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Open thread for December 9 - 16, 2013

5 Post author: NancyLebovitz 09 December 2013 04:35PM

If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.

Comments (368)

Comment author: B_For_Bandana 09 December 2013 09:25:26PM *  60 points [-]

Today is the thirty-fourth anniversary of the official certification that smallpox had been eradicated worldwide. From Wikipedia,

The global eradication of smallpox was certified, based on intense verification activities in countries, by a commission of eminent scientists on 9 December 1979 and subsequently endorsed by the World Health Assembly on 8 May 1980. The first two sentences of the resolution read:

Having considered the development and results of the global program on smallpox eradication initiated by WHO in 1958 and intensified since 1967 … Declares solemnly that the world and its peoples have won freedom from smallpox, which was a most devastating disease sweeping in epidemic form through many countries since earliest time, leaving death, blindness and disfigurement in its wake and which only a decade ago was rampant in Africa, Asia and South America.

Archaeological evidence shows evidence of smallpox infection in the mummies of Egyptian pharaohs. There was a Hindu goddess of smallpox in ancient India. By the 16th century it was a pandemic throughout the Old World, and epidemics with mortality rates of 30% were common. When smallpox arrived in the New World, there were epidemics among Native Americans with mortality rates of 80-90%. By the 18th century it was pretty much everywhere except Australia and New Zealand, which successfully used intensive screening of travelers and cargo to avoid infection.

The smallpox vaccine was one of the first ever developed, by English physician Edward Jenner in 1798. Vaccination programs in the wealthy countries made a dent in the pandemic, so that by WWI the disease was mostly gone in North America and Europe. The Pan-American Health Organization had eradicated smallpox in the Western hemisphere by 1950, but there were still 50 million cases per year, of which 2 million were fatal, mostly in Africa and India.

In 1959, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution to eradicate smallpox worldwide. They used ring vaccination to surround and contain outbreaks, and little by little the number of cases dropped. The last naturally-occurring case was found in October 1975, in a two-year-old Bangladeshi girl named Rahima Banu, who recovered after medical attention by a WHO team. For the next four years, the WHO searched for more cases (in vain) before declaring the eradication program successful.

Smallpox scarred, blinded, and killed countless billions of people, on five continents, for hundreds to thousands of years, and now it is gone. It did not go away on its own. Highly trained doctors invented, then perfected a vaccine, other engineers found ways to manufacture it very cheaply, and lots of other serious, dedicated people resolved to vaccinate each vulnerable human being on the surface of the Earth, and then went out and did it.

Because Smallpox Eradication Day marks one of the most heroic events in the history of the human species, it is not surprising that it has become a major global holiday in the past few decades, instead of inexplicably being an obscure piece of trivia I had to look up on Wikipedia. I'm just worried that as time goes on it's going to get too commercialized. If you're going to a raucous SE Day party like I am, have fun and be safe.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 10 December 2013 02:49:44AM *  10 points [-]

The virus currently only still exists as samples in two freezers in two labs (known to the scientific community). These days I think that that is overkill even for research purposes for this pathogen, what with the genome sequenced and the ability to synthesize arbitrary sequences artificially. If you absolutely must have part of it for research make that piece again from scratch. Consign the rest of the whole infectious replication-competent particles to the furnace where they belong.

EDIT: I found a paper in which smallpox DNA was extracted and viruses observed via EM from a 50 year old fixed tissue sample from a pathology lab that was not from one of the aforementioned collections. No word in the paper on if it was potentially infectious or just detectable levels of nucleic acids and particles. These things could be more complicated to 100% securely destroy than we thought...

Comment author: knb 09 December 2013 11:16:39PM *  7 points [-]

With any luck, Polio will be next.

Comment author: Emile 09 December 2013 09:45:09PM *  17 points [-]

This deserves some music:

Old King Plague is dead,
the smallpox plague is dead,
no more children dying hard
no more cripples living scarred
with the marks of the devil's kiss,
we still may die of other things
but we will not die of this.

Raise your glasses high
for all who will not die
to all the doctors, nurses too
to all the lab technician who
drove it into the ground
if the whole UN does nothing else
it cut this terror down.

But scarce the headlines said,
the ancient plague was dead,
then they were filled with weapons new
toxic waste and herpes too,
and the AIDS scare coming on
ten new plagues will take its place
but at least this one is gone.

Population soars,
checked with monstrous wars
preachers rant at birth control
"Screww the body, save the soul",
bring new deaths off the shelves,
and say to Nature, "Mother, please,
we'd rather do it ourselves".

Old King Plague is dead,
the smallpox plague is dead,
no more children dying hard
no more cripples living scarred
with the marks of the devil's kiss,
we still may die of other things
but we will not die of this, oh no,
we will not die of this.

-- Leslie Fish, The Ballad of Smallpox Gone

Comment author: TsviBT 10 December 2013 12:35:02AM 24 points [-]

PSA: If you want to get store-bought food (as opposed to eating out all the time or eating Soylent), but you don't want to have to go shopping all the time, check to see if there is a grocery delivery service in your area. At least where I live, the delivery fee is far outbalanced by the benefit of almost no shopping time, slightly cheaper food, and decreased cognitive load (I can just copy my previous order, and tweak it as desired).

Comment author: Metus 10 December 2013 06:08:53PM 9 points [-]

This makes me wonder: What are some simple ways to save quite some time that the average person does not think of?

Comment author: hyporational 11 December 2013 06:05:10AM 11 points [-]

Sleep enough.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 14 December 2013 10:04:57PM *  7 points [-]
Comment author: solipsist 11 December 2013 03:03:25PM 6 points [-]

Move close to where you work (even if it means you have to live in a smaller place).

Comment author: hyporational 12 December 2013 03:17:55AM 1 point [-]

If you don't have a car, study in the bus/train or take the commute as a bicycling exercise if the distance is relatively short and you can take a shower.

Comment author: James_Miller 10 December 2013 06:12:08PM 18 points [-]

Stop watching TV.

Comment author: Desrtopa 12 December 2013 10:20:58PM 1 point [-]

Possibly cooking very large meals and saving the rest. If you want to save money by cooking from scratch rather than buying prepared food or eating out, it can help to prepare several meals worth at a time.

Comment author: lmm 10 December 2013 08:39:29PM 1 point [-]

Pay for an online assistant. It makes you feel awkward but I hear it's quite effective.

Comment author: dougclow 13 December 2013 08:21:31AM 7 points [-]

Another benefit for me is reduced mistakes in picking items from the list.

Some people don't use online shopping because they worry pickers may make errors. My experience is that they do, but at a much lower rate than I do when I go myself. I frequently miss minor items off my list on the first circuit through the shop, and don't go back for it because it'd take too long to find. I am also influenced by in-store advertising, product arrangements, "special" offers and tiredness in to purchasing items that I would rather not. It's much easier to whip out a calculator to work out whether an offer really is better when you're sat calmly at your laptop than when you're exhausted towards the end of a long shopping trip.

You'd expect paid pickers to be better at it - they do it all their working hours, I only do it once or twice a month. Also, all the services I've used (in the UK) allow you to reject any mistaken items at your door for a full refund - which you can't do for your own mistakes. The errors pickers make are different to the ones I would, which makes them more salient - but they are no more inconvenient in impact on average.

Comment author: hyporational 10 December 2013 01:54:46PM 3 points [-]

Alternative: buy a freezer and buy your food in bulk.

Comment author: bramflakes 10 December 2013 04:44:16PM 4 points [-]

My family does this and it's not such a good idea. Old forgotten food will accumulate at the bottom and you'll have less usable space at the top. Chucking out the old food is a) a trivial inconvenience and b) guilt-inducing.

Unless it's one of those freezers with sliding trays.

Comment author: hyporational 10 December 2013 05:34:59PM 2 points [-]

Unless it's one of those freezers with sliding trays.

I have one of those. I thought the chest models are antiquity.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:54:02PM 2 points [-]

I thought the chest models are antiquity.

They are standard in the US. It's like washers: top-loaders dominate in the US and front-loaders dominate in Europe.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:53:09PM 3 points [-]

buy a freezer and buy your food in bulk.

Assuming you are largely indifferent between fresh and frozen food (a data point: I'm not).

Comment author: Bakkot 11 December 2013 05:35:32PM 1 point [-]

For those in the community living in the south Bay Area: https://www.google.com/shopping/express/

Comment author: Tuxedage 10 December 2013 07:14:32PM *  55 points [-]

At risk of attracting the wrong kind of attention, I will publicly state that I have donated $5,000 for the MIRI 2013 Winter Fundraiser. Since I'm a "new large donor", this donation will be matched 3:1, netting a cool $20,000 for MIRI.

I have decided to post this because of "Why our Kind Cannot Cooperate". I have been convinced that people donating should publicly brag about it to attract other donors, instead of remaining silent about their donation which leads to a false impression of the amount of support MIRI has.

Comment author: Adele_L 11 December 2013 09:29:50PM 8 points [-]

Would anyone else be interested in pooling donations to take advantage of the 3:1 deal?

Comment author: Tripitaka 18 December 2013 11:53:24PM 1 point [-]

I'd be interested, but only the small sum of 100$. Did anybody else take you up on that offer? Of course I'd like to verify the pool-persons identity before transfering money.

Comment author: intrepidadventurer 11 December 2013 07:13:38PM 19 points [-]

This post and reading "why our kind cannot cooperate" kicked me off my ass to donate. Thanks Tuxedage for posting.

Comment author: somervta 11 December 2013 05:25:17AM 6 points [-]

You sir, are awesome.

Comment author: Brillyant 10 December 2013 10:42:35PM 2 points [-]


I have been convinced that people donating should publicly brag about it to attract other donors

It certainly seems to make sense for the sake of the cause for (especially large, well-informed) donors to make their donations public. The only downside seems to be a potentially conflicting signal on behalf of the giver.

instead of remaining silent about their donation which leads to a false impression of the amount of support MIRI has.

