All of sketerpot's Comments + Replies

Don't Be Afraid of Asking Personally Important Questions of Less Wrong

Ah. That web site throws out too many claims to investigate fully -- who has the time? -- but if you google around for a sampling of them you'll notice that they tend to crumble under scrutiny. The sections mentioning quantum mechanics are especially blatant: they're gibberish, total incoherent misuse of terminology.

EDIT: There's a sequence of articles called Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions which is relevant here. One that applies in particular is Fake Explanations, which could be summarized as "If you are equally good at explaining any out... (read more)

0zeldamagic7yHere's the link: []
Stupid Questions March 2015

If you were to try and search the space of all possible inputs for MD5, you'd quickly(ish) find an input that collided with the Obama Werewolf input, but it'd be garbage.

Really? Last I checked, the best known preimage attack against MD5 was too slow to be practical. Finding collisions is drastically easier, though I don't know any method for doing it with arbitrary plain-text English sentences.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 108

Not just modern sexual attitudes, but specifically the sexual attitudes you see in the Harry Potter fanfiction community. And I'm sure it was meant to be jarring. Magical Britain's culture is subtly but deeply different from that of the muggle country that shares its borders; it would be profoundly weird if there were no surprises, no culture shock.

3alienist7yThe jarring thing is precisely that it isn't. The sexual attitudes of the fanfiction community have a lot more in common with general contemporary western post-protestant sexual attitudes then with the sexual attitudes of any other (contemporary or historical) culture.
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 104

He's the Super Hufflepuff! He's taking all the electives, which is physically impossible without a Time Turner! He was mentioned right before Harry started making thorough off-screen preparations, and then conspicuously forgotten for the rest of the chapter! Dramatic logic dictates that he's got to show up at some point, probably in some way that involves time travel.

... Unless the whole thing was a throwaway joke about how useless Cedric was in Goblet of Fire, in which case yeah, I guess it was pretty funny.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 104

An alternate interpretation is that Voldemort was strengthening a few of the spells that Sprout cast, as well as the spell that Tonks used to win the battle, and this use of his own magic was what caused Harry's doom-sense to tingle. If that's the case, then there would be none of his magic on the troll.

The morality of disclosing salary requirements

Other useful dummy values are $1, $42, $1,000,000, $9999999999999.95, and "'; DROP TABLE salary; --". As someone who has written input validation code for web forms on a few occasions, I personally give you my blessing to subvert them.

Does the Utility Function Halt?

I'm not entirely sure what your argument is yet, but here's a simple example utility function that might be interesting as a baseline:

def utility(universe):
    return 42

This function halts for all inputs, and assigns each input a desirability value that can be compared with others. What sort of utility function are you imagining?

Rationality Quotes October 2014

It would definitely be a rationality quote if it went on to quote the part where Eric Flint decided to test his hypothesis by putting some of his books online, for free, and watching his sales numbers.

3DanielLC7yDoes he say what the results were anywhere?
[moderator action] Eugine_Nier is now banned for mass downvote harassment

The Reddit guys really, really dislike doing schema updates at their scale. They were getting very slow, and their replication setup was not happy about being told to, say, index a new column while people are doing lots of reads and writes at the same time. So they eventually said "to hell with it; we'll just make a document database, with no schema, and handle consistency problems by not handling them. Man, do not even ask us about joins." This seems to have made them much happier than the 'better' database design they used to use, which is impo... (read more)

Rationality Quotes June 2014

"Focus on the future productivity of the asset you are considering. [...] If you instead focus on the prospective price change of a contemplated purchase, you are speculating. There is nothing improper about that. I know, however, that I am unable to speculate successfully, and I am skeptical of those who claim sustained success at doing so. Half of all coin-flippers will win their first toss; none of those winners has an expectation of profit if he continues to play the game. And the fact that a given asset has appreciated in the recent past is neve

... (read more)
A puzzle concerning CS major vs. engineering major salaries

If it makes you feel better, I studied computer science but frequently feel a sense of inadequacy because it feels less hard core than "real engineering".

Your sense of inadequacy is probably unjustified. I studied electrical engineering and computer science. Within both fields there's a wide range of hardcore-ness. In both fields you can find people who do incredibly difficult things, and a much larger group of people who do the bare minimum, and people everywhere in-between. I have seen some startlingly incompetent people with engineering degrees, so the lower bound here is pretty low.

A puzzle concerning CS major vs. engineering major salaries

So if coming from a top school makes SV employers think (correctly or incorrectly) that you're a top programmer, this could go a way towards explaining the salary thing.

