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Respond to what they probably meant

11 adamzerner 17 January 2015 11:37PM


I was confused about Node Modules, so I did a bunch of research to figure out how they work. Explaining things helps me to understand them, and I figured that others might benefit from my explanation, so I wrote a blog post about them. However, I'm inexperienced and still unsure of exactly what's going on, so I started the blog post off with a disclaimer:


I'm a bit of a noob. I just graduated from a coding bootcamp and am still trying to wrap my head around this stuff myself (that's actually why I'm writing this article). I tried to do my research, but I can't guarantee that everything is correct. Input from more knowledgeable people is very welcome.

My friend said that it's a bad idea to do that. He said:

You're literally discrediting yourself in the first sentence of the article. Stand by what you've written!

I interpreted what he said literally and basically responded by saying:

Why should I "stand by what I've written"? What I mean to communicate to the readers is that, "I'm x% sure of what I'm about to say." To "stand by what I've written" is to assign a higher confidence to the things I've written than what my true confidence is. It wouldn't even be a stretch to interpret "stand by what you've written" as meaning "claim that you're 100% sure of what you've written". Why would I do that?

This was stupid of me. He didn't mean "claim that you're 100% sure of what you've written". He didn't mean "pretend that you're way more confident in what you've written than what you really are". He meant, "I think that it comes across as you being less confident than you actually are. And so I think you should reword it to better communicate your confidence."

I shouldn't have interpreted what he said so literally. I should have thought about and responded to what I thought he meant to say. (Although, he also should have been more precise...)


People often interpret and respond to statements literally. Instead of doing this, it's often useful to think about and respond to what the other person probably meant.

For example, "If I interpret what you said literally, then A. But you probably meant X, so B. If you meant Y, then C."

Depending on how confident you are in your interpretation, you should probably respond to a variety of possibilities. Like if you're < 80% sure that you know what they meant, you should probably respond to possibilities that have at least a 5% chance of being what they meant. I'm not sure whether 80 and 5 are the right numbers, but hopefully it communicates the point.

Why don't people do this?

I see two likely reasons:

  1. The whole "argument is a war that I must win" attitude.
  2. Habit.
1 - "You said X! Gotcha! That's stupid! You're wrong!". This clearly isn't a productive approach.
2 - I think that a lot of people - myself included - have a bad habit of interpreting things too literally. Well actually, that by itself isn't what's bad. What's bad is stopping after your literal analysis, and not considering alternatives that are likely to be what they actually meant. This bad habit isn't ill-intentioned - that's why I distinguish it from reason 1). It's just an analytical impulse.

Practical considerations

In "low friction" situations (like when you're talking to someone face-to-face), it's probably a better idea to just say, "I think that what you're trying to say is X. Is that true?". Ie. instead of responding to what you think they mean... you could just ask them to clarify.

In higher friction situations, there's a cost (in time and/or effort) to having one person stop talking and another person start talking. Like in online discussions, you might have to wait a while before they respond. So if you're 95% sure that you know what they meant, you could just say, "I think that you meant X, so A. But if you meant Y, then B". The alternative is to respond by saying, "I think you meant X but I'm not sure. Did you mean X", and then having to wait for a reply.

I'm having trouble thinking of other "higher friction situations". Perhaps a (semi)formal debate where you have to speak for a certain length of time would be a good example. In this situation you're expected to just keep speaking, so you can't pause to ask people what they meant - you just have to think about and respond to the possibilities on the spot.

Another practical point to make is that the flow of the conversation has to be taken into account. Stopping to address every possible interpretation of what the other person said is obviously impractical - it'd take too long, and it's hard for everyone to follow the logic of the conversation.

However, I think that my core point is applicable for all types of conversations. The goal of communication is for each person to interpret and respond to the others' statements. Interpreting things literally instead of thinking about what the other person probably meant to say is a failure to interpret, and it impedes communication.

Edit: I have just learned that what I'm referring to is The Principle of Charity.

Optimal eating (or rather, a step in the right direction)

4 c_edwards 19 January 2015 01:35AM

Over the past few months I've been working to optimize my life.  In this post I describe my attempt to optimize my day-to-day cooking and eating - my goal with this post is to get input and to offer a potential template for people who aren't happy with their current cooking/eating patterns.  I'm a) still pretty new to LW, and b) not a nutritionist; I am not claiming that this is optimal, only that it is a step in the right direction for me.  I'd love suggestions/advice/feedback.


How do I quantify a successful cooking/eating plan?


