November 2014 Monthly Bragging Thread

post by elharo · 2014-11-01T20:49:50.375Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 88 comments

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to comment on this thread explaining the most awesome thing you've done this month. You may be as blatantly proud of yourself as you feel. You may unabashedly consider yourself the coolest freaking person ever because of that awesome thing you're dying to tell everyone about. This is the place to do just that.

Remember, however, that this isn't any kind of progress thread. Nor is it any kind of proposal thread. This thread is solely for people to talk about the awesome things they have done. Not "will do". Not "are working on". Have already done. This is to cultivate an environment of object level productivity rather than meta-productivity methods.

So, what's the coolest thing you've done this month?


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by iarwain1 · 2014-11-03T15:30:04.826Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just finished an entire difficult textbook with (virtually) all the problems, on my own. I think that might be a first for me. The textbook is Art of Problem Solving Introduction to Algebra. I know that finally completing introductory algebra many years out of high school doesn't sound like a big deal for most LW members, but for me it was a big and difficult step.

Working through this textbook took me about seven months, with a few scheduled breaks and a longer break for my third child being born.

Final grade (= average grade for all the chapters, using a grading system I made up): 93.7 out of 114.8 possible.

A big thank you to zedzed for offering to impose artificial deadlines on me for each chapter, and for giving me occasional help and advice. I would definitely not have been able to do it otherwise. Everybody please upvote zedzed's confirmation below for helping out a fellow LWer.

If anybody else would like someone to set up a system of artificial deadlines for them then please PM me. For me at least such a system seems to be the best anti-akrasia tool I've ever found, short of having real deadlines.

Replies from: zedzed, Vaniver, Natha
comment by zedzed · 2014-11-03T16:09:50.756Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the thanks, but I'll also comment on iarwain1's discipline getting this done. This journey began about 7 months ago, and through all the difficulties life has thrown, the progress has been consistent.

I'll also comment that the grading system above is very difficult, and were I running this particular course, it would've been upwards 100%.

Replies from: undermind
comment by undermind · 2014-11-03T17:20:16.010Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In any reasonable class, the score should have exceeded 100%.

Perhaps in any ordinary class at a North American institution. But I don't think such grading schemes are reasonable -- there's more to reach for (and more humility, and much finer discrimination) when 80% is difficult to achieve.

Replies from: Nornagest, zedzed
comment by Nornagest · 2014-11-03T18:26:00.878Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, bearing in mind that the mapping from percentage scores to letter grades or the equivalent is pretty much arbitrary, I much prefer systems where some of the problems presented are really hard and the grade boundaries placed correspondingly lower. It allows for more ambition and more flexibility, and perhaps more importantly it's just more interesting than a system where you get a perfect score if you don't screw up each of twenty virtually identical basic exercises. I still have fond memories of a high-school physics class where I once earned an A on a test with a score of 57%. (The median was somewhere in the 30s.)

That presumes it's real difficulty rather than busywork or pointless procedural stuff, though, which is harder to design and in some fields harder to grade: in mathematics you can grade only on the final answer (with partial credit if you e.g. obviously lost a sign somewhere), but that's not true for something like e.g. physics lab notebooks.

Replies from: Jiro, iarwain1
comment by Jiro · 2014-11-03T21:34:07.632Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One problem with this is that the amount of effort you can spend on a set of problems of this sort is nearly unbounded. If the problems are simple enough that a decent understanding of the subject leads you to get them all correct, you will only have to spend as much time as it takes to finish the assignment, and then you're done. If a decent understanding of the subject only leads you to get 50% correct, then you'll probably be in a position where you can spend another hour and raise that to 55%, and another hour for 57%, etc. You don't know (until after the fact) how much you need to get correct to actually get a good grade, so you're stuck not knowing how much effort is reasonable.

Furthermore, if it's graded on a curve, this will result in a race to the bottom where everyone spends an extra two hours for that 7% advantage over everyone else and since everyone's spent it, the overall effect is just that everyone spent an extra two hours for little benefit.

And woe be it if you have two such assignments at the same time. Not only do you have to worry about spending unlimited time because you don't know when you're done, it's going to be very difficult to work on the assignments in order without shifting between one and the other constantly so you don't spend all your effort on increasing one by 5% when that same effort could have increased the other one by 10%.

Replies from: hawkice, Nornagest
comment by hawkice · 2014-11-03T22:42:59.896Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the overall effect is just that everyone spent an extra two hours for little benefit.

Woah! I sure hope not! The two or three times I had challenging assignments in school (my school encouraged undergraduates to take graduate classes if interested) they were tremendously valuable. If thinking about difficult problems and solving them has no marginal benefit, I can't imagine what part of schooling does! (perhaps the diploma mill would be ideal in that scenario? I'm having a hard time simulating this hypothetical student).

Replies from: Jiro
comment by Jiro · 2014-11-03T23:34:46.857Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not that it has no marginal benefit, it's that it has diminishing marginal benefit for the effort spent. At some point, you're better off working on another class's assignment instead. At some point you're better off taking leisure time, or even sleeping. If even people with a good understanding are only expected to get 50% correct, how are you supposed to know when you're better off going to sleep, only knowing that you've completed 50% and not knowing whether the extra 5% from sacrificing some sleep is worth it?

