Leveling IRL - level 1

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." -- Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

This post is a followup to Leveling IRL. Thanks to SarahC, taryneast, Benquo, AdeleneDawner and MixedNuts, we have an outline of level 1. At this point I feel it's more productive to post it as-is than discuss it further:

  • Strength: reach the "untrained" level on each exercise in the ExRx tables.
  • Endurance: run 1 mile (1.6 km) without stopping.
  • Social: initiate a conversation with someone you know and arrange a meeting with them later. Do that 4 times with different people within 1 month.
  • Self control: work for 2 hours without interruptions. Do that on 8 separate days within 1 month.
  • Memory: memorize and recite a passage of your choosing, at least 250 words long, without making any mistakes.
  • Programming: solve Project Euler problem #1 by writing and running a program in any language you choose.
  • Cooking: make pancakes. Here's a good recipe.
  • Finance: make a simple buy vs rent calculation, using prices appropriate for your area and your current standard of living.
  • Creativity: write 500 words of fiction in one sitting.

The list has some glaring omissions, like math or chess, because I don't yet know of a crisp enough way to test those skills. Ideas are welcome! Also it seems very likely that some items on the list are wildly miscalibrated, some of them will turn out to be too hard for a beginner, and others will be too easy for anyone with a pulse. I'll be happy to hear about such miscalibrated requirements from the people who achieved them or at least tried :-)

And here's what I think the rules should look like:

  1. The requirements for a level are frozen. No discussing them while you're trying to achieve them.
  2. A level is indivisible, you don't get moral whuffie points for doing half of the tasks.
  3. The only exception is that some people may opt to try for Level 1 No Physical, so they don't have to meet the Strength and Endurance requirements. (In university we had a saying that "sports is the only test you cannot cram in a weekend".)

Personally, I'm going to try to make the level, but already know that some tasks will be difficult. I hope it's the same way for you.

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The biggest problem here seems to be that a lot of these things would be pretty annoying even if you had well beyond the skills necessary to accomplish them.

Self-control and Social seem like the worst offenders here, especially insofar as it's harder to dismiss them as something you already know you can do (I already know I can run a mile or what passages I have memorized, but I don't count how many times per month I meet with friends, or how many times per month I work two hours straight).

It also threatens to conflate how skilled you are at things with how much you're willing to do something just to tick off a box on a worksheet. Imagine someone arranging four meetups, then calling back and saying "Actually, I'm not interested in meeting up at all, I just asked you to meet up to prove I could do it, for this online worksheet thing. Anyway, I'll talk to you next time I have some real plans, and sorry about the inconvenience."

(if you don't believe anyone could possibly be that pathetic, consider that it was the first thought that came into my mind when I saw that requirement.)

This is even more true of self-control. Anyone could work two hours straight to save their own life, most people could work two hours straight if there's a big project due the next day, but I don't know how many people could work two hours straight because a leveling worksheet told them to.

It also threatens to conflate how skilled you are at things with how much you're willing to do something just to tick off a box on a worksheet.

For the skill of self control, is there a difference between these two things? :-)

I know you're probably joking, but I think this is an important point, so I want to say - yes!

If I ask you to go without food for seven days, without really giving you a reason, but just saying it would increase my respect for you or something -- and you refused, would that be the fault of your poor self-control? No, it would be a reasonable cost-benefit decision.

On the other hand, when we take something like addiction that people commonly claim to have no self-control over - well, if you put a gun to someone's head and threatened to kill them if they had another drink of alcohol, then as long as you can continue enforcing the threat, suddenly self-control isn't so much of an issue.

Now all of this is complicated by hyperbolic discounting and psychodynamics and so on, but at some point, "self control" is a matter of how much of a reward or punishment you're expecting. So if you keep that on there, I predict you're measuring two things. First of all, how much people care about a worksheet - such that if this "leveling" thing became wildly popular and prospective employers asked you your level before hiring that would change motivation. And how annoying it is for you to concentrate at that level (eg ADHD people would have a much harder time; other people might have more or less natural concenration issues) - such that if you chose a different "self control" task like going without food for a certain amount of time, or squeezing a lever at a certain strength, you would get different results.

