A month ago, a new type of thread was proposed: a monthly page for meetup reports. The idea is that meetup attendees, or organizers, who wanted to share information about how the meetup went could do so in the comments of this thread. This is so information is dispersed, but without the need for anyone, and/or everyone, to dedicate their own thread to the report. The idea worked for January, and nobody had objections. So, we'll do this every month.

If you had an interesting Less Wrong meetup recently, but don't have the time to write up a big report to post to Discussion, feel free to write a comment here.  Even if it's just a couple lines about what you did and how people felt about it, it might encourage some people to attend meetups or start meetups in their area.

If you have the time, you can also describe what types of exercises you did, what worked and what didn't.  This could help inspire meetups to try new things and improve themselves in various ways.

If you're inspired by what's posted below and want to organize a meetup, check out this page for some resources to get started!  You can also check FrankAdamek's weekly post on meetups for the week

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Capital idea, old sport. I was considering making a thread about our group, but now there's no need. Supposing then that I, Grognor, should kick things off with a State of the Union address for the West Los Angeles LW meetups, eh, wot?

Our relocation last week went well. It was my goal to make it as difficult as possible not to know we had Officially Moved Somewhere Else; to that end I mentioned it in every single paragraph in the meetup post and the post to the mailing list, and individually messaged everyone I could contact who had ever attended who was not there when we agreed to move, two weeks ago. To the extent that this means anything, it means fast food places with good acoustics (no matter how loud we are in the back, you can't hear us at the front! which is cool) are better than dark, noisy, out-of-the-way bars where closed-to-the-public events frequently happen.

Abram recently proposed (because we are ostensibly a Less Wrong meetup group) that each week we openly report on rational or irrational things we've noticed ourselves doing since the last date of attendance, or whenever, really. I think it's a good idea, as it may provide useful feedback, motivation for the speakers, and inspiration to the audience, but it's been difficult to put into practice, because people naturally tend to talk of sundrier things, and because it's just really difficult to keep track of one's rationality. "The" checklist is unwieldy and there are still few objective day-to-day rationality metrics. I'm going to keep trying, though.

Over the last year, there has been a transition from/to, and a tension between, more practical meetup topics, and more theoretical, mathematical ones. I think this distinction is unprincipled and lacking in nuance; nevertheless it exists, and to the extent I do not say "mu" to the very framework, I lean toward the theoretical and the mathematical. This even though the meetups I've hosted have been more on the former side, with two exceptions. This is entirely because I don't know enough math, which I now consider a character flaw. One which I am remedying, 'ho!.

A couple of times, we've played a game called Contact, which is surprisingly fun for something that requires no equipment. It has nothing to do with rationality. We have played The Resistance a few times, which has received mixed reactions. Anton has introduced us to Quantum Go-Fish (also called Quantum Fingers, although Anton's name is better), which everyone likes the idea of but is really hard to play. There are basically two versions: one where we have cards and paperclips and everyone tries to play, and the version where we try to keep track of everything in our heads and on our fingers and all the fun is from everybody getting confused about the actual state of the game. The latter might be called "Drunken Quantum Go-Fish", since there's no reason to play it while sober. We have not tried the former. We haven't tried very many activities together, nor projects, even though I've tried to inspire people to make something more out of the group.

It seems most others just want a group to hang out with on Wednesday nights, and I'm the only one that wants to do some useful stuff with the group. This is okay; people shouldn't engineer some project just because I want them to. However, some of us have a Secret Awesome Thing in the works; stay tuned, but don't be surprised if it produces nothing.

This comment is already pretty long, so I might as well soapbox a bit: The "How to Run a Successful Less Wrong Meetup Group" PDF is terrible. It's full of gross salesman prose and useless pictures that require more scrolling, and because it's two columns, half the scrolling you must do is upways. If no one else wants to be a hero, I might just (with the blessing of (Luke? Kaj? whoever owns this thing)) condense it into a proper LW post or wiki article like it should have been all along, if I have another burst of mania like the one that caused this comment. and free access to a CFAR workshop.

For lack of a better name, The West LA LW Meetup Group is a fun and growing crowd. By the ever-reliable metric of "intuition", I think we are a successful group, in part thanks to me. We seem to be unique in that, rather than having zero hosts or one person who hosts every time, whoever feels like hosting the next meetup just goes ahead and does so. We meet every week, but when no one feels like hosting, the meetup is unannounced, on both this site and the mailing list, and attendance is smaller when that happens. I prefer these meetups, because they are more intimate and less stressful, although this is an uncommon sentiment. I might prefer if "someone" took over and hosted every meetup, to reduce the total number of decisions we collectively have to make about who hosts.