Replies from: hawkice
comment by hawkice · 2014-11-04T02:31:56.086Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The returns diminish when it comes to impact on your grade, yes, and I certainly enjoyed transparency about how the grades I got would be impacted by my work.

The distribution of value for learning, though, goes up with difficulty until it drops to zero (the point at which you cannot solve the puzzle at all). My only point is that we should strongly prefer systems that allow us to soak up all that high-intensity high-value work -- modern universities aren't that for many students, though, but independently reading textbooks could/should be.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-11-03T22:03:41.290Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, you don't want this sort of thing graded on a curve -- though the "race to the bottom" issue isn't substantially worse here than it would be with a more conventional problem set. Curves are generally set by the amount of effort the average student is willing to spend rather than the amount of effort an arbitrarily ambitious student is willing to, meaning that if you're in a position to be making decisions about how to allocate your limited study time you probably don't need to be doing so.

The teacher in my example didn't grade on a curve, he assigned grade boundaries based on his idea of an acceptable level of effort and understanding. He also included estimates of each problem's difficulty, which was helpful for time management.

comment by iarwain1 · 2014-11-03T21:44:02.293Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As it happens, Art of Problem Solving questions actually fit the bill of being really difficult. Most chapters have about 15 or so "challenge" problems, of which 5 or so are really hard.

The scoring system I used was to (a) give myself double points for answering the really hard challenge problems, and (b) only require a total score of 10 for all the challenge problems combined. So if I got all the regular problems correct + 10 points on the challenge problems (1 point per "standard" challenge problem and 2 points per "hard" challenge problem) then I'd score 100. One side effect of this was that on chapters with a particularly large number of challenge problems it was possible to get something like a 140. But in any case, getting a 100 actually wasn't that easy.

comment by zedzed · 2014-11-03T18:10:05.702Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, yes, but in my judgement, OP has at least reached the point where marginal skill at algebra won't translate into marginal gains in things OP's interested in.

In particular, learning algebra is a means to an end, and that end is calculus. That requires being good enough to not be limited by sketchy knowledge of algebra when you get to calculus, not being good enough to ace the AMC10 (warning: nerd snipe). I've updated my comment to reflect that getting all the way to AMC10-acing levels is a poor use of time, and were I running the class, I wouldn't encourage it. (On the other hand, if you're under the age of 16 and have talent for math, then getting to AMC-acing levels of algebra is a fine use of your time. If you plan on attending university in America, I'm given to understand that the elite universities you're going to want to gain admissions to take AMC scores because they have so many indistinguishable SAT-math scores. Even if not, getting that good at algebra may be a good use of your time if it means you can have high scores in math competitions to your name. If that's not true, then your time is probably better spent reading, say, Spivak or something like 6.042J (for anyone interested, read the first 4 chapters of the 6.042J text, then Spivak, then the rest of 6.042J. And (this should go without saying), watch the lectures and do the problem sets. One does not simply get good at math without a ridiculous amount of practice.))

Replies from: dxu, None, Lumifer
comment by dxu · 2014-11-12T01:56:31.056Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would argue that math skills correlates with many facets of general intelligence, and that getting all the way up to "AMC10-acing levels" might not prepare you for calculus, but you'll probably pick it up much faster due to your increased ability to think flexibly and pattern-match, which is really useful early on when first picking up on tricks for differentiation/integration, etc. Learning new material and genuinely learning to think are two different tasks, and I myself value the latter over the former, especially seeing as getting better at the latter makes it easier to do the former. At AMC/AIME levels of math, I would say raw intelligence is a lot more important than real math knowledge, and I value being intelligent extremely highly, so it was easy for me to see the allure of AMC/AIME. Naturally, if that's not your thing and you just value math for the sake of real-world applications (which is an entirely defensible position), then yes, I agree that the AMC/AIME are not that useful. In terms of increasing fluid intelligence, though, I'd recommend it wholeheartedly.

(Note: The final statement in the above paragraph about increasing fluid intelligence is not supported in the academic literature as far as I'm aware, and is purely anecdotal advice to which the usual disclaimers must be applied, etc.)

Replies from: zedzed
comment by zedzed · 2014-11-12T09:46:48.699Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've had the same experience with studying math intensely feeling like it buffs fluid intelligence, and then I hear from many sources about how skill training is domain-specific and doesn't transfer well (1), which would mean that's impossible, and I'm stuck hoping that intensely studying math for several hours a day is something that's fringe enough that it wouldn't be picked up in research.

But, if the fluid-intelligence buff comes from studying consistently and at the edge of your skill level, then going through the two AoPS algebra books, but not getting to be able to solve 100% of their "challenge" problems, is going to do just as much as getting through one of them and getting to the point of being able to solve all the challenge problems. There's no real shortage of math-at-skill-level to study, but not knowing calculus is absolutely crippling; you can't learn physics, chemistry, economics, programming, or really any higher math, because at a certain point, every just kind of assumes you understand calculus.

(1) According to my memory textbook, two things that enhance transfer-of-learning are learning things deeply and learning them concretely in one context or abstractly and then applying it to a wide variety of contexts. Going through math textbooks, proving every theorem before reading the book's proof, and then applying the theorems to a wide range of context seems to fit both bills, so take +1 plausibility. However, this is one of the less well-supported areas, and the book didn't point to any original studies that I could find (2), so grain of salt.