In either case, I don't think measuring "self-control" as a real variable across people is on a firm philosophical footing.

I don't understand why you are singling out the self-control checkbox for this criticism, when it seems to apply equally well to all the other checkboxes also. The closest other item seems to be the endurance one: for me keeping running and keeping working feels subjectively very similar. Both or them would be easier to do if someone pointed a gun at you, both of them depend on how much you care about the worksheet (and also about more inherent rewards, like getting fit, experiencing "runner's high", getting work done, experiencing flow state), and both of them will be easier or more difficult for different people.

Your second point, than some people find it easier to concentrate than others, seems to be an argument in favour of considering it a real variable across people?

Maybe what you are objecting against is the name of the item, "self control", since you think it is not philosophically sound? But things should add up to normality. Being about to concentrate on work seems like an obviously desirable ability. If someone (like me, currently) can't do it, then it seems very reasonable to want to learn how. Judging by the number of akrasia-posts on Less Wrong, lots of other people think so too. If we currently have no good philosophical analysis of this, then by all means let us try to analyze it better, but let's not deny that the phenomenon exists.

You're right, I did a terrible job of trying to verbalize the reasons behind my intuition that the self-control requirement is too vague. Let me try again, starting by talking about the difference between requirements where you have to estimate something, versus requirements where you have to perform something.

For example, I have no problem with the "run a mile" requirement. I don't care enough about "leveling" to go out and run a mile right now just to prove I can, but I don't have to - I ran several miles yesterday for non-leveling related reasons, so I know I could do it if I wanted to. The same is true of most of the others: from past experience, I already have probabilities > 80% I could do memory, finance, and creativity; I have a similarly high probability that I couldn't bake pancakes without gaining new knowledge, and I'm not sure about the strength and programming ones but it would be very easy to find out.

The self-control requirement is different. Could I do it if my life were at stake? I'm near-100% sure I could. Would I do it for the sake of this leveling game? Empirically, no. But that only puts it in the same category as running, which I also wouldn't do for the sake of this leveling game but which I know I have the necessary skill in. And it may be that the world's greatest expert in self-control, let's say the Buddha, also would not do that requirement for the sake of this leveling game (the Buddha cares not for human status and awards).

So we either have to bite the bullet and say that means the Buddha has low self-control, or we have to say "Yeah, but if the Buddha had sufficient incentive, he would do it, so he qualifies". But in that case, alcoholics also qualify, since if they had sufficient incentive, they would presumably quit drinking.

(for a metaphor, consider a Finances category in which the requirement is "Burn $1000 in bills". This test is statistically specific for well-off people - only those with at least a spare $1000 could do it, and the more money you have the easier it is to complete - but it's not statistically sensitive - many people who have the extra money will nevertheless choose not to do it.)

This seems to get a bit closer to why this item confuses me.

Hm, I wasn't joking actually.

Maybe "self-control" was a poorly chosen name for that worksheet item. How about we call it "the skill of working without interruptions to tick some boxes off a worksheet?" That seems relevant to many people, and skipping it doesn't sound like a reasonable cost-benefit decision :-)

This is more practical sounding than I was expecting it to be. I think it'd be best to have seperate skill tracks (i.e. level 1 Strength, level 1 Social, etc). So people who don't feel the need to memorize a passage don't need to.

At the same time, you DO want to encourage diversity, so maybe "To become a level 1 Human, bring four separate skills up to rank 1 in the space of a month."