I'm not sure this is true. Doesn't MIRI publish its total receipts? Don't most organizations that ask for donations?

Growing up Evangelical, it was taught that we should give secretly to charities (including, mostly, the church).

I wonder why? The official Sunday School answer is so that you remain humble as the giver, etc. I wonder if there is some other mechanism whereby it made sense for Christians to propogate that concept (secret giving) among followers?

Comment author: Tuxedage 10 December 2013 10:53:15PM 6 points [-]

I'm not sure this is true. Doesn't MIRI publish its total receipts? Don't most organizations that ask for donations?

Total receipts may not be representative. There's a difference between MIRI getting funding from one person with a lot of money and large numbers of people donating small(er) amounts. I was hoping this post to serve as a reminder that many of us on LW do care about donating, rather than a few rather rich people like Peter Thiel or Jaan Tallinn.

Also I suspect scope neglect can be at play -- it's difficult to, on an emotional level, tell the difference between $1 million worth of donations, or ten million, or a hundred million. Seeing each donation that led to adding up to that amount may help.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 11 December 2013 09:15:02AM 2 points [-]

Seeing each donation that led to adding up to that amount may help.

Yes, because it would show how many people donated. Number of people = power, at least in our brains.

The difference between one person donating 100 000, or one person donating 50 000 and ten people donating 5 000 is that in the latter case, your team has eleven people. It is the same amount of money, but emotionally it feels better. Probably it has other advantages (such as smaller dependence on whims of a single person), but maybe I am just rationalizing here.

Comment author: gwern 13 December 2013 09:12:42PM *  3 points [-]

I wonder if there is some other mechanism whereby it made sense for Christians to propogate that concept (secret giving) among followers?

There may not be anything to explain: the early Christian church grew very slowly. Perhaps secret almsgiving simply isn't a good idea.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 December 2013 08:02:45PM *  3 points [-]

I wonder if there is some other mechanism whereby it made sense for Christians to propogate that concept (secret giving) among followers?

This gives the church an information advantage. Information is power. It gives them the opportunity to make it seem like everyone is donating less than their neighbors.

Comment author: drethelin 13 December 2013 08:06:38PM 1 point [-]

or that "Christians" donate a lot when it's really just a few of them.

Comment author: ESRogs 11 December 2013 03:52:30AM 13 points [-]

I'm expecting China to have an increasing role in global affairs over the next century. With that in mind, there are a couple of things I'm curious about:

  • Does anyone have an idea of how prevalent existential risk type ideas are in China?

  • Has anyone tried to spread LW memes there?

  • Are the LW meetups in Shanghai, etc. mostly ex-pats or also locals?


Comment author: knb 13 December 2013 07:05:47AM *  12 points [-]

Gregory Cochran has written something on aging. I'll post some selected parts, but you should read the whole thing, which is pretty short.

Theoretical biology makes it quite clear that individuals ought to age. Every organism faces tradeoffs between reproduction and repair. In a world with hazards, such that every individual has a decreasing chance of survival over time, the force of natural selection decreases with increasing age. This means that perfect repair has a finite value, and organisms that skimp on repair and instead apply those resources to increased reproduction will have a greater reproductive rate – and so will win out. Creatures in which there is no distinction between soma and germ line, such as prokaryotes, cannot make such tradeoffs between repair and reproduction – and apparently do not age. Which should be a hint.


In practice, this means that animals that face low exogenous hazards tend to age more slowly. Turtles live a long time. Porcupines live a good deal longer than other rodents. [...] Organisms whose reproductive output increases strongly with time, like sturgeons or trees, tend to live longer. The third way of looking at things is thermodynamics. Is aging inevitable? Certainly not. As long as you have an external source of free energy, you can reduce entropy with enthalpy.


In principle there is no reason why people couldn't live to be a billion years old, although that might entail some major modifications (and an extremely cautious lifestyle). The third way of looking at things trumps the other two. People age, and evolutionary theory indicates that natural selection won’t produce ageless organisms, at least if their germ cells and body are distinct - but we could make it happen.

This might take a lot of work. If so, don’t count on seeing effective immortality any time soon, because society doesn't put much effort into it. In part, this is because the powers that be don’t know understand the points I just made.

Nothing entirely new to me here, but it's always good to see another scientist come out in favor of aging research. Also, note that the Latin text on the top of Cochran's website is omnes vulnerant, ultima necat, which means approximately, "Each second wounds, the last kills."

Comment author: sakranut 16 December 2013 12:10:49AM 11 points [-]

I decided I'd share the list of questions I try to ask myself every morning and evening. I usually spend about thirty seconds on each question, just thinking about them, though I sometimes write my answers down if I have a particularly good insight. I find they keep me pretty well-calibrated to my best self. Some are idiosyncratic, but hopefully these will be generally applicable.

A. Today, this week, this month: 1. What am I excited about? 2. What goals do I have? 3. What questions do I want to answer? 4. What specific ways do I want to be better?

B. Yesterday, last week, last month: 5. What did I accomplish that am I proud of? 6. In what instances did I behave in a way I am proud of? 7. What did I do wrong? How will I do better? 8. What do I want to remember? What adventures did I have?

C. Generally: 9: If I'm not doing exactly what I want to be doing, why?

Comment author: curiousepic 16 December 2013 08:51:34PM 3 points [-]

How long have you been doing this, and have you noticed any effects?

Comment author: sakranut 16 December 2013 10:40:48PM 1 point [-]

For about a month and a half, though I forget about 25% of the time. I haven't noticed any strong effects, though I feel as if I approach the day-to-day more conscientiously and often get more out of my time.

Comment author: shminux 16 December 2013 07:17:08PM 1 point [-]

9: If I'm not doing exactly what I want to be doing, why?

That's the hardest of them all, still searching for answers.

Comment author: PhilipL 18 December 2013 10:10:32PM 0 points [-]

What does it mean for "you" to not be doing exactly what you "want"? Do you downplay or ignore your not-conscious thought processes?

Comment author: Dan_Weinand 10 December 2013 08:26:57PM 8 points [-]

Any good advice on how to become kinder? This can really be classified as two related goals, 1) How can I get more enjoyment out of alleviating others suffering and giving others happiness? 2) How can I reliably do 1 without negative emotions getting in my way (ex. staying calm and making small nudges to persuade people rather than getting angry and trying to change people's worldview rapidly)?

Comment author: Ben_LandauTaylor 10 December 2013 11:00:29PM 9 points [-]

I'd recommend Nonviolent Communication for this. It contains specific techniques for how to frame interactions that I've found useful for creating mutual empathy. How To Win Friends And Influence People is also a good source, although IIRC it's more focused on what to do than on how to do it. (And of course, if you read the books, you have to actually practice to get good at the techniques.)

Comment author: Dan_Weinand 11 December 2013 12:36:17AM 3 points [-]

Thanks! And out of curiosity, does the first book have much data backing it? The author's credentials seem respectable so the book would be useful even if it relied on mostly anecdotal evidence, but if it has research backing it up then I would classify it as something I need (rather than ought) to read.

Comment author: Ben_LandauTaylor 11 December 2013 07:49:52PM *  5 points [-]

According to wikipedia, there's a little research and it's been positive, but it's not the sort of research I find persuasive. I do have mountains of anecdata from myself and several friends whose opinions I trust more than my own. PM me if you want a pdf of the book.

Comment author: erratio 11 December 2013 10:32:05PM 2 points [-]

Thirded. The most helpful part for me was internalising the idea that even annoying/angry/etc outbursts are the result of people trying to get their needs met. It may not be a need I agree with, but it gives me better intuition for what reaction may be most effective.

Comment author: ESRogs 11 December 2013 05:03:32PM 2 points [-]

I would like to offer further anecdotal evidence that NVC techniques are useful for understanding your own and other people's feelings and feeling empathy toward them.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 December 2013 08:00:52PM 1 point [-]

When it comes to research about paradigms like that it's hard to evaluate them. If you look at nonviolent communication and set up your experiment well enough I think you will definitely find effects.

The real question isn't whether the framework does something but whether it's useful. That in turn depends on your goals.

Whether a framework helps you to successfully communicate depends a lot on cultural background of the people with whom you are interacting.

If you engage in NVC, some people with a strong sense of competition might see you as week. If you would consistentely engage in NVC in your communcation on LessWrong, you might be seen as a weird outsider.

You would need an awful lot of studies to be certain about the particular tradeoff in using NVC for a particular real world situation.

I don't know of many studies that compare whether Windows is better than Linux or whether VIM is better than Emacs. Communication paradigms are similar they are complex and difficult to compare.

Comment author: jsalvatier 11 December 2013 10:24:04PM 1 point [-]

I found NVC is very intuitively compelling, have personal anecdotal evidence that it works (though not independent of ESRogs, we go to the same class).

Comment author: Manfred 11 December 2013 07:21:30AM 2 points [-]

In addition to seconding nonviolent communication, cognitive behavior therapy techniques are pretty good - basically mindfulness exercises and introspection. If you want to change how you respond to certain situations (e.g. times when you get angry, or times when you have an opportunity to do something nice), you can start by practicing awareness of those situations, e.g. by keeping a pencil and piece of paper in your pocket and making a check mark when the situation occurs.

Comment author: byrnema 11 December 2013 04:26:23PM *  1 point [-]

I also want to learn how to be kinder. The sticking point, for me, is better prediction about what makes people feel good.

I was very ill a year ago, and at that time learned a great deal about how comforting it is to be taken care of by someone who is compassionate and knowledgeable about my condition. But for me, unless I'm very familiar with that exact situation, I have trouble anticipating what will make someone feel better.

This is also true in everyday situations. I work on figuring out how to make guests feel better in my home and how to make a host feel better when I'm the guest. (I already know that my naturally overly-analytic, overly-accommodating manner is not most effective.) I observe other people carefully, but it all seems very complex and I consider myself learning and a 'beginner' -- far behind someone who is more natural at this.

Comment author: hesperidia 11 December 2013 06:27:32PM 1 point [-]

I have trouble anticipating what will make someone feel better.