(2) Which isn't to say the research hasn't been done. Just, the "do things in one context or abstractly and then in multiple contexts" was done by a grad student and then published in a book by his adviser, and the "learn things deeply" was presented as a generic experiment without reference to primary literature.

Replies from: dxu
comment by dxu · 2014-11-14T02:49:50.205Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that not learning calculus is absolutely crippling. If the OP has not yet learned calculus, then I would say learning calculus should take precedence. On the other hand, if the OP has already learned calculus, then depending on the circumstances, studying an AoPS algebra book might not be a bad use of his/her time. (Or really just any AoPS book, really; from my experience with AoPS, they tend to write very good math books--or at least very good practice problems.)

Unfortunately, I have very little to say on the topic of increasing fluid intelligence. Outside of some basic introductory texts, my experience in the fields of cognitive science is close to nil, so anything I say about this can and probably should be taken with a generous helping of salt. I will point out that in my experience, getting better at math seems to have helped my general reasoning skills in ways largely unrelated to math; however, seeing as I would strongly like this to be true, it's possible that I am allowing myself to notice a trend where there is none. Additionally, it seems plausible to me that learning new math might not help intelligence due to domain-specificity, but that using already-learned math in extremely difficult situations might make a difference because in the latter case, the actual skill domain itself is less important than the mental gymnastics--and the increased ability to do those gymnastics might be transferable. Going through every theorem in the book and proving it, then, would probably fall into the latter category rather than the former.

So with all of that said, the question is: when you say you "[study] math intensely", do you mean covering new material, or doing inventive things with old material?

Replies from: zedzed
comment by zedzed · 2014-11-14T12:49:16.500Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Going through every theorem in the book and proving it

This is how I study math. A result I've come across a few times is that trying a problem before learning how to do it, even if you fail, will result in you learning how to solve the problem better (this study (pdf), for instance). AoPS pedagogy reflects this; they encourage the reader to try each problem before reading how to solve it, even if they don't succeed. (I've been doing this long enough that I forget that this is a minority approach rather than common sense. Reminds my of this paper. tl;dr, most students study by rereading the book, even though this is completely ineffective, and very few practice retrieval, which is wildly effective.)

In this way, I don't see the dichotomy between learning new math and using already-learned math in new situations. Going off stuff I read here (written for popular audience, grain of salt, although it's used as a text for an upper-level psych course at Harvard), pushing your mind to its limit learning new math is going to increase your ability to learn new math and pushing your brain to its limit using known math in novel situations will increase your ability to use known math in novel situations (which feels kinda, sorta like buffing fluid intelligence)—but there's no reason you can't learn math by using it in novel situations because that's exactly what I do when learning math. So, when I talk about "[studying] math intensely", I'm referring to doing inventive things with old material to learn new material.

One more thing: there's no widely-accepted method for increasing fluid intelligence that I'm aware of. This is all based on fairly new research and personal experience. Fortunately, between the age distribution of the US population and how many diseases we can treat or cure, there's a lot of money going into research neuroscience because Alzheimer's, so hopefully this is changing quickly relative to the counterfactual.

One more thing: OP doesn't know calculus.

Replies from: dxu
comment by dxu · 2014-11-15T03:43:10.659Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

use known math in novel situations (which feels kinda, sorta like buffing fluid intelligence)

If we temporarily disregard the academic literature here (partly due to my unfamiliarity with it and partly due to there not being much on fluid intelligence increase in the first place) and just go by personal experience, do you feel that there are any differences between "[using] known math in novel situations" and "buffing fluid intelligence" that may be of significance?

Replies from: zedzed
comment by zedzed · 2014-11-15T12:52:19.901Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From personal experience, "using known math in (appropriately difficult) novel situations" implies "fluid intelligence buff", but "not using known math in novel situations" doesn't imply "no fluid intelligence buff." For instance, I think I could get the same result replacing math with certain parts of CS.

Replies from: dxu
comment by dxu · 2014-11-15T21:51:44.132Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems plausible to me. Note that I consider trying to do things like proving theorems to be "novel situations", whereas simply learning what the theorem says doesn't feel like it would be as effective at increasing fluid intelligence, if at all. Since CS (I assume you mean programming here, since I consider theoretical CS part of mathematics) often requires you to put your thinking cap on, so to speak, I can very easily see that buffing fluid intelligence as well. Which, of course, requires that fluid intelligence increase be possible in the first place. As you said, it certainly feels like doing math/CS buffs fluid intelligence, but...

Replies from: zedzed
comment by zedzed · 2014-11-16T01:49:09.859Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

According to my notes from the above Doidge book, things we can change include "memory", "processing speed", "intelligence", and "ability to learn."

While I'm uncertain whether the rest are well-accepted, being able to improve memory is well-accepted among cognitive psychologists. They trained this one subject to a digit span of 80. Also, one feature of mnemonic techniques is "speed up", or the ability to improve with practice, hence memory competitions. Method of loci is just ridiculously powerful (for the narrow and typically unhelpful types of information that can be method-of-loci'd).

