Dale McGowan writes:

And it needs to go well beyond one greeter. EVERY MEMBER of EVERY GROUP should make it a point to chat up new folks—and each other, for that matter. And not just about the latest debunky book. Ask where he’s from, what she does for a living, whether he follows the Mets or the Yankees. You know, mammal talk.

In this spirit, I propose the creation of a fully off-topic discussion thread.

Here is our monthly place to discuss topics entirely unrelated to Less Wrong that (of course) have not appeared in recent posts.

ETA: There are two behaviors I would love to see associated with this thread. First of all, discussions often drift off-topic in the middle of a thread. In these cases "let's take this to the off-topic thread" would be an excellent response.  Secondly, given who's doing the discussing, I could easily see, say, a discussion about recent developments in some webcomic blossoming into a LW-worthy insight, in which case someone could spawn a new thread.

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Just how off-topic does something need to be in order to post it here? Do we get extra credit for things that are more off-topic?


Hey, did you know that a duck's quack doesn't echo?

http://thomblake.mp A site with links to my web places - get yours at chi.mp

Singularity; Artificial General Intelligence; Coherent Extrapolated Volition!

Do I win yet?

ETA: Hey, why are people upvoting / downvoting all my stuffs? Please comment nine times to explain!

ETA2: Hey look a lolcat

Hey, did you know that a duck's quack doesn't echo?

I strongly suspect that's an urban legend, and I think I remember reading a debunking somewhere.

They actually did this one on Mythbusters. As it turns out, a duck's quack has an odd waveform that tends to cancel itself out better than a lot of other sounds. What actually happens is that an echoing quack sounds just about like a non-echoing quack - that is, a duck's quack sounds like it's echoing even when it isn't, so if you're familiar with what ducks sound like, you won't notice it echoing.

Actually, don't read the above. It's terrible. Instead, read the synopsis at Wikipedia#Does_a_Duck.27s_Quack_Echo.3F "Duck's Quack episode of MythBusters")

Yes, CronoDAS, it's a modern myth. Physicists haven't missed an obvious way in which their understanding fails to predict the world.

Well, at least not involving that particular obvious way.

By the way, what does "ETA" stand for? (Besides "Estimated Time of Arrival", or the Basque paramilitary group.) I can discern from context that it denotes a later edit, but what do the letters actually mean?

Have added this to the wiki :-)

Edited To Add =)

"Edited To Add"

Even at the risk of touching upon Topics That Are Not To Be Named - Eliezer's prediction of an AI figuring out the laws of physics from a few frames of video doesn't sound very implausible anymore.

As long as we're being completely off topic and talking about our interests, is it cool for me to plug my side projects? I have:

A webcomic, HTHT

A fantasy prose serial, Elcenia

A food blog, Improvisational Soup

I should probably mitigate the self-aggrandizement with links elsewhere, so:

Money, game theory, etc: Mind Your Decisions

Politics and culture and some scantily clad persons: The 1585

Unintentional comedy: Chick tracts

What other blogs do folk here recommend? I'll recommend two: Greta Christina's blog which talks about sexual politics, atheism, skepticism, and politics in general, and FiveThirtyEight which covers the inside baseball of Washington DC according to a baseball statistician.

I'll resist my urge to dump every blog in my feed reader, and just give the five that LW readers might not be aware of:

Awesome links! Thanks so much.. I'm going to try the Shangri-la diet immediately. Such impulsiveness probably automatically exposes me here ...

If you enjoy FiveThirtyEight, Andrew Tanenbaum's electoral-vote.com is in a somewhat similar vein (and for the CS nerds here, yes, that's the Dr. Tanenbaum you're thinking of). It's currently somewhat inactive though, as he only actively updates it during major election cycles.

http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ <---- Blog of David Brin, science fiction writer. Talks a lot about politics. http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/ <---- also recommended

I've never been terribly good with casual chatting. What would people discuss usually ? I don't know which of my limited and eerie pastimes would not scare them away either.

I'm not great at socialization in a context like this either, but I think these threads are a chance for those of us too sparsely distributed to meetup to get to know each other.

So what are good non-rationality related topics? On other forums I see discussion of: fiction, movies, tv, food, jokes, relationships, love, sex, school, work, requests for advice, silly polls, anecdotes, games, forum games, music, current events, diet, exercise, gadgets, software, comics, quotes, hobbies, science, politics, etc.

Even though this thread is off-topic, should there be any restrictions on what goes down here?

Oh I see. This might even be useful, relaxing effects notwithstanding. So what's people's here take on romantic relationships ? What does it mean to you, to begin with ? Romance, relations, love, sex, how does that interplay, how do they relate ? Do you find it interesting, fulfilling ? Easy, difficult ?

