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Comment author: JRMayne 03 March 2016 01:11:46AM 0 points [-]

Biases/my history: I went to a good public high school after indifferent public elementary and junior high schools. I attended an Ivy League college. My life would have been different if I had gone to academically challenging schools as a youth. I don't know if it would have been better or worse; things have worked out pretty well.

You come off as very smart and self-aware. Still, I think you underrate the risk of ending up as an other-person at the public high school; friends may not be as easy as you expect. Retreating to a public high school may also require explanation to college recruiters.

I also think your conclusion that you would study better with more friends may be a self-persuading effort that there are scholastic reasons to switch. But there don't have to be scholastic reasons: Being unhappy for two more years in your teens is a big deal, and if you are satisfied that your happiness will increase substantially by switching, you should switch. Long view is nice, but part of that view should be that two years of a low-friend existence sounds no fun, and the losses of switching are likely to be minimal.

Finally, commuting is a life-killer. Adults very commonly underrate the loss of quality of life for commuting (I commute 10 minutes each way; I have had jobs with one-hour commutes.) I'd suggest it's even more valuable time lost for a teenager.

Finally finally, I'm confident you'll get this right for you. Take a look at these responses, talk it out, then rock on. Be good, stay well.

Comment author: gjm 26 January 2016 02:03:10PM *  3 points [-]

Offsets 10, 8, 25, 6, 6, 14, 21, 11, 12, 13, 11, 12, 15, 21, 1, 7 (that's a key length of 16) yield the following decrypted plaintext: "failurearrivedquicklyatgjmshandsastheirprogramdefeatedmedepressinglyquicklyimustconcedethepointiwasoverconfidentandunderinformedandgjmfreakingwins".

The actual process involved manual intervention, though I think a smarter program could have done it automatically. It went like this:

  • Consider key lengths up to 20.
  • Instead of picking the single "best" shift at each offset within the key, consider all shifts that come within 1 unit of best. (Meaning a factor of e in estimated probability.)
  • Display all the decryptions resulting from these options, unless there are more than 300 in which case display 50 random ones.

This produced a big long list of candidates. None of them was right, but some of them looked more credible than others. Keylength 16 seemed to let us do the best, so I focused on that and picked one of the better-looking candidates, which looked like this:


which has lots of plausible bits in it. It looks like it should maybe start with "failure", a plausible enough word in this context, so I tweaked the fifth offset (yes! lots of other things got better too), and continued tweaking one by one as likely words and word-fragments jumped out at me. After a few tweaks I had the decryption above.

A program clever enough to do this by itself would need to have some inkling about digraphs or trigraphs or something, and then it would need some kind of iterative search procedure rather than just picking best offsets independently for each letter. Not terribly difficult, but it seemed easier to do something simpler-minded.

[Edited to add: I think the sequence of giveaway words for the tweaks was: "failure", "quickly" #2, "overconfident", done.]

Comment author: JRMayne 26 January 2016 04:36:51PM 0 points [-]


Well done, sir.

Comment author: gjm 19 January 2016 03:42:40PM 0 points [-]

I finally did get round to taking a look at this, and it isn't yielding to the usual methods. In fact, it's sufficiently unyielding that I am wondering whether it's really the result of Vigenere-ciphering something that resembles ordinary English text with a key of reasonable length. I find the following:

  • The text is 146 characters long. I would expect that, with "ordinary" plaintext, to be enough to identify a key of at most about 7 characters without too much pain. I actually tried lengths up to 10.
  • For no key length k does the distribution of { (a-b) mod 26 : a,b are characters at the same position mod k } much resemble the distribution of differences mod 26 of randomly chosen letters with typical English letter frequencies.
  • For no key length k does the result of the following procedure produce something that looks as if most of the shifts are correct:
    • For each offset, count letter frequencies, and choose a shift that maximizes the sum of log(typical_prob) where typical_prob are those typical English letter frequencies again.

JRMayne, if you happen to be reading this and happen to have either a record or a memory of the message and how you encrypted it: can you confirm that (1) this really is the output of a Vigenere cipher, (2) the plaintext isn't (statistically) outrageously unlike ordinary English, and (3) the key length is at most, let's say, 10?

(If the key is much longer than that, there isn't enough information for these simple methods to work with. Perhaps, e.g., doing a more expensive search and looking at digraph frequencies might be worth considering, but I'm too lazy.)

Comment author: JRMayne 25 January 2016 10:48:06PM 0 points [-]

Gah. I don't remember the solution or the key. And I just last week had a computer crash (replaced it), so, I've got lots of nothing. Sorry.