Replies from: dxu
comment by dxu · 2014-11-16T03:00:10.092Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Memory certainly is improvable from what I've heard/read, and it doesn't seem too much of a stretch to accept that processing speed might be improvable as well. That being said, I'm a bit more skeptical of improving intelligence (maybe studying math does it, and maybe not), and I'm not quite sure what "ability to learn" entails--if we're using the phrase conventionally, I'd assume that "ability to learn" would simply be a combination of intelligence and memory--the former for understanding something in the first place, and the latter for retaining that understanding. If there's something about "ability to learn" outside of this, I'd be interested to hear about it.

In order of how much each aspect matters to me, personally, I'd probably rank intelligence as most important, followed by memory, then processing speed. (I'm not confident enough in my current understanding of "ability to learn" to attempt to rank it yet--see the above paragraph.) If you asked me why I care so much about intelligence... I honestly don't know, actually. To paraphrase HJPEV, it's such a fundamental theorem in my values system that it's hard to go about describing the actual proof steps. (Actually, to continue the analogy, this seems more like an axiom than a theorem, which is weird because I don't remember ever consciously deciding to terminally value intelligence.) This is a somewhat concerning realization for me, and suggests that I should perhaps consider my reasons for caring about stuff a lot more closely than I've been doing as of late.

Of course, this is very unfortunate for me, seeing as "intelligence" has always been considered fuzzy and hard to quantify... maybe that's why there's not a lot of academic material out there on it? I'm really good at math for a normal person, but a fair number of the more "mathy" discussions here on LW somehow manage to completely lose me (think "decision theory", and so forth), so I'm thinking that maybe "really good" is a bit of a premature designation. I probably wouldn't be the only one here in saying that LW is the first online discussion board in which I've felt completely outclassed intellectually--I'm generally used to be the smartest person in the proverbial "room", so being here is a simultaneously humbling and exciting experience for me.

Back onto the topic of whether math improves fluid intelligence: it has been my experience that people who are really good with math also tend to be really smart, but 1. that could easily be a selection effect, and 2. correlation does not imply causation. At this point, I'm basically just left hoping that studying math does have appreciable effects on fluid intelligence, but given the dearth of research on the subject, I have very little basis to say anything one way or another, which is rather frustrating for me personally. Alas...

(And now, reading through this again, I see I somehow managed to turn a discussion on improving mental capability into a dissertation on my own perceived problems... yeah, I think I should probably stop typing now.)

Replies from: zedzed, wedrifid
comment by zedzed · 2014-11-18T02:55:55.421Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

a dissertation on my own perceived problems

I found the Doidge book therapeutic.

Regarding "ability to learn": Ebbinghaus (famous for discovering forgetting curves which lead to Anki) showed that amount you learn is proportional to the amount of time you spend learning it; L(t) = at . Increasing "ability to learn" could be thought of like the constant of proportionality, a.

Learning = acquiring and retaining knowledge or skills. This definition comes from a book written by cognitive scientists coming off a decade of researching optimal learning recommended by Robin Hanson, which is also worth reading.

Obviously, there's values of time, t, for which this breaks down. I don't have the academic citations, but a professor I once had (who I trust) said that your brain's ability to learn can be saturated and marginal time spent learning won't help until you sleep.

However, I am aware of Walker et al. (2002) (pdf), which shows that you don't show improvements from practice until you sleep. In hierarchical situations, where every new thing you learn depends on something you've already learned, this implies you should sleep in between every new thing you learn. This effect is separate from distributed practice, which you should do anyway.

comment by wedrifid · 2014-11-16T04:21:51.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there's something about "ability to learn" outside of this, I'd be interested to hear about it.

Skills, techniques and habits are also rather important.

Replies from: dxu
comment by dxu · 2014-11-16T06:06:13.865Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that these things are also important, but I'm not sure they should be classified as "basic" traits the way memory, processing speed, and intelligence are. Then again, I could be mistaken.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-06T16:05:04.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you plan on attending university in America, I'm given to understand that the elite universities you're going to want to gain admissions to take AMC scores because they have so many indistinguishable SAT-math scores.

No, just take the Advanced Placement calculus classes.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-11-03T18:18:49.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One does not simply get good at math

So, it's like walking into Mordor, then? X-D

Replies from: zedzed
comment by zedzed · 2014-11-03T18:40:06.787Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Based on the commentary I've heard from grad students, getting truly good at math is on par with bringing the ring to Mt. Doom in terms of difficulty, if not danger.

Replies from: None, Lumifer
comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-06T16:16:18.807Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I at least somewhat disagree with that. The form of mathematics is extremely difficult and even somewhat obscurantist. The content is, while not easy, no harder than any of the other difficult intellectual skills we regularly teach to intelligent people, and gets easier with practice just like everything else.

No, the miserable thing is when someone starts out into "Let there be a Blah from the set Herp, then define its Bibbity to be the Derp such that De Hurr..." when what they really mean is, "I will prove a theorem quantified over all Herp's by pretending I have an arbitrary Herp called Blah, and then using Blah to build Bibbity, which is a Derp, and due to the way I built it, it has this property De Hurr that I wanted." While all that English is obviously quite verbose for everyday work, computer theorem-proving languages are usually about as terse as "real" mathematics while being much clearer and easier to understand, especially because in programming, giving things descriptive names is considered good form, whereas in mathematics the custom is to use single letters, ideally Greek ones or in funny fonts, for absolutely everything, the better to prove the theorem without ever explaining what it means or why you built it that way.