What mostly concerns me, though, is this. Relevant line:

"I begin to feel like I've accomplished my goals. It's like I think that adulthood is something that can be earned like a trophy in one monumental burst of effort and then admired and coveted for the rest of one's life. "

"I begin to feel like I've accomplished my goals. It's like I think that adulthood is something that can be earned like a trophy in one monumental burst of effort and then admired and coveted for the rest of one's life. "

We could have an explicit norm that you can't consider yourself at a given level unless you can pass the relevant test(s) at the time. That seems thoroughly reasonable to me - it allows for saying things like "I used to be at level 6 strength, but I've been so busy at work this year that I haven't gotten to work out hardly at all, and I've slid to level 4".

This sounds good.

Another way to look at it is to say that the levels always come with a timestamp. Once you attain them, you can mentally award yourself a nice badge, like so:

But the badge is only valid for that year; like car tax discs and food truck permits you must keep it up to date.

I think a norm that makes you lose your level is less useful than a norm that actively encourages you to keep it. For example, each month I briefly attempt to better at the "Self Control" skill. I've successfully done it once a few months ago. Since then I don't think I've done the full 8 days.

I don't want to be able to say "I am capable of working solidly in 2 hour chunks 8 times a month," I want to actually have done that, on a continuous basis (and frankly I want to do better than eight 2 hour chunks, but from my own experience I think it's a pretty decent level 1 achievement, embarassing as that may be.)

Well, if you haven't tested yourself at least semi-recently, you can't properly say that you can do a given thing, so there's not all that much difference between these two, I think. Either way works for me.

I like the idea of "Have X skills at Y level, and be considered a level Y human"

Honestly, I like the "Level" requirements because I can grade them myself, though. I can see I'm already Level 1 on most of these metrics, and work the others or not as I choose :)

Hah, I actually considered using that quote as the epigraph to the post, but eventually settled on Heinlein :-) For what it's worth, I thought about the chance of each task becoming a long-term upgrade if you do it just once, and chose the tasks with that in mind. They're not like washing dishes. Also, it might be too early to think of that, but presumably there will be a level 2 and so on.

Upvote for a hyperbole and a half reference in an surprisingly relevant manner.

Please see my comment below, second paragraph, for my take on this problem. ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/71r/leveling_irl_level_1/4mro )

These are ALL too high for level 1 (as a rough estimation they seem to me more like level 3).

Level 1 ought have been something that most people would have few gaps in, so that it would motivate them to fill in those few gaps. And once they'd filled those gaps, and taken pride in completing Level 1, and have little "Level 1 human" merit badges to show off, then they'd find encouragement in proceeding to Level 2.

Creativity Level 1 should be writing a short 100 word story -- there are a number of 100-word ficlet communities, so then these people would extra reward by posting those stories to such comunities. Or they're small enough that we could post such stories to a dedicated thread. Memory Level 1 should have that same 100-word barrier. Or perhaps just "memorize 10 phone-numbers". Cooking should be as easy a cooking task as you can make it: the boiling of an egg, perhaps.

I like the idea of levels for particular skills, but the idea of general levels doesn't appeal to me. One comment:

Memory: memorize and recite a passage of your choosing, at least 250 words long, without making any mistakes.

I use Anki a lot. I enjoy memorizing useful things. Memorizing a passage is of really little use to me and sounds mind-numbing.

Many popular songs are over 250 words long. If you can sing, say, "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor, you've memorized a 250 word passage.

Indeed. You can memorize a passage by brute-force drilling until it sticks in your head, but this does nothing to help you remember the things that would be of use to you in daily life.

Please see my comment below, second paragraph, for my take on this problem. ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/71r/leveling_irl_level_1/4mro )

http://www.purplemath.com/modules/ordering.htm - this is probably a useful reference for math problems. Although Level 1 might start with Arithmetic.

I'd also point out that your choice for physical basically requires access to a gym and knowledge of how to safely handle weights, which makes it (IMO) a really bad metric - I'd suggest something like "Hundred Pushups" and it's parent programs, or possibly a set of alternate tracks there. (My concern is primarily "requires a gym", which, no, seriously, not everyone has access to one of those, and even fewer people consider it worthwhile to spend money on)

"Running" a mile ought also properly be defined. Does a 16 minute mile count? I've generally seen a 10 minute mile as the slowest that's considered properly running, rather than just jogging, but that's "person who has been practising routinely for a few weeks."