That one has me puzzled for a few years. I still don't know what I should think about it. There seems to be a lot of great reasons for them, none the less that it feels appealing. Still, to be so obsessed, to have one's mind and soul sucked out like that, I find it not a little bit unnerving. Is there more to it, and is it worth the investment in time and energy, when that investment might be better placed somewhere else (in other words, you do not seek love to optimize happiness, you just seek it because you can't help it, regardless of whether you're successful or not, regardless of whether it makes you happy or not) ?

Probably the ability to decide consciously whom one does and does not fall in love with is an important rationalist skill. I've heard that one good technique toward the latter is to focus what people would look like on the inside (literally, the blood and guts and stuff).

Perhaps the pursuit of love does not maximize happiness per se, but on introspection, I find I value love for its own sake; that I value the part of me that needs love, and would not change it even if I could.

Were I able, however, I believe I would modify my pair-bonding circuitry so that a bond could easily be dissolved when the person in question is no longer bonded to me. I do not really think such a change would alter what it is to love another, and it would fix...an unfortunate bug which currently exists.

Now I want to memorize that list for use at parties.

In fact, I can think of at least one other person who needs to memorize that list for use at parties.


People with eerie pastimes generally talk to other people with eerie pastimes, about their eerie pastimes. If for some reason you have to talk to a normal person, try asking stuff about the person you're talking to, the theory being that people like to talk about themselves.

We want you to feel comfortable. Maybe we'll start yet another thread for off-topic Creepy chatting. All the subjects you dare not discuss outside the halls of Miskatonic University.

.. I think you chat about anything. That's what makes it chat. Here's something I found interesting, the new PS3 firmware update is going to revolutionize the PS3 by including text chat. . . . a technology that has been readily available on computers since the 1990's. http://blog.us.playstation.com/2009/04/01/ps3-firmware-v270-update/

This is supposed to be a next gen system. It costs lots of money. And it is just incorporating chat... and that chat is textual? In case you want to plug in a keyboard and pretend it's the nineties. They even used a video to explain the update. ugh.

I find my mind tends to wander when I read dead-tree books. This makes me a rather slow reader. Oddly enough, it doesn't happen when I'm reading stuff on the internet. Suggestions?

I am easily distracted while reading long works. That doesn't stop me from reading long comment threads, forum topics, or blog post after blog post, though. As best I can tell, the relevant difference is that the latter are broken up into small, easily processed chunks. Because I know I'll be done with the chunk I'm reading soon, my mind doesn't have reason to wander off. The commitment doesn't feel as large, so I have less reason to subconsciously question it. Just like with food, just one more small chunk won't matter....

My book-reading strategy lately is to discretize the material and be actively involved in the text. I scan each page, and if it looks interesting, I read it. I then try to write a couple lines of notes on the page or section I am considering. Focusing on what is worth writing down also keeps me from wandering off.

This strategy probably wouldn't work as well for fiction, but that usually requires less motivation. I hope my personal observations are of some help.

I have the same problem with finding it much harder to concentrate while reading an actual book as opposed to forum posts etc. I used to have a huge attention span for books of any sort when I was younger, so I wonder if being used to the short content you tend to find on the internet is the issue.

My trick is to go somewhere away from my house to read. Weather permitting, I walk to a park bench about 10 minutes from where I live. It makes it much easier to focus when I know I can't check my email or reddit almost instantly. Although it is annoying when I want to, say, look up the definition of a word.

I use Google SMS for that. Just text 'em with "define [word]" and you've got a dictionary at your fingertips.


I humbly propose that being a slow reader makes your mind wander (which is mitigated when reading bite size chunks on the Internet). Using your finger as a pacer will probably give you a 10-20% speed improvement. If that helps, consider a speed reading course (I did Evelyn Wood Dynamic Reading and found it excellent).

Do you actually want to read faster in those situations? I find the mind-wondering process essential to deeper understanding of the material, creativity on the issues I'm pondering in the background viewed in a new light, and aesthetic appreciation of the writing.


Consider (for material that justifies it) speed reading, but reading the material twice (with a few days in between). Your total time spent is the same, but your recall will be greater, and your second exposure will often let you see things you didn't the first time round.

I have the opposite problem, I tend to really zip through stuff on screen, which I have discovered makes it harder to remember details later. So I basically just read fiction and do general "fishing" type reading on screen.

Interesting. I have the reverse effect - it's much easier to concentrate on the physical books, which don't need to constantly compete for attention with all the distractions of the web, like the impulse to check your e-mail every five minutes.

That's mostly just for long books, though - reading comment threads such as on LW isn't a problem. The hypothesis below, that it's because of their discretized nature, sounds quite plausible.