If we bothered to treat mathematics as a form of communication (specifically: communication of rigidly defined, highly specific computational structures) rather than as a personal exploration of Platonic Higher Realms, we could definitely all get much better at it.

(Why yes I am a massive fanboy of Bob Harper... Why did you ask?)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-11-03T18:51:25.472Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And you get to keep the ring afterwards! :-)

comment by Vaniver · 2014-11-03T21:40:22.948Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If anybody else would like someone to set up a system of artificial deadlines for them then please PM me. For me at least such a system seems to be the best anti-akrasia tool I've ever found, short of having real deadlines.

Are you familiar with Beeminder?

Replies from: iarwain1
comment by iarwain1 · 2014-11-04T00:18:10.452Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am aware of it, yes. Monetary punishments are not something I want to do at this time, but I know it works well for others. In matters of akrasia it seems that everybody is different.

comment by Natha · 2014-11-12T03:17:07.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey, terrific! Did you enjoy the book itself? I really liked AoPS series; I remember getting a whole lot out of Introduction to Counting and Probability. I distinctly remember thinking over and over, why didn't they tell me this in school!

I'm not sure what your ultimate goals are, and you're probably already familiar with the online AMC8/10/12 and Olympiad problem banks that others have mentioned; if not, I couldn't recommend them more highly for bringing newly learned skills to bear on novel problems. At one point, I worked through all the AMC8, then all of the AMC10. It became very addictive!

Also, perhaps more recreationally, the MAA does a question of the day called Minute Math, which is always good for a quick diversion.

comment by Toggle · 2014-11-04T06:34:01.661Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This month, I successfully defended my Master's thesis, and otherwise finished all substantial requirements for a graduate degree in Geology. The diploma comes in December, but in practical terms I'm finished.

My research involved the development of new methods for investigating ~3.5 billion year old sedimentary rocks. This gave me a much better window in to the biological activity of microbial mats that were preserved during this time, with enough detail to meaningfully constrain their ecological behavior and environmental influences. This is a good step towards work on future Mars rover missions, or in further lab work in national astrobiology initiatives.

On a personal note, this is an especially important milestone to me, because I am coming to it from a significant personal nadir. Five years ago, I was working a full-time retail job, having graduated with a 2.x in a non-science undergraduate degree. Being accepted to a good research program for astrobiology was quite a trick; they barely even let me on campus. It is a very good feeling to have 'become awesome' from such a position, even if it is no different from any other Master's degree in absolute significance.

comment by Sjcs · 2014-11-02T22:58:19.336Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This month, I finished medical school, which elicits a complex set of emotions difficult to describe. Maybe relief/fist pumpin' exuberance/trepidation/excitement/tiredness/nostalgia/determination/pride in variable amounts (results aren't out yet, and I guess that adds to some of those emotions). This isn't very LW-related, but is a big transition point and I'm quite proud it's complete.

Possibly my favourite thing about finishing is that I now have 3-or-so months with only a few commitments before I start work, which means I can get started on some of my personal to-do list - I have already read 3 books, am meditating every day, organised catching up with friends/mentors I haven't been able to see in a while, learnt some basics of investing and economics and set myself up to start investing my savings in a more useful way i.e. index funds.

comment by JoshuaFox · 2014-11-02T12:11:53.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

LessWrong-Tel Aviv members Dan Armak, Adam Mesha, Yonatan Cale, and I contributed to MIRI/CfAR in honor of Edan Maor's marriage to Sami Wexsel.

We encourage all LessWrongers to consider more donation in honor of friends' special events. It's a great way to get triple fuzzies: You, the honoree, and the wider community get to feel good about it.

Replies from: edanm
comment by edanm · 2014-11-02T14:59:34.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I'm Edan Maor)

Thanks a lot to all of you! I really appreciate both getting a gift, and the way you did it - I agree with you in wishing that more people would make donations as a gift.

You guys made my day! :)

comment by Baisius · 2014-11-05T02:19:54.354Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have done a number of things.

I have a problem staying awake when I drive. Unrelated, I wanted more intellectual stimulation in my life. So I started downloading podcasts to listen to while I drive instead of music, which, while not the intended benefit, engage my brain and keep me more awake. Intellectual stimulation is up too.

I started getting back into trying to read and post (albeit under the name of a new account not tied closely to my real name) on LW, tumblr, and a couple others.

I got a promotion (well, I'm training for the promotion that I'll get in a couple months) for a job I'm really enjoying. I was disliking my previous job more and more, so this is a welcome change.

For at least 10 years, I've wondered why men don't wear skirts, because I've always imagined that they are fantastically comfortable. It only recently occurred to me that, as a human with money, I can give that money to people who will deliver skirts to my front door, and I can wear them around the house for increased comfort without embarrassment because I live alone. I can officially confirm that they are wonderfully comfortable, at least in my opinion. However this does run contrary to the opinion of, well, pretty much every woman I've talked to.

Replies from: kalium, Lumifer, Toggle, polymathwannabe, Gunnar_Zarncke, None
comment by kalium · 2014-11-07T09:01:11.484Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a woman, I find skirts super comfortable but with some major problems that don't come up if you're just hanging around the house.

