Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021

post by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-03T07:58:03.130Z · LW · GW · 83 comments

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

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

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

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


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Jozdien · 2021-05-03T08:29:58.805Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’m Jose.  I’m 20.  This is a comment many years in the making.

I grew up in India, in a school that (almost) made up for the flaws in Indian academia, as a kid with some talent in math and debate.  I largely never tried to learn math or science outside what was taught at school back then.  I started using the internet in 2006, and eventually started to feel very strongly about what I thought was wrong with the institutions of the world, from schools to religion.  I spent a lot of time then trying to make these thoughts coherent.  I didn’t really think about what I wanted to do, or about the future, in anything more than abstract terms until I was 12 and a senior at my school recommended HPMOR.

I don’t remember what I thought the first time I read it up until where it had reached (I think it was chapter 95).  I do remember that on my second read, by the time it had reached chapter 101, I stayed up the night before one of my finals to read it.  That was around the time I started to actually believe I could do something to change the world (there may have been a long phase where I phrased it as wanting to rule the universe).  But apart from an increased tendency in my thoughts at the time toward refining my belief systems, nothing changed much, and Rationality from AI to Zombies remained on my TBR until early 2017, which is when I first lurked LessWrong.

I had promised myself at the time that I would read all the Sequences properly regardless of how long it took, and so it wasn’t until late 2017 that I finally finished it.  That was a long, and arduous process, and much of which came from many inner conflicts I actually noticed for the first time.  Some of the ideas were ones I had tried to express long ago, far less coherently.  It was epiphany and turmoil at every turn.  I graduated school in 2018; I’d eventually realize this wasn’t nearly enough though, and it was pure luck that I chose a computer science undergrad because of vague thoughts about AI, despite not yet deciding on what I really wanted to do.

Over my first two years in college, I tried to actually think about that question.  By this point, I had read enough about FAI to know it to be the most important thing to work on, and that anything I did would have to come back to that in some way.  Despite that, I still stuck to some old wish to do something that I could call mine, and shoved the idea of direct work in AI Safety in the pile where things that you consciously know and still ignore in your real life go.  Instead, I thought I’d learned the right lesson and held off on answering direct career questions until I knew more, because I had a long history of overconfidence in those answers (not that that’s a misguided principle, but there was more I could have seen at that point with what I knew).

Fast forward to late-2020.  I had still been lurking on LW, reading about AI Safety, and generally immersing myself in the whole shindig for years.  I even applied to the MIRIx program early that year, and held off on starting operations on that after March that year.  I don’t remember what it was exactly that made me start to rethink my priors, but one day, I was shaken by the realization that I wasn’t doing anything the way I should have been if my priorities were actually what I claimed they were, to help the most people.  I thought of myself as very driven by my ideals, and being wrong only on the level where you don’t notice difficult questions wasn’t comforting.  I went into existential panic mode, trying to seriously recalibrate everything about my real priorities.  

In early 2021, I was still confused about a lot of things.  Not least because being from my country sort of limits the options one has to directly work in AI Alignment, or at least makes them more difficult.  That was a couple months ago.  I found that after I took a complete break from everything for a month to study for subjects I hadn’t touched in a year, all those cached thoughts I had that bred my earlier inner conflicts had mostly disappeared.  I’m not entirely settled yet though, it’s been a weird few months.  I’m trying to catch up on a lot of lost time and learn math (I’m working through MIRI’s research guide), focus my attention a lot more in specific areas of ML (I lucked out again there and did spend a lot of time studying it broadly earlier), and generally trying to get better at things.  I’ll hopefully post infrequently here.  I really hope this comment doesn’t feel like four years.

Replies from: daniel-kokotajlo, Alexei, rudi-c
comment by Daniel Kokotajlo (daniel-kokotajlo) · 2021-05-03T19:58:59.305Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Welcome! It's people like you (and perhaps literally you) on which the future of the world depends. :)

Wait... you started using the internet in 2006? Like, when you were 5???

Replies from: Jozdien
comment by Jozdien · 2021-05-03T20:06:01.963Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks!  2006 is what I remember, and what my older brother says too.  I was 5 though, so the most I got out of it was learning how to torrent movies and Pokemon ROMs until like 2008, when I joined Facebook (at the time to play an old game called FarmVille).

comment by Alexei · 2021-05-03T16:14:14.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very cool, this sounds a lot like my own story too. Welcome to the club!

comment by Rudi C (rudi-c) · 2021-05-04T16:34:33.188Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the whole FAI research is mostly bottlenecked by funding; There are many smart people who will work in any field that has funding available (in my model of the world). So unless you're someone who does not need funding or can fund others, you might not be part of the bottleneck.

Replies from: habryka4, Jozdien
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-04T19:56:30.575Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am really quite confident that the space is not bottlenecked by funding. Maybe we have different conceptions of what we mean by funding, but there really is a lot of money (~$5-10 Billion USD) that is ready to be deployed towards promising AI Alignment opportunities, there just aren't any that seem very promising and aren't already funded. It really seems to me that funding is very unlikely the bottleneck for the space.

Replies from: rudi-c
comment by Rudi C (rudi-c) · 2021-05-05T07:10:41.407Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am just speaking from general models and I have no specific model for FAI, so I was/am probably wrong.

I still don’t understand the bottleneck. There aren’t promising projects to get funded. Isn’t this just another way of saying that the problem is hard, and most research attempts will be futile, and thus to accelerate the progress, unpromising projects need to be funded? I.e., what is the bottleneck if it’s not funding? “Brilliant ideas” are not under our direct control, so this cannot be part of our operating bottleneck.

Replies from: habryka4, ChristianKl
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-05T17:44:30.519Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Solution space is really high-dimensional, so just funding random points has basically no chance of getting you much closer to a functioning solution. There aren't even enough people who understand what the AI Alignment problem is to fund all of them, and frequently funding people can have downsides. Two common downsides of funding people: 

  • They have an effect on the social context in which work happens, and if they don't do good work, they scare away other contributors, or worsen the methodology of your field
  • If you give away money like candy, you attract lots of people who will try to pretend doing the work you want to do and just take away your money. There are definitely enough people who just want to take your money to exhaust $10B in financial resources (or really any reasonable amount of resources). In a lemon's market, you need to maintain some level of vigilance, otherwise you can easily lose all of your resources at almost any level of wealth.
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-05-07T11:52:28.364Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One good example of what funding can do is nanotech. [LW · GW] describes how strong funding killed of the nanotech industry by getting people to compete for that funding. 

comment by Jozdien · 2021-05-04T18:17:15.121Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

80,000 Hours' data suggests that people are the bottleneck, not funding.  Could you tell me why you think otherwise?  It's possible that there's even more available funding in AI research and similar fields that are likely sources for FAI researchers.

Replies from: rudi-c
comment by Rudi C (rudi-c) · 2021-05-05T07:21:25.754Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(First read my comment on the sister comment: [LW(p) · GW(p)] )

I looked at the 80k page again, and I still don’t get their model; They say the bottleneck is people who have PhDs from top schools (an essentially supply-gated resource), and can geographically work in the FAI labs (a constant-ish fraction of the said PhD holders). It seems to me that the main lever to increase top school PhD graduates is to increase funding and thus positions in AI-related fields. (Of course, this lever might still take years to show its effects, but I do not see how individual decisions can be the bottleneck here.)

As said, I am probably wrong, but I like to understand this.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-05-05T21:40:41.835Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They say the bottleneck is people who have PhDs from top schools (an essentially supply-gated resource), 

They write no such thing. They do say:

Might you have a shot of getting into a top 5 graduate school in machine learning? This is a reasonable proxy for whether you can get a job at a top AI research centre, though it’s not a requirement. 

They use it as a proxy for cognitive ability. It's possible for a person who writes insightful AI alignment forum posts to hired into an AI research role. It's just very hard to develop the ability to write insightful things about AI alignment and the kind of person who can is also the kind of person who can get into a top 5 graduate school in machine learning. 

When it comes to increasing the number of AI Phd's that can accelerate AI development in general, so it's problematic from the perspective of AI risk. 

Replies from: zachary-robertson
comment by Zachary Robertson (zachary-robertson) · 2021-05-06T13:46:09.388Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They do say that a PhD from a top 5 program is a reasonable proxy for an AI research center. These are supply limited. Therefore, they are implying that top PhDs are a bottleneck. This is far upstream of everything else so it does seem that a top PhD is a reasonable proxy for the bottleneck.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-05-06T14:02:30.695Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They don't speak about a having a PhD but ability to get a into a top 5 graduate program. Many people who do have the ability to get into a top 5 program don't get into a top 5 graduate program but persue other directions. 

The number of people with that ability level is not directly dependent on the amount of of PhD's that are given out. 

Replies from: zachary-robertson
comment by Zachary Robertson (zachary-robertson) · 2021-05-06T14:11:58.548Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They don't speak about a having a PhD but ability to get a into a top 5 graduate program.

Yes they do. On the same page,

The first step on this path is usually to pursue a PhD in machine learning at a good school. It’s possible to enter without a PhD, but it’s close to a requirement in research roles at the academic centres and DeepMind, which represent a large fraction of the best positions.

Certainly there’s a bottleneck on ‘good’ schools also, but then we can strengthen the claim using what they say later about ‘top’ schools being a proxy for success.

comment by _nuchi · 2021-05-04T00:31:27.791Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey there, been sporadically reading stuff on LW for maybe ~8ish years? Just created an account today to comment on the animal intelligence thread. I can't remember if I had an account on the old v1.0 site, but in any case I don't remember ever posting previously. Found out about LW via HPMOR.

I'm grateful to the folks at LW for introducing me to cryonics. I signed up a few years back.

I'm interested in animal communication (among other things) — I'm currently building a prosthetic human voice meant for animal use. Would love to connect with anyone who has experience with consumer electronics development.

Replies from: Robbo
comment by Robbo · 2021-05-14T19:39:57.157Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm very intrigued by "prosthetic human voice meant for animal use"! Not knowing much about animal communication or speech in general, I don't even know what this mean. Could you say a bit more about what that would be?

comment by Justin Bullock (justin-bullock) · 2021-05-21T18:28:46.598Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My name is Justin Bullock. I live in the Seattle area after 27 years in Georgia and 7 years in Texas. I have a PhD and Public Administration and Policy Analysis where I focused on decision making within complex, hierarchical, public programs. For example, in my dissertation I attempted to model how errors (measured as improper payments) are built into the US Unemployment Insurance Program. I spent time looking at how agents are motivated within these complex systems trying to develop general insights into how errors occur in these systems. Until about 2016, I was very much ignorant of the discussions around AI. I was introduced to the arguments around AGI and alignment through the work PR works of Sam Harris and Max Tegmark leading me eventually to the work of Nick Bostrom and Eliezer Yudkowsky. It's been a wild and exciting ride.

I currently have a tenured Associate Professor position at Texas A&M University that I'm resigning on July 1 to focus more on writing, creating, and learning without all of the weird pressures and incentives that come from working within a major public research university in the social sciences. In preparation for changing my employment status, I've been considering the communities I want to be in discussion with and the LessWrong and AlignmentForum communities are among the most interesting on that list. 

My writing is on decision making, agents, communication, governance and control of complex systems, and how AI and future AGI influences these things. I've been thinking about the issue of control of multi-agent systems a lot lately and what types of systems of control can be used to guide or build robust agent-agnostic processes of AI and human constitution. In agreement with George Dyson's recent arguments, I also worry that we have already lost meaningful human control over the internet. Finally, I've recently been significantly influenced by the works of Olaf Stapledon (Star Maker, Last and First Men, Sirius) and Aldous Huxley (The Perennial Philosophy) in thinking more carefully about the mind/body problem, the endowment of the cosmos, and the nature of reality.  

My hope is that I can learn from you all and bring to this conversation thoughts on alignment, control, governance (in particular of multi-agent systems that contain only humans, humans and AI, and only AI), and form a map together that better reflects the territory . I look forward to engaging with the community!

Replies from: gilch
comment by gilch · 2021-05-23T06:05:17.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

See the Group Rationality topic [? · GW]. The rationalists, as a culture, still haven't quite figured out how to coordinate groups very well, in my opinion. It's something we should work on.

Replies from: justin-bullock
comment by Justin Bullock (justin-bullock) · 2021-05-26T16:13:43.025Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for this. I pulled up the thread. I think you're right that there are a lot of open questions to look into at the level of group dynamics. I'm still familiarizing myself with the technical conversation around the iterated prisoner's dilemma and other ways to look at these challenges from a game theory lens. My understanding so far is that some basic concepts of coordination and group dynamics like authority and specialization are not yet well formulated, but again, I don't consider myself up to date in this conversation yet.

From the thread you shared, I came across this organizing post I found helpful:

Thanks for the comment.

comment by maeril · 2021-05-18T10:58:31.292Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey there ! My name is Mae, and I’m an ML engineer from Paris, France.

To be a bit more precise, my work revolves around AI R&D and prototyping for various industries. Right now I’m focusing on using models rather than creating them because that’s what my current job requires, but I’m still very interested in R&D. I mainly have experience with Recsys, NLP, and have a CV side project I’m working on.

I guess my reason for signing up is, I feel like I should listen more to people who might challenge my enthusiastic view of AI.

I’m not a long time lurker like some I’ve seen below, I really just found out about LW very recently, so I have a lot to learn about this community.

It’s nice to meet you all. :)

Replies from: TurnTrout, daniel-kokotajlo
comment by TurnTrout · 2021-05-18T16:30:24.380Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Welcome! :)

comment by Daniel Kokotajlo (daniel-kokotajlo) · 2021-05-18T16:39:55.573Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I guess my reason for signing up is, I feel like I should listen more to people who might challenge my enthusiastic view of AI.

You seem like an awesome person!

FWIW, I'm super *excited* about AI. It's gonna be awesome and it has so much potential for good, literally it can save the world and bring about utopia... if designed and deployed appropriately. My concern is that it doesn't look like we are on a trajectory to do that; not enough people take the alignment problem / safety concerns seriously, and the people who do take them seriously and are researching solutions report that they aren't particularly close to a solution (though they are making progress.)

comment by theme_arrow · 2021-05-03T17:23:19.398Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hello! I've been around here since about the start of the year, but haven't yet introduced myself in a welcome thread. My exposure to the rationalist movement was somewhat nonstandard, as I have a sister who's 10 years older and who was reading LessWrong back in 2007-10 when I was in middle school. I picked up quite a bit via osmosis from her, particularly EA-related ideas. As a result, I started lurking on the EA forum back in 2019, and discovered SSC and LessWrong from there. What finally motivated me to make an account and start posting was wanting to go through alkja's [LW · GW] Hammertime sequence, which I did in January and learned a lot from. 

Outside of LessWrong, I'm a spacecraft guidance, navigation, and control engineer, as well as a part-time grad student. It's a cool field, and I hope to write some posts about it for this community in the future. In addition to my work and EA/rationalist topics, I enjoy reading about urban planning and economics. This is a great community, and I've been really happy to find this space. 

Replies from: daniel-kokotajlo
comment by Daniel Kokotajlo (daniel-kokotajlo) · 2021-05-03T20:02:41.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Welcome! I recognize your username, we must have crossed paths before. Maybe something to do with SpaceX?

Replies from: theme_arrow
comment by theme_arrow · 2021-05-03T20:18:57.278Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes! We had a nice discussion in the comments of your "Fun with +12 OOMs of Compute" post.

comment by Viegos · 2021-05-25T11:14:06.041Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm Viegos, a software engineer who's been reading threads on lesswrong, anything by Eliezer Yudkowsky and Scott Alexander for a couple of years now
Great interest in Math/probability theory, I study it greatly in my free time
I hope to derive from the lesswrong community a greater understanding of human consciousness, or at the very least, a less wrong interpretation of the human mind

comment by Phil_was_here · 2021-05-06T18:29:29.480Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hello LessWrong,

My name is Nate. Currently an undergrad studying computer science with a specialization in intelligent system, AI. I grew up indoctrinated into an extremist fundamentalist christian ideology and recently broke free from that world after leaving for university. It's finally great to develop my own ideas about faith and hope to build up a value and ethics framework that will grow my agnostic atheist position I hold today. Being open-minded is freeing and I hope to expand my philosophical position.

Replies from: CraigMichael, daniel-kokotajlo
comment by CraigMichael · 2021-05-11T00:14:36.035Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey Nate! 

I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist household, decided I was an atheist around the time I was 17 and also studied computer science in college. 

Can I tell you somethings I wish someone had told me back when I was in my 20s? If yes, keep reading. But if you're not keen on advice from olds, feel free to skip. 


It's possible that when you come from one extreme, you try to correct by seeking other extremes, and that can leave you in a really awful place. 

Beware what Freud called "reaction formation" as a lifestyle choice. A good place to start is maybe with the literature on dogmatism. Milton Rokeach and people who have built on the work he did, for example. Understanding "Form E"  as a psychometric and the variety of groups and people that tested high on it was very helpful.

In my own experience, my inclination having been burned so much by Christianity early in life was that things that were the opposite of what the Christian culture I previously belonged to would have endorsed, were probably worth my time and would maybe would make a better person. I desperately wanted to be part of and accepted by the "secular non-church-going intelligentsia." I wanted to be smart and accomplished but also have sex, drugs and parties but in a way that was...  I don't know. I still don't know what I thought would happen. Like someday I thought I would reach a level of worldliness that would magically make things better.

That doesn't really happen. If anything, I just got to a point where there was very little that shocked or impressed me anymore and I didn't see much point in continuing to chase experiences along those lines.

Eventually I reluctantly realized the value of tradition. You'll find yourself in places in life where there aren't RCTs, or cog sci frameworks or the like to guide your decisions. Traditions are nice because they're a low-resolution version of what worked for people who came before you, and they're worth considering in those circumstances when making decisions. 

While life with a tribe is sometimes a problem, life without a tribe presents its own difficulties. Granfalloons (nonsense) may be necessary to keep tribes together. I wrote about a bit about this in Mini thoughts on mintheism [LW · GW]. 

Sorry for the old man ramble. :)

Replies from: peterson-yook
comment by Crackatook (peterson-yook) · 2021-05-11T05:24:26.780Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think he will be fine as he mentioned faith and open-mind, but your story also helps us with some glance of faith experimentation. Expansion with faith seems exciting, partially because it is restricted. Thank you for sharing:)  

comment by Duncan Britt · 2021-05-23T05:12:02.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hello all. My name is Duncan, as my username suggests, and I guess you could say I'm new around these parts, (although I first read the sequences years ago). My hope is that by participating in this community, I'll be able to gain clarity and understanding by open-sourcing my opinions and getting feedback from open-minded and thoughtful folks like yourselves. Cheers!

comment by David Udell · 2021-05-14T19:28:31.787Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


I'm David.  I'm a philosophy PhD student and longtime LessWrong/Overcoming Bias/SSC/rationalish-sphere lurker.  This is me finally working up the strength to beat back my commenting anxiety!  I discovered LW sometime in high school; my reading diet back then consisted of a lot of internet and not much else, and I just stumbled onto here on my own.

Right now I'm really interested in leveling up my modern math understanding and in working up to writing on AI safety/related topics.

Replies from: Robbo
comment by Robbo · 2021-05-14T19:37:23.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Welcome, David! What sort of math are you looking to level up on? And do you know what AI safety/related topics you might explore? 

Replies from: David Udell
comment by David Udell · 2021-05-15T00:34:02.127Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My medium-term math goal is to pick up some algebra and analysis.  I've heard from some people with math backgrounds that those are good basics to pick up if you're interested in modern math.  My roadmap from here to there is to finish off David Lay's Linear Algebra textbook plus an equivalent textbook for calculus (which I haven't done any of since high school), and then move on to intro real analysis and intro abstract algebra textbooks.  So far, I've found self-studying math very rewarding, and so self-motivating as long as I'm not starved for time.

Lately I've been reading up on some of the stuff on persuasion tools/AI "social superpowers."  It's an intrinsically interesting idea that in the medium-term future, following the best arguments you can find given that you read around broadly enough could cease to be a reliable route to holding the most accurate possible views -- if we get widespread proliferation of accessible and powerful persuasion tools.  If GPT-n gets really good at generating arguments that convince people, it might become dangerous (with regard to preserving your terminal values and sanity) to read around on the unfiltered internet.  So this seems like a cool thing to think more about.

comment by Henrik Karlsson (henrik-karlsson) · 2021-05-31T20:08:01.396Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hi, my name his Henrik. I've been lurking here for a long time, and today finally dared write something myself [LW · GW]. I have been looking for a community like this for a long time, and I'm so grateful for being able to listen in to all the conversations happening. Emerging oneself in a better culture can really bring out good things in oneself. The last few months, after hanging out here, it feels like my thoughts are moving in new, orthogonal and fruitful directions. I just want to say my thanks to all the people working to make sure that this bubble can exist.

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2021-06-02T02:12:55.271Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a great post by the way. I loved it.

comment by MondSemmel · 2021-05-17T09:56:34.868Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

LW Front Page: Is the following intentional behavior, i.e. seeing the same essay twice in the Latest list because it's been curated?

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-21T23:08:53.263Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not exactly intentional, but a natural consequence of how we query things. When we render the frontpage we actually make two separate queries, once for the last three curated posts (which always go at the top, though some of them might be hidden if you already read them) and once for the latest posts. This means they can be duplicated. 

This could be avoided by moving the logic to a higher level React component, but it's a bit of a pain and we haven't gotten around to it. Sorry for the confusion in the meantime.

comment by weathersystems · 2021-05-11T02:56:36.446Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hi y'all.

Recently I've become very interested in open research. A friend of mine gave me the tip to check out lesswrong. 

I found that lesswrong has been interested in trying to support collaborative open research (one [LW · GW], two [LW · GW], three [LW · GW]) for a few years at least. That was the original idea behind Recently Ruby explained [LW(p) · GW(p)] some of their problems getting this sort of thing going with the previous approach and sketched a feature he's calling "Research Agendas." I think something like his Research Agendas seems quite useful. 

So that's what brought me here. But I've had a lot of fun reading through old top rated posts.

I just made my first post [LW · GW] about a question centered wiki I've been working on. I guess it's a sort of self promotion, so I hope that's ok. I felt that it's the sort of thing that people here may be interested in. I'm also very interested to hear critiques of the argument I put forward in that post.

comment by sybaritick · 2021-05-05T23:21:11.558Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hello! My name is Cal. I've been a Slate Star Codex reader for years and read LessWrong occasionally, but just made an account for the first time today.

I would love some advice on improving my fiction writing. Writing short-form fiction has been a major hobby of mine for my entire life (really, starting at age 7 or 8), but I don't think I'm particularly good at it, I just enjoy it a lot and enjoy reading other amateurs' fiction as well. I've never tried to get anything published anywhere as I don't think it's at that level of quality.

Here is the smallest one of my stories. I would be incredibly appreciative of constructive criticism.

“Drainage ditch” is too vulgar a term for the narrow creek that ran through the fenced off little park twenty yards behind the last condo before we left.

It was good to be near it. I think all running water is like that, even that small amount of it-- at the narrowest part a child could jump across, and I did, when I was eight or nine and we lived another few streets down from the place.

My grandma called it a “babbling brook.” This is still how I think of it: the water running fast enough at the narrow parts that it made the pleasant sound you can hear recorded on relaxation CDs buried in the bottom of a box in your storage closet.

Where the stream widened at the end of the park, though, it pooled shallow and near-stagnant among a patch of cattails and other wet reedy plants. There was always garbage in the water. I never thought of it as dirty, only invasive. It was just as much a part of the environment as the fauna: here was the forsythia (Forsythia suspensa), and the juniper trees (Juniperus virginiana), and here the empty half-liter soda bottle (polyethylene terephthalate).

And that time I ran back to what I knew as home, along the sidewalk that flanked Blue Spring and then the asphalt, and cut through the grassy hill behind the townhouses to get to the one that was mine. (The back door would have been closer, but we did not use that door.)

The beads of granular lawn herbicide (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, 3,6-dichloro-2-methoxybenzoic acid) embedded in the soles of my shoes meant that I was to leave them outside today on the porch.

In my sock feet I went inside only to get a Shoprite bag (HDPE) to stuff in my pocket to bring back with me, and back on the porch I put my shoes on one at a time without untying them.

The stick that I used to fish the empty cigarette box (LDPE and paper) from the water had only recently snapped from the pin oak (Quercus palustris) that stood tall above this park. The park he now stood in, of course, was neither public nor more than an acre and a half; he judged that harshly.

I characterized him alternately as watching over the goings-on in this neighborhood with a silent protectiveness and as too old and tired to see the scrubby pines and patches of clover as anything but pathetically little consolation for what used to be here. 

He had been here before they had put these houses up, I was sure of it. The townhome I lived in as a child was built in 2001. The last one I lived in before I left the state was built in 1992, and failing in dozens of small insidious ways that pooled in the sump much faster than the pathetic battery backups (lead dioxide, sulfuric acid) stacked in the basement closet could handle. Security theater was unconvincing to the driving weight of the water. 

The pin oak, which I would guess had stood there since the 1960s, would stand for fifty years more unless someone came to destroy it. He did watch, I knew, as the condos in the long gray buildings across the street settled down to piecemeal destroy themselves.

I took the cigarette box in my ungloved hand from the end of my fishing-stick and put them in the bag and then I did not think about what my mother’s reaction might be. I often thought of it before I did things; that day I did not.

And hence I filled the bag with invasive treasures: three-quarters of a faded water bottle label (polypropylene), an empty chip bag (oriented polypropylene), a small chunk of styrofoam (polystyrene). 

I pulled the bag into a tight knot at the top, and down from my small fingertips to my elbow ran the freed little rivulet of water (water, trichloroethylene, 1,1-dichloroethene).

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2021-05-06T15:10:00.756Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some rather scattered thoughts:

There are some very nice things here; I think the paragraph where you introduce the convention of treating chemical names like biological ones is particularly good, for instance, though the convention isn't as effective after that when the chemical names are no longer pairs of words. Generally, I like your writing style at the word/phrase/sentence level, at least as it manifests in this particular piece of writing.

Many things about this piece leave me puzzled. That may be intentional (leave lots of intriguing dangling threads to keep the reader's attention; leave 'em wanting more, not less), or it may indicate that this piece should really be considered as part of something larger that ties some of the loose ends together (it's clear that this piece is depicting a specific moment in a longer life -- "before we left", "before I left the state", "I often thought of it before I did things", etc.). Though there are puzzles that I don't think any context would resolve. For me, the resulting sense of not being sure what's going on was disagreeable, but other readers might well differ.

The thing I liked least about this piece is that it didn't seem to be going anywhere. That may just indicate that there's something I didn't grasp, of course. There are a number of things that seem like themes (pollution and waste; the pin oak, considered as a character who sees things on a timescale longer than ours; what happens to houses and neighbourhoods over time; childhood) but there doesn't seem to be much development of those themes, and accordingly I'm left not sure what the point is (if there is a "point", which of course there need not be).

The very end suggests that perhaps the point is something to do with insidious invisible pollution? Our narrator, as a child, thinks something is water but in fact it's water, trichloroethylene, 1-1-dichloroethene. That doesn't seem like enough of a shock, somehow, to pull its weight.

So it seems more as if it's just drawing a sketch of one particular moment in the past -- no "point" necessary -- but it's hard to square that with what seems like the very strong emphasis on pollution, waste and decay. Having said that, as a sketch of one moment in the past I think it does a good job.

There are a number of little details that don't serve an obvious "structural" purpose but give the impression that some care has been taken over them stylistically. The back door that you didn't use. The absence of gloves on your hands. Not thinking of your mother's possible reaction to the rubbish-bagging. Often thinking of it on other occasions. Perhaps they're there just for vividity, in which case I feel like maybe some of them are a bit too obtrusive. Or perhaps there's some subtext I'm supposed to infer from them and am failing to get? I dunno. I don't want to say "take them out" because they're nicely written and they do add vividity, but I get a slight sense of a Chekhov's gun left unfired.

Also puzzling (and also suggesting that maybe there's some point I've failed to grasp): what's the bag of rubbish for? Invasive treasures, you say; is our narrator packaging up the rubbish in order to hang it in pride of place on the bedroom wall? (Hard to square that with the word "invasive", I think.) Or to throw it out? (But then why the suggestion that their mother might disapprove?) Or to hang it off a branch of that pin oak? (Seems unlikely, given how the oak is portrayed.) Or just a thing a child decided to do on a sudden whim? Since this rubbish-bagging is kinda the central event of this vignette, and our narrator seems to be quite excited about doing it (running home, putting shoes on without stopping to untie and tie them), I want to understand why it's important to the narrator, and I don't.

A few quibbles: There's a slight mismatch between "It was good to be near it" and "I think all running water is like that" (like what? the previous sentence isn't, strictly, describing the water). "Sock feet" feels odd; is there a reason for that rather than, say, just "socks"? Why trichloroethylene but dichloroethene? The pin oak is almost always "he", which I like, but at one point we suddenly have "unless someone came to destroy it". What's "them" in the sentence beginning "I took the cigarette box"? Maybe "destroy themselves piecemeal" flows better than "piecemeal destroy themselves".

The paragraph beginning "I characterized him alternately" feels like it wants to be nudged in the showing-versus-telling direction somehow. (I'm not very sure about this.) Elsewhere, you just state matter-of-factly that "he judged that harshly", "he had been here before they put these houses up", "he did watch". But here, for one paragraph, you're looking at it indirectly: I characterized him ... . It seems like this breaks the spell a little.

Even though I'm not sure what the very ending is doing I like its craftsmanship, with the parallel between the drainage ditch / babbling brook at the start echoed by the rivulet at the very end.

Replies from: sybaritick
comment by sybaritick · 2021-05-06T17:11:14.168Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you so much (for both your kind words and your constructive criticism)!

The point was intended to be about pollution and I appreciate you pointing out that it wasn't strong/clear enough-- that's something I want to work on. In the same vein, the narrator's intention with the garbage fished out of the creek would be to throw it out so it isn't litter, but I agree I don't really make that clear, especially since they call it "treasures" and say that they don't see it as unnatural. This is one of a few pieces that I've written inspired by various Superfund sites in New Jersey. The specific one in question,, is not as serious as some of the other ones I've written about on the Passaic River, or the American Cyanamid site (here are some cool photos) near where I grew up. It was both a major fear and inspiration to me as a kid.

I also really like all the suggestions you made about the oak, both avoiding the "I characterized him" and making sure that I continue to use "he" and not "it". That and the gimmick of the chemical names not being necessary throughout the whole piece-- I was on and off about that myself, whether I should keep them in just that one paragraph or leave them in the whole piece, but now that I have a second opinion it makes sense to take the extras out.

Will make changes based on this and consider the ideas you describe here in my future writing-- I appreciate you taking the time to write this. :)

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2021-05-06T22:42:01.298Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure that I'm necessarily advocating taking the other chemical names out. After all, they play a necessary role right at the very end, and I don't know how that would work without all the previous use.

I didn't mean to imply that there was any doubt that pollution was a central topic! That would be hard to miss. But it's not so clear what you're trying to say about it. (Or whether you're neutrally refraining from saying anything in particular, and just showing it in its natural habitat, as it were.) Perhaps if I were less ignorant that last parenthesis would tell me a clearer story. (Though I guess googling the chemical names would probably have sufficed.)

comment by HorizonHeld · 2021-05-05T16:24:34.045Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


I'm a lurker on LW but I've had a question I've been thinking about for awhile. I'm an extremely neurotic person and have great trouble interacting with people online, so I've always struggled (and never succeeded) with finding a venue for talking with people about things I've thought of, or have questions about. But LW seems like the kind of crowd who would have a thoughtful answer to this question; and this seems like the / a place for it. At least, I hope this is an acceptable place to ask it

Anyway, my question is whether anybody has had success emulating showering, or otherwise found some method, to induce shower thoughts / diffuse-mode thinking patterns / default mode network activity?

Some things I've heard people say online and in person related to this:

Sleeping, dreaming, and the hypnagogic state just before sleep. This could look like just keeping a notebook beside your bed and writing anything that comes to mind down when you wake up, or just before you fall asleep. I've read some people have even went so far as to hold something heavy so that when they fall asleep it falls and wakes them up and they presumably have access to whatever they were thinking just before falling asleep. I've found that this is a lucrative time for ideas and thoughts, but if you have sleeping problems like I do it can be extremely disruptive, and counterproductive

Meditation. There are some forms of meditation that involve specifically waiting for thoughts to occur so you can contemplate them. Which seems like the most direct route to spontaneous thoughts like shower thoughts. Anybody whose ever meditated knows that thoughts interject themselves during meditation regardless whether you want them to or not. However, I've never had much success with this method

Walking and pacing. This is a big one for certain people I know, and used to be much more important for me. Basically, you just walk around, either in a tight circuit inside, or over a longer distance outside. Some people say this is the most effective method for them

Some other assorted ideas related to this:

Talking to people seems to be a way of shaking your thoughts up, and getting you into a different way of thinking about things. And others can be used to generate ideas, and evolve ideas: they come up with things, they tell you and you come up with a variant of it, or manipulate it in a way they wouldn't have done otherwise. But this is an unreliable method because other people aren't always available to talk with, and aren't necessarily receptive to helping someone deliberately work through a problem. In an institutional setting where the whole point for everyone involved is solving a particular problem, I imagine this is one of the most important methods available Related: I have had this idea (plus partially written source code) for awhile for a hybrid chat / forum / collaborative note taking system where individuals write in separate note logs but can arbitrarily combine individual logs to collaborate, and can spawn child logs based off of any given note to tackle it as a subproblem. I imagine sort of like a micro-microblogging platform for idea generation, and recording problem-solving notes, specifically structured in a way that encourages breaking problems into subproblems, babbling, bouncing ideas off others, etc. I also have considered a sort of collaborative zettelkasten-like system. And some sort of wiki for ideas as well. If this is something somebody is interested in participating in developing, or even just discussing platforms like this, or the potential for such a platform and its effect on society, then hmu

It seems to be possible to use different representational tools (tools for representation) to assist in getting your thoughts in the right place. Like writing, for instance, seems to act like a form of memory augmentation, allowing you to effectively increase the size of your working memory. This seems to enable you to produce more ideas related to your problem because they don't have to be stored in brain memory, they can be dumped into physical memory and essentially forgotten about for the time. Drawing and graphical note-taking is another one: sort of like augmenting your visual imagination in the same way that writing augments your memory, and apparently enables you to evolve an idea by way of manipulating your drawing. Interestingly, it almost seems like your brain considers the representations formed by these tools as equivalent to the representations it generates internally; ie: internal, mental representations and physical representations you create in external reality are treated the same internally. I don't know if that's true or not

Frequently even taking a shower, or any of the usually-lucrative techniques, isn't effective because you have ideas and thoughts about things which just generally aren't about the things you want. For example, you think about something someone said, or what you have to do after showering. It's not to say that these kinds of thoughts can't be useful, but if you intend to use your shower thoughts to aid in solving a particular problem then those other thoughts are interfering. So getting your head in the right place is obviously important

In general, getting your thinking (conscious and/or unconscious) to stick to a particular line of thought is its own challenge that I don't have much traction in finding a solution for. It seems like if you think about something for long enough, there is a momentum to your thinking and that persists without deliberate, conscious effort. However, if your mind isn't already sticking to the target line of thought, and especially if you aren't immediately interested in it, or if other things are on your mind as well, then it can be extraordinarily difficult to get your mind to stick to your target thoughts

I've actually considered making some kind of "game" or task that involves certain arbitrary tasks in a particular order for a particular amount of time, in hopes that it will encourage thinking in the background while doing it. I've considered some previously-solved puzzles, for this, like: going through the motions of solving towers of hanoi, or a sliding block puzzle. The point isn't that you achieve anything by doing the thing, its that you have done it so many times that it becomes automatic and you essentially free your mind up for free thinking until you are done with the task

Incidentally, while searching for posts here related to this topic here I found a years-old post here which ended up with a discussion about cutting shower time down. Also, this morning I read a hacker news post and associated comments about what happens to you when you lose slack (see this tag) [? · GW] by trying to increase efficiency. I kept thinking while I read these (contextualized also by thoughts about shower thoughts) that your unconscious thinking is doing something while you're apparently not actively engaged. It isn't completely useless. And its probably not generally useless at all. Like, while you're training an ANN model, or running a search algorithm: that isn't wasted time: you really are moving toward something; its effective. This seems related because showering, or whatever appears to be useless time, may really be very useful. Cutting time and rushing for efficiency / productivity reasons seems like errant and misinformed optimizing in some cases. However, I won't make the mistake of saying that all such optimizing (such as cutting down shower time) should be avoided universally. That is up to every individual to decide for themselves, and depends on their current circumstances specifically. Sometimes people really don't get anything extra out of doing something, and they really should streamline doing it so they don't have to do it for very long. Sometimes cutting down your shower time is the best thing for someone personally, even if they are remarkably productive while doing it

Generally, I think that having shower thoughts, and spontaneous ideas and insight about some problem, is an extremely important part of solving big primarily-mental problems. I think that in order to trek through a problem-solution space, you are dependent on the quality and quantity of your ideas. If you want to solve a problem faster then that (abstractly) means having more, higher quality ideas about the current subproblem you're working on. It seems like the quantity and quality of ideas are monotonically related somehow, and the larger the quantity of ideas you have the higher quality they are as well. Probabilistically speaking, if you sample more from a particular distribution you will likely sample more from any partitions of that distribution; so the higher the quantity of ideas you have, the more likely some will be of higher quality I imagine this sort of like gradient descent: you sample solutions (via ideas) in problem-solution space immediately around your current subproblem, when you find one that works you go there and then choose a different subproblem, and slowly you wander toward your goal. Alternatively, you can imagine it like: you have a well-understood part of problem-solution space, and a not-well-understood section, and your ideas slowly eat away at the not understood section to incorporate it into the well understood section, and you slowly slime-mold your way to your objective state In either of these representational models the quantity (number of problem-solution space samples) and quality (step size / bite size) are both responsible for the rate which you move toward your goal Also, along the lines of problem-solution space trekking and representations thereof, you can talk about the direction of your steps. For example, you can be moving in a direction completely opposite your intended goalstate, or you can be moving directly towards it. In principle it isn't possible to know which direction (which subproblem to solve, for example) is the preferred one unless you have some interpretation of the space which does have a direction attached. Taking this idea to the ridiculous extreme: if you establish an analogical mapping between your current problem-solution space, and an already-solved one, then you could potentially map your current state in your space to a state in the analogical space and establish a direction that way. It seems plausible this may actually be related to how people usually establish such directions

Sorry I sort of went off track there. Thank you for any comments in advance. No comments is alright too, just posting this somewhere feels good

Replies from: Pattern, GeneSmith
comment by Pattern · 2021-05-05T17:02:32.144Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This felt like reading a post. And I think it would make a good post, possibly with a link to a question:

Anyway, my question is whether anybody has had success emulating showering, or otherwise found some method, to induce shower thoughts / diffuse-mode thinking patterns / default mode network activity?
Replies from: HorizonHeld
comment by HorizonHeld · 2021-05-06T13:41:41.888Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you! I think this started out with just the question with a little of what I thought about it and then evolved to be much longer. And knowing that this would make a good post is good information. I tend to have a too-strong filter for what quality is post-able on the internet and what isn't, which usually manifests as perfectionism. My behavior is (hopefully) updated accordingly :)

On a side not, it's really interesting how, despite reading posts here for quite awhile without an account, that actually creating an account and posting / commenting changes your perspective, casting the various features of the site in a new light, and reveals things you never would have noticed

comment by GeneSmith · 2021-05-08T08:35:40.861Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Walking and pacing. This is a big one for certain people I know, and used to be much more important for me. Basically, you just walk around, either in a tight circuit inside, or over a longer distance outside. Some people say this is the most effective method for them

Yes in fact having just finished Steve Jobs's biography I can say that this was by far his favorite method of having a meeting. Same for Bill Gates, which you'll observe if you watch the Netflix documentary "Inside Bill's Brain".

It has also been a favorite pastime of Andrew Wiles, the mathematician who cracked Fermat's Last Theorem after seven years of working on it in secret.

comment by niplav · 2021-05-03T19:56:20.854Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why Not Nano-Apartments?

There seem to be goods of many different sizes and price-tags, with people being able to buy bulk or the bare minimum, e.g. transportation: walking by foot, biking, public transport, leasing a car, owning a car, or by helicopter.

However, the very small scale for apartments seems to be neglected – cheap apartments are often in bad neighbourhoods, with longer commutes and worse living conditions, but rarely just extremely small (<10 m²). But one could easily imagine 5 m² apartments, with just a bed & a small bathroom (or even smaller options with a shared bathroom). However, I don't know of people renting/buying these kinds of apartments – even though they might be pretty useful if one wants to trade size against good location.

Why, therefore, no nano-apartments?

Possible reasons:

No Supply

Perhaps nano-apartments are not economically viable to rent. Maybe the fixed cost per apartment is so high that it's not worth it below a certain size – every tenant being an additional burden, plumbing + upkeep of stairways, organising trash & electricity just isn't worth it. Or, perhaps, the amount of walls is too big – the more separate apartments you want to create, the more floor-space is going to be used on walls to separate those apartments, and at some fixed point around 15 m² it's just not worth it.

Another possibility is that there are regulations dictating the minimal size of apartments (or something that effectively leads to apartments having a minimal size).

No Demand

I could be over-estimating the number of people who'd like to live in such an apartment. I could see myself renting one, especially if the location is very good – I'm glad to trade off space against having a short commute. But perhaps I'm very unusual in this regard, and most people trade off more harshly against the size of the apartment, due to owning just too much stuff to fit into such a small place.

Or the kinds of people who would make this kind of trade-off just move into a shared flat, and bare the higher costs (but most rooms in shared apartments are still larger than 10 m²).

The group of people who would rent those nano-apartments would naturally be young singles who want to save money and live urban, perhaps that group is just too small/already served with university dorms?

So, why are there no nano-apartments? Does anyone have more insight into this? (The title is, of course, a hansonism).

Replies from: daniel-kokotajlo, peterson-yook, nim, TAG
comment by Daniel Kokotajlo (daniel-kokotajlo) · 2021-05-03T20:00:57.207Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess is: Regulation. It would be illegal to build and rent out nano-apartments. (Evidence: In many places in the USA, it's illegal for more than X people not from the same family to live together, for X = 4 or something ridiculously small like that.)

Replies from: theme_arrow, niplav
comment by theme_arrow · 2021-05-03T20:27:16.394Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To add a bit more detail to your comment, this form of housing used to exist in the from of single room occupancy (SRO) buildings, where people would rent a single room and share bathroom and kitchen spaces. Reformers and planners started efforts to ban this form of housing starting around the early 20th century. From Wikipedia:

By the 1880s, urban reformers began working on modernizing cities; their efforts to create "uniformity within areas, less mixture of social classes, maximum privacy for each family, much lower density for many activities, buildings set back from the street, and a permanently built order" all meant that SRO hotels had to be cut back.[10] By the 1890s, SRO hotels became "forbidden housing; their residents, forbidden citizens."[10] New York City police inspector Thomas Byrnes stated that rather than give SRO hotels "palliative" care, they should be dealt with using a "knife, the blister, the amputating instruments."[12]

Reformers used moral codes, building codes, fire codes, zoning, planning committees and inspections to limit or remove SRO hotels.[12] An example of moral critiques is Simon Lubin's claims that "unregulated hotels" were "spreading venereal diseases among the soldiers".[12] Other reformers tried to ban men and boys from rooming in the same hotels, due to concerns about homosexuality.[12] The building and safety codes criticized SRO hotel problems such as "firetraps, dark rooms, inadequate plumbing, an insufficient ventilation."[12] In San Francisco, building code inspections and restrictions were often used to racially harass Chinese labourers and the places they lived.[12]

In 1917, California passed a new hotel act that prevented the building of new hotels with small cubicle rooms.[12] In addition to banning or restricting SRO hotels, land use reformers also passed zoning rules that indirectly reduced SROs: banning mixed residential and commercial use in neighbourhoods, an approach which meant that any remaining SRO hotel's residents would find it hard to eat at a local cafe or walk to a nearby corner grocery to buy food.[12] Non-residential uses such as religious institutions (churches) and professional offices (doctors, lawyers) were still permitted under these new zoning rules, but working class people (plumbers, mechanics) were not allowed to operate businesses such as garages or plumbing businesses.[12]

This fits into a set of ideas about urban planning that were popular in the 20th century but have (at least in my opinion) contributed to housing unaffordability and reduced the diversity and vitality of many of America's cities.

Replies from: ozziegooen
comment by ozziegooen · 2021-05-04T05:37:13.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A bit more info;

I lived at 20Mission, which was technically an SRO. I enjoyed the setting quite a bit, though I've heard they've had trouble recently with COVID. That said, most of the other SROs I know of nearby (in the Mission, SF), are really not nice places. (lots of drugs and some violence).

There's been discussion of having "Micro-Units" in SF, but they're heavily regulated. It seems like small progress is being made.

comment by niplav · 2021-05-03T20:08:12.576Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's disheartening :-(

But good to know nonetheless, thanks.

Perhaps not a *completely* senseless regulation considering disease spreading (though there are better ways of attacking _that_ with other means).

comment by Crackatook (peterson-yook) · 2021-05-07T04:05:45.107Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I know it exists. At least in Korea.

There is a symbolic example of your “nano-apartment,” called Goshitel. It is the cheapest form of rent, with about the area of 3.3 meter squared. The term “Goshi” is attached because it has been used by people who decided to spend every minute studying for the Goshi exam and become the public governor, the most sustainable job in the country. 

Therefore the first reason people need the nano apartment is to have the longest possible time while not working for their reasons: people who refused work. Well, the second reason is to just save some money: people who work. The third reason is that they don’t have money to escape: people who can’t work, like the homeless. 

I’ve seen some documentaries about these Goshitels and I think you can easily find one with that term. As Goshitel has a poor image, those are more focused on the difficulties of one and people inside. But as I described, it has a diverse demographic and the documentaries only show portions of it. Things to note is that it has an overall negative image of dirty facilities and depressed people. That can be why nano apartment was not spread outside Korea to America. 

Back to your question, I suspect some reasons that nano-apartments does not exist in the US while more frequent in Korea:

  1. Korea has much smaller land, compared to the US.The common housing form of Korean is an apartment(or “advanced apartment” with at least 10 floors. It is not exactly the one of America), while Americans usually live in detached houses. The degree of viewing a nano-apartment can differ a lot. -Counterargument: Both have extremely populous cities, where the land is always in shortage.  
  2. The US has more restrictions on the housing structures. ...but I know nothing 
  3. The group of “Goshi” students would have been the obvious demand for such nano apartments in Korea. It would have brought proper development over decades. In the US, there are no exams that can be comparable to Goshi--that can guarantee the rest of one’s life, even during economic depressions. The exam also required students to attend prep classes, mostly in the expansive and populous Seoul area.  
  4. Maybe the lifestyles of homeless people are different in America and Korea. 

One more:

I just sparked some thoughts here and it may be insufficient to bring a complete concept. I realized explaining Korean stuff to America and bringing American stuff to Korea are extra time consuming, as you don’t know “Goshi'' and I don’t know housing in New York. But I enjoyed comparing cultural differences and hope you ask more for confusing parts.

Replies from: niplav
comment by niplav · 2021-05-11T17:49:21.213Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for your answer! I had an idea that there's more very small housing in Asia, but never got such a clear exposition to a clear example. I'm not from the US, but from Europe, but they're fairly similar culturally (although I suspect Europe might have even stronger housing regulations than the US).

After some of the comments here, I've settled on a mixture of "it's the regulations" and "not *that* many people want it, but it's still available for the ones who do". I think that's because the need for dense housing during the industrial revolution was a long time ago, and the majority of people don't need/want nano-apartments, so they don't care/think about the possibility of very dense housing.

My guess would be that it's different in Asia because there industrial development is much younger, and the population is more used to "poor" and less luxurious living conditions.

Do you think that's getting at the truth?

Replies from: peterson-yook
comment by Crackatook (peterson-yook) · 2021-05-12T23:20:04.551Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess would be that it's different in Asia because there industrial development is much younger, and the population is more used to "poor" and less luxurious living conditions.

You suspects there is an association between "industrial development" and "living conditions." I can start from here.

By the way, thanks for reply! My comment below contains mainly American evidences, so I hope this can fit to the situation of Europe.

For people who want to live in city, but are poor, you brought up nano-apartment to fulfill the needs and wondered why it is not frequent. I thought about this again, and thought “wait, isn’t that why slums exist?” The existence of slums may explain why there was no demand for nano-apartment. So I started from it, then I looked back at the progressive era(1896-1916) and how Jacob Riis wrote “how the other half lives” to reveal the poor situation of tenements. These tenements are the actual example of a nano-apartment in New York city, with the overpopulation and shortage of housing. Basic history of tenements are well described in Wikipedia, but it doesn’t describe the current situation of tenements except the tenement museum part. Wikipedia also says tenements are not necessarily slums and By this time I don’t think any more people will choose to live in slums. According to this blog, I learned slum is not a thing anymore. Oh.

I tried to look up tenement development over time, and at, I found FDR's First House project, which included slum-clearing and building public housing. I looked up a New York public housing site and it seemed like a good replacement for tenements. 

I've settled on a mixture of "it's the regulations" and "not *that* many people want it, but it's still available for the ones who do".

So I can credit government efforts to replace nano-apartment and this reasonably explains why it is not popular, even in populous cities. There are options to choose other than a nano-apartment. It is important to point out that there is no necessity, distinctive from just preference.

In Korea, I have another interpretation. It is true Industrial development was recent, starting from the 60s. But that brought urbanization late, too. When my mom was young, she lived in a detached house in Gangnam-gu, now the most populous and expensive area in entire Korea. Therefore by the time the “K-tenement” was developing, I guess Modern technology and mindset did not make it too inferior to make the government intervene. Even in the final stage of industrialization, I don’t think Goshitel will go away.

But I think Korean population is obviously used to small apartments, for another reason. Again, Korea is small. South Korea is even smaller. That’s why high/low rise buildings are the default in Korea. I hope you can see it is not necessarily “‘poor’ and less luxurious living conditions” but just small and dense. People can have ideal housing after suburbanization, but urban houses will still be small and become old. 

Lastly, I want to caution you about generalizing to Asia, because it is really large and developments are still vigorous in many countries. I think the situation of Korea differs a lot from those of even China and Japan, as they went through industrialization in different time periods. Southeastern Asia? I have no clue. Media has portrayed Southeastern Asia as underdeveloped countries for a long time but haven’t updated their developments and improvements.    

p.s. Last Sunday I wanted to write history essays to prepare for my exam, but in a less wrong-way. I did not want to write just a summary of contents, so I appreciate you asking this question. I feel I wrote something not a summary:)

comment by nim · 2021-05-06T17:35:32.878Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. I think the nano spaces you describe kind of exist, but they tend to be called "pods" or "capsules". They seem to emerge where people without family commitments place an exorbitantly high value on living in a particular location for long enough. Places like podshare SF come to mind as examples.

  2. Having lived in a micro-apartment (400 sq ft) for a year during my first job out of school, and having stayed in capsule hotels while traveling, I have 2 personal speculations about why it takes extreme pressure to get people to consider pods desirable:

  • Lack of third space in the US. Having friends involves spending time with them, and spending time in person with multiple friends is impractical in a micro space and impossible in a nano one. Some countries and cultures seem to have different norms around the third space from those in the US, so nano spaces would function differently in say Tokyo Japan compared to say rural Iowa.

  • Privacy expectations. I think many people have a certain baseline expectation of privacy, in terms of both how much space and time they want