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Comment author: RichardKennaway 29 September 2014 07:25:19PM 8 points [-]

In all the substantial programming projects I've undertaken, what I think of the language itself has never been a consideration.

One of these projects needed to run (client-side) in any web browser, so (at that time) it had to be written in Java.

Another project had to run an a library embedded in software developed by other people and also standalone at the command line. I wrote it in C++ (after an ill-considered first attempt to write it in Perl), mainly because it was a language I knew and performance was an essential requirement, ruling out Java (at that time).

My current employment is developing a tool for biologists to use; they all use Matlab, so it's written in Matlab, a language for which I even have a file somewhere called "Reasons I hate Matlab".

If I want to write an app to run on OSX or iOS, the choices are limited to what Apple supports, which as far as I know is Objective C, C++, or (very recently) Swift.

For quick pieces of text processing I use Perl, because that happens to be the language I know that's most suited to doing that. I'm sure Python would do just as well, but knowing Perl, I don't need Python, and I don't care about the Perl/Python wars.

A curious thing is that while I've been familiar with functional languages and their mathematical basis for at least 35 years, I've never had occasion to write anything but toy programs in any of them.

The question I always ask myself about a whizzy new language is, "Can this be used to write an interactive app for [pick your intended platform] and have it be indistinguishable in look and feel from any app written in whatever the usual language is for that platform?" Unless the answer is yes, I won't take much interest.

A programming language, properly considered, is a medium for thinking about computation. I might be a better programmer for knowing the functional or the object-oriented ways of thinking about computation, but in the end I have to express my thoughts in a language that is available in the practical context.

Comment author: jkaufman 30 September 2014 07:27:16PM 0 points [-]

Can this be used to write an interactive app for [pick your intended platform] and have it be indistinguishable in look and feel from any app written in whatever the usual language is for that platform?

Now that my platform is the web the answer is "yes" for nearly every language, which is awfully freeing.

Comment author: Punoxysm 30 September 2014 03:15:34AM *  1 point [-]

I skipped a few steps on the example. Think of it like this.

A: "States can do a lot of good'

B: "Well, maybe, but what do you think of drug laws"

A: "They're bad"

B: "What about the military-industrial complex"

A: "Bad"

B: "And you'd agree these are two examples of state power run amok in a structural way that's pretty pervasive across space and time"

A: "I guess so."

B: "So you agree that the state is fundamentally evil, tax is theft, and libertarianism is the answer, right?"

At this point, A will be thrown for a loop if they've never been subjected to these specific arguments before. A has been lead to the point where B is rhetorically strongest, and accepted premises in an unqualified form, which A might now wish to go back and qualify (but then A is arguing against him or her self).

Comment author: jkaufman 30 September 2014 07:25:52PM 1 point [-]

I'm glad you gave an example, but I suspect A would reply "of course not!".

Comment author: Prismattic 17 September 2014 05:38:40AM *  25 points [-]

I'd argue that height privilege (up to a point, typically around 6'6") is a real thing, having nothing to do with being good at sports. There is a noted experiment, which my google-fu is currently failing to turn up, in which participants were shown a video of an interview between a man and a woman. In one group, the man was standing on a footstool behind his podium, so that he appeared markedly taller than the woman. In the other group, the man was standing in a depression behind his podium, so t that he appeared shorter. The content of the interview was identical.

Participants rated the man in the "taller" condition as more intelligent and more mature than the same man in the "shorter" condition. That's height privilege.

Comment author: jkaufman 17 September 2014 11:50:20PM 6 points [-]

There's also a large established correlation between height and income, though not enough to completely rule out a potential common cause like "good genes" or childhood nutrition.

Comment author: jkaufman 16 September 2014 12:54:39AM 8 points [-]

This post would be a lot clearer if you used constant (inflation adjusted) dollars. For example, take these two passages:

Since its inception in 1926, the annualized total return on the S&P 500 has been 9.8% as of the end of 2012.3 $1 invested back then would be worth $3,533 by the end of the period. More saliently, a 25 year old investor investing $5,000 per year at that rate would have about $2.1 million upon retirement at 65.

Historically the interest earned on cash equivalent investments like savings accounts has barely kept up with inflation - over the same since-1926 period inflation has averaged 3.0% while the return on 30-day treasury bills (a good proxy for bank savings rates) has been 3.5%. That 3.5% rate would only earn an investor $422k over the same $5k/year scenario above.