This also works if coming from a top school correlates with some factor that makes SV employers think you're a top programmer. The most obvious example of such a factor is programming skill: you'd expect people at top schools to program better, on average, than people from obscure schools.

Rationality Quotes January 2014

Have you heard a baby being born? A baby is all like "AAAAA! AAAAA! AAAAAAA!", except less textual and more piercing in pitch. Show me a definition of "dignified" which encompasses such shrieking, and I'll show you a definition of "dignified" which lacks mainstream recognition.

0Kawoomba8yWell, since you're asking, today actually (really? really!). I concede that you have the mainstream definition in your favor. I find the mainstream concept of "dignity" (the one in which perfectly understandable reactions to physical stimuli can somehow detract from one's dignity) to be a pretty confused notion which I cannot relate to. If anything, the way in which someone deals with a crisis point (comparatively speaking) such as giving birth can greatly enhance my estimation of that person's capabilities. (I did understand your original comment to refer to the mother more so than the baby. Babies and dignity? Given "mainstream"-dignity, I'd expect sGetDignity(Baby) to throw an exception more so than return "undignified".)
Rationality Quotes January 2014

I'd say that the process of childbirth is a clear, up-front warning that it definitely won't be.

1Kawoomba8yI find nothing undignified about it, once you get over "poop is the epitome of indignity" and such (imo) nonsense.
How to become a PC?

Not only does exercise become its own reward, but skipping exercise becomes its own penalty -- you feel physically crappy if you go too long without getting your fix. I see this as a good thing.

How to become a PC?

Exercising with someone is also an great way to socialize if you're a quiet person, and ill-at-ease with small talk. Pauses in conversation are natural when people are breathing heavily, there's always at least one shared topic you can talk about, and the exertion tends to make people more cheerful.

Physics grad student: how to build employability in programming & finance

Seconded; that's the book I learned from, and would have been my runner-up recommendation. In particular, its pictures are excellent, and there are loads of them.

2[anonymous]8yFor anyone with a visual thinking process, the diagrams are invaluable. Seeing the nodes layed out spatially makes it really easy to understand how the algorithms work any why they achieve the performance they do.
Physics grad student: how to build employability in programming & finance

I don't know specific techniques to design good algorithms for problems.

I would suggest reading an introductory book on algorithms and data structures. There are a number of good ones, and none of them is strictly better than the rest, but for your case I would recommend Steve Skiena's Algorithm Design Manual, which can probably be found in your university library. It's very readable, discusses how to go about solving algorithmic problems, and has a lot of breadth.

This is some of the higher bang-for-the-buck knowledge in CS, and surprisingly relevant to the Real World.

2[anonymous]8yI've found Sedgewick's "Algorithms in " to be a great introductory and comprehensive textbook for this stuff.
Handshakes, Hi, and What's New: What's Going On With Small Talk?

I believe SMTP uses "HELO", actually (or "EHLO" to enable some extensions). The server then indicates that it heard the HELO command, often with a cheery remark like "Pleased to meet you! I'm a server! :-D"

This is one of the more charming aspects of the internet's plumbing.

Rationality Quotes December 2013

If we could achieve eternal life through the clever use of linguistic ambiguity, then post-structuralist continental philosophers would have defeated death long ago. What would the world be like, I wonder, if all forms of cleverness were useful? A candidate for weirdtopia, probably.

2013 Less Wrong Census/Survey

Took the survey. Cooperated because most puzzles which explicitly use the words "cooperate" and "defect" have been created in such a way as to make cooperation the better choice.

(Considering my fairly low chances of winning, a deep analysis would have had only recreational value, and there were other fun things to do.)

Open Thread, September 23-29, 2013

Look into cloud computing. It's new enough not to have made it into many curricula yet.

For a decent summary, here's a pretty well-written survey paper on cloud computing.. It's three years old now, but not outdated.

Open Thread, September 23-29, 2013

It's a good start, but I notice a lack of actual programming languages on that list. This is a very common mistake. A typical CS degree will try to make sure that you have at least basic familiarity with one language, usually Java, and will maybe touch a bit on a few others. You will gain some superpowers if you become familiar with all or most of the following:

  • A decent scripting language, like Python or Ruby. The usual recommendation is Python, since it has good learning materials and an easy learning curve, and it's becoming increasingly useful for sci

... (read more)
0Jayson_Virissimo8ySorry if I wasn't clear. I intended the list to include only skills that make you a more valuable programmer that aren't explicitly taught as part of the degree. Two Java courses (one object-oriented) are required as is a Programming Languages class that teaches (at least the basics of) C/C++, Scheme, and Prolog. Also, we must take a Computer Organization course that includes Assembly (although, I'm not sure what kind). Thanks for the advice.
Large introductory science classes

As far as I can tell, a significant fraction of the people in every major don't really understand it, don't care very much, and are continually half-assing everything. The problem with just flunking these guys is that they can still be valuable to employers, and their tuition money is nice to have.

