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Project Hufflepuff: Planting the Flag

38 Raemon 03 April 2017 06:37PM

This is the first in a series of posts about improving group dynamics within the rationality community. (The previous "checking for interest post" is here).


The Berkeley Hufflepuff Unconference is on April 28th. RSVPing on this Facebook Event is helpful, as is filling out this form.

Project Hufflepuff: Planting the Flag

"Clever kids in Ravenclaw, evil kids in Slytherin, wannabe heroes in Gryffindor, and everyone who does the actual work in Hufflepuff.”

- Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Chapter 9

“It is a common misconception that the best rationalists are Sorted into Ravenclaw, leaving none for other Houses. This is not so; being Sorted into Ravenclaw indicates that your strongest virtue is curiosity, wondering and desiring to know the true answer. And this is not the only virtue a rationalist needs. Sometimes you have to work hard on a problem, and stick to it for a while. Sometimes you need a clever plan for finding out. And sometimes what you need more than anything else to see an answer, is the courage to face it…

- Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Chapter 45


I’m a Ravenclaw and Slytherin by nature. I like being clever. I like pursuing ambitious goals. But over the past few years, I’ve been cultivating the skills and attitudes of Hufflepuff, by choice.

I think those skills are woefully under-appreciated in the Rationality Community. The problem cuts across many dimensions

continue reading »

In support of yak shaving part 2

3 Elo 26 April 2017 01:41AM

part 1 of yak shaving.  It wan necessary to write part two because part 1 was not clear enough about what the problem is.  I don't disagree with the comments, and I apologise for not presenting it better in the first round. (part 1 on lesswrong)

Original post:

You decide today is a day for getting things done, it is after all your day off.  You do what any person concerned with work does.  You sit down at your desk.  When you do you notice two empty tea cups and a one-sip-left in a can of soft drink.  Not liking a messy environment you figure you will quickly tidy up.  You take the teacups and put them on the kitchen bench.  You take the can to the recycling bin when you realise it's full and needs to be taken out to the garbage bin.

You take the rubbish to the garage and realise tonight is bin night anyway so you put the recycling bin.  While you are at it you put all the bins to the curb.  You get back to the kitchen and find the teacup is actually sitting on a pile of unopened mail.  You open what looks like the bills in the pile and mentally note to deal with them when you get back to your desk.  so you leave them on the kitchen table to take back with you.

You get to the teacups and realise you are out of dishwashing detergent.  You will have to go buy some.  You go to get the car keys and notice the washing basket is full.  You decide to quickly put the washing on before you go.  That will save time.  You get in the car and discover it's nearly out of petrol.  And the supermarket is it the other direction from the petrol station.

While you are out you grab a coffee and lunch before getting back.  Then you hit traffic and get home quite late.  You bring in the mail but notice the mailbox post is rotting.  you have some spare wood in the garage but your work bench has the remnants of when you tried to fix the shelf for your bathroom.  You could just fix the mailbox post with cable ties but how long would that last?

With a stubborn determination to get SOMETHING done today you take the mailbox into your work bench, and start working on top of the other project because you basically have no choice any more.  When you go to measure and mark the wood it seems like every pencil needs sharpening, as does the saw.  The drill has a flat battery, the last drill bit of the right size is broken, you have only three screws that are galvanised and one that is not.  you drill the guide hole too small, bend a screw in the process of getting it into the wood, slip and wound the bathroom shelf project, and eventually re-assemble a mailbox.  

You get the mailbox on the fence but it's getting dark and you need dinner.  You can't help but wonder where the day went.  It feels like you worked hard all day but you barely have anything to show for it.

Tomorrow you are back at work but maybe you need to take another day off, a tantalising prospect...  You have a deal with your boss that you can take the day off only if you could explain why you need another day off.  Of course that might require writing a note, which might require a working pen from the stationary cupboard, or sending an email, which you swore to not do before reading all the unread ones that are waiting for you...  And it would be nice to pay those bills.