I am sure of (1) and (2). I don't remember (3), and it's very possible it's longer than 10 (though probably not much longer.) But I don't remember clearly. That's the best I can do.


Comment author: JonahSinick 20 May 2015 05:59:02AM 1 point [-]

I don't know whether you're being playful, defeatist, or misreading me. :-)

My point is that it is possible to come close to having his level of compassion: that the difference is apparently to a surprisingly large degree more environmental than genetic.

Are you claiming that communicating this point is hopeless?

Comment author: JRMayne 20 May 2015 08:28:33AM 8 points [-]

I think it is worse than hopeless on multiple fronts.

First problem:

Let's take another good quality: Honesty. People who volunteer, "I always tell the truth," generally lie more than the average population, and should be distrusted. (Yes, yes, Sam Harris. But the skew is the wrong way.) "I am awesome at good life quality," generally fails if your audience has had, well, significant social experience.

So you want to demonstrate this claim by word and deed, and not explicitly make the claim in most cases. Here, I understand the reason for making it, and the parts where you say you want good things to happen to people are fine. (I have on LW said something like, "I have a reputation for principled honesty, says me," in arguing that game tactics were not dishonest and should not apply to out-of-game reputation.) But the MLK thing is way-too-much, like "I never lie," is way-too-much.

Second problem:

As others have said, the comparison is political and inapt. You couldn't find anyone less iconic? Penn Jillette? Someone?

And MLK is known for his actions and risks and willingness to engage in non-violence. I read somewhere that ethnic struggles sometimes end badly. In a world where the FBI was trying to get him to kill himself, he stood for peace. Under those circumstance, his treatment of other humans was generally very good. That's not a test you've gone through.

Third problem:

The confidence of the statement is way, way out of line with where it should be. You have some idea of MLK's love and compassion for other people, but not all of it. Maybe MLK thought, "Screw all those people in government; hope they die screaming. But I think that war leads to more losses for black people, so despite my burning hatred, I'm putting on a better public face." (I admit this is unlikely.) He certainly had some personal bad qualities. Maybe you love people more than MLK. (This also seems unlikely, but stay with me.)

We cannot measure love and compassion in kilograms. We also do not know what people are like all the time. I realize that we can put people into general buckets, but I'd caution this sort of precision for others and yourself to a point where you can call people equivalent by this measure. And if we could measure it, there are no infinite values.

Fourth problem:

As infinite love for all humans is not possible... well, it's not even a good idea. You shouldn't have compassion and love for all people. The guy who just loves stabbing toddlers needs to be housed away from toddlers even though we're ruining his life, which was so happy in those delightful toddler-stabbing days. And if you're using your love and compassion on that guy, well, maybe there are other people who can get some o' that with better effect.

Because love and compassion isn't really a meaningful construct if it's just some internal view of society with no outward effects. Love and compassion is mostly meaningful only in what's done (like, say, leading life-risking marches against injustices.)

OK, that's it. Hope it helps.

Comment author: gjm 06 March 2015 03:44:54PM 1 point [-]

Vigeneres are potentially crackable, but they are very hard.

Unless your text is very short or your key very long, they are much easier than you apparently think. I have written programs that do a pretty good job of it.

(As MrMind says, if your key is as long as your text then this is a one-time pad, which indeed is uncrackable provided you have a reliable channel for sharing the one-time pad and don't make operational mistakes like reusing the key. But that's not a very common situation.)

Comment author: JRMayne 07 March 2015 07:08:31AM 0 points [-]

I agree that I made my key too long so it's a one-time pad. You're right.

"Much easier"? With or without word lengths?OK, no obligation, but I didn't make this too brutal:

Vsjfodjpfexjpipnyulfsmyvxzhvlsclqkubyuwefbvflrcxvwbnyprtrrefpxrbdymskgnryynwxzrmsgowypjivrectssbmst ipqwrcauwojmmqfeohpjgwauccrdwqfeadykgsnzwylvbdk.

(Again, no obligation to play, and no inference should be taken against gjm's hypothesis if they decline.)

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 05 March 2015 09:53:34AM *  7 points [-]

Let's make sure we're talking about cryptographic hashing functions.

Let's say I make a prediction that Barack Obama is a werewolf. I don't want anyone to know I've made this prediction, because otherwise the Secret Werewolf Police will come and eat me, but I do want to lord it over everyone after the fact.

I take the string "Barack Obama is a werewolf" and I put it through a hashing function, (for purposes of this example, the hashing function MD5). This produces the output 37ecb0a3164e6422bedc0f8db82e45ec. The original string about Barack Obama is not recoverable from this output, because MD5 is a lossy function, but anyone else putting that string through the MD5 hashing function will get the same output. The hash output is like a fingerprint for the original string.

