What are you working on? December 2012

post by jsalvatier · 2012-12-02T18:49:31.017Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 44 comments

This is the sixth bimonthly 'What are you working On?' thread. Previous threads are here. So here's the question:

What are you working on? 

Here are some guidelines:


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-02T22:32:41.321Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We've just had a nice intro to causality from Eliezer. What if we have some variable nodes that we think might be relevant, but which we cannot observe? Judea Pearl still has a lot to say about that: as long as you can observe the right subset of variables to d-separate the source and target node, you can identify causal effects. What if you can't observe the right subset? Hope would seem to be lost, but if you aren't worried about determining the exact strength of the causal effect, but instead just determining if the strength is non-zero, you still have a chance.

You may remember a bunch of newspaper articles a few years ago claiming Obesity is contagious. That study's conclusion was based on modeling assumptions (review), but Shalizi and Thomas considered the causal picture and found it to be bleak: exactly identifying the causal effect is problematic because of latent homophily. I.e. humans can have many hidden attributes that affect who we become friends with and whether we have a tendency to become obese. Measuring all these human factors is hopeless and interventional experiments (where we randomly force some people to become obese and then observe their friends) is unethical.

I'm happy to add a little to this conversation with my recent paper showing that latent homophily does not prevent us from finding causal relationships in social networks. I show that even if you can't measure all the relevant hidden attributes describing humans, you can lower bound the strength of causal effects. We're mostly interested in whether the effects exist, and only secondarily how strong they might be. Of course we still have to make some structural assumptions (this is the essence of Pearl's work: it allows us to infer causality given general, intuitive, structural assumptions among variables). E.g., there is no external dynamic force (like a deity) that causes Alice and Bob to become friends and then causes them to become obese at the same time. Less extravagantly, how about a systematic, widespread change in the consistency of diets? So, although the conclusion of the paper is: latent homophily alone cannot explain correlations in obesity, we still can't say for sure that your friends make you fat. This is based on older work which considered a little more general setting about tests to rule out broader classes of hidden variable models, like the Bell inequalities.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-02T21:24:52.071Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm writing a paper on how recent advances in the neuroscience of decision-making should affect our understanding of welfare economics, and consequentially impact an approach to AI safety. I'll be seeking peer-review for the paper, and if accepted it would be my first academic publication!

My current drafts are private, so I can't link at the moment. But if there is an interest, I'll be sure to post a link once I make my work public.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-12-04T16:03:01.026Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So I recently finally decided to win at finding a partner and dating in general. I introspected, and noticed that I had been falling into a ton of the common failure modes of self-defeatism(?), so the most important lessons that I wanted to put into practice were on how to make a real effort and monitor my brain to catch as many errors of thought or irrational decisions or bias patterns or other things that my brain would use to fight against me and to prevent me from maximizing my odds of success. The difficulty lies in combining and applying all the knowledge on dating and attraction I've gained from many sources while sticking to my principles and being completely myself, and still winning despite those two major handicaps.

Sufficient motivation, a goal that matters even to the subconscious, and constant self-monitoring seems to be doing the trick, even given only the time I've spent on LessWrong (<6 months) and very little systematic training.

And yes, "seems to be doing the trick" implies some form of tangible results. After two days of profiling, making estimates and analyzing places or methods to find the kind of persons I'd be interested in, I had already found someone that I wanted to care about. A few days later and things are going very well, but it's too early to be conclusive. However, the fact that it only took two days from the start of efforts until finding and being in positive communication with someone is in itself impressive to/for me. Normally, I'd be mucking around in the dark for weeks or months, usually giving up long before anything good happens. It's like I just woke up to my idiocy, took the flashlight out of my pocket, and turned it on.

I've made a note in my electronic calendar(s) to come back in one month and report on further progress. I plan to continue using more and more LessWrongian lessons and techniques to keep winning, and since this first attempt at challenging the difficult and making real efforts deliberately has proven so successful so far, it is a very strong motivating factor towards applying it in all other aspects of my life.

Replies from: FiftyTwo
comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-12-09T04:32:08.091Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

After two days of profiling, making estimates and analyzing places or methods to find the kind of persons I'd be interested in, I had already found someone that I wanted to care about.