It might also be a good idea to have a rough metric of how difficult a thing ought to be - is Level 1 "an average person could do this without practice"?

Last, I'll throw in my two cents that the memory requirement struck me as rather steep until I realised I have memorised "Still Alive", at ~275 words, without even trying. So there's an easy cheat mode for most people, I'd guess :) (I suck at memorising lyrics, but my friends break in to it often enough that it's worthwhile.)

This sounds a lot like the Scouting merit system, in a good way. I learned more life skills from Scouts then I ever did from public education.

I did learn things from scouting (I'm and Eagle Scout) but an awful lot of those things were "stuff I did to check off a box and then promptly forget about" rather than "stuff I did because I wanted to learn it an integrate it into my life."

I am embarrassed at how little first aid I remember.

Regarding self-control, there's a slight issue with using time spent rather then task accomplished. When the task involves an ugh field, I've become quite good at spending time "working" without accomplishing anything.

Very good point and I didn't think about that. Can you think of a self-control requirement that uses "task accomplished"?

I suggested subjecting oneself to a superstimulus without reacting to it for a certain period of time/certain number of exposures - leaving a bag of candy on one's kitchen counter for a week without eating any, for example.

The problem with this kind of test is that the subject's awareness that a test is occurring skews the result. If you leave a piece of delicious-looking cake on my counter for a week, there is a high probability (>0.95) that I will eat it within a week. If you leave the exact same cake on my counter and say to me, "I want to see if you have the willpower to refrain from eating this cake," I would say the probability of my eating the cake within a week drops to 0.01 or less.

Actually, I took that into account in considering this a level 1 benchmark. It's not supposed to be very hard.

For the math omission, why not use the practice lessons from Khan Academy? Something like, be able to do everything up to exponents.

Perhaps something easier, like being able to solve linear equations, such as 3x + 8 = 5x + 2.

The list has some glaring omissions, like math or chess, because I don't yet know of a crisp enough way to test those skills. Ideas are welcome!

Go is a much better game than chess and lends itself much better to measure progress since it already has a grading scale. Gnugo: http://www.gnu.org/s/gnugo/gnugo.html is said to play around 7-5kyu on a 9x9 board so on level 1 you should be able to always beat it with a 6 stone handycap.

I can play chess at about a club level, and I have to ask: why should a "Level 1 Human" be able to play chess? I think it's purely recreational, because any skills it teaches could be learned much more efficiently some other way. And as recreation, it really only appeals to a certain kind of mind.

At a beginner level chess is an incredibly frustrating game. Chess games between beginners are very seldom decided by higher-level strategy. Instead, it's all about who messes up and allows the opponent a free capture. So the game's dominated by constant, error-free vigilance. I always liked chess, but it's no mystery to me why most people never found it much fun.

Go is a much better game than chess.

You mean, "I like go much more than chess", or "I think chess is a much better game than chess".

Oh, and it's not true that Go lends itself much better to measure progress. Chess has rating systems like the ELO rating system, which measure progress very well.

I think you meant to say "I think you probably meant to convey..." ;)

(Down-voted for pushing the use of "I" statements)

Yes, I should have said that. Thanks.

On the question of "I" statements though, there is a big difference between "Go is a much better game than chess", and "Go has a much larger state space than chess" (or even "Go is a more complex game than chess"). The former is in the same class of statement as "Chocolate ice cream is much better than vanilla ice cream".

What is the benefit of communicating "I prefer Go to Chess" as "Go is a better game than Chess"? It's less clear, less accurate, and it is likely to confuse many people into accepting that it's a statement about the games in general rather than a statement about one person's taste.

