Public Service Announcement Collection

post by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-06-27T17:20:10.823Z · score: 39 (51 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 330 comments

P/S/A:  There are single sentences which can create life-changing amounts of difference.

 

330 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-06-27T21:51:01.338Z · score: 30 (34 votes) · LW · GW

you can very quickly check to see if you are a natural computer programmer by pulling up a page of Python source code and seeing whether it looks like it makes natural sense

The 2006 study that claimed that humans divide neatly into "natural computer programmers" and "everyone else" failed to replicate in 2008 on a larger population of students. And it didn't rely on students' subjective assessment of whether code "makes natural sense", but their measured consistency in answering questions about it.

We know from other studies that people can have highly erroneous assessments of their own ability — both in the Dunning-Kruger sense (low-skilled people overestimate greatly; high-skilled people underestimate slightly) and in the impostor-syndrome sense (high-skilled people can sometimes dramatically underestimate their skill).

In other words, if you look at a page of Python code and don't get a subjective feeling that it makes sense, that does not place you in a population of "not natural computer programmers".

(Disclaimer: I'm of the opinion that coding should be treated as a literacy skill — like reading, writing, and arithmetic.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T12:14:01.369Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

(high-skilled people can sometimes dramatically underestimate their skill)

I think that much of the time what's actually going on is that they dramatically overestimate everyone else's skill.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-06-28T03:27:26.309Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The study I think you are referring to was not about whether the two humps pattern existed - that was the initial empirical observation (contrasting with other subjects such as mathematics). Instead the study was focused on a test that the authors had hoped would distinguish the two groups in advance, which was later found not to work. That in itself does not mean that the two groups don't exist.

edit: Although I agree that the fact that someone doesn't understand Python right away doesn't mean they won't be able to learn, and I don't think Eliezer meant to imply that - it's just an easy enough test to offer the possibility of a quick win.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-06-28T21:03:52.611Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Performance being bimodal doesn't mean that aptitude is bimodal, though. Different teaching styles may have different transfer functions, as it were.

Trivially, consider a teacher who only teaches at the level of the highest-aptitude students and allows no remedial or catch-up work for the lower-level ones, versus a teacher who only teaches at the level of the lowest-aptitude students and allows no enrichment for the gifted ones. We'd expect the former to produce bimodal levels of student performance given normally-distributed aptitudes (because almost everyone is left behind and performs very poorly, while the top students excel), while the latter would tend to produce performance distributions that were flatter than the aptitude distribution (because nobody is really allowed to excel).

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-06-29T00:32:08.937Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think they claimed that bimodal performance was typical for CS, which if true* would require CS teaching to be systematically biased in a way that doesn't happen in other subjects in order to produce the effect, which strikes me as possible but unlikely.

* I wish they had given more statistics on this, IIRC it was a bit anecdotal.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-28T00:09:15.154Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Not sure why the parent is so highly upvoted. Coding aptitude clearly exists, just like aptitude for math, music and writing. You can teach most people the basic of any of those, but without aptitude they will never be any good at it.

Disclaimer: I'm of the opinion that coding should be treated as a literacy skill — like reading, writing, and arithmetic.

No idea what makes you think that. Coding is a highly specialized skill not useful to most people in everyday life.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-06-28T01:57:09.572Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Coding aptitude clearly exists

The 2006 study I'm referring to is entitled "The camel has two humps", and attempts to establish that coding aptitude not only exists, but is bimodally distributed ("two humps") and can be predicted accurately before the student has taken any coursework or written any code. IOW, that you can discern, pretty unambiguously, who is worth teaching before you try teaching them.

And that is what didn't replicate.

Sure, aptitude exists. But there probably isn't a bright line, or even a bottleneck, between natural coders and everyone else.

Coding is a highly specialized skill not useful to most people in everyday life.

That's what they said about literacy a thousand or so years ago. If you're not a scribe or a priest, why bother? Today, though, a person who can't read is effectively mentally incompetent to deal with ordinary, expected situations in society. Within a hundred years, the same will be true of a person who can't choose and apply algorithms to solve problems. It's not about getting a job slinging Java; it's about being able to tell (increasingly-omnipresent) machines what you want them to do for you.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-06-28T03:31:31.449Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The study only disproved one particular test, not all possible tests. Most likely a successful test is indeed possible if the premise of strong bimodality is true.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-06-29T01:30:11.796Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No idea what makes you think that. Coding is a highly specialized skill not useful to most people in everyday life.

Coding in the sense of banging out a thousand lines of C++ to validate XML or talk to a backing database or perform OCR or something is a pretty specialized skill, but scripting languages and the basics of algorithm design are at least potentially useful for anyone that does a lot of repetitive work involving computers. Which is an awful lot of people, including some you might not expect -- if you're a mechanic, for example, you can squeeze out a lot of comparative advantage if you're good at talking to a car's onboard computers.

I expect it to become even more generally useful as computers get smarter and more pervasive.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-29T04:17:42.654Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I expect it to become even more generally useful as computers get smarter and more pervasive.

Historically that hasn't been the case.

When personal computers became popular (say, the 1980s) the prevalent thought was that everyone will need to know programming to make use of them, so there was a wave of putting BASIC courses into schools, etc. This turned out to be quite wrong. As time went on, you needed less and less of (any kind of) specialized knowledge to interact with computers.

I don't see why this trend would suddenly break and reverse.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-06-29T04:39:33.583Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd distinguish between useful and necessary here. A user with no programming knowledge can clearly do a lot more now than they'd have been able to in 1993 let alone the 1980s, enabled largely by UI improvements: first the GUI revolution of the Eighties and early Nineties, then more incremental improvements as GUI idioms were refined over time, then innovations building on these trends. I expect this to continue.

If we stop there, however, we ignore the other side of the equation. A user with basic programming knowledge and the right mindset can now do everything a naive user can and much more, thanks among other things to an explosion in easily available libraries and the increasing popularity of capable high-level languages with intuitive semantics. Moreover, there are wide domains that UI changes haven't touched and basically can't, such as all but the simplest forms of automation: it's a rare UI that exposes so much as a conditional outside of one-time user interaction, and the exceptions (like the Word and Excel features Gwern mentioned in a sibling post) often implement scripting languages in all but name. I expect these trends to continue, too.

Taken together, that gives us a gap in capability that's likely to increase in absolute terms, even if the proportions narrow or remain stable. I'm betting on "stable", myself.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-29T05:28:17.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly a more capable user can do more than a less capable user, but that's just restating the obvious.

I would argue that there is a more important trend here: the growth and accumulation of software -- accumulation which continues to reduce the need to program something from scratch. 30 years ago if you wanted, say, a tool to convert metric amounts to imperial and back you had to write it yourself. Nowadays your task is to select one of a few dozen apps that can do it. Most needs of an average user (ones that he himself recognizes as his needs) have been met, software-wise -- no need to code anything yourself.

I believe you also overestimate the willingness of the general population to get involved with programming of any kind. I happen to know a group of fairly high-level accountants. They are all smart people, computer-literate, work all day in Excel with rather complex structures, etc. A significant part of their work is automateable and would be made noticeably easier with a collection of scripts and snippets in Excel's VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). However they refuse, explicitly and forcefully to delve into VBA using a variety of not-too-rational arguments which boil down to "we're accountants, not programmers". I don't believe these people are exceptions, I think they are the rule.

Oh, and MS Office certainly implements a full-blown scripting language -- the above-mentioned VBA.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-06-29T05:58:23.841Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I believe you also overestimate the willingness of the general population to get involved with programming of any kind.

I don't believe I made a statement about that. I'm not trying to predict whether general computer science skills will become more common outside of formal software engineering in the future -- that's not something I'm equipped to answer. I'm saying that the potential value added by being an accountant who can code or an HR specialist who can code has increased over the last decade or so and will probably continue to do so.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-29T06:24:16.244Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if I'm willing to agree with that. The main reason is complexity which is growing. We're basically talking about people who are amateur coders, programming isn't their main skill but they can do it. As the complexity of the environment increases, I'm not convinced their limited by definition skills can keep up.

There are at least two directions to this argument. One is that not many non-professional programmers are good programmers. The typical way this plays out is as follows: some guy learns a bit of Excel VBA and starts by writing a few simple macros. Soon he progresses to full-blown functions and pages of code. In a few months he automated a large chunk of his work and is happy. Until, that is, it turns out that there are some errors in his output. He tries to fix it and he can't -- two new errors pop up every time he claims to have killed one. Professionals are called in and they blanch in horror at the single 30-page function which works by arcane manipulations of a large number of global variables, all with three- or four-letter incomprehensible names, not to mention hardcoded cell references and specific numbers. The code is unsalvageable -- it has to be trashed completely and all output produced by it re-done.

The second direction is concerned not with the complexity of the task, but the complexity of the environment. Consider, for example, the basic example of opening a file, copying a chunk of text from it, and pasting it into another file. That used to be easy (and is still easy if the files are local ASCII text files and you're in Unix :-D). But now imagine that to open a file you need to interface with the company's document storage system. You have to deal with security, privileges, and permissions. You have to deal with the versioning system. Maybe the file itself is not really a file in the filesystem but an entry in a document database. The chunk of text that you're copying might turn out to be in Unicode and contain embedded objects. Etc., etc. And the APIs of all the layers that you're dealing with are, of course, written for professional programmers who are supposed to know this stuff well...

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-29T15:46:02.966Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're judging the hypothetical amateur programmer too harshly. So what if the code is ugly? Did the guy actually save time? Does his script make more errors than he would make if doing everything by hand? Is the 30-page function really necessary to achieve noticeable gains or could he still get a lot from sticking to short code snippets and thus avoiding the ugliness?

Similarly with the second example. Maybe some steps of the workflow will still have to be done manually. This wouldn't fly in a professionally programmed system. But if someone is already being paid to do everything manually then as long as they can automate some steps, it's still a win.

comment by gwern · 2013-06-29T03:45:30.347Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's been said that Excel is the world's most popular programming language. A ton of people do Word macros and Excel spreadsheets without being officially 'programmers', though they pretty much are and may well benefit from either learning formal programming (to better understand the tools they're using and the limits thereof or to switch to a more powerful tool); when we take into account all those people, coding looks like much less of a highly specialized skill.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T09:27:52.303Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are a lot of people who want to believe that anyone can do anything, that we're all equals in every way. One can sometimes run into really nasty attitudes when talking about intellectual differences, clear examples of fluff like "we're all gifted" and myths like "giftedness goes away when children grow up". Granted, it would be kind of weird to see that on LessWrong because these guys seem pretty in touch with reality when it comes to acknowledging that intellectual differences exist. Perhaps it is, instead, mind projection fallacy. Most of these guys can program, so maybe they figure most other people can learn to program the same way they did. I've noticed that a lot of gifted people have this problem - they have an ability, think of it as normal, and they assume average people will be able to do it.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-06-28T01:40:48.445Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thinking algorithmically should be a basic course taught in school. Many people muddle through a life filled with magic and not causation.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-28T01:58:05.227Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am not convinced that "thinking algorithmically" (whatever it means and however it is related to coding) is correlated with success or happiness or any other useful metric. I am also not sure that teaching one to write simple programs is going to make them better at thinking about their life in a systematic way. It certainly does not do it to professional programmers, in my experience.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-06-28T02:13:07.719Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

edit: I see that you were responding to the claim that coding specifically should be what is taught. I retract my objection to your objection.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-one-lifespan/201210/critical-thinking-and-real-world-outcomes

I'm not talking about a class that teaching introduction to programming. I mean a class about analyzing everyday problems in a step-wise fashion. Teaching children how to granularize problems instead of relying on just intuitively discovering the answer or failing. In my experience schools are failing horribly at this and the children who I coached in such basics of problem solving saw across the board academic improvements.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-06-29T17:51:33.012Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In other words, if you look at a page of Python code and don't get a subjective feeling that it makes sense, that does not place you in a population of "not natural computer programmers".

Yep, it might even be the opposite--if you can look at a page of Python code without any previous programming experience and tell yourself that you understand it, you are way too much of a rationalizer to ever be any good at programming :P

http://lesswrong.com/lw/2vb/vanity_and_ambition_in_mathematics/2scr

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-06-29T21:27:19.995Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hah. In discussing the methodology of the "camel has two humps" study with a friend who's an okay programmer, the idea came up that what they might have been measuring was overconfidence. People who are ignorant but overconfident would exhibit a consistent (but possibly wrong) model, whereas people who are ignorant and know it might hedge their bets by not answering consistently. Some courses and instructors (but not all) certainly do favor the overconfident student.

comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2013-06-30T19:23:32.714Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The 2006 study that claimed that humans divide neatly into "natural computer programmers" and "everyone else" failed to replicate in 2008 on a larger population of students.

This is an incomplete and inaccurate summary of the research. Further work has been done, and a revised test shows significant success:

Meta-analysis of the effect of consistency on success in early learning of programming (pdf)

Abstract: A test was designed that apparently examined a student's knowledge of assignment and sequence before a first course in programming but in fact was designed to capture their reasoning strategies. An experiment found two distinct populations of students: one could build and consistently apply a mental model of program execution; the other appeared either unable to build a model or to apply one consistently. The first group performed very much better in their end-ofcourse examination than the second in terms of success or failure. The test does not very accurately predict levels of performance, but by combining the result of six replications of the experiment, five in UK and one in Australia. We show that consistency does have a strong e ffect on success in early learning to program but background programming experience, on the other hand, has little or no effect.

The previous research and the test itself can be found on this page.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-06-29T21:59:33.616Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am confused. How exactly does the ability curve look like for mathematics? I think the skills are similar. And if not, then I would like to see a graph displaying the relation between math skills and computer skills.

Specifically, I can imagine a person good at math that for some reason never tried programming, but I have a problem imagining a person good at math who has a problem to understand making algorithms, when properly explained. Assuming that math skills follow the Gauss curve (do they?), what would make it a bimodal programming skills curve?

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-06-29T23:26:22.301Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good question. The bimodal distribution (vs. normal for math) was the claimed observation, but I don't know if there's solid statistical evidence for it existing beyond the specific classes they gave examples for or if its just anecdote. At any rate, if it's real, no-one knows why it exists. Anecdotally, when I did my first programming class there was a guy who was much better at math than me but seemed to have a harder time grasping the concept of programming than I did.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-27T20:41:42.379Z · score: 25 (25 votes) · LW · GW

One of the basic P/S/As:

You can say no.

comment by gyokuro · 2013-06-27T20:59:22.171Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Which might mean: By declining to do favors/tasks for people, you may feel like a selfish person, but limiting what work you take on you will reduce your stress, increase the quality of your work, and and increase your status. Plus you don't feel used or resent being helpful.

A good strategy could be to decline first, check schedules, then accept if possible: "I may be able to do that, but let me check my schedule first." Good for many situations.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-27T21:11:30.801Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's a very generic P/S/A , amenable to being understood in a multitude of ways :-)

Though my personal interpretation tends towards the resistance to conformity pressure (aka "going with the crowd") and/or defiance of authority.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-06-29T02:40:48.456Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I doubt the LW crowd has a problem with resisting peer pressure and defying authority. If anything, I would expect them to have trouble with the opposite. So let's also say: "you can say yes." Peer pressure and authority are not inherently bad.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-29T03:59:19.672Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I doubt your doubt :-) Resisting peer pressure is easy if it's not actually peer pressure -- if you can detach yourself and basically go "oh, I'm cooler/better than that". But resisting pressure from you true peers -- people you respect, people whose opinion you respect, people who you want to like you -- that is hard.

Same thing for defying authority. It's not a big deal to defy some assistant dean on college campus who's trying to enforce some obviously stupid rule. But not many people have the internal grit to stand up to real cops (who have zero problems with putting you in handcuffs and booking you on a variety of charges), real security services, people with real authority who actually have the power to screw up your life pretty badly.

No, peer pressure and authority are not inherently bad. But I would argue that the -- rare! -- ability to resist them when needed is a valuable feature of one's character. Knowing this ability exists is the first step.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-06-29T11:32:41.037Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

And contracts can be negotiated. They generally aren't take it or leave it.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2013-06-27T18:47:15.753Z · score: 25 (31 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: You are probably spending too much time looking for yet another possible solution to a problem you want to solve, and too little time making an effort to actually try the possible solutions you are already familiar with. As an example, if you are depressed, stop reading about Seth Roberts' latest pet theory of circadian oscillators if you haven't even bothered to seek professional medical advice.

comment by aelephant · 2013-06-28T00:53:39.853Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Potentially dangerous advice. See a medical professional that is willing to discuss the potential risks & benefits of treatment with you before you go in asking your PCP for some Prozac. Some studies show SSRIs are only slightly more effective than placebo & they have a whole slew of side effects. They might be appropriate for some people. For other people, safer approaches like getting some counseling, fixing your diet, exercising, & socializing might be better.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2013-06-28T12:28:53.480Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, I now realize that my phrasing was misleading. I wasn't suggesting that people self-medicate: my point was rather that they should try standard treatments for depression before considering more speculative treatments. I have altered my comment accordingly.

I am familiar with the meta-analyses you cite, and that was partly the reason why I myself didn't try anti-depressants for years. However, I now realize that this was a mistake, since the evidence for SSRIs is still stronger than the evidence for all the non-standard treatments that I spent countless hours reading about. Anecdotally, SSRIs did work for me, while Roberts' "morning faces therapy" didn't.

comment by aelephant · 2013-06-30T06:44:03.152Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and to be fair there will be some people who respond really well to SSRIs & some people who really need them. My main concern is that a lot of people rush to them as the 1st option & in my experience most physicians do NOT openly & honestly discuss the risks vs benefits of treatment. In fact, I've worked with quite a few doctors who outright mis-characterize the drugs they've prescribed as incapable of causing harm.

comment by juliawise · 2013-08-11T02:28:02.940Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Note that "SSRIs are only slightly more effective than placebo" means they are still pretty good, as placebos also work pretty well on depression.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T01:15:10.174Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, if you're reading this forum, you have a high chance of being misdiagnosed with a mental disorder and there's a book you should read - so in addition to the prescriptions being risky, they might have been unnecessary in the first place. If you really are suffering from depression, consider checking out the book referenced in my misdiagnosis link, and looking up "existential depression" in it's pages.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T01:31:43.278Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

If you neither assume that all cases of depression are due to chemical imbalance, or that nobody ever encounters a real problem in life that causes them genuine suffering, then why do you say that depressed people should stop looking for solutions? If it is considered unacceptable for an AGI to "solve" humanity's problems by wireheading us all with drugs to provide us with counterfeit utility then why should it not at least be considered acceptable for depressed people to seek a solution that is not an SSRI? Depressed people are conscious beings who have a need for meaning just like you do.