In part 1 I said:

The problem here is that you spent all day shaving yaks (see also “there’s a hole in my bucket“).  In a startup that translates to not doing the tasks that get customers – the tasks which get money and actually make an impact, say “playing with the UI”.  It’s easy to see why such anti-yak shaving sentiment would exist (see also: bikeshedding, rearranging deck chairs on the titanic, hamming questions).  You can spend a whole day doing a whole lot of nothings; getting to bed and wonder what you actually accomplished that day (hint: a whole lot of running in circles).

It’s not just one problem, but a series of problems that come to your attention in a sequence.

this sort of behaviour is not like bikeshedding at all.  Nor is it doing insignificant things under the guise of “real work”.  Instead this is about tackling what stands in the way of your problem.  In problem solving in the real world, Don’t yak shave” is not what I have found to be the solution.

I propose that yak shaving presents a very important sign that things are broken.

The scenario above is my version of hell incarnate.  Real life is probably not that bad but things like that come up all the time.  They act as open loops, tax your mind (kind of like the debatable ego depletion concept) and don't really represent you being in a good place.

If something is broken, and you are living with it, that’s not acceptable.  You need a system in your life to regularly get around to fixing it.  Notepadsreviews, list keeping, set time aside for doing it and plan to fix things.

So I say, Yak Shave, as much, as long, and as many times as it takes till there are no more yaks to shave.

Accruing or resolving problems?

A question worth asking is whether you are in your life at present causing a build up of problems, a decrease of problems, or roughly keeping them about the same level.

If you are a person who keeps quantified tracking of yourself - this might be easier to answer. than if you do less tracking.  maybe you have to do lists, maybe some notepads, any way to know if you are getting better or worse at this.

The answer is probably something like, "up and down".  You do both, over time.  Things build up and then things resolve.  If you see things as having always built up, or gradually gotten worse...  Maybe it's time to stop.  Think.  Ask yourself...

What's going on?

Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write.  

Part 1: In support of yak shaving.  I would recommend a quick read over it.  I don't honestly want to quote the entire thing here but it's so so so so so relevant.

Original post:

Up next: Working with multiple problems at once

Meetup : Slatestar Codex Sao Paulo

2 leohmarruda 27 April 2017 12:48PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Slatestar Codex Sao Paulo

WHEN: 06 May 2017 02:00:00PM (-0300)

WHERE: Rua Antonio Carlos 452, São Paulo Brazil

Encontro mensal de racionalistas, novatos são bem vindos! Falaremos sobre Slatestar codex, teremos discussões diversas e jogos de tabuleiro no final.

Discussion article for the meetup : Slatestar Codex Sao Paulo

Meetup : Reading with discipline, reconstruction and mnemonics

1 pepe_prime 02 April 2017 08:24PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Reading with discipline, reconstruction and mnemonics

WHEN: 21 April 2017 05:45:00PM (+0200)

WHERE: Lindstedtsvägen 3, Room 1537, SE-114 28 Stockholm, Sverige

We'll go through how to complete large or difficult reading tasks, how to efficiently memorize and understand the contents, and how to maintain the memory afterwards. We'll go through a few tried and true methods and hold a few exercises. Bring at least one text (technical manual, poetry, fiction) that you want to remember well and a notebook.

Format: We meet and start hanging out at 5:45, but don't officially start doing the meetup topic until 6:00 to accomodate stragglers. We often go out for dinner after the meetup.

How to find us: The meetup is at a KTH academic building and the room is on the 5th floor, two stairs up.

Influence future meetups: Times - Topics -

Discussion article for the meetup : Reading with discipline, reconstruction and mnemonics

Meetup : MIRIx workshop on Logical Induction

1 Marko 15 March 2017 05:54PM

Discussion article for the meetup : MIRIx workshop on Logical Induction

WHEN: 01 April 2017 08:30:00AM (+0100)

WHERE: Universität Zürich Irchel, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zürich, Switzerland

In the first MIRIx Zurich workshop, we study Logical Induction, based on the paper

I will give a non-technical introduction to the main ideas, then we study the mathematical concepts needed to understand Logical Induction in detail. If we progress quickly, we may have time to get started on some original research too.