"Healthy" is a broad term.  I'm not interested in making food a complicated or stressful component of my life - quite the opposite.  Healthy means that I feel good, and that I'm providing my body with a good mix of building blocks (carbs, proteins, fats) and nutrients.  This means I want most/all meals to include some form of complex carbs, protein, and either fruits or veggies or both.  As I'm currently implementing an exercise plan based on the LW advice for optimal exercising, I'm aiming to get ~120 grams of protein per day (.64g/lb bodyweight/day).  There seems to be a general consensus that absorption of nutrients from whole foods is a) higher, and b) less dangerous, so when possible I'm trying to make foods from basic components instead of buying pre-processed stuff.

I have a health condition called hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) that makes me cranky/shaky/weak/impatient/foolish/tired when I am hungry, and can be triggered by eating simple sugars.  So, for me personally, a healthy diet includes rarely feeling hungry and rarely eating simple sugars (especially on their own - if eaten with other food the effect is much less severe).  This also means trying to focus on forms of fruit and complex carbs that have low glycemic indexes (yams are better than baked potatoes, for example).  I would guess that these attributes would be valuable for anyone, but for me they are a very high priority.

I'm taking some advice from the "Exos" (formerly Core Performance) fitness program, as described in the book Core performance essentials. One of the suggestions from this that I'm trying to use here (aside from the above complex carb+protein+fruit/veg meal structure) is to "eat the rainbow every day" - that is, mix up the fruits and veggies you eat, ideally getting as many colors per day as possible.  I'm also taking advice from the (awesome) LW article on increasing longevity: "eat fish, nuts, eggs, fruit, dark chocolate."

When possible I'm trying to focus on veggies that are particularly nutrient dense - spinach, bok choy, tomatoes, etc.  I am (for now) avoiding a few food products that I have heard (but have not yet confirmed!) are linked to potential health issues: tofu, whey proteins.  Note that I do not trust my information on the potential risks of these foods, but as neither of these are important to my diet anyways, I have put researching them as a low priority compared to everything else I want to learn.

So to recap: don't stress about it, but try to do complex carbs, proteins (120g/day for me), fruits, and veggies in every meal, avoid sugars where possible (although dark chocolate is good).  Fish, nuts and eggs are high priority proteins.


I'm on a fairly limited budget.  This means trying to focus on the seasonal fruits and veggies (which are typically cheaper, and as an added bonus are likely healthier than the same fruit/veggie when out of season), aiming for less expensive meats, and not trying to eat organically (probably worth a separate discussion of organic vs not, meat vs not).  This also means making my own foods when the price benefit is high and the time cost is low.  I often make my own breads, for example (using a breadmaker) - it takes about 10 minutes of my time, directly saves me about 3+ dollars or so compared to an equivalent quality loaf of bread (many breads can be made for ~$.50-1$), plus saves me either the time of shopping multiple times per week to obtain fresh bread or the grossness of eating bread that I've frozen to keep it from molding.  Additionally, my budget means that I prefer that my weekly meal plan not depend on eating out or buying pre-made foods.


While I'm on a fairly limited monetary budget, I'm on a very limited time budget.  Cooking can be fun for me, but I prefer that my weekly schedule not REQUIRE much time - I can always replace a quick meal with a longer fun one if I feel like it.

The Plan

My general approach is split my meals between really quick-and-easy (like chickpeas, canned salmon, and olive oil over prewashed spinach with an apple or two on the side) and batch foods where a somewhat longer time investment is split over many nights (like lentil stew in a crockpot).

To keep myself reasonable full I need about 6-7 meals per day: breakfast, snack, lunch, (optional snack depending on schedule), post-workout snack, dinner, snack.  These don't all need to be large, but I'm unhappy/unproductive without something for each of those meals, so I might as well make it easy to eat them.

In general I've found the following system to fulfill my criteria of success (healthy, cheap, quick), and it's been much less stressful to have a general plan in place - I can more easily figure out my shopping list, and it's not hard to ensure I always have food ready when I need it.


Quick and easy is the key here.  I typically have either


  1. Yogurt with sunflower seeds and/or nuts, a handful of rolled oats (yes, uncooked, but add a bit of water at the end to make them tolerable), and sometimes some fruit on top.  Add honey for sweetener as needed (I typically don't do to hypoglycemia).
  2. Bread (often homemade, but whatever floats your boat) with some peanut butter on top, a banana or other fruit item on the side.
  3. (if I have the time) Scrambled eggs mixed with chopped broccoli or bell peppers, bread, and a piece of fruit.
(also a big glass of water, which everyone seems to think is important)(also coffee, although I'm considering transitioning to a different caffeine source.



