Launching Forecast, a community for crowdsourced predictions from Facebook

I've been using Forecast since the beta and enjoy it! A few thoughts:

  • There isn't enough incentive to bet on questions with long time horizons.
  • The 1K points/day are rather inflationary overall, which leads to...
  • A question's market can be moved rather significantly for just a few thousand points
  • Why is there a max of 10 shares per bet? Especially with the 1K daily point increase, any user who sticks around will have tens of thousands of points, and have a harder time allocating them
  • The leaderboard is opaque and varies wildly: I'm sometimes in the top 10, sometimes in the middle hundreds, and sometimes unranked, despite a consistent upward trajectory.
Babble challenge: 50 ways of hiding Einstein's pen for fifty years

Phew, this was hard! 50 is pretty hard, there's a lot of value in pushing yourself to do even 30. Another option for next time is to time limit instead: "you have 15 minutes, how many ways can you think of?"

Here are my 50:

Dig a hole and bury it

Disassemble it and give each piece to a trusted family

Place it into a lockbox at a reputable bank

Store it in a drawer and include detailed instructions in my will

Find Einstein's parents and give them the pen

Place it in a drawer with a sealed letter describing what should be done if found

Put it in a tree's branches

Carve a hole in a tree trunk and place it in the hole

Seal it in a chest and drop it in a lake with an anchor

Glue it to one of those tortoises that lives a long time

Photograph or draw it, make a replica in 50 years

Keep it in an important document like my passport, moving it each time I renew

Convince the Pope the pen is holy and must be preserved

Convince a museum the pen is fine art and should be displayed

Carry it everywhere I go

Give it to a stranger with a promise to pay them if they return it in a year. Repeat 50 times

Become a head of state and pass a law to protect the pen

Start a pen manufacturing company and produce millions of copies of the pen

Start a pen-worshipping cult

Negotiate with the evil forces to return the pen to me later

Convince the evil forces to give the pen to Einstein

Place it in a sewer

Start a family and teach my kids to protect the pen

Join the evil forces, work my way to power, and change the organization's objective

Infiltrate the evil forces and assassinate their leadership

Give the evil forces a counterfeit pen

Change my name so the evil forces can't find me

Become a hermit living in a cave

Learn self-defense to protect the pen if attacked by evil forces

Hand the evil forces the pen and then take it back, as they "obtained" it

Give the evil forces the part of the pen they want and replace it

Invent time travel and send the pen to the future

Invent space travel and send the pen to space

Place the pen in a body to be buried

Place the pen in the foundation of a new building

Shoot the pen high into the atmosphere so that it circles the earth for 50 years before landing

Place at the bottom of a jar of pennies

Place at the bottom of a chewing tobacco spittoon

Disguise as a record player's needle

Just keep it on my desk amongst my regular pens

Hide it in a residential attic

Hide it in a mattress

Hire a private security team to guard the pen

Protect the pen in a secure facility with booby traps

Convince the evil forces they don't really want the pen

Hide the pen in the handle of a sword

Ass pen (

Start a foundation and place the pen in trust

Tag someone else "it", now they have to hide the pen

Forget about the pen, Einstein will probably write his papers anyway

Fermi Challenge: Trains and Air Cargo

That's a great catch, thanks! With that correction as a final step, I feel much better about my initial estimate!

Fermi Challenge: Trains and Air Cargo

How many miles of train tracks exist in the world?

Radius of Earth = ~3,000 miles

Surface area of earth = 4 x pi x r^2 = 1.13 × 10^8 = ~10^8

25% of the earth is land 

10% of the land "needs" tracks

.1% of that land actually is tracks

10^8 x .25 x .1 x .001 = 2,500 miles

This feels obviously wrong, so let's buff the numbers:

Radius = 5,000 miles, 30% of the surface is land, 25% "needs" track, .5% of the land is tracks

3.14 x 10^8 x .35 x .2 x .005 = ~110,000 miles

Let's round that off to 100,000 miles.


Edit: Thanks to the comment from @philh, I see that I calculated square miles rather than linear miles. Assuming the width of a track is 1/1000 of a mile:

2500 x 1000 = ~2.5 million miles

This feels reasonable, so if I had performed that step, I would not have done a second round of estimation.



How many metric tons of air freight cargo shipped globally in 2009, and in 2019 (either by commercial airlines or specialized freight companies)?

How much stuff did I order? Everything I use was shipped from somewhere.

Amount of stuff I ordered last year: 200 pounds

That feels low when I think about heavy food and drink containers, so let's bump to 1,000 pounds

My share of infrastructure "stuff" feels smaller than that, so no modifier.

Most of the world uses less stuff than I do (age, affluence), so nudge it down to 700 pounds.

A ton is 2,000 pounds

Population of the world: 7 billion

7 billion * 700 / 2,000 = ~2.5 billion

Let's assume 2% growth per year

1.02^10 = 1.22

2.5 billion / 1.22 = ~2 billion


2019: 2.5 billion tons

2009: 2 billion tons


After reading the answers from others, I've realized that I assumed all freight was by air. If I had considered that, I would apply a discount factor, revising significantly downward. Keeping my original answer in the spirit of the exercise.

Covid 9/24: Until Morale Improves

Thanks for posting these updates regularly! One quick formatting note: region ordering in the Positive Tests section is different from the earlier sections.

Current guidance for COVID-19 self-care?

I purchased zinc lozenges, high dose Vitamin C, and HCQ many months ago. I am trying to decide for action now, or as a pre-commit for later, on what is most appropriate to take.

Is Wirecutter still good?
Answer by kniteAug 08, 202010

I've loved Wirecutter's reviews for many years, but have occasionally been disappointed by their recommendations. It's hard to say whether their quality has actually gone down or if the success/miss ratio is constant.


External hard drive (pre-2016): no mention whatsoever of RPM, which is widely regarded as critical information when choosing a non-SSD hard drive. They didn't even include a blurb saying that RPM doesn't matter.

Bath towels (2019): Pasting my own comment: "I ordered a set of Frontgate towels based on this recommendation. After fewer than five washes (cold normal cycle with standard detergent, line dry), the towels aren't plush at all. The towels arrived feeling luxurious and spa-like, but after only a few uses they feel drab and normal." They updated their towel recommendations a week ago and Frontgate remains their top choice. I feel like I wasted several hundred dollars on an extensive set of pretty average towels. If I'm washing them wrong, it would have been nice for them to reply and update their care instructions.

Broom (2020): It's...fine. Maybe my expectations were set too high, but I thought it would be the Best Broom, not just a broom.

Unifying the Simulacra Definitions

I think pointing at anything you want better conveys the nature of L4. You could describe L0 as "I don't point".

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