# All of whales's Comments + Replies

How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study?

Recapitulating something I've written about before:

You should first make a serious effort to formulate both the specific question you want answered, and why you want an answer. It may turn out surprisingly often that you don't need to do all this work to evaluate the study.

Short of becoming an expert yourself, your best bet is then to learn how to talk to people in the field until you can understand what they think about the paper and why—and also how they think and talk about these things. This is roughly what Harry Collins calls &q... (read more)

Rationality Exercises Prize of September 2019 (\$1,000)

Hm, not sure what happened to the Washington Post comments. Sorry about that. Here's my guess as to what I was thinking:

The axes are comparing an average (median income) to a total (student loan debt). This is generally a recipe for uninformative comparisons. Worse, the average is both per person and per year. So by itself this tells you little about the debt burden shouldered by a typical member of a generation. For example, you could easily see growth in total debt while individual debt burden fell, depending on the growth in degrees awarded and the

Rationality Exercises Prize of September 2019 (\$1,000)

My past occasional blogging included a few exercises that might be of interest. I'm pretty sure #4 is basically an expanded version of something from the Sequences, although I don't recall which post exactly. Others are more open ended. (Along the lines of #5 I've been casually collecting examples of scientific controversy and speculation with relatively clear-cut resolutions for the purposes of giving interested laypeople practice evaluating these things, to the extent that's possible. I don't know if I'll ever get around to ... (read more)

I did #4 and #1. Here is what I wrote for each section of #4 (note: this will spoil your ability to do the exercise if you read it).

1. How do you explain these effects?

Seems like a trick question. Like, I have models of the world that feel like they might predict effects 2 and 3, and I can sort of wrangle explanations for 1 and 4, but my split-second reaction is “I’m not sure these are real effects, probably none replicate (though number 2 sounds like it might just be a restatement of a claim I already believe)”.

2. How would you h

How Popper killed Particle Physics

Maybe we're talking about different things, but from the page I'm on now where I'm looking at and replying to the discussion of the link (https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/vhAJ4DBXZukE7SNtq/how-popper-killed-particle-physics/) the only link to the actual article is still gjm's. In particular, the title of the blog post is not a link, although I would have expected it to be. To get to the actual article I have to click on the linkpost title in one of the other post listings (Featured/Frontpage/All). This happens to me for all link posts and for different browsers on both mobile and desktop.

Non-market failures: inefficient networks

Content note: This is a collection/expansion of stuff I've previously posted about elsewhere. I've gathered it here because it's semi-related to Eliezer's recent posts. It's not meant to be a response to the "inadequacy" toolbox or a claim to ownership of any particular idea, but only one more perspective people may find useful as they're thinking about these things.

Continuing the discussion thread from the MTG post

For what it's worth, I was another (the other?) person who downvoted the comment in question early (having upvoted the post, mostly for explaining an unfamiliar interesting thing clearly).

Catching up on all this has been a little odd to me. I'm obviously not a culture lord, but also my vote wasn't about this question of "the bar" except (not that I would naturally frame it this way) perhaps as far as I read CoolShirtMcPants as doing something similar to what you said you were doing---"here is my considered position on this, I

LDL 2: Nonconvex Optimization

Two more thoughts: the above is probably more common in [what I intuitively think of as] "physical" problems where the parameters have some sort of geometric or causal relationship, which is maybe less meaningful for neural networks?

Also, for optimization more broadly, your constraints will give you a way to wind up with many parameters that can't be changed to decrease your function, without requiring a massive coincidence. (The boundary of the feasible region is lower-dimensional.) Again, I guess not something deep learning has to worry about in full generality.