I have three "batch" meals here (I make enough for 3+lunches, so I cook lunches ~twice a week):


  1. salmon mash plus "spinach salad" (spinach with olive oil and either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar), fruit item.  salmon mash is a mix of cooked rice, canned salmon, black olives (for flavor - not sure that they're useful nutritionally), canned black or garbanzo beans, pasta sauce.  It sounds disgusting, but I find it pretty decent, and it's very cheap and filling, and super balanced in terms of carbs and proteins.  I do proportions of 1 cup rice, 1 large can salmon, 1-2 cans beans, 1/2 can black olives, 1/2 can pasta sauce (typically I do a double batch, which lasts me about 4-5 lunches.  Your mileage may vary)
  2. Baked yams and boneless skinless chicken breasts plus spinach salad or other veggies, fruit item
  3. pasta salad: pasta, raw chopped broccoli, tomatoes (grape/cherry tomatoes are easiest), chopped bell peppers, sliced ham, olives (for flavor again - not important nutritionally, I think), and some olive oil (you could use Caesar salad dressing if you like more flavor).  
If I haven't prepped a batch lunch, I just put salmon and beans on top of spinach, add a little olive oil, and throw in a slice of bread and a fruit on the side. Alternately, PBJ plus veggie and fruit.



I aim to make one batch dinner per week and have it last for 4-5 meals, and then have several quick-and-easy dinners to fill the gap (this also makes it easy to accommodate dinners out or food related social gatherings).

Some ideas for Batch Dinners (crock pots are your friends here):


  • Lentil stew, bread, sliced carrots or bell peppers, fruit item (apple, banana, grapefruit, whatever).  That lentil soup recipe is ridiculously cheap, healthy, and quite tasty.
  • The potato-and-cabbage based rumpledethumps recipe (which freezes very well - make a huge batch and throw half of it in the freezer), plus a meat of some sort, a fruit item and maybe a vegetable something 
  • Other crock pot soups: chicken tortilla soup, chili, stew.  Add a veggie on the side, a fruit item, and maybe a slice of bread.
  • Large stirfry (these often take a bit longer than crock pot meals), rice or noodles, fruit on the side.
Note that since I only make one batch dinner per week, those bullets are sufficient to cover a month (and depending on what your tolerance for repetition is, that might be enough for years).

Some ideas for quick-and-easy dinners:
  • Salad made from salad greens, some form of precooked meat (salmon is good), beans, maybe sliced avacado and tomato, maybe sunflower seeds.
  • Rice/pasta; scrambled/cooked eggs or baked chicken; munching veggie like carrots, raw broccoli, bell pepper; fruit item.  Note on chicken: while there is a reasonably large elapse time from start to finish, your involvement doesn't need to take long.  Typically I have a bunch of boneless skinless chicken breasts in the freezer - pull one out, throw it in a ziplock with soy sauce, garlic powder, ginger (or whatever other marinade you prefer), put the ziplock in a bowl of warm water, preheat oven to 370ish.  Once chicken is thawed, put in a pan and cook in the oven.  Ideally do enough rice/pasta and chicken for several nights.



In general my snacks are super simple: just combine some kind of munching veggie (carrots, bell pepper, raw broccoli, snap peas, etc) with hummus, some fruit item, something protein-y (handful of nuts or sunflower seeds, usually) and (optionally) a slice of bread or other carb source.  For whatever snack I have after a workout, I want to make sure there is plenty of protein, so I include either hard boiled eggs, baked chicken, or salmon (on bread).


So over the weekend, when I plan my week and go shopping, I choose the following:


  1. One batch dinner to cook (usually I need to buy the stuff for this)
  2. One type of quick-and-easy dinner to eat for 2-3 nights (often using staples/leftovers I already have)
  3. Two types of batch lunch to make from my list of three.
  4. 2-3 kinds of munching veggies - enough veggies total to include in ~3 meals per day (so like 6ish carrots per day, or 2 bell peppers, etc).  Think carrots, raw broccoli, bell peppers, green beans, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, etc.
  5. 2-3 kinds of fruit items.  Think apples, bananas, grapefruit, grapes, oranges, etc.
  6. Two kinds of protein for post-workout snacks, chosen from: eggs, chicken, salmon
  7. Bread recipes to make 2-3 loaves (which might just be a single recipe repeated)
I also make sure I have enough yogurt and other breakfast supplies to get me through the week.  I drink milk with most of my meals at home, so I check my milk supply as well.

Boom!  Planning done, shopping list practically writes itself!  Once per week I make an small effort on cooking a batch dinner, two or three nights per week I put an extremely minimal effort into quick-and-easy dinners, two evenings per week I make a batch of lunch foods and maybe prep workout protein (hard boil eggs or bake chicken breasts), and otherwise my "cooking" consists of taking things from the fridge and putting them onto a dish (and possibly microwaving).




I'm still tweaking my system, but it has been a marked improvement from the last-minute scrabbling and suboptimal meals that tended to characterize my eating before this.  It's also a big step up in terms of utility from the more elaborate and time-consuming meals I sometimes cooked to compensate for feelings of inadequacy generated by aforementioned scrabbling/suboptimal meals.  I tend to feel fairly energetic and healthy, and it's a huge reassurance to me to know that I always have food planned out and typically it's available to me without needing to do any cooking.  It appears that it's considerably cheaper, too, although there are several confounding factors that would also drive my grocery bills down (transitioning to not-organic foods, trying to hit sales, etc).