In this kind of situation, I usually just ask, outright, "What can I do to help you?" Then I can file away the answer for the next time the same thing happens.

However, this assumes that, like me, you are in a strongly Ask culture. If the people you know are strongly Guess, you might get answers such as "Oh, it's all right, don't inconvenience yourself on my account", in which case the next best thing is probably to ask 1) people around them, or 2) the Internet.

You also need to keep your eyes out for both Ask cues and Guess cues of consent and nonconsent - some people don't want help, some people don't want your help, and some people won't tell you if you're giving them the wrong help because they don't want to hurt your feelings. This is the part I get hung up on.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 11 December 2013 07:28:50PM 3 points [-]

The "keep your eyes out for cues" works the other way around in what we're calling a "Guess culture" as well.

That is, most natives of such a culture will be providing you with hints about what you can do to help them, while at the same time saying "Oh, it's all right, don't inconvenience yourself on my account." Paying attention to those hints and creating opportunities for them to provide such hints is sometimes useful.

(I frequently observe that "Guess culture" is a very Ask-culture way of describing Hint culture.)

Comment author: Konkvistador 15 December 2013 03:01:57PM 7 points [-]

The quality of intelligence journalism

I have been musing over the results of Rindermann, Coyle and Becker’s survey of intelligence experts presented at the ISIR conference. Since you may well be reading a newspaper this Sunday, I thought it might interest you to show what the experts think of the coverage of intelligence in the public media. By way of explanation, the authors cast their net widely, but did some extra sampling of the German media. Readers might like to suggest their own likes and dislikes in terms of the accuracy of coverage. I will be adding more details on other issues later. In yellow is the original survey 30 years ago, in blue the current 2013 survey.

According to the survey of experts Steve Sailer outperforms everyone else.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 15 December 2013 01:16:25PM 5 points [-]

What we actually know about mirror neurons.

Wow. I did not expect my background understanding of what is known about mirror neurons to have been so much hype-influenced.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 December 2013 02:28:15PM 3 points [-]

Identical twins aren't perfectly identical

That there are differences between identical twins is known, but the article goes into detail about the types of difference, including effects which are in play before birth.

Comment author: knb 09 December 2013 11:06:07PM *  5 points [-]

Wirth's Law:

Wirth's law is a computing adage made popular by Niklaus Wirth in 1995. It states that "software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware becomes faster."

Is Wirth's Law still in effect? Most of the examples I've read about are several years old.

ETA: I find it interesting that Wirth's Law was apparently a thing for decades (known since the 1980s, supposedly) but seems to be over. I'm no expert though, I just wonder what changed.

Comment author: passive_fist 10 December 2013 01:02:26AM 9 points [-]

It was my impression that Wirth's law was mostly intended to be tongue-in-cheek, and refer to how programs with user interfaces are getting bloated (which may be true depending on your point of view).

In terms of software that actually needs speed (numerical simulations, science and tech software, games, etc.) the reverse has always been true. New algorithms are usually faster than old ones. Case in point is the trusty old BLAS library which is the workhorse of scientific computing. Modern BLAS implementations are extremely super-optimized, far more optimized than older implementations (for current computing hardware, of course).

Comment author: Manfred 09 December 2013 11:29:17PM *  2 points [-]

It wasn't even true in 1995, I don't think. The first way of evaluating it that comes to mind is the startup times of "equivalent" programs, like MS Windows, Macintosh OS, various Corels, etc.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 10 December 2013 12:52:41AM 4 points [-]

Startup times for desktop operating systems seem to have trended up, then down, between the '80s and today; with the worst performance being in the late '90s to 2000 or so when rebooting on any of the major systems could be a several-minutes affair. Today, typical boot times for Mac, Windows, or GNU/Linux systems can be in a handful of seconds if no boot-time repairs (that's "fsck" to us Unix nerds) are required.

I know that a few years back, there was a big effort in the Linux space to improve startup times, in particular by switching from serial startup routines (with only one subsystem starting at once) to parallel ones where multiple independent subsystems could be starting at the same time. I expect the same was true on the other major systems as well.

Comment author: knb 10 December 2013 05:20:24AM 2 points [-]

My experience is that boot time was worst in Windows Vista (released 2007) and improved a great deal in Windows 7 and 8. MS Office was probably at its worst in bloatiness in the 2007 edition as well.

Comment author: Waffle_Iron 13 December 2013 05:59:46AM 1 point [-]

This seems to be true for video game consoles. Possibly because good graphics make better ads than short loading times.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 December 2013 08:21:30PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: FiftyTwo 09 December 2013 07:49:36PM 4 points [-]

There are a couple of commercially available home eeg sets available now, has anyone tried them? Are they useful tools for self monitoring mental states?

[Reposted from last thread because I think i was too late to be seen mch]

Comment author: Curiouskid 14 December 2013 02:52:01AM 1 point [-]

Researching EEG biofeedback has been in my "someday maybe" folder of GTD for a while now.

The book Getting Started with Neurofeedback has a chapter on purchasing an EEG set.

I think the studies at the beginning of the book provide pretty compelling evidence that it's at least worth looking into more.

"Just five years after Kamya’s discovery, Barry Sterman published his landmark experiment (Wyricka & Sterman, 1968). Cats were trained to increase sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) or 12– 15 Hz. This frequency bandwidth usually increases when motor activity decreases. Thus, the cats were rewarded each time that SMR increased, which likely accompanied a decrease in physical movements. Unrelated to his study, NASA requested that Sterman study the effects of human exposure to hydrazine (rocket fuel) and its relationship to seizure disorder. Sterman started his research with 50 cats. Ten out of the 50 had been trained to elevate SMR. All 50 were injected with hydrazine. Much to Sterman’s surprise, the 10 specially trained cats were seizure resistant. The other 40 developed seizures 1 hour after being injected (Budzynski, 1999, p. 72; Robbinsa, 2000, pp. 41– 42). Sterman had serendipitously discovered a medical application for this new technology."

I've been taking notes on the book in workflowy should that be of interest.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 09 December 2013 11:57:44PM 15 points [-]

New work suggests that life could have arisen and survived a mere 15 million years after the Big Bang, when the microwave background radiation levels would have provided sufficient energy to keep almost all planets warm. Summary here, and actual article here. This is still very preliminary, but the possibility at some level is extremely frightening. It adds billions of years of time for intelligent life to have arisen that we don't see, and if anything suggests that the Great Filter is even more extreme than we thought.

Comment author: passive_fist 10 December 2013 12:58:39AM 11 points [-]

Now that is scary, although there are a few complications. Rocky bodies were probably extremely rare during that time since the metal enrichment of the Universe was extremely low. You can't build life out of just hydrogen and helium.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 10 December 2013 02:44:50AM 8 points [-]

Is that a relevant number?

Doesn't the relevant number of opportunities for life to appear have units of mass-time?

Isn't the question not how early was some Goldilocks zone, but how much mass was in a Goldilocks zone for how long? This says that the whole universe was a Goldilocks zone for just a few million years. The whole universe is big, but a few million years is small. And how much of the universe was metallic? The paper emphasizes that some of it was, but isn't this a quantitative question?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 10 December 2013 03:06:25AM *  3 points [-]

I agree that a few million years is small, and that the low metal content would be a serious issue (which in addition to being a problem for life forming would also make planets rare as pointed out by bramflakes in their reply). However, the real concern as I see it is that if everything was like this for a few million years, then if life did arise (and you have a whole universe for it to arise), as the cooldown occurred, it seems highly plausible that some forms of life would have then adopted to the cooler environment. This makes panspermia more plausible and thus makes life in general more likely. Additionally, it makes more of a chance for life to get lucky if it managed to get into one of the surviving safe zones (e.g. something like the Mars-Earth biotransfer hypothesis).

I think you may be correct that this isn't a complete run around and panic level update, but it is still disturbing. My initial estimate for how bad this could be is likely overblown.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 10 December 2013 03:58:45AM 1 point [-]

I'm nervous about the idea that life might adapt to conditions in which it cannot originate. Unless you mean spores, but they have to wait for the world to warm up.

As for panspermia, we have a few billion years of modern conditions before the Earth, which is itself already a problem. I think the natural comparison is the size of that Goldilocks zone to the very early one. But I don't know which is bigger.

Here are three environments. Which is better for radiation of spores?
(1) a few million years where every planet is wet
(2) many billion years, all planets cold
(3) a few billion years, a few good planets.

The first sounds just too short for anything to get anywhere, but the universe is smaller. If one source of life produces enough spores to hit everything, then greater time depth is better, but if they need to reproduce along the way, the modern era seems best.

Comment author: Nornagest 10 December 2013 04:44:14AM *  1 point [-]

We should have the data now to take a whack at the metallicity side of that question, if only by figuring out how many Population 2 stars show up in the various extrasolar planet surveys in proportion with Pop 1. Don't think I've ever seen a rigorous approach to this, but I'd be surprised if someone hasn't done it.

One sticking point is that the metallicity data would be skewed in various ways (small stars live longer and therefore are more likely to be Pop 2), but that shouldn't be a showstopper -- the issues are fairly well understood.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 10 December 2013 04:56:01AM 1 point [-]

The paper mentions a model. Maybe the calculation is even done in one of the references. The model does not sound related to the observations you mention.

Comment author: solipsist 10 December 2013 03:22:19AM 7 points [-]

I don't think this is frightening. If you thought life couldn't have arisen more than 3.6 billion years ago but then discover that it could have arisen 13.8 billion years ago, you should be at most 4 times as scared.

The number of habitable planets in the galaxy over the number of habituated planets is a scary number.

The time span of earth civilization over the time span of earth life is a scary number.

4 is not a scary number.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 10 December 2013 03:34:44AM *  3 points [-]

If it were just a date, then, yes, a factor of 4 is lost in the noise. But switching to panspermia changes the calculation. Try Overcoming Bias [Added: maybe this is only a change under Robin Hanson's hard steps model.]