  • The lack of pockets is extremely inconvenient. I'd be afraid of losing a purse with a wallet in it, so I basically can't go out in a skirt unless it's cool enough out that it's reasonable to wear a jacket (since those have pockets). There do exist skirts with acceptable pockets, but the selection is very small and if you're as cheap as I am there just aren't any options.

  • Some skirts (not all!) restrict leg motion enough to make it inconvenient to bike or run.

Replies from: Alicorn, Gunnar_Zarncke
comment by Alicorn · 2014-11-12T02:23:29.059Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've found a number of pocket-bearing skirts in thrift stores for very cheap.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-11-11T23:34:25.617Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is one of the things I have wondered about: Why there are no skirts with pockets. But I guess the reason is that there is already a completely well accepted solution: Handbags.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-11-05T02:31:48.489Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've wondered why men don't wear skirts

Some do, they just call them kilts.

Replies from: Nornagest
comment by Nornagest · 2014-11-05T22:24:24.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sarongs were fairly popular lounging-around-the-house wear for men where I went to college, not much stranger than sweatpants, but that was in a surfer town.

comment by Toggle · 2014-11-07T18:37:51.687Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For at least 10 years, I've wondered why men don't wear skirts, because I've always imagined that they are fantastically comfortable. It only recently occurred to me that, as a human with money, I can give that money to people who will deliver skirts to my front door, and I can wear them around the house for increased comfort without embarrassment because I live alone. I can officially confirm that they are wonderfully comfortable, at least in my opinion. However this does run contrary to the opinion of, well, pretty much every woman I've talked to.

The Utilikilt seems to be a 'masculinized' equivalent, without the specific and possibly inappropriate social signaling of a true plaid kilt. I have never worn one and can't vouch for comfort, but it's a way to get the general skirt form in public settings without being visibly gender-deviant. At worst it will read as a bit geeky, I think.

(Of course, the gender fuckery may be part of the fun here, in which case a kilt is obviously not going to meet your needs.)

Replies from: Nornagest, Gunnar_Zarncke
comment by Nornagest · 2014-11-11T23:51:03.091Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At worst [Utilikilts] will read as a bit geeky, I think.

More than a bit; they're a very strong geeky signal. But they're expensive, not unflattering on many builds, read as masculine, and don't suggest that you're trying to look like an action hero nor that you overimprinted on hipster fashion from five years ago, which makes them better than some of your options.

I still wouldn't wear one outside of Burning Man or a few other geek-heavy events, though.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-11-11T23:39:16.014Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The utilikilt doesn't look comfortable. If it is comfortable it might be perfect.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-11-06T14:40:40.979Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, there are some fashionable male skirt designs that can be worn outdoors and even at the office.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-11-11T23:51:39.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great idea. Very unconvential but - well - rational. For the more traditionally minded I'd recommend bathrobes. I hear these can be worn all day long at home without too much fuss even in the case of surprise guests. And they often feature pockets.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-12T01:53:43.372Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by tog · 2014-11-02T08:01:12.833Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This month I officially launched the EA Donation Registry, which you may have seen featured in MIRI's latest newsletter, or across the Animal Charity Evaluators website. Related, we also officially launched Effective Altruist Profiles (here's the LessWrong post) - we'd soft-launched both projects a while ago, soon after starting the 2014 EA Survey.

I also created a step-by-step guide to writing a will and the 'Shop for Charity' scheme, through which you can earn 5% cost-free commission for GiveWell-recommended charities while doing your shopping on Amazon. And I've been doing other Charity Science work too - people may be interested in our recent review of our first year of operations.

Replies from: Metus
comment by Metus · 2014-11-02T17:34:20.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Shop for Charity

Link noted, future purchases at Amazon will be done through the respective link. Would be happier if the donation went outright to the GiveWell clear fund instead of any one of their recommended charities.

Replies from: tog
comment by tog · 2014-11-03T14:35:07.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, that's valuable feedback. I'll look into arranging that for the US; it may not be feasible for purchases in other countries, because of the inefficiency of routing the donations via GiveWell.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-11-02T00:03:03.429Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Last month I finally succeeded in doing active listening. Really active listening with almost all the bells and whistles. Not interrupting. Accepting to be interrupted. Emphatic responses. Mirroring posture and gestures.

It was in two instances so far that I really was in the flow with it. In these cases it did lead to great results. Sure things can always be improved but I'm proud of it nonetheless. In all these years the many times before I tried it something was always missing or it fell to pieces too quickly.

I think the key it does work for me now is that I understand the process better and in more detail. I can reflect it during the process. I really perform better in most things if I first build a complex intuitive model of what to do beforehand. The knowledge and experience accumulated and finally passed the critical level. Significant part had the books I read about it - and did the exercises. The Charisma Myth being the last but not the least (it has lots of exercises).