Mistakes repository

A good, lightweight rule of thumb: before making a major life decision, spend at least an hour googling around for relevant information, especially from people who've done the thing you're contemplating. Chances are, your experiences will not be so different from theirs.

Then, seriously consider at least one alternative.

Mistakes repository

Further, people outside the nerd community have a broader emotional repertoire.

I would be very interested in hearing more about this -- my set of friends has a decidedly nerdy bias. Am I missing out on some feelings?

1mare-of-night8yThis hasn't been my experience. There aren't many people I consider good friends who aren't somewhat nerdy (though some are non-STEM nerds - history, the arts, etc.), but their amount of nerdiness, intelligence and STEM interest don't seem to correlate much with how emotional they are. And I'm not sure how I'd deal with being around people much more emotional than my friends are, even though I don't think I'm someone who'se unusually bad at dealing with that, and I do usually enjoy when people share their feelings with me. I wonder if going to a college where nerdiness is the norm is part of the reason for this? Maybe being cold has to do with being a minorty, rather than being nerds? There could also be selection bias at work here - sharing feelings is one of the things that makes me think I'm friends with someone rather than acquaintances.
4Stabilizer8ySome examples follow (caveat: these are generalizations based on small data-sets and each rule has exceptions. But I feel they're broadly true. Others, please support or contradict these 'rules'). 1. My non-nerdy friends are more open to physical touch, such as hugging, playful touches during laughter, comforting touches and so on. Nerdy friends seem to restrict themselves to handshakes; some find even handshakes awkward. 2. More inclined to solidarity rituals. Typical example: non-nerd enjoys sports. Nerd dismisses them as artificial constructs designed to provide conflict as entertainment, and therefore doesn't want to participate in the ritual. Another example: nerds will typically take most conversations towards arguments/debates; non-nerds will see conversation as a solidarity ritual and keep it's flow more towards participant enjoyment. 3. Larger amounts of empathy. Non-nerdy friends seem more open to non-judgmental empathy. Nerds tend to dismiss someone's pain simply because it's part of a larger pattern. Example: non-nerdy friend says the condition of disabled people in India/China is very sad. Nerdy friend: yes, India/China have large populations and therefore life is cheap; and revels in his ability to "explain it away". The conversation becomes stunted because the nerd has refused to participate in the "empathy-field" that the non-nerd wanted to generate.
Types of recursion

Formally, I believe the first form can be produced by a regular grammar, but the second form can not. Check out the Chomsky hierarchy for a rundown on the power of each type of grammar.

0Creutzer8yNatural language is full of constructions that can't be produced by a regular grammar, but which nobody has any trouble parsing. So that can hardly be the issue.
Rationality Quotes September 2013

That's an surprisingly forgiving thing to say. She lives in a place where eating legs to prevent starvation is a venerable military tradition, and a non-zero number of people end up in the Girls' Working School.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 27, chapter 98

This also has the advantage of being cheap in bulk, since it has so many industrial uses. Current prices are under $400/ton.

Open thread, August 26 - September 1, 2013

Maybe a naive question, but you've got me curious: why is it the standard of care at some heart centers, rather than most or none? Is it a matter of cost, or are the benefits you mentioned not well-established, or are heart centers slow to change their standard of care? Or is it some fourth thing I didn't think of?

2CellBioGuy8yIt was recommended as potentially useful all the way back in the 2005 American Heart Association guidelines for CPR, actually, and there's been spotty literature even further back. It isn't so much about preserving function during hypoxia (that damage is already done by the time they get to the hospital) as preventing the subsequent damage that happens both immediately after and over several days after restoration of bloodflow. This is due to reperfusion injury as cells poison themselves due to metabolisms disrupted by the hypoxia, and slower issues caused by the immune system reacting via inflammation against very slight brain damage and thus greatly exascerbating it (a useful response to physical damage in peripheral tissue but problematic if you manage to restart someone's heart). I suspect the reasons for slow adoption consist of it having a focus that is very different than the ususal 'get the blood flowing again' aspect, where the bloodflow and proper immune function is actually the problem, and the fact that you need the equipment procedures and institutional coordination to integrate another step of care for a day or more after the acute treatment. I don't think its so much a question of cost as setting up all the procedures and conditionals and institutional experience to do it reliably and automatically. Course that leaves institutional inertia or laziness as additional prime obstacles. See [] When a friend of the family had a heart attack resulting in temporary cardiac arrest recently this aspect of treatment consisted of keeping them in a chemically induced coma for several days after the incident and cooling them to somewhere around ~34 C (I'm estimating based on what I heard), then slowly warming them and withdrawing the drugs.
What Bayesianism taught me

