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Comment author: NancyLebovitz 12 February 2011 07:12:44PM 0 points [-]

What specific changes would you recommend?

Comment author: avalot 30 March 2011 03:20:22AM *  2 points [-]

Very tricky question. I won't answer it in two ways:

  1. As I indicated, in terms of navigation/organization scheme, LW is completely untraditional. It still feels to me like a dark museum of wonder, of unfathomable depth. I get to something new, and mind-blowing, every time I surf around. So it's a delightful labyrinth, that unfolds like a series of connected thoughts anyway you work it. It's an advanced navigation toolset, usable only by people who are able to conceptualize vast abstract constructs... which is the target audience... or is it?

  2. I've been in the usability business too long to make UI pronouncements without user research. We've got a very specific user base, not defined by typical demo/sociographics, but by affinity. Few common usability heuristics would apply blindly to this case.

But among the few that would:

  • Improved legibility, typographic design, visual hierarchy
  • Flexible, mobile to wide-screen self-optimizing layout
  • More personalized features (dashboard, analytics, watch lists, alerts, etc.) although many are implicitly available through feeds, permalinks, etc.
  • Advanced comments/post management tools for power-users (I'm guessing there might be a need, through I am not one by any means.)

But, again, I think we have a rare thing here: A user base that is smart enough to optimize its own tools. Normally, the best user experience practitioners will tell you that you should research, interview and especially observe your users, but never ever ever just listen to them. They don't know what they really want, wouldn't know how to explain it, and what they want isn't even close to what they actually need. Would LW users be different? And would design by committee work here? I'm very dubious, but curious.

Does anyone know the back-story of how this website evolved? Was it a person, a team, or the whole group designing it?

Comment author: billswift 02 March 2011 07:22:47PM *  11 points [-]

It is discipline, the rigorous attention to detail, that distinguishes the work of a scholar from that of a dilettante.

Unfortunately I lost the source for this - anybody recognize it? It was from a book I read 12 to 15 years ago, I can't remember any more than that.

Comment author: avalot 02 March 2011 11:46:29PM 13 points [-]

Thanks for the irony!

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 February 2011 09:05:41PM 5 points [-]


Would you similarly endorse putting a link up on the front page that explains that "this website displays user-generated content, both in the form of discrete posts and in the form of comments associated either with a post or another comment. To view a post, click the title under "recent posts." To view comments... etc. etc. etc."?

Comment author: avalot 12 February 2011 05:55:54PM 2 points [-]

Lesswrong is certainly designed for the advanced user. Most everything on the site is non-standard, which seriously impedes usability for the new user. Considering the topic and intended audience, I'd say it's a feature, not a bug.

Nonetheless, the site definitely smacks of unix-geekery. It could be humanized somewhat, and that probably wouldn't hurt.

In response to Secure Your Beliefs
Comment author: avalot 12 February 2011 05:27:33PM *  4 points [-]

Anti-vaccination activists base their beliefs not on the scientific evidence, but on the credibility of the source. Not having enough scientific education to be able to tell the difference, they have to go to plan B: Trust.

The medical and scientific communities in the USA are not as well-trusted as they should be, for a variety of reasons. One is that the culture is generally suspicious of intelligence and education, equating them with depravity and elitism. Another is that some doctors and scientists in the US ignore their responsibility to preserve the profession's credibility, and sell out big time.

Chicken, meet egg.

So if my rationality is your business, you're going to have to get in the business of morality... Because until you educate me, I'll have to rely on trusting the most credible self-proclaimed paragon of virtue, and proto-scientific moral relativism doesn't even register on that radar.

Comment author: avalot 11 February 2011 06:37:48PM 1 point [-]

Interesting too is the concept of amorphous, distributed and time-lagged consciousness.

Our own consciousness arises from an asynchronous computing substrate, and you can't help but wonder what weird schizophrenia would inhabit a "single" brain that stretches and spreads for miles. What would that be like? Ideas that spread like wildfire, and moods that swing literally with the tides?