Could you elaborate on the methods you ended up using and why?

Replies from: DaFranker
comment by DaFranker · 2012-12-10T15:18:54.421Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I plan to do so at a later date. I tried to put down the key points in the grandparent, but reconsidered because of inferential distance and not remembering all the right terms for the concepts I had learned. Going into more details seemed like it would be very time-consuming and take a lot of writing, so I opted to defer that for later.

comment by thomblake · 2012-12-03T19:41:43.658Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Arrange to move to the SF bay area next summer
  • Find a job in SF bay area
  • Gain a more positive attitude
  • Increase openness
  • Get into good physical condition
Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-03T22:47:25.413Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What kind of jobs are you looking for, and what skills do you have (if you don't mind me asking)? If I know of a good match I can try to make a connection.

Replies from: thomblake
comment by thomblake · 2012-12-04T15:17:02.504Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What kind of jobs are you looking for

That's actually a question I'm working through right now. Almost certainly something in programming. Probably something in web development, though I've been strongly considering trying to break into games, and other than that I'd like to do something actually worthwhile. I've worked programming web surveys software for a long time now, and I'd ideally like to do something more important than market research with my life.

what skills do you have

I've been working as what I guess you'd call a "full stack web developer" for about 5 years. I'm great at solving problems using algorithms, and passably good at all of the object-level things that go into front- and back-end web development. LAMP, not MS.

I also have some skill with academic research, philosophy, and probably some other amazingly useful stuff I won't remember till I need it. And I'm conversant with all of the literature on Machine Ethics and close to an expert on logic and Computer Ethics. Also, I have the stereotypical New England good work ethic.

EDIT: I forgot to mention, I'm really excited about online education (a la Udacity) and will probably look into opportunities there.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-04T18:42:46.127Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cool, PM me your email address and I'll make a couple connections. (Might be helpful to know your first name as well).

Replies from: thomblake
comment by thomblake · 2012-12-04T18:49:07.372Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My e-mail address is thethomblake@gmail.com and my name is Thom Blake (Thomas for government purposes).

comment by Alicorn · 2012-12-02T20:15:22.723Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm working on a non-Elcenia novel, Goldmage. I'm stuck in the middle of chapter five at the moment and haven't quite worked up to skipping the sticky scene and doing what's next instead.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-03T18:08:04.746Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm currently researching startup concepts surrounding two main themes - big data analysis/visualization and scientific research. I have a plan for making this happen, and at the current stage I'm setting as many meetings as possible with people who know about these topics. The goal is to map out how science works - where the money comes from, who does what, how labor is divided, what the problems are - and then start isolating big problems in the space that might be solved through data analysis or visualization. After that, I test and develop a business model hypothesis via Steve Blank's startup development process (as described in the Startup Owner's Manual).

But anyway, back to this month: I'm setting as many meetings as possible with scientific researchers, people who run labs, R&D managers, people in the NSF or other organizations, and other relevant individuals. So if any of you fall into these categories I'd love to talk to you! Private message me.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2012-12-07T02:35:48.028Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Having temporarily put my bigger business idea (quit-job scale) on hold, working on a smaller one (side-project scale) to gain skills with web development and running a site. It's oriented towards people who like reviewing books, so should be interesting to a number of people here. More details to follow... ETA ~ 2 months or less.

comment by almkglor · 2012-12-04T09:22:01.061Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just finished my NaNoWriMo novel, Judge on a Boat (latest revision kept here), last month in November, and this month I'm going through the process of fixing it up and improving it. I described it on LessWrong yesterday.

Why this project? Well, I've been lurking on Less Wrong (and before that, Overcoming Bias) for years, and yet I recently realized that I've not been very rational in actual practice. So I decided to write a novel about rationality and moral philosophy, just to make sure that I managed to actually understand the topics well enough to put them in my own words. Hopefully the attempt to explain them to a lay audience will help my own understanding.