"Chocolate ice cream is much better than vanilla ice cream"

This is how people often talk, even if it's not ideal. I think the confusion generated here is likely to be minimal, so it's not worth policing. I doubt any vanilla fans went "oh, goodness, I've been wrong all this time" :) Even my roommate fails to be swayed by that one, even though I'm very insistent that her loyalty to vanilla is tragically misplaced.

The example "Go is a much better game than chess" is much more likely to confuse, and that was the original phrase I objected to. Sure, if somebody thinks about it carefully, they'll realize it hides a value judgment, but as maybe you're aware, people don't consciously analyze everything they read and hear -- and things that are seen or thought about in passing often influence us in ways we are unaware of. I'm not trying to say there was a crime or anything or that one should never say a statement like "Go is a much better game than chess", but am I so out of place to actually point out that it's misleading?

Anway, you're downvoted for pushing obfuscation and then neglecting to even engage with the substance of my comments.

Anway, you're downvoted for pushing obfuscation and then neglecting to even engage with the substance of my comments.

I suppose I'm not sure how I failed to engage with your last comment on the thread of "I" statements. I personally don't consider "I" statements that obfuscated, and that was my response - at least where I'm from, they're a normal communication route, and not terribly misleading. It's just a conversational shorthand, because "I think you probably meant to convey..." is a bulky, awkward phrase.

"you're downvoted because I think you're pushing obfuscation and then it feels to me like you're neglecting to even engage"... you see? It's a bloody awkward linguistic standard, and you're not even using it yourself.

Upvoted because I appreciate that you are engaging me, and don't want it to come off like I have hard feelings here.

Go is a much better game than chess

Being a Go player, I'd have to agree. However, be aware that most Go players advise against playing computer programs for any length of time, as this is said to instill bad playing habits.

For owners of Windows PCs I've found IgoWin a really nice learning tool.

A quicker way of establishing one's rank is an online server like KGS. Get a registered account, play a few rated games with random opponents, and in a short time you'll get a statistically reliable rating (though valid only within KGS, you can't compare across rating systems directly).

Warning: I've found Go to be an extremely addictive game, playing a major role in my akratic episodes, especially online blitz games. I managed to quit once, fell off the wagon, and have now managed to quit online playing again, with some difficulty. I'm not saying that Go causes akrasia, but it certainly doesn't help if you already have that sort of issues.

Nice! How much time does it usually take a beginner to reach that level?

I think the parent's suggestion is too ambitious compared to the other "level 1" tasks -- probably it would take most people at least a few dozen hours, and it takes some people much longer.

I think it should be a "do a certain number of the below" style thing, to account for different skill sets in people. For example, I have close to no programming experience, and there are others who have no abilities in writing or memorization.

For chess, there are programs online that have computers of various difficulty levels, that would be an easy way to judge chess ability. But, this would be another example of specialized skill sets; I know some people who are extremely intelligent but have no chess ability whatsoever, and they shouldn't be held down to a low level solely due to lack of ability in this one area.

I brought this up too - it's also relevant in cases where a person isn't interested in gaining skill in a certain area. I consider the issue to still be up for discussion, but in the meantime I don't see a problem with taking a 'this bit is useful to me, so I'll do it; this bit isn't, so I'll ignore it' approach.

Is OP really suggesting that to get Level 1, you need to do all those things? (I think the quote kind of suggests that.) I think a lot more reasonable approach (and one I thought OP was advocating) is to just measure Levels separately for each skill.

This looks pretty clear to me, though it is noted as "what I [the OP] think":

2. A level is indivisible, you don't get moral whuffie points for doing half of the tasks.
3. The only exception is that some people may opt to try for Level 1 No Physical, so they don't have to meet the Strength and Endurance requirements. (In university we had a saying that "sports is the only test you cannot cram in a weekend".)

