This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for July 1-15.

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 cata for starting the Group Rationality Diary posts, and to commenters for participating!

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Immediate past diary -- June 1-30

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35 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:33 AM

I signed up for life insurance to pay for cryonics. I'm told it'll be about six weeks from today until I'm fully covered (and CI coverage should start the same day).

HPMOR-related? (Curious.)

No, but Sequences-related. I finished them a couple weeks ago, and it just seemed like the only choice that still made sense.

I recently started replaying Final Fantasy VIII and it's temporarily taken over my life, which has had an unexpected effect. In order to continue satisfying my Beeminder goals, I've been forced to use my non-FF8 time more efficiently: I spend less of it mindlessly browsing the internet than usual because mindlessly browsing the internet is neither playing FF8 nor satisfying my Beeminder goals. I get about the same amount of work done each day now as usual.

This really drove home to me the distinction between fully committing to having fun vs. the vague goofing off exemplified by mindless internet browsing.

A friend of mine was flying into SFO this weekend to visit me. We carefully worked out the plan for how I would meet and pick him up, carefully factoring in the possibility that the BART strike would continue and transit would be restricted. We congratulated ourselves for establishing a totally watertight plan.

Of course, a different plane crashed on the SFO runway about an hour ago, so all incoming flights are being redirected to distant airports. Learned a valuable lesson - my predictions for worst-case scenarios are nowhere near pessimistic enough.

I recently started using Anki on my phone. Seems easy, effective and even somewhat fun. I don't actually have anything that seems very important to memorize yet though. I've been (re-)learning Hiragana and Katakana with the vague intention of learning enough Japanese to read untranslated manga or something, but while it's been easy enough so far the goal doesn't seem super high value and Kanji is looking many times harder.

What do you do for a living? I'm sure there's something there that'd be worth memorizing.

How good are you with names & faces? Birthdays? Telephone numbers?

Another thing I use it for is learning new vocabulary. Maybe once or twice a week I'll run across a word in an article that I would typically jump over & just assume I know what it means based on the context, sometimes when I look it up I'm surprised. The other benefit is that memorized words will be more available to you when writing or speaking.

The names and faces thing sounds good, but if I know someone well enough to have their picture I can probably just remember their name, and it seems awkward to take a photo of someone you just met.

Yeah, I suppose if you live somewhere with a non-censored internet, you can just find them on Facebook & viola. I live in China so that isn't an option. I downloaded pictures of my co-workers from the company website instead & plugged them into Anki. Yeah it is a bit weird, but it works & as long as people don't know you're doing it, it seems to encourage people to like you & feel liked by you. I work in medicine & there's also a good correlation to hospital safety when you know the names of the people you're working with.

The other thing I thought about was making an undercover video & then extracting the photos from there. Basically, don't let them know you're taking their picture. The upside is that it seems less weird than taking the photo of someone you just met, the downside is that if you get caught everyone is going to think you're a true freak.

I've found that I'm getting a lot more value out of non-fiction books / guides than I used to by using the following process:

  1. Read through book once normally
  2. Sit down in front of computer with Anki open, scan through each page quickly
  3. Any insights that I think are valuable, get turned into a new card in my main deck, and tagged with the book's name.

Only useful if you are reading through essays, books, etc that have insights you want to take away and keep, I suppose.

(Most of my recorded books are programming or business specific so far, but a good general example to make into cards that work for you is CPR & resuscitation guidelines.)

I tried doing something like this once, but step 2 ended up being too boring for me to do immediately after step 1 (my brain kept saying "but we just saw this!"). I also tried combining step 1 and step 2 but this introduced a trivial inconvenience into the process of reading which just made me read less often.

For those who use public transit, anki on the phone is lifechanging. I'd advise keeping a small notepad with you in case you think of something to look up, check, add or edit later - those are all inconvenient on the phone, especially if one is on the subway and can't get online at all.

Agreed. I've known about Anki for a long time, but lacked the push that got me finally using it, until I read the Motivation Hacker. Now I have Anki set up on my phone, along with Beeminder. It feels really good of a morning to be able to cycle through my Anki learning for the day, and tick that goal off in Beeminder. Bonus: Combined with better use of Evernote, I finally feel like I'm really getting the use out of having a smartphone that was my reason for switching to one a year ago.

It amuses me that Motivation Hacker was the push towards setting up the systems that would allow me to actually remember the important facts from books, etc that I read, such as the Motivation Hacker.

I use Notes on iPhone to record things to look up, check, add or edit later.

I have this crazy idea to use Anki to learn the multiplication table to 100x100, to be able to multiply large numbers fast. The only problem is, it seems both pointless and impossible, :-)

Have a look at this blog post where, among other things, some kind of return-on-investment is calculated for learning multiplication tables further than 10x10.

Awesome, thanks.

I have this crazy idea to use Anki to learn the multiplication table to 100x100, to be able to multiply large numbers fast. The only problem is, it seems both pointless and impossible, :-)

That's not impossible. Not particularly worthwhile but possible.

I was expected to learn decimal equivalents for fractions up to 1/9 (including 2/9 etc.), and I use them now and then.

Instead of working on the higher multiplication tables, why not learn methods of approximation?

