Open & Welcome Thread December 2021

post by Pattern · 2021-12-01T19:57:32.520Z · LW · GW · 32 comments

If it’s worth saying, but not worth its own post, here's a place to put it.

If you are new to LessWrong, here's the place to introduce yourself. Personal stories, anecdotes, or just general comments on how you found us and what you hope to get from the site and community are invited. This is also the place to discuss feature requests and other ideas you have for the site, if you don't want to write a full top-level post.

If you want to explore the community more, I recommend reading the Library, [? · GW] checking recent Curated posts [? · GW], seeing if there are any meetups in your area [? · GW], and checking out the Getting Started [? · GW] section of the LessWrong FAQ [? · GW]. If you want to orient to the content on the site, you can also check out the new Concepts section [? · GW].

The Open Thread tag is here [? · GW]. The Open Thread sequence is here [? · GW].


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Kay Kozaronek (kay-kozaronek) · 2021-12-26T18:21:23.365Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey everyone, my name is Kay. I'm 24 years old. My friends would describe me as reliable, ambitious, curious and funny. I was raised by Polish parents in Germany, where I finished my high school and undergrad education in business administration.  Later I discovered a love for philosophy which eventually made me study it for some time before I realized that I was itching to learn how to program and build things. So I switched fields and started doing Data Science in 2019. Now, I'm at a point where I'd like to devote the upcoming months to studying reinforcement learning. I can't think of a more exciting career than working on general artificial intelligence or superintelligence more broadly. 

I'm currently looking for a reinforcement learning study-/paper-reading group. It is important for me to be surrounded by ambitious and self-motivated people whom I can learn from. In case you know of any such group, I'd greatly appreciate it if you shared it with me.  Otherwise, feel free to contact me and I'll make sure we'll create a study group ourselves.

comment by Lucie Philippon (lucie-philippon) · 2021-12-29T15:27:17.115Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hello everyone ! My name is Lucie, and I am studying computer science. I'm fascinated by this website and started binge reading the sequences after finishing reading HPMOR. With all the information I was exposed to on this website during the last week, I am hyped and thinking frantically about how can all of this change my life goals.

However, I know that for me only reading more and more post, and getting more and more information will only sustain me for a while. When my hype die down, I think I will not be as motivated as right now into reading posts if I don't find a way to tie it to my life more than pure curiosity.

I think I need to fill at least a bit part of a community and tie it into my social life to keep my interest for long enough. Therefore, I'm making this comment, and asking you how to meet some people from this community, either online or offline.

Right now, I'm a bit lost as to what is the next step for me in this journey. I don't know whether the lack of explicit way of getting into the community is an intentional filter for people with enough intrinsic motivation to continue learning on their own for a long time ? Is there a will for new active members, whatever that means ?

So anyway, if you want to help me, to chat or to meet in Berlin, feel free to reply or to send me a message !

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-12-29T18:01:11.407Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

COVID-19 makes things harder. 

Once we have spring and the temperatures outside are warm enough to meet outside again I will again run open LessWrong meetups in Berlin. 

Signing up at is the most straightforward way to get the information once a new meetup is announced.

Replies from: lucie-philippon
comment by Lucie Philippon (lucie-philippon) · 2021-12-29T20:30:07.432Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the heads-up ! I joined the meetup group and i am looking forward to new events :)

comment by kyle · 2021-12-29T22:10:48.204Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hello, LessWrong! I've been a lurker here for a while but today decided to create an account. I'm not sure why but my guess is that I think it'll cause me to visit LW more often and - hopefully - improve my thinking.

My first contact with LW happened years ago. I don't remember how I arrived but I remember being very confused about what's going on here. The posts were touching on strange and unfamiliar ideas ("alignment, what alignment?") and I couldn't follow the reasoning/conversations so I didn't stick around. My current understanding of that experience is that I was totally unprepared to really think about ideas I was unfamiliar with and I lacked the attention span for deeper thought. I'm at the very beginning of the journey to develop these skills.

I'm interested and curious about too many things. Or rather, my curiosity tends to be mostly "on the surface", without going deep into the subject. I believe a lot of the effect comes from the ADHD. I got diagnosed in the last 6 months and thanks to medication I'm finally experiencing that it's actually possible to dive deep into challenging subjects/ideas. Getting diagnosed as a adult made me experience a sense of loss - all these years that I've been struggling and fighting with myself could be spent more productively! Of course it's not that simple and ADHD has its pros, for sure. But after a while I can tell that medication for me is like a enabling technology, it opens up new possibilities. One of those is finally being able to engage more deeply with the ideas here on LW.

comment by GWS · 2021-12-13T19:43:48.512Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Feature suggestion: The ability to automatically add posts to sequences on profiles.