LDL 2: Nonconvex Optimization

Hm. Thinking of this in terms of the few relevant projects I've worked on, problems with (nominally) 10,000 parameters definitely had plenty of local minima. In retrospect it's easy to see how. Saddles could be arbitrarily long, where many parameters basically become irrelevant depending on where you're standing, and the only way out is effectively restarting. More generally, the parameters were very far from independent. Besides the saddles, for example, you had rough clusters of parameters where you'd want all or none but not half to

1whales4yTwo more thoughts: the above is probably more common in [what I intuitively think of as] "physical" problems where the parameters have some sort of geometric or causal relationship, which is maybe less meaningful for neural networks? Also, for optimization more broadly, your constraints will give you a way to wind up with many parameters that can't be changed to decrease your function, without requiring a massive coincidence. (The boundary of the feasible region is lower-dimensional.) Again, I guess not something deep learning has to worry about in full generality.
Against naming things, and so on

I think the main thing I want to say [besides my response to Oliver below] is that this post was not framed in my head as starting a conversation in response to your post, but as gesturing in the direction of some under-emphasized considerations as one contribution in a long-running conversation about rationalist jargon. Of course, I ended up opening with and only taking quotes from you, and now it looks the way it does, i.e. targeting your "bid" but somewhat askew. So that was a mistake, for which I apologize.

Also, I know I basically asked for y

Against naming things, and so on

Pretty much agreed. I might go beyond "provisional" to "disposable". I really do take maintaining fluidity and not fooling yourself to be more important/possible than creating common vocabulary or high-level unitary concepts or introspective handles [though I don't introspect verbally, so maybe I would say that]; I really do think the way the community treats words is a good lever for that.

(Of course, this is all very abstract, isn't a full elaboration of what I believe, and certainly has no force of argument. At best, I'

On the construction of beacons

I appreciate your outspokenness on these things. Writing like yours on EA has made me pause after having been resigned for a long time that these communities weren't (and maybe never were) growing towards my idealizations of them. I don't know how much we want the same things, and anyway I'm perhaps too much of an outsider with other commitments these days to make too much noise, but I'll continue to look forward to your posting.

Taking up your framework, I'm not sure how much of what I see is predatory behavior by sociopaths (thoug

Against naming things, and so on

(I don't consider this rude at all, and will welcome your post-mulling thoughts should you choose to add them. I can also say more about where I'm coming from when I get the chance.)

5Conor Moreton4yThanks. That reduced my anxiety by a meaningful amount.

Yeah, my autocorrect guessed what he meant easily enough, but I'm convinced. I think I just needed to see someone else say this.

Woah! That sounds very unusual---it might be valuable for you talk about all that explicitly rather than write more like this post (which was presumably generated from your internalization of all that study, but which doesn't go out of its way to show it).

(Also, for what it's worth, I thought the title "Theodicy in Humans" was good---good enough for me to generate an approximation of the post before even reading it, although with slightly different context I'd have expected "theodicy" to be a derogatory analogy. And to bi

3Zvi4yI echo this. People don't think enough about naming things so unpacking your additional thoughts will be helpful. I too am being deliberate with my naming of things but there's a good chance you have good advice for how to do it better.
3gjm4yI agree that "in humans" is wrong, but I don't like "for humans" either. "Theodicy in humans" means theodicy as practised by humans. "Theodicy for humans" means theodicy as it should be practised by humans. "Theodicy of humans" means theodicy applied to humans, and this is the one that matches Conor's intention. I don't think this is bikeshedding; the preposition Conor used is, for me at least, actively misleading.

Also in favor of not only reserving judgment but ideally deferring exposure until one can seriously evaluate things, You Can't Not Believe Everything You Read; and then there's the mere-exposure effect to worry about, especially from prolific authors or in environments with a lot of repetition. (This is again the weird thing where you have apparently opposite biases which show up in similar situations, and it may not be obvious which direction you'll be taken. In this case I'd guess it depends on one's initial disposition and the l

Writing That Provokes Comments

Venue also matters a lot through the social context it brings. Individual Wordpress blogs often feel like you're saying "this is where my writing lives; by commenting, you're coming into my house", which can be challenging to take lightly -- especially when you're talking about a neighborhood of individual blogs, few of which get regular comments. Meanwhile social media is a weird mix of jokes and personal content with discussion-oriented ideas, where there's an uncertain rudeness in potentially burying someone with attention

Thinking on the page

I appreciate this perspective! My first instinct is to zoom out from stock phrases to entire ideas or arguments while drafting (when everything is working well, sentences or paragraphs get translated atomically like this), then use 'close reading' as an editing tactic. But you're right that zooming in to find the exact word when stuck on the page can also be very focusing (as it were). And there's a lot of room for interplay between the two approaches, as far as there's even a clean separation between self-expression and self-editing in the first place.