Funny that you mention fractions, I started learning them a week ago. Though I can't say I even encountered decimal 1/7 in real life...

If you read a comment on LW that's downvoted to -5 and says "14% positive" this means it's received 1 upvote out of 7 total.

If you remember all of the repeating digits (142857) then you can also identify 28%, 42%, 57%, 71%, and 85% as 2/7, 3/7, 4/7, 5/7, and 6/7, respectively.

I noticed that I am confused about depression. I'm not very good at predicting how a few of my friends who are depressed will react to what I say when they're in a bad mood, and I don't feel like I understand what they're thinking about as well as I should. I don't know what I should do to become less confused, though. (I have been depressed before, but it's been a while, and I wasn't in nearly as deep as some of my friends are.)


I recognize your inability to necessarily empathize in a meaningful way, or to confidently know what exactly it is they are feeling to be able to respond appropriately. From personal experience, I have found that the best thing to do in such a situation is endorse distraction and preoccupation.

This means, spending a lot of time together, preferably in person. A common interest in some sort of entertainment is helpful, e.g. music or TV. Offer to pick them up (if you have a car), and spontaneously drop by; dig them out of their situation. Play good music in the car so silence isn't awkward but is rather a companionable experience. Hang out, get food, work out together, do not say anything that is harsh or judgmental or critical to your friend, discuss the trivialities of your day-to-day life, find common ground in world-views and joke about how funny and ridiculous and stupid the rest of the world is in relation to the two of you, gossip, etc.

I think that if you do this consistently, it is a rather effective way of being there for your friends, and it is easy in the sense that you do not have to force yourself to come up with profound things to say in direct relation to their depression. You don't have to enforce strict intellectual standards when hanging out-- moderately indulge in the trivialities and gossip-- perhaps alleviating some of their self-imposed pressure to be perfect and right all the time. What you are doing is forcing them to otherwise occupy their time and thus not allowing them to wallow in self pity and feelings of loneliness. You are creating a memorial foundation in their life, restoring their faith in humanity, etc, by proving that naturalistic friendships exist.

Sorry for taking so long to reply. If I remember correctly, I felt a lot better after reading your comment, but didn't get time to respond right then, and shortly afterward shifted into avoiding stress by not thinking about the problem for a while.

I can't do a lot of this now because the friends I'm mostly thinking of live too far away from me, but I'll remember it, since chances are I'll be able to use it someday. Finding more things to talk about that aren't intellectually difficult is something I could do now, though, so I'll work on that.

I'm trying to stop being a night owl. I start wearing blue blocking glasses at 11:00 pm, stop eating at 8:00 pm, expose myself to very bright lights as soon as I get up in the morning, and (as I've done for years) take melatonin as soon as I try to fall asleep and sleep in a very dark room. Any other ideas for how to shift one's sleep schedule?

take melatonin as soon as I try to fall asleep

Wouldn't you want to take melatonin before you intend to go to bed? It doesn't get absorbed instantly, and the cycle won't be influenced immediately either.

How long before I want to fall asleep would you suggest? I take sublingual 3MG.

I am not entirely sure, but 20-30 minutes sounds reasonable. If you feel sleepy before then, well, you can just go to bed a little bit earlier.

Shift incrementally. If you are waking up at 7am now, set your alarm to 6:45am the next day. Move in 15 minute increments until you are waking at your goal time. This works better for me than trying to shift my sleep an hour at a time, which will lead to a big sleep deficit. 15 minutes shouldn't impact performance too much & the modest amount of sleep lost each day will help you get to sleep earlier.

Also 11pm seems pretty late to start wearing the glasses. f.lux usually turns my monitor orange at about 6pm.

I'm home alone for the weekend, and the microwave stopped working. There is very little in the way of food that can be eaten raw (and the nutritional value is much lower in most of those things), yet most of what I have is meant for microwaving. And I don't have enough experience using the stove/oven/etc to be willing to try it with so little safety margin.

The solution that came to mind was: use the hottest water available, possibly in a pressurized container.

So I decided to try this... and only after I'd added the water and such, did I realize that I did not choose the hottest water source in the house. There are two water heaters available, and one (possibly because it only serves one room which isn't seeing much use this weekend) gets scalding hot, while the other only gets comfortably hot.

Conclusion: I either need to think faster, or think more before actually taking action. I'm preferring faster.

Conclusion: I either need to think faster, or think more before actually taking action. I'm preferring faster.

Looking for heuristics that guide towards useful thoughts might be more fruitful.

Observation: I tend to get more done when I don't feel the need to wrap myself in something warm.

I should set up something to remind me ot log both values (warm clothes/blankets vs productivity) and see if this is really a thing, or if I'm simply not noticing exceptions.

I would assume there's a cause for this that won't be helped by making a conscious effort not to bundle up while trying to work (or at least, not much); circulation? Blood sugar? Blood pressure? Some other factor affecting body temperature (perceived or actual)? In which case, I'd clearly want to tackle that cause instead of blankets.

Have you accounted for ambient temperature being the cause of both? Being too cold to work and therefore feeling the need to wrap yourself in something warm? Alternately being warm making you less productive?

I've discovered that my productivity starts to drop off sharply above 73 Fahrenheit, for example.