Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Group rationality diary, 7/23/12

4 Post author: cata 24 July 2012 08:49AM

This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for the week of July 23rd. It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like:

  • Established a useful new habit
  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief
  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations
  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior
  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something
  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life
  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you
  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves.  Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

Thanks to everyone who contributes!

Last week's diary; archive of prior diaries.

Comments (48)

Comment author: wsean 24 July 2012 04:48:00PM 22 points [-]

Used Bayes in the wild.

It was really a textbook case. I had a short story under review at Asimov's SF magazine, and they'd held onto it for over two months. Per Duotrope (a writer's market site), Asimov's takes twice as long on average reviewing stories that are ultimately accepted as stories that are ultimately rejected (the likely explanation is that obviously bad stories can be rejected right away, while stories that eventually get bought are handed around to multiple readers). So I sort of casually assumed without really thinking about it that this meant I was much more likely to get my story accepted.

But wait! Duotrope has various response statistics based on reports from users. With a few assumptions, I could use their numbers for a simple Bayes calculation, and figure out the real chances for an acceptance given a two month wait.

I used as my priors the numbers on Duotrope for acceptance rate (P(Acceptance)), mean reply time and std dev of reply time (used for P(Two Month Wait)), and took a guess at P(TMW|A) based on the mean reply time for acceptances. The result: yes, it was more likely that my piece was accepted, but because P(A) was so low to begin with (less than .5%), P(A|TMW) was still really low (less than 1%).

I calibrated my expectations accordingly. Which was just as well, since I got their rejection the next day. Rejections are always disappointing, but I'd have been far more disappointed if my expectations had still been out of joint.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 July 2012 05:11:13AM 10 points [-]

Lovely! I intend to add this as a Bayesian sample problem - enough rationality diaries, and we'll be able to make Bayes booklets exclusively out of real-life cases encountered by LessWrongers!

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 July 2012 10:02:49PM 1 point [-]

Hey - were you submitting the story for the first time? I.e., not that this was your first story, but Asimov's was the first place you sent it? If so, odds probably need adjustment because bad stories get submitted to more magazines than good stories (a rejected story is resubmitted, a good story is accepted more quickly).

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 24 July 2012 05:32:48PM 0 points [-]

This is really cool.

However, if you'd read omens from chicken entrails and it made you feel better, that would also have been equally cool :)

(it may be a necessary technique to manage your emotions to actually rationally evaluate expectations, if you're sufficiently steel-minded that prayers and omens don't work for you)

Comment author: Kingoftheinternet 24 July 2012 09:41:20PM 5 points [-]

I, for one, applaud and admire wsean for basing his emotions on Bayes' theorem instead of bird organs.

Comment author: gwern 24 July 2012 10:17:36PM 8 points [-]

I don't believe you; the gizzard this morning told me to be wary of things online.

Comment author: aelephant 27 July 2012 11:46:57AM 4 points [-]

Today at work my co-workers gave me what I consider to be one of the greatest compliments I've ever received in my life and possibly evidence of my success as an aspiring rationalist. It was something like, "You're like a robot or a computer, it is impossible to get you to change your opinion unless someone gives you data."

My 1st thought was, Wow! Isn't that how it is supposed to be? Shouldn't everyone be that way?

She went on to talk about her own skepticism of data, which is itself data that should be taken into account, I should have gone on to say. It is a huge problem here in China where all of the data is heavily biased, filtered, and controlled by the government.

Comment author: Morendil 25 July 2012 07:30:56AM 4 points [-]

For one week I kept a diary in the format recommended by Richard Wiseman's 59 seconds, previously recommended here, in an effort to improve my mood. No noticeable results.

Comment author: GuySrinivasan 25 July 2012 06:29:45PM 3 points [-]

Since 7/9/12 I've been noting distractions from productivity at work. I did keep it up, and I guess now I have enough data to go back, comb through, and look for easy improvements. Just from memory it's pretty clear that I need to a) decrease impulsiveness by making it harder to randomly access the internet, and b) establish a positive habit of switching to doing something useful or at least neutral-but-impossible-to-be-time-consuming as soon as I kick off a 5+ minute build process.