The first one makes it sound like people can expect 3500x growth, when actual growth was 272x, while the second implies you'd still earn enough money to matter while beating inflation by only 0.5%. Similarly, "putting in $5k a year" sounds pretty reasonable on it's face, until you realize that this savings strategy means putting in (in 2012 dollars) $65k/year at first and then slowly dropping down to $5k/year. At which point it's clearer that "$5k/year" means more money saved sooner than "$5k of constant dollars/year".

(And while you do note this in the afterward, pointing people to US historical results is kind of cherry-picking. Over that period many countries' markets had worse performance than the US, and some were even wiped out. Once you adjust for this a 3.5% return is probably a better estimate. A nice summary of Dimson, Marsh, and Staunton is http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21571443-investors-may-have-developed-too-rosy-view-equity-returns-beware-bias)

Comment author: gjm 15 September 2014 07:40:03PM 1 point [-]

But it has a lot of the same stuff you'd have found beyond the hyperlinks -- right underneath the headlines, without even needing to click. I'm not sure that's a win.

Comment author: jkaufman 16 September 2014 12:07:29AM 1 point [-]

No additional clicks from there, though, so still bounded. You can read through all the interesting stories in a paper (I used to do this) and then you're done; with the web there's no obvious stopping place.

Comment author: Metus 05 September 2014 11:58:08AM 6 points [-]

A good portion of LessWrong is unreadable for me as it is based on some kind of altruistic axiom. Personally, I care about myself, my immediate family and a few friends. I will feel a pang of suffering when I see people suffering but I do not feel that pang when I hear about people I don't know suffering, so I conclude that I don't care about other people beyond some abstract measure of proximity and their economic utility for me.

Comment author: jkaufman 08 September 2014 07:23:56PM 1 point [-]

So if there were a button you could press that would make one of your close friends happier but would kill someone you haven't met, you would be totally ok pressing it?

In response to Persistent Idealism
Comment author: Izeinwinter 28 August 2014 07:39:51PM *  0 points [-]

It isn't just corruption that is a worry it is also the simple fact that if you are not corrupted, you will fit in really, really badly in your at-work social context. If you are obviously one of the righteous, and you are working at vampire squid headquarters, people are going to be rightly concerned that you may at any moment redo your utility calculations in the light of new data about just how vile they are and decide that the greatest net good you can accomplish is to, oh, copy every file you can lay your hands on, turn states evidence and in general pull a Samson in the temple on them. So, you know, perhaps not the most likely person to receive promotions.

More practically: Given the ability to get this sort of job you can almost certainly do much more net good by going into engineering, medicine or similar and working very hard at perfecting something which has broad use. The low-cost solar powered air-conditioner, the app that has a walkthrough on how to build the best possible house and outhouse given local ´materials, a shovel and lots of time (the third world has quite high smartphone penetration, and it will only go higher) Heck, even a humanities degree can be leveraged to outperform any plausible amount of giving if you laser down at producing something which makes the lives of enough people better. - Because in any given job, far more resources will pass through your hands than will be diverted into your bank account. It thus matters more what you do than what you earn. Pick a vocation. Be conscientious and diligent in executing it - this may result in personal wealth, or may not, but the mere act of doing a good job at a good task improves the world.

Comment author: jkaufman 28 August 2014 09:18:05PM 4 points [-]

"working at vampire squid headquarters..."

Earning to give doesn't require working for companies that are actively evil with secret malicious blow-the-whistle-on plans, and I don't think working for such organizations would be a good idea. But if you're working in tech (ex: me) or finance (ex: Jason Trigg) you can still fit in fine with your coworkers. You don't "ooze righteousness" or anything. (And I think trying to avoid coming off as "holier than thou" is very important if we don't want effective altruism to appear arrogant and offputting.)

"you can almost certainly do much more net good by going into engineering, medicine or similar and working very hard at perfecting something which has broad use"

You're making pretty strong claims ("outperform any plausible amount of giving") but the only evidence you're giving seems to be the claim that "in any given job, far more resources will pass through your hands than will be diverted into your bank account". Each individual doesn't have that much control over resources passing through their hands, while they have a lot of control over what they do with money they earn and can donate. But let's look at an example.