Are there things I'm missing?  Suggestions for meals?  (note that I'm a bit wary of meal-replacement shakes) Alternative systems that people have found to hit that sweet spot of healthy, quick, and inexpensive? Is this something that might be useful for you?

EDIT:  Tuna is high in mercury, and shouldn't be eaten in nearly the quantities I had originally planned.  I've replaced canned tuna with canned salmon.

[Link] An argument on colds

14 Konkvistador 18 January 2015 07:16PM


It's illegal to work around food when showing symptoms of contagious diseases. Why not the same for everyone else? Each person who gets a cold infects one other person on average. We could probably cut infection rates and the frequency of colds in half if sick people didn't come in to work.

And if we want better biosecurity, why not also require people to be able to reschedule flights if a doctor certifies they have a contagious disease?

Due to the 'externalities', the case seems very compelling.

Moving my commentary to a separate comment, so as to disambiguate votes on my commentary and the original argument.

Learn Three Things Every Day

-6 helltank 16 January 2015 09:36AM

In the Game of Thrones series, there is an ongoing side plot in which a character is trained by a secretive organization to become an assassin. As part of her training, one of the senior assassins demands that she report to him three new things she has learnt every day. by making a natural inference from the title of the article, you might infer or assume that I am going to suggest that you do the same. I am, but with a crucial difference.

You see, my standards are higher than the Faceless Men. Instead of filling up your list of learnt things with only marginally useful things like gossip or other insignificant things, I am going to take it up a notch and demand that you learn three USEFUL things a day. This is, of course, an entirely self-enforced challenge, and I'll let you decide on the definition of useful. Personally, I use the condition of [>50% probability that X will enrich my life in a significant way], but if you want, you can make up your own criteria for "useful".

This may seem trite or useless, or even obvious(if you're an eager and fast learner, like most LWers). Now stop and think hard. For the entire of the past 30 days, have you ever had a day or two where you just slacked off and didn't learn much? Maybe it was New Year's Day, or your birthday, and instead of learning you decided to spend the whole day partying. Perhaps it was just a lazy Sunday and you couldn't be bothered to learn something and instead just spent the day playing video games or mountain skiing(although there are useful things to be learnt from those, too) or whatever you like to do in your spare time.

I haven't taken an official survey, but my belief(and do correct me if I am very wrong about this) is that on average there's at least one day in thirty in which you did not learn thirty new, useful things. I would consider that day as pretty much wasted from a truth-seeker's point of view. You did not move forward in your quest for knowledge, you did not sharpen your rationality skills(and they always need sharpening, no matter how good you are) and you did not become stronger mentally. That's 12 days in a year, which is more than enough for the average LWer to pick up at least one new skill: say, learning about game theory, to pick a random example. In that year, you have had a chance to gain the knowledge of game theory, and you threw it away.

The point of this exercise is not to make you sweat and do a "mental workout" every day. The point is to prevent days that are wasted. There is a nearly infinite amount of knowledge to collect, and we do not have nearly infinite time. Maybe it's just my Asian mentality speaking here, but every second counts and you are in effect racing against time to gain as much knowledge as possible and put it to good use before you die.

When doing this, you are not allowed to merely work on your projects, unless they also teach you something. If you are a non-programmer, and you begin learning Python, that's a new thing. If you're already fluent in Python, and you program in Python, that's not counted. With one exception: if you learn something through programming(maybe you thought up a nifty new way to sanitize user inputs while working on a database) then that counts. If you're a writer, and you write, that doesn't count. Unless, of course, by writing you learn things about worldbuilding, or plot development, or character development, that you didn't know before. Yes, this counts, even though it's not directly rationality-related, because it enriches your life: it helps you achieve your writing goals(that's also a good condition for usefulness, and is a good example of instrumental rationality).

Today, I've learn about the concept of centered worlds, I have learnt about the policy of indifference in similar worlds and I have learnt the technique of "super-rationality" as a means to predict the behavior of other agents in acausal trade. What have you learnt today?

Do it now. Don't wait, or you will waste this day, which is 86400 countable seconds in which to learn things. In fact, I've given you a head start today, because you can count this article in your list of learnt things.

Good luck to you. Let's learn together.

[This is my first post on LW and I hope that I taught you something interesting and useful. Again, I'm new to posting, so if I violated some unspoken rule of etiquette, or if you think this post is obvious and shitty, feel free to vote me down. But do leave a comment explaining why you did, so I can add it to my list of learnt things.]

Je suis Charlie

-18 loldrup 15 January 2015 08:27AM

After the terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo, conspiracy theories quickly arose about who was behind the attacks.
People who are critical to the west easily swallow such theories while pro-vest people just as easily find them ridiculous.