I've failed to swim or bike more. The bike I understand since I had no plan. But I had a plan for swimming and didn't execute.

I vastly reduced the startup cost for hacking on my pet project by taking the time to code up all the parts in a really dumb way that could at least be hooked together. Now I can write improvements without getting bogged down in plumbing.

I used the intuitions of Bayes, specifically of Bayesian Search Theory, to save a bunch of time in a Puzzle Safari (solve puzzles, get locations, search locations for a stamp for your logbook). Arriving "at the top of [a certain] stairwell" I found someone just leaving, frustrated, who said "I think this one's missing, someone else left without finding it too". I immediately scanned the area for easy places to look that weren't obvious places to check, tugged open the fire door, and collected my stamp.

I found an amusing failure mode while hacking my motivation. Rewarding brain states near "desiring to take explicit steps to improve my motivation" with chocolate leads to thinking about ways to explicitly improve my motivation whenever I eat that chocolate which led to Think Of Chocolate (-> Think Of Motivation) -> Reward With Chocolate.

I noticed a part of me that was... disdainful? of a behavior of someone I care about and took steps to ensure they knew and that we would talk about it. This vow is excellent.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 July 2012 06:34:32AM *  3 points [-]

Comment author: XFrequentist 31 July 2012 03:25:21PM 0 points [-]

had my first appraisal interview; it went extremely well

What is an "appraisal interview"?

Comment author: [deleted] 31 July 2012 04:08:23PM *  0 points [-]

Comment author: XFrequentist 31 July 2012 08:06:37PM 0 points [-]

I see... we use "performance review" where I work.

iPhone use during conversation and keeping pace with others on a group walk came up in your performance review? That's a pretty broad evaluation!

Comment author: moridinamael 24 July 2012 11:22:29PM 3 points [-]

Does anybody have a good Emacs setup they would like to share? I really need to give mine an overhaul, and I'm looking for ideas.

About two weeks ago I implemented Workrave pomodoro timer recommended in a previous rationality diary thread with a 25/5 split. This has been a fantastically good decision.

What's amusing to me is that the pomodoro timer has improved my productivity way out of proportion to what I expected. I'm very prone to investing lots of time and energy into productivity gizmos which ultimately don't pay off. The Workrave timer is very simple and works immediately. I simply find that it's very easy to focus for a 25 minute chunk when I know I'm going to take a 5 minute walk shortly.

Additionally, Nozbe (a GTD implementation) continues to be a good investment. I find myself still failing to sufficiently granularize large tasks. Nozbe ends up not really helping much when it comes to taskifying large projects, but helps a lot with remembering to return emails, remembering to buy birthday cards, acting on important thoughts that happen to hit me in the wrong context, and other inherently "small" items.

META: So, this is probably the third rationality diary entry of mine which mentions Nozbe, and I realize this may be annoying or redundant to other people. From my point of view, I think it's potentially valuable to track how a person uses a tool over time, rather than merely hearing an initial gushing endorsement followed by silence. Do y'all want me to shut up about Nozbe or should I keep providing a record of my experience?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 July 2012 05:07:41AM 4 points [-]

I strongly support mentioning something as many times as it's been used. Maybe it'd be annoying after a dozen times, but not three!

Comment author: gwern 25 July 2012 05:17:39PM 4 points [-]

What's amusing to me is that the pomodoro timer has improved my productivity way out of proportion to what I expected.

What would be much more impressive is if it's still working in 6 months.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 July 2012 07:51:46AM *  3 points [-]

Comment author: philh 25 July 2012 03:26:27AM *  2 points [-]

I second wedrifid's recommendation for evil-mode. (I also use nonstandard bindings ;w ;b ;k for save, switch buffer, kill buffer respectively, and these are a lot faster than the equivalent ex-mode commands would be.) I also use auto-complete-mode just about everywhere; I don't have semantic completion (it's on my todo list), but it's very useful anyway. I like reading camelCase but not typing it, and often I can just type camelca<tab> to get camelCase. ido-mode is also a massive win.

