Austin Chen


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Great minds might not think alike

Great post! One note:

Think in terms of language-to-language translators: to translate really well from language A to language B, you need be masterful at A (to understand all the subtleties of the meaning) and also at B (to convey that meaning while preserving those nuances). That’s why good translators (in both senses) are so rare.

Mastery of both A and B is great, obviously, but if you can choose only one, choose B.

I've spent a decent chunk of my life scanlating manga from Japanese to English, and my observation is that fluency in the target language (English, in this case) is much more important for a good translation than fluency in the source. I can overcome a misunderstanding in Japanese with copious amounts of research (Google Translate, JP dictionaries, etc); but the thing that my readers consume is a product in English, which is much harder to "fake".

Two takeaways, continuing on the translation analogy:

  • If you want to get into cultural translation, start by writing for the audience you know really well, and then do research into the source culture. My bet is that Scott is more "fluent" in the analytical audience, not the social one.
  • Scanlation teams often have a JP to Eng translator, fluent in JP, and a second English editor who can clean up the script. Cultural translation may also benefit from two people from different cultures collaborating (SSC's adversial collaboration comes to mind)
The First Sample Gives the Most Information

This is a really powerful concept; I can immediately think of at least two fields this applies to:

  • When you're not sure how to build a software user interface, you might think "let's run an A/B test on 1000 people and see which performs better". But you'll get 90 percent of the value just by showing it to one or two users and watching them use it, live.

  • When you're learning to cook, one of the first things they teach you is to sample your food throughout. The first sip or bite will immediately tell you how to adjust the recipe (eg add more salt, add something spicy, or a dash of vinegar)

100 Tips for a Better Life

That's a good point, actually; one takeaway from the FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early) community is that your retirement date is basically a function of your current expenses; assuming a safe withdrawal rate of 4% you "just" need 25x expenses to retire forever.

But dropping your expenses to zero is fairly hard; in fact, dropping your expenses by any meaningful amount is hard since people have fairly sharp intuitions about where their money is going, and probably not wantonly spending it in the first place.

And moreover, the goal isn't to extend your personal runway to infinity, but rather to improve the fuzzy metric of "living a happy, fiscally secure life". Presumably, most of your expenses are reasonably rational purchases on that axis, and getting rid of them would make you less happy overall.

My thesis is that, for the same amount of annoying dealing-with-financial-institutions-effort, setting up an online brokerage account to put the majority of your money in index funds is like 10x to 100x return on effort for many, compared to saving $20 a month switching banks.

100 Tips for a Better Life

First off, I'd like to apologize; I wasn't trying to gatekeep LessWrong or anything like that. This is part of what's hard about giving advice online; my mental model of the audience is shaped by the few I know personally + myself, but it's by no means comprehensive. Some people need to hear "this is specifically how you can save $20/month" and not "this is the general way to approach personal finance"!

That said -- I still want to push back. When it comes to personal finance, it's easy to focus on cutting costs and personal spending; it feels virtuous, and the benefits are visible. But the huge gains in personal finance come from a getting a handful of things very right, almost all of which are related to making more money rather than cutting your costs.

In my head, these things are:

  • Earning a consistent high return on your cash (stock market's  ~10% rather than saving account's ~0.5%)
  • Negotiating your salary
  • Working on your career capital and connections

One intuition for this is the amount of money you can earn is unbounded; no matter who you are, I'd guess you personally know someone making 2x as much, and know of someone who makes 10-100x as much. But the amount of expenses you can cut is hard capped at 100%, and most people would have a pretty difficult time dropping it by even 30%.

And again, it's hard for me to speak to your financial situation, not knowing you personally; it's possible your financial strategy matches well to your risk appetite and lifestyle, in which case, please ignore my musings!

100 Tips for a Better Life

This is a great list! However, I was almost immediately turned off because of 

2. Some banks charge you $20 a month for an account, others charge you 0. If you’re with one of the former, have a good explanation for what those $20 are buying.

Because this point is nowhere near top of mind for "tips for better personal finance". $240 per year should never make or break your life (among people who are reading these comments, anyways), so I'd suggest something more along the lines of:

  • Make sure you have 3 months of expenses in liquid cash
  • Store 90% of the rest of your money in an index fund
  • Experiment with the last 10% (stock picks, prediction markets, crypto, who knows)

The cash-on-time return for getting these basics right is much much higher than switching banks to save a measly $20/month (or e.g. worrying about interest rates on your savings accounts)

Writing tools for tabooing?

A chrome extension sounds promising; I wanted a similar tool to help me improve my writing skills. Concretely, I noticed that I would end up hedging a lot in my online conversations, including needless disclaimers like "I think", "I suppose", "I guess", etc. that would detract from the clarity of my writing.

Covid 12/3: Land of Confusion

A highly recommended quality-of life improvement is to use ShareX, a program which will let you take a screenshot, immediately upload it to Imgur, then copies the URL link into your clipboard. Sharing, embedding, and backing up anything you see becomes habitual. For example, I hit "Ctrl + Shift + 4", then "Ctrl + V" and get:

It not only saves me time, it cuts out a trivial inconvenience of showing my screen to others. URLs work universally, and I don't have to figure out the image upload process of every website everywhere. It's actually a qualitative change in the type of content I share to e.g. coworkers and friends, and, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Sunzi's《Methods of War》- War

I love all the insights here, and curious - what did you find it to generalize to?

My head's been on startups lately; reading "enemy" as "competitor" it might be that poaching their employees is worth more than a normal hire? (This was one internal theory about why Google retains so many engineers who don't do that much). If "supply" is "ideas", it's not obvious that copying ideas from the competitor is any better than finding them from any other place, though.

Gifts Which Money Cannot Buy

I already believed this, but I'm glad that this concept is now written up so I can point to it in the future!

Another frame: A lot of people seem to think "oh, Billy likes cookbooks, I'll buy him a cookbook since he'll probably like that". But that's exactly backwards! Billy has spent a lot of time figuring out which cookbooks are the best, which ones suit his tastes; it's very unlikely that your money spent on a cookbook you picked more-or-less at random would be spent nearly as efficiently as if you just gave the money to Billy straight up. Conversely, you would have to spend a lot more effort to research the space of cookbooks to give even a passingly good gift.

Instead, just give him something where you have comparative advantage; something from a hobby you enjoy that is a bit foreign to the recipient. The best gift I ever got was a sketchbook and set of drawing pencils; I know nothing about art, but appreciated the gentle nudge from an experienced artist.

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