I guess we can agree that the most rational response would be to enter a state of aporia until sufficient evidence is at hand.

Yet very few people do so. People are guided by their previous understanding of the world, when judging new information. It sounds like a fine Bayesian approach for getting through life, but for real scientific knowledge, we can't rely on *prior* reasonings (even though these might involve Bayesian reasoning). Real science works by investigating evidence.

So, how do we characterise the human tendency to jump to conclusions that have simply been supplied by their sense of normativity. Is their a previously described bias that covers this case?

Quantum cat-stencil interference projection? What is this?

5 pre 14 January 2015 12:06AM

Sorry I don't hang around here much. I keep meaning to. You're still the ones I come to when I have no clue at all what a quantum-physics article I come across means though.


So. Um. What?

They have some kind of double-slit experiment that gets double-slitted again then passed through a stencil before being recombined and recombined again to give a stencil-shaped interference pattern?

Is that even right?

Can someone many-worlds-interpretation describe that at me, even if it turns out its just a thought-experiment with a graphics mock-up?

Why you should consider buying Bitcoin right now (Jan 2015) if you have high risk tolerance

3 Ander 13 January 2015 08:02PM

LessWrong is where I learned about Bitcoin, several years ago, and my greatest regret is that I did not investigate it more as soon as possible, that people here did not yell at me louder that it was important, and to go take a look at it.  In that spirit, I will do so now.


First of all, several caveats:

* You should not go blindly buying anything that you do not understand.  If you don't know about Bitcoin, you should start by reading about its history, read Satoshi's whitepaper, etc.  I will assume that hte rest of the readers who continue reading this have a decent idea of what Bitcoin is.

* Under absolutely no circumstances should you invest money into Bitcoin that you cannot afford to lose.  "Risk money" only!  That means that if you were to lose 100% of you money, it would not particularly damage your life.  Do not spend money that you will need within the next several years, or ever.  You might in fact want to mentally write off the entire thing as a 100% loss from the start, if that helps.

* Even more strongly, under absolutely no circumstances whatsoever will you borrow money in order to buy Bitcoins, such as using margin, credit card loans, using your student loan, etc.  This is very much similar to taking out a loan, going to a casino and betting it all on black on the roulette wheel.  You would either get very lucky or potentially ruin your life.  Its not worth it, this is reality, and there are no laws of the universe preventing you from losing.

* This post is not "investment advice".

* I own Bitcoins, which makes me biased.  You should update to reflect that I am going to present a pro-Bitcoin case.


So why is this potentially a time to buy Bitcoins?  One could think of markets like a pendulum, where price swings from one extreme to another over time, with a very high price corresponding to over-enthusiasm, and a very low price corresponding to despair.  As Warren Buffett said, Mr. Market is like a manic depressive.  One day he walks into your office and is exuberant, and offers to buy your stocks at a high price.  Another day he is depressed and will sell them for a fraction of that. 

The root cause of this phenomenon is confirmation bias.  When things are going well, and the fundamentals of a stock or commodity are strong, the price is driven up, and this results in a positive feedback loop.  Investors receive confirmation of their belief that things are going good from the price increase, confirming their bias.  The process repeats and builds upon itself during a bull market, until it reaches a point of euphoria, in which bad news is completely ignored or disbelieved in.

The same process happens in reverse during a price decline, or bear market.  Investors receive the feedback that the price is going down => things are bad, and good news is ignored and disbelieved.  Both of these processes run away for a while until they reach enough of an extreme that the "smart money" (most well informed and intelligent agents in the system) realizes that the process has gone too far and switches sides. 


Bitcoin at this point is certainly somewhere in the despair side of the pendulum.  I don't want to imply in any way that it is not possible for it to go lower.  Picking a bottom is probably the most difficult thing to do in markets, especially before it happens, and everyone who has claimed that Bitcoin was at a bottom for the past year has been repeatedly proven wrong.  (In fact, I feel a tremendous amount of fear in sticking my neck out to create this post, well aware that I could look like a complete idiot weeks or months or years from now and utterly destroy my reputation, yet I will continue anyway).


First of all, lets look at the fundamentals of Bitcoin.  On one hand, things are going well. 


Use of Bitcoin (network effect):

One measurement of Bitcoin's value is the strenght of its network effect.  By Metcalfe's law, the value of a network is proporitonal to the square of the number of nodes in the network. 


Over the long term, Bitcoin's price has generally followed this law (though with wild swings to both the upside and downside as the pendulum swings). 

In terms of network effect, Bitcoin is doing well.


Bitcoin transactions are hitting all time highs:  (28 day average of number of transactions).



Number of Bitcoin addresses are hitting all time highs:



Merchant adoption continues to hit new highs:

BitPay/Coinbase continue to report 10% monthly growth in the number of merchants that accept Bitcoin.