This is actually a really tidy example of Bayesian thinking. People send various types of emails for a variety of reasons. Of those who send penis extension pill emails, there are (vaguely speaking) three possible groups:

  1. People who have invented penile embiggening pills and honestly want to sell them. (I've never confirmed anybody to be in this group, so it may be empty.)

  2. Scammers trying to find a sucker by spamming out millions of emails.

  3. Trolls.

If you see emails offering to "Eml4rge your m3mber!!", this is evidence for the existence of s... (read more)

0JQuinton8yDon't spam algorithms actually use Bayes rule to filter spam from non-spam, updating when you click "this is spam" or "this is not spam"?
[LINK] Hyperloop officially announced — predictions, anyone?

An interesting bit about the economics of it:

By building it on pylons, you can almost entirely avoid the need to buy land by following alongside the mostly very straight California Interstate 5 highway, with only minor deviations when the highway makes a sharp turn.

The pylons are the single biggest cost, but by building it this way, they can avoid almost all the expense and delays that come from buying land and trying to get a right-of-way -- they can just use one that already exists. Upon hearing this, the cost estimates no longer sound too good to be true.

4Protagoras8yThis is one of the places where I'm skeptical; I anticipate a lot of people would have issues with this thing passing overhead, and I have my doubts that they could be overridden, at least without some expensive legal wrangling. I admit I'm not quite clear on how rights for things like power lines work; I realize that those do get built, despite there no doubt being plenty of people who would happily oppose that if they could, but these tubes would be substantially larger than power lines, and I expect the opposition would scale up similarly.
Rationality Quotes August 2013

Such a threat can also be effective for asymmetrical violence -- no matter which way the asymmetry goes.

Rationality Quotes August 2013

He just needs to get Saber to say it. Saber often tells people, in a bluntly matter-of-fact way, that they're making a mistake. Rin knows this. If Shiro said it, though, she'd think it was some kind of dominance thing and get mad.

(Maybe I'm over-analyzing this.)

A thought on the value of "rationality" as a value

Do you know what the best thing is? The best thing is when you habitually recognize the most common forms of human irrationality, and easily steer away from them. This works when you're short on will power, when you're sleepy, when you're drunk, when you're under the influence of religious experiences; whenever. It works because it doesn't require any real effort, in the moment. The effort comes when you try to train yourself to think like this, and you can do that beforehand, at your leisure.

(This isn't actually the Best Thing. The real Best Thing is prac... (read more)

0D_Alex8yI agree! But you will encounter situations, pretty often at first and ever more rarely as you get experience in recognising irrationality, where your willpower will be tested. And then it is easier to expend the needed effort if you feel good about the process you are going through.
Rationality Quotes from people associated with LessWrong

There's a theorem which states that you can never truly prove that.

The Robots, AI, and Unemployment Anti-FAQ

You'd think that more severe punishment would have a correspondingly greater deterrent effect, but that doesn't seem to be the case. What matters much more than the severity of the punishment is its likelihood. Sure, you might starve in the streets if you get caught jacking off in some high-born lady's nether-garments -- if you get caught. And, let's be honest: you're probably not going to get caught, and if you get caught, you're probably not going to be reported to your employer.

In any case, all that talk of starvation is far-off, way in the future; the ... (read more)

3Jiro8yNot treating starvation as important will lead to the 1920's person repeatedly doing such things until he gets unlucky, at which point he'll starve and he'll have selected himself out of existence. You can't just say that people will ignore deferred gratification under circumstances where ignoring deferred gratification will lead to not surviving--natural selection will ensure that the only ones remaining are the ones who don't ignore it. Furthermore, starvation isn't such a remote threat for people who are on the edge of starvation anyway.
Superrationality and network flow control

Unfortunately, since Reno backs off later than Vegas, a mixed Vegas/Reno network ends with the Reno machines consuming the vast majority of bandwidth.