I'd like to get some help from others in the LW community, since I suspect the novel is not very well-written, and I need some ideas on how to improve it. Why should anyone help me? Well: two of the best recent rationalist fiction that I know of are Alicorn's Luminosity and EY's HPMoR. I am nowhere near those levels (for one, their characters are not flat). The only advantage I have is that my novel has (in current law, anyway) a slightly higher chance of being published, unless J.K.Rowling suddenly has an aneurysm and gives the copyright to the public domain, or if suddenly everyone listens to rms and start repealing copyright laws internationally: the novel is original and won't get sued into oblivion if published.

My goals are... a bit iffy. I imagine publishing this in actual real-world physical book form, because those things are easier to give as gifts and might help raise the sanity waterline (badly needed in my family, and least they read books). But with the current level of quality I suspect I have about a snowball's chance of passing unscathed through the sun.

Alternatively: how about an open-source novel? I could put it up into a CC-BY-SA and try to actively recruit people to help improve it, try to leverage the community, but that probably will make it difficult to publish physically, as legally speaking (IANAL) that would require contacting all the copyright owners. Maybe a fiduciary agreement a la FSF-Europe, but I know of no big, trustable entity that would act as a fiduciary for fiction.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-12-03T12:55:55.369Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am writing a blog about July Rationality Minicamp and the previous week which I spent in SF Bay Area. But I am writing it really slowly. Here are the written parts: 1 2 3 4 5, but only the last two of them are about the Minicamp. I write them in both Slovak and English, and the idea is that I will later use them for trying to recruit some rationalists in Slovakia.

Meta: Now I looked to my comments in previous threads. The game I was working on in April is still not ready. I had some problems with multithreading that I did not know how to solve. I solved them a few months later, but I lost the momentum. But I still want to finish that game. I have finished the high-school textbook on informatics I was writing in February, but we had a change of government, and the new government postponed the textbook projects, because apparently the education is not a priority.

comment by Jabberslythe · 2012-12-04T01:11:14.949Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am trying to figure out a high paying trade that lets me be alone for long periods of time and doesn't have huge death rate. And then getting training in that trade. I'm looking for something that pays around 100,000$ and has a death rate below 30 per 100,000 per year. That's would change of course if there was not anything that actually looked like that, but anything with those two conditions would look great to me. It's hard to find out which jobs would let me be alone for most of the time on the job, I basically have to ask someone in the profession.

Lineman looks like the leading candidate, they make 80,000 on average and have a death rate below 30 (probably). I have looked into the certification necessary for becoming one and it looks very accessible as well. However, I have no evidence that they work alone other than the fact that I have seen them working alone.

Replies from: atorm
comment by atorm · 2012-12-06T01:04:00.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Truck driver? I doubt 100,000 a year, but I hear it's high for the education level. Don't know about death rates.

Replies from: AngryParsley, Jabberslythe
comment by AngryParsley · 2013-02-02T10:52:05.672Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Considering recent progress in self-driving vehicles, I don't think that's a wise career choice.

Replies from: atorm
comment by atorm · 2013-02-03T06:22:32.381Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a really good point.

comment by Jabberslythe · 2012-12-06T12:00:43.475Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, It looks like it is around 52,000$ average by indeed salary which is higher than most trades. Death rate looks like around 27 per 100,000 per year. Unless I can figure out a way of earning more as one, it doesn't look like a good option.

comment by atorm · 2012-12-04T00:24:40.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am in the early stages of researching the role pectins play in the cell walls of the model moss Physcomitrella patens. This will probably be the majority of my PhD thesis work. It is nominally an important step towards sustainable cellulosic biofuels, but I'm really only here to get the training and credentials necessary to do synthetic biology as a career.

Replies from: Zaine
comment by Zaine · 2012-12-04T04:28:14.173Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I may be so rude, what are you ultimately interested in doing in synthetic biology?

Replies from: atorm
comment by atorm · 2012-12-06T00:21:58.472Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Make awesome things. My PI doesn't like that answer either, but synthetic biology seems like the area with the most potential to build interesting things with a biology background, which is what I have. I got into biology without properly exploring the job opportunities. If I had, I probably would have done engineering. But synthetic biology seems to be a field looking for mad scientists who want to solve problems by noticing how different biological parts can feed into each other, and it seems far more entertaining than anything else I'm qualified to do.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-12-02T21:18:09.724Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An essay on the question: What contribution can philosophy make to the clarification, and resolution of social issues (illustrate by examples)?