In response to comment by avalot on Optimal Employment
Comment author: Davidmanheim 06 February 2011 11:15:40PM 6 points [-]

The fact that americans don't want to go overseas does not imply there is money to be made on arbitrage - there are other people already there. You need several more peices of information, which we currently lack in order to conclude that there is money to be made. The asymmetry you posit sounds plausible, but is frequently untrue - in business, knowing the ground is incredibly important. I had a co-worker who was fired, essentially, for making one giant culturally insensitive statement.

Being an american frequently gets a different reaction abroad than "cute," and strangely it's not a positive one. Exotic is fine in hospitality, but most jobs want someone they understand as an employee. When we hire, known quantities always win, all else equal. And most people don't want to live in the middle of nowhere for some extra money. That's a non-economic cost that may not be compensated for by extra salary, which may not exist anyways.

Comment author: avalot 08 February 2011 04:40:16AM 1 point [-]

By "strangers and superficial acquaintances", I didn't mean bosses or co-workers. In business, knowing the ground is important, but as a foreigner, you get more free passes for mistakes, you're not considered a fool for asking advice on basic behavior, and you can actually transgress on some (not all, not most) cultural norms and taboos with impunity, or even with cachet.

I was not talking specifically about Americans. Americans indeed tend to find out that they have a lot to answer for when traveling abroad. I believe this is also often compounded by provincialism and lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of the imperials: America is the most culturally insular western country I know.

At any rate, the crux of my point wasn't about an American's chances trying to play by the rules in a foreign country. My point was that the cultural baggage you accumulated as a child in your home country is worth more if you sell it where the supply is low, and the demand is high.

It's like trading silk or spices, but instead you're trading cultural outlook. When you're young, and a new entrant to the marketplace, your cultural outlook is not a competitive advantage at home. It's an automatic differentiator in a foreign country, where you can turn it into an edge. It's not a free pass, but it can be a shortcut.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 February 2011 01:10:44PM *  31 points [-]

Awesome article as always. I really like your recent high-quality posts, Luke.

A few additional notes.

1) I was already more or less aware of this research through the language learning community, mostly the Japanese one. For example, Khatzumoto has been advocating this for some time now, see this article for an explanation or this trilogy in 9 parts for practical advice how to fix it. (Because LW isn't really about learning languages, I'll just leave it at this.)

These techniques try not to fix your own attitude (like, giving you lower Impulsiveness, changing the Value you assign or affecting your optimism), but instead change the learning strategies in such a way that they work regardless of these problems. So instead of learning how to tackle larger goals, they instead choose really tiny ones. Khatz for example strongly advocates timeboxes of 90 seconds or less, or changing the learning material to intrinsically fun stuff (manga instead of textbooks). This is something that the traditional procrastination literature doesn't really address very much. It has helped me a lot, in addition to all the approaches you already described.

2) I strongly agree with this model, but I'm not sure that this covers all of procrastination. I have seen additional (albeit not nearly as common) failure modes where all 4 variables given seem to be just fine, but still nothing got done. For example, I know quite a few experienced meditators that were horrible procrastinators in certain domains (e.g. Shinzen Young, see part 2 of this interview). (This includes myself, too, but I'm not nearly as experienced as I wish I was.) Through strong concentration meditation, you can easily make any task fun by going into Flow at will (or even stronger states than that), through variants of metta meditation, failure becomes no big deal and someone that can sit an hour or more paying detailed attention to pain (physical or emotional) doesn't really have a problem with Impulsiveness per se. I'm not sure that these factors are really the main cause here.

To give a personal example (a fairly common one among advanced vipassana practitioners) of such a failure mode, there's all-consuming nihilism, where you still have high concentration, lots of pleasure and so on, but find every possible action intrinsically empty, so you can't be bothered at all to do anything. In the extreme case, people simply lie around all day, doing nothing. (This is distinct from depression in that pleasure and motivation still exist as sensations, but are rejected, although from the outside it looks very similar.) The fix to this is not to try to arbitrarily assign Value to activities again, as the equation would predict (because activities are already enjoyable, but that doesn't help at all), but instead to turn this nihilism on itself and realize that "wanting meaning" is just as meaningless as everything else. So in that case, more specific insight and the uprooting of beliefs is necessary, not a better technique. (PJ Eby provides plenty of practical examples and great fixes for related situations, imo.)