On a lower level, binding F5 to compile has been a great improvement for me over my old "move mouse to terminal window, press up-enter" workflow. More recently I got further improvements by rebinding F5 in haxe mode to "find the makefile-equivalent higher in the directory tree, then compile" instead of using "M-x cd" in every buffer.

I haven't found org-mode as useful as others report. I like its structure, and I've written presentations in it; but my emacs start up buffer is an org-mode todo list that I haven't updated in over a year. This may be a more general problem with myself and todo lists. (I have found that writing them on paper is helpful.)

Comment author: wedrifid 25 July 2012 02:08:15AM *  1 point [-]

Does anybody have a good Emacs setup they would like to share? I really need to give mine an overhaul, and I'm looking for ideas.

I recommend this one (or the successor).

Comment author: kajro 25 July 2012 02:03:49AM *  1 point [-]

If you use org-mode, this is what made my emacs experience reach a whole new level (I literally have every aspect of my life in .org files now - I can tell you what I ate for lunch 7 months ago, which isn't especially useful but really fun to point out).

You don't seem like an emacs newbie though, so you might have already seen the above. Recently I came across this setup, which has an inspiring organization and some very cool ideas which might be useful to you. This guy also wrote org-drill, an awesome SRS implementation for emacs - it even supports incremental reading!

Comment author: Dorikka 01 August 2012 11:38:48PM 0 points [-]

I am also using Nozbe, though I wish it would let you create sub-projects.

Comment author: Kingoftheinternet 24 July 2012 09:27:23PM *  2 points [-]

I used CBT to stop biting my fingernails; when I noticed the urge to bite my nails, I put my hand down and focused on the act of stopping. They became much longer than they've ever been in my conscious lifetime, but then I wanted them to be shorter, and I didn't have a nail file, so I bit them down to size. A nail file is on my shopping list.

Comment author: evand 24 July 2012 10:00:56PM 2 points [-]

I wonder if buying the nail file first would make this even easier. Get your subconscious invested in the idea that you're going to need the nail file. Make the consistency principle work for you: in order to be consistent with your past actions, you have to stop biting your nails.

Also, congrats!

Comment author: Tripitaka 25 July 2012 12:42:43AM -1 points [-]

Having tools like the nail file helps under good conditions; the hard part is not relapsing when under stress/other triggering conditions.

Comment author: FeepingCreature 25 July 2012 11:14:30AM *  0 points [-]
Comment author: kilobug 25 July 2012 10:12:33AM 0 points [-]

I did the same, and I confirm : it works surprisingly well.

Except that I bought a nail cutter before starting, planning in advance is good ! ;)

Comment author: philh 25 July 2012 03:44:47AM 1 point [-]

My sleep cycle has slipped now that I'm back living with parents. (It's currently 4:30 am and I'm writing this instead of going to bed.) Two possibly related factors:

  • I like to shower shortly before bed; or more accurately, I feel I should shower once a day and I rarely shower early. My parents also stay up late, and they get annoyed if I don't warn them before I shower and give them a chance to use the bathroom. The result of this seems to be that I wait until they're in bed before I shower.

  • I use my bed as storage space more than I did at university, possibly because I have less/oddly shaped floorspace. Before I can go to bed I need to move everything off it.

Comment author: bbleeker 25 July 2012 10:59:18AM 3 points [-]

Maybe you could change to showering in the morning. And what sort of things are you keeping on the bed? If they aren't things you use all the time, maybe you could put them under the bed instead.

Comment author: philh 25 July 2012 09:19:25PM 0 points [-]

Maybe you could change to showering in the morning.

I don't particularly want to add showering to my morning routine, but today I did shower between lunch and dinner, which is something.

what sort of things are you keeping on the bed?

Usually things that I put somewhere inconvenient the night before. In particular my chair, and for the past few nights the top of my suitcase. But yesterday I put enough clothes into my suitcase that I can't shut it any more, so I seem to have found somewhere less inconvenient for the things I was putting on top of it. (I may have moved them into my suitcase.) So right now it's mostly just a pile of documents from my chair, which is what I'm used to. I can just pick up the whole pile and move it without thinking about where to put anything.

But it depends what I've been doing through the day; yesterday it was particularly bad because I received a package of electrical components.

