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Ten small life improvements

4 paulfchristiano 20 August 2017 07:09PM

I've accumulated a lot of small applications and items that make my life incrementally better. Most of these ultimately came from someone else's recommendation, so I thought I'd pay it forward by posting ten of my favorite small improvements.

(I've given credit where I remember who introduced the item into my life. Obviously the biggest part of the credit goes to the creator.)

Video speed

Video Speed Controller lets you speed up HTML 5 video; it gives a nicer interface than the YouTube speed adjustment and works for most videos displayed in a browser (including e.g. netflix/amazon).

(Credit: Stephanie Zolayvar?)


Spectacle on OSX provides keyboard shortcuts to snap windows to any half or third of the screen (or full screen).

Pinned tabs + tab wrangler

I use tab wrangler to automatically close tabs (and save a bookmark) after 10m. I keep gmail and vimflowy pinned so that they don't close. For me, closing tabs after 10m is usually the right behavior.

Aggressive AdBlock

I use AdBlock for anything that grabs attention even if isn't an ad. I usually block "related content," "next stories," the whole youtube sidebar, everything on Medium other than the article, the gmail sidebar, most comment sections, etc. Similarly, I use kill news feed to block my Facebook feed.

Avoiding email inbox

I often need to write or look up emails during the day, which would sometimes lead me to read/respond to new emails and switch contexts. I've mostly fixed the problem by leaving gmail open to my list of starred emails rather than my inbox, ad-blocked the "Inbox (X)" notification, and pin gmail so that I can't see the "Inbox (X)" title.

Christmas lights

I prefer the soft light from christmas lights to white overhead lights or even softer lamps. My favorite are multicolored lights, though soft white lights also seem OK.

(Credit: Ben Hoffman)


Karabiner remaps keys in a very flexible way. (Unfortunately, it only works on OSX pre-Sierra. Would be very interested if there is any similarly flexible software that )

Some changes have helped me a lot:

  • While holding s: hjkl move the cursor. (Turn on "Simple Vi Mode v2") I find this way more convenient than the arrow keys.
  • While holding d: hjkl move the mouse. (Turn on "Mouse Keys Mode v2") I find this slightly more convenient than a mouse most of the time, but the big win is that I can use my computer when a bluetooth mouse disconnects.
  • Other stuff while holding s: (add this gist to your private.xml):
    • While holding s: u/o move to the previous and next word, n is backspace. 
    • While holding s+f: key repeat is 10x faster.
    • While holding s+a: hold shift (so cursor selects whatever it moves over, e.g. I can quickly select last ten words by holding a+s+f and then holding u for 1 second).

I'd definitely pay > a minute a day for these changes.


I find split+tented keyboards much nicer than usual keyboards. I use a Kinesis Freestyle 2 with this to prop it up. I put my touchpad on a raised platform between the keyboard halves. Alternatively, you might prefer the wire cutter's recommendations.

(Credit: Emerald Yang)


Vimflowy is similar to Workflowy, with a few changes: it lets you "clone" bullets so they appear in multiple places in your document, has marks that you can jump to easily, and has much more flexible motions / macros / etc. I find all of these very helpful. The biggest downside for most people is probably modal editing (keystrokes issue commands rather than inserting text).

The biggest value add for me is the time tracking plugin. I use vimflowy essentially constantly, so this gives me extremely fine-grained time tracking for free.

Running locally (download from github) lets you use vimflowy offline, and using the SQLite backend scales to very large documents (larger than workflowy can handle).

(Credit: Jeff Wu and Zachary Vance.)

ClipMenu [hard to get?]

Keeps a buffer of the last 20 things you've copied, so that you can paste any one of them. Source for OSX is on github here, I'm not sure if it can be easily compiled/installed (binaries used to be available). Would be curious if anyone knows a good alternative or tries to compile it.

(Credit: Jeff Wu.)

[Link] Multiverse-wide Cooperation via Correlated Decision Making

3 Kaj_Sotala 20 August 2017 12:01PM

The Reality of Emergence

4 DragonGod 19 August 2017 09:58PM

Like-Minded Forums

1 Bound_up 19 August 2017 06:26PM

What awesome forums around the internet can you recommend?