My main thesis is that philosophical methods allow individuals and groups to make their sets of beliefs more coherent, resolving contradictions and thus resulting in more moral behavior. Theres also some stuff on 'public reasoning' which is how people with differing beliefs come to agreement in public contexts.

Due to mental health issues it has taken considerably longer than I would like to reach this point.I'm hoping to be finished in the next 24 hours, but the outside view makes that seem unlikely.

Replies from: FiftyTwo, None
comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-12-14T14:09:14.741Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For reference I have just submitted it now, 12 days after that last post. Outside view wins again.

It can be viewed here for anyone interested. Please don't tell me about any spelling/grammar errors I may have missed, its too late to make a difference.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-04T01:52:19.135Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One possible example: Derrida's work on forgiveness, particularly in the context of apartheid in South Africa.

comment by gwillen · 2012-12-04T09:09:59.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm helping to write the 2013 MIT Mystery Hunt. I have been spending more time editing and less time authoring puzzles than I'd like; that's probably fine, since my skill at the former noticeably exceeds my skill at the latter.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-12-02T22:48:54.340Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Things interesting to LW:

I'm reading Value Focused Thinking and plan to post my notes on LW. It's a lighter book than past offerings, and so I hope it will be more like a summary than a description. Why this book? I recently attended a seminar by the author and was impressed; I think there should be more decision analysis posts on LW, and more posts about discovering values, and this looks to be a useful book for both of those ends.

I've been incorporating stuff from the 3rd season of MLP into my fanfiction (among other things, I got a far better introduction and title from the first episodes, and future ones are adding more bit by bit). I'm still way farther than I want to be from starting to make it public, and have not been putting as much time into it as I'd like. I think that will change once I finish up school projects (which needs to happen this week).

comment by Zaine · 2012-12-02T22:34:18.857Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm designing a "Choose Your Own Adventure" styled game app. Once I finish deciding how the app will work, I'll write around x (perhaps ten) stories with all their branches, then hire / work with someone(s) for the illustrations and programming. Accounting for the planning fallacy, I expect to finish designing and writing by sometime in Summer 2013.

Replies from: beoShaffer
comment by beoShaffer · 2012-12-03T20:48:39.399Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you consider becoming a writer for choice of games instead of developing your own platform?

Replies from: Zaine
comment by Zaine · 2012-12-04T04:19:00.615Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did not! In fact, I posted here precisely to hear such a concern. However, I have now considered it and think what I'm designing would provide more value and better attract players as well as consumers; I think my business model is superior to theirs.

Replies from: beoShaffer
comment by beoShaffer · 2012-12-04T05:21:11.669Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you don't mind answering on a public forum I'd be interested in knowing how you plan to do so. I've played several choice of games and have been pretty satisfied with it.

comment by gwern · 2012-12-14T03:19:29.554Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have roughly >doubled the size of my (Japanese) anime/manga biracial character database to 273 characters by exploiting some databases I was ignorant of before, like AniDB & VNDB: http://www.gwern.net/hafu#list

This large expansion adds substantially to the statistical quality of any conclusions I'll draw. So far the only new thing I've noticed is that there is now a glaring absence of Korean characters in my database, despite the long intimate history of Korea & Japan, and the fact that without even looking or compiling a similar database, I have found ~4 half-Japanese characters in Korean works.

I also split out my iodine info and meta-analysis as a separate page: http://www.gwern.net/Iodine

I've done some further work on my dual n-back meta-analysis as well: regressing against time allotted for IQ test (no effect) and hopefully soon against the type of IQ test (hypothesis: BOMAT tests inflate IQ improvement estimates).

comment by Manfred · 2012-12-03T22:30:58.894Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've finally started thinking about logical uncertainty again. So, maybe decision theory blog post forthcoming?