Hmm, you are right. It's just that kind of system makes no sense to me. Not everyone needs or wants to learn programming/chess/etc..., which I guess was your original point. :)

Please see my comment below, second paragraph, for my take on this problem. ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/71r/leveling_irl_level_1/4mro )

Unlike levelling up in a game, where once you accumulate the xp or whatever, you've got that level and magically gain enhanced abilities, in real life levels are those abilities. To be at level 1 as described in the OP has to mean not just passing all those tests once, but to be able to call on all of those abilities at any time -- the ability being proven by actually calling on them from time to time.

Avoiding the errors listed here might count as Level 0. If you're falling down on any of those, talking about higher levels is wishful thinking.

One other thought: It would probably be useful to provide resources for people who are interested but don't know how. For instance, I'd recommend "Learn Python The Hard Way" for anyone who has never done programming before, as I've had three friends with zero experience manage to get decently in to it without issue :)

Negotiation: ask a minor favor of somebody, and obtain it. (Examples: borrow a friend's Kindle for a day, get someone to drive you somewhere, etc.)

The requirements seem partially too high and the third rule is simply silly. Why is strength so much more unimportant than memorising 250 words? 250 words is too much. Strength is very well defined in your link as "minimum strength required to live a comfortable life". Endurance seems a bit high and what is defined as "running"? It would be better to define a certain time to complete a certain distance to be more precise. 1 mile seems a bit much though. Finance is a bit too high. Creativity is way too much, start by writing limericks or haikus or something similarily small. These are merely my opinions.

Overall your approach seems to suffer from the problem that a designer needs to know everything about every subject to properly define levels and still cannot account for individual differences in talent or experience. I therefore suggest here again an approach similar to a learning tree as seen at Khan Academy: http://www.khanacademy.org/exercisedashboard . It can in effect emulate the behavior of a leveling system but is much more flexible and more importantly the task of cataloging all human knowledge and skills can be split up so that experts in the respective fields can design the learning branches for their fields. "Levels" then can be rewardet for completing certain tasks on those branches but "sublevels" for different fields of knowledge can be awarded too.

There are legitimate reasons for not doing intense physical activity -- for instance, disability or medical problems. If it is not medically safe for you to run or lift, you shouldn't be doing it.

I see your point, but that is not what I was going at. Disabilities can render you unable to do anything particular. It just does not seem right to make certain requirements optional as that renders them practically meaningless. Then it is better to abandon those requirements altogether since then the comparability of two "level 1" people is given, but in the case of optional requirements is not.

1 mile seems a bit much though.

I was an asthmatic who often hiked but never jogged. I got an inhaler and did a 16 minute mile my first try, and a 12 minute mile my second try. I was jogging, not running, and the Level 1 Requirements are rather unclear on whether that qualifies, but I'd expect that most people really can do a mile. They're shorter than you'd expect (10-20 blocks in most cities, although it varies :))

Hiking promotes endurance so it is not surprising that you could run 16 miles at first try since the asthma disables you lungs but not your muscles. Though we would have to define what is "running" by giving a velocity so we could be more precise.

Thank you for clarifying. English is not my mother's tongue. In that case I think we have to know what "running" is so we can talk about how much that is or is not. Though I am not really interested in such details.

Why is strength so much more unimportant than memorizing 250 words?

It's not more unimportant. The third rule was added because several people felt that the physical requirements were excessive enough to discourage them from leveling entirely, and I didn't feel comfortable scaling them back to something like "walk 30 minutes without stopping".

That does not seem right. If you, arbitrarily, decide that some skills are optional, others not, you devalue those that are optional. The whole point of the leveling system is to encourage people to fill their gaps, in this case physical, handicaps aside. And the first thing of a journey of 1000 miles is the first step: Make the L1 requirement for sports easier, though "strength" is pretty easy already.

It would be maybe better to know how many levels you plan to make. If it is, say, 100, it may be better to start with the smallest step possible. If it is 10, then you are right in setting the requirements higher.

One of the persons interested in leveling cannot run at all.

This, then, is only a fault of your metric. If you want to measure endurance you can use different means of measurement as suggested in the other child post. Especially in the case of inability to walk you can measure endurance with a wheelchair. Running is just one of many options to measure endurance.