LW, OB, EA, and SSC are all in the current rationalist cluster. What forums do you know from outside the cluster that would appeal to those within it?

[Link] Embracing Metamodernism

1 gworley 18 August 2017 07:23PM

Tabooing Science + an xkcd comic about the eclipse - "Honestly, it's not that scientific."

4 Voltairina 16 August 2017 03:19PM

It occurred to me when I was reading XKCD a moment ago that given that there exists a strain of suspicion of anything 'science' among a certain crowd in this country (fundamentalists, creationists, etc), and a kind of mystique among another crowd (of the "It was in a study so it must be true" variety) that it might be helpful, given that by doing science people are more or less systematizing thinking critically and checking things to be as certain as they can about an idea, to kind of pay attention to and possibly 'play taboo' to an extent when that something-is-a-special-kind-of-a-thing-because-it-is-a-science-thing attitude comes up.

A good example being the xkcd comic I got it from:

We need to think more about Terminal Values

1 [deleted] 16 August 2017 07:50AM

I just sent an email to Eliezer but it is also applicable to everyone on this website. Here it is:



Hi Eliezer,

I'm contacting you directly because I think I have an idea that could get us closer to obtaining our terminal value(s), and you are in a position of influence but also seem like someone I could possibly influence if my idea is correct. If my idea is wrong at least I'd get a lot out of hearing why.

First. I think your definition of Terminal Value is flawed. People don't ultimately want survival or health or friendship. I know that because if I asked you why you want survival, the answer would ultimately be because circuitry and chemistry make us. So it'd appear that our terminal values are  actionable motivations from circuitry and biology. If we stopped our line of questioning there we'd think our terminal value was that, in which case the optimal path of action would be to find a way to hack our circuitry and biology to give us positive signals. But I don't think we should stop there.

If you model humans as optimizers of this terminal value then you'd say to people "you should try to optimize your terminal value" but it's not really a should because that's already what people do to various degrees of effectiveness. Terminal values aren't "should"s, they're "shall"s. The real question here is what do you mean when you say "you."

Let me know if any part of this seems logically unsound but I'm now going to make another argument that I'm still having a hard time processing:

"You" is poorly defined. Evidence:
- That tree over there is just as much a part of "you" as your hand is. The only difference is your conscious mind is better at finely controlling your hand than at controlling the tree, but same as how you can cause your hand to move you can also cause the tree to move by pushing it.
- The "you" some years from now is made of entirely different atoms yet you don't behave as if "you" will be dead when that happens--you still think of that as you. That means "you" is more than your physical body.
- If "you" is more than your physical body then, the first thing I was saying about chemical and electric signals being our terminal value don't make sense.

New model:
- We are a collective system of consciousnesses that is in some sense conscious. Humans are like neurons in a brain. We communicate like neurons. We communicate in various ways, one of them language. The brain might have a different terminal value than the neuron.
- Question: what "should" a neuron in a brain's terminal value be? Its own possibly faultily programmed terminal value? Or the terminal value of the brain? I think it depends on the neurons level of awareness, but once it realizes it's in a brain and thinks of its "self" as the brain, its terminal value should be the brain's.

Possibly the brain is likewise a neuron in a bigger brain but nevertheless somewhere there must be a real terminal value at the end or at least a level to which we are unable to find any more information about it from. I think if we can expand our definition of ourselves to the whole brain rather than our little neuron selves, we "should" try to find the terminal value.

Why do I think that we "should" do that? Because knowing more about what you want puts you in a much better position to get what you want. And there's no way we wouldn't want what we want--the only question here is if we think the expected value of trying to figure out what we ultimately want makes it part of the optimal path for getting what we ultimately want. From my information and model, I do think it's part of the optimal path. I also think its entirely possible to figure out what the terminal value is if we're "intelligent" enough, by your definition of intelligence so the expected value is at least positive.