Comment author: khafra 12 December 2013 01:50:41PM 1 point [-]

It changes my epistemic position by a helluva lot more than a factor of 4. If an interstellar civilization arose somewhere in the universe that is now visible, somewhere in a uniform distribution over the last 3.6 billion years, there's much smaller chance we'd currently (or ever) be within their light cone than if they'd developed 13.8 billion years ago.

Comment author: bramflakes 10 December 2013 12:58:15AM *  5 points [-]

There weren't any planets 15 million years after the Big Bang. The first stars formed 100 million years after the Big Bang, and you need another few million on top of that for the planets to form and cool down.

Comment author: drethelin 10 December 2013 06:43:50PM *  3 points [-]

It seems to take a lot more than 15 million years to get from "life" to "intelligent life". According to the article this period would only have lasted for a million years, so at most we would probably get a lot of monocellular life arising and then dying during the cooloff.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 10 December 2013 03:18:08AM *  1 point [-]

1 - why should no intelligent life arising from a set of places that were likely habitable for only 5 million years (if they existed at all, which is doubtful) be surprising?

2 - I raise the possibility of outcomes for intelligent life that are not destruction or expansion through the universe.

Edit: Gah, that's what I get for leaving this window open while about 8 other people commented

Comment author: Username 11 December 2013 04:31:44AM *  10 points [-]

Are there any translation efforts in academia? It bothers me that there may be huge corpuses of knowledge that are inaccessible to most scientists or researchers simply because they don't speak, say, Spanish, Mandarin, or Hindi. The current solution to this problem seems to be 'everyone learn English', which seems to do ok in the hard sciences. But I fear there may be a huge missed opportunity in social sciences, especially because Americans are WEIRD and not necessarily psychologically or behaviorally respresentative of the world population. (Link is to an article, link to the cited paper here: pdf)

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 13 December 2013 05:33:24PM 4 points [-]

If a hypothetical bothers you, maybe you should hold off proposing solutions and instead investigate whether it is a real problem.

Comment author: gwern 13 December 2013 06:14:34PM *  4 points [-]

I'm not sure losing the non-English literature is a big problem. A lot of foreign research is really bad. A little demonstration from 5 days ago: I criticized a Chinese study on moxibustion https://plus.google.com/103530621949492999968/posts/TisYM64ckLM

This was translated into / written in English and published in a peer-reviewed journal (Neural Regeneration Research). And it's complete crap.

Of course there is very bad research published by the West on alternative medicine too, but as the links I provide show, Chinese research is systematically and generally of very low quality. If China cannot produce good research, what can we expect of other countries?

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 13 December 2013 07:57:15PM 2 points [-]

The language that I think most plausibly contains a disconnected scientific literature is Japanese.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 11 December 2013 12:44:56PM 8 points [-]

The plural of "corpus" is "corpora". I don't say this to be pedantic, but because the word is quite lovely, and deserves to be used more.

Comment author: Metus 11 December 2013 06:40:09AM 2 points [-]

Some time ago someone linked a paper indicating that there are benefits to fragmentation of academia by language barriers as less people are exposed to some kind of dominant view allowing them to come up with new ideas. One cited example was anthropology which had a Russian and an Anglosphere tradition.

I'd assume there not to be any major translation efforts as being a translator isn't as effective as publishing something of your own by far.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 11 December 2013 09:44:37AM 4 points [-]

being a translator isn't as effective as publishing something of your own by far.

Publishing your own scientific paper brings you more rewards, but translating other person's article requires less time and less scientific skills (just enough to understand the vocabulary and follow the arguments).

If someone would pay me for doing it, I would probably love to have a job of translating scientific articles to my language. It would be much easier for me to translate dozen articles than to create one. And if I would only translate the articles that passed some filter, for example those published in peer-reviewed journals, I could probably translate the output of twenty or fifty scientists.

Comment author: Username 11 December 2013 10:05:18AM *  2 points [-]

It seems like there could definitely be money in 'international' journals for different fields, which would aggregate credible foreign papers and translate them. Interesting that they don't seem to exist.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 December 2013 10:21:13AM 2 points [-]

How effective would it be to use human expertise to translate just the contents pages of journals, with links to Google Translate for the bodies of the papers? Or perhaps use humans to also translate the abstracts?

Does anything like this exist already?

Comment author: satt 13 December 2013 01:27:25AM 1 point [-]

Idea that popped into my head: it might be straightforward to make a frontend for the arXiv that adds a "Translate this into" drop-down list to every paper's summary page. (Using the list could redirect the user to Google Translate, with the URL for the PDF automatically fed into the translator.) As far as I know no one has done this but I could be wrong.

Comment author: Metus 11 December 2013 02:39:09PM 1 point [-]

This chain is so interesting. As a grad student I could translate some papers and make some decent money in such a hypothetical regime.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 December 2013 02:12:23PM 1 point [-]

The Body Electric mentioned that the Soviets were ahead of the west in studying electrical fields in biology because (not sure of the date-- sometime before the seventies) electricity sounded to much like elan vital to the westerners.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 December 2013 04:36:57PM 12 points [-]

Life is a concept we invented

Discussion of why it plausibly does not make sense to look for a firm dividing line between life and non-life.

Comment author: army1987 10 December 2013 09:55:43AM 10 points [-]

Just because a boundary is fuzzy doesn't mean it's meaningless.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 09 December 2013 07:45:10PM *  3 points [-]

It just doesn't matter very much - certainly not enough to keep wrangling over the exact definition of the boundary. As long as we understand what we mean by crystal, bacterium, RNA, etc., why should we care about the fuzzy dividing line? Are ribozymes going to become more or less precious to us according only to whether we count them as living or not, given that nothing changes about their actual manifested qualities? Should they?

Every science uses terms which are called universal terms, such as ‘energy’, ‘velocity’, ‘carbon’, ‘whiteness’, ‘evolution’, ‘justice’, ‘state’, ‘humanity’. These are distinct from the sort of terms which we call singular terms or individual concepts, like ‘Alexander the Great’, ‘Halley’s Comet’, ‘The First World War’. Such terms as these are proper names, labels attached by convention to the individual things denoted by them.

[...] The school of thinkers whom I propose to call methodological essentialists was founded by Aristotle, who taught that scientific research must penetrate to the essence of things in order to explain them. Methodological essentialists are inclined to formulate scientific questions in such terms as ‘what is matter?’ or ‘what is force?’ or ‘what is justice?’ and they believe that a penetrating answer to such questions, revealing the real or essential meaning of these terms and thereby the real or true nature of the essences denoted by them, is at least a necessary prerequisite of scientific research, if not its main task. Methodological nominalists, as opposed to this, would put their problems in such terms as ‘how does this piece of matter behave?’ or ‘how does it move in the presence of other bodies?’ For methodological nominalists hold that the task of science is only to describe how things behave, and suggest that this is to be done by freely introducing new terms wherever necessary, or by re-defining old terms wherever convenient while cheerfully neglecting their original meaning. For they regard words merely as useful instruments of description.

Most people will admit that methodological nominalism has been victorious in the natural sciences. Physics does not inquire, for instance, into the essence of atoms or of light, but it uses these terms with great freedom to explain and describe certain physical observations, and also as names of certain important and complicated physical structures. So it is with biology. Philosophers may demand from biologists the solution of such problems as ‘what is life?’ or ‘what is evolution?’ and at times some biologists may feel inclined to meet such demands. Nevertheless, scientific biology deals on the whole with different problems, and adopts explanatory and descriptive methods very similar to those used in physics.

-- Karl Popper, from The Poverty of Historicism

Comment author: shminux 09 December 2013 05:49:47PM 2 points [-]

a self-sustaining system capable of Darwinian evolution.

My favorite example is challenging people to show that stars (in space) are any less alive than stars (in Hollywood).

Comment author: David_Gerard 09 December 2013 07:50:53PM 2 points [-]

What's the Darwinian evolution involved in stars? (Are you thinking of the hypothesis that universes evolve to create black holes?)

Comment author: shminux 10 December 2013 12:00:17AM *  4 points [-]

What I meant is that stars are born, they procreate (by spewing out new seeds for further star formation), then grow old. Stars "evolved" to be mostly smaller and longer lived due to higher metallicity. They compete for food and they occasionally consume each other. They sometimes live in packs facilitating further star formation, for a time. Some ancient stars have whole galaxies spinning around them, occasionally feeding on their entourage and growing ever larger.

Comment author: pdsufferer 10 December 2013 08:12:56AM 6 points [-]

Don't traits have to be heritable for evolution to count? I'm not an expert or anything, but I thought I'd know if stars' descendants had similar properties to their parent stars.

Comment author: JGWeissman 10 December 2013 03:52:37PM 1 point [-]

Can you give an example of a property a star might have because having that property made its ancestor stars better at producing descendant stars with that property?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 11 December 2013 01:29:34AM 1 point [-]

Do stars exhibit teleological behavior?

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 09 December 2013 08:20:17PM *  8 points [-]

Friendship is Optimal just received a quite positive review from One Man's Pony Ramblings.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 December 2013 12:53:27AM 2 points [-]

So is this person a big actor in the pony fanfic culture?

Comment author: Ben_LandauTaylor 11 December 2013 08:54:59PM 3 points [-]

His site's not going to drive a giant surge of views, but he's highly respected among fanfic writers as a thoughtful critic.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 December 2013 06:35:58AM 3 points [-]

A monkey teaching a human how to crush leaves

Mirror neurons? Why does the monkey care about whether a human can crush leaves?

Comment author: Emile 11 December 2013 07:33:06AM 5 points [-]

Because enjoying teaching useful stuff to people you get along with is a trait that got selected for?

Comment author: CellBioGuy 13 December 2013 04:50:02PM 3 points [-]

Why does a human care about if a monkey cares about whether a human can crush leaves? For things like us primates, sometimes these things are their own reward.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 December 2013 03:19:42PM 1 point [-]

It might simply be an interesting activity to teach a human how to crush leaves.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 December 2013 06:12:27AM 3 points [-]

Finding food in foreign grocery stores, or finding out that reality has fewer joints than you might think.