For instance, Zvi posts weekly COVID updates, and it would be nice to be able to link to the sequence [? · GW] and be confident it will contain all of his COVID-related posts. Currently it's incumbent upon him to manually add those posts to that sequence. It would be nice if he could instead define a regular expression that reads the title of posts he makes and adds them to a sequence if they match a rule that he defines.

comment by MondSemmel · 2021-12-06T16:47:42.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Meta comment to reiterate that at this point the Open Thread wording definitely has to be cleaned up. Right now the thread looks pretty incomprehensible for newcomers (and it also wasn't tagged as Open Thread until now).

Replies from: alexander-1
comment by Alexander (alexander-1) · 2021-12-13T09:04:57.291Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could we automate the Welcome and Open Thread such that some cron job posts it on the first day of every month, applying the relevant tags and improving the wording?

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-12-16T12:27:59.869Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, and in principle "we" can be anyone (except you might want the cronjob to check whether the thread already exists before creating it).

Replies from: alexander-1
comment by Alexander (alexander-1) · 2021-12-17T06:41:21.231Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you know where I can view the LW public API?

Replies from: habryka4, ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-12-17T10:06:27.629Z · LW(p) · GW(p) is the Github for the source code. GreaterWrong does use that to interface with LessWrong, so there seems to be a lot of public API room.

comment by nmehndir · 2021-12-19T18:31:05.471Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm working on undergraduate application essays for HYPSM, Caltech, UChicago, Cornell, and Columbia as a prospective physics major.

Where should I look to get feedback on my writing (both on LW or elsewhere if you have any suggestions)?

Replies from: MondSemmel, mingyuan
comment by MondSemmel · 2021-12-23T22:02:33.586Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm unsure about the rest, but if you want feedback for an essay you intend to post on LW itself, there's a great new feedback service [LW · GW] for users with 100+ karma.

A place that might have some responses to your original question is possibly the weekly Open Thread on Astral Codex Ten (they're posted each ~Sunday, and I think you're more likely to get a response if you post while the Open Thread is somewhat new).

EDIT: And probably you're more likely to get a response to such a question if you write up a rough draft of such an application essay, put it on Google Docs, and link it in your original question. Even better if the draft includes specific questions for feedback, and the ability for anyone with the link to comment on it. Remove all friction, and responses become more likely.

Replies from: nmehndir
comment by nmehndir · 2022-01-04T03:33:00.185Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the suggestions! This helps a lot.

comment by mingyuan · 2022-01-02T06:51:51.266Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I studied physics at UChicago and had an absolutely miserable time, which was partly a me thing but also partly a UChicago physics thing. Feel free to PM me if you want to talk about that.

I'd also not be opposed to reading over your essays, although I think college essays are supposed to be written in a particular style that isn't really like normal writing, so I'm not sure if I would actually like a college essay that an admissions officer would find to be 'good'. But I do have experience with that kind of thing / have written professionally :)

Replies from: nmehndir
comment by nmehndir · 2022-01-04T21:39:44.642Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the offer! I'll definitely take you up on that if I get in to UChicago.

(btw I sent you a PM 2 days ago, did it go through?)

comment by Jemist · 2021-12-20T13:10:23.865Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm very interested to try the new two-axis voting system but it seems to only be active on one [LW · GW] post which also happens to be very tied up with some current Bay Area-specific issues which limits who can actually engage with it. I also think it would be good for the community to get to "practice" with such voting on some topics which are easier to discuss so norms can be established before moving on to the more explosive ones. I'd like to see more posts with this enabled, perhaps a few more people with posts having >20 comments currently on the frontpage could be asked about it, or a pinned post could be made by the mods explaining it and enabling people to ask for it.

I do think that group-politics-related posts might have the greatest potential to benefit from this type of voting (especially relative to the current system).

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2021-12-20T15:39:45.902Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's the two-axis voting system?

Replies from: Jemist
comment by Jemist · 2021-12-20T16:29:38.302Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think your comment excellently illustrates the problems with the experiment!

Next to the upvote/downvote buttons there's a separate box for agreement/disagreement. I think the aim is to separate "this post contributes to the discussion in a positive/negative way" from "I think the claims expressed here are accurate". It's active in the comments of the post I linked in my comment and there's a pinned comment from Ruby explaining it.