I think the optimal path is:
- figure out what the "self" is
- figure out what the self's terminal value is
- use science and technology and whatever means necessary to get that terminal value

So this is where I ask:
- Are there any words that I'm using in an unclear way? (Often smart people don't actually disagree but are using different definitions)
- Are there any logical flaws in the statements I've made? (I've kept my message shorter than it probably should've been thinking that this length is enough to get the desired effect but I'm extremely willing to elaborate)
- Do you agree with the conclusion I've drawn?
- If yes what do you think we should do next?
- If no I beg of you please explain why as it would greatly help with my optimization towards my terminal value

Social Insight: When a Lie Is Not a Lie; When a Truth Is Not a Truth - Pt. 2

2 Bound_up 15 August 2017 12:53AM

'"If people have a right to be stupid, the market will respond by supplying all the stupidity that can be sold."'  People misinterpret this as indicating that I take a policy stance in favor of regulation.  It indicates no such thing.  It is meant purely as guess about empirical consequences." - EY (http://lesswrong.com/lw/h2/blue_or_green_on_regulation/)


Try this a few times, and you'll stop thinking you can make "guess[es] about empirical consequences" (or say anything about empirical consequences (or say anything about empirical anything)) and have people hear anything except you showing off your policy stances. Showing off whom you associate with and what virtues you possess.


Once your eyes open to how hard it is to convince people that your sentences about how markets function are meant to describe how markets function, you give up and stop trying.


Well, if you have the time to convince people you're actually trying to say something about how the world works and not just proudly waving a verbal banner in favor of the home team, and you have the ability to make interesting a subject so much less accessible and exciting than politics (we've all seen it, haven't we, how little they care once they realize that we really are trying to describe market functions?), and the time to actually do it properly, all without alienating important people in the process...

Then, yeah, maybe. And those sets of circumstances absolutely happen and I'm glad that we do teach each other things.


But, I really, really understand why most politicians can't do anything remotely like this, and thus, say the words "If people have a right to be stupid, the market will respond by supplying all the stupidity that can be sold" only if they want people to hear "I am taking a policy stance in favor of regulation."


If you do want people to hear that, then this is a very effective way of communicating that. If you know that saying this will lead people to holding that belief about your stance, then saying it is honest, even if you don't believe that markets work that way. You're not saying/they're not hearing anything about markets, so none of your beliefs about markets can be misrepresented by saying these words. You believe something, you want to honestly communicate that belief, so you use symbols. We think of words as our symbols, but whole sentences can be symbols, too. A sentence has no "true" meaning any more than a word does. And if we define that sentence according to the common usage...


Think through some other possibilities. Maybe you don't believe there's a market for stupidity, but you do take a stance in favor of regulation. If you say you don't believe there's a market for stupidity, you'll knowingly deceive a large group of people (the social thinkers) whom you know will hear "I oppose regulation" when you say there's no market for stupidity. In contrast, if you say you do believe there's a market for stupidity, you'll communicate your endorsement of regulation to that group, but will be interpreted as saying something untrue by another group of people who think that you're saying something about market functions and only about market functions and that you've said nothing about your stance on regulation, so wouldn't we be jumping to conclusions to assume anything either way (nerds/empirical thinkers)?


Most people aren't empirical thinkers (and those that are often aren't when it comes to politics), so as a matter of practicality, politics is spoken in the language of social reasoning. Knowing this, you're shooting yourself in the foot if you listen to these people's words as a way of modeling their beliefs. You have to listen to their sentences, and understand their definition according to the common usage. "Blah blah market for stupidity blah blah" is defined as "I endorse regulation" according to the common usage (no matter what you substitute in place of the blah blah's).


There's a whole music to this social language, and if you start to catch the rhythm, you may find that the absolute garbage that is presidential debates (I use to marvel that the apparently top candidates for president never had anything new or interesting to say, surely such people should be a fountain of insight and formidable competence) resolves itself into something interesting after all.

Ah, yes, now I see. First he waves the flag for group X, then he waves the flag for group N. Many people are members of both tribes and feel really connected, while those people who belong to only one are quite tolerant of this particular outgroup. And the members of X who actively oppose group N are disproportionately single-issue voters, so this comes out as an effective appeal as measured by vote-grabbing...


