment author: CronoDAS 06 April 2009 02:07:52PM 2 points [-]

Who here plays (or has played) Magic: the Gathering besides me?

Comment author: GuySrinivasan 06 April 2009 02:37:59PM *  1 point [-]

I have, but not extensively - get Race for the Galaxy and play it instead+. It's cheaper, not a CCG, and better. Then if you start missing some of the deck construction aspects get the expansion and draft.

+Okay, play it also, if you insist.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 April 2009 02:09:02PM 1 point [-]

I played a few games, long ago in the distant past.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 09 April 2009 03:37:14AM 0 points [-]

still play casually every now and then. Never too serious. Great fun, just never had friends who were as interested in the game as me.

Comment author: loqi 09 April 2009 01:18:20AM 0 points [-]

I played online drafts fairly regularly until around when 10th edition released.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 06 April 2009 07:19:59PM 0 points [-]

long ago, never seriously

Comment author: Alicorn 06 April 2009 05:58:26PM 0 points [-]

I used to play. My cards are in boxes, collecting dust; I plan to sell them when I have the time and inclination.

Comment author: MasterGrape 05 April 2009 07:36:03PM 2 points [-]

I live in France where I make wine. I travel a lot to talk about and sell the wine. I have a blog where I write about wine. ... It's nice to come here and think about things that have nothing to do with wine.

I also come here to detox after having frustrating conversations with wine idiots and whatnot. My most recent detox was after a series of comments on my aforementioned blog which the masochists amongst you can read at http://mastergrape.com/blog/?p=270

Comment author: pwno 05 April 2009 10:48:38PM *  3 points [-]

The wine culture is, in my opinion, all about status signaling. I wouldn't be surprised if wine enthusiasts are also over-cynical: a common intellectual status signal.

Comment author: MasterGrape 06 April 2009 01:53:58PM 2 points [-]

Interesting. Is there a pejorative connotation to being cynical that rationalists know of? Does that just mean they're really critical? Does it mean I'm hyper-critical?! I may be.

It's definitely true that the wine world is swamped with people that excessively favor tradition. It can impede progress or any kind of logical discourse at times.

Comment author: loqi 07 April 2009 02:54:04AM 2 points [-]

Is there a pejorative connotation to being cynical that rationalists know of?

I think Eliezer's take on cynicism is spot on.

Comment author: Lojban 07 April 2009 02:41:43AM 1 point [-]

Voted up. Tradition is annoying.

Comment author: Lojban 06 April 2009 07:00:43PM 2 points [-]

I have no testicles by choice.

Comment author: thomblake 07 April 2009 02:54:53AM 3 points [-]

How do you get voted down for posting in the off-topic thread?

I guess "I want to see more comments like this one" doesn't apply here.

Comment author: MBlume 07 April 2009 03:23:10AM 6 points [-]

I voted down because of the user's overall posting pattern: broadcasting a provocative statement, talking briefly about how irrational our sex drives make us, and then walking away without further explanation, to do the same in another thread. It's a little annoying.

Still, you're right. Here, at least, it makes sense. Downvote retracted.

Comment author: Cyan 06 April 2009 09:19:07PM 2 points [-]

OK, I'm curious: what prompted this choice? What gains did you hope to realize, and have you realized them?

Comment author: MBlume 06 April 2009 09:23:23PM 2 points [-]

He's discussed this before.

As far as I can see, no one's really gotten any useful answers out of him.

Comment author: Cyan 07 April 2009 02:10:50AM 1 point [-]

Ah, thanks. I hadn't seen the thread on the Open Thread post.

Comment author: Lojban 07 April 2009 02:53:25AM 1 point [-]

There is a small community of us (eunuch.org being one place I visited). I did my research, and got what I expected. I'll have more to say.

Comment author: MBlume 06 April 2009 08:51:52PM 0 points [-]

so you've mentioned...

Comment author: MrHen 28 April 2009 06:32:09PM 1 point [-]

Site suggestion: Add a box underneath the Google search box that links to the wiki search. The link is easy to create:

http://lesswrong.wikia.com/wiki/Special:Search?search=XXXX&go=1

Where XXXX is the search term.

This will provide a front page link to the wiki and instantly provide access to the most used feature of the wiki.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 09 April 2009 03:40:21AM 1 point [-]

Anyone else about to enter graduate school? I've been accepted to a few Ph.D. programs in statistics and econ and am waiting to here back from a couple others.