Comment author: AlexSchell 25 July 2012 03:56:24PM 2 points [-]

http://www.gwern.net/Melatonin#self-discipline

This really helps if you set yourself a reminder at a reasonable time and if your meta-akrasia is sufficiently low.

Comment author: philh 25 July 2012 09:21:52PM 0 points [-]

I have been using melatonin, but not to force myself to go to bed. I'll try that tonight if I'm still up at 4am.

Comment author: beriukay 01 August 2012 10:30:28AM *  1 point [-]

I'm not exactly sure how it applies here (it seems to fit between many of the items), but I put myself out there on CouchSurfing and have already hosted 2 sets of people. While there's nothing systematic about the learning experience, there are a lot of cool benefits to choosing your guests wisely. Want practice with a foreign language, host guests who speak that language. Want to learn about faraway places that you want to visit, pick people from those places. Want to have company as a motivation to cook/clean, seek out people who are arriving very soon. Want company doing activities in town that you've never gotten around to? Want to look at your location with fresher eyes? Want to learn foreign cooking? Want an impromptu guitar lesson (or a jam session)? There's all kinds of low-hanging fruit here!

Sure, there's the concern that you may end up as an axe-murder victim on the front page of the local newspaper, but we all know that strangers are usually less dangerous than friend/family. And the site has some pretty good vetting procedures in place.

I wanted to post on 7/23, when I finally decided to go for it, but now I actually know a bit about what I'm talking about. It's really great to host people. Maybe I'll try to see the world from the other side of the divide some time.

Some interesting things I've learned that surprised me:

  • Living in a big city like Paris is about as expensive as living in the middle of nowhere like Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Americans don't think about algae when we talk about seafood
  • There is a movement of people dedicated to food called "microbiotics" that you'll have to read about for yourself for full effect
  • Not being embarrassed is a great first-step for learning a foreign language
Comment author: Michelle_Z 25 July 2012 11:45:46PM 1 point [-]

Yesterday I started an one-month plan. My course load in college this semester is going to be much heavier than I am used to- and I have the textbooks sitting at home, and I found one of the teacher's syllabus online. Based off of that, I'm planning on teaching myself some of the over-arching themes and concepts (up to the first exam is my goal) in three subjects, so I don't feel as stressed trying to learn it all at once in class. I figure I'll be able to enjoy the classes more without my usual stressing "Am I understanding this? Can I ask a question? I think I understand it, but I know when I get back to my dorm I won't!"

So far, being able to do the work at my own pace has been pretty relaxing, and the subject matter itself (chemistry, biology, Italian)? No problems comprehending it, and little to no stress involved.

Comment author: beriukay 01 August 2012 10:13:14AM 0 points [-]

I like that, and have been doing it myself this past year. My only regret is that the early stuff seems to be the easiest, and that it would be great to spread some of that stuff out on the last few weeks of class when everything starts to get a bit crazy and hectic. That said, the foundations are important; and you can always go over the last material AFTER class is over, in the same way you did the preparing before.

Comment author: palladias 01 August 2012 06:24:58AM 0 points [-]

Used fungibility to switch from dance classes to aikido (I'm trying to buy more awareness of and control over my body, and aikido is a lot cheaper).

Used timeless decision theory to stop looking at Google reader in bed (much more enjoyable mornings). Also to do situps right when I wake up and put away my laundry right when it's done.

Thought about VOI and decided it was worth buying one of those lights-up-gradually alarm clocks since I sleep in a basement (seems to be improving my alertness in the am a lot, I had noticed woke up feeling more rested when I fell asleep on our couch than when I slept in my dark room).

Comment author: wedrifid 01 August 2012 08:00:26AM 0 points [-]

Used timeless decision theory to stop looking at Google reader in bed (much more enjoyable mornings).

Of course, CDT or EDT would have dictated exactly the same decision. I suppose by "use timeless decision theory" you mean something along the lines of using it kind of like a motivational parable with the connotations of "do the virtuous/best/consequentialist thing".

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 01 August 2012 08:44:50AM 1 point [-]

I'm guessing the consideration in question is "I'm deciding for all similar situations, not just this one, so I should be evaluating this decision based on its simultaneous impact on all similar situations, not just on the current situation".