From the comments:

Making sense of unfamiliar legal systems

This insight also leads to a helpful lesson of just what "having an open mind to a different culture" really means. At bottom, it means having faith in the people who subscribe to the culture -- faith that these people are motivated by the same forces as we, that they are not stupid, irrational or innately predisposed to a certain temperament, that whatever they are doing will make sense once we understood the entire circumstance.

Comment author: Gvaerg 09 December 2013 08:45:20PM 3 points [-]

I've noticed something: the MIRI blog RSS feed doesn't update as a new article appears on the blog, but rather at certain times (two or three times a month?) it updates with the articles that have been published since the last update.

Does anyone know why this happens?

Comment author: alexvermeer 11 December 2013 03:33:53AM 3 points [-]

Hmm, not sure why that's happening. I'll look into it.

Comment author: Gvaerg 26 December 2013 02:54:24PM *  0 points [-]

You can see it now in action: the RSS feed is two articles behind the blog. (I waited for the problem to show up.)

EDIT (2013-12-28): The RSS feed has updated.

Comment author: lukeprog 15 December 2013 04:11:38AM 2 points [-]

Many of the leaders in the field of AI are no longer writing programs themselves: They don't waste their time debugging miles of code; they just sit around thinking about this and that with the aid of the new [CS-specific] concepts. They've become... philosophers! The topics they work on are strangely familiar (to a philosopher) but recast in novel terms.

Dennett (1982)

Comment author: kgalias 09 December 2013 08:51:15PM 2 points [-]

What fanfics should I read (perhaps as a HPMOR substitute)?

Comment author: Manfred 09 December 2013 11:33:54PM 12 points [-]

Harry Potter and the Natural 20.

Comment author: tgb 10 December 2013 03:44:46AM *  7 points [-]

If you haven't yet taken EY's suggestion in the author's notes to read Worm yet, do so. It's original fiction, but you probably don't mind.

Edit: also this might belong in the media thread?

Comment author: beoShaffer 09 December 2013 10:08:19PM 6 points [-]

Object level response To the Stars. Meta level, check the monthly media thread archives and/or HPMOR's author notes. They have lots of good suggestions, and in depth reviews.

Comment author: Alsadius 09 December 2013 09:04:45PM 3 points [-]

I quite enjoyed https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2857962/1/Browncoat-Green-Eyes

(Yes, it's a Harry Potter/Firefly crossover. It's much, much better than the premise makes it sound)

Comment author: fezziwig 16 December 2013 02:54:41PM 2 points [-]

I took this recommendation, and hated it. Got as far as the thing with Jayne's mother before I accepted that it wasn't going to get any better.

If you're some random person, wondering whether you should listen to me or Alsadius, I recommend the following test: read the first chapter. If you like chapter one you'll probably like the rest of it, and if you don't, you won't.

Comment author: Alsadius 16 December 2013 10:44:45PM 1 point [-]

I agree with this test. True of many stories, really. I'm a fan of the plot, which only really comes together 2/3 of the way through, but if you're not a fan of the banter, it's not worth it.

Comment author: drethelin 16 December 2013 08:10:18PM 1 point [-]

I started reading it. Harry isn't Harry. He's constantly spouting "Charming" and "Snarky" lines at every character, and is inexplicably expert at piloting and knows everything about the firefly-verse after a time-skip of 2 years. If you hadn't told me he was Harry Potter I would've guessed he was Pham Nuwen. There's also tons of call-backs to past firefly events and lines of dialogue, which shows pretty weak imagination on the part of the author. A reference is one thing but you don't make it by characters constantly going "Hey remember that one time when we did X?" "Hey remember your wife?".

Comment author: MathiasZaman 10 December 2013 07:02:59AM 6 points [-]

There's a new subreddit dedicated to rationalist fiction. You can check out stories linked there. I'm currently reading Rationalising Death, a Death Note fanfic and it's pretty good even though I haven't seen the anime on which it's based.

I'm also one-thirds into Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation, which is a decent look at how Harry Potter characters would logically react to the end of the Second Wizarding War. So far no idiot balls and pretty good characterization.

Comment author: Protagoras 11 December 2013 09:08:41PM 1 point [-]

Rationalising Death may be better if you haven't read Death Note; it's pretty good about explaining everything. As someone familiar with Death Note my feeling so far has been that Rationalising Death hasn't diverged enough; it sometimes feels like just rehashing the original. Not always, certainly, and I'm overall enjoying it, but that's seemed like the biggest flaw to me so far (admittedly, the author says divergence will increase as it goes along, and there are signs of that pattern).

Comment author: intrepidadventurer 09 December 2013 08:02:38PM *  7 points [-]

What are community norms here about sexism (and related passive aggressive "jokes" and comments about free speech) at the LW co-working chat? Is LW going for wheatons law or free speech and to what extent should I be attempting to make people who engage in such activities feel unwelcome or should I be at all?

I have hesitated to bring this up because I am aware its a mind-killer but I figured If facebook can contain a civil discussion about vaccines then LW should be able to talk about this?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 December 2013 08:12:44PM 13 points [-]

Ideally, I'd want the people to feel that the behavior is unwelcome rather than that they themselves are unwelcome, but people are apt to have their preferred behaviors entangled with their sense of self, so the ideal might not be feasible. Still, it's probably worth giving a little thought to discouraging behaviors rather than getting rid of people.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 December 2013 09:18:29PM 18 points [-]

There are no official community norms on the topic.

For my own part, I observe a small but significant number of people who seem to believe that LessWrong ought to be a community where it's acceptable to differentially characterize women negatively as long as we do so in the proper linguistic register (e.g, adopting an academic and objective-sounding tone, avoiding personal characterizations, staying cool and detached).

The people who believe this ought to be unacceptable are either less common or less visible about it. The majority is generally silent on such matter, though will generally join in condemning blatant register-violations.

The usual result is something closer to wheaton's law at the surface level, but closer to "say what you think is true" at the structural level. (Which is not quite free speech, but a close enough cousin in context.) That is, it's often considered OK to say things, as long as they are properly hedged and constructed, that if said more vulgarly or directly would be condemned for violating wheaton's law, and which in other communities would be condemned for a variety of reasons.

I think there's a general awareness that this pattern-matches to sexism, though I expect that many folks here consider that to be mistaken pattern-matching (the "I'm not sexist; I can't help it if you feminists choose to interpret my words and actions that way" stance).

So my guess is that if you attempt to make people who engage in sexism (and related defenses) feel unwelcome you will most likely trigger net-negative reactions unless you're very careful with your framing.

Does that answer your question?

Comment author: intrepidadventurer 10 December 2013 06:01:16AM 6 points [-]

It does answer my question. Also thanks for suggestion to focus on the behaviour rather than the person. I didn't even realize I was thinking like that till you two pointed it out.

Comment author: passive_fist 10 December 2013 11:26:02PM *  6 points [-]

That is, it's often considered OK to say things, as long as they are properly hedged and constructed, that if said more vulgarly or directly would be condemned for violating wheaton's law, and which in other communities would be condemned for a variety of reasons.

Yes, and this is best, is it not? I enjoy reading what people have to say, even if their views are directly in contradiction to mine. I've changed my views more than once because it was correctly pointed out to me why my views were wrong. http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/How_To_Actually_Change_Your_Mind

And about being vulgar, it's just a matter of human psychology. People in general - even on LW - are more receptive to arguments that are phrased politely and intelligently. We'd all like to think that we are immune to this, but we are not.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 December 2013 11:56:35PM 2 points [-]

Yes, and this is best, is it not? I enjoy reading what people have to say, even if their views are directly in contradiction to mine.

It's certainly better than nobody ever getting to express views that contradict anyone else's views; agreed.

And about being vulgar, it's just a matter of human psychology.

Yes, that's true.

Comment author: hyporational 10 December 2013 02:46:42PM *  2 points [-]

Disclaimer: this is not meant as a defence of the behaviour in question, since I don't exactly know what we're talking about.

For my own part, I observe a small but significant number of people who seem to believe that LessWrong ought to be a community where it's acceptable to differentially characterize women negatively

LessWrong characterizes outgroups negatively all the time. I cautiously suggest the whole premise of LW characterizes most people negatively, and it's easier to talk about any outgroup irrationality, in this case women statistically, than look at our own flaws. If we talked about what men are like on average, we might not have many flattering things to say either.

Should negative characterizations of people be avoided in general, irrespective of how accurately we think they describe the average of the groups in question?

If you see characterizations that are wrong, you should obviously confront them.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 December 2013 04:20:50PM *  6 points [-]

I agree that there are also other groups of people who are differentially negatively characterized; I restricted myself to discussions of women because the original question was about sexism.

I cautiously suggest you could say the whole premise of lw characterizes most people negatively,

I would cautiously agree. There's a reason I used the word "differentially."

Should negative characterizations of people be avoided in general, irrespective of how accurately we think they describe the average of the groups in question?

Personally, I'm very cautions about characterizing groups by their averages, as I find I'm not very good about avoiding the temptation to then characterize individuals in that group by the group's average, which is particularly problematic since I can assign each individual to a vast number of groups and then end up characterizing that individual differently based on the group I select, even though I haven't actually gathered any new evidence. I find it's a failure mode my mind is prone to, so I watch out for it.

If your mind isn't as prone to that failure mode as mine, your mileage will of course vary.

Comment author: hyporational 10 December 2013 05:16:20PM *  1 point [-]

I would cautiously agree. There's a reason I used the word "differentially."

I don't understand how not being differential is supposed to work though. Different groups are irrational in different ways.

I think the failure mode you mention is common enough that we should be concerned about it. I'm just not sure about the right way to handle it.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 December 2013 05:49:09PM 5 points [-]

I'm not sure how not being differential is supposed to work though. Different groups have different kinds of failure modes.