Also, if you weren't aware of this, anti-depressant drugs are frequently ineffective. It's common for people to have to try a whole bunch of them, and some never find a drug that works.

Please consider being nicer to people who are having a miserable time.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-06-28T05:02:41.980Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

That seemed less like "all cases of depression are due to chemical imbalance" and more like "try medication and other common solutions to see if they work before investigating uncommon solutions"

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2013-06-28T12:33:18.315Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Exactly. Thanks for restating what I meant more clearly than I did in my original statement.

comment by James_Miller · 2013-06-27T17:40:42.675Z · score: 23 (25 votes) · LW · GW

Most of the personal-finance-advice industry is parasitic and/or self-deluded, and it's generally agreed on by economic theory and experimental measurement that an index fund will deliver the best returns you can get without huge amounts of effort.

True. But just because something is marketed as an index fund doesn't make it an actual index fund. You want to invest in an index fund that has (1) low fees, (2) indexes something large such as the S&P 500, and (3) can be invested in via a tax-preferred mechanism such as a pension plan.

I'm an academic economist who writes a column for Better Investing Magazine.

comment by Adele_L · 2013-06-27T18:07:15.209Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have (or could you point to) more specific advice on investing in index funds?

Also, is there somewhere that discusses the evidence and reasons for favoring index funds?

comment by lukeprog · 2013-06-27T19:42:54.985Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have (or could you point to) more specific advice on investing in index funds?

The recommendation I often hear from some of the smarter people I know is one of Vanguard's index funds.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2013-06-27T18:34:00.676Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Also, is there somewhere that discusses the evidence and reasons for favoring index funds?

Perhaps see Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street.

comment by James_Miller · 2013-06-27T19:06:47.791Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

See the efficient market hypothesis.

comment by Halfwit · 2013-06-27T18:56:48.654Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Would you consider writing something on evidence-based investing for the main?

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-06-27T18:38:05.537Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: that thing that happens at night sometimes where it feels like you can't move and maybe some other crazy shit is happening like a demon is sitting on your chest or there's an intruder in your room... is called sleep paralysis. At least in my case, you can make it go away by fixing your sleep schedule, although according to Wikipedia it might also be a symptom of narcolepsy.

comment by Halfwit · 2013-06-27T19:26:36.539Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I was lucky enough to have read about that before the one time it happened to me. So I wasn't scared. I just thought, So this is sleep paralysis. Since then I've read that lucid dreamers often try to force themselves into sleep paralysis, as it's the first stop to the sandman's brooding realm. The next time it happens to you, you should try for a Feynman-style lucid dream. It could be fun.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-06-27T21:26:39.717Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I attempted to do this on a few occasions, but I don't know if it really worked. It wouldn't have worked during the middle period during which I was experiencing sleep paralysis attacks, where I was also clenching my teeth, and I could feel my teeth clenching. It felt like my teeth were going to explode. Very unpleasant.

comment by Halfwit · 2013-06-27T21:41:40.882Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that does sound pretty awful, not something you'd want to induce. For me it was just this: pressure on my chest, inability to move my limbs, and the feeling that some entity was observing me. There was no gnashing of teeth.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2013-06-27T20:58:38.855Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

don't buy gold when they tell you to

Don't buy X when "they" tell you to is good advice for a wide variety of X.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-11T17:30:03.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How about "especially don't buy X when everyone is doing it"?

comment by FeepingCreature · 2013-06-28T08:51:17.712Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Minor QoL PSA: if you get indigestion every time you consume milk or milk products, you probably have lactose intolerance, which can be fixed semi-cheaply and effectively by taking a lactase supplement before consuming milk. Lactose intolerance is widespread in adults (statistics range from 33% to 75%). Lactase supplements are available without a prescription. Considering how useful as a source of nutrients, not to mention tasty, milk is ..

comment by Nornagest · 2013-06-29T01:14:07.604Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I mostly agree, but it's worth mentioning that lactose intolerance rates are very dependent on ethnic background -- you're far more likely to tolerate lactose as an adult if you're of North or West European ancestry than just about any other ethnic group, so weight your estimates appropriately. Degree of intolerance also varies -- a full glass of milk will give me problems but I'm okay with cheese (which loses most, but not all, of its lactose in aging), while a friend of mine has trouble with a single slice of pizza.

Personally, I don't usually bother with lactase supplements; the timing is tricky (to be effective, they need to be taken twenty minutes or so before consuming dairy products) and most of the recent sources I've read don't have anything good to say about milk for adults, nutritionally speaking. I do miss ice cream, but the pleasure I'd get from it isn't worth the hassle of making it edible.

comment by Curiouskid · 2016-02-09T07:13:40.554Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It could be also be casein intolerance. I actually feel fairly okay when I drink milk, but consuming a casein protein powder makes me bloated.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-06-29T00:41:56.976Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In complete agreement with this comment until reaching the word tasty, at which point I think we need to introduce the "typical taste bud fallacy".

I like yogurt, cheese, and butter, but I can't stand drinking milk.

comment by linkhyrule5 · 2013-09-12T18:08:30.543Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! You just saved me having to give up chocolate milk!

comment by WrongBot · 2013-06-28T03:47:38.535Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

PSA: There is an actual physical sensation that accompanies religious experiences. If you feel the presence of a being of awesome power and an unusual sensation of... fullness?... in your chest, don't panic or starting believing in a god or anything crazy.

It's a physiological thing that happens to people, especially in altered states (drugs, sleep deprivation, etc.), and it doesn't mean anything.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-06-28T15:19:18.892Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds dangerously close to ignoring evidence when it conflicts with your priors.

comment by falenas108 · 2013-06-29T14:26:26.305Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

No, it just means that P(feeling religious experience|God does not exist) is not far lower than P(feeling religious experience|God does exist). Meaning, that although you should take feeling that as weak evidence of the existence of God*, it should not drastically change your opinion.

*Not everyone feels fuzzy when they go to religious events, while I would expect that were God to exist, everyone would feel something. So, that experience does favor God existing.

Now that I type that out, I realize the very fact that not everyone has those experiences is evidence against God existing.

comment by Halfwit · 2013-06-28T15:06:41.548Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of people got this from shuttle launches, and so reacted negatively to the the (in my opinion good) arguments for focusing NASA's budget on robotic space exploration.

comment by Halfwit · 2013-06-27T18:06:36.567Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

quickly check to see if you are a natural computer programmer by pulling up a page of Python source code and seeing whether it looks like it makes natural sense, and if this is the case you can teach yourself to program very quickly and get a much higher-paying job even without formal credentials.

I just did this. And I was surprised; this seemed far less inscrutable than I intuitively expected, having never read any code. My father is a computer programmer, so I may have it in my DNA. He is more intelligent than me though. Example, I once told him the three gods puzzle and he had it solved in ~20 minutes; he didn't even use paper.

P/S/A: If your work involves writing and you often find yourself procrastinating on the internet, buy an old laptop, rip out the wifi card and use it as your dedicated writing laptop.

P/S/A: When you need to get a large amount of writing done outside of office hours, go to some non-home location (a coffee shop not a library, as books are the ultimate distractions) and commit yourself to not leaving until you reach a specific word count--I find two thousand words is reasonable and achievable; at least it is for non-creative writing.

Also, If there is some fact that you need to research use the TK method to mark it down for later.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-27T18:33:44.253Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Three gods puzzle (aka "The Hardest Logic Puzzle Ever", I didn't make that name up!) for reference. Try to solve the puzzle first, I've appended the text. The referenced link contains the solution.

Three gods A, B, and C are called, in no particular order, True, False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A, B, and C by asking three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods understand English, but will answer all questions in their own language, in which the words for yes and no are da and ja, in some order. You do not know which word means which.

Clarifications:

  • It could be that some god gets asked more than one question (and hence that some god is not asked any question at all).

  • What the second question is, and to which god it is put, may depend on the answer to the first question. (And of course similarly for the third question.)

  • Whether Random speaks truly or not should be thought of as depending on the flip of a coin hidden in his brain: if the coin comes down heads, he speaks truly; if tails, falsely.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-06-30T18:12:15.275Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Here's my solution. Not 100% sure it works.

Nyy dhrfgvbaf ner nfxrq gb nal tbq.
Dhrfgvba 1: Vs vafgrnq bs guvf dhrfgvba, V nfxrq lbh jurgure Gehr'f nafjre gb gur dhrfgvba bs jurgure qn zrnag gehr jbhyq or gur fnzr nf Gehr'f nafjre gb gur dhrfgvba bs jurgure Gehr fng gb gur yrsg bs Snyfr, jbhyq lbhe nafjre or lbhe ynathntr'f rdhvinyrag bs gehr?
Nafjre vagrecergngvba: Vs gur nafjre vf qn, Gehr fvgf gb gur yrsg bs Snyfr.  Vs gur nafjre vf an, Snyfr fvgf gb gur yrsg bs Gehr.
Dhrfgvba 2: Vs vafgrnq bs guvf dhrfgvba, V nfxrq lbh jurgure Gehr'f nafjre gb gur dhrfgvba bs jurgure qn zrnag gehr jbhyq or gur fnzr nf Gehr'f nafjre gb gur dhrfgvba bs jurgure Enaqbz fng orgjrra Gehr naq Snyfr, jbhyq lbhe nafjre or lbhe ynathntr'f rdhvinyrag bs gehr?
Nafjre vagrecergngvba: Vs gur nafjre vf qn, Enaqbz fvgf orgjrra Gehr naq Snyfr naq lbh'er qbar.
Dhrfgvba 3: Vs vafgrnq bs guvf dhrfgvba, V nfxrq lbh jurgure Gehr'f nafjre gb gur dhrfgvba bs jurgure qn zrnag gehr jbhyq or gur fnzr nf Gehr'f nafjre gb gur dhrfgvba bs jurgure Enaqbz fng ba gur sne yrsg, jbhyq lbhe nafjre or lbhe ynathntr'f rdhvinyrag bs gehr?
Nafjre vagrecergngvba: Vs gur nafjre vf qn, Enaqbz fvgf gb gur yrsg bs Gehr naq Snyfr; bgurejvfr ur fvgf gb gurve evtug.

rot13

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T12:19:40.129Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The first time I read that I thought “what difference there is between speaking truly in a language where da means yes and ja means no, and speaking falsely in a language where ja means yes and da means no?” and assumed that the solution was that there's no solution. (I was wrong.)

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2013-06-27T21:48:52.309Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This looks superficially similar to the Three Princesses.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-27T21:54:22.189Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Differences: The Three Princess riddle only allows for one binary question, however, the princess (same setup of of True, False, Random) answer in plain English. You win if you (edit:) choose a princess who is not random. 1, 2, 3.

comment by Benya (Benja) · 2013-06-28T19:11:15.531Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, you win if you are able to choose a princess other than Random -- you do not need to know which of the two remaining ones is Random. Otherwise, this would clearly be impossible since the answer provides only one bit and there are three possibilities. (And that's not even considering that under sensible interpretations of the rules, you don't get any information if you happen to ask Random -- i.e., you're not allowed to ask e.g., "Is it true that (you are False) OR (you are Random and you've decided to answer truthfully this time)", which, if allowed, would be answered in the affirmative iff the one you asked is Random.)

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2013-06-27T21:19:00.382Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They all speak the same language?

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-27T21:28:06.985Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes.

comment by Jack · 2013-06-27T20:43:05.977Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Does each god know which god is which? And can I ask the same question twice to the same god?

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-27T20:46:51.060Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, True and False have to be omniscient to be able to answer consistently correctly or incorrectly, for any arbitrary binary question. There's a version of the answer which (spoiler) relies on asking unanswerable questions, which only Random would answer. There's also solution that doesn't rely on such gimmicks, however.

comment by CoffeeStain · 2013-06-27T22:41:42.932Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do True and False know what answer Random would give, or are they required to say "I don't know?"

comment by Adele_L · 2013-06-27T23:37:54.889Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I interpreted it to mean that the question must be answerable with yes or no.

comment by CoffeeStain · 2013-06-28T21:46:14.901Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are questions for which you don't know the answerability, so either the rules must be that questions asked are provably answerable, or else you are allowed to glean information from whether the god answers it or not.

Assuming that True and False do not know the future results of questions to Random, an example is a question to A (True) of "Would B say 1 + 1 = 2?" If B is False, it is answerable (with a 'no'). If B is Random, it is unanswerable.

comment by Adele_L · 2013-06-28T22:20:53.556Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Provably answerable from your own knowledge.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T02:23:48.922Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's nothing in your wording that suggests random is not able to refuse an unanswerable question as one of it's potential random responses.

comment by Halfwit · 2013-06-28T04:51:51.902Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A fair coin can't refuse to answer.

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-06-27T21:04:17.040Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not completely stupid. I used to be a decent programmer. I'm now a halfway-decent programmer. I'm unable to make any progress, and my ability to hold a job of any kind is dubious. What am I doing wrong?

comment by jimrandomh · 2013-06-28T15:35:29.134Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hard to say, but a few key pieces of information might lead you in the right direction. Is the inability to make progress project-specific? You can test this by doing something small on the side. Is it accompanied by an "ugh field"? Do you have non-programming-related signs of depression?

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-06-29T09:18:12.338Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not project-specific. It's not repulsive so much as slippery - I happily begin working, but constantly lose focus. I was diagnosed with depression over a year ago, but I'm on meds and it's pretty much gone, and I don't have trouble focusing on things that don't require much insight.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-06-29T23:13:16.102Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've heard that anti-depressants can have a wide variety of side effects including things like this. Maybe look into the possible side-effects of the one you're taking?

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-06-30T03:39:35.548Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not a known side effect of that one, but that's certainly a possibility. I'm trying to go off it, so I'll see.

comment by Halfwit · 2013-06-27T21:21:09.302Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're asking me for advice? That was the first time I've looked at code in my life. I'm sure the textbook recommendation thread has something on programming. From what I understand, though, halfway-decent programmers are very employable at the moment, so either you're overestimating your ability, there's some other factor you haven't shared, or my intuition on the employment prospects of halfway-decent programmers (I assume this means close to, if slightly below, the level of the average pro) is incorrect.

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-06-27T21:57:48.132Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I assume this means close to, if slightly below, the level of the average pro

No, just very haphazard. I know how to do many things, but I don't know how to do many other, often easier, things, and I seem to have become oddly unable to learn. Of course nobody wants a CSS whiz who never learnt HTML5.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-27T23:47:26.907Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Utterly random hypothesis: your odd inability to learn is caused by the tension between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. You got into programming and learned stuff because it was fun in itself, but when you started thinking that you should use your skills to earn money and started analyzing every programming-related action in terms of its money-earning potential, it stopped being fun and became ugh.

comment by Halfwit · 2013-06-28T01:18:39.239Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm, one way to maybe get around this would be to start an intrinsically motivating project but limit oneself to the tools one has to learn for extrinsic reasons.

comment by Halfwit · 2013-06-27T23:16:30.933Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Then my advice is this: talk to someone who has the entry-level job you want and ask him or her what skills he/she needs to do it and what skills whoever hired him or her thinks one needs. Then learn them. As for the "oddly unable" thing, I suggest reflecting on how you learned what you are good at in the first place. If there's anything different about your current, ineffective approach to learning new techniques stop doing it. Unless you've recently suffered brain trauma, it's likely just some weird ugh field-like effect.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-06-28T12:23:50.291Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You don't provide enough information here. Your problem, and therefore the solution, could be pretty much anything. (Get enough sleep? Solve your emotional problems first? Find another job? Read the official specification? Get medicated? ...)

comment by shminux · 2013-07-04T00:09:57.503Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Example, I once told him the three gods puzzle and he had it solved in ~20 minutes; he didn't even use paper.

Whoa! 20 min and in his head? I wish I were that smart.

EDIT: Given that I am average or worse at logic puzzles, and that I haven't heard this one before, somehow, I have decided to document my thought process as I was solving it. It certainly helps to know that there is a solution. Anyway, my explorations are documented here. Warning: the write-up is rather long and not edited for clarity.

I was quite happy that I had found that you have 1 in 3 chances to solve the puzzle with just two questions (without "exploding god-heads")! The total time passed spent thinking and writing things up was probably several hours over several days, so an order of magnitude worse than your father :)

comment by maia · 2013-06-28T00:08:55.331Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

PSA: If you are female, live in the US, and have health insurance, you can get 5 years of birth control for the cost (in copays) of one or two doctor's visits. The new health care mandates that IUDs be paid for, and in exchange for making it 3-5 years instead of 5-10 (taking the hormonal version instead of nonhormonal), you get a 20% chance of not menstruating at all while on it. It's also 99.5% effective over a year, which is quite good.

Not the perfect, side-effect free treatment for unwanted fertility and menses that I hope the future holds, but it's pretty good.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-06-29T00:49:02.095Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Probably worth clarifying that to also note that contemporary IUDs are quite safe, unlike the model that caused Americans to stop using them for a generation.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T01:54:17.776Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Considering the widespread misconceptions about condom efficacy rates, that they've made a decently effective alternative more affordable is excellent news!

If you are not familiar with the misconceptions, I will briefly explain:

The condom boxes say there's a 2% failure rate. That's 2% per year. Considering that most people are sexually active for far more than one year, that 2% rate is completely meaningless.

Furthermore, that's for perfect use. The actual way people use condoms, the rate of failure can be (an average of) 15% per year.

I tried finding studies on condoms that ran longer than one year, but couldn't find any. However, a survey was done that gives us an idea of the aftermath of this:

“Three hundred four women (78%) had used condoms for an aggregate total of 1178 years (average=3.9 years per woman; range=1 month-25 years). Seventy-eight women (25.6%) reported becoming pregnant while using condoms”

In not even four years, more than one in four of them became pregnant.

http://www.jfponline.com/Pages.asp?AID=2603

Unfortunately, this information is likely to cause anyone reading it to be at an evolutionary disadvantage, therefore it may make sense to spread the word as much as possible and remember to tell people who are dissimilar to yourself.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T11:48:34.774Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The condom boxes say there's a 2% failure rate. That's 2% per year. Considering that most people are sexually active for far more than one year, that 2% rate is completely meaningless.