I really appreciate this crowd. They have directly improved my life, not only with their presence but also with acts of kindness and of prudence, and I have improved theirs with my stage presence and the items I give to every newcomer. The West LA LW Meetup Group is approximately my entire meatspace social life, and thus I say hooray.

+1 to reformatting the meetup guide.

Yesterday there was a meetup in Vancouver, Canada. It was a general meetup, without a specific theme, or topic. However, as a CFAR alumnus, I want to start seminar sharing CFAR workshop modules with my fellow meetup attendees. I wasn't starting this week. However, I was IMing with one of my friends from the meetup, prior to yesterday's meetup, and they told me that they weren't sure whether or not they wanted to o through the effort of creating Anki decks to help memorize material for their economics class. I identified this as a case where aversion factoring might be helpful.

Aversion factoring is a cognitive technique generated from the CFAR, inspired by psychological research into the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy for those with anxiety issues, which can be used in attempts to identify the different aspects, i.e., 'factors', of an aversion to an action. From there, one can pinpoint what thoughts, or feelings, are the greatest barrier to carrying out a task one is averse to, assess whether it's worthwhile to re-calibrate that thought, or feeling. Afterwards, one can choose to re-calibrate the aversion, i.e., anxious cognition about something one is avoiding, using minor exposure therapy, or comfort zone expansion.

Anyway, even though yesterday's meetup wasn't formally about teaching a CFAR module, I figured it would be good practice, especially since one of my friends seemed in need regardless. So, I cracked open my CFAR workshop manual, which I hadn't opened in several months, to somewhere in the middle, and got started. This led to mixed results.

First of all, I didn't teach the technique as per my manual's instructions, so that didn't help. I wasn't prepared, or practiced, at all beforehand, either. I instructed three people.

One person chose their aversion to talking to strangers. This person has issues with anxiety, like myself, so I could relate, but I didn't know how to solve the problem. They didn't believe that aversion factoring would help themself more than pep talks they already gives to themself and other means they use to reduce his anxiety, would. Another person also decided to observe their desire to talk to strangers more frequently, so that they might practice sales and social skills, but realized that they did this less frequently than they would like, not due to an aversion, per se, but rather a lack of will.

A third person felt that aversion factoring helped them quite a bit in identifying the source of their aversion, not feeling like making Anki decks. This friend of mine identified that they didn't want to create Anki decks for a few reasons. They: -were worried about wasting their time, trading off time for creating Anki decks which could be used for other work and hobbies. -were worried about wasting their effort on transcribing the wrong material onto Anki decks. -didn't want to carry their laptop around everywhere, as might be necessary for the studying of Anki decks on the go. -worried Anki decks might make them look weird, because no other students were using them. etc.

We generated solutions to some of these. For others we weren't sure about, like how much time, compared to other things, might actually be spent on creating Anki decks, we generated a hypothesis. My friend could try making Anki decks for a couple of Pomodoros, or hours, and see if they were satisfied with their progress. If not, they could conclude their aversion wasn't totally off balance, and Anki decks indeed not being worth the trouble.

I believe this last person, who found aversion factoring useful, is above average when it comes to introspecting his own feelings, and putting them into words. So, he might have benefited from aversion factoring more than the average person would. However, this is also the friend who I hyped aversion factoring up to as very awesome, and useful, so this could have biased him, and/or me, subjectively valuing the method more than the other two participants who didn't find it as useful that day.

I learned some things. First of all, I realized that the different pieces taught at the CFAR workshops are weird. They're not all the same technique, but they aren't wholly independent either. Since aversion factoring was taught in the middle of the CFAR workshop I attended, the manual was created in such a way that teaching aversion factoring was loaded with jargon and techniques we had learned earlier in the workshop. I realized I could not just teach all this extra stuff to my friends in the moment. So, the sequence in which I choose to instruct others in these methods in the future could be important.

Second of all, I realized how important it is for me to practice this material for myself, and to have better examples. I had examples from the CFAR manual, but when reading them to others, I found I wasn't expressing myself as well as my CFAR instructor had. I hadn't practiced aversion factoring since the workshop, so when I tried to draw upon my own experience, and familiarity, with the technique, to help others when they were confused, I was at a loss of words. All I could recall from my time at the workshop was the awesome feeling of realizing I was increasing my agency by making my own feelings and emotions less confused. However, I can't beam a smile at someone to express to them what a given mind-hack is supposed to feel like from the inside, when they're confused.