Discussion article for the meetup : MIRIx workshop on Logical Induction

Meetup : Chicago Rationality Reading Group

0 mingyuan 25 May 2017 03:21AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Chicago Rationality Reading Group

WHEN: 28 May 2017 01:00:00PM (-0500)

WHERE: Harper Memorial Library Room 148, 1116 E 59th St, Chicago, IL 60637

The Chicago Rationality group meets every Sunday from 1-3 PM in Room 148 of Harper Memorial Library. Though we meet on the University of Chicago campus, anyone is welcome to attend.

Since the university will go on break soon, we'll need to find a new location if we want to have weekly meetings during the summer, so keep an eye out for that. That announcement will not come from me, however, since this will be my last meeting before I move away! Come say goodbye!

This week's readings are as follows:

If you're interested in rationality-related events in the Chicago area, request to be added to our Google Group and I'll approve you!

Discussion article for the meetup : Chicago Rationality Reading Group

Meetup : Washington, D.C.: Fun & Games

0 RobinZ 24 May 2017 02:49PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Washington, D.C.: Fun & Games

WHEN: 28 May 2017 03:30:00PM (-0400)

WHERE: Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture

We will be meeting in the courtyard to hang out, play games, and engage in fun conversation.

Upcoming meetups:

  • Jun. 4: Describe a Potato
  • Jun. 11: AI Risk/Safety

Discussion article for the meetup : Washington, D.C.: Fun & Games

Meetup : Moscow LW meetup in "Nauchka" library

0 Alexander230 23 May 2017 08:29PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Moscow LW meetup in "Nauchka" library

WHEN: 09 June 2017 08:00:00PM (+0300)

WHERE: Москва, ул. Дубининская, 20

Welcome to the next Moscow LW meetup in "Nauchka" library!

Our plan:

  • A talk about yak shaving problem.

  • Fallacymania game.

  • Tower of Chaos game.

Details about Fallacymania and Tower of Chaos and game materials can be found here:

Meetup details are here:

Come to "Nauchka", ul.Dubininskaya, 20. Entrance through the Central children library #14. Nearest metro station is Paveletskaya. Map is here: . If you are lost, call Sasha at +7-905-527-30-82.

Meetup begins at 20:00, the length is 2 hours.

Discussion article for the meetup : Moscow LW meetup in "Nauchka" library

Meetup : Games in Kocherga club: Fallacymania, Tower of Chaos, Scientific Discovery

0 Alexander230 23 May 2017 04:16PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Games in Kocherga club: Fallacymania, Tower of Chaos, Scientific Discovery

WHEN: 31 May 2017 07:40:00PM (+0300)

WHERE: Moscow, B.Dorogomilovskaya, 5-2

Welcome to Moscow LW community makeshift games! In that games, some rationality skills are involved, so you can practise while you playing!

  • Fallacymania: it is a game where you guess logical fallacies in arguments, or practise using logical fallacies yourself (depending on team in which you will be).

  • Tower of Chaos: funny game with guessing the rules of human placement on a Twister mat.

  • Scientific Discovery: modified version of Zendo with simultaneous turns for all players.

Details about the games:

Come to antikafe "Kocherga", ul.B.Dorogomilovskaya, 5-2. The map is here: . Nearest metro station is Kievskaya. If you are lost, call Sasha at +7-905-527-30-82.

Games begin at 19:40, the length is 3 hours.

Discussion article for the meetup : Games in Kocherga club: Fallacymania, Tower of Chaos, Scientific Discovery

Meetup : Meet up: Stockholm Slate Star Codex

0 MossPiglet 21 May 2017 09:39AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Meet up: Stockholm Slate Star Codex

WHEN: 03 June 2017 03:00:00PM (+0200)

WHERE: Cafe Dox, Stora Nygatan 31, 111 27 Stockholm, Sverige

Format: Discuss SSC and related topics. We might also play some boardgames if people feel like it. We usually focus on one SSC article per meet up, this event it will be "I can tolerate anything except the outgroup" ( . More info can be found on

Influence future meetups: Times - Topics -

Discussion article for the meetup : Meet up: Stockholm Slate Star Codex

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