I find my mind tends to wander when I read dead-tree books.

Interesting. I have the opposite problem My mind tends to wander when reading stuff on the internet. To truly comprehend what I see on my computer screen, I have to print it and read it from a piece of paper.

Perhaps this is because I need to highlight passages and make notes in the margins. If it was easy to do this with anything I read on the internet, maybe my ability to comprehend from the computer screen would be just as good?

Anyone have recommendations for online audio materials? Here are some.

I'm interested in probability calibration games, but I don't want to put a lot of work into finding good trivia. Does anybody have a good database of one-line statements, marked as true or false?

IAWYC but this comment is off-topic because it's not off-topic.


The CIA World Factbook isn't exactly a database per se, but the text version might be regular enough to be machine-readable.

Not really an answer either, but along the lines of the other replies, nationmaster.com and statemaster.com are good resources.

How many do you need; is it more like 50 or 5000?

More like 5,000 (or more).

One other thought: given a not too long list of locations with map coordinates, it should be easy to auto-generate statements like "X and Y are farther apart than A and B".

It seems Wikipedia could easily be data-mined. Look at country statistics, for example, make up a different number, and ask for over-under probabilities

How is the Summer of Code application pool looking for Opencog? I'm mentoring for Battle For Wesnoth, and while we've gotten a pretty bad ratio of serious to unserious applications, we're more than making up for it in volume and we'll easily have an excellent student per every mentor.

I love that game--and in particular, I love the variety of new units that you can discover by leveling up ones you already know about.

I live in France where I make wine. I travel a lot to talk about and sell the wine. I have a blog where I write about wine. ... It's nice to come here and think about things that have nothing to do with wine.

I also come here to detox after having frustrating conversations with wine idiots and whatnot. My most recent detox was after a series of comments on my aforementioned blog which the masochists amongst you can read at http://mastergrape.com/blog/?p=270


The wine culture is, in my opinion, all about status signaling. I wouldn't be surprised if wine enthusiasts are also over-cynical: a common intellectual status signal.

Interesting. Is there a pejorative connotation to being cynical that rationalists know of? Does that just mean they're really critical? Does it mean I'm hyper-critical?! I may be.

It's definitely true that the wine world is swamped with people that excessively favor tradition. It can impede progress or any kind of logical discourse at times.


Is there a pejorative connotation to being cynical that rationalists know of?

I think Eliezer's take on cynicism is spot on.

Voted up. Tradition is annoying.


Is there any PDF program that converts two-column PDFs into one-column PDFs? Two columns, which way too many papers use, is just completely unusable on a computer screen. I'm sure many of you read a lot of research papers, so I guess you must have figured some way better than printing them out.


Select-all, copy, paste somewhere else sometimes works (depending on how the pdf is created; this is what makes it a difficult process - some pdfs are internally organized to be small otherwise unordered text snippets absolutely positioned on the page).

I have no testicles by choice.

How do you get voted down for posting in the off-topic thread?

I guess "I want to see more comments like this one" doesn't apply here.

I voted down because of the user's overall posting pattern: broadcasting a provocative statement, talking briefly about how irrational our sex drives make us, and then walking away without further explanation, to do the same in another thread. It's a little annoying.

Still, you're right. Here, at least, it makes sense. Downvote retracted.


OK, I'm curious: what prompted this choice? What gains did you hope to realize, and have you realized them?

He's discussed this before.

As far as I can see, no one's really gotten any useful answers out of him.


Ah, thanks. I hadn't seen the thread on the Open Thread post.

There is a small community of us (eunuch.org being one place I visited). I did my research, and got what I expected. I'll have more to say.

so you've mentioned...

Who here plays (or has played) Magic: the Gathering besides me?

I played a few games, long ago in the distant past.


I played a few games about 8 years ago. Soon I encountered a situation where my opponent's combination of cards gave him infinite power via some sort of feedback loop or something, and I decided the rules of the game were wrong.

I have, but not extensively - get Race for the Galaxy and play it instead+. It's cheaper, not a CCG, and better. Then if you start missing some of the deck construction aspects get the expansion and draft.

+Okay, play it also, if you insist.

still play casually every now and then. Never too serious. Great fun, just never had friends who were as interested in the game as me.


I played online drafts fairly regularly until around when 10th edition released.

long ago, never seriously

I used to play. My cards are in boxes, collecting dust; I plan to sell them when I have the time and inclination.

Site suggestion: Add a box underneath the Google search box that links to the wiki search. The link is easy to create:


Where XXXX is the search term.

This will provide a front page link to the wiki and instantly provide access to the most used feature of the wiki.

Anyone else about to enter graduate school? I've been accepted to a few Ph.D. programs in statistics and econ and am waiting to here back from a couple others.