Prominent companies that began accepting Bitcoin in the past year include: Dell, Overstock, Paypal, Microsoft, etc.


On the other hand, due to the sustained price decline, many Btcoin businesses that started up in the past two years with venture capital funding have shut down.  This is more of an effect of the price decline than a cause however.  In the past month especially there has been a number of bearish news stories, such as Bitpay laying off employees, exchanges Vault of Satoshi and CEX.io deciding to shut down, exchange Bitstamp being hacked and shut down for 3 days, but ultimately is back up without losing customer funds, etc.


The cost to mine a Bitcoin is commonly seen as one indicator of price.   Note that the cost to mine a Bitcoin does not directly determine the *value* or usefulness of a Bitcoin.   I do not believe in the labor theory of value: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_theory_of_value

However, there is a stabilizing effect in commodities, in which over time, the price of an item will often converge towards the cost to produce it due to market forces. 


If a Bitcoin is being priced at a value much greater than the cost (in mining equipment and electricity) to create it, people will invest in mining equipment.  This results in increased 'difficulty' of mining and drives down the amount of Bitcoin that you can create with a particular piece of mining equipment.  (The amount of Bitcoins created is a fixed amount per unit of time, and thus the more mining equipment that exists, the less Bitcoin each miner will get).

If Bitcoin is being priced at a value below the cost to create it, people will stop investing in mining equipment.  This may be a signal that the price is getting too low, and could rise.


Historically, the one period of time where Bitcoin was priced significantly below the cost to produce it was in late 2011.  It was noted on LessWrong.  The price has not currently fallen to quite the same extent as it did back then (which may indicate that it has further to fall), however the current price relative to the mining cost indicates we are very much in the bearish side of the pendulum.


It is difficult to calculate an exact cost to mine a Bitcoin, because this depends on the exact hardware used, your cost of electricity, and a prediction of the future difficulty adjustments that will occur.  However, we can make estimates with websites such as http://www.vnbitcoin.org/bitcoincalculator.php

According to this site, every available Bitcoin miner will never give you back as much money as it cost, factoring in the hardware cost and electricity cost.   Upcoming more efficient miners which have not yet released yet are estimated to pay off in about a year, if difficulty grows extremely slowly, and that is for upcoming technology which has not yet even been released. 


There are two important breakpoints when discussing Bitcoin mining profitability.  The first is the point at which your return is enough that it pays for both the electricity and the hardware.  The second is the point at which you make more than your electricity costs, but cannot recover the hardware cost.


For example, lets say Alice pays $1000 on Bitcoin mining equipment.  Every day, this mining equipment can return $10 worth of Bitcoin, but it costs $5 of electricity to run.  Her gain for the day is $5, and it would take 200 days at this rate before the mining equipment paid for itself.  Once she has made the decision to purchase the mining equipment, the money spent on the miner is a sunk cost.  The money spent on electricity is not a sunk cost, she continues to have the decision every day of whether or not to run her mining equipment.  The optimal decision is to continue to run the miner as long as it returns more than the electricity cost. 

Over time, the payout she will receive from this hardware will decline, as the difficulty of mining Bitcoin increases.  Eventually, her payout will decline below the electricity cost, and she should shut the miner down.  At this point, if her total gain from running the equipment was higher than the hardware cost, it was a good investment.  If it did not recoup its cost, then it was worse than simply spending the money buying Bitcoin on an exchange in the first place.


This process creates a feedback into the market price of Bitcoins.  Imagine that Bitcoin investors have two choices, either they can buy Bitcoins (the commodity which has already been produced by others), or they can buy miners, and produce Bitcoins for themself.   If the Bitcoin price falls sufficiently that mining equipment will not recover its costs over time, investment money that would have gone into miners instead goes into Bitcoin, helping to support the price.  As you can see from mining cost calculators, we have passed this point already.  (In fact, we passed it months ago already).


The second breakpoint is when the Bitcoin price falls so low that it falls below the electricity cost of running mining equipment.  We have passed this point for many of the less efficient ways to mine.  For example, Cointerra recently shut down its cloud mining pool because it was losing money.  We have not yet passed this point for more recent and efficient miners, but we are getting fairly close to it. Crossing this point has occurred once in Bitcoin's history, in late 2011 when the price bottomed out near $2, before giving birth to the massive bull run of 2012-2013 in which the price rose by a factor of 500.


Market Sentiment: 

I was not active in Bitcoin back in 2011, so I cannot compare the present time to the sentiment at the November 2011 bottom.  However, sentiment currently is the worst that I have seen by a significant margin. Again, this does not mean that things could not get much, much worse before they get better!  After all, sentiment has been growing worse for months now as the price declines, and everyone who predicted that it was as bad as it could get and the price could not possibly go below $X has been wrong.  We are in a feedback loop which is strongly pumping bearishness into all market participants, and that feedback loop can continue and has continued for quite a while.


