Berkeley visit report

by EvelynM 2 min read14th Jul 201212 comments


A few weeks ago, ShannonFriedman, an IFS counselor living in Berkeley, posted Female compatriots stay for a week in Berkeley an offer for rationalist women who are agenty to stay in her spare room for a few days. I replied, as I have a goal of getting to know the people associated with Less Wrong, the Singularity Institute and the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR). 

She and I had a get to know you skype video interview, to talk about the trip. Shannon is a master connector, who genuinely enjoys introducing people who share common interests and complementary skills. As I had a goal of meeting interesting people, the planning was around helping me accomplish that.

I traveled with a friend, copt, who I met through the Less Wrong group I organize in Fort Collins Colorado. Shannon, fortunately, had two spare rooms for us. Her house, which she shares with several other people is in a residential neighborhood not too far from the secondary shopping district on San Pedro. It is on the main floor of a house, with a big back yard.

Berkeley is beautiful. The yards are full of flowers. There was an excellent coffee shop, Caffee Trieste (the sad coffee), within walking distance of the house, and a good breakfast restaurant also within walking distance. Downtown Berkeley is only a mile away, with good public transit connections to San Francisco, The mornings were foggy and cool (50F), the afternoons sunny and warm (75F).  

Over the 4 days of our visit, we met:

Julia Galef, mathy and elegant, formerly of New York, who is in Berkeley working with CFAR.  She's known for her organizing work within the skeptical community.  I had enjoyed watching her presentation to Skepticon this year, on The Straw Vulcan. She and Shannon are working on improving marketing for CFAR.

Luke Muehlhauser (lukeprog), tall, handsome, with dark hair, the Executive Director of the Singularity Institute, met briefly with us to discuss copt's work in finance.

Nisan, who organizes the Berkeley Less Wrong meetup, is a PhD student mathematician. He generously shared his Paleo groceries with us, and helped us navigate the BART on our trip into the city for a housewarming party. He explained operant conditioning as a technique for personal transformation while on the bus to Oakland. He and I are now writing companions and friends.

Peter de Blanc, a mathematician, programmer and musician, generously vacated his studio for me to stay in.

Aubrey de Grey, the founder of the SENS Foundation for rejuvenation technology,  is committed to the search for effective treatments for the disease of aging. We met to discuss fundraising and marketing. His focus is inspiring.

On Saturday night, we went to a housewarming party for Divia and Will Eden.  Their new house, in San Francisco, has a big back yard, and huge kitchen, is nicknamed Asgard.

At the housewarming party, everyone I spoke with had a clarity of intelligence and purpose which was invigorating to experience. There were approximately equal numbers of women and men at the party.  I spoke with a woman, who's name I don't remember, who is on her second successful startup as a developer, the first, a javascript based mockup tool, she accomplished while learning to program.  Charles, a physicist with SpaceX, red haired, and intense, who copt nick-named The Anti-Thor, because he works on preventing lightning strikes from damaging launch vehicles.  Valentine Michael Smith, intense, athletic, with a direct gaze, is working on combining martial arts and rationality to teach both of them faster and more effectively. He demonstrated the difference between compulsion and direction through two soft pushes on my sternum. I hope his project develops quickly, I'd learn new skills studying with him.

Eliezer Yudkowsky, is a smart, funny, big bear of a guy, who both copt and I liked immediately. I hope that we will have the chance to get to know each other better.

Outside of the Less Wrong connections, I met several other people, including a young musician with a great Magic deck, and at the coffee shop, I struck up a conversation with a couple, she is a photographer, and he is a musician, and she is 30 years older than him. Berkeley has high openness.

Also I was able to connect with a friend who I know through open source, who took me for lunch at the Thai Buddhist Temple, which has a pay as you like buffet lunch.

It was a full, but relaxed, 4 day trip. Shannon has a transformative talent of seeing others as powerful agents directing their lives, which encourages one to see themselves as a powerful interesting being. I'm so glad I took the chance to accept her offer. I'm glad to have her as a friend.