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Dude, I'm just a guy, but I love this blog. It has changed my head.

Three books! That's great! I gotta tell you...

Here's a practice that I have long used to gain a skill, or just get through a project. I get the three best-looking books on the topic. The classic, the bible, the tome. (I avoid the "for dummies.") Reading them, I determine my favorite AUTHOR, the guy whose outlook and philosophy and depth and commitment to the skill impresses me the most. Then I CALL THAT SUCKER UP ON THE PHONE.

It helps that I'm as personable and likable on the phone as I am in person. I describe my project a little, then I ask where to get the special sauce or the obscure gizmo. That's always an ice breaker. Before long, he's talking; he's asking ME about my project. I keep it fairly short, having the pertinent questions and data at hand, but I always ask if I can call again (never been refused). When I get stuck or something, I call back.

I have gotten an incredible amount of tutoring and mentoring over the years. Enough to completely restore wood-and-canvas watercraft, build a couple of mandolins, rebuild vintage guitar amps, build a bicycle frame from SCRATCH, install a solar system, sew a full set of outdoor gear, and install a slate roof. More, too. The wood-and-canvas canoe guy actually took to calling ME, asking how things were going, checking on my progress, adding tips he forgot to mention. He sent me a gallon of the obsolete historically correct dope. I have straddled a roof ridge, on a cell phone with the world's number one slate guru talking me through an origami copper flashing technique. To this day, no leaks.

So there--I feel like I have contributed something to acknowledge all the great stuff I have read here.

Many automobiles are spaghetti towers. The longer a model or drivetrain is in production, the more spaghetti. I drive a 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon. Its ancestors had horizontally opposed four cylinder air-cooled engines in the rear, like all ancestral VWs. In 1984 the Vanagon got water cooled, but still horizontally opposed four cylinder rear-engine. The plumbing is, as they say, like a submarine. Some later Vanagon models layered onto this concept four-wheel drive and air conditioning. Talk about plumbing.

Of course, most every automobile wiring system grew from simple ignition-lights-radio-heater-fan-windshield-wipers to include airplane-like control panels, wireless entry locks, theft alarms, seatbelt buzzers, seat warmers, electric windows, seats, hatches, sun roofs, and steering-wheel adjusters. I think four fuse panels is the norm now. My modern diesel pickup truck had two batteries, two alternators, and every gizmo in the catalog, layered onto the basic automotive wiring system.

Wow, that was good. As a clueless teen in Dutch-settled Rensselaer county, NY, bordering Vermont and Massachusetts, I visited nearby New England frequently, by bike and car, then moved there in my early twenties. My curiosity about the roots of the very different present-day cultures on either side of the New York border led me to a study of regional history. In short, the two sides of the border were colonized and settled by people with very different philosophies and politics. New York by royal land grants administered by nobles through a serf-like tenant farmer system that discouraged education (lest they should read the lease) and churchgoing (lest they should band together) and private enterprise (the right reserved to landowners). Dismal unimproved shacks and lack of town centers resulted, and harsh top-down laws prevented good citizenship. New England, by contrast, was populated by Puritan and Quaker descendants with a history of self-governance, land ownership, pride in citizenship and a love of education and church-going. Today, the culture in New York is characterized by tough laws (especially tenant-landlord laws) and policing, gritty towns lacking civic pride, low school funding, and a conspicuous separation of the economic classes. New England now has friendly cops, laws favoring tenants over landlords, town meeting, highly funded school districts, church spires everywhere, and neat, clean towns with town greens and white fences. I guess that wasn't brief after all. Point is, this book review presents a larger context for all of that. Thank you very much.

I'm pretty comfortable liking things that others don't, but less comfortable not liking things others consider great. I do know that after listening to bluegrass music for a few years, learning it on the mandolin was challenging but doable. When I switched to jazz, both listening and learning at the same time, it was much harder. Now, I can hear jazz melodies and rhythms and structure that was just not reaching my brain earier. And they are lovely.

On another note: one time on a bicycle trip I passed through Paris and wandered into the Louvre. I hadn't planned to; it was just there and I said to myself, "Why not?" It was my first time in an art museum, even though I was nearly 60 years old. I'm somewhat of a hillbilly. Anyway, I wound up sitting in front of a huge painting by a Duch master (can't recall the dude's name). I sat for nearly three hours, transfixed. I wound up coming back to it and sitting transfixed for another hour. I can't describe the feelings, only that when I returned the second time, it was like seeing long lost friends: I was so happy! If I had had that experience at an early age, I would have devoted my life to art. I mean Art.

You don't have to share a taste for, or approval of "...refined murderous evil of the particularly uncommon kind..." It can be explained as a reaction to events or conditions, and history is full of examples. HOWEVER. We have this language that we share, and it signifies. I understand that a rapist has mental instability and other mental health issues that cause him to act not in accordance with common perceptions of minimum human decency. But I can't say out loud, "I understand why some men rape women." It's an example of a truth that is too dangerous to say because emotions prevent others from hearing it.

The art of condescension is subtle and nuanced. "I'm always fascinated by..." can be sincere or not--when it is not, it is a variation on, "It never ceases to amaze me how..." If you were across the table from me, Alejandro, I could tell by your eyes. Most FB posts, tweets, blog posts and comments on magazine and newspaper articles are as bad or worse than what is described here. Rants masquerading as comments. That's why I like this venue here at LessWrong. Commenters actually trying to get more clarity, trying to make sure they understand, trying to make it clear with sincerely constructive criticism that they believe a better argument could be stated. If only it could be spread around the web-o-spehre. Virally.

I say give them smaller raises more frequently. After the first annual bonus, it becomes expected.

I'm just a regular guy who stumbled on LessWrong some time ago, and it has helped me see a lot that I was missing in this world and, yes, to change my mind. Much of this stuff is hard to grasp for a man with limited math skills, but I think I may have an innate grasp of heuristics in some cases. At any rate, I have long made it a practice to budget an amount for a particular gift, and then seek out the smallest, most precious object that that amount will buy, rather than the biggest and most bountiful. (Except for children under 7 or so years of age--for them a big box trumps a small box no matter what's inside.) And I am not fooled by marketing tricks as often as my peers seem to be. Thank you all (commenters too!) for this great body of information. I intend to read every word in the whole wiki.