Open thread, May 29 - June 4, 2017

I've started cleaning up and posting some old drafts on my blog. I've drifted away, but some of them may be of interest to people still here. Most directly up this alley so far would be this post recommending people read Trial By Mathematics.

16 types of useful predictions

I like this post. I lean towards skepticism about the usefulness of calibration or even accuracy, but I'm glad to find myself mostly in agreement here.

For lots of practical (to me) situations, a little bit of uncertainty goes a long way concerning how I actually decide what to do. It doesn't really matter how much uncertainty, or how well I can estimate the uncertainty. It's better for me to just be generally humble and make contingency plans. It's also easy to imagine that being well-calibrated (or knowing that you are) could actually demolish biases that... (read more)

Compilation of currently existing project ideas to significantly impact the world

If I can introduce a problem domain that doesn't get a lot of play in these communities but (I think) should:

End-of-life healthcare in the US seems like a huge problem (in terms of cost, honored preferences, and quality of life for many people) that's relatively tractable for its size. The balance probably falls in favor of making things happen rather than researching technical questions, but I'm hoping it still belongs here.

There's a recent IOM report that covers the presently bleak state of affairs and potential ways forward pretty thoroughly. One major ... (read more)

6CellBioGuy6yI can hardly agree more that end of life care is a major problem in the US. At age 25 I actually just got a living will and durable power of attorney document set up in the unlikely case of incapacitation after seeing within my own family just how important the latter document was to making sure that the medical system actually behaves in your interest when you can't direct it rather than acting out strange motions that just cause pain, and inferring that the former would also be quite useful in the case of particularly severe unexpected issues.
Open thread, Feb. 23 - Mar. 1, 2015

You can predict how long tasks/projects will take you (stopwatch and/or calendar time). Even if calibration doesn't generalize, it's potentially useful on its own there. And while you can't quite mass-produce questions/predictions, it's not such a hassle to rack up a lot if you do them in batches. Malcolm Ocean wrote about doing this with a spreadsheet, and I threw together an Android todo-with-predictions app for a similar self experiment.

Superintelligence 5: Forms of Superintelligence

I measured science and technology output per scientist using four different lists of significant advances, and found that significant advances per scientist declined by 3 to 4 orders of magnitude from 1800 to 2000. During that time, the number of scientific journals has increased by 3 to 4 orders of magnitude, and a reasonable guess is that so did the number of scientists.

0PhilGoetz7yIf you email philgoetz at gmail, I'll send you a draft. Er, or not. The number of publications per scientist has risen dramatically, but so has the number of authors per paper. I don't know if these cancel each other out.
What are your contrarian views?

Yeah, that happened when I edited a different part from my phone. Thanks, fixed.

What are your contrarian views?

See this tumblr post for an example of Ozy expressing dissatisfaction with Scott's lack of charity in his analysis of SJ (specifically in the "Words, Words, Words" post). My impression is that this is a fairly regular occurrence.

You might be right about him not having updated. If anything it seems that his updates on the earlier superweapons discussion have been reverted. I'm not sure I've seen anything comparably charitable from him on the subject since. I don't follow his thoughts on feminism particularly closely, so I could easily be wrong (an... (read more)

1Princess_Stargirl7yImo this quote from her response is a pretty weak argument: "The concept of female privilege is, AFAICT, looking at the disadvantages gender-non-conforming men face, noticing that women with similar traits don’t face those disadvantages, and concluding that this is because women are advantaged in society. " In order for this to be a sensible counterpoint you would need to either say "gender conforming male privilege" or you would need to show that there are few men who mind conforming to gender roles. I don't really see why anyone believes most men are fine with living out standard gender norms and I certainly don't see how anyone has evidence for this. If a high percentage fo men are gender non-conforming and such men are at a disdadvantage in society then the concept of male privilege is seriously weakened. And using it is dangerous as it might harm those men to here that they are "privileged" when this is not the case (at least in terms of gender, maybe they are rich etc).
5VAuroch7yOK, those things have indeed happened, to some degree. Above comment corrected. I still don't understand what is uncharitable about the Wordsx3 post specifically. It accurately describes the behavior of a number of people I know (as in, have met, in person, and interacted with socially, in several cases extensively in a friendly manner), and I have no reason to consider them weak examples of feminist advocacy and every reason to consider typical (their demographics match the stereotype). I have carefully avoided catching the receiving end of it, because friends of mine have honestly challenged aspects of this kind of thing and been ostracized for their trouble.
2[anonymous]7yThere's something wrong with the first link (I guess you typed the URL on a smartphone autocorrecting keyboard or similar). EDIT: I think this [http://ozymandias271.tumblr.com/post/91071378453/wait-female-privilege-doesnt-exist-whats-female] is the correct link.
A self-experiment in training "noticing confusion"

