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Open & Welcome Thread - July 2022

Also certain types of "unacceptable" speech could be banned by the site. This would stimulate out-of-the-box discussion and brainstorming.

By which mechanism do you expect to improve discussion by introducing censorship?


Question on acronyms: what do SOTA and PaLM mean?

Units of Exchange

I have built many PCs over the years (there are at this moment six machines that I built, sitting in this room), and I can tell you that this is not correct.

I've also built a smaller number of PCs over the years, maybe 5-ish. I always set a rough budget, then chose the best components in terms of price/performance (and e.g. silence), relative to that budget. I don't understand how you're ever supposed to get worse performance by using that algorithm while tripling your budget.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that a random $3000 PC necessarily has higher performance than a random $1000 PC. But e.g. my original example linked to these PC build guides, and there I would be shocked if a random highly voted $3000 build would lose in performance to even the best $1000 build.

How is that consistent with saying that price is not a valid source of information?

On this point I agree with you. (But it’s not clear whether this is meant as a counterpoint to anything that I said? It does not seem to be any such thing…)

What I meant here was: How am I supposed to follow your advice to do all this effortful research (how many hours are we talking here, anyway?), when the way to find out what I actually need is to try a bunch of versions of the product in question, at which point I immediately realize that some weird new requirement like "smartphone screen must not exceed a certain height" trumps all my other requirements.

Units of Exchange

My point in that quote was that while these products may be made of e.g. ostensibly better materials, they're inferior relative to your requirements. In your framing (of products that are "just worse", irrespective of requirements), it seems to me like one should be able to buy the $10 toothbrush, sell it for $100, outsell the originally more expensive item, and make $90 profit. As I presume that this doesn't actually happen, I conclude that some customers prefer the product that originally costs $100, and it can ergo not be considered "just worse".

When you judge a product as "just worse", that sounds to me like it's supposed to be a universally applicable and objective judgement. But it seems to me like products can only be judged subjectively (i.e. relative to one's own requirements). For instance, if you gave a bunch of LWers the choice of which toothbrush to buy for personal use, I expect you would not be able to get unanimous agreement on your choice. So how can the other products be considered to be "just worse"?

Units of Exchange

Many things are like this. It is a fundamental mistake to think that spending more money necessarily gets you more of anything that you value. It is, in fact, quite common for spending more money to get you less quality and less aesthetics and less ease of use and less durability and less reliability and … etc.

When deciding what to buy—which thing, what kind of thing, how many things, etc.—you should not start with consideration of prices of products and then ask how much you’re willing to spend and so on. To do so is to head off in the wrong direction. You should start by thinking about what it is that you want/need. (And, from there, what should follow is an iterative process where you figure out what sorts of products satisfy your wants/needs, whether they’re available, how much they cost, etc., and then use this information about market conditions and so on as the basis for further considerations of your wants and needs… but at no point in this process should you ever use price as a proxy for, or even an indicator of, “quality” or “value” or any such thing, and this especially applies to relative prices.)

I would've agreed with a more subdued version of this point, but given the absolute language ("fundamental mistake" etc.), this goes way too far for my taste.

Price is not a perfect proxy for criteria like performance, durability, or reliability, but it does carry non-negligible information. For example, supposing I wanted to build a new PC, it's immediately obvious that the more expensive build has a higher performance. That doesn't mean that the more expensive purchase is the best purchase for me, given my (so far unstated) requirements. But insofar as I care about a certain level of performance, filtering by a minimal price would save me a lot of time.

More to the point, your suggested process for deciding what to buy sounds really effortful. Depending on the domain of purchase, such an investment of time and energy can either pay off in spades, or be a huge waste of resources when one could instead just buy some product recommended on Wirecutter, or a well-rated Amazon product or something. (For example, I recently had to buy an aluminium sealing tape, i.e. a <10€ product, and so I just bought an arbitrary high-rated product rather than doing tons of research.)

I usually spend way too much time on ultimately irrelevant product research, so when I see a suggestion to ignore a valid but imperfect source of information because there's a more effortful way of obtaining better information, I feel compelled to suggest to reverse that advice.

Finally, there's the problem that one is often insufficiently aware of one's requirements. For example, I recently bought a new smartphone, thinking that the increased height of 1 cm would be barely acceptable for my hands. But once I got the new smartphone, I realized it had a significantly increased screen coverage, so its screen was ~4 cm taller than my old one, which immediately made the smartphone utterly unusable. In this case my error was not that I did insufficient research, but that I was insufficiently empirical: doing extensive research to find the perfect product for your needs only works insofar as you're actually aware of all your important needs, and how you weigh them against one another.

Units of Exchange

Note that this is the best toothbrush available on the market (given my needs); there are many models that are more expensive, but they are all worse than the $10 model I bought. Let me be very clear about this: if I had spent more money, I would have gotten an inferior productnot in “value per dollar” terms, but in absolute terms.

Here's how I would put this: I like the ISO 9000 definition of "quality" as the "degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfils requirements".

When you want to find the best product for yourself, you have some requirements in mind. Suppose those requirements include criteria like "affordability" or "ease of repair" etc. Then more expensive products, while ostensibly "better" in some Platonic sense, likely aren't a good fit for your needs, and couldn't be described as high-quality in this sense.

That said, I agree that the microwave example, as written in the manual, would likely benefit from a revision, though I figure its current form likely does just fine in a workshop setting.

LessWrong Has Agree/Disagree Voting On All New Comment Threads

There's definitely a bug / inconsistency here: the linked comments are in a different order when viewed as a permalink vs. when viewed in the thread itself. But yeah, I was way too quick to assume, based on a single data point, that this was a) a new problem and b) caused by or influenced by agreement karma or the related recent website update. Oops. I thought these things were likely related because, as stated in this thread, only karma (but not agreement) is supposed to dictate how things are ordered; so when I saw a wrong ordering with differing agreement scores, I figured the latter had to be the reason.

Anyway, do you want me to post this issue as a github ticket, or is this comment enough? Actually, I have the same question for my two aesthetics-related comments here and here.

LessWrong Has Agree/Disagree Voting On All New Comment Threads

Bug: When comment threads are loaded as a permalink, comment sorting is wrong or at least influenced by agreement karma.

Example: This comment thread. In this screenshot, the comment with 2 karma and 1 agreement is sorted above the comment with 8 karma and 0 agreement.

Kurzgesagt – The Last Human (Youtube)

Having skimmed their further reading section for this video, I'm happy to see how seriously this channel takes its research. And as became apparent from the video itself, it was supported by Open Philanthropy and FHI.

Other random things I learned about the channel:

  • The channel is headquartered in Munich.
  • "In 2013 an average video took about 150 hours. In 2015 it was about 250 hours. Now in 2021 we spend around 1200 hours per video." (From their Patreon.)
  • Besides their free "kurzgesagt" videos, they also do commercial animation projects, and it's a bizarre experience to see an ad (e.g. one for "Macorva") with the same animation and narration as their "kurzgesagt" videos.
It’s Probably Not Lithium

In German, the tap water is known to be very hard, so essentially no one drinks tap water.

Our local tap water (in a town close to Munich) is roughly as soft as tap water can be, and I drink nothing else.

But if you've found statistics on how countries differ in how much tap water their citizens drink, I'd be interested to see them. Unfortunately, searching for "tap water consumption" includes all the other uses like showering etc.

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