Replies from: Gunnar_Zarncke
comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-11-04T17:37:09.973Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Today I got a surprise confirmation of this. I received personal feedback that my personal skills and in particular active listening improved in the last four months (withou being prompted or primed about this). Made me quite happy. And I promptly applied the advice for receiving compliments:

Stop, absorb the compliment, let that show on your face, and thank them


comment by therufs · 2014-11-14T19:36:46.066Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

About a year and a half ago, I lost my fun-but-low-skill receptionist job. Deciding I was tired of being poor and having no marketable skills, I began to teach myself to program, which involved a bunch of Coursera courses, an internship, and a TAship at an intensive code school. Tomorrow will mark a month at my first Real Job as a programmer (indeed, the first Real Job of my life.)

The process has involved the acquisition of non-computer skills, too. In particular, I've gotten better at estimating my own competence, accounting for the planning fallacy, asking for help, doing distasteful tasks, and calmly articulating differences of opinion (and corrections of fact).

Replies from: spatiality
comment by spatiality · 2014-11-20T13:57:40.313Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is really cool! congrats!!

Replies from: therufs
comment by therufs · 2014-11-20T19:42:34.988Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! It was a lot of work and anxiety, but I still feel like I figured out a cheat code. :D

Replies from: elharo
comment by elharo · 2014-11-23T19:00:43.603Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You did. Demand for computer professionals is noticeably higher than the supply. It therefore is much easier to become a highly paid computer professional than a successful doctor/lawyer/teacher/writer/police officer/scientist/musician/real estate agent/salesperson/etc.

Unlike WoW and other MMORPGs, nothing in the real world requires different character classes to be balanced in leveling, power, and effort. Being a computer professional in the early 21st century is like playing the game on easy mode.

Replies from: therufs
comment by therufs · 2014-11-26T14:42:24.473Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, yes -- I wouldn't have spent a bunch of time on a line of work that I didn't think would pan out.

But what I was getting at is the idea that the status quo is actually highly mutable.

comment by wadavis · 2014-11-07T21:03:05.352Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While discussing an ongoing project that had gone south with my boss, he recommended that I pretend that I was just taking over the project from someone else and to make decisions going forward as if I was working from a blank slate.

I was stunned to hear him coaching me to deter to a more rational self, and to overcome the sunk cost fallacy. Rationality techniques out in the wild, thriving.

Had to brag about my place of employment.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2014-11-04T17:20:03.568Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

5 year anniversary co-organizing the NYC Machine Learning Meetup. My role "launched" by simply being friendly and helpful to the original organizer, together we grew a meetup of 10 guys talking about papers in someone's office to 5K+ members, 150 regular attendees and peak of 300+ attendees when we host guys like Peter Norvig. On a personal level it helped me change the direction of my career, meet and network with really interesting people. (If you're interested in advice about organizing stuff feel free to ask or PM me).

comment by elharo · 2014-11-01T21:02:47.166Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Third Flatiron has published my short story Refusing the Call in their winter anthology, Abbreviated Epics. (Also available from amazon for kindle and paper).

This story isn't explicitly rationalist fiction, but I do expect readers will find my protagonist to be a tad more compos mentis than the usual fantasy hero in the Harold Shea/Richard Blade/John Carter/Tarl Cabot/Wiz Zumwalt/Thomas Covenant/Adam Strange/Pevensie mold.

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2014-11-25T22:06:28.685Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I gave two TEDx talks in two weeks (also a true statement: I gave two TEDx talks in 35 years), one cosmic colonisation, one on xrisks and AI.

Replies from: Gondolinian, wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2014-11-26T02:34:28.582Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I gave two TEDx talks in two weeks (also a true statement: I gave two TEDx talks in 35 years), one cosmic colonisation, one on xrisks and AI.

I'm impressed. (And will look them up when I get a chance.)

Replies from: Stuart_Armstrong
comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2014-11-26T11:46:45.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They are not out yet; the wheels of TEDx videos move slowly and mysteriously.

comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2014-11-23T21:05:05.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I defended my dissertation earlier this month, earning a PhD in experimental high energy physics in just over 3 years. In January, I'll be moving on to a postdoctoral research position at a national laboratory.

comment by helltank · 2014-11-10T02:41:43.592Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I went through an entire evening outing and did not drop the ball once socially- in every event, I successfully carried out all the steps of social interaction, from perfectly(or so I'd like to think) mimicking empathy, adopting correct facial expressions and words. I'd like to think that this is a huge step forward in my social training. One of the people that I went on an outing with even commented that he thought my social skills were improving greatly.

Replies from: SpencerHill, Natha
comment by SpencerHill · 2014-11-13T08:50:44.192Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have to admit, this is pretty damn impressive, no matter how basic people seem to think those skills should be.

Replies from: helltank
comment by helltank · 2014-11-13T13:46:02.896Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks a lot. I really appreciated that comment.

comment by Natha · 2014-11-14T04:29:09.282Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Awesome! If what you're dealing with is social anxiety, then you might find this blogpost helpful (I know I did). It sounds like it may be something more serious; if so, all the more reason for congratulations!

comment by AshwinV · 2014-11-04T17:07:47.287Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I got a 710 on the GMAT.

Replies from: Natha
comment by Natha · 2014-11-14T14:50:50.490Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great score! I'm a test prep guy and the GMAT quant is serious, erm, business. What kind of programs are you applying to? MBA?

Replies from: AshwinV
comment by AshwinV · 2014-11-17T05:53:19.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Natha! Was hitting higher scores(730-740) in the mocks before the real thing, so was at first a touch upset, then figured that this was ok for practical purposes.