3) Rewards can backfire horribly if done wrong. I have tried to use operant conditioning for not-so-pleasant, but necessary tasks. (Similar to taw's point system and strongly influenced by Don't Shoot The Dog.) The problem is that I came to replace my intrinsic (albeit limited) motivation entirely with an external one. Now once I either found a way to game the system (get the same reinforcements in an easier fashion) or skipped the rewards for some reason, all my motivation was gone completely. (Gabe Zichermann in his talk on gamification gives another example of this replacement.) So I'd highly advice against using reward systems except maybe for short, one-off goals.

(However, I have successfully exploited this to stop behavior. Don't Shoot The Dog explains this in detail. Essentially, you practice the behavior you don't want to do, put it on a reward system, give it an explicit cue and then you don't give the cue, ever. It's a bit tricky and dark-artsy, but works.)

In response to comment by [deleted] on How to Beat Procrastination
Comment author: avalot 07 February 2011 06:17:42AM 5 points [-]

Thank you! You have no idea just how helpful this comment is to me right now. Your answer to all-consuming nihilism is exactly what i needed!

In response to Optimal Employment
Comment author: avalot 01 February 2011 04:46:45AM 10 points [-]

I think there is a widespread emotional aversion to moving abroad, which means there must be great money to be made on arbitrage.

I think a lot of the aversion is fear of inferiority and/or ostracism. These are counter-intuitively misplaced.

The theory is this: You're worried that the people over there have their own way of doing things, they know the lay of the land, and they're competing hard at a game they've been playing together since they were born. Whereas you barely speak the language, don't know the social conventions, and have no connections. What chance could you possibly have of making money or making friends?

In practice, it's the opposite: Against a wildcard like you, they don't stand a chance!

If you're somewhat smart, you'll find that you have cultural superpowers in a foreign country: Your background gives you a different, unusual look on things which makes you interesting and exotic. At home, you'd be nothing special. And since your accent is cute, you'll be forgiven your blunders (at least by strangers and superficial acquaintances).

The same asymmetry applies to your education, your working style, etc. They are suddenly unique and refreshing. That can be parlayed into advantage, if used judiciously.

Playing 100% by the rules only guarantees that your playing field will be too crowded for you to get any breaks.

Where the market is irrationally risk-averse, take risks, young ones!

Comment author: soreff 04 November 2010 10:57:24PM 3 points [-]

There are exceptions... When a child first learns that he or she is mortal, I doubt that that is a happy day for him or her. Truths are valuable, but some are rather bitter.

Comment author: avalot 06 November 2010 09:47:25PM 0 points [-]

Yes, and I think this is the one big crucial exception... That is the one bit of knowledge that is truly evil. The one datum that is unbearable torture on the mind.

In that sense, one could define an adult mind as a normal (child) mind poisoned by the knowledge-of-death toxin. The older the mind, the more extensive the damage.

Most of us might see it more as a catalyst than a poison, but I think that's insanity justifying itself. We're all walking around in a state of deep existential panic, and that makes us weaker than children.

Comment author: avalot 19 October 2010 04:22:58PM 35 points [-]
  • The sound of one hand clapping is "Eliezer Yudkowsky, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Eliezer Yudkowsky..."
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky displays search results before you type.
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky's name can't be abbreviated. It must take up most of your tweet.
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky doesn't actually exist. All his posts were written by an American man with the same name.
  • If Eliezer Yudkowsky falls in the forest, and nobody's there to hear him, he still makes a sound.
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky doesn't believe in the divine, because he's never had the experience of discovering Eliezer Yudkowsky.
  • "Eliezer Yudkowsky" is a sacred mantra you can chant over and over again to impress your friends and neighbors, without having to actually understand and apply rationality in your life. Nifty!

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