April 2013 Media Thread

by ArisKatsaris1 min read4th Apr 201366 comments


Personal Blog

This is the monthly thread for posting media of various types that you've found that you enjoy. Post what you're reading, listening to, watching, and your opinion of it. Post recommendations to blogs. Post whatever media you feel like discussing! To see previous recommendations, check out the older threads.


  • Please avoid downvoting recommendations just because you don't personally like the recommended material; remember that liking is a two-place word. If you can point out a specific flaw in a person's recommendation, consider posting a comment to that effect.
  • If you want to post something that (you know) has been recommended before, but have another recommendation to add, please link to the original, so that the reader has both recommendations.
  • Please use the comment trees for genres. There is a meta thread for comments about future threads.
  • If you think there should be a thread for a particular genre of media, please post it to the Other Media thread for now, and add a poll to the Meta thread asking if it should be a thread every month.
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Short Online Texts Thread

Why We Keep Asking "Was Machiavelli an Atheist?" -- more that somewhat about the history of atheism , and why modern people are apt to see atheists in eras before they were likely to exist. This essay is the last in a lively and fascinating history of the weirdness that was the politics and religion of Renaissance Italy. (Previously mentioned at LW.)

Michael O. Church has produced a ridiculously long series of blog posts that explores some interesting ideas he has about the workplace. He recently posted a summary of the last 20 posts, and the next, final post is intended to provide his solutions to the proposed problems. This only qualifies as a short online text if you forgo reading the first 20 blog posts, otherwise it's like 90,000 words.

A surprisingly good philosophy article from 1988: Howard, Cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Online Videos Thread

Beware. Don't look at any anime music videos if you don't need another addiction.

I'm not showing any signs of addiction yet, but I suppose there's a risk I'd track down the references and get hooked.

Fanfiction Thread

Nonfiction Books Thread

Mathy LWers will probably love Scott Aaronson's Quantum Computing Since Democritus, which is funny, insightful, cutting-edge, and just as LW-ish as Gary Drescher's Good and Real.

In addition to lots of stuff on quantum mechanics, quantum computing, theory of computation, computational complexity, cryptography, and cosmology, it also includes:

  • A steel-manning and then rebuttal of Penrose on AI.
  • A discussion of free will and Newcomb's problem
  • A discussion of anthropics (Bostrom's SIA vs. SSA) and the doomsday argument

It's based on his 2006 lecture notes but has been updated in response to new discoveries, and one section of the preface explains all the new stuff that has happened that required revising the manuscript (e.g. fully homomorphic encryption, and Chiribella et al.'s proof that quantum mechanics is the only set of rules consistent with some general axioms of probability theory and one additional axiom.

I am not-very-far-at-all into Decisive by Chip & Dan Heath, but even just from the introduction it's apparent that the book has a huge overlap with a lot of CFAR's Instrumental Rationality content. And I know from reading Switch (also a great book) that they are thorough researchers and enjoyable authors.

I suspect that even if most of the concepts are old hat, it will be helpful to have more analogies, both for my own sake and to facilitate better explanations of CFAR concepts to people-unfamiliar-with-our-terminology.

The table of contents... (text in parens indicate my guess as to what it relates to, sometimes just from the title, other times I glance at the pages)
Widen Your Options

  • Avoid a Narrow Frame (alternative hypothesis generation)
  • Multitrack (related to comfort-zone expansion, affordance-generation; not getting stuck in ruts)
  • Find Someone Who's Solved Your Problem (updating on others)
    Reality-Test Your Assumptions
  • Consider the Opposite (e.g. status quo bias)
  • Zoom In, Zoom Out (outside view)
  • Ooch (I had no idea what this was, but the first page yields "to ooch is to construct small experiments to test one's hypothesis")
    Attain Distance before Deciding
  • Overcome Short-Term Emotion (System 1 vs System 2, urges vs goals)
  • Honor Your Core Priorities (goal factoring, winning at arguments)
    Prepare to be Wrong
  • Bookend the Future (confidence intervals, bookends refer to the min/max etc)
  • Set a Tripwire (schelling points/fences, murphyjitsu / planning kata / contingency planning)
  • Trusting the Process (a concept proposed in GTD unit... just skimmed the chapter though and while it appears valuable/useful, not obviously linked to CFAR stuff)

So basically this is just workshop-in-a-book. I mean, lacking the food/face-to-face-time/intensiveness/instructors-to-ask-questions-of/interactivity/commitment-mechanisms/followup/community, but otherwise seems to be a good literature review on instrumental rationality. Again, I've barely started it, but the authors are good and this is a good topic, so I would bet high odds on it being worth reading.