Yes, an MBA. Most probably in finance and/or strategy. I also want to see if there is any particular way to leverage on my existing qualifications (I'm a lawyer, graduated 2 years back from NLUJ in India). My work experience lies in renewable energy.

Any advice would be most welcome. :)

comment by palladias · 2014-11-03T19:25:28.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I built my first arduino project this month! I was Alina Starkov, the Sun Summoner, for Halloween, so I built accelerometer controlled LED gauntlets so I could turn the lights at my wrists on and off with gestures.

The instructable I wrote is here.

I had an enormous amount of fun, and the arduino system (I was using LilyPad, since I needed it to be sewable) was very beginner friendly. Glad to answer questions/provide encouragement!

Oh, and here are pics of the final costume. (I ran into a HJPEV at my Halloween party)

comment by spatiality · 2014-11-20T11:49:36.847Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have learnt to love myself. (For those cringing at the wording: Everything I ever will do will be informed by my total acceptance of all my faculties.)

Replies from: polymathwannabe
comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-11-20T14:39:18.539Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for noncringeworthiness.

comment by Jackercrack · 2014-11-24T16:01:07.058Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On 6 of the past 7 days I've succeeded in doing 50 minutes of exercise and 2 hours of job searching a day. I'm now talking with 3 different recruitment agencies and it seems likely that I'll be having interviews shortly! I've been wanting to get into running for years so i'm spending half the exercise periods doing a couch to 5k program and the other half on bodyweight workouts. This may not seem like much but as a person who have been struggling to get anything done at all for the past 5 months it really is a big deal. Thanks to /u/peter_hurford for his guides on productivity which were brief enough that I couldn't procrastinate by reading them.

comment by mwengler · 2014-11-24T15:27:14.413Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Spent first two weeks of a 6 month commitment to trying out vegan diet. Got my BMI under 40 for first time since I got divorced 2 years ago. My buddy assures me this is a better thing to try then medifast.

Actually telling someone what I felt even at the risk of rejection, made major inroads into converting a platonic relationship into something a little more fun (hopefully for both of us). I have tried "dating" other women and keep wanting this one. However it works out, actually expressing myself, putting myself out there as it were, seems like the only way to move on, either with her or without her. I am still giddy two days later that she took me seriously.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-16T08:20:44.388Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ten days later:

Last Thursday I put up with my advisor editing until literally the last minute, and, at 2-goddamn-AM, submitted our paper to PLDI 2015.

Then, for the first time in a month and a half, I took a weekend completely off. Well, except for running through some initial tutorials on probabilistic programming with Figaro/Scala, but that was for the lulz.

comment by taryneast · 2014-11-14T06:17:28.128Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This month I took my kayak out on the water twice - once on my own and once in a social setting with other kayakers, accomplishing my goal of starting some regular "fun exercise", rather than just "because I have to" exercise, as well as working towards my goal of getting out of the house, instead of sitting at home on weekends. It also proved that my precommittment of buying the kayak, works as a motivator for me.

Replies from: hyporational
comment by hyporational · 2014-11-14T09:42:27.192Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I bought a rowing machine about 2 months ago and have rowed several times a week. I usually watch videos or listen to audio books at the same time. The financial precommitment thing works for me and has also worked when buying strength training equipment 4 months ago.

I wonder if I should buy a kayak or something similar the next summer, or perhaps join some club that rows bigger boats. Being able to show off while rowing for real should also boost my motivation to train with the machine :)

Replies from: taryneast
comment by taryneast · 2014-11-15T06:31:22.322Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

sounds like it's worth a try - though I recommend going on a social activity with a group that goes to a place that hires them first, to see if you enjoy actually doing it and getting wet while doing it (which is a somewhat different experience to rowing machines). It'll let you have a taste of it without the full committment. as long as it's enjoyable you can then choose whether or not to commit fully ;)

comment by SpencerHill · 2014-11-22T06:48:54.233Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Last weekend, I presented on three resolutions in front of the General Assembly of the Student Senate Of California Community Colleges. (Resolutions are kind of like laws that the Student Senate can get all the community colleges in california to follow - if enough delegates vote for them at the aforementioned GA, an event which happens once a semester.) I'd written all three of those resolutions. The audience numbered around 700 including the 80 delegates. All three resolutions passed.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-06T12:42:29.868Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Last night I finished Chapter 8 of Bolstad's Introduction to Bayesian Statistics, and today I drafted a conference paper set to become the main content of my MSc thesis so I can finally graduate from this fucking place. No, I did not get to use Bayesian stats in my paper: my adviser is a devoted believer in the Ritual of the P-Value (or at least, he believes conference reviewers are believers in the Ritual).

Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2014-11-06T14:31:08.127Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, I did not get to use Bayesian stats in my paper: my adviser is a devoted believer in the Ritual of the P-Value (or at least, he believes conference reviewers are believers in the Ritual).

You may be able to convince them that you can do both.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-06T15:55:58.643Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could, but I don't know enough Bayesian stats yet to know how to measure correlation the Bayesian way.

comment by SeanMCoincon · 2014-11-21T16:40:28.670Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just finished moving to the Bay Area, from a house right down the street from Focus On The Family's world headquarters. ...Bit of a change.