Do people actually interpret that 2% to mean 2% per lifetime? If I didn't know what it meant, I'd interpret it as 2% per intercourse.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T19:29:52.076Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, unfortunately, a large number of the people I've talked to do interpret it as 2% per lifetime.

comment by Skeeve · 2013-06-28T12:18:43.024Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's what I assumed as well, that it was 2% per incident, but I'm having a little trouble parsing those differently:

How is 2% per incident different than 2% per year? I'd interpret both of those statements as 'on average, given perfect use, a condom will be ineffective at preventing pregnancy in one use out of fifty'.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T14:13:48.896Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I guess the average condom user uses more than one per year.

comment by Skeeve · 2013-06-28T17:53:35.739Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yes, but what does 2% failure rate per year even mean when it's presented independent of a number of uses per year? I mean, without knowing what number of average uses were used to calculate "2% failure rate per year", it seems like somewhat of a misleading statement, as I'm reasonably certain (let's say at least 90%) that it's not intended to reflect that condoms become more protective the more chances you have to use them.

I feel like I'm missing something basic here that would let me see why it's a useful piece of information on its own.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T22:14:29.524Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree it's misleading. That's why I'd prefer a metric like this, where the precise definitions you use don't matter if they are the same in both the numerator and the denominator as constant factors would cancel out.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T19:39:36.718Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

what does 2% failure rate per year even mean when it's presented independent of a number of uses per year

This is a good observation. You can look up what the average number of uses per year is. If I remember right, I've seen some condom efficacy studies include that information.

I feel like I'm missing something basic here that would let me see why it's a useful piece of information on its own.

You're not missing anything basic, you're correctly perceiving ambiguity where ambiguity does exist. Even when information is really important, I've found that it's often been omitted simply because products are marketed to the average person, not to nerdy people like me, and most people don't want to think as much as I do. For this reason, I've found it's very important to be careful not to assume that the world is doing sensible things or giving me all the information. They're not just leaving information out, they're also not being held accountable by a world full of people who think as much as I do. Therefore, they can get away with slapping various nonsense marketing claims and out-of-context data on their boxes without people questioning them.

comment by Skeeve · 2013-06-29T11:23:11.248Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For this reason, I've found it's very important to be careful not to assume that the world is doing sensible things or giving me all the information.

Yeah, this is good advice in general, and it's definitely what I was doing wrong this time.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-07-01T00:37:48.240Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for taking a moment to let me know that my comment is appreciated and that this information makes a difference for you. I find that, like Luke says in The Power of Reinforcement, knowing that a behavior of mine has made a difference and is wanted "increases the probability that the behavior will occur again".

I think LessWrong could really use more positive reinforcement, so I hereby positively reinforce you for showing the humility to positively reinforce.

comment by Skeeve · 2013-07-02T11:27:52.881Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're welcome.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T19:50:08.971Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Here's how 2% per incident is different:

Let's say, hypothetically speaking, that the average number of uses per year is 100.

A 2% per incident risk will add up to a yearly 50% risk for the average user.*

A 2% per year risk already included 100 uses, so it is still 2% per year.

A 2% per year risk would add up to a 70% chance over the 35 or so years women are fertile and active and a 2% per incident risk would add up to a much, much higher risk, likely resulting in multiple pregnancies.*

* This is only if pure math reflects reality, which it probably doesn't because there are other factors here like people forgetting important parts of the instructions over time, people getting better at using them over time, or people becoming sloppy about applying them because they're tired of them or have developed a sense of over-confidence.

comment by mwengler · 2013-07-11T18:12:38.415Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is only if pure math reflects reality,

No, it requires that the failures of condom usage be independent events from one another. That is to say, that person A using a condom at time B has the same probability of failure as person C using a condom at time D, even if C=A or B=D.

Without knowing more, it is entirely possible that some fraction of men have supersperm which gets through condoms and that they account for all the failures, and those that use condoms but avoid supersperm will never fail. Alternatively it is possible that some group of people keep making the same mistakes and account for all the failures while another group of people use them right and don't fail.

Math can be used to analyze all of these possibilities.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T22:20:49.712Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A 2% per incident risk will add up to a yearly 50% risk for the average user.*

I think the figure you're looking for is 1 - (0.98^100) = 0.87 (assuming no-one gets pregnant twice in the same year).

comment by mwengler · 2013-07-11T18:07:35.144Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well if you have sex once per year, it is not different.

My condolences.

comment by Protagoras · 2013-06-28T08:51:56.017Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The 15% "typical use" failure rate is the failure rate for people who use condoms most of the time. I'm disinclined to call it a failure of condoms myself that they don't work when people don't use them, though perhaps it could be considered a defect in the method that people apparently have such trouble using them all the time. Do note that birth control research does not involve researchers observing people in their bedrooms to see how and how consistently they are using their methods. The research is based on people's reported use, so since those reports are obviously not perfectly reliable, the 2% "perfect use" failure rate almost certainly is also partly (perhaps mostly) due to occasional failures to use the condoms.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T09:06:11.718Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

In IT, if people don't use your software correctly, it's called "Bad user interface design." In business, if people don't like your product enough to actually use it, it's considered your responsibility to make a better product next time. Most people are blaming the condom users, but I think we can take the outside perspective instead. Instead of "shoulding" the condom users, let's criticize the product:

  • You have to remember the product when? This is kinda bad timing to remember stuff, you know?

  • They have to carefully concentrate and use agile finger motions at that time? Maybe they are so excited that fine motor skills like putting on a condom become really hard due to shaking fingers, or concentration becomes a problem due to distraction, and they put it on wrong.

  • They have to use impulse control then? Maybe their neuro-chemistry is all bent out of shape and impulse control is low. This is kinda a bad time to expect excellent impulse control, seriously.

  • Maybe they spent a lot of time getting themselves or their partners ready to go, and they know that a delay can deflate the mood, so they feel conflicted about doing things like reading the instructions, taking their time putting it on, or just getting the thing out.

Please do not confuse this message for "don't use condoms". My message is actually "We need something better than just condoms." (Even if condoms were a joy to use, their effectiveness is still too low.) More importantly:

Please consider also that if there's any trait at all that makes using condoms less likely to succeed (lower impulse control, less agile fingers, memory issues) those traits may have a genetic advantage for as long as condoms are a primary method of contraception. Example: If you keep forgetting to use your condoms, you're more likely to get someone pregnant, and if the memory issue is genetic, you've just put one more copy of that gene into the world.

To prevent their companies from having a negative impact on the gene pool, and because the consequences for their customers can be so dire (moreso for a pro-life couple who isn't ready for a baby), I think contraceptive makers should take more responsibility here.

IT people do it. Other business people do it. They can do it, too.

comment by coffeespoons · 2013-06-30T22:53:33.480Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Replacing condoms doesn't work for people who aren't currently in monogamous relationships. We need them to protect against STIs. Encouraging people to entirely replace condoms would I should think lead to an increase in STIs.

I've used condoms every single time I've had sex, and they've only failed twice. Both of the times they failed I took emergency contraception. I've never had a pregnancy scare. Of course I could be infertile, but many of my friends use the same method, and they find it effective. Others use a combination of hormonal contraception and condoms.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-07-01T01:36:45.529Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm torn here. Do I tell you that's a good point because combination strategies can be much more effective at preventing pregnancy, or do I let you know that the efficacy rate for STIs are subject to the same forces as the efficacy rates for pregnancy?

I guess I can do both. You'll decide what risk to take in any case.

The amount of protection that you can get from a condom against STIs is not as good as the amount of protection you get against pregnancy. Not everyone can give you an STI (about 20% of the population) whereas most straight couplings can lead to pregnancy (about 90% of people of childbearing age are fertile). So that increases your odds of a good outcome. Some people are honest about their STI status, and that also increases your odds of a good outcome - but don't forget that some people do not even know that they have an STI, and others may be in denial or crazy or sociopathic - and if you're having casual sex, you really can't be sure about a person's moral character and sanity level.

Your chance of getting an STI while using a condom would be a lot higher than 50% if you had a partner with a disease for the rest of your life. If you have random partners, and 1/20 people has an STI and some of them don't know it, and some of them aren't honest... I'm not sure what your chances are, but if you're successful with finding partners, it could be substantially worse than a 2% lifetime risk.

You may want to try looking up rates of STI among people who have non-relationship sex.

Another possibility is to find a special friend and get tested together.

If that won't work, a combination strategy (like condoms with spermicide) could be a significant improvement. You may want to research nonoxynol-9 before using it. I've heard that it increases the chance of disease transmission.

comment by coffeespoons · 2013-07-01T07:59:01.595Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty much all the non monogamous people I know get regular tests. So yes, most people use testing in addition to condoms. I don't have casual sex any more, really, but I never caught an STI when I did.

Oh, and most condoms sold in the UK contain spermicide.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-06-28T09:27:06.151Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Please cite your sources for those numbers, they look like the ridiculously fudged one Catholic sources come up with.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T10:45:13.401Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, I understand your alarm - you're probably thinking something along the lines of WTF, you're saying condoms aren't effective, why are you contradicting sex ed? If you want one quick reference to show you why you should be concerned about this, the Journal of Family Practice published a research survey that revealed the aftermath of these condom myths. I added it to the comment you were responding to. As for why I said what I said in the last comment: I tried finding a condom study that ran for longer than a year. I couldn't find one anywhere. The one year studies gave failure rates that ranged between 2% and 15%. Those figures can be found at Pubmed if you search for condom efficacy.

comment by maia · 2013-06-28T02:34:19.565Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed! Even assuming I'm somewhat better than typical, condoms make me a bit nervous.

Considering that most people are sexually active for far more than one year, that 2% rate is completely meaningless.

(Frivolous nitpicking) Yeah, but I think it's probably one of the better units of measure they could have chosen. "Per intercourse event" would probably be so low that people wouldn't grok the fact that their overall chances were much worse. But any unit more than a year doesn't make much sense.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T11:52:30.215Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think a decent measure would be P(getting pregnant|one intercourse with condom)/P(getting pregnant|one intercourse without condom).

comment by somervta · 2013-07-01T08:00:02.041Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you really think the average person being/needing information about condoms can understand that?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-07-01T10:25:54.870Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If worded as “Using a condom reduces the chances of getting pregnant by X%” or “by N times”, probably.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T02:38:53.805Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed! Even assuming I'm somewhat better than typical, condoms make me a bit nervous.

Good for you. They should make everybody nervous!

But any unit more than a year doesn't make much sense.

It would be more accurate to reality, and would aid people in family planning. What about this does not make sense?

comment by maia · 2013-06-28T03:14:51.275Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose, like, five or ten years might make sense. But it seems to me that the length of people's sex lives and time of usage of different birth control methods vary enough that even that could be overkill. Like, if you try out a method for a few months to a year, the 5-year prognosis won't necessarily be relevant to you. Although I suppose you wouldn't necessarily plan to use a method for less than 5 years, in which case, that's what would be relevant to your decision making, even if you don't end up using it for that long.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T05:06:32.834Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is, people are mistaking them for lifetime rates, and they are not. If people are trying to use them as lifetime rates when they're not, then that's just not going to work.

comment by orthonormal · 2013-07-02T15:44:08.374Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: If you have friends you want to see more of, but they don't have enough social events they go to, you can cause one to happen just by announcing it. (Social Schelling points!) One particularly nice example is that you can send out a group email saying simply "hey, I'm hosting brunch this weekend; I'll provide X and Y; anyone else want to bring something?" and it usually works!

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-06-30T03:16:15.905Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: earwax type varies by race. Asians and Native Americans tend to have "dry" earwax while Africans and Europeans tend to have "wet" earwax. Ear cleaning is primarily an Asian practice because it's adapted to dry earwax. (I have a terrible story about how I found this out by asking a white girlfriend of mine to clean my ears.)

P/S/A: the same genetic variation that controls earwax type above also controls underarm odor, which is less common among people with dry earwax than wet earwax. (I have a terrible story about how I found this out by telling a group of white people I knew that I had never used deodorant before.)

comment by mindspillage · 2013-07-04T04:19:56.629Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Tangentially: that is in fact my wet-type earwax illustrating the Wikipedia article. (Picture taken by my partner. No terrible story.)

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T19:32:53.619Z · score: 9 (27 votes) · LW · GW

And while I'm annoying people...

P/S/A: If you're male, you have few legal protections against women. Do not behave assuming that police or courts will treat you equally. If a woman hits you, you should consider self-defense as a last resort, and calling the police a second-to-last resort, because in either case you're likely to be arrested, and in the former you're likely to be convicted.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-27T19:35:59.245Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

This is quite US-centric, actually.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-06-27T21:58:56.017Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"Likely" usually means "more than 50% chance". Can you substantiate that claim?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T23:03:26.059Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I can point you to a book which substantiates it; "New Visions of Crime Victims" by Hoyle, Young, and Young. It's actually common advice on men's abuse sites -not- to call the police for this very reason. And some of them even have the statistics. For reasons of personal emotional stability I'm not currently willing to go there and get them, however.

comment by TimS · 2013-06-28T02:20:16.337Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I would agree that in a domestic violence situation in the US, the police are more likely to believe the woman than the man. That said, the second sentence of your PSA is just a specification of the general rule that criminal courts tend to defer to police judgment in practice. Your last sentence is useful practical advise, at least right now (unfortunately).

In short, the second sentence is a specific application of a separate, gender-neutral problem with the way US society (particularly the criminal justice system) is organized. And the first sentence ("few legal protections against women") is false as written. If it is read as limited to DV situations, it adds no information above the latter two sentences. If it is not read in that limited manner, it is easily falsified, even in the criminal context.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-28T03:26:33.347Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Don't assume because I didn't provide more examples of how this information applies doesn't mean there aren't any. That was deliberate. If you want a hint, you can look into gender sentencing bias, plaintiff gender bias, and maybe, to see the far end of it, how courts have ruled on child support payments from statutory rape victims when the victim is male - those aren't the only cases when rape victims have paid child support to their rapists, but they're the easiest to find and the least horrifying to consider. You probably don't want the full picture. The shape of its edges is bad enough. Just know that in any legal exchange you'll be severely handicapped and there exists effective blackmail material against you at all times regardless of your actions and if you -do- get attacked you should have no expectation of legal support.

And yes, I do speak somewhat from experience, and this is information I -really- could have used about four years ago. No, it's not as horrible as it could be. Yes, it has scared the crap out of me, in large part because I didn't even realize there was a hazard there. Hence the PSA.

comment by TimS · 2013-06-28T04:58:20.230Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry that you had a difficult time in your encounter with the legal system.

As a practical matter, there are some differences in how supposedly neutral laws are applied based on the sex / gender of the participants, even if the law as written says there aren't. The way the legal world looks when the rubber meets the road can (and often is) very different than one would think if one only read appeals decisions.

An example for your hobbyhorse: It's an undeniable fact that female statutory rape defendants are sentenced less harshly that male statutory rape defendants. But that's not a fact about the law as written. If a law were actually written that way, it would be invalid.

Your PSA made an assertion about the law as written, and that statement was wrong. I'm speaking as an expert on the subject.

If you want to talk about the problems identified in places like Three Felonies per Day, I agree already. But that's not really a sex / gender issue because we're all equally vulnerable.

comment by gothgirl420666 · 2013-06-27T23:28:14.073Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The frustrating thing about these threads is that I probably have a bunch of useful contributions stashed somewhere in my brain that simply aren't coming to mind right now.

PSA: Your problems are basically solvable if you step outside of the comfortable certainty of only acting on objective scientific research. Instead throw as much information as you can regarding the problem at yourself, perhaps relying on unsupported, vague, or even several contradictory models of reality in order to plot your course. There are hundreds of self-help books written on any given problem - read five of them and experiment, (while of course not forgetting to use your rationality skills at the end of the day) and you'll probably get somewhere.

PSA: If you are depressed, read Feeling Good by David Burns.

PSA: If you are very akratic, it might be because your self-worth is overly tied to your productivity. From my own experiences and what I've read, this seems to be the killer.

PSA: Making eye contact with people is really important when it comes to getting them to like and respect you. The stronger the eye contact the better, unless you are a man talking to another man, in which case you should still make fairly strong eye contact, but overdoing it can be harmful.

PSA: If you want to download a zip of an album when it leaks, search for it on Twitter, not Google. (Disclaimer: I have only tried this for hip-hop albums.)

And here's a LessWrong post with five more that are really useful.

(Also, what's with the slashes in the acronym?)

comment by aelephant · 2013-06-28T00:42:33.844Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Searching blogs or forums with Google also works pretty well for me.

comment by Technoguyrob · 2013-06-27T20:37:29.677Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

p/s/a: Going up to a girl pretty much anywhere in public and saying something like "I thought you looked cute and wanted to meet you" actually works if your body language is in order. If this seems too scary, going on Chatroulette or Omegle and being vaguely interesting also works, and I know people who have gotten married from meeting this way.

p/s/a: Vitamin D supplements can take you from depressed zombie to functioning human being in one week.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-06-28T09:31:32.383Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

if your body language is in order

This reads unfortunately like an excuse ahead of time. "Oh, your body language must not have been in order."

(Although I do agree that if you're not socially offensive, just telling people when you fancy them does in fact work quite well and I wish I'd realised that ten years earlier than I had.)

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T01:46:31.323Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Word to the wise: If you substitute "hot" for "cute" you may get unanticipated negative results. I would not interpret "hot" in anywhere near the same way as "cute". Here's how that would translate for me:

"I thought you looked cute..." = "I am likely to be interested in things like emotional intimacy and cuddling."

"I thought you looked hot..." = "I am likely to be one of those guys who is going to be so persistent in making attempts to get casual sex out of you tonight that it is going to drive you up a wall."

I have nothing against sex, but like many people, I am annoyed by persistent attempts to get things from me.

comment by Dahlen · 2013-07-02T20:12:59.979Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant SMBC.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-06-29T11:31:57.413Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

if your body language is in order.

What do you have in mind?

comment by gothgirl420666 · 2013-06-27T23:06:44.648Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

p/s/a: Going up to a girl pretty much anywhere in public and saying something like "I thought you looked cute and wanted to meet you" actually works if your body language is in order.

Is this true? Aside from the fact that getting "your body language in order" is easier said than done, it would be pretty easy to do an experiment to test this hypothesis. You could approach one hundred women in this way and see how many responses you got of each of the following nature: active hostility, passive "please go away" politeness, friendliness, perceived actual sexual desire. You could even get, say, five different men from different quintiles of physical attractiveness to see how it varies.

I kind of want to do it myself, but to be honest I'm probably too much of a wimp.

If this seems too scary, going on Chatroulette or Omegle and being vaguely interesting also works, and I know people who have gotten married from meeting this way.