As the tech lead for the pagespeed module I'm one of ~10 people working on open source web server software that speeds up ~0.5% of internet page views by ~0.1s. There are about 1M page views per second on the internet, so every second we save people about 500s, or 500 person-years of time every year. That's 50-years per team member, so you could say through my work I save one life a year. Now for this work I get paid enough enough that I can donate about $100k/year. Donations to the AMF save a life for ~$2.5k but let's say $5k to be safe. So that's 20 lives. This is rough, but in my case at least my donations are going about 20x farther than my work. Add in replaceability and that shifts the balance even further in favor of donations.

Comment author: cameroncowan 28 August 2014 07:50:14PM 1 point [-]

Being a man, I'm very good at compartmentalizing thing so I view giving and charity in its own box of things that I do. I hold what I do around charity and giving and this kind of thing in extremely high esteem especially because I work within myself, within my soul, within subtle realms, and this kind of thing. However, while I guess that is a method of giving I think living a good life and having sufficient resources to invest in oneself is a far safer bet than giving away as much money as possible. You really have to think of yourself in order not to become a charity case yourself. Doing that which is fulfilling and making you a better person has a duplicative effect and amplifies all that you do without the burnout or poverty stricken state that I think this system leads to. I agree that to the person doing it its not as hard as it might seem. I live on very little an most people think that I'm crazy or that its so hard but its not. However, there are moments like when my car needs something done or there is an event I'd like to go to that I really wish I had those resources to just pick up and go do that thing. I guess in that way I don't see this extreme sacrifice method of giving is conducive to a good life. Does that make sense?

Comment author: jkaufman 28 August 2014 08:30:38PM *  5 points [-]

"You really have to think of yourself in order not to become a charity case yourself. Doing that which is fulfilling and making you a better person has a duplicative effect and amplifies all that you do without the burnout or poverty stricken state that I think this system leads to."

This is a good argument against donating too much, but you can still keep enough for yourself to avoid poverty and burnout while earning to give. For example, of what my wife and I earn this year we'll be dividing the money up like:

50% donations
23% taxes
21% saving
6% spending

You can see we're saving several times our annual spending, which gives us a good safety margin in case something goes wrong. Part of why we're able to have a budget like this is that we (me, wife, daughter) live frugally, and part of it is that we've tried to earn more so we can give more.

Comment author: EStokes 26 August 2014 05:21:45PM 4 points [-]

Good point! When I asked her earlier she said she wanted to save the rainforest to stop global warming, but I don't think she's completely inflexible about this.

Comment author: jkaufman 26 August 2014 07:05:30PM 4 points [-]

"she wanted to save the rainforest to stop global warming"

Katja Grace (of Meteuphoric) did some research for Giving What We Can looking into climate change charities. She wrote up her findings as a blog post.

In response to Persistent Idealism
Comment author: shminux 26 August 2014 04:55:25PM *  14 points [-]

Or maybe they realize that their younger self's values and goals are no longer their current values and goals, and give in to a bit of indulgence guilt-free.

It is certainly wise to keep a diary of one's goals, values, reasons and intentions, so that some time later one can tell whether the arguments you made when you are 20 are still persuasive when you are 40. Also reviewing one's diary on a regular basis is likely to mitigate any unintentional value drift.

What is probably not wise is trying to lock your future self in with precommitments. After all, would you want to be constrained at 20 by what your 12-yo self thought? That's how you might think about yourself at 20 when you are 40.

Comment author: jkaufman 26 August 2014 06:47:45PM *  4 points [-]

"What is probably not wise is trying to lock your future self in with precommitments."

The outside view suggests that as I get older I will probably get less idealistic and less altruistic. For example, from something I happened to be reading this morning:

Bob’s lack of ambition, which had initially seemed so noble, began to irritate Jacqui. “Everybody else in the animal-rights movement was growing up, starting to settle down, moving out of the squats and all that,” she recalled. “He was already a lot older, and he was not progressing.” While Bob was in the pub, plotting direct actions, Jacqui was at home, worrying about money.

(In this case Bob hasn't "grown up" because he's actually a government spy assigned to the animal rights movement, but if anything that makes this stronger.)

I expect that morally I will still believe that we should be helping others, I just will be pulled more and more to spend money on myself and people around me. Commitment here isn't to lock myself into the values of a much younger self so much as keep myself doing what I have all along thought was the right thing to do.

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