It's also interesting to hear new ways of saying "I'm with them" over and over again about the commonest groups to appeal to ("God bless America") or compete over (How can they say "I support our troops" more strongly than their opponent? It's a real exercise in creativity). And, of course, amid the majority of people, this is the language of power, and you may find it useful to know how to move within this world, to act upon it, to make yourself respected, and to move people.


Most people (citation needed) talk and think like this all the time. They are social thinkers, not empirical thinkers. Everything they "know" about the minimum wage is how to use it as a vehicle for talking about social things, their own status, their group status, and their virtues. Except they don't do so consciously, but automatically. Humans are social creatures, and to think socially, and not in terms of abstract propositions about the function of the world is their first and natural instinct. Always remember, we're the weird ones. Possessors of an inhuman power with a price.


Find some non-nerdy types you may not usually associate much with. Go clubbing and ask all the people wearing something you find appalling their opinions on the minimum wage. After their initial summary of "I'm with them," whichever "them" they might happen to be with, inquire a bit more deeply. Go a little Socratic on them and ask about their reasoning, and ask them to confirm your guesses about which observations they would take as evidence for and against their position. You might want to personally note all the times they (it seems to you) change the subject, contradict themselves, or use any of a thousand flavors of fallacy.


Now, review the conversation (which you carefully recorded, of course), but this time, ask yourself if there's any way to interpret each of their statements (which sound like propositions about the function of markets and the nature of human rights) instead as signals about tribal loyalty, personal status, and personal virtue. Write down what these statements might say about the tribe and the person. Incredibly, you may find that what once was a cacophony of contradiction has resolved itself. In another key, it was all perfectly mainstream, run-of-the mill, straightforward, vanilla, dry, unremarkable clarity. Seen this way, the mystery dissolves into something so ordinary as to face-palmingly obvious in retrospect.


They're just saying how great they are and how great their people are and how awesome they all are and what good people they are. Charming.


My last discussion of this found many respondents thinking that it was mean to think such lowly things of other people. It is curious to me that they seem to take it for granted that it is lowly. Humans are naturally political; why call our native tongue lowly? There are a thousand stories about the plucky hero who cares about the work, and it's all about the work, and they have to jump over the hurdles that are the regular humans who are into office politics and are so shameful as to not care about the work for its own sake (who do they think they are, not being fascinated with blood spatter analysis or awesome architecture?). Why fetishize this work-over-politics bit? Oh, sure it's responsible for everything lasting that humanity has ever created and all, but...well, as hobbies go, politics is humanity's first and natural choice. People enjoy it; they optimize for it. I'm nerdy and happen to fancy the romance of abstract propositions about reality, but I don't begrudge those who don't feel the same way.


Perhaps more importantly, I need to learn their language, the language of social power, if I am to get them to do what is needful regarding reality despite their native disinterest. Tim Urban's the best speaker our community has, probably, and it still takes all of 2 minutes before it's completely obvious he's a nerd and proud of it. Julia Galef's up there, too, but with a similar weakness when it comes to getting non-nerds to get on board with important political movements. Robin Hanson's alright...


But we need a proper Draco. As galling as it is, there is very much a place for a Trumpesque speaker who can get a certain kind of person participating in important things that they...really aren't naturally inclined to care about. We need Steve Harvey and Barack Obama and MLK and someone who can talk to anybody. Or at least who can talk to somebody other than the nerds who are already half-way on our side (and will be more and more as consensus consolidates around the correct answer).


A good map of reality, Knowledge, is power, to bind the universe to our service. But status, respect, prestige. That is the power to move humans. It is, of course, contained within knowledge itself. But the time has come to train the versatile laser focus of knowledge upon social Homo Sapiens and learn how we're really going to get them, all of them (not just the nerds), to save the world.

[Link] [Humor] A Fearsome Rationality Technique

2 SquirrelInHell 14 August 2017 09:05PM

Open thread, August 14 - August 20, 2017

2 Thomas 14 August 2017 07:48AM
If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post, then it goes here.

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