I wrote down a handful as I was doing this, but not all of them. There were a couple about navigation (where rather than say "well, I don't know where I am, I'll just trust the group" I figured out how I was confused about different positions of landmarks). I avoided overbaking my cookies when the recipe had the wrong time written down. Analytics for a site I run pointed to a recent change causing problems for some people, and I saw the (slight) pattern right away but ignored it until it got caught on my confusion hook. It's also a nice hook for ... (read more)

A self-experiment in training "noticing confusion"

Thanks, I'm glad you liked it!

Did someone link this recently? It seems to have gotten a new burst of votes.

2Thecommexokid7yYes, Brienne herself posted it to Facebook (commenting "This post does not have nearly as many upvotes as it deserves") and Eliezer liked her post.
Open thread, 11-17 August 2014

There are concept inventories in a lot of fields, but these vary in quality and usefulness. The most well-known of these is the Force Concept Inventory for first semester mechanics, which basically aims to test how Aristotelian/Newtonian a student's thinking is. Any physicist can point out a dozen problems with it, but it seems to very roughly measure what it claims to measure.

Russ Roberts (host of the podcast EconTalk) likes to talk about the "economic way of thinking" and has written and gathered links about ten key ideas like incentives, marke... (read more)

Experiments 1: Learning trivia

If anyone has already posted any similar posts, then I would really appreciate any links.

Off the top of my head, Swimmer963 wrote about her experiences trying meditation, and I wrote about trying to notice confusion better. Gwern has run more serious self-experiments, and he talks about a bunch of them in the context of value of information here.

3casebash7yThanks a ton!
"Dialectics"?

I find this idea (or a close relative) a useful guide for resolving a heuristic explanation or judgment into a detailed, causal explanation or consequentialist judgment. If someone draws me a engine cycle that creates infinite work out of finite heat (Question 5), I can say it violates the laws of thermodynamics. Of course their engine really is impossible. But there's still confusion: our explanations remain in tension because something's left unexplained. To fully resolve this confusion, I have to look in detail at their engine cycle, and find the error ... (read more)

Open thread, 30 June 2014- 6 July 2014

Yes, that's a good example, thanks.

Open thread, 30 June 2014- 6 July 2014

I've collected some quotes from Beyond Discovery, a series of articles commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences from 1997 to 2003 on paths from basic research to useful technology. My comments there:

The articles (each around 8 pages) are roughly popular-magazine-level accounts of variable quality, but I learned quite a bit from all of them, particularly from the biology and medicine articles. They're very well written, generally with input from the relevant scientists still living (many of them Nobel laureates). In particular I like the broad vie

6polymathwannabe7yThe series Connections (and Connections 2 and 3) was excellent in tracing relationships between the multiple threads of the history of science.
Open thread, 23-29 June 2014

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Separating the roles of theory and direct empirical evidence in belief formation: the examples of minimum wage and anthropogenic global warming

Theory also influences what data you consider in the first place. (Are you looking at your own local weather, global surface temperatures, stratospheric temperatures, ocean temperatures, extreme weather events, Martian climate, polar ice, or the beliefs and behavior of climatologists, and over what time scales and eras?) See also philosophy of science since at least Kuhn on theory-laden observation: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/science-theory-observation/

Open thread, 23-29 June 2014

They address this in footnote 4: they're just deriving that the amplitudes squared should be interpreted as probabilities using quantum mechanics as defined, which includes unitary evolution and all that.

You could try the same thing with a QM variant with different mathematical structure, although you might be interested to know that linear transformations that preserve l^p norm for p other than 2 are boring (generalized permutation matrices). So you wouldn't be able to evolve your orthogonal environmental states into the right combinations of identical en... (read more)

False Friends and Tone Policing

I'd add that this kind of misunderstanding is frequently mutual; it's generally not the case that one party is sensitive to tone and the other is immune. The version in which someone takes an expression of feeling as an attempt to shame them into silence or otherwise limit allowable discourse is more or less the same failure mode.