If you've finished the book, how was it?

Haven't yet, but I got several chapters in before it got put on hold, and I've already used some of the concepts/techniques, which is impressive for a book. This is also part of why I'm reading it slowly: so I can gradually integrate it.

One that has emerged several times:
Never make an "X or not" decision
IIRC, studies reveal that those decisions are statistically regretted. We don't make them well. By contrast, decisions between 3 or more options are usually well-made. Part of it is that even if you choose one of the original two, you have better context for them.

One technique they recommend is to imagine that a genie comes and says, "About those options you're considering... sorry, you can't do either of them. You have to do something else." ... This little hack works pretty well.

Nick Winter, The Motivation Hacker.

The book opens like this:

I wrote this book in three months while running a startup, launching a hit iPhone app, learning to write 3,000 new Chinese words, training to run a four-hour marathon from scratch, learning to skateboard, helping build a successful cognitive testing website, being best man at two weddings, increasing my bench press by sixty pounds, reading twenty books, going skydiving, helping to start the Human Hacker House, learning to throw knives, dropping my 5K time by five minutes, and learning to lucid dream. I did all this while sleeping eight hours a night, sending 1,000 emails, hanging out with a hundred people, going on ten dates, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, and raising my average happiness from 6.3 to 7.3 out of 10. And I wrote this paragraph beforehand--I haven't edited it since. How did I do all of this? I hacked my motivation.

A few notes:

  • Nick writes that he was launched into this incredible self change by reading my post How to Beat Procrastination and then Piers Steel's The Procrastination Equation (my post is a summary of the book), and then applying the techniques that worked best for him, all at the same time. Luckily, his book explains what he did in great detail.
  • He remembers the procrastination equation (Motivation = [Expectancy × Value] / [Impulsiveness × Delay]) as MEVID. Handy.
  • Nick attended the same CFAR workshop I did: March 2013.

This is neat and actually might be better in some ways than the original book. People tend to respond better to stories than statistics and science, though the most useful stories are those based on the latter. Could be the best of both worlds?

And I wrote this paragraph beforehand--I haven't edited it since.

After reading your comment, i recently read the book (was great! thanks) and really looked for that line and haven't seen it, did nick remove it in a later version?

[-][anonymous]8y 6

I'm currently rereading Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue, which is a reasonably succinct steel-man job on Virtue Theory. He has some pretty good insights into how traditional moral philosophy got where it is, and why chronic moral arguments never seem to end.

The Selfish Gene, a lot of it was review for me (some of it is one less wrong, more was in my evo-psyc class), but I still enjoyed it. Its a good introduction to modern evolutionary theory.

Do you have any caveats you think one should keep in mind whilst reading the book?

[-][anonymous]8y 10

Only that it's a few decades old now, so you may want to check it against more recent findings. My impression is that it's held up pretty well.

Oh, you'll get angry when you see the word 'meme' used to refer to the narrow concept of momentarily-popular-Internet-things, but that will pass eventually.

None come to mind. However, I read it over a fairly long period (I was reading other things at the same time) so I may have just forgotten them.

Finally reading Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. I'm surprised how simple and clear it is - clearer, I think, than his newspaper columns (many of which he could have just bundled up into a series of books). I also have Bad Pharma in the pile, which I understand is heavier going (he really worked to back up every point he made with citations).

Collins & Pinch, The Golem at Large: What You Should Know about Technology.

One quote from the preface:

The personality of science is neither that of a chivalrous knight nor pitiless juggernaut. What, then, is science? Science is a golem.

A golem is a creature of Jewish mythology. It is a humanoid made by man from clay and water, with incantations and spells. It is powerful. It grows a little more powerful every day. It will follow orders, do your work, and protect you from the ever threatening enemy. But it is clumsy and dangerous. Without control a golem may destroy its masters with its flailing vigour; it is a lumbering fool who knows neither his own strength nor the extent of his clumsiness and ignorance.

(Actually, this passage is merely quoted from their previous book, The Golem: What You Should Know About Science.)