A look at market indicators tells us that Bitcoin is very, very oversold, almost historically oversold.  Again, this does not mean that it could not get worse before it gets better. 


As I write this, the price of Bitcoin is $230.  For perspective, this is down over 80% from the all time high of $1163 in November 2013.  It is still higher than the roughly $100 level it spent most of mid 2013 at.

* The average price of a Bitcoin since the last time it moved is $314.


The current price is a multiple of .73 of this price.  This is very low historically, but not the lowest it has ever ben.  THe lowest was about .39 in late 2011. 


* Short interest (the number of Bitcoins that were borrowed and sold, and must be rebought later) hit all time highs this week, according to data on the exchange Bitfinex, at more than 25000 Bitcoins sold short:



* Weekly RSI (relative strength index), an indicator which tells if a stock or commodity is 'overbought' or 'oversold' relative to its history, just hit its lowest value ever.


Many indicators are telling us that Bitcoin is at or near historical levels in terms of the depth of this bear market.  In percentage terms, the price decline is surpassed only by the November 2011 low.  In terms of length, the current decline is more than twice as long as the previous longest bear market.


To summarize: At the present time, the market is pricing in a significant probability that Bitcoin is dying.

But there are some indicators (such as # of transactions) which say it is not dying.  Maybe it continues down into oblivion, and the remaining fundamentals which looked bullish turn downwards and never recover.  Remember that this is reality, and anything can happen, and nothing will save you.



Given all of this, we now have a choice.  People have often compared Bitcoin to making a bet in which you have a 50% chance of losing everything, and a 50% chance of making multiples (far more than 2x) of what you started with. 

There are times when the payout on that bet is much lower, when everyone is euphoric and has been convinced by the positive feedback loop that they will win.  And there are times when the payout on that bet is much higher, when everyone else is extremely fearful and is convinced it will not pay off. 


This is a time to be good rationalists, and investigate a possible opportunity, comparing the present situation to historical examples, and making an informed decision.   Either Bitcoin has begun the process of dying, and this decline will continue in stages until it hits zero (or some incredibly low value that is essentially the same for our purposes), or it will live.  Based on the new all time high being hit in number of transactions, and ways to spend Bitcoin, I think there is at least a reasonable chance it will live.  Enough of a chance that it is worth taking some money that you can 100% afford to lose, and making a bet.  A rational gamble that there is a decent probability that it will survive, at a time when a large number of others are betting that it will fail.


And then once you do that, try your hardest to mentally write it off as a complete loss, like you had blown the money on a vacation or a consumer good, and now it is gone, and then wait a long time.



Programming-like activities?

6 robot-dreams 08 January 2015 12:37AM

Programming is quite a remarkable activity:

  • It has an extremely low barrier to entry
    • You don't need expensive equipment
    • You don't need to be in a particular location
    • You don't need special credentials
    • You can finding information / resources just by opening the internet
    • You can learn it / do it independently
  • It gives you rapid feedback (which can lead to rapid growth)
  • It gives you frequent rewards (which gives a huge boost in motivation)
  • It's objective and unforgiving (this is a good thing, because it teaches you how to confront reality)
  • It's intellectually stimulating
  • It's useful in the real world
    • Corollary: you can make money or even build a career out of it
  • It's badass (or are you telling me that Hackers WASN'T your favorite movie of all time?)
What are some other "programming-like" activities?

I mean this in the sense of "activities that also satisfy the above criteria", but suggestions don't have to satisfy ALL of the criteria.  Here are some of the first ideas that come to mind when I try to answer the question myself:
  • Electronics (but this is basically still programming)
  • Math (lacks "rapid feedback" and "frequent rewards"; "useful in the real world" is also questionable)
  • Go, poker, video games (usually lacks "useful in the real world", sometimes lacks "badass")
  • Juggling, poi (lacks "intellectually stimulating" and "useful in the real world")
However, I've already exhausted my creativity and I'm hoping to go much deeper than this.  Thoughts?

Some recent evidence against the Big Bang

7 JStewart 07 January 2015 05:06AM

I am submitting this on behalf of MazeHatter, who originally posted it here in the most recent open tread. Go there to upvote if you like this submission.

Begin MazeHatter:

I grew up thinking that the Big Bang was the beginning of it all. In 2013 and 2014 a good number of observations have thrown some of our basic assumptions about the theory into question. There were anomalies observed in the CMB, previously ignored, now confirmed by Planck:

Another is an asymmetry in the average temperatures on opposite hemispheres of the sky. This runs counter to the prediction made by the standard model that the Universe should be broadly similar in any direction we look.

Furthermore, a cold spot extends over a patch of sky that is much larger than expected.