So if I put 37ecb0a3164e6422bedc0f8db82e45ec in a public place a year before Barack Obama transforms into a werewolf on live television, after the fact I can give people the original string and they can verify it for themselves against the hash output.

I use a Chrome plugin for most tasks that involve basic encoding of text values. (If I'm honest, I mostly use it for rot13, and more exotic uses aren't that common). There are also online hash generators for different hashing functions. Some popular hashing functions for this purpose are MD5 and SHA1.

Does this answer your question?

Comment author: JRMayne 05 March 2015 05:47:03PM 1 point [-]

I encrypt messages for a another, goofier purpose. One of the people I am encrypting from is a compsci professor.

I use a Vigenere cipher, which should beat everything short of the Secret Werewolf Police, and possibly them, too. (It is, however, more crackable than a proper salted, hashed output.)

In a Vigenere, the letters in your input are moved by the numerical equivalent of the key, and the key repeats. Example:

Secret Statement/lie: Cats are nice. Key: ABC

New, coded statement: dcwt (down 1, 2, 3, 1) cuf ildg. Now, I recommend using long keys and spacing the output in five letter blocks to prevent easier soliving.

You can do this online:


This will transmute "It seems unlikely the werewolf police will catch you," with the key "The movie ends the same way for all of us JRM." to:

Cbxrt ibzsz mdytd minyzw wxqdt cjeph bfqhr leuqh oxvbg tn.

(Letter grouping by me.)

Again Vigenere's are potentially crackable, but they are very hard. It's easier for the werewolf police to just come and eat anyone who puts up hashed or Vigenere ciphered predictions.

Comment author: gwillen 18 February 2015 05:39:56PM 13 points [-]

That's interesting! I got the same answer but I visualized it differently. (Imagine, for each possible subpattern, i.e. "plus shape" or "dots", considering which items it appears in. In each case the answer is four, forming a rectangle. Two of the rectangles should extend into the ninth item, the one we're looking for.)

Comment author: JRMayne 18 February 2015 07:24:46PM 3 points [-]

I did it even more simply than that: Count things. Most have four iterations. Some have three iterations. The ones with three, make four. Less than 10 seconds for me. Same answer as the rest of everyone.

Comment author: JRMayne 11 January 2015 10:58:44PM 4 points [-]

Nitpick: Asimov was a member of Mensa on and off, but was highly critical of it, and didn't like Mensans. He was an honorary vice president, not president (according Asimov, anyway.) And he wasn't very happy about it.

Relevantly to this: "Furthermore, I became aware that Mensans, however high their paper IQ might be, were likely to be as irrational as anyone else." (See the book "I.Asimov," pp.379-382.) The vigor of Asimov's distaste for Mensa as a club permeates this essay/chapter.

Nitpick it is, but Asimov deserves a better fate than having a two-sentence bio associate him with Mensa.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 28 November 2014 10:48:28AM 5 points [-]

When debating with people, you should only make one inferential step per debate. Leave the next step for tomorrow, when the person has already accepted the former step (and probably believes it was actually their idea).

my opinions are uniquely valuable and important to share with others

They are valuable and important to you. Not to the others, yet.

I do think I'm smarter, more moderate, and more creative than most.

You may be right, but this is irrelevant here. People don't automatically accept smarter people's beliefs (and that's probably a good thing).

Comment author: JRMayne 01 December 2014 04:27:23AM 1 point [-]

It's almost always a good thing, agreed.

Smart people's willingness to privilege their own hypotheses on subjects outside their expertise is a chronic problem.

I have a very smart friend I met on the internet; we see each other when we are in each others (thousand-mile-away) neighborhood. We totally disagree on politics. But we have great conversations, because we can both laugh at the idiocy of our tribe. If you handle argument as a debate with a winner and a loser, no one wins and no one has any fun. I admit that it takes two people willing to treat it as an actual conversation, but you can help it along.

Comment author: Yvain 03 June 2014 02:28:09PM *  3 points [-]

Yesterday I posted a Michigan meetup.

My location is set to Michigan.

The "Nearest Meetups" column on the right-hand side suggests Atlanta and Houston, but not Michigan.

Is this a known bug?

Comment author: JRMayne 03 June 2014 02:57:09PM 10 points [-]

It's a feature, not a bug. The friendly algorithm that creates that column assumes you would rationally prefer Atlanta or Houston to anywhere within 40 miles of Detroit.

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