Comment author: palladias 01 August 2012 05:59:57PM 1 point [-]

Yes, this is pretty much it. Thinking about the choice in this way made it easier to change the behavior and stick with it, since I expect future me will be about as lax as present me is about to choose to be. It's a helpful reframing to make the choice stick.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 August 2012 11:10:35AM 0 points [-]

I'm guessing the consideration in question is "I'm deciding for all similar situations, not just this one, so I should be evaluating this decision based on its simultaneous impact on all similar situations, not just on the current situation".

Which is perfectly fine as verbal symbols to manipulate one's own behavior. For that matter, if chanting out Bayes' theorem or the Schrödinger equation helps to get you to do what you know you should (would-want) to do then bravo. It would only be a mistake if you believed that it was actually the implementation of TDT (rather than CDT) or your knowledge of Quantum Mechanics that was making the difference, rather than a psychological manipulation trick.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 01 August 2012 12:01:20PM 0 points [-]

It would only be a mistake if you believed that it was actually the implementation of TDT (rather than CDT) or your knowledge of Quantum Mechanics that was making the difference, rather than a psychological manipulation trick.

What distinctions are you drawing between "implementing TDT", "psychological manipulation", and "a psychological manipulation trick"?

Comment author: wedrifid 01 August 2012 12:30:21PM *  0 points [-]

What distinctions are you drawing between "implementing TDT", "psychological manipulation", and "a psychological manipulation trick"?

"There is something special about Timeless Decision Theory that would lead it to give a different answer to CDT (or EDT for that matter) to the question 'In this specific situation what decision will give the best expected utility?'"

This is distinct to "If I think about TDT (or 'The Secret') I can actually get myself to do more of the stuff that would like to do."

Comment author: aelephant 25 July 2012 12:54:35AM 0 points [-]

After reading this review about the health effects of Dark chocolate, I've added it to my regular menu.

  • It might lower Blood pressure (might here doesn't matter to me since my BP is fine anyway).
  • It increases Insulin sensitivity (important to me since I'm a weight lifter / health nut).
  • Polysterols might lower LDL cholesterol (not too concerned about cholesterol either).
  • It tastes amazing.
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 July 2012 05:09:49AM 2 points [-]

I have a theory that nobody considers both "white chocolate" and "dark chocolate" to be "chocolate", and for me, alas, that parameter is set to "white chocolate".

Comment author: MichaelHoward 25 July 2012 07:45:06PM 0 points [-]

2 out of 5 Quibbloniacs accuse you of Taste Projection Fallacy, and 1 out of 10 Squiddoolies find you guilty.

Your cruel and unusual punishment... The Squiddoolies also say White Chocolate is not really 'chocolate' at all because it doesn't contain any cocoa solids.

Comment author: Alicorn 25 July 2012 06:33:00AM 0 points [-]

I consider both to be chocolate. One of them is mostly candy-chocolate and one of them is mostly ingredient-chocolate.

Comment author: Xachariah 25 July 2012 04:13:06AM *  0 points [-]

Indeed. Healthy and delicious is a powerful combination.

If you start cooking with dark chocolate rather than just eating it (though it's delicious either way), there's a lot of non-obvious things to watch out for. I'm not sure of your cooking baseline skill, but I could share some tips for making very nice dark chocolate covered strawberries at a very low effort level if you'd like.

Comment author: Alicorn 25 July 2012 04:47:04AM *  0 points [-]

For semisweet, the steps are a) melt chocolate in a dish b) dip strawberries c) chill them on a plate on wax paper in the fridge. Is it less obvious for ultra-dark chocolate?

Comment author: Xachariah 25 July 2012 05:16:58AM *  0 points [-]

I find it more difficult to temper and finicky with blooming (discoloration). Eg, recipes that use the fridge recommend timings for dark chocolate of 1-2 mins in the fridge vs 4-5 minutes for milk. So instead I use safer techniques like non-fridge tempering vs fridge tempering, and hot water baths instead of a double boiler.

As you note, it's not particularly difficult to get chocolate around a strawberry. The hard part is making it the right color and texture and ensuring that it stays good without going bad early.