Suppose it's actually true in the world that all people are irrational, that blue-eyed people (BEPs) are irrational in a blue way, green-eyed-people (GEPs) are irrational in a green way, and green and blue irrationality can be clearly and meaningfully distinguished from one another.

Now consider two groups, G1 and G2. G1 often discusses both blue and green irrationality. G2 often discusses blue irrationality and rarely discuss green irrationality. The groups are otherwise indistinguishable.

How would you talk about the difference between G1 and G2? (Or would you talk about it at all?)

For my own part, I'm comfortable saying that G2 differentially negatively characterizes BEPs more than G1 does. That said, I acknowledge that one could certainly argue that in fact G1 differentially negatively characterizes BEPs just as much as G2 does, because it discusses blue and green irrationality differently, so if you have a better suggestion for how to talk about it I'm listening.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 10 December 2013 10:29:23AM *  3 points [-]

I don't have an answer here, just a note that this question actually contains two questions, and it would be good to answer both of them together. It would also be a good example of using rationalist taboo.

A: What are the community norms for defining sexism?

B: What are the community norms for dealing with sexism (as defined above)?

Answering B without answering A can later easily lead to motivated discussions about sexism, where people would be saying: "I think that X is [not] an example of sexism" when what they really wanted to say would be: "I think that it is [not] appropriate to use the community norm B for X".

Comment author: hyporational 10 December 2013 05:41:27PM *  5 points [-]

I connotationally interpret your question as: "what are the community norms about bad things?"

You're not giving us enough information so that we could know what you're talking about, and you're asking our blind permission to condemn behaviour you disagree with.

Comment author: intrepidadventurer 10 December 2013 06:33:33PM 3 points [-]

Fair critique. Despite the lack of clarity on my part the comments have more than satisfactorily answered the question about community norms here. I suppose the responders can thank g-factor for that :)

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:20:54AM 8 points [-]

What are community norms here about sexism

Depends on how you define sexism. Some people consider admitting that men and women are different to be sexism, never mind acting on that belief :-/

TheOtherDave's answer is basically correct. Crass and condescending people don't get far, but its possible to have a discussion of issues which cost Larry Summers so dearly.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 December 2013 07:25:55AM 7 points [-]

Since this comment is framed in part as endorsing mine, I should probably say explicitly that while I agree denotationally with every piece of this comment taken individually, I don't endorse the comment as a whole connotationally.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:00:32PM 0 points [-]


Comment author: matheist 10 December 2013 05:05:30AM 1 point [-]

(I haven't seen the LW co-working chat)

If you want to tell people off for being sexist, your speech is just as free as theirs. People are free to be dicks, and you're free to call them out on it and shame them for it if you want.

I think you should absolutely call it out, negative reactions be damned, but I also agree with NancyLebovitz that you may get more traction out of "what you said is sexist" as opposed to "you are sexist".

To say nothing is just as much an active choice as to say something. Decide what kind of environment you want to help create.

Comment author: kalium 10 December 2013 08:39:03PM *  2 points [-]

A norm of "don't be a dick" isn't inherently a violation of free speech. The question is, does LW co-working chat have a norm of not being a dick? Would being a dick likely lead to unfavorable reactions, or would objecting to dickish behavior be frowned on instead?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 14 December 2013 04:12:43AM 1 point [-]

The problem with having "don't be a dick" as a norm is that people have very different ideas about what constitutes "being a dick".

Comment author: drethelin 14 December 2013 07:39:33AM 9 points [-]

Don't be a dick is code for "Act according to our unspoken social codes"

Comment author: passive_fist 10 December 2013 11:22:22PM 0 points [-]

I'd like to see some evidence that such stuff is going on before pointing fingers and making rules that could possible alienate a large fraction of people.

I've been attending the co-working chat for about a week, on and off (I take the handle of 'fist') and so far everyone seems friendly and more than willing to accomodate the girls in the chat. Have you personally encountered any problems?

Comment author: intrepidadventurer 11 December 2013 07:21:26PM 4 points [-]

I did encounter this problem (once) and I was experiencing resistance to going back even though I had a lot of success with the chat. I figured having a game plan for next time would be my solution.

Comment author: Bayeslisk 10 December 2013 09:49:48AM 3 points [-]

I have a strong desire to practice speaking in Lojban, and I imagine that this is the second-best place to ask. Any takers?

Comment author: JQuinton 12 December 2013 09:01:26PM 2 points [-]

I recently read a blog post claiming that alcohol consumption can increase testosterone levels up to 5 hours after intake:

Scientists recently discovered, and I am not making this up, that consuming a drink containing grain alcohol (like Tucker Max’s “Tucker Death Mix”) raised both free and total testosterone for five hours post workout, whereas those who did not consume the frat boy rapist punch had their test levels fall below baseline. Happily, the alcohol had no effect on cortisol or estradiol levels, so the dudes in the study were just floating in a sea of dying brain cells and testosterone-fueled awesomeness (Vingren).

How much is enough to get the nearly 100% boost in testosterone postworkout science has recorded? It depends on your bodyweight. For matters of convenience and exigency, I decided to make a little chart for you guys to give you the proper dosage to spike your test levels properly using the study’s 1.09mg/kg bodyweight ratio organized by weight class, as this is after all an article aimed at serious lifters. For the Oly guys and IPF/USAPL (/sadfaceissad) among you, these are the weight classes that existed before the IOC decided that you guys couldn’t hang with the old school lifters.

How the fucking guys in the study made it home is a mystery- they sure as hell didn’t drive, and if they did, they didn’t live, because they slammed that shit in 10 minutes. I can drink with the best of them, but I’ve never faced half a liter of vodka in ten minutes- that’s some Decline of Western Civilization style drinking, and I’m not sure I can hang with the likes of 1980s hair metal bands.

I'm still not going to drink copious amounts of alcohol after a workout...

Comment author: tgb 15 December 2013 04:39:20PM 1 point [-]

As usual, examine.com has some information related to this.

Comment author: mwengler 10 December 2013 04:36:00PM 2 points [-]

Red Queen hypothesis means that humans are probably the latest step in a long sequence of fast (on evolutionary time scale) value changes. So does Coherent Extrapolated Volition (CEV) intend to

1) extrapolate all the future co-evolutionary battles humans would have and predict the values of the terminal species as our CEV, or is it intended somehow to

2) freeze the values humans have at the point in time we develop FAI and build a cocoon around humanity which will let it keep this (nearly) arbitrarily picked point in its evolution forever?

If it is 1), it seems the AI doesn't have much of a job to do. Presumably interfere against existential risks to humanity and its successor species, perhaps keep extremely reliable stocks for repopulating if humanity or its successor manages still to kill itself. Maybe even in a less extreme interpretation, FAI does what is required to keep humanity and its successors as the pinnacle species, stealing adaptations from unrelated species that actually manage to threaten us and our successors, so we sort of have 1') which is extrapolate to a future where the pinnacle species is always a descendant of ours.

If 2), it would seem FAI could simply build a sim that freezes in place the evolutionary pressures that brought us to this point as well as freezing in to place our own current state. And then run that sim forever, the sim simply removes genetic mutation from the sim and perhaps has active rebalancing to work against any natural selection which is currently going on.

We could have BOTH futures, those who prefer 2) go live in the Sim that they have always thought was indistinguishable from reality anyway, and those who prefer 1 stay here in the real world and play out their part in evolving whatever comes next. Indeed, the sim of 2) might serve as a form of storage/insurance against existential threats, a source from which human history can be restarted from its point at 0 year FAI whenever needed.

Does CEV crash in to Red Queen hypothesis in interesting ways? Could a human value be to roll the dice on our own values in hopes of developing an even more effective species?

Comment author: James_Miller 09 December 2013 07:21:31PM 1 point [-]

Because humans are imperfect actors, should the class of Basilisks include evidence in favor of hated beliefs?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 10 December 2013 10:46:07AM *  2 points [-]

It is unclear what will be the consequences and side-effects of not knowing the specific evidence. And on meta level: what will be the consequences of modifying your cognitive algorithms to avoid the paths that seem to lead to such evidence.

Depending on all these specific details, it may be good or bad. Human imperfection makes it impossible to evaluate. And actually not knowing the specific evidence makes it impossible again. So... the question is analogical to: "If I am too stupid to understand the question, should I answer 'yes', or should I answer 'no'?" (Meaning: yes = avoid the evidence, no = don't avoid the evidence.)

Comment author: fubarobfusco 10 December 2013 12:56:22AM 3 points [-]

I'm not sure what you mean by "the class of Basilisks". Do you mean "sensations that cause mental suffering" or some such?

Comment author: James_Miller 10 December 2013 01:10:52AM 4 points [-]

Stuff that a rational person would be better off not knowing. For example, if I live among people of religion X, and I find out something disgusting that the religion's founder did, and whenever someone discussed the founder my face betrayed my feelings of disgust, then knowledge of the founder's misdeeds could harm me.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:13:05AM 8 points [-]

Stuff that a rational person would be better off not knowing.

Interesting. So, living in Soviet Russia a rational person would treat knowledge about GULAG, etc. as a basilisk? Or a rational person in Nazi Germany would actively avoid information about the Holocaust?

Comment author: drethelin 10 December 2013 07:06:00PM 2 points [-]

It depends on one's own risk factors. It's REALLY important to know about the holocaust if you're jewish or have jewish ancestry, but arguably safer or at least more pleasant not to if you don't.

I think the moral question (as opposed to the practical safety question) of "is it better to know a dark truth or not" will come down to whether or not you can effectively influence the world after knowing it. You can categorize bad things into avoidable/changeable and unavoidable/unchangeable, and (depending on how much you value truth in general) knowing about unavoidable bad thing will only make you less happy without making the world a better place.

unfortunately it's pretty hard to tell whether you can do anything about a bad thing without learning about what it is.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 07:15:43PM 2 points [-]

It depends on one's own risk factors.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Martin Niemöller

Comment author: drethelin 11 December 2013 06:21:38PM 4 points [-]

speaking out would've gotten you killed.