Of course one can simply say that the expected value of betting on logical propositions is higher than that of not betting. But not only is this weaker and possibly more complicated than simply proving an analogy of one of various derivations of probability, it's a lot easier to say the words than to show it for an algorithm without circularity.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2012-12-14T00:24:57.607Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have been a bad composer, and a bad blogger. BUT recently I have been better at self-promotion (having put myself forward for more opportunities than I normally would), a better teacher, and a better pianist (I'm making technical breakthroughs and getting back into a good practice routine).

I know some of the reasons that I'm not composing and blogging as well as I'd like, and I have plans to deal with them. I also launched my soundcloud after putting it off for quite a while - file under self-promotion too, I guess.

comment by Jabberslythe · 2012-12-04T00:51:54.070Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am trying to figure out a high paying trade that lets me be alone for long periods of time and doesn't have huge death rate. And then getting training in that trade. I'm looking for something that pays around 100,000$ and has a death rate below 30 per 100,000 per year. That's would change of course if there was not anything that actually looked like that, but anything with those two conditions would look great to me. It's hard to find out which jobs would let me be alone for awhile, I basically have to ask someone in the profession.

Anyway, I've been procrastinating about this.

comment by zaph · 2012-12-03T20:36:10.786Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm working on adding elements to a report at work that does data visualization on a large scale (the data set is about 1 million data points; it's really not all that impressive of a subject matter, but I can't be terribly specific). The report has all of the "easy" elements I need in it, but now I'm trying to add in the harder elements. My ultimate end goal would be to add in the more complicated data along with system parameters, so I can get a handle on how parameter changes affect the output. I'd love to see Bayes nets and the like make a triumphant entrance at some point. But near as I can tell, I'd be the local expert on all of that, and anything I know about that subject matter I mostly picked up from here.

comment by Metus · 2012-12-03T20:34:52.950Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • I am currently learning to use the Neo2 keyboard layout. It is slow but I am positive that it will pay off in the long run.
  • I work to be happier. Again a very slow process. I start by enforcing a sleep schedule via melatonin, seeing as being sleepy ruins everything.
comment by Thomas · 2012-12-02T23:40:22.950Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am developing a paradox using diagonalization process. I don't know if is it possible, but I try.

For example, if I diagonalize the set of all finite bit strings. What I get is a nonfinite string, so there is no paradox.

Then I take the set of all infinite bit strings which are the result of a finite algorithm. If I diagonalize them, the result is most likely not obtainable by a finite algorithm. Otherwise it would be a paradox.

But then again, a simple finite algorithm constructs all finite bit strings. So also all finite algorithms. If I add a diagonalization algorithm at the end of this process... Well .... Let me think what is wrong with this one ...

Replies from: Emile, philh, faul_sname
comment by Emile · 2012-12-03T11:47:56.727Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can iterate over all finite algorithms, but you can't reliably tell which of these algorithms will output an infinite string, or a finite string, or get stuck at some point in an infinite loop (unless you have a halting oracle).

You couldn't even iterate over "the first character outputted by finite algorithm number n", let alone the nth one.

Replies from: Thomas
comment by Thomas · 2012-12-03T12:50:38.199Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Essentially, I agree with you. The algorithm I defined with this diagonalization method is in fact NOT finite.

What is just fine.

comment by philh · 2012-12-03T08:36:53.673Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Off the top of my head, it sounds like you're going to run into computability problems.

I've annoyingly forgotten the terminology and don't have time to look it up, and some details may be incorrect, but: some algorithms can be written in a programming language which imposes bounds on their running time before the algorithm is actually run. (The runtime is allowed to depend on the arguments to a function.) Others can only be written in a language which allows you to write infinite loops. (This is true even of some algorithms which are guaranteed to terminate on all inputs.)

The algorithms you iterate over will have to be of the first kind, or you'll quickly run into an infinite loop. But the algorithm to do the iteration and diagonalise will be of the second kind. Thus, no paradox.

(IIRC, exactly this problem was discussed in GEB.)

Replies from: Thomas
comment by Thomas · 2012-12-03T08:42:15.041Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am not doing it very seriously. Only before I sleep, for example. But it might be a paradox there, after all.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-12-03T02:13:36.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...at the end of this process...

There's your problem. The process doesn't halt.