I've been reading through Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin. It was mentioned on LW before here; I agree with Kaufman that his book is a better primer on business, but don't think that's the right comparison to make. Seeking Wisdom is much more of a primer to rationality ('worldly wisdom'), with the added benefit of drawing heavily from the well of Munger and Buffett.

I haven't finished it yet, but so far have been enjoying Bevelin's approach to stepping through biases: each of the 28 he lists is explained, demonstrated in a story, finishing with advice on how to avoid it. One of the things I've found interesting about it is that Bevelin knows most of the people that are part of the LW rationality canon, like Kahneman, Tversky, Gilbert, and Cialdini, but also knows other people that rarely get mentioned here in the context of rationality, like Munger and Buffett.

Big Munger fan right here. I like Buffett too, but Munger cares to think outside of business (which is why he's worth 2 measly billion compared to Buffett's 40+ :-p).

This talk came on line recently, I've heard it before but it was not in wide circulation due to the things he said about certain people


I read Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon (about the periodic table), and The Violinist's Thumb (about genetics). Both are excellent pieces of pop-science. Somewhat like Bill Bryson, but gets a bit more technical in some places.

I much commend the writer for double-checking many of the legends, anecdotes (and debunking quite a few).

Eckhardt, Paradoxes in Probability Theory.

One handy quote:

Newcomb’s problem has fractured decision theory into a host of warring parties and engendered formulations that are complicated, inelegant, and, I would venture, incorrect. These newer theories share a common trait: they are all more or less self-conscious attempts to secure a two-boxer resolution to Newcomb’s problem. Most disagreement between experts on this subject concerns the correct way to reach this conclusion. This entire edifice, its concordances and its disputes, are vulnerable to the possibility that two-boxing is the wrong way to play.

Eckhardt proposes a new decision theory, "coherent decision theory" (which annoyingly has the same acronym as causal decision theory).

Fiction Books Thread

Recently finished The Stars my Destination -known as Tiger Tiger in the UK- I absolutely love it, but it seems to be a major YMMV book. On one hand the characters are interesting, it introduces several interesting technological/social advances (most notably widespread psychic teleportation, or "jaunting"), and has some really fun language. On the other hand it is not the place to look for likable characters. In particular the protagonist is a murderer, a rapist, and has horrible english, albeit often in an amusing way. The actual plot is about a previously apathetic space "sailor" seeking revenge on a ship that left him stranded in a wreck after seeing his distress calls. There is also a major subplot about the several groups trying to retrieve a secret weapon his ship was carrying. Its widely known for the following passage.

You pass me by. You leave me rot like a dog. You leave me die, Vorga ... Vorga-T:1339. No. I get out of here, me. I follow you, Vorga. I find you, Vorga. I pay you back, me. I rot you. I kill you, Vorga. I kill you filthy

In particular the protagonist is a murderer, a rapist, and has horrible english, albeit often in an amusing way.

If those bothered you, what did you think of The Demolished Man? There the protagonist is merely a murderer.

Haven't read it yet. The Stars My Destination was my introduction to Bester. Also, they didn't bother me, they were just things I observed, and know bother many readers.

Both novels are amazing. On the rape front, I give The Stars My Destination some points because the woman appears again later in the book and she's angry about it. The book starts by saying that it's an era of monsters, and I respect that Gully Foyle is an actual monster rather that cute just barely villainous fellow (with most of the crimes offstage) like Han Solo or Northwest Smith.

On the other hand, I consider "the mind of a little girl in the body of a beautiful woman" in The Demolished Man to be somewhat queasy-making.

Television and Movies Thread

I finally watched Puella Magi Madoka Magica, its extremely good. It isn't exactly rationalist fic, but is likely to be of particular interest to members of the LW community anyways (the reasons for this are hard to explain without spoilers).

It's one of my all-time favorite anime. I was first introduced to it by the February 2012 Media Thread, and there's a rot13ed discussion of it there. I recommend everyone to watch the series as unspoilered as possible, so everyone: first see the series, only then read that discussion. :-)

Same here! And I strongly second that recommendation to watch it unspoil(er)ed.

A new season of Arrested Development is premiering in May. If you haven't watched the show's 2.5 earlier seasons, you absolutely should go back and do that. AD is an absolute masterpiece, the funniest show I have ever watched. It also really rewards people who watch closely.

I missed Arrested Development the first time it was on, but as I've recently become a fan of Archer I really want to watch it. Archer is a great comedy/spy show with several of the same actors as Arrested Development, I recommend it for anyone who's into that sort of thing.