Perhaps I say something, unaware that someone with different experiences and perspective might hear it differently, and it makes you mildly uncomfortable (somewhat like your examples). You try to communicate what you're feeling, p... (read more)

Group Rationality Diary, June 16-30

Open thread, 9-15 June 2014

I have no idea how likely it is, but an alternative explanation is that the vote counts were first converted to percentages to one decimal place, then someone else converted them back to absolute numbers for this announcement.

June 2014 Media Thread

Failed theories of superconductivity. My favorite part:

The second idea proposed in 1932 by Bohr and Kronig was that superconductivity would result from the coherent quantum motion of a lattice of electrons. Given Bloch’s stature in the field, theorists like Niels Bohr where eager to discuss their own ideas with him. In fact Bohr, whose theory for superconductivity was already accepted for publication in the July 1932 issue of the journal “Die Naturwissenschaften”, withdrew his article in the proof stage, because of Bloch’s criticism (see Ref.[20]). Kroni

3David_Gerard7yPseudoscience is sometimes useful for finding examples - there's a whole subclass of pseudosciences (particularly in alternative medicine and pseudophysics) that are based on advocating an old formerly-mainstream theory that turned out to be wrong. It would almost be a reliable way to generate new alternative medicines.
Positive Queries - How Fetching

"Be careful" is another good example of an instruction that doesn't really help. The default interpretation seems to be "move slowly and with intense concentration," which can lead to tunnel vision or a failure to act decisively. How to better cash it out depends on the task, but it's often an improvement to promote situational awareness by frequently asking what you expect to happen next and how it will go wrong. For example, "drive defensively" rather than "drive carefully."

Be comfortable with hypocrisy

I'm not sure if I agree with this characterization of the current political climate; in any case, that's not the point I'm interested in. I'm also not interested in moral relativism.

As an aside, then, if anyone is interested in the sort of thing Stephenson is possibly referring to, David Foster Wallace's essay E. Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction (1993, two years before The Diamond Age) is a classic. In DFW's version, hypocrisy was the monarch of vices for a time, although discourse was not a matter of simply pointing it out (which still requir... (read more)

Open Thread March 31 - April 7 2014

Is there a consensus on the account of unemployment and inflation F. A. Hayek provides in his Nobel Lecture (1974)? I'm sympathetic to the abstract philosophy-of-science considerations he argues there, but I don't know enough (anything) about economics to say whether he's using that account to substantiate those considerations, or he's using those considerations to obliquely promote a controversial account. Here's an excerpt:

The theory which has been guiding monetary and financial policy during the last thirty years, and which I contend is largely the pr

Rationality Quotes April 2014

He said:

When you play bridge with beginners—when you try to help them out—you give them some general rules to go by. Then they follow the rule and something goes wrong. But if you'd had their hand you wouldn't have played the thing you told them to play, because you'd have seen all the reasons the rule did not apply.

from The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

Increasing the pool of people with outstanding accomplishments

We're interested in impact in other contexts as well, but we know less about the subject. We're interested in learning more.

I'd hesitate to call your estimate of the social value you'll generate a lower bound, as you do, if you're not sure about the value of the invisible/conventional work you might be persuading people away from. It seems like most of what you're doing and planning should give a boost to any kind of achievement, but I get the sense that much of the Effective Altruist community underestimates the marginal impact of an exceptional person... (read more)

-1JonahS7yFor conventional careers, income is a proxy to social value of work [http://info.cognitomentoring.org/wiki/Social_value_of_work:_income_as_a_proxy], and this serves as a base-line. I think that most people with an innovative flair can do better than this. But there may be opportunities to systematically contribute outsized impact relative to earnings – I'd very much appreciate pointers to places where we can learn more about this subject. We think that there are people who: * Could be using their spare time in much more impactful ways (e.g. writing for the public rather than just for a few friends) * End up in average paying corporate and academic jobs that don't have an outsized impact relative to earnings who we can persuade to good effect. That's our hope. Yes, there are major problems with the replaceability argument in full generality. Even if one is replaceable, if one is replaced, that will divert someone else from something else that's valuable (in expectation) to fill the role, which will divert someone else from something else that's valuable (in expectation) to fill the role, etc.
Two arguments for not thinking about ethics (too much)

I think that attempting to come up with a verbal formalization of our underlying logic and then doing what that formalization dictates is akin to "playing baseball with verbal probabilities"...