This is plausibly related to a coordination disability, though. I do okay at other measures of endurance that don't require coordination. My suggested solution is to have either multiple options at each level (run one mile or walk three miles without stopping) or use different exercises for the different benchmarks (run 1 mile for level 1, walk 10 miles for level 2) .

I fear that the level requirements look kind of random.

I agree that we need to start from something, and sooner rather than later. But i strongly feel the need to have requirements based on science and rationality. For example the ExRx tables are a good start, but passing a scale there means different things to different people, i'd rather have a unified scale based on bodyweight and sex. A possible solution might be to take the world records (which appear to average out at around 3,5x bodyweight regardless of sex) and have that value be the highest level. And then devide that number by the number of levels you want to have in this first version, for example 99. Obviously things change over time and i'm fine with redefining the highest possible level over time.

I also feel the need that others expressed, to have each individual item level independently from others. Maybe it could be like the windows rating system, the lowest score is your total level score. Letting go of putting everything into 1 level also solves the problem of disability, someone would be able to reach high levels for a lot of things except say strenght without the need for special exceptions.

I also wanted to add that Unicef has defined "life skills", I think these should be part of the levels: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_skills

I'm concerned that people with no training might hurt themselves attempting to squat, deadlift, or power clean on their own.

Maybe we can just call it "fitness" instead of strength & endurance, and give people tracks or classes they can choose to pursue?

See http://nerdfitness.com/blog/2010/05/10/real-life-role-playing-what-is-your-profession/ for more on this suggestion.

A few years ago I went through a phase of buying and reading "Man Skills" books. There are an awful lot of these floating around, on the premise that all sorts of traditionally male-domain skills (putting up shelves, bleeding radiators, carrying out fireman's lifts, etc.) are conspcuously absent in an army of foppish errant manchildren milling around society in their twenties and early thirties.

Gender politics aside (most of the skills in question seem pretty unisex in their usefulness), I do wonder if there's some sort of common "completeness" aspiration they're tapping into, which the spirit of this post is also tapping. The entire list above seems to be the lowest of low-hanging fruit, and while it's certainly useful to be able to do all of the things on that list, progressive levels would probably have significantly diminishing returns.

Memory: memorize and recite a passage of your choosing, at least 250 words long, without making any mistakes.

That seems overly high. I could probably do it, but it would be way more difficult than I would expect from Level 1. Why not start by memorizing a haiku or a 4 line poem?

Cooking: make pancakes.

Why not start with something even simpler? Boil rice. Boil an egg. Make a hot-pocket.

I think level 1 should still require some effort. It's pretty hard to mess up boiling an egg. (Yes, you CAN mess it up, but the ability to not do so is not at a level that we should be rewarding with extra dopamine)

In my experience it's actually fairly easy to mess up boiling an egg, in practice, if one doesn't have a good way of figuring out when it's done boiling. Pancakes, you can see when they're ready to be flipped; rice can probably be tested somehow. (Hot pockets aren't food, much less cooking. ;) )

Really? I haven't actually done in recently but I thought there was a huge window in which eggs were boiled, before they became "overdone," and it was pretty easy to make sure you were in that window. (I think it took about 20 minutes, and you could forget about them for like an hour+ and they'd still be fine)

Maybe I'm just impatient, or had bad directions, but the last few times I tried - several years ago, now - mine came out under-done. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a problem with my technique, as I've successfully boiled other, testable things in water (speaking of which, pasta might be a reasonable benchmark for level 1 or level 2 or so); I think it was just a timing issue.

I think the very fact that there is an argument about this, should suggest that "boiling an egg" is not a bad starting place. Why make Level 1 more difficult than it has to be? It's not like we'll run out of numbers. "Making a hotpocket" would be one step under that, and while it's not technically cooking, it's still "preparing food" which I think is a nice first step.

That's my experience too - and yet people in my life think I'm a "great cook," go figure.