The asymmetry and the cold spot had already been hinted at with Planck’s predecessor, NASA’s WMAP mission, but were largely ignored because of lingering doubts about their cosmic origin.

“The fact that Planck has made such a significant detection of these anomalies erases any doubts about their reality; it can no longer be said that they are artefacts of the measurements. They are real and we have to look for a credible explanation,” says Paolo Natoli of the University of Ferrara, Italy.

... One way to explain the anomalies is to propose that the Universe is in fact not the same in all directions on a larger scale than we can observe. ...

“Our ultimate goal would be to construct a new model that predicts the anomalies and links them together. But these are early days; so far, we don’t know whether this is possible and what type of new physics might be needed. And that’s exciting,” says Professor Efstathiou.


We are also getting a better look at galaxies at greater distances, thinking they would all be young galaxies, and finding they are not:

The finding raises new questions about how these galaxies formed so rapidly and why they stopped forming stars so early. It is an enigma that these galaxies seem to come out of nowhere.



The newly classified galaxies are striking in that they look a lot like those in today's universe, with disks, bars and spiral arms. But theorists predict that these should have taken another 2 billion years to begin to form, so things seem to have been settling down a lot earlier than expected.

B. D. Simmons et al. Galaxy Zoo: CANDELS Barred Disks and Bar Fractions. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2014 DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stu1817


The findings cast doubt on current models of galaxy formation, which struggle to explain how these remote and young galaxies grew so big so fast.


Although it seems we don't have to look so far away to find evidence that galaxy formation is inconsistent with the Big Bang timeline.

If the modern galaxy formation theory were right, these dwarf galaxies simply wouldn't exist.

Merrick and study lead Marcel Pawlowski consider themselves part of a small-but-growing group of experts questioning the wisdom of current astronomical models.

"When you have a clear contradiction like this, you ought to focus on it," Merritt said. "This is how progress in science is made."



Another observation is that lithium abundances are way too low for the theory in other places, not just here:

A star cluster some 80,000 light-years from Earth looks mysteriously deficient in the element lithium, just like nearby stars, astronomers reported on Wednesday.

That curious deficiency suggests that astrophysicists either don't fully understand the big bang, they suggest, or else don't fully understand the way that stars work.


It also seems there is larger scale structure continually being discovered larger than the Big Bang is thought to account for:

"The first odd thing we noticed was that some of the quasars' rotation axes were aligned with each other -- despite the fact that these quasars are separated by billions of light-years," said Hutsemékers. The team then went further and looked to see if the rotation axes were linked, not just to each other, but also to the structure of the Universe on large scales at that time.

"The alignments in the new data, on scales even bigger than current predictions from simulations, may be a hint that there is a missing ingredient in our current models of the cosmos," concludes Dominique Sluse.


D. Hutsemékers, L. Braibant, V. Pelgrims, D. Sluse. Alignment of quasar polarizations with large-scale structures. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 2014

Dr Clowes said: "While it is difficult to fathom the scale of this LQG, we can say quite definitely it is the largest structure ever seen in the entire universe. This is hugely exciting -- not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the universe.


These observations have been made just recently. It seems that in the 1980's, when I was first introduced to the Big Bang as a child, the experts in the field knew then there were problems with it, and devised inflation as a solution. And today, the validity of that solution is being called into question by those same experts:

In light of these arguments, the oft-cited claim that cosmological data have verified the central predictions of inflationary theory is misleading, at best. What one can say is that data have confirmed predictions of the naive inflationary theory as we understood it before 1983, but this theory is not inflationary cosmology as understood today. The naive theory supposes that inflation leads to a predictable outcome governed by the laws of classical physics. The truth is that quantum physics rules inflation, and anything that can happen will happen. And if inflationary theory makes no firm predictions, what is its point?


What are the odds 2015 will be more like 2014 where we (again) found larger and older galaxies at greater distances, or will it be more like 1983?

Rational Healthcare

-25 Brendon_Wong 06 January 2015 06:58AM

So what is "rational healthcare?" BetterCare. BetterCare is a startup that brings healthcare sharing from Christian healthcare sharing ministries to the general public. We are also considering facilitating healthcare sharing among other circles like religious communities, local neighborhoods, or even interest-groups like rationalists. Christian healthcare sharing ministries don’t provide health insurance. Instead, they cut out the middlemen, in this case insurance companies, and let members share healthcare costs directly among themselves. The result is the equivalent of health insurance at half the price, and with low “deductibles” and full coverage of almost all conditions to boot. BetterCare can do the same for you. We can provide monthly rates at just $180 per person and $410 per family, as opposed to the U.S. national average for health insurance at $490 per person and $1363 per family per month. If you want to learn more and stay updated on our progress, check out our website and join the waitlist for new member opportunities at www.bettercare.tk.

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