The one time I went on Omegle everyone kept next-ing me almost instantly, and maybe one out of five times they next-ed me as soon as I said "hello" or the equivalent. I can't think of any characteristic I have that would make me exceptionally next-able, so I concluded that Omegle was a really frustrating waste of time. I'm confused as to why other people concluded otherwise.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T23:11:37.765Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Is this true? Aside from the fact that getting "your body language in order" is easier said than done, it would be pretty easy to do an experiment to test this hypothesis. You could approach one hundred women in this way and see how many responses you got of each of the following nature: active hostility, passive "please go away" politeness, friendliness, perceived actual sexual desire. You could even get, say, five different men from different quintiles of physical attractiveness to see how it varies.

  • I'll volunteer to try this if anyone else want to set up an empirical test of this. Somebody else will have to evaluate attractiveness, though.
comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T14:35:30.579Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The one time I went on Omegle everyone kept next-ing me almost instantly, and maybe one out of five times they next-ed me as soon as I said "hello" or the equivalent. I can't think of any characteristic I have that would make me exceptionally next-able, so I concluded that Omegle was a really frustrating waste of time. I'm confused as to why other people concluded otherwise.

Anecdata: I've been dating someone I met on Omegle for 8 months. However, I'm not sure I would recommend it as a means of meeting interesting people. Finding good conversations on Omegle seems to depend mostly on luck, but also on what keywords you enter as "interests," and on what time of day you use the site.

comment by Alsadius · 2013-06-29T18:29:12.293Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've not tried it myself(at least, not often enough to have useful data), but from all I've heard it can work. It's low probability - single-digit percentages for most guys, it seems - but the investment of time and effort in doing it is sufficiently low that it can still be a good strategy, as long as you have a high tolerance for rejection.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-06-29T18:08:33.321Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The one time I went on Omegle everyone kept next-ing me almost instantly, and maybe one out of five times they next-ed me as soon as I said "hello" or the equivalent. I can't think of any characteristic I have that would make me exceptionally next-able, so I concluded that Omegle was a really frustrating waste of time. I'm confused as to why other people concluded otherwise.

Some tips for using Omegle: Choose the text chat option. Put in at least 40 interests that might appeal to someone who thinks (ideally you'll have enough interests so that you're never getting random strangers). Open 2-3 browser tabs so you can fish for interesting people in parallel and use ctrl-tab and ctrl-shift-tab to cycle tabs (or don't do this, if you don't want to get sucked in). Press escape three times to get a new person. Generally do this if the person you're chatting with asks your gender within the first 5 messages they send.

I have had success with Omegle's video option, but I think you just have to accept the fact that a lot of people are going to next you just so that you won't next them first. Could be good for building a thicker skin.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-06-28T12:51:26.078Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The one time I went on Omegle everyone kept next-ing me almost instantly, and maybe one out of five times they next-ed me as soon as I said "hello" or the equivalent. I can't think of any characteristic I have that would make me exceptionally next-able, so I concluded that Omegle was a really frustrating waste of time. I'm confused as to why other people concluded otherwise.

My experience was similar. The main exceptions were guys who next'd when they found out I wasn't going to send them pictures of the "hot chick" they were hoping to meet, and one person advertising benaughty.com who I'm not convinced was not a bot.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-06-28T01:55:06.030Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Continuing: Other substances whose deficiency is common and seem to have large effects for a subset of the population. By that I mean they see immediate relief after supplementing.

  • Magnesium: issues with muscle tension, cramps, poor sleep quality.
  • Potassium: immediate strong nootropic effects for some people. Coconut water is the most popular method of fixing this.
  • B12: absorption seems to be poor enough that deficiency is common even among people who eat b12 rich foods. Especially important for older folks as absorption declines with age. Responsible for many things people chalk up to age: aches, nervous tension, poor sleep, anxiety, depression, lethargy etc.
  • Saturated fat: immediate strong nootropic effects for some people.
comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T08:21:39.796Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Re: B12 - Actually, new PSA.

comment by falenas108 · 2013-06-29T14:33:42.711Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Going up to a girl pretty much anywhere in public and saying something like "I thought you looked cute and wanted to meet you" actually works if your body language is in order.

Going up to a /anyone/ and telling them you find them attractive works decently well with the right body language, regardless of the genders involved on either end.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-06-29T01:03:25.584Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

p/s/a: Going up to a girl pretty much anywhere in public and saying something like "I thought you looked cute and wanted to meet you" actually works if your body language is in order. If this seems too scary, going on Chatroulette or Omegle and being vaguely interesting also works, and I know people who have gotten married from meeting this way.

Probably already accounted for by the use of the word "girl" rather than "woman" here, but I suspect this depends on the age of the lady in question (and on the age of the man, for that matter).

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T07:15:08.809Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

At times when I was low on iodine or B vitamins, I've had the zombie one day functioning the next experience as well. There are other things that are supposed to have an effect like omega 3. Then there are other things like the "Atkin's attitude" which is reported to happen to some who reduce their carb levels enough to make their blood sugar too low. It might be possible to eat a weird enough diet that you consume too little tryptophan to make serotonin. It might make more sense to consider the full spectrum of relevant substances instead of trying this and that.

Also, not all vitamin supplement brands are equal. Some are far, far better than others. On consumerlab.com Solgar, Jarrow, Puritan's Pride, Vitamin World and Nature's Bounty were tested in lots of different reviews and have a very good track record, whereas there are a lot of other brands that, after only a few tests, showed problems with things as shocking as lead contamination and spoilage - not to mention the problem of simply not providing as much of the substances as they claimed to.

If you need supplements to stay happy, I hope you have a high-quality one.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T12:16:57.415Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

pretty much anywhere in public

For some value of “pretty much anywhere in public”, I guess. I wouldn't do that in an Islamic country, for example.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-06-28T12:04:18.187Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

p/s/a: Vitamin D supplements can take you from depressed zombie to functioning human being in one week.

This might be particularly relevant if you live somewhere where the sun gets turned off for winter. I anecdotally de-zombified myself last January when I thought of the SAD connection and started eating vitamin D supplements.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-06-27T21:57:51.852Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

p/s/a: Vitamin D supplements can take you from depressed zombie to functioning human being in one week.

Anecdote time!

A therapist suggested a few months ago that I get my Vitamin D level checked — citing low levels as a possible cause of low, somewhat depressive moods. I finally got around to doing that. Last week I got the test results; it turns out it's a bit below the normal range. So my doctor advised I should take 1000 IU of Vitamin D3 daily. I'm not sure it's working, but I have generally felt both more cheerful and more productive since.

But don't start taking it without actually testing first. Hypervitaminosis D doesn't sound like any fun at all.

comment by gwern · 2013-06-27T22:21:11.686Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

But don't start taking it without actually testing first. Hypervitaminosis D doesn't sound like any fun at all.

As the article points out, even a conservative estimate is that the upper limit is probably ~10k IU (and if you look at the earlier sections, it's safe to inject as much as 600k IU). 1k IU is going to be safe for everyone who isn't already popping 9k IU...

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-27T22:32:28.348Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

But don't start taking it without actually testing first. Hypervitaminosis D doesn't sound like any fun at all.

It feels uncomfortable to be advising Less Caution but in the case of vitamin D supplementation most people who don't supplement vitamin D already and who don't spend their lives naked in the sun would be well served just adding daily vitamin D3 to their schedule. The safety risk is negligible and for most people the value of information over assuming based on priors and just supplementing is low.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-27T22:41:25.834Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Also, it always helps taking a pill you believe in! Choose a big one, too.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-27T22:42:49.925Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Also, it always helps taking a pill you believe in! Choose a big one, too.

Omega 3 capsules are perfect!

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-27T22:43:43.970Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Don't reflect on it!

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-27T22:49:54.323Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Don't reflect on it!

Oh, I don't get my placebo thrills out of tablets any more. I find intramuscular injections far more effective!

comment by gwern · 2013-06-27T22:54:20.922Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Omega-3: the gateway supplement.

comment by aelephant · 2013-06-28T00:48:02.281Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You need to take more than 4000 IU/day (probably for quite some time) to have any hope of toxicity. I knew a man who accidentally took 50,000 IU daily for one week (meant to be weekly per his prescription) and suffered no ill effects. Some people may even require doses above 4000 IU/day to get their Vitamin D levels up to target.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-06-28T09:32:59.686Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I take 10,000 a day. (20,000 is when I start feeling side effects.) It's done wonders for my general mood and energy levels. WARNING: Ramp up and proceed with caution.

comment by gwern · 2013-10-28T22:21:16.888Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you done any blood-work showing 10k IU to put your blood levels in the appropriate ranges?

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-10-29T08:43:01.502Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nuh.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-10-28T20:00:30.878Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How fast did the negative effects appear when you were taking 20k/day? What were they?

And how fast did you notice positive effects as you changed dosage?

Serious negative effects are supposed to take months to appear, even at 100k/day.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-10-29T08:42:47.870Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Negative effect: The metallic taste one, that day; I backed right off. Positve effects: within a few days.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-10-29T15:25:29.025Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Did you ramp up? That is, did you try 5k for weeks before trying 10k? Did you get any blood tests?

comment by shminux · 2013-06-27T18:27:46.668Z · score: 6 (12 votes) · LW · GW

if you have an area where you are great at (better than anyone you know or heard of), put most of your efforts there, regardless of the expected payout or other considerations. Don't wait too long, unused abilities deteriorate with age (yes, speaking from personal experience).

comment by madplatypus · 2013-06-27T19:58:53.711Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

First off, if you are better than anyone you've ever heard of at anything, you need to read more about your field. But as a perhaps more relevant question, how do you do that in a more general field? I've always felt very good at strategy, and have been able to pick up related games very quickly, but don't really care to be a professional chess/go/etc player. How does one,"Put most of their efforts" into something more general?

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-06-29T18:01:46.702Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Shouldn't this depend on the area? What if I think I might be the best in the world at a particular video game?

comment by InquilineKea · 2016-07-05T17:34:22.374Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Stream it on YouTube/Twitch.

comment by somervta · 2013-07-01T08:32:06.424Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you genuinely think you are the best in the world at a particular videogame, there are probably competitions for it which you could win fairly reliably.

comment by PECOS-9 · 2013-07-18T03:08:15.829Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: The /r/scholar subreddit is an easy way to get any academic paper that's stuck behind a paywall -- just post your request and someone will upload it for you for free within a day.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T00:51:22.819Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: About half of our country's gifted students are never identified (USA), internet / Mensa IQ scores can be too low*, a lot of things are correlated with having a high IQ (for the tip of the iceberg: A 25% chance of being misdiagnosed by a psychologist (1) due, partly, to having super-sensitivities / over-excitability), so if you feel weird or crazy, have been diagnosed with a mental disorder or ADD/ADHD, or want to find out what other differences you have (perhaps in order to counter mind projection fallacy, which I've observed many unidentified gifted adults having problems with), check out Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults, especially since there's reason to suspect that the average LessWrong lurker/participant is gifted.

If anyone wants more info, you are invited to contact me. I've done a lot of research on gifted adults and am willing to share.

* About 1 in 6 gifted people have a learning disorder (1) and a ballpark 1 in 3 have creativity, both of which can significantly and unfairly reduce an IQ score provided by places like Mensa or online tests. A professional developmental psychologist is where you go if you want to take learning disorders and creativity into account when getting an IQ score.

Note: Do not confuse this for a 25% chance of misdiagnosis after walking into the psychologists office - it's a 25% chance for the entire gifted population.

  1. Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults (It was given great reviews by two former presidents of the APA and various experts on gifted adults.)
comment by linkhyrule5 · 2013-07-14T07:10:18.453Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What do you mean by a "25% chance for the entire gifted population?"

comment by SilasBarta · 2013-06-28T00:03:46.057Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: The people telling you to expect above-trend inflation when the Federal Reserve started printing money a few years back, disagreed with the market forecasts, disagreed with standard economics, turned out to be actually wrong in reality, and were wrong for reasonably fundamental reasons so don't buy gold when they tell you to.

You would have missed out on doubling or tripling your money if you hadn't bought gold when those same people had made the predictions.

comment by solipsist · 2013-06-28T13:34:58.347Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You would have missed out on doubling or tripling your money if you hadn't bought gold when those same people had made the predictions.

The S&P 500 has outperformed gold since quantitative easing began. I don't believe there has been a time past four years where a $100 gold purchase would be worth more today than a $100 S&P 500 purchase.

comment by SilasBarta · 2013-06-29T01:26:27.666Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying that no one expected the printing money (bidding up gold) before it happened, or is there a more subtle reason why the only relevant comparison is from the moment the policy called QE started?

Someone who bought gold after the Lehman fiasco (08), but before any of those QE milestones would have had several options since then to redeem for 2-3x gain.

It's an even bigger gap if you compare to any year before, back to ~98. S&P has had a horrible volatility/return performance going back to at least then.

comment by CarlJ · 2013-07-08T14:18:30.308Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The S&P 500 has outperformed gold since quantitative easing began. I don't believe there has been a time past four >years where a $100 gold purchase would be worth more today than a $100 S&P 500 purchase.

According to Wikipedia, QE1 started in late November 2008. Between November 28th 2008 and December 11th 2012 these were their respective returns:

Gold: 110% S&P500: 47,39%

Now Index-funds are normally better, but just look at the returns from late 2004 to today:

Gold: 165% S&P500: 45%

Gold has been rising more or less steadily over all those years except for 2005 and 2012 (stagnant) and 2013 (falling). It hasn't tripled, but for the 2004-2012 it was a good buy.

comment by aelephant · 2013-06-28T00:41:23.120Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have always heard that gold isn't meant to be a return-on-investment kind of deal, more like a safe store for your money that is going to maintain value over time.

comment by solipsist · 2013-06-28T15:40:27.708Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Gold has declined more than 30% so far this year.

comment by aelephant · 2013-06-28T23:19:15.817Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

26.6% is more than 30%?

It will probably come back up, & since it is low now is a great time to buy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRgSJRcG4HQ

comment by Izeinwinter · 2013-06-28T09:12:08.118Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Gold is about jumping the gun, both on the way in and on the way out, because it is bubble prone in highly predictable ways. This sort of trade can be entertaining, but it is not investing. You are engaging in a zero-sum game of skill against all the other participants and might as well be playing poker.

comment by jkaufman · 2013-06-28T20:48:03.524Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What does "bubble prone in highly predictable ways" mean?

comment by Izeinwinter · 2013-06-29T15:43:58.655Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

People buy gold under the delusion that it is an alternative, safer currency. Then they realize it isnt, the people who didn't get out in time get burned, and gold falls back down to a price where people can actually afford to have jewelry made out of it. Wait a generation (so people forget), and for something to make people get nervous about their means of exchange, and there you go again. It's tulip mania, but shiny. Profit is made by getting in during the runup to a bubble, and then getting out and staying out before it ends. The second part is very stressful, because you feel like you are missing out if you bail at any time before the absolute peak, which makes it tempting to go back in.. Which is a surefire way to wind up holding the bag when the inevitable collapse comes. Poker. Better for your blood pressure.

comment by SilasBarta · 2013-06-28T01:16:27.399Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, it was a pretty safe bet in '08 given typical reactions to economic crises, and the prevalence of advice like this P/S/A that "oh, there totally won't be inflation from the printing money".

comment by Alsadius · 2013-06-29T18:34:08.383Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to be mocking the idea that we'd avoid inflation. Look at the actual inflation stats, and we have. Velocity has dropped so significantly that the quantity of money rising was necessary just to maintain stability.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-06-27T23:17:27.239Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: exercise can not make you healthy if your diet is poor.

If your diet is micronutrient poor because you are living off prepackaged or fast foods, milk (whole), bananas, and orange juice is a good/cheap/easy place to start. Replace sugar water/other empty carb sources with these.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-06-27T23:24:22.091Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. I used to drink orange juice but I stopped because I was concerned that it was too much sugar and not enough fiber or something relative to eating fruit. Would you recommend drinking orange juice over, say, eating oranges?

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-06-28T01:33:04.888Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

no, it's just that orange juice is an easy transition for someone who has been drinking soda. You can even mix with sparkling water if you have a real soda addiction.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-28T15:00:06.962Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I consider orange juice and other prepackaged juices to be, basically, sugar water. I wouldn't recommend switching to juices because you're still drinking your empty calories and throwing sugar bombs at your body under the illusion that it's "healthy".

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-06-28T20:07:18.490Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

100% OJ is not most prepackaged juice. It is very high in many of the water soluble vitamins as well as potassium and some magnesium. That it is healthy is only an "illusion" if you're drinking way too much of it.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-28T20:34:53.576Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Data: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1973/2

I see a great deal of sugar and noticeable amounts of vitamin C. That's pretty much it. Sorry, in my book that counts as an empty-calorie sugar bomb.

I am not arguing that soda is better, but if you're taking the trouble of switching, there are better options available.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-06-29T00:17:19.798Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Please name them?

comment by falenas108 · 2013-06-29T14:31:38.679Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Soda water. No calories, but still has the carbonation. I was never really addicted to soda, and didn't have trouble switching to water personally, but whenever I drink soda water my mind associates the carbonation with soda, and releases happy chemicals anyway.

This won't work for everyone, because a lot of people find the lack of sugar really unsettling with carbonation, and don't like soda water. But, I'd expect it to work pretty well for those who it does work for.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-29T03:33:17.680Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Water.

Is there any particular reason you want to get your calories and nutrition in liquid form? If you actually do, there's a large variety of smoothies and such that you can make.

People "addicted" to soda are actually "addicted" to the sugar rush (usually enhanced by a bit of caffeine). Subject to all the usual caveats about people not being all the same, I don't think that a habit of regularly consuming a fair chunk of glucose and fructose in a rapidly-absorbed form is good for one's health.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-06-29T03:35:28.383Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

yeah, everyone with a crappy diet gets told to drink water instead of soda, guess how often that actually works? In the interim of cutting down empty calorie intake, replacing those sources of sugar with milk, OJ, and bananas is much more practicable advice than drink water.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-29T03:48:36.563Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Unless you have had extensive practical experience of actually dealing with real people who attempted to replace soda with water and with real people who attempted to replace soda with juices, I have to doubt your opinion on what's "practicable" and what's not.