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2021-12-20T22:18:27.519Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
pinned comment from Ruby explaining it [LW · GW]

[link mine]

Ah. I saw as soon as I went to the comments. Glancing at the top of the post - and hovering - did not reveal any such voting approach on the post.

this post

this comment

At glance, the point is something like:

Agree, Downvote

This comment is fine - but it's in the wrong spot, posted twice, or off topic.

It gets more complicated from there.


Actually, the notes on the 'agree' option are really vague.

comment by __nobody · 2021-12-22T16:35:55.225Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just noticed (again) that link previews on (only?) old posts are sometimes broken, e. g. when I open this [? · GW] in a new window/tab. At first I suspected it's something about the old link formats but more testing made me more and more confused, and now it seems more and more again like maybe that is relevant?

  1. Opening a link of the form /s/.../p/... in a new window/tab (i.e. not in an existing LW context) always(? - ~10 tests done) breaks the previews on links in the text, and they don't get the ° decoration. (Tags, pingbacks etc. still work.) The same seems to sometimes also break /posts/.../..., but sometimes not? (Very weakly tested hypothesis: It breaks very old posts that still use the old /lw/XX/... link format?)
  2. Opening the same article in an existing tab (by following an internal link) correctly goes through the text, adds the °s and then previews work.

Can someone reproduce this? Is this a bug with timing or initialization order or something like that?

Replies from: MondSemmel
comment by MondSemmel · 2021-12-23T21:55:35.107Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My comment here [LW(p) · GW(p)] links to one post and two sequences, and only the post got a preview. But I don't know if the sequence summary pages ever got previews.

comment by Pattern · 2021-12-01T20:15:40.102Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For comments on revising the wording, comment on this comment [LW · GW].

comment by Pattern · 2021-12-20T22:36:45.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For comments on features, suggestions, feature suggestions, comment on this comment. (self link here [LW(p) · GW(p)])

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2021-12-20T22:39:28.163Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Feature suggestion: Some sort of 'see less' button. Undoes Pressing 'see more' on a long comment that got cut off. Sometimes a long comment turns out to be...really long. This issue gets really apparent in threads with lots of long comments.

comment by niplav · 2021-12-21T15:20:20.400Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A friend noticed that I am confused about the effects of removing genetic load.

The story I've heard being advanced by e.g. Steve Hsu goes like this:

If you remove rare mutations from the genome of an animal (replacing them with the common variants), e.g. everything that less than 1% of other animals in the same species share, you will remove mostly slightly harmful mutations. So, the animal with modal genes would be healthier, stronger and probably more intelligent than the typical animal from that species.

But I'm confused about rare slightly beneficial mutations. Some of them might not be beneficial enough to have reached fixation, so they would be removed as well. Why shouldn't the effects then cancel out?

I can imagine two answers: First, slightly beneficial mutations are much rarer than slightly harmful mutations, or second, perhaps helpful mutations either reach fixation quickly or disappear quickly, while slightly harmful mutations linger for a long time.

Is any of these two is accurate? Or am I overlooking something crucial?

Replies from: ChristianKl, Pattern, James_Miller
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-12-21T18:18:56.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you randomly change something in DNA it's much more likely that something will work less well than that something will work better. 

It's similar to how making random changes to the computer code of a program is going to be harmful in most instances. 

Replies from: niplav
comment by niplav · 2021-12-21T19:03:00.668Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks :-)

This was what I was trying to get at in the first possible answer.

comment by Pattern · 2021-12-27T22:50:14.289Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Might help if you look at fixation as a property of population size. (Different groups that don't have contact with each other, can vary in size and thus fixation difficulty/speed. Smaller populations have stuff reach fixation faster (positive and negative*).)

*I haven't heard a lot about interactions between genes, and how 'positive/negative' a gene is is a function of what other genes you have (and environment). (For some, what others have is also relevant, and I have heard about one of those.)

Why shouldn't the effects then cancel out?

This is about a baseline. When you consider that the baseline takes for granted a certain level of performance, then, maybe there are beneficial mutations which are taken for granted now, but took time to develop. (i.e., what a species looks like now, can be very different from what came before, if you go back far. Change can be slow...though, so 'a long time ago' might not be as long for, say, flies.)

comment by James_Miller · 2021-12-26T18:44:34.194Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Both your answers are right.  Another reason is that evolution has been operating on the basic human genotype for a very long time and has likely found most of the one gene beneficial mutations and has had time to spread them.  But because of copying error evolution is always able to "find" new harmful mutations.