This is a poem about poor bayesian updating: This person should've moved away.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 December 2013 06:24:41PM *  3 points [-]

To quote you

It's REALLY important to know about the holocaust if you're jewish or have jewish ancestry, but arguably safer or at least more pleasant not to if you don't.

This person, a German Protestant minister, followed your advice, did he not?

Comment author: drethelin 11 December 2013 10:45:06PM 1 point [-]

good point. I totally covered every base with that one line of advice, and meant it to apply to all people in all situations.

More seriously, my advice very clearly was a subset of the more general advice: Be fucking wary of angering powerful entities. He clearly did NOT follow that advice.

Comment author: hesperidia 11 December 2013 05:57:06PM 1 point [-]

Scientology uses semantic stopsigns:


Loaded Language is a term coined by Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist who did extensive studies on the thought reform techniques used by the communists on Chinese prisoners. Of all the cults in existence today, Scientology has one of the most complex systems of loaded language. If an outsider were to hear two Scientologists conversing, they probably wouldn't be able to understand what was being said. Loaded language is words or catch phrases that short-circuits a person's ability to think. For instance, all information that is opposed to Scientology, such as what I am writing here, is labelled by Scientologists as "entheta" (enturbulated theta - "enturbulated" meaning chaotic, confused and "theta" being the Scientology term for spirit). Thus, if a Scientologist is confronted with some information that opposes Scientology, the word "entheta" immediately comes into his mind and he/she will not examine the information and think critically about it because the word "entheta" has short-circuited the person's ability to do so. This is just one example, of many, many Scientology terms.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 11 December 2013 07:37:34PM 3 points [-]

Interesting. Reminds me of Orwell's "crimestop":

Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 13 December 2013 07:05:27AM 1 point [-]

The next step is TR-0 "bullbaiting" where the partner says things to the indoctrinee to get them to react. This is called finding a person's "buttons". When the person does react, he is told "flunk" and what he did to flunk and then the phrase that got him to react is repeated until the person no longer reacts. This is very effective as a behavior control method to get the person to blank out when someone starts saying negative things about Scientology.

Hm, this actually sounds like it could be useful...

I wonder if it would be valuable to get partway in to Scientology, then quit, just to observe the power of peer pressure, groupthink, and whatnot.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 December 2013 06:09:54PM 2 points [-]

I wonder if it would be valuable to get partway in to Scientology, then quit, just to observe the power of peer pressure, groupthink, and whatnot.

Part of scientology program involve sharing personal secrets. If you quit they can use those against you. Scientology is set up in a way that makes it hard to quit.

Comment author: Nornagest 13 December 2013 06:15:54PM *  3 points [-]

A lot of people still do, though. Last time I looked into this, the retention rate (reckoned between the first serious [i.e. paid] Scientology courses and active participation a couple years later) was about 10%.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 December 2013 07:51:44PM 4 points [-]

It's not a question of whether they do leave, but whether they do come out ahead.

Scientology courses aren't cheap. If you are going to invest money into training, I would prefer to buy training from an organisation that makes leaving easy instead of making it painful.

Comment author: Nornagest 13 December 2013 08:00:44PM *  1 point [-]

Oh, I'm pretty confident they don't. But if you had strong reasons for joining and leaving Scientology other than what Scientologists euphemistically call "tech", then in the face of those base rates it seems unlikely to me that they'd manage to suck you in for real.

There are probably safer places to see groupthink in action, though.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 13 December 2013 10:57:49PM 2 points [-]

Part of scientology program involve sharing personal secrets.

More precisely, sharing personal secrets while connected to an amateur lie detector. And the secrets are documented on paper and stored in archives of the organization. It's optimized for blackmailing former members.

Comment author: Dorikka 13 December 2013 08:52:09PM 1 point [-]

Relevant, in case you hadn't already seen it.

Comment author: Bayeslisk 10 December 2013 09:34:28AM *  -3 points [-]

Observation: game theory is not uniquely human, and does not inherently cater to important human values.

Immediate consequence: game theory, taken to extremes already found in human history, is inhuman.

Immediate consequence the second: Austrian school economics, in its reliance on allowing markets to come to equilibrium on their own, is inhuman.

Conjecture: if you attempt to optimize by taking your own use of game theory and similar arts to similar extremes, you will become a monster of a similar type.

Observation: a refusal to use game theory in considerations results in a strictly worse life than otherwise, and possibly its use more often, more intensely, and with less puny human mercy will result in a better life for you alone.

Conjecture: this really, really looks like the scary and horrifying spawn of a Red Queen race, defecting on PD, and being a jerk in the style of Cthulhu.


Continue laying siege to me; I'm done here.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 10 December 2013 12:09:47PM *  15 points [-]

Sorry, how did you go from "non human agents use X" (a statement about commonality) to "X is inhuman" (a value judgement) to "if you use X you become a monster" (an even stronger value judgement), to "being a jerk in the style of Cthulhu" (!!!???).

Does this then mean you think using eyesight is monstrous because cephalopodes also have eyes they independently evolved?

Or that maximizing functions is a bad idea because ants have a different function than humans?

Comment author: Bayeslisk 10 December 2013 04:01:51PM -2 points [-]

Nonhuman agents use X -> X does not necessarily and pretty likely does not preserve human values -> your overuse of X will cause you not to preserve human values. Being a jerk in a style of Cthulhu I use to mean being a jerk incidentally. Eyesight is not a means of interacting with people, and maximization is not a bad thing if you maximize for the right things, which game theory does not necessarily do.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 11 December 2013 01:54:57AM 3 points [-]

Try replacing "game theory" with "science" or "rationality" in your rant. Do you still agree with it?

Comment author: asr 10 December 2013 04:41:08PM *  10 points [-]

Immediate consequence the second: Austrian school economics, in its reliance on allowing markets to come to equilibrium on their own, is inhuman.

I suspect all economics is inhuman. I suspect that any complex economy that connects millions or billions of people is going to be incomprehensible and inhuman. By far the best explanation I've heard of this thought is by Cosma Shalizi.

The key bit here is the conclusion:

There is a fundamental level at which Marx's nightmare vision is right: capitalism, the market system, whatever you want to call it, is a product of humanity, but each and every one of us confronts it as an autonomous and deeply alien force. Its ends, to the limited and debatable extent that it can even be understood as having them, are simply inhuman. The ideology of the market tell us that we face not something inhuman but superhuman, tells us to embrace our inner zombie cyborg and lose ourselves in the dance. One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry or run screaming.

But, and this is I think something Marx did not sufficiently appreciate, human beings confront all the structures which emerge from our massed interactions in this way. A bureaucracy, or even a thoroughly democratic polity of which one is a citizen, can feel, can be, just as much of a cold monster as the market. We have no choice but to live among these alien powers which we create, and to try to direct them to human ends. It is beyond us, it is even beyond all of us, to find "a human measure, intelligible to all, chosen by all", which says how everyone should go.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 11 December 2013 10:25:41AM 4 points [-]

A bureaucracy, or even a thoroughly democratic polity of which one is a citizen, can feel, can be, just as much of a cold monster as the market.

This is a great way to express it. I was thinking about something similar, but could not express it like this.

The essence of the problem is, all "systems of human interaction" are not humans. A market is not a human. An election is not a human. An organization is not a human. Etc. Complaining that we are governed by non-humans is essentially complaining that there is more than one human, and that the interaction between humans is not itself a human. Yes, it is true. Yes, it can (and probably will) have horrible consequences. It just does not depend on any specific school of economics, or anything like this.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:47:28PM 6 points [-]

I suspect all economics is inhuman.

I suspect this sub-thread implicitly defined "human" as "generating warm fuzzies". There are, um, problems with this definition.

Comment author: mwengler 10 December 2013 04:14:59PM 7 points [-]

not uniquely human does not imply inhuman. Lungs are not uniquely human, hardly inhuman though.

Generally, using loaded, non-factual words like "inhuman" and "monster" and "cthulhu" and "horrifying" and "puny" in a pseudo-logical format is worthy of a preacher exhorting illiterates. But is it helpful here? I"d like to think it isn't, and yet I'd rather discuss game theory in a visible thread than downvote your post.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 December 2013 03:12:51PM 6 points [-]

"Inhuman" has strong connotations of inimical to human values-- your argument looks different if it starts with something like "game theory is a non-human-- it's a simplified version of some aspects of human behavior". In that case, altruism is non-human in the same sense.

Comment author: Bayeslisk 10 December 2013 04:02:53PM 0 points [-]

I guess I'm mostly reacting to RAND and its ilk, having read the article about Schelling's book (which I intend to buy), and am thinking of market failures, as well.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:50:01PM 3 points [-]

am thinking of market failures, as well.

Are you thinking of failures of market alternatives as well?

Comment author: mwengler 10 December 2013 07:38:12PM 1 point [-]

OK Mr Bayeslisk, I am one boxing you. I am upvoting this post now knowing that you predicted I would upvote it and intended all along to include or add some links to the above post so I don't have to do a lot of extra work to figure out what RAND is and what book you are talking about.

Comment author: Bayeslisk 10 December 2013 10:01:55PM 2 points [-]

That is actually not true at all. I was actually planning on abandoning this trainwreck of an attempt at dissent. But since you're so nice:



Comment author: Viliam_Bur 10 December 2013 10:36:31AM *  5 points [-]

Game theory is about strategies, not about values. It tells you which strategy should you use, if your goal is to maximize X. It does not tell you what X is. (Although some X's, such as survival, are instrumental goals for many different terminal goals, so they will be supported by many strategies.)

There is a risk of maximizing some X that looks like a good approximation of human values, but its actual maximization is unFriendly.

Austrian school economics, in its reliance on allowing markets to come to equilibrium on their own, is inhuman

Connotational objection: so is any school of anything; at least unless the problem of Friendliness is solved.

Comment author: Bayeslisk 10 December 2013 04:05:18PM -2 points [-]

OK, I think I was misunderstood and also tired and phrased things poorly. Game theory itself is not a bad thing; it is somewhat like a knife, or a nuke. It has no intrinsic morality, but the things it seems to tend to be used for, for several reasons, wind up being things that eject negative externalities like crazy.