Oh, and everyone with a crappy diet gets told to improve it. Guess how often that actually works?

comment by Alsadius · 2013-06-29T18:37:56.573Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was never a real soda person, but I used to drink mostly juices, and now drink almost entirely water. I didn't even find it particularly difficult, and it was a big part of how I lost a significant amount of weight. There's a huge amount of calories in there, and I can get more enjoyment from eating half as many as I used to from drinking them.

comment by aelephant · 2013-06-28T00:43:41.816Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would recommend eating oranges over drinking orange juice.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-06-27T17:37:37.151Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There are many many more submissive/masochistic men in the world than there are dominant/sadistic women

My guess is that this is true, but I'd be curious what the evidence is other than anecdote. Also, I wonder in the long-term how this will change. In popular media depictions, dominant females and submissive males are a common theme, so if people's sexuality is influenced by what they see/imprint at a young age (which is a standard hypothesis to explain fetishes), one would expect this to possibly change over time.

If you are smart and underemployed, you can very quickly check to see if you are a natural computer programmer by pulling up a page of Python source code and seeing whether it looks like it makes natural sense, and if this is the case you can teach yourself to program very quickly and get a much higher-paying job even without formal credentials.

I don't agree with this one. Python is one of the easiest languages to read certainly, but there's still enough conventions used in programming languages that someone could be a very good programmer with small amounts of training and have this not happen. This sounds possibly like an illusion of transparency or typical mind fallacy.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-27T17:57:49.602Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I don't agree with this one. Python is one of the easiest languages to read certainly, but there's still enough conventions used in programming languages that someone could be a very good programmer with small amounts of training and have this not happen.

This is one of those tests with lots of false negatives and very few false positives. I.e. it's a sufficient condition, not a necessary one.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-06-27T17:58:30.052Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I learned to program at age 5 by typing BASIC programs from a booklet into a computer with 4K of RAM that didn't have its tape drive and so had to be reprogrammed each time it was turned on. After a short while I started typing in programs that weren't in the booklet.

If you have Programming 3 as a character trait, code in a language like Python should just make sense the first time you see it, and from there to an entry-level programming job will be a very short trip. If you have Programming 1, you can learn to program by taking classes on it, but then it's not a short trip to a programming job. The idea here is that there's a large class of underpaid people who can become entry-level programmers almost instantly, and that "look at a page of Python code" is a cheap test which will uncover many of them very quickly.

It would be nice to have a standard page of code for this purpose. For that matter, it'd be nice to have a public-facing website with the "Are you a natural programmer?" test which directed people to one of those programming-in-six-weeks-for-natural-talents thingies.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-06-28T04:05:17.416Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thoughtworks' interview process involved a test which I thought did a great job of testing programmatic thinking while not requiring previous knowledge of anything beyond arthimetic. Unfortunately it's not publically available, but I may write up a couple of similar questions.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-27T18:06:30.572Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you have Magery 3 in programming

.. then this PSA does not apply to you, as you would have been programming already, given the abundance of situations where you accidentally step into programming, from Lego Mindstorms to the javascript in "view page source" in your browser. Do you know any M3 programmer who did not know that until the age of, say, 18?

EDIT: Huh, may have worked for at least one person here, though probably not an M3.

EDIT2: The parent was edited after I replied, so this reply may look out of context.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-06-27T22:13:18.010Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

given the abundance of situations where you accidentally step into programming

These only exist in particular socioeconomic situations. Most parents do not buy Lego Mindstorms for their kids.

Consider that Apple II in 1977. It cost $1300; the median income in the U.S. was $11884. The median income in 2011 was $48152, so imagine a working-class family buying a $5200 computer for their kid to mess around on. Not likely! So not many working-class kids would have one.

Today, fortunately, you can get a more powerful computer today for $25 — a Raspberry Pi. The socioeconomic situation for learning computing has changed.

It's very easy for people to mistake their skills acquired through long and heavy practice for "natural talent" ... especially if the practice didn't feel like practice at the time, but felt like play. An unfortunate consequence of this is that people who have those skills may tend to see people who don't have them, or who don't acquire them rapidly, as lacking natural talent.

Or, to put it in Eliezer's tabletop role-playing vocabulary: you have to earn the experience points before you can spend them on character traits.

comment by Halfwit · 2013-06-27T18:34:11.673Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I edited because the code I looked at seemed to be atypical, comparing it to what others have posted. No, I don't think I'm M3 at all--though my father probably is, as he picked up programming in his twenties and knows many languages. As I had expected the code to look like nonsense, I was merely surprised I could get some idea about what was going on. My prior for being able to get a programming job with <300 hours of dedicated practice is low, but it could be something to investigate as a hobby.

comment by wmorgan · 2013-06-27T18:08:24.203Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed about reading random source code files. I popped open the first .py file I found on the django project and got this:

conf.py

which I would say is a little esoteric for even the most precocious non-programmers.

But I also agree that investigating one's programming aptitude is a great low-investment high-reward endeavor. It does seem to be the case that many people just "get it". This thread offers some great suggestions on how to check: Checking for the Programming Gear.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T07:58:53.438Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: There's a treatable genetic mutation that half the population has which has more or less recently begun to be treated called MTHFR that causes several vitamin deficiencies (due to you not processing them into the usable forms - and it's treatable because you can take the usable form as a supplement) and homocysteine issues, and it's symptoms can range between none to raging horrible problems with depression, anxiety, IBS, fatigue, and a list of other things.

Specifics:

It reduces the body's ability to convert folic acid into the usable form, methyl folate and reduces the body's ability to convert vitamin B12 into the usable form (called methylcobalamin). This same mutation also tends to cause homocysteine levels to be too high or too low.

Caution:

Knowledge about this is kind of new, because we only mapped the genome so long ago (and figured out what this gene does, and figured out how to treat it, and began producing the supplements to treat it, etc). It can be tricky to treat. If you pursue this, you should seek a medical professional who has significant experience treating people with MTHFR.

What are the symptoms:

"Research is still pending on which medical conditions are caused by, or at least partially attributed to, the MTHFR gene mutations. From the partial list I recently went through on Medline, these are the current symptoms, syndromes and medical conditions relating to the MTHFR gene mutations" - www.mthfr.net This site lists 64 different conditions and symptoms ranging from miscarriages to schizophrenia. See Also: Disclaimer.

Disclaimer:

There's a reason I chose the symptom link above, but you should know that it is not a perfect list of symptoms. For an alternative list and an explanation about why I chose this symptom list, please see my response to Yvain about that under "the guy you're linking to".

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2013-06-29T15:21:15.999Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

This is okay science, and unlike most times people link to these kinds of things on here I'm not going to throw a fit. But a few caveats:

First of all, my totally unfounded opinion is that the guy you're linking to seems sketchy as hell. His site implies he is a doctor a bunch of times, including his biography talking about when he entered medical school, but the only degree listed is one from a college of "naturopathic medicine". He founded a sketchy online pharmacy that sells (among other things) homeopathic solutions. He believes that vaccinations cause autism, at least in MTHFR babies (aka 1/4 of the population). And he fits a very worrying stereotype of the doctor who prescribes the same cure for almost every disease, and recommends that if it doesn't work you just need to "optimize" his cure a little more carefully, as opposed to consider that other factors may be involved.

I don't actually know anything about the research on this subject, but because of the red flags raised above I've tried to investigate it very briefly and see what it looks like. You should probably ignore everything below, but just out of curiosity:

Dr. Lynch seems to think that if you have MTHFR, taking more folic acid will be harmful to you. The way I've heard it is that taking more folic acid compensates for the lowered activity of MTHFR (see for example Linus Pauling Institute. Studies have also shown that low blood folate raises homocysteine levels.

If that's correct, then supplementing with MTHF would have similar effects to supplementing with normal folate - ie a mixed bag that seems to include higher risk of many cancers.

And although conventional wisdom is that homocysteine is a harmful amino acid that causes cardiovascular disease, this has been confirmed in correlational studies only and interventional studies have failed to show that decreasing homocysteine lowers heart attack risk.

My guess is that most of the disease associations Dr. Lynch mentions as linked to MTHFR are actually linked to folate in general, and people with MTHFR are more likely to have low folate and therefore disease. For example, Dr. Lynch mentions that MTHFR affects autism risk, Down Syndrome risk, neural tube defect risk, etc, but folic acid in general also affects all of these things. Likewise, this study shows that babies with mutant MTHFR have more autism, but that this effect only holds true in countries without folic acid supplementation - the implication being that in countries with folic acid supplementation, pregnant women have enough folic acid whether they have a gene that decreases their levels slightly or not.

I admit I have tried to read the important parts of his site but I haven't gotten to all of it, so maybe it explains his unconventional views on folate levels vs. MHTF levels somewhere.

Although Dr. Lynch recommends spending $150+ to get yourself genetically tested, my suggestion if you're worried about this or any other gene is to sign up for 23andMe and get all your common mutations sequenced in one go for $99. If you already have 23andMe data, you can find your version of the gene Dr. Lynch is talking about by clicking in the gear in the upper left hand corner, going to "Browse Raw Data", and then searching for SNP rs1801133. 23andMe uses opposite notation from most other sites, so the homozygous normal will be listed as GG, heterozygous as GA, and mutant as AA.

(I seem to be part of the lucky 25% who has the AA version. Maybe this explains my constant addictive infectious depressed demented diabetic cancerous heart attacks)

Your doctor can test you for folate deficiency. If you're really concerned about your health it's not a terrible idea, though it's no more important than about thirty other tests you could also get. If you have the mutant gene, maybe have a slightly more stringent standard than normal for what counts as deficiency? I don't know. In any case, you can supplement with MTHF if you want, but as mentioned before it will probably have about the same effect as normal folate supplementation - great for people with deficiencies and for pregnant women, probably just a little more cancer in everyone else. You can read more here.

The only exception is that if your psychiatrist recommends it for depression, you will need the MTHF version since the normal version can't directly enter the brain. Your doctor will recommend an expensive Official Medical Version of it. As far as I know, the MTHF you can get off Amazon for $15 works exactly as well.

I would be really interested in hearing from anyone who knows more about biochemistry or has studied these areas in more depth.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-30T23:51:04.527Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The guy you're linking to seems sketchy as hell.

I agree. The reason I chose that specific page is because I did not find an adequate alternative list. I tried Googling site:.gov "symptoms of MTHFR" and site:.edu "symptoms of MTHFR" and only one result comes up - but it's specifically for homocysteinemia. That one result is reputable (nih.gov) but I know that it does not contain a full list of symptoms. It has left out important symptoms like depression and fatigue, which I know to be associated with MTHFR because I know people with the condition whose medical professionals have said that those symptoms can be caused by MTHFR and whose fatigue and/or depression symptoms were helped immensely by MTHFR treatment, and because I saw research on PubMed (searched it again since I have no idea where it is) linking MTHFR with depression and finding that using methyfolate as part of the treatment has an effect on depression. I could go with the shorter symptom list for homocysteinemia, but since I know that it is inadequate, I figured the longer symptom list would likely result in more people getting MTHFR tests and useful treatment.

There's an elephant in the room here: why doesn't there seem to be a good symptom list? If the fact that there are 5073 results for MTHFR on PubMed means anything at all, MTHFR is probably a real mutation with the potential to cause health effects. I suspect that it's because we discovered MTHFR fairly recently and research results can be confusing because most of them are wrong, so perhaps the credible sources don't want to take the chance on listing symptoms that they're not completely certain are associated with MTHFR. This of course would not mean that people are not sick. It would just mean that the only people who have the guts to try to give people some idea of what MTHFR does to you are people who don't have that kind of credibility to lose.

Perhaps your point here is to give me a heads-up along the lines of "people might get confused and think you are recommending the this guy". That would be a good heads-up if so. Since it has occurred to me, I decided to add a disclaimer to my P/S/A comment.

if you have MTHFR, taking more folic acid...

As a non-medical doctor having a discussion with a psychiatrist to humor curiosities:

My understanding is that if you have MTHFR, you've got a reduced ability to process folic acid into methylfolate, and methylfolate is the usable version. Therefore taking additional folic acid isn't necessarilly going to result in you utilizing the folic acid. Additionally, if you cannot process the folic acid, it sits around in your system waiting for you to clean it out. If your folic acid is synthetic as opposed to food-based, there can be issues with the synthetic folic acid sitting around not being utilized. The claim I heard was that it's this unutilized synthetic folic acid that causes autism.

the implication being that in countries with folic acid supplementation

That's interesting. Have you taken an interest in MTHFR or were your perspectives formed based on research you did after reading this PSA? I'm asking you because if it turns out that you've got a significant interest in MTHFR, I'd be interested in hearing what else you know about it. If not, I should probably regard your forays into MTHFR research as being about as useful as mine since, without reading a ton of research, any perspectives we build are going to be suceptible to the "most published research findings are false" problem.

sign up for 23andMe and get all your common mutations sequenced in one go for $99

I chose not to recommend that for the following reasons:

A. (As a non-lawyer) I believe that it is now illegal for U.S. health insurance companies to discriminate against you based on the results of genetic testing, but there may be no protection in other countries that LessWrong readers are from (and 50% of them visit from outside the U.S.).

B. (As a non-lawyer) I believe that it is still legal for U.S. life insurance and disability insurance companies to discriminate against you on the basis of genetic testing.

C. If I remember correctly, the 23 and me test is is not an official medical test. I was told by a doctor that when comparing the 23 and me results to a different test that uses blood instead of saliva and does qualify as a medical test, that the results are very close. I was also told a lot of things about it by a person with a biology degree that made me realize how complicated genetic testing is. I'm not sure whether 23 and me should be recommended in place of a medical test.

D. I was initially very squicked by 23 and me because the only PDF of theirs that I could find that has an accuracy citation produces a 404 error when you click it. I have since gotten citations from them, after bugging the heck out of customer service and explaining what "real citation" means. Upon reviewing the citations, I realized that I was in over my head because I didn't know a lot of the terms they were using. I am no longer squicked, but it's mostly because a few people I think are probably trustworthy told me that 23 and me is useful. I still wonder whether I should consider them dodgy due to the failure to provide a real accuracy citation in their PDF.

In any case, you can supplement with MTHF if you want

Self-treating with methylfolate may not be a good idea. Here's why.

The only exception is that if your psychiatrist recommends it for depression, you will need the MTHF version since the normal version can't directly enter the brain.

I see now that MTHFR.net actually did not list depression as a symptom by itself. They've got depression in post-menopausal women and "Infant depression via epigenetic processes caused by maternal depression" but not plain "depression". Is your take on it that MTHFR can cause depression and/or that methylfolate can be useful for treating depression?

As far as I know, the MTHF you can get off Amazon for $15 works exactly as well.

I have checked out dozens and dozens of supplement review results on consumerlab.com, perhaps over a hundred. My findings are that many of the brands tested were shown to offer one or more supplements that contain lead, spoiled ingredients, or they did not contain the amount of the substance(s) advertized. I would not go get a random cheap one on Amazon.com. Instead, I would find one of these brands:

Brands with 30 reviews each and a perfect record on consumerlab as of June 2013:

  • Solgar

  • Puritan's Pride

  • Vitamin World

  • Nature's Bounty

Brands with an acceptable record as of June 2013:

  • Jarrow (17 reviews, all passed except one with a labeling issue)

Note: Puritan's Pride, Vitamin World and Nature's Bounty are all related. I think they're all owned by the same company.

I plan to start a blog containing my supplement research and other life optimizing research at some point in the future (or perhaps find a relevant one to post on, since LessWrong is about rationality, not optimizing one's life). I can update you when my supplement data is posted if you'd like.

comment by Alicorn · 2013-07-01T06:16:17.286Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As a non-medical doctor having a discussion with a fellow non-medical doctor to humor curiosities:

Are you talking to someone other than Yvain, about whom you wrote this remark?

comment by Epiphany · 2013-07-01T06:26:55.047Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It was written to Yvain. I was under the impression that Yvain was studying psychology, not medicine. Now that his website link has changed, I'm not sure there's a way for me to look this up.

comment by Alicorn · 2013-07-01T06:32:49.951Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yvain has graduated medical school; he is concentrating in psychiatry but it's still an MD.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-07-01T06:45:40.369Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, okay. I'll edit my comment then.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2013-06-30T15:59:41.017Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Presumably it's called that because it's a complete MTHFR to live with.

comment by klkblake · 2013-06-28T09:19:43.118Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you know if this issue would show up on a standard vitamin panel?

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T10:11:41.425Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. Good question. I think they'd have to test for the methylated versions, not the regular versions, and I do not know whether the standard procedure is to test for the methylated versions - but this is just me reasoning it out, not medical advice. To my knowledge, if MTHFR is suspected, they generally test for the MTHFR mutation itself.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-06-28T09:24:28.619Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

WHOAH, this is amazing! Thank you for the summary and link.

I'm curious why you say caution is warranted given that supplemental B12 and folate are highly innocuous with doses 10x the RDA still not showing any toxicity.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T10:20:20.969Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Caution is warranted for a few reasons:

  1. I've been told that the liver uses methylfolate for detoxification. If you take too much too soon, or ramp up too quickly, you will end up really feeling like hell because of the detoxification process. This may be more of a problem for people who have toxins built up in their system due to inefficient detoxification.

  2. I've been told that methylfolate can increase your blood pressure. Your doctor may need to be monitoring this.

  3. I've been told that if you do need all three of methylfolate, methylcobalamin and a homocysteine regulator but do not get all three, or if you get them in the wrong amounts, treatment can be ineffective (the risk here is that you will become disheartened and give up on a treatment that could have changed your life).

  4. I've been told that if your digestive system is a mess, you may need to fix it up before the treatment will work. Once again, the risk is becoming disheartened and missing out on a useful treatment.

  5. Other reasons I may not know about because I am not a medical professional.

You have to remember, everything is connected - your body is a system. A very, very complicated system. Change one thing over here, and there can be unforeseen consequences over there.

Unfortunately, doctors are tasked with the unrealistic expectation of learning about thousands of diseases and thousands of symptoms and trying to match each disease to each symptom... and, on top of that, all of them are complicated to treat... to be really honest, I don't think it is possible for any human to do a good job of diagnosing every disease, or treating every problem. From what I've seen, when people use the "throw a doctor at it" approach, it can fail pretty hard pretty often. What you want is the "find the exact right doctor for this specific problem" approach. Don't expect a GP to solve everything you bring to them. Instead, find someone who specializes in your set of symptoms or diagnosis and has lots of experience with it. That's much more likely to get you a functional treatment plan.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-07-05T09:15:22.669Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: Given the time it takes to learn it, the mnemonic major system is ridiculously powerful. You can learn it in a weekend, and it will give you a 100 slot mnemonic peg list in your head, that will work as a random access array for absolutely any arbitrary items you can somehow map into numbers 00..99.