I wonder if the extent to which one thinks in words is anti-correlated with sharing that intuition.

I'm a mostly non-verbal thinker and strongly in favor of your arguments. On the other hand, I once dismissed the idea of emotional vocabulary, feeling that it was superfluous at best, and more likely caused problems via reductive, cookie-cutter introspectio... (read more)

Terrorist baby down the well: a look at institutional forces

I made a related argument recently:

A theory that doesn’t account for detailed behavior is an approximation, and even in scientific domains, you can find conflicting approximations. When that happens—and if you’re not doing science, it’s “when,” not “if”—if you want to keep using your approximation, you have to use the details of the situation to explain why your approximation is valid. Your best defense against reductio ad absurdum, against Proving Too Much, is casuistry. Expect things to be complex, expect details to matter. Don’t ascribe intention or a

What are you working on? March / April 2014

I've been writing more, and posting some of it online since January, hoping to get broader feedback. The four articles I posted here seemed well-received, although they didn't generate much discussion. More have gone up on my personal site, including some self-indulgent fiction. Think Star Maker fanfiction, but only of the pedantic, moralizing parts, not of the wonder-and-terror-inspiring parts.

Most recently, I gathered some thoughts I'd scattered into recent comments and tweets for an essay on "principled" reasoning. It's probably relevant to LW... (read more)

Reference Frames for Expected Value

Right, it seems kind of strange to declare that you're considering only states of the world in your decisions, but then to treat judgments of right and wrong as an deontological layer on top of that where you consider whether the consequentialist rule was followed correctly. But that does seem to be a mainstream version of consequentialism. As far as I can tell, it mostly leads to convoluted, confused-sounding arguments like the above and the linked talk by Neiladri Sinhababu, but maybe I'm missing something important.

0ozziegooen7yI think it leads to very confusing and technical arguments if free will is assumed. If not, there's basically reason to morally judging others (other than the learning potential for future decisions). I think the mainstream version of consequentialism, if I understand what you are saying correctly, can still be followed for personal decisions as they happen. Or, when making a decision, you personally do your best to optimize for the future. That seems quite reasonable to me, it's just really hard to understand and criticize from an outside perspective.
In favour of terseness

It seems like you have several separate things in mind: readability, information density, arguments masquerading as true causes of beliefs, trustworthiness of "experienced rationalists," and the value of the "main point" vs disclaimers and qualification. Do you have an example post in mind, and specific suggestions for an improved version? I'm not sure if I'm about to respond to you, or just ramble. I understand that it's hard to call someone out without being mean, but these meta discussions seem to go nowhere without specific examples... (read more)

9Sophronius7yYou're right, there's multiple related points to be made here. So, let me try to clarify the issue a bit. If I write a post with specific examples, people will get too hung up on the examples and the main point is lost. if I don't post examples, people will comment that I am not specific enough. If I state very clearly and succinctly what I mean, there's the risk that I come across as arrogant. If I quantify everything with disclaimers, the post becomes less readable and people won't know what I think. If I don't anticipate every possible counter-argument, people will assume I haven't thought of those arguments. If I do anticipate and counter every counter-argument, the post becomes less readable again. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. It really is hard, as you say. I originally included in the text that I was thinking about the meta-ethics sequence specifically: I feel that by attempting to include every possible concern, every possible argument and counter-argument, the sequence became way too long and unreadable. At no point does Yudkowsky clearly and succinctly state what his position is. As a result, I think the point of the sequence was lost on people. Yet there's a reason for this. Eliezer isn't stupid: I think he wrote the sequence that way precisely because he feared that if he did state clearly what he meant right of the bat, people would instantly reject it based on trivial arguments. However, I think that the solution is for the reader-base to appreciate frankness and terseness more, and demand argumentation and qualification less. Not to demand that people like Yudkowsky write perfect posts that cannot possibly be misinterpreted and cover everything without being too long.