That seems overly high. I could probably do it, but it would be way more difficult than I would expect from Level 1. Why not start by memorizing a haiku or a 4 line poem?

If you rarely program, how long does it take to solve project Euler problem 1? How long does it take you to jog a mile, including cooling-off time? You can memorize something 250 words long that quickly if you work at it. The levels are pretty arbitrary, but I don't think there's anything way difficult.

I'm finally level one! ...though I had to fake the buy vs. rent calculation, because a real one didn't come up.

Very cool, but how is that possible? The post is not yet 8 days old...

Regardless of that, congratulations! I still have a long way to go.

I counted stuff I've done within the entire year of 2011, I didn't do them over again.

I think the point is to set a goal and achieve it.

I think this a good idea in general, but I see some problems in the specific.

First, the list seems sort of arbitrary. For example, why "write 500 words of fiction" rather than "paint a simple picture" (I'm not much of an artist, but I'm sure someone else could make that more specific -- "use four watercolor colors to paint a picture of an x" or something) or "create a simple song"?. Similarly, why cooking rather than, say "learn how to fold a fitted sheet" for household skills? I think it would be better to create a longer list and then say leveling up requires satisfying at least eight of the criteria. This would also solve the "I just don't care" problem (e.g. my non-knowledge of programming is a consequence of lack of interest, not lack of discipline, so I would not choose it as one of my required skills).

Second, the difficulty of these criteria seems very uneven. And that's a very subjective thing. To me, most of these seem about right for level 1, but Self-Control seems too easy, while Memory and Finance seem like they should be at least level 2. However, I suspect other people would rank them differently. Relatedly, it would probably be easier to appropriately scale level 1 if you first established what the peak level is and what that would look like (that is not to say that people should stop trying to improve after that point -- martial arts ranks stop at Judan even though self-improvement continues after achieving that rank) .

Finally, I think the Strength aspect is just misguided, at least according to the specific criteria cited. Deadlifts and cleans in particular can be fairly dangerous if you aren't doing them correctly, which makes them an odd choice for level 1. More generally, bulking up doesn't actually improve life for most people. I would substitute Tone for Strength, and base it on #pull-ups, #pushups, #situps, and #squats (w/o weights) to failure.

ETA: Heinlein appears to me to be doubly mistaken. First, because specialization and comparative advantage are one of the things that set humans apart from other animals. Second because social insects do not have a lot of different specializations (I stand ready to corrected by any entymologists around, but my lay understanding is that there is a basic worker - drone - queen division, and that is about it).

The strength requirements are a bit high, but at least it's clear how to achieve them gradually, just add a little bit more weight from time to time. That's not the case with the pull-up: it feels like a total miracle to someone who can't do even one, they'd have no idea how to get from 0 to 1, and they would just give up. I've seen that several times.

You have some misconceptions about exercise. (Though it is true that improperly done exercises can injure you.) Since this is a rationality forum and not really the place for such a discussion, I will just point you and anyone else interested towards the /fit/ FAQ: http://www.liamrosen.com/fitness.html

I think Heinlein may have meant that different insect species have very specific niches.

Level 1 in chess is probably like 1000 ELO.

The difficulty level of the "memory" test strikes me as somewhat harder than the others. 250 words is this long - I think that's a more substantial effort than the others, relative to my current "level". (Consider this feedback not critique - this is how it comes across to one particular LWer, not necessarily typical.)

I don't know if it's a typical length, but the song "Still Alive" is 250 words, and it doesn't seem to be considered at all unusual to have a song or two memorised.

Well-crafted prose should be easier to memorize, and poetry even easier than that.

Maybe I'm being influenced by the fact that I had to memorize and chant sections of the Jewish liturgy for my Bar Mitzvah (think ~10 minutes of singing a fairly unmelodic song in a language I don't speak), but 250 words seems like the sort of thing one could do easily in a week, 20 minutes per day. That requires much less effort than the self-control task.