What you do: 1. Learn the consonant sounds for the numerals 0 to 9. 2. Come up with a list of 100 different mnemonic items that are concrete objects, like 'oar', 'match' and 'bell' that match phonetically with numbers 0 to 99 ('oar' is 4, 'match' is 36, 'bell' is 95). 3. Learn this list by heart, this will take you the weekend.

You can now memorize items by creating association images to the mnemonic items, and recall lists of items by going through your mnemonic items in order and remembering the association image for each item. Eg. when trying to recall a grocery list you memorized earlier, when you come to item 4, you remember that the mnemonic item is 'oar', remember coming up with an image of rowing a boat on a lake of milk, so the 4th thing to buy was milk.

There are obvious limits, raw memorization won't help much with actually understanding things, you need to keep coming up with absurd concrete association images for the things you memorize, and the memorized items will fade after a while or when you reuse the pegs. But given that the system can be fully picked up in a couple of days, it's still pretty good.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2013-06-29T16:49:17.285Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: If you are smart and underemployed, you can very quickly check to see if you are a natural computer programmer by pulling up a page of Python source code and seeing whether it looks like it makes natural sense, and if this is the case you can teach yourself to program very quickly and get a much higher-paying job even without formal credentials.

Here is the above-mentioned page of python code (IMO)

http://learnxinyminutes.com/docs/python/

Also, you can build confidence and to some degree (increasingly) credibility by taking online courses at udacity, coursera, and edx.

Feel free to PM me if you want more specific info, I sort of fell into knowing a bit about this. I also do a lot of interviewing at work.

comment by koning_robot · 2013-06-29T21:29:45.581Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hrrm. I don't think it's that simple. Looking at that page, I imagine nonprogrammers wonder:

  • What are comments?
  • What are strings?
  • What is this "#=>" stuff?
  • "primitives"?
  • ... This seems to be written for people who are already familiar with some other language. Better to show a couple of examples so that they recognize patterns and become curious.
comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2013-06-30T12:50:21.660Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You have a point, there might be something more customized to people who have never programmed, but I like the simplicity of it.

comment by LucasSloan · 2013-07-11T23:26:54.699Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's a wonderful reference if nothing else.

comment by EphemeralNight · 2013-09-03T05:00:23.043Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There are many many more submissive/masochistic men in the world than there are dominant/sadistic women, so if you are a woman who feels a strong temptation to command men and inflict pain on them, and you want a large harem of men serving your every need, it will suffice to state this fact anywhere on the Internet and you will have fifty applications by the next morning.

More like, twenty sincere applications, ten trolls, five misogynists who think they can tame you, five socially inept introverts who aren't into being a sub but will put up with it in exchange for sex because they can't safely and legally employ a prostitute, and ten confused responses from guys who are either submissive or masochistic but not both.

Most of the personal-finance-advice industry is parasitic and/or self-deluded, and it's generally agreed on by economic theory and experimental measurement that an index fund will deliver the best returns you can get without huge amounts of effort.

This is sorely lacking in leads to information on how to actually choose and acquire an index fund.

(In my own case, I wouldn't mind advice to that effect. I have a large sum in savings (about $12,000), but no income or employment prospects due to an undocumented disability. What sort of index fund should I pursue?)

If you are smart and underemployed, you can very quickly check to see if you are a natural computer programmer by pulling up a page of Python source code and seeing whether it looks like it makes natural sense, and if this is the case you can teach yourself to program very quickly and get a much higher-paying job even without formal credentials.

Where are all of these alleged jobs that pay well for competence in Python?

comment by linkhyrule5 · 2013-09-12T18:05:22.791Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Here's a post I found useful, though I haven't tried it yet.

comment by Morendil · 2013-06-29T10:20:32.694Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For some reason I am reminded of The Shockwave Rider.

PSA: on ThePaperBay you can request a paywalled paper to be "liberated".

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-27T20:30:18.675Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Most of the personal-finance-advice industry is parasitic and/or self-deluded

True.

...and it's generally agreed on by economic theory and experimental measurement that an index fund will deliver the best returns you can get without huge amounts of effort.

Not true. Or at least much more complicated.

The first problem (minor) is with the concept of an "index fund". Most people read it as an S&P500 index fund, that is, a fund that passively invests into US large-cap equity. At this point it's reasonable to ask, why US large-cap equity? Why not a US equity + US bonds passive fund? Why not add European stocks or bonds? Why not add emerging markets? Why not add commodities or real estate? The answer to what kind of a mix of asset classes do you want to hold is... complicated.

The second problem (major) is with the concept of "best return". It's pretty meaningless to talk about best returns without involving uncertainty, volatility, and individual risk tolerance. I don't think asserting that the risk-return profile of the S&P500 (again, US large cap equity) is just perfect for everyone is a defensible position.

Finance is a hard problem. There's no easy universal answer to "what should I do with my money" -- the answer is it depends. Sure, compared to investing in S&P500 there are a lot of worse things you can do -- but that doesn't mean buying the Vanguard index fund is the optimal choice.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-07-02T18:54:38.848Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Finance is a hard problem. There's no easy universal answer to "what should I do with my money" -- the answer is it depends. Sure, compared to investing in S&P500 there are a lot of worse things you can do -- but that doesn't mean buying the Vanguard index fund is the optimal choice.

The argument is that the added value of the "it depends" answer doesn't pay for the additional cost in calculating what it depends on. With perfect knowledge, not everyone would go for the Vanguard index fund, but that's not the situation we have, and with imperfect knowledge it's a solid choice for nearly every situation. Having it as a default choice (that you possibly move away from after doing research) is much better than not having it as a default choice.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-07-11T15:21:53.420Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

with imperfect knowledge it's a solid choice for nearly every situation

I see no reason to believe so. Do you have evidence or arguments to support this naked assertion? What other choices are you comparing it against?

comment by Vaniver · 2013-07-11T19:37:18.909Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have evidence or arguments to support this naked assertion?

From Index Fund Advisors:

More than a hundred years of academic research points to index funds as an investor's best investment.

They have several recommendations by Nobel laureates on that page, and have a index of papers here. As a general comment, the Efficient Markets Hypothesis is relevant: unless your money manager is insider trading (and if you, as a customer, know about that, then probably so does the SEC), you should not expect them to do significantly better than the market as a whole. The EMH has holes; Buffet has famously outperformed the market and index funds by dint of superior rationality, but most people are not qualified to judge which money managers are rational enough to be better than index funds.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-07-11T21:20:05.859Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Index Fund Advisors

You don't think they might be a bit, um... biased? :-)

Marketing BS is not evidence.

And before we get into the EMH mess (by the way, how strong a version are you arguing for?) let me ask you, which market? There are a whole bunch of different markets -- what makes large-cap US equity special?

comment by Vaniver · 2013-07-11T22:12:47.630Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You don't think they might be a bit, um... biased? :-)

Possibly. I linked them because they're convenient. I know enough economics that index funds being optimal for investors without special knowledge is obvious to me; you can find more on wikipedia or Motley Fool.

let me ask you, which market? There are a whole bunch of different markets -- what makes large-cap US equity special?

I personally recommend VTSMX for investors in the US, because there are a handful of reasons to prefer investing in domestic funds (especially if you live in the US). There is advice out there targeted at low-load funds if you're interested in putting more thought into the choice. If you live elsewhere, there may be tax considerations that make other funds superior (google 'index fund [your country]', and you should probably find some useful advice), but if you live in a particularly small country investing only in domestic stocks will probably increase your volatility significantly over an American only investing in US stocks.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-07-12T15:46:09.358Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I know enough economics that index funds being optimal for investors without special knowledge is obvious to me

I suspect I know more economics than you and that optimality is not obvious to me at all.

Let me ask you again the question which you sidestepped -- which market? An "index fund" is a shortcut for "passively managed diversified portfolio" and that's a very large territory.

Let's even assume market efficiency. First, investors are different. Let's take a few: a 25-year-old grad student in Singapore with $5,000; a 65-year old Canadian with about $5m saved for retirement; a 40-year-old Indian who has ten lakhs rupees with which he intends to open a business in a couple of years. None of them have "special knowledge" -- is the same investment vehicle optimal for all of them?

Second, I've still seen no argument as to why large-cap US equity (aka S&P500) is the best. Why is it better than a stock-and-bond mix, for example? Should you throw emerging market equity in there, too? it will increase diversification. And what about commodities? Strategy-based ETFs? They are all different and they will all increase the diversification of your portfolio -- under the EMH assumptions that's the only way you can win. Theoretically your portfolio should consist of all investable assets available and yet the usual recommendation is to invest in the S&P500-based index fund? That doesn't look optimal to me at all.

Third, what about leverage? I can easily double my leverage or halve it (by leaving half of my money in cash). What's the optimal leverage? Why would you consider the default leverage of 1 to be optimal?

Finance is hard.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-07-12T16:38:24.237Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Let me ask you again the question which you sidestepped -- which market?

How is recommending a specific fund sidestepping the question? If you mean that I sidestepped the meta question of "which method do you use for selecting which market?", then yes, I did. I don't think the value gained from researching that sort of topic is very high once you subtract the costs of researching. I also don't think the question of how much of one's wealth should be invested is very sensitive to the asset class that you choose to invest in for most investors. (Yes, lower wealth investors should be more risk averse, and older investors should be more risk averse. But, for older investors at least, that suggests a passively managed fund with a targeted retirement date which they use to adjust their allocation between stocks and bonds, which still falls in the recommended class of index funds!)

Indeed, it might be better to treat the claim "invest in index funds" as a consequence of the broader claim that "treating finance as hard is a mistake." It looks to me like there are two sorts of people that consistently do well in personal finance:

  1. Finance is impossible. This group believes the EMH and invests in passively managed funds, which seek to get average returns on capital without losing money to financial services.
  2. Finance is easy. This group carefully prices assets, waiting until there is a significant difference between their price of the asset and the market's price, and then buying (or shorting) with that significant margin of safety. If they don't see mispricings, they don't act. (I'm calling this group "finance is easy" because of Buffet: "There seems to be a perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult".)

The people that believe that finance is hard do not seem to consistently do well, and seem to be easy prey for financial parasites.

It's not clear to me what advice you're giving with the statement "Finance is hard." Is that a "become a financial advisor" or "hire a financial advisor"? If so, how do you square that with acknowledging that most of the industry is parasitic or deluded? On average, people have average financial advisors.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-07-12T20:01:11.656Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We seem to have a baseline disconnect with respect to how one goes about picking what to invest in, so I'll let the subject drop and not get into line-by-line argument.

However let's take a look at the broader claim "treating finance as hard is a mistake".

It looks to me like there are two sorts of people that consistently do well in personal finance

Um, evidence? It does not look to me like that, so where's the data?

The "finance is impossible" group is better known as passive long-only investors. They don't get "average" return on capital in any meaningful sense of the word "average" -- they are just willing to accept whatever returns the basket of assets (index) they chose will generate. And they still have to make decisions -- very meaningful decisions -- about which index to pick and how much leverage to deploy.

The "finance is easy" group is usually called value investors. Note that they are active investors, not passive. Given this I am not sure why do you think they consistently do well -- this seems to contradict your acceptance of EMH earlier. And, of course, "pricing assets" is very very hard.

It's not clear to me what advice you're giving with the statement "Finance is hard."

The advice is: there are no good one-size-fits-all solutions. Investments should be custom-tailored to individual circumstances which include things like risk tolerance, expected use, expected time horizon, etc. That custom-tailoring is complex and there are no obvious ways to make it simple. Simple solutions exist but are typically sub-optimal. Generic advice (other than "don't fall for scams") is pretty worthless.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-07-12T21:08:10.658Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Um, evidence? It does not look to me like that, so where's the data?

Who do you think consistently does well, and what data do you use to support that view? That'll help me determine if I have evidence you'll find convincing.

They don't get "average" return on capital in any meaningful sense of the word "average"

Similarly, what does "average" mean to you?

Given this I am not sure why do you think they consistently do well -- this seems to contradict your acceptance of EMH earlier.

I said earlier:

The EMH has holes; Buffet has famously outperformed the market and index funds by dint of superior rationality, but most people are not qualified to judge which money managers are rational enough to be better than index funds.

I don't have a good explanation for why value investing works. The most charitable and plausible one I know is "most investors look for short-term mispricings instead of long-term mispricings, and so there are more opportunities where less people are looking."

comment by Lumifer · 2013-07-15T16:08:02.406Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Who do you think consistently does well, and what data do you use to support that view?

I don't know. I am not even sure what is the classification you have in mind when you ask this question -- are you talking about what kind of people do well? What kind of investment strategies? Are you talking about US or the whole world? Do you have in mind the last 20 years or the last 200 years?

what does "average" mean to you?

An arithmetic mean. Is this a trick question?

Buffet has famously outperformed the market and index funds by dint of superior rationality

Really? And how do you establish that particular causality?

Buffet has a specific investment approach. It clearly worked for him, it also clearly did not work for many other people who tried it. And if you posit the existence of Buffet's wealth as evidence that "value investing works", I can posit the existence of Soros' wealth as evidence that currency speculation works.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-07-15T18:33:12.459Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know. I am not even sure what is the classification you have in mind when you ask this question

My interpretation of this comment is that you're not asking an object-level question of me (why I think value investing is better for the modern American individual investor than technical analysis, for example) but the meta question of why I think that some investment strategies are better than other investment strategies. I'm afraid I don't find that question interesting enough to give it a good answer, and I don't think you would find a quick answer satisfying.

An arithmetic mean. Is this a trick question?

Are you making the comment that "market capitalization-weighted average returns on stocks" would have been more accurate than "average return on capital", or what am I missing here?

And how do you establish that particular causality?

I used my judgment and publicly available information. You might be interested in this speech by Munger, this short summary of highlights from him, this book. I've mostly linked to Munger, since I've found his writings on rationality to be more useful, but any biography of Buffett will clarify the link between the two, and Buffett's letters will make obvious that he thinks in similar ways.

Buffet has a specific investment approach.

I should comment that I think a critical part of Buffett's approach is the "only invest in sure deals" component, which I don't think is a widely followed rule in value investment as a whole.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-07-15T18:55:11.630Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Re arithmetic mean: an "average" return presupposes some set that you're averaging. It could be the set of all investors (or the set of US investors, or the set of retail investors, etc.). It could be the set of all investments (or the set of US equties, or mutual funds, etc.). I don't understand how investing in an index fund provides "average" returns.

If, by any chance, you mean that an investment in a portfolio of securities provides a weighted average of the returns of the assets included in the portfolio, why, this is a property of any basket of investments. In that sense a portfolio composed of, say, currency derivatives and interest-rate swaps will provide an "average" return as well, just like any portfolio at all.

Re Buffet: I am well aware of the claims made about him. I don't take them at face value and don't recommend that you do (and yes, I know who Munger is). People who have been successful through luck have just as compelling narratives how some feature of their {method/mind/character/upbringing/etc.} made their success inevitable. Hindsight, after all, provides perfect vision :-/

comment by Vaniver · 2013-07-15T20:04:35.199Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

an "average" return presupposes some set that you're averaging.

Okay. The set I'm imagining is the set of investments that meet some criteria, like "US stocks listed on the NYSE" or "US large cap stocks" or even "home robotics stocks." It seems meaningful to me to state that indexing across that set will provide "average" returns in the sense that it will provide low-variance returns centered around the set mean, relative to a picking a portfolio based on personal taste from stocks in that set. For investors as a whole, the effects of their personal taste must average out to the mean (once weighted by participation in that set), and so unless you have special knowledge you should expect your returns to be centered around the set mean, but with higher variance. For risk-averse investors, higher variance is a bad thing. Justifying the expectation that your returns will be higher than the set mean requires a statement like "I can pick home robotics stocks better than the market as a whole," or the less questionable "I can pick industries better than the market as a whole", but the safest is probably "I can't pick better than the market as a whole," which suggests indexing across all industries (and, barring legal barriers, across all countries).

People who have been successful through luck have just as compelling narratives how some feature of their {method/mind/character/upbringing/etc.} made their success inevitable.

I understand the outside view that most successful people are likely to be highly lucky, and are unlikely to have public correct causal models of their success. (It's very unlikely that a boy band star or male actor would admit to having sex with a gay talent agent in order to land a position, for example, even if that's the primary differentiator between them and their competition that did not go on to become famous.)

That said, as someone who formally studies good decision-making, I think I have a strong inside view of what works about Buffett's decision-making, and it seems likely to me that it actually is a causal factor in his success. I have no doubt that luck played a role in Buffett making his way to the top, rather than just doing well for himself. (There are other residents of Graham-Doddsville, many of whom have also gotten rich, but none of whom have gotten as rich as Buffett.)

comment by Lumifer · 2013-07-15T21:06:03.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, let's try to sort this out a little better. There's a general superset of all investment opportunities. That's too much to chew on, so let's limit ourselves to a semi-arbitrary subset. As an example let's take the standard large-cap US equity and define it as members of the S&P500 index. There is a variety of tradeable instruments (mutual funds, ETFs, futures, etc.) which will allow you to buy the S&P500.

indexing across that set will provide "average" returns in the sense that it will provide low-variance returns centered around the set mean

That is not correct. Owning an index security will provide returns similar to the set mean (defined appropriately, here the mean is cap-weighted), but these returns will not be low-variance. Provided the security that you chose is run competently, your tracking error with respect to the the index will be small and so low-variance, but the returns themselves can be as high-variance as they like.

If you pick a portfolio from the same set based on personal taste, the tracking error will be much greater, but the variance of the portfolio returns themselves might be greater or might be smaller. For example, if your taste runs to low-beta stocks, the variance of your personal-taste portfolio is likely to be less than the variance of the S&P500 index.

so unless you have special knowledge you should expect your returns to be centered around the set mean, but with higher variance

Again, this is not true. Indices are not homogenous, my personal taste will affect the variance of my portfolio. It might end up higher than the index or it might end up lower. Similarly, my personal taste will affect the expected returns as well.

higher variance is a bad thing

Given everything else equal, which it never is. If investors were only interested in expected variance, why even invest? Holding cash has zero variance in nominal terms. And, of course, different investors have different risk tolerances.

Let me also point out again that investing is a much broader field than just picking stocks and choosing a subset to invest in often has more significant consequences than deciding which securities from that subset to pick. The advice to "index" tells me nothing whether I should have municipal bonds in my portfolio, for example. Or any bonds. Or any equities. Or, actually, anything in particular.