Finally, I realized another worthy reason to practice, or trial, these methods again (with my fellow CFAR workshop alumni), is that I'll get a better sense of practicing the process, rather than just talking it at people. In this manner, perhaps I could notice, or anticipate, misconceptions, and better help my peers.

I've been failing to get around to doing this for a month now. London Meetup report for the Schelling Point Game.

This was based on my post, Schelling Point Strategy Training, which was in turn based on an actual attempt I made to coordinate with someone on picking a film from a miscellaneous selection of DVDs.

To give people a taste of this process before moving onto the game itself, I'd actually brought along two selections of DVDs, one with unambiguously alphabetisable titles, and one containing two films whose titles began with numerals and 'The' respectively. Passing these selections of DVDs round the table in a bag, participants had to coordinate on a film. People tried to coordinate on an assortment of criteria including title, colour of the box, and popularity or genre of film.

The first of two main insights from this meetup was made at this point: people will argue at length over the most appropriate procedure for selecting a Schelling Point. It's not just that your own procedure seems obvious, but other people's procedures seem inappropriate or even silly. This seems like an important observation when it comes to coordinating with other humans.

The game itself went as follows: two teams of five people were each given ten minutes to (a) come up with a set of objects that would be difficult for the other team to coordinate on, and (b) come up with a strategy for coordinating on arbitrary sets of objects given to them by the other team. Some constraints were in place: the objects were written on index cards (to avoid simple ordering); the objects had to form some sort of natural set; the objects had to be distinct, and distinguishable from one another by the team presenting them. One point would be awarded if an outright majority of the team managed to coordinate, and three points would be awarded for total coordination in a team.

We ran this for two rounds. In the first round, Team A presented "representations of the letter 'a'", with minor variations on font, serifs, etc. Team B presented Kanji characters. Both teams settled on a choice procedure involving the object's position on the index card. In the second round, Team A presented "Scribbles" (literally scribbling over the card, and distinguishing the scribbles with post-hoc identified idiosyncracies of each scribble), and Team B presented 2x2 grid combinations of the addition and multiplication symbols. Each team achieved partial coordination on both rounds.

At this point, the second insight from this meetup was apparent: artificial coordination problems have a "presentation layer" that's vulnerable to hacking. The index cards were an attempt to circumvent an obvious decision procedure in the "presentation layer" of a list (pick the first on the list), but they just present a new type of presentation layer, and the game becomes about finding an choice procedure for arbitrary objects presented in that manner. This is not a characteristic of real-world coordination problems. We thought of various ways of constructing the game that would do away with this, but they were technically cumbersome for a game in a pub.

The group was split as to whether to continue with the game, so we abandoned it for various other coordination experiments involving writing stuff on index cards. We then played The Resistance, primed up to the eyeballs with thoughts of coodination strategies.

In summary:

  • People like to argue about coordination strategies
  • When played with smart people, this game rapidly degenerates into hacking how the options are presented rather than coordinating on the options themselves
  • I don't look like a spy

It seems like you might need a Schelling meta-point as an injunction: no meta-gaming, or Munchkining, the Schelling point game. This could be important because lessons about coordination problems, and how to avoid them, seem valuable to people who attend meetups to ostensibly learn such lessons, and this is helped by not creating additional coordination problems.

That is, unless, the meetup group actually wants to learn about how they might want to act in peculiar game-theoretic scenarios, where players have information and signaling powers they wouldn't normally have, in which case, don't mind me.

"No abusing the rules" probably only works if people can coordinate successfully on "the spirit of the rules".

I think one direction to explore is to have a games master picking sets that are easy to define (at least roughly), but hard to enumerate. Things like "locations in New York", "subsets of the integers", "nonempty finite subsets of the irrational numbers", "letters in non-Roman alphabets", "man-made satellites currently orbiting Earth", "models of jet plane", "movies released in the 1980s". Then teams compete to coordinate on the same sets, instead of presenting sets to each other.

You need the GM because problems can be arbitrarily complicated ("{locations in NY} X {subsets of the integers} X ..."). I'm not sure how ambiguous-membership would be handled. My first thought was that if everybody in the team agrees that something is in the set, it counts; but you need to be able to disqualify unambiguously-wrong answers, or everybody just agrees to answer "the information desk in Grand Central Station at noon" regardless of the question. I suspect you can just allow the GM to veto such answers on discretion.

Request for ease of reading: put your meetup location in bold, and include the region if the city is small or ambiguously named.