Unless they're idle most of the time, that is. Anybody who's run a modern BitTorrent client alongside a web browser has been in this situation: the congestion control protocol used by most BitTorrent clients watches for packet delays and backs off before TCP, so it's much lower-priority than just about everything else. Even so, it can end up using the vast majority of bandwidth, because nobody else was using it.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 20, chapter 90

It does sound like exactly the kind of clever hack Harry would use to get an indefinite healthy lifespan, though.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 20, chapter 90

That post consisted of (fairly minor) Evangelion spoilers, encoded with rot13 for the benefit of people who haven't seen it yet.

(For completeness' sake: the language of Ente Isla is English with a bunch of letter substitution, and the language that Ledo speaks in Gargantia is a letter-substituted offshoot of German. They're similar to rot13, but much more pronounceable, since vowels map to vowels and consonants to consonants. More info here.)

Useful Concepts Repository

Thomas Schelling proposed a useful strategy: make small threats for small infractions, and then follow through on them. This gives credibility to your larger threats, without too much inconvenience for either party.

(And, of course, try to make the whole thing as predictable as possible; never be capricious with your own authority.)

From an article about the US justice system, but the relevance to misbehaving schoolchildren (or simply schoolchildren whose behaviour one doesn't like) is obvious:

Cesare Beccaria—the Italian criminologist from whom Jeremy Bentham borrowed not only the term “utility” but many of his ideas for criminal-justice reform—identified three characteristics that determine the deterrent efficacy of a threatened punishment: its swiftness, its certainty, and its severity. Of the three, severity is least important. If punishment is swift and certain, it need not be s

... (read more)

The justice system of the old Soviet Union had, rather ironically, the following maxim:

Inevitability of punishment is more effective than its severity

Rationality Quotes June 2013

Even if altruism turns out to be a really subtle form of self-interest, what does it matter? An unwoven rainbow still has all its colors.

Rational distress-minimizers would behave differently from rational atruists. (Real people are somewhere in the middle and seem to tend toward greater altruism and less distress-minimization when taught 'rationality' by altruists.)

6Pablo9yIt may not matter pragmatically but it still matters scientifically. Just as you want to have a correct explanation of rainbows, regardless of whether this explanation has any effects on our aesthetic appreciation of them, so too you want to have a factually accurate account of apparently altruistic behavior, independently of whether this matters from a moral perspective.
Post ridiculous munchkin ideas!

1% fees are way too high. Vanguard has some good funds with fees as low as 0.1%.

That number is a bit out of date; they recently cut fees for many (most?) of their funds. Now I'm only paying 0.05% on my main index fund. I'm pretty cheerful about this.

Justifiable Erroneous Scientific Pessimism

It wasn't until the 1850s that Ångström discovered that elements both emit and absorb light at characteristic wavelengths, which is what spectroscopic analysis of stars is based on, so I'm leaning toward justifiable.

Googling is the first step. Consider adding scholarly searches to your arsenal.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but most of those look like the result of fishing around for positive results, e.g. "We can't find a significant result... unless we split people into a bunch of genotype buckets, in which case one of them gives a small enough p-value for this journal." I haven't read the studies in question so maybe I'm being unfair here, but still, it feels fishy.

1Kindly9yYou may be right. It's not quite M&M colors [], though; there was apparently some reason to believe this allele would have an effect on the relationship between red meat and cancer. If anything, you might claim that the fishing around is occurring at the meta level: the buckets are "genetics has an effect", "the cancer's location has an effect", "how the meat is cooked has an effect", and so on. I believe at least part of the reason for this is that "the correlation between red meat and cancer is 0.56" or whatever is not an interesting paper anymore, so we add other variables like smoking to see what happens. (Much like "red meat causes cancer" is a more interesting paper than "1% of people have cancer".) I'm not sure whether this is good or bad.
Minor, perspective changing facts

Alternately, go swimming. The water adds roughly another atmosphere of pressure every ten meters. You will notice this.

Problems in Education

The Principal is your pal.

Ugh. There are three types of lies in the world: lies, damn lies, and people falsely claiming that their incentives are aligned with yours.

There are three types of lies in the world: lies, damn lies, and people falsely claiming that their incentives are aligned with yours.

There are three types of lies in the world: lies, damn lies, and mnemonics.

Fermi Estimates

There's a free book on this sort of thing, under a Creative Commons license, called Street-Fighting Mathematics: The Art of Educated Guessing and Opportunistic Problem Solving. Among the fun things in it:

Chapter 1: Using dimensional analysis to quickly pull correct-ish equations out of thin air!

Chapter 2: Focusing on easy cases. It's amazing how many problems become simpler when you set some variables equal to 1, 0, or ∞.

Chapter 3: An awful lot of things look like rectangles if you squint at them hard enough. Rectangles are nice.

Chapter 4: Drawing pictures... (read more)

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