Re Buffet, I fully agree that he possesses superior decision-making abilities. He's probably better than 99.9% of the population. However his wealth is far beyond the average wealth of the top 0.1% best decision makers. More importantly, I am not sure how the superiority of Buffet's personal abilities translates to believing that value investment can "beat the market".

comment by Vaniver · 2013-07-15T21:30:07.252Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Provided the security that you chose is run competently, your tracking error with respect to the the index will be small and so low-variance, but the returns themselves can be as high-variance as they like.

This is what what I meant by "low variance centered on the set mean," as I assumed the set mean was a stochastic object (with the variance that implies). Similarly, you can read "high variance" about the personal taste portfolio as "high tracking error variance," which as you point out may be the result of low absolute variance in returns. Holding cash has a high-variance tracking error relative to the S&P 500, even though cash is zero nominal variance.

Given everything else equal, which it never is.

What does it add to the conversation to point this out?

I don't get the impression that this conversation is productive. I think if someone doesn't want to become proficient at finance, their best way to invest money is to set aside part of their salary* and buy into VTSMX every month. I don't think they need to know what "dollar cost averaging" is, or why index funds are better than actively managed funds, and I think that crude heuristic arguments ("on average, money managers subtract value, you should expect to be average") are the right way to convince them to invest this way.

As of yet, I don't think I've seen you make a positive recommendation, which strikes me as worse than useless for a PSA thread. If finance is hard, then what?

*I feel the need to point out that I understand not everyone has a salary.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-07-16T15:32:11.100Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've said it before -- my point is that there are no good general-purpose universally-applicable recommendations for personal investing. They do not exist.

Certainly there are not-horrible recommendations. Investing in VTSMX is one of them. Putting your money into T-bills is another one. Putting it into TIPS is yet another one. Putting it into a 50-50 mix of high-grade corporate bonds and Russel 3000 is yet another one. Etc., etc.

All of these are not horrible. But none of them is particularly good or a good fit for everyone.

It's like asking "what kind of food should I eat?" There are many not-horrible answers to it, starting with "follow the US government's food pyramid". But it's not a particularly good answer and there is no single universal answer. People are too different for that. Same with investing -- no generic answer is good enough.

However I agree that this particular chain of exchanges got too long. Your arguments seem incoherent to me and, no doubt, mine seem obtuse to you. If I get to writing a post on introduction to thinking about investing this conversation might continue...

comment by GuySrinivasan · 2013-06-28T02:51:50.173Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Finance is a hard problem. There's no easy universal answer to "what should I do with my money" -- the answer is it depends.

Is there a short list of fairly unrelated components that cover almost all of what it depends on?

Off the cuff, I'd guess:

  • Expected per-time income and expenditures -- their approximate distributions (mean, variance, and shape?)
  • Current stored value -- its expected change over time and the variance of that change
  • How much you care about beings in the future, especially those that will think of you as their past self
  • Where the major changes in your dUtility(expenditures per-time)/dExpenditures occur
  • The mean and variance and shape of what things you're thinking about doing with what portions of your money
  • Tax, and I don't know what to think about this

Any other broad category of consideration that I missed, or consolidation/elimination of those I listed?

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-06-29T17:48:04.443Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you are smart and underemployed, you can very quickly check to see if you are a natural computer programmer by pulling up a page of Python source code and seeing whether it looks like it makes natural sense

Is this really a good way to check whether one is a "natural computer programmer"?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T18:28:38.100Z · score: 0 (24 votes) · LW · GW

P/S/A: If you have any perceived advantages over other people, your advantages are considered public property by those who feel they require them; if you're smart people will ask you for advice, if you're strong people will ask you to lift things for them, if you're tall people will ask you to reach things for them, if you can program people will ask you to write webpages from them, if you're female men will ask you to have sex with them. Develop and follow a strategy for dealing with this as rapidly as possible, and remember that it is not necessarily to your advantage to -have- an additional advantage.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-06-27T18:36:58.255Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

That's a pretty depressingly cynical view of social reciprocity. I like being able to do things for other people. (The last example doesn't seem to me to be analogous to the others.)

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-27T19:08:16.901Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It may be cynical from your point of view, yet realistic from his. Just by participating on LW at a young-ish age, you're highly probable to belong to the "privileged" reference class. If you were a transfer student from Russia who grew up in poverty and amidst alcoholism, your view may be different.

IOW, consider anthropic, or in this case, Qiaochuopic, arguments. Feel free to correct me if in your case the above heuristic turned out to be mistaken.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T18:45:18.332Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

That's the optimistic version, which focuses mostly on things where reciprocity can even be possible. The last example is a hint at what the depressing* version looks like.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-06-27T22:01:46.049Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

If you're in a situation where you seem to be surrounded by DefectBots, the problem is not that you are not defecting enough. The problem is to get the hell out of that situation.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-27T19:31:28.760Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Attempting a charitable (and somewhat objectivist) interpretation of this:

Other people are not entitled to your services, these can be given or withheld freely, and you do not need to feel shame for not sharing your abilities. In some situations not sharing or concealing your advantage over others may in fact be essential to your well-being or even survival.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T19:50:52.178Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

And in some situations you may already be indoctrinated into beliefs about your own capabilities and society's expectations that you use them which may be detrimental to your well-being or survival. For example, I know people who say they believe they should always stand up for victims in violent situations. In practice, real people are smarter than this, and keep their eyes down and their mouths shut - but occasionally you get a fool who actually believes it, because nobody actually told him any better.

I've known exactly three people who were actually capable of violence - real violence, not television violence - including myself. The basic rule is this: If you're not willing to kill somebody over it, you don't engage. If you are willing to kill somebody over it, you should put them at a disadvantage before they even know you're there, and be ready to end their life if they try to escalate back. Fighting fairly is another dangerous expectation society has for those foolish enough to listen.

comment by Izeinwinter · 2013-06-28T09:36:56.804Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Eh. Most violent situations can be stopped with social engineering as long as you are willing to act and can project calm and authority. Key is to get the wind out of their sails before they get themselves all worked up.

"I can call you a cab now or will I have to call your mother later?" . "You will leave on your own, or me, Mack, Tucker, Qill, Zane, Lara, and Tom will walk you to the door."

"Fire!" this works quite well at making backup materialize.

comment by pragmatist · 2013-06-28T05:47:24.309Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

...if you're smart people will ask you for advice, if you're strong people will ask you to lift things for them, if you're tall people will ask you to reach things for them, if you can program people will ask you to write webpages from them, if you're female men will ask you to have sex with them...

One of these things is not like the other. In your first four examples, the requests for assistance do stem from a clear advantage at performing a particular task -- smart people are presumably better at giving advice, strong people are better at lifting stuff, etc. But what is the advantage associated with being female in this particular example? The only thing I can think of is that women are better at the task of being satisfactory sexual partners for heterosexual men. This is not what I would ordinarily categorize as an "advantage", but even if it is, the purported advantage is symmetrical -- men are better at being satisfactory sexual partners for heterosexual women. Yet most men do not frequently get approached by women for sex, seemingly falsifying your general thesis. Was there some other advantage you were thinking of here, or is this just a poorly chosen example?

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-28T06:21:59.653Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But what is the advantage associated with being female in this particular example? The only thing I can think of is that women are better at the task of being satisfactory sexual partners for heterosexual men.

Gender normative females have a much easier task when it comes to finding casual sex partners than average males. This advantage could be said to have some similarities to the other advantages listed.

comment by pragmatist · 2013-06-28T06:49:14.978Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but that doesn't make sense in context. OrphanWilde's point was that possessing advantages leads people to expect that you will deploy those advantages in their favor. When a man approaches a woman for sex, in what sense is he asking her to deploy her advantage in being able to find casual sex partners? The fact that men approach women for sex may be a manifestation of that advantage, but it is not caused by that advantage in the same way that people approaching strong people to lift things is caused by the strength advantage.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-06-28T09:38:11.961Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The essential problem is that this is the sort of thing someone who is functionally a creepy misogynist says. See the last LW Women thread and be sadly unsurprised.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-29T07:53:51.824Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

By “that” you mean what pragmatist said, what wedrifid said, or what OrphanWilde said?

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-06-29T13:53:06.638Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

OrphanWilde.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-28T07:11:40.816Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but that doesn't make sense in context.

It is less core than the height example but not nonsensical or irrelevant.

OrphanWilde's point was that possessing advantages leads people to expect that you will deploy those advantages in their favor. When a man approaches a woman for sex, in what sense is he asking her to deploy her advantage in being able to find casual sex partners?

If a randomly selected male and a randomly selected female have casual sex the direction in which this is most likely to be considered a favour is from the male to the female. See the direction payment usually goes in prostitution for example, or the way sex-for-influence tends to work in general. If the advantage went in the other direction then it would not result in men seeking sex from women in the same way. The men in question are seeking favours because of the way the advantage works. This makes the advice provided relevant.

Develop and follow a strategy for dealing with this as rapidly as possible

comment by pragmatist · 2013-06-28T07:42:49.492Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If a randomly selected male and a randomly selected female have casual sex the direction in which this is most likely to be considered a favour is from the male to the female.

Maybe this is true, but the (overwhelmingly, I think) most likely situation is that it is not considered a favor at all, in either direction. In most cases, casual sex just isn't seen as a favor. I'm not a woman and I may be wrong about this, but I really doubt that many women are inclined to agree to casual sex out of a sense of obligation or altruism.

This makes the advice provided relevant.

The general advice of developing and following a strategy is of course applicable in all four cases, but that's just because the advice is so general. The reason I brought this whole thing up is because the particular strategy that one should follow will, I think, be importantly different in the casual sex case than in the other three examples. I think a decent strategy for a tall person, say, would be to accede to requests for help if the request doesn't require you to go significantly out of your way or put you at risk of significant harm. The same strategy would work for the strong person and the smart person. But it most emphatically would not be good advice for how a woman should deal with sexual propositions.

Many people (including me) feel that people with certain advantages do have an obligation to deploy that advantage for the benefit of others in certain cases. I think a tall guy who had a policy of refusing to ever help someone reach stuff unless there was something in it for him would be a dick. I do not think a woman who refused to sleep with someone else unless there was something in it for her is a dick. The "advantage" in this case, such as it is, is not obligation-generating in the same way. Seeing that example along with three others where some obligation does exist raised a red flag for me.

If I remember correctly, OrphanWilde is an objectivist, so perhaps his equivocation of the casual sex case with the other three has the opposite motivation -- he doesn't think any obligation exists in any of the examples. From that perspective, perhaps the fourth example doesn't stick out quite so much, but it is not a common perspective and it isn't mentioned in his comment, so I didn't really think of it until I read his reply and recalled who he was. In the absence of that information, I read his comment as indicating a somewhat unsavory attitude towards women's sexual autonomy. Now I see that my disagreement with him is probably in the opposite direction -- in how he thinks about the first three cases rather than the fourth -- but I still think the fourth example doesn't fit.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-29T07:59:12.063Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think a decent strategy for a tall person, say, would be to accede to requests for help if the request doesn't require you to go significantly out of your way or put you at risk of significant harm. The same strategy would work for the strong person and the smart person. But it most emphatically would not be good advice for how a woman should deal with sexual propositions.

But having sex with unattractive people does usually “require you to go significantly out of your way or put you at risk of significant harm”, so you don't need a special case for that.

It's a continuum: the fraction of times it's reasonable to pick stuff off shelves for people as a favour is close to 1, the fraction of times it's reasonable to write Web pages for people as a favour is close to 0.5, and the fraction of times it's reasonable to have sex with for people as a favour is close to 0.

(And anyway, if I understand correctly what type of people OW is talking about, they feel obligated to reach stuff for shorter people even when they need to go out of their way or risk harm to do so.)

comment by EphemeralNight · 2013-09-03T04:39:27.871Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But having sex with unattractive people does usually “require you to go significantly out of your way or put you at risk of significant harm”, so you don't need a special case for that.

In my experience this (positing a special case when sex is involved even though a special case isn't needed) is a such a general and epidemic problem in modern american culture that most people don't notice they're doing it even when you point it out.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-29T19:01:02.325Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(And anyway, if I understand correctly what type of people OW is talking about, they feel obligated to reach stuff for shorter people even when they need to go out of their way or risk harm to do so.)

Exactly.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-28T19:47:58.530Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What moral mechanism generates the obligation?

comment by Alejandro1 · 2013-06-28T20:28:47.580Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with pragmatist in that someone who has an advantage "should" help others that do not, in certain cases, but I don't think the language of obligations is the right one for this "should". It is more suitably discussed in the framework of virtue ethics. Part of being "a good person" is helping others who ask this kind of favors of you, within reasonable limits. Refusing consistently to do them is not accurately described as neglecting an obligation, if there haven't been any promises/contracts, but it is (to use pragmatist's words) "being a dick"--a character trait it is better not to have.

comment by pragmatist · 2013-06-29T15:45:59.553Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand the question. What's a moral mechanism? If you are asking for a general moral principle that establishes the obligation, I should point out that I'm a moral particularist. I don't think that appeal to general principles is essential for sound moral reasoning, and I don't think there are many true, simple and general moral principles.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-29T19:01:47.802Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But surely you recognize that the cases share internal similarities even if you want to distinguish them?

comment by pragmatist · 2013-07-01T00:11:44.635Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that they share certain internal similarities, but not along the particular moral dimension you seem to be talking about here.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T22:39:36.168Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The n-th percentile woman tends to be more sexually attractive to men than the n-th percentile man is to women, at least for n not very close to 100. Dynamics between attractive men and unattractive women are similar to those between attractive women and unattractive men (see e.g. here), though the former are rarer.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-28T06:31:35.102Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You are of course right, it's not like the other three. One of the differences is that it is a perceived advantage, not a real one. (Like stereotypes of Asians being good at math, so hey Wei, can you calculate this tip for us?)

But that's not the reason I included it. The reason I included it is because it helps illustrate the issue with social obligations to say "Yes"; many women do in fact feel obligated to have sex with some guys, and guys complaining about rejection, even if they don't intend it, makes some women feel uncomfortably obligated to say "Yes" more frequently. If you don't grasp the dynamic behind the sense of advantage, people who react very defensively to these complaints - as if they were demands that women be* less picky about sex - make absolutely no sense; they seem to be denying the humanity of the person complaining, denying their right to be unhappy about their own situation.

It's not the only example, but it is the one I found most... instructive, as an explanation, and given that at least one of them was cause for a total psychological meltdown for me (which is part of why I've been largely quiet here for the past few weeks, and which I'm still not fully over), I think maybe sharing some of the examples freely might not be a wise move. I don't know that everybody would find any of them the crippling emotional basilisk I found the one, but I have no effective means of judging that.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-06-29T01:11:47.659Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The opportunity cost to a tall person of being asked to reach something for a short person is generally quite small. This remains true even if there are many short people who require such assistance.

The cost to a woman of having sex with every man who asks, in terms of pregnancy risk, disease risk, and status loss from being perceived as promiscuous is rather more significant.

I can see why an objectivist would try to include them in the same reference class; a utilitarian, on the other hand, doesn't have to reach far to find reasons not to.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-29T07:33:02.643Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

OrphanWilde also made an example about writing Web pages, whose opportunity cost is much higher than for reaching stuff but much lower than for having sex, so there might be more of a continuum than you realize.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-29T04:20:29.788Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I can point to a conversation on these forums where a woman stated she had pity sex with guys, for pretty much the reasons I laid out - that's what pity sex -is-, it's having sex with someone out of that sense of obligation arising from a perceived social advantage. It's not like I took an entirely fictitious example and presented it as an analogue of real-world things, they're all real-world things, and they're not the only ones.

You're stating that they're different, but that's from an objective outside perspective; from the inside obligation feels like obligation, regardless of its reasonableness.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-29T07:48:07.851Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It depends on who exactly the person feeling the obligation is. For example, I definitely don't feel obligated to write Web pages for free for anyone who asks regardless of how busy I am.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-29T07:44:05.096Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It depends on who exactly the person is. For example, I haven't felt obligated to write Web pages (or similar) for people for at least a decade (though this doesn't mean I never do that as a favour), and when people (well, actually almost only ever happens with a few people¹) try to make me feel that way, I deliberately start giving “if you insist, I will give a tantrum” vibes.


  1. Yes, I realize that the correct solution normally is to get the hell away from those people, but when they share 50% of my genes that's not viable.
comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-06-27T18:50:11.663Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

To jump off of Qiacochu's point, I'm in the smart category. I'm going ok with people using that. I'm not in the tall or the strong category, and those people are ok with me asking them for help when I need it. This is really the law of comparative advantage in a nutshell. And society as a whole benefits.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T18:54:42.936Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That's part of the reason I wrote this the way I did; don't assume the strategy means "Making yourself unavailable for assistance". You do need to avoid making yourself nothing but a resource to other people.

And the existence of a strategy becomes quite necessary as you start dealing with the darker side of this entitlement mentality; when an expectation exists for you solely to your detriment, and may not even be recognized as an entitlement, but hides under another guise altogether.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-06-28T12:45:58.438Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps in some situations it would help to keep your advantages secret.

Sometimes it is not possible; not just the last example, but e.g. when you need to practice your skill to develop it. You have a talent at chess, but you need to play chess to develop the skill, so you can't keep your chess skills a secret from everyone. You could go to a chess club, practice there and not tell anyone outside. Other people will know you go to a chess club. You can tell them that you like chess but you are very bad at it; or you can pretend you go there against your will (e.g. as a teenager you may say your parents insist on you playing chess, but you have no talent and you hate chess). If the chess club is far away, you can pretend you go to some other kind of club.

Generally, it may be good to supress the desire to brag about your advantages.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T12:02:55.307Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

remember that it is not necessarily to your advantage to -have- an additional advantage

Oh, yeah, the mindslaver problem.

Is that so much of a big deal, when you take this into account?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-29T07:50:44.644Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

if you can program people will ask you to write webpages from them

Markup isn't usually considered programming.
comment by somervta · 2013-07-01T08:25:59.291Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't matter. The people who want you to write webpages generally don't know that (and in fact often don't know the difference between 'can program' and 'is generally good at computer stuff') :D

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T18:17:12.012Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Most of the personal-finance-advice industry is parasitic and/or self-deluded, and it's generally agreed on by economic theory and experimental measurement that an index fund will deliver the best returns you can get without huge amounts of effort.

  • Doesn't this only hold as long as relatively few people are pursuing this strategy?

There are many many more submissive/masochistic men in the world than there are dominant/sadistic women, so if you are a woman who feels a strong temptation to command men and inflict pain on them, and you want a large harem of men serving your every need, it will suffice to state this fact anywhere on the Internet and you will have fifty applications by the next morning.