Archer is also a great show and has a similar comedy style, but there actually isn't any writing/producing overlap between Arrested Development and Archer, as far as I can tell. However, Adam Reed is obviously a fan of AD and has hired several AD stars to do voice work on Archer.

If you like Archer, you might also like Reed's earlier shows (Sealab 2021, Frisky Dingo) or the work of Loren Bouchard (Home Movies, Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil, Bob's Burgers).

I've edited my earlier post for clarity.

Netflix's House of Cards is superb. Some of the reviews of imply that it is merely good, but I think they missed a lot of the subtext and misunderstood some events. Kevin Spacey's character is basically Professor Quirrelmort (if Quirrelmort was House Majority Whip). Spacey is outstanding, and the other acting is good as well. I've heard that the BBC original version is also excellent, but I haven't seen it.

I've recently started listening to Q2 (Click "Q2 Music" in the top player bar) streaming online. It is:

A New York-based online station devoted to the music of living composers

It's often described in different ways, sometimes called "contemporary classical". Give the station a few hours worth of listening - they play a variety of genres within the umbrella of contemporary music and you may like some more than others.

I appreciate the lack of a poppy "hook" in most of the music they play.

Other Media Thread

The Resistance is a card game in the paranoid debating genre, similar to mafia/werewolf. I had a lot of fun playing recently.

I think wikipedia adequately explains the rules to play without "plot cards", which are unnecessary and without which you can use a standard deck.


Eric Barnhill on Cognition, Movement, and Music

This looks major to me-- how music and movement can enable better focus, the importance of becoming able to notice less intense sensations, using rhythm and imagination to help children access speeds and intensities that they aren't in the habit of using.

A lot of this is using rhythm and movement to teach system one.

TEDx Talk

More of the same, plus some structure of teaching-- start with rhythm that imitates what the child is doing, followed with rhythm that the child can follow, then give the child the drum-- both leading and following the teacher.

Both have somewhat about gradually leading children with deficits into more challenging skills. For example, teaching a child that can't count seven beats how to chunk perceptions so that they can keep track.

Barnhill's website.

I really enjoyed the recently released game Bioshock: Infinite. It's a pretty linear FPS but it has a fun and fairly original story (or at least a story that combines familiar tropes in an original way), powerfully presented (if somewhat heavy-handed) themes, beautiful graphics, a fun companion character, and often exhilarating battles.

It's occasionally a bit inconsistent, perhaps symptomatic of a troubled development process (apparently they threw away a lot of material and rewrote some parts of the story considerably), but overall I'd say it's one of the best story-driven games I've played.

I enjoyed the game, but it is rather violent (meet interesting people and kill them!) and I didn't like the ending. (Basically, the more you understand about physics and causality and so on, the less you'll like the ending. No joy in the merely real here.)

Well, as with most science fiction the science part doesn't really make sense if you think about it too much, but I felt they presented it well enough that I didn't mind a bit of handwaving.

So it's not just a long babysitting mission? I was afraid of that.

Elizabeth is invulnerable and surprisingly useful. This is an FPS where you can only carry two guns at once, and have limited ammo- and so I was fretting that I'd have to give up my cherished sniper rifle and use something like the machine gun.

Then Elizabeth said "hey, have some ammo!" and tossed me a fully loaded sniper rifle.

It's more like she's babysitting you. (In a good way).

[-][anonymous]8y 1

Papers, Please is an indie bureaucracy simulator (in beta) where you play the role of an entry-exit agent for a communist dictatorship.

I know that sounds either horrifically boring (e.g., Farm Simulator 2013) or horrifically campy (e.g., Surgeon Simulator 2013), but really it's neither of those. There's some not very subtle TSA commentary, some awkward ethical moments, and an interesting overarching plot line.

Should Podcasts be its own thread every month?


How about introducing a Podcast Thread?

Here are some good ones: EconTalk, Rationally Speaking, This American Life.

Please repost your suggestions to the Other Media thread, this is the Meta thread.

I'll add: Stuff You Should Know.

They don't always do the best fact-checking and the topical nature can be unsatisfying, but it's a generally entertaining introduction to some things of which you may not be aware.

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As per guidelines, for the time being you can add your desired suggestion to the "Other Media" thread for now, and add a poll in this Meta Thread asking if that media genre should be a thread every month.