Yes, but this seems to be most egregious when you advocate letting millions of people starve because the precious Market might be upset.

Comment author: asr 10 December 2013 04:43:41PM 4 points [-]

Yes, but this seems to be most egregious when you advocate letting millions of people starve because the precious Market might be upset.

Who precisely are you thinking of, who advocated allowing mass starvation for this reason?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 10 December 2013 10:15:45PM *  3 points [-]

Millions of people did starve for reasons completely opposed to free markets.

Besides the fact that maximizing a non-Friendly function leads to horrible results (whether the system being maximized is the Market, the Party, the Church, or... whatever), what exactly are you trying to say? Do you think that markets create more horrible results than those other options? Do you have any specific evidence for that? In that case it would be probably better to discuss the specific thing, before moving to a wide generalization.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:44:57PM 3 points [-]

...and phrased things poorly


but the things it seems to tend to be used for, for several reasons, wind up being things that eject negative externalities like crazy.

I suspect you're looking at it with a rather biased view.

you advocate letting millions of people starve because the precious Market might be upset.

Sigh. You made a cobman -- one constructed of mud and straw. Congratulations.

Comment author: passive_fist 10 December 2013 11:39:57PM 4 points [-]

What you're referring to is a problem I've been thinking about and chipping away at for some time; I've even had some discussions about it here and people have generally been receptive. Maybe the reason you're being downvoted is that you're using the word 'human' to mean 'good'.

The core issue is that humans have empathy, and by this we mean that other people's utility function matters to us. More concisely, our perception of other people's utility forms a part of our utility which is conditionally independent of the direct benefits to us.

Our empathy not only extends to other humans, but also animals and perhaps even robots.

So what are examples of human beings who lack empathy? Lacking empathy is basically the definition of psychopathy. And, indeed, some psychopaths (not all, but some) have been violent criminals who e.g. killed babies for money, tortured people for amusement, etc. etc.

So you're essentially right that a game theory where the players do not have models of each other's utility functions shows aspects of psychopathy and 'inhumanity'.

But that doesn't mean game theory is wrong or 'inhuman'! All it means is that you're missing the 'empathy' ingredient. It also means that it would not be a good idea to build an AI without empathy. That's exactly what CEV attempts to solve. CEV is basically a crude attempt at trying to instill empathy in a machine.

Comment author: Bayeslisk 11 December 2013 01:12:20AM 2 points [-]

Yes, that was what I was getting at. Like I said elsewhere - game theory is not evil. It's just horrifyingly neutral. I am not using inhuman as bad; I am using inhuman as unfriendly.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 December 2013 01:17:34AM 2 points [-]

It's just horrifyingly neutral.

Then you must be horrified by all science.

Comment author: Document 17 December 2013 03:59:42AM 1 point [-]

I think I want to buy a new laptop computer. Can anyone here provide advice, or suggestions on where to look?

The laptop I want to replace is a Dell Latitude D620. Its main issues are weight, heat production, slowness (though probably in part from software issues), inability to sleep or hibernate (buying and installing a new copy of XP might fix this), lack of an HDMI port, and deteriorated battery life. I briefly tried an Inspiron i14z-4000sLV, but it was still kind of slow, and trying to use Windows 8 without a touchscreen was annoying.

I remember reading that it's unsafe to move or jostle a laptop with a magnetic hard drive while it's running, because of the moving parts. Based on that, it seems like it's best to get one with only a solid-state drive and no magnetic drive. Is that accurate?

I'm somewhat ambivalent about how to trade off power against heat and weight, or against cost of replacement if it's lost or damaged.

Comment author: ChristianKl 22 December 2013 03:42:13PM 1 point [-]

What's your budget?

How much hard drive space are you using currently?

Comment author: Document 23 December 2013 03:05:57PM *  0 points [-]

I'd rather not worry about budget.

Not counting external storage, I'm using about 25 GB of the D620's 38 GB, plus 25 GB (not counting software) on the family desktop PC.

(After ordering the XPS, I realized that it doesn't have a removeable battery, which seems like a longevity issue; but it seems likely that that's standard for devices of its weight class.)

Comment author: ephion 19 December 2013 01:59:10PM 1 point [-]

Based on that, it seems like it's best to get one with only a solid-state drive and no magnetic drive. Is that accurate?

Not necessarily. Most laptops nowadays are equipped with anti shock hard drive mounts and the hard drives are specially designed to be resistant to shock. The advantages for an SSD are speed, not reliability.

This reliability report (with this caveat) indicates that Samsung is the most reliable brand on the market for now. I've always considered Lenovo and ASUS to be high quality, with ASUS generally having cheaper and more powerful computers (and a trade off in actually figuring out which one you want, that website is terrible).

Comment author: Lumifer 19 December 2013 04:41:46PM 2 points [-]

The advantages for an SSD are speed, not reliability.

I would expect an SSD to be MUCH more reliable than a hard drive.

SSDs are solid-state devices with no moving parts. Hard drives are mechanical devices with platters rapidly rotating at microscopic tolerances.

So now that I've declared my prior let's see if there's data... :-)

"From the data I've seen, client SSD annual failure rates under warranty tend to be around 1.5%, while HDDs are near 5%," Chien said. (where Chien is "an SSD and storage analyst with IHS's Electronics & Media division") Source

Comment author: ephion 19 December 2013 05:06:53PM 1 point [-]

Reliability for SSDs is better than for HDD. However, they aren't so much more reliable that it alters best practices for important data keeping -- at least two backups, and one off site.

Comment author: Lumifer 19 December 2013 05:24:11PM *  4 points [-]

they aren't so much more reliable that it alters best practices for important data keeping

Oh, certainly.

Safety of your data involves considerably more than the reliability of your storage devices. SSDs won't help you if your laptop gets stolen or if, say, your power supply goes berserk and fries everything within reach.

Comment author: Document 19 December 2013 09:29:34PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for replying. I haven't looked at your link yet, but it seems like there'd be limits to how much shock protection could be fit in an ultrathin laptop, and it'd be hard to find out how good it is for specific models. (And the speed advantage seems like enough reason to want an SSD in any case.)

Comment author: maia 17 December 2013 04:58:03AM 1 point [-]

Check out /r/suggestalaptop?

General comments: SSDs are generally faster than magnetic drives, but often fail much sooner.

If you're not positive you want to replace it altogether: You might be able to fix your heat/slowness issues just by taking a can of compressed air to it. And you could probably buy a new battery. Replacing it might still be a better proposition overall, though...

Comment author: Document 17 December 2013 08:46:37AM *  1 point [-]

Source on SSDs failing sooner? I thought (or assumed) it was the opposite. A quick Google search turns up the headline "SSD Annual Failure Rates Around 1.5%, HDDs About 5%".

Looking further, though, I also see: "An SSD failure typically goes like this: One minute it's working, the next second it's bricked.". The page goes on to say that there's a service that can reliably recover the data from a dead drive, but that seems like a privacy concern (if everything on the drive weren't logged by the NSA to begin with).

On the pro-SSD side, though, I try to keep anything important online or on an external drive anyway (for easier moving between devices). And I really like the idea of a laptop I can casually carry around without worrying about platters and heads.

Thanks for the suggestions; I may try the Reddit link later. (Edit: posted a thread here.)

Comment author: ephion 19 December 2013 01:52:18PM 1 point [-]

If you are backing up your data responsibly, the SSD failure isn't as much of an issue. And if you aren't backing up your data, then you need to take care of that before worrying about storage failure.

Comment author: Document 20 December 2013 05:52:43AM 0 points [-]

Update: I've provisionally ordered a Dell XPS 13.

Comment author: Caspian 15 December 2013 03:32:52AM 1 point [-]

This story, where they treated and apparently cured someone's cancer, by taking some of his immune system cells, modifying them, and putting them back, looks pretty important.

cancer treatment link

Comment author: CellBioGuy 17 December 2013 03:45:09AM *  3 points [-]

Found the actual papers the coverage is based on.

How it was done: removing T cells (the cells which kill body cells infected with viruses directly, unlike B cells which secrete antibody proteins) and using replication-incapable viruses to put in a chimeric gene composed of part of a mouse antibody against human B-cell antigens, part of the human T-cell receptor that activates the T cell when it binds to something, and an extra activation domain to make the T-cell activation and proliferation particularly strong. Cells were reinjected, and they proliferated over 1000-fold, killed off all the cancerous leukemia cells they could detect in most patients, and the T-cells are sticking around as a permanent part of the patients immune systems. Relapse rates have been pretty low (but not zero).

This type of cancer (B-cell originating leukemia) is uniquely extraordinarily well suited for this kind of intervention for two reasons. One, there is an antigen on B cells and B-cell derived cancers that can be targeted without destroying anything else important in the body other than normal B cells. Two, since the modded T cells destroy both normal B cells carrying this antigen and the cancerous B cells, the patients have a permanent lack of antibodies after treatment which makes sure their immune system has a hard time reacting against the modified receptors present on the modded T cells, which has been a problem in other studies. Fortunately people can live without B cells if they are careful - it's living without T cells you cannot do. They also suspect that pre-treating with chemotherapy majorly helped these immune cells go after the weakened cancer cell population.

You can repeat this with T-cells tuned against any protein you want, but you had better watch out for autoimmune effects or the patient's immune system going after the chimeric protein you add and eliminating the modded population. And watch out ten years down the line for any T-cell originating lymphomas derived from wonky viral insertion sites in the modded cells - though these days there are 'gentler' viral agents than in the old days with a far lower rate of such problems, and CRISPR might make modding cells in a dish even more reliable soon.

Another thing in the toolkit. No silver bullets. Still pretty darn cool.

Comment author: Alexander_Gabriel 10 December 2013 06:25:57PM 1 point [-]

Nicholas Agar has a new book. I read Humanity's End and may even read this...eventually.