  • Er, again, doesn't this only hold as long as relatively few people are pursuing this strategy? (Also, submission and masochism aren't on the same axis. I'm a dominant masochist. Trying to do the submissive thing when you don't have a submissive personality is just unintentional emotional abuse of both yourself and your partner.)
comment by 9eB1 · 2013-06-27T18:49:22.553Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't this only hold as long as relatively few people are pursuing this strategy?

It takes relatively few active investors to keep prices in line by having opinions on what the prices of various stocks should be. We have way more than enough right now. Also, it should be noted that the S&P 500 represents about 70% of the value of all publicly traded US equities, so it's essentially an investment in the economy as a whole.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-27T19:56:43.758Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't this only hold as long as relatively few people are pursuing this strategy?

Basically, no. And to whatever extent it tends towards 'not holding' it is self correcting in as much as that gives more incentive to (large) investors to acquire and use information. It is never going to be worthwhile for a personal investor to attempt to beat the market.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-27T20:38:31.750Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is never going to be worthwhile for a personal investor to attempt to beat the market.

That statement looks very iffy to me. I see it as a strong claim resting on a bunch of unstated assumptions and with no evidence to support it (don't forget about the difference between "a personal investor" and "an average personal investor").

comment by solipsist · 2013-06-27T22:15:21.382Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Take a look at a graph of the the distribution of financial assets by net worth percentile. The typical share of stock is owned by a person or organization hundreds or thousands of times wealthier than you*. The bottom 90% of investors own together own less than a fifth of all equities, and less than 6% of other financial assets. Your competition in the stock market is not your neighbor -- it's a family office managing $200 million.

If a retail investor with $50K puts in the time and effort to beat the market by 5%, he can make an extra $2,500 per year. If a retiree with $10 million puts in the time and effort to beat the market by 5%, she can make an extra $500k per year. Beating the market's a zero sum game. Who do you expect to win -- the person who can hire two full time $200k-salaried money managers, or the person investing in their spare time?

*For the purposes of this comment, I'm assuming you live in the US and do not own more than a few hundred thousand dollars of stock.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-28T16:21:17.115Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Beating the market's a zero sum game

No, not in general. Some markets are more or less zero-sum games (e.g. futures), some are not (e.g. equities).

Your competition in the stock market is not your neighbor -- it's a family office managing $200 million.

First, there are many more markets than just the (US) stock market.

Second, if you want to go in that direction, that family office is small fry. The behemoths of the market are institutional money managers -- pension funds, for example. They, notably, have different success criteria and different incentives than individual investors.

Third, I don't quite understand in which sense that family office is "competition".

comment by solipsist · 2013-06-28T17:39:25.821Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is never going to be worthwhile for a personal investor to attempt to beat the market.

That statement looks very iffy to me.

Beating the market's a zero sum game

No, not in general. Some markets are more or less zero-sum games (e.g. futures), some are not (e.g. equities).

By my reading, your reply about the structure of futures and equities markets equivocates on the word "market". To me, the phrase "beating the market" means getting a higher expected return than average, which I think is zero-sum. Do you not think "beating the market" is zero-sum?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-28T20:58:51.965Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To me, the phrase "beating the market" means getting a higher expected return than average

Oh, and by the way, that's not what this phrase means to most people. Its standard meaning is "achieve a return higher than that produced by buying and holding an portfolio of all assets in the given market".

For example, let's say that S&P500 returned 10% in year 20XX. This means that a portfolio of 500 stocks that constitute the S&P500 index has produced a 10% return for this year. Notably, this does NOT mean that the average return of all people who invested in some way in the US equity market is 10%.

comment by solipsist · 2013-06-28T23:22:24.839Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To me, the phrase "beating the market" means getting a higher expected return than average

Its standard meaning is "achieve a return higher than that produced by buying and holding an portfolio of all assets in the given market".

Excellent point -- I tried using the fuzzy words "higher expected return than average" to drive home the zero-sumnes of the issue, but that phrasing does not reflect actually people mean by "beat the market".

Let's get concrete. What do you think are specific and realistic scenarios for an individual investor, with at most a few hundred thousand dollars in capital, to attempt to beat the market?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-29T03:43:58.398Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

First counter-question: why should an individual investor care? Unless you perceive yourself to be in some sort of ranked competition (which is actually the case for professional money managers), why would you care about beating the market?

On a purely rational basis, you have a universe of investment opportunities. You evaluate, to the best of your ability, the future probability distributions of returns from all of them and some kind of a dependency structure (in the simple case, a covariance matrix). From these, you form a portfolio that best matches your risk-return preferences.

If you just want to "beat the market", the simplest answer is leverage. Assuming you believe that the expectation for the equity market is positive, open a margin brokerage account and invest into a diversified equity portfolio on the margin. In the US the equity margin is limited by law to 2:1 (in most cases). Your expectation of return would be the double of the market return. The price that you pay is doubled volatility.

In the context of the US equity market another simple answer is high-beta stocks. Invest in a portfolio of such stocks and if the market return is positive your expected return would be higher. The price that you pay is again, increased volatility.

comment by solipsist · 2013-06-29T05:20:34.479Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

First counter-question: why should an individual investor care?

If I had $1 billion, even microscopic improvements in the yield of my investment would dominate any income I could hope to earn through wages. If I had $1, my investment yields wouldn't matter -- doubling my principle would be less remunerative than working a minimum wage job for 15 minutes. Somewhere in between owning $1 and $1 billion there is a net worth where it becomes worth it to switch from a generic roughly age appropriate portfolio to something more finely tuned. I had estimated that cutoff to be many times a person's annual income. If the cutoff is lower than my estimate, then a lot more people should be learning modern portfolio theory.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-29T05:38:29.298Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're forgetting about the utility function. If you had a billion dollars, there's no reason for you to care about the return of your investments at all, much less about microscopic improvements. On the other hand, if you're retired and you're living on the income from, say, a $100,000 portfolio, any additional percent that you can eke out is meaningful to you.

The real question is why do you consider the market portfolio (which, again, most of US residents understand as an S&P500-based index) to be the default?

For historical context, it certainly wasn't the default for saving money for retirement, say, 50 years ago.

comment by solipsist · 2013-06-29T16:56:06.026Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you had a billion dollars, there's no reason for you to care about the return of your investments at all, much less about microscopic improvements.

I don't agree -- if you have $1 billion, the marginal utility of an additional dollar is smaller than if you are normal individual investor, but the utility is still positive. More importantly, the second derivative of utility -- the rate at which the marginal of utility diminishes -- is much larger for an individual investor than for a billionaire. $10 million is about twice as good as $5 million for Bill Gates, but not for me. This implies, to me, that individual investors should be more risk-averse than larger investors, which supports the statement "It is never going to be worthwhile for a personal investor to attempt to beat the market".

Could you give some specific and realistic scenarios where it would be rational for an individual investor, with at most a few hundred thousand dollars in capital, to attempt to beat the market? That's what I'd like to discuss.

The real question is why do you consider the market portfolio (which, again, most of US residents understand as an S&P500-based index) to be the default? For historical context, it certainly wasn't the default for saving money for retirement, say, 50 years ago.

I was under the impression that historically most were more concerned with safety than they are now, and less concerned with "beating the market".

I'm laboring over the phrase "beat the market" so much because I believe that (1) many people think that they can do better (2) most can't, even if they are smart (3) you shouldn't try.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-29T17:51:18.004Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This implies, to me, that individual investors should be more risk-averse than larger investors, which supports the statement "It is never going to be worthwhile for a personal investor to attempt to beat the market".

And, if an individual is able to (predictably) beat the market for whatever reason then it is overwhelmingly unlikely that their optimal strategy is to invest their own capital but nothing beyond that.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-29T18:00:48.454Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A relative of mine does predictably beat the market, and he would agree with you that he would make more money in the long run by investing the money of others. But he would disagree that this is an optimal strategy: his (economic) goal is to make enough money to live comfortably while doing a minimum of work. He reports a fair number of likeminded people among his acquaintances, some more successful at this than others.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-29T17:17:06.917Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, leaving on a trip in about an hour so I have to bow out of this discussion. But I'm sure it will come up again on LW... :-)

comment by solipsist · 2013-06-30T01:37:59.328Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Aww. Well, it was fun while it lasted :-)

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-28T19:14:42.840Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you not think "beating the market" is zero-sum?

No, at least not without a whole bunch of additional qualifications.

Two simple examples. Let's assume the "market" is S&P500.

Example 1: I leverage my investment 2:1 and buy and hold the market. A year passes, the market return was positive, my return was twice as big as the market return. I beat the market -- who lost?

Example 2: I do not invest and stay in cash for the whole year. The market return was positive, I underperformed the market and so lost -- who won?

comment by solipsist · 2013-06-28T22:46:27.440Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'll write the cute answer (for other's benefits, since I expect you've thought of it).

Mr. Example2 decided to duck out of the market this year and sells his 1 share of SPY for $100. He keeps the cash at his brokerage, and gets 1% interest. Fleeing to cash turned out to be a bad deal for his portfolio -- Mr. Example2 "lost".

What did Mr. Examples's brokerage do with his $100 in cash? Why, they lent it to Mr. Example1! Mr. Example1 borrowed $100 to buy a share of SPY (from Mr. Example1). The broker charged Mr. Example1 1% interest, which they pass on to Mr. Example2. This leverage turned out to be a great idea for Mr. Example1's portfolio -- Mr. Example1 "won".

So the cute answer to you questions is "the guy from the other example".

(But I don't think this the root of the issue, so let's move to a different thread leaf)

comment by Alsadius · 2013-06-29T18:21:36.064Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1) The person who lent you the money, and who could instead have invested it the same way you did.

2) The person who bought the stock you could otherwise have bought.

Edit: Solipsist's answer is better than mine.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-27T20:54:10.382Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That statement looks very iffy to me. I see it as a strong claim resting on a bunch of unstated assumptions and with no evidence to support it (don't forget about the difference between "a personal investor" and "an average personal investor").

I originally had 'layman' in there too but decided the statement was too wordy and the context sufficiently clear. In any case the strength of your disagreement and in particular "no evidence to support it" suggests to me that your disagreement may extend to a question of fact about how efficient the market is.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-27T21:08:20.125Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I suspect so :-) However the core of my objection is the transformation of something like "An average retail investor playing in the US equity market will not beat S&P500 returns" into "It is never going to be worthwhile for a personal investor to attempt to beat the market". There are a great many markets in the world, not all of them are large and/or efficient, and, on top of that, the diversity of personal investors is much greater than the diversity of markets.

Not to mention that if you just leverage your investment a bit and the market in which you invest has a positive drift, then you will "beat the market" pretty trivially.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-27T21:29:05.759Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are a great many markets in the world, not all of them are large and/or efficient, and, on top of that, the diversity of personal investors is much greater than the diversity of markets.

'The', not 'a' or 'any'. Again, I chose to leave out any disambiguation and disclaimers beyond the pronoun choice, to avoid wordiness and because I thought no reasonable reader would misinterpret the statement. My instinct for pedantry that I so cruelly suppressed as 'unduly socially awkward' while writing my comment is now jeering "I told you so" at me. While such precautions come with a cost they at least serve to prevent this kind of exchange from time to time.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-28T16:43:26.920Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just rename your instinct for pedantry "preference for clear and precise expression" and hoist your freak flag :-) Socially awkward on LW is a weird beast anyway :-D

To return to the original point, how about "Timing markets successfully requires either a rare (and VERY well-compensated) skill or access to some relevant non-public information. There is a strong prior that you don't have any of those so convincing evidence is required to overcome it."..?

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-28T17:43:17.663Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just rename your instinct for pedantry "preference for clear and precise expression"

Including excessive amounts of tangential qualifications and attempting to make statements immune to misinterpretation tends to make statements less clear.

To return to the original point, how about "Timing markets successfully requires either a rare (and VERY well-compensated) skill or access to some relevant non-public information. There is a strong prior that you don't have any of those so convincing evidence is required to overcome it."..?

That is another claim I might also make. It just isn't particularly relevant to the immediate (and quoted) context in the reply in question. (You have been talking about an essentially different issue to the one I was engaging with, which is fine, but obviously I'm not going to accept paraphrasings that aren't about my point at all.)

comment by Lumifer · 2013-06-28T19:22:22.158Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I guess then I don't understand what did you mean. Would you mind rephrasing your reply in a more clear and robust way?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T20:05:20.537Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The amount of effort an individual investor should need to exert to beat the market should be somewhere around the average amount of effort individual investors exert into the market (you may need to weight that average for the amount of money at stake - i/e, a large investor counts more than a small one) - once you've beaten the average you've beaten the market.

As the number of people pursuing the no-effort strategy increases, the amount of effort necessary to beat the market goes down. At some point of strategy saturation the strategy stops being effective.

(In general, the market is a chaotic reactive system; any well-defined strategy is exploitable, and given the nature of the market, is exploited.)

comment by Alsadius · 2013-06-29T18:18:35.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Re index funds, institutional investors can be relied upon to pursue non-index strategies, because their added scale makes the expense of doing so very low. They make up a significant enough portion of the market's dollars that pretty much all retail investors can free-ride on index funds and still do fine.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-06-27T18:22:16.181Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also, submission and masochism aren't on the same axis. I'm a dominant masochist.

While they might not be strictly on the same axis it seems that they are closely correlated.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T18:30:55.590Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

They were certainly closely correlated in my mind until I realized I was, in fact, being emotionally abusive to both myself and my partner. I'm not sure that it's -common- to be wrong about this, but I do realize that it's very -easy- to be wrong about this.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-06-29T01:16:26.080Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Anecdotally, I encountered a profile on OkCupid! earlier today where the girl identified as a submissive sadist.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-27T19:46:32.158Z · score: -3 (17 votes) · LW · GW

If you are depressed, see no escape from your life situation and are ready to call it quits forever, consider that It Gets Better. A dragon boating coach I knew used to tell his team during a practice shortly after a spicy chili lunch, "Just paddle through it, people!".

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-06-27T21:45:59.327Z · score: 24 (28 votes) · LW · GW

The horrible thing about major depressive disorder is that one cannot, in fact alieve that "it gets better" during a bad phase. Depressed people all over the world hate those empty platitudes, are sick and tired of them. Just read any damn forum on depression, seriously!

"Get over it", "hang in there", etc, etc. It comes across as so predictable, so superficial and callous. We've heard this shit a million times; it's just hard for us to draw a connection between some statistical prospect of improvement and the very private grey hell that we are in. I know this from experience. Downvoted. (And yes, it did "get better" for me, but I'm still angry at getting such vapid non-advice.)

Related: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html (the by-now-famous excellent explanation by Allie Brosh)

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-27T23:21:56.022Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Speaking as somebody who, over the last couple of months, has literally experienced new emotions ("So that's what that feels like" has been an all-too-common sentiment lately) at the age of 26, depression is... really complicated. I'm still seriously wrestling with whether or not I want to be depressed or not. But I don't think I could again; the experience has been a bit like... stepping from a black and white world to a color one; the colors are blindingly bright and it's kind of unpleasant but I think in the end I'll find this side more satisfying.

That explanation is a huge part of what made me realize I was depressed (I never really got out of the "I'm invincible!" stage of depression, I think, in spite of not knowing what I was immune -from-, except that it made other people act crazy). In retrospect I guess all the people -asking- me if I was depressed should have been a giveaway, though.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-06-27T23:38:08.114Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Urgh, this is really hard for me to say, as I'm still fucking angry with you over that politics thing and consider you an enemy, but... I reach out to you. I know what the lack of colour and the inability to care and the resentment at other people caring feels like. No-one should go through this. Thank you for responding. I hope it stabilizes.

I should probably get off my ass and make a Discussion post with a personal story and some links re: depression. The cycle of guilt, the suicidal ideation, all that nasty shit some of us struggle with.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T02:04:58.363Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

this is really hard for me to say, as I'm still fucking angry with you over that politics thing and consider you an enemy, but... I reach out to you

Wow. I don't know what went down, but I really appreciate the difficulty you went through to make this sentiment.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-06-28T02:22:09.601Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Disclaimer: in similar situations before, onlookers have said that I'm easily riled up, etc. I was extremely upset about that particular conversation, though; not linking to it.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T04:03:54.641Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I assume we're talking about this, which was entirely ridiculous on about every level.

My reading of the thread is that one person who deeply cared about an issue talked to someone that didn't care about it, but had an obsessive need to be right.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-28T00:05:28.941Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The politics experiment, I'll willingly admit, was a failure, which is why I dropped it. But I don't think it created any serious animosities.

It would be a useful post to participate in, I think. For a site about rationality, we don't talk here much about emotions. That's kind of... an interesting blind spot.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-06-28T02:03:49.907Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's kind of... an interesting blind spot.

It may be quite important since strong emotions can be such a huge motivating force to do irrational things before you've thought everything out.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-28T03:31:00.321Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

They don't just motivate you to do different things, they cause different thoughts to form, to occur to you.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-27T22:14:22.098Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What a great link! Thanks! And good to know that it did get better for you.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-06-27T22:26:47.632Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Okay. Implicit apology accepted. But please feel free to educate yourself further, as this is both a widespread and really grave issue.

Also:
http://www.reddit.com/r/depression/comments/xoowi/my_massive_list_of_depression_resources_part_1_im/

comment by shminux · 2013-06-27T22:31:20.669Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Okay. Implicit apology accepted.

Oh, there was no apology, implicit or otherwise, just a bit of gratitude.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-06-28T02:08:12.014Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Counter-point: one of the reasons that people advise referring depressed people to professionals is that professionals understand that cheerleading does not freaking work at the point that someone is seriously considering suicide, and that efforts to do so by the general public are often counter-productive.

If you are depressed there are people that can help pull you out of the place you are at. Don't dismiss them based on fictional evidence of how such help is portrayed in movies or the stigma of people who have never had to deal with this shit. You are not insane for considering suicide. You will not be thrown in an asylum for discussing this with a professional. It's okay to NOT be okay.

comment by pleeppleep · 2013-07-03T18:26:06.728Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You will not be thrown in an asylum for discussing this with a professional

My experience disagrees. I went to see a professional for antidepressants, was emotionally stable at that moment, and was thrown in a psych ward for a week. I had to lie about my condition to be released. The whole affair failed to help in any way.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-11T17:27:46.073Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

PSA: when giving high-stakes advice, be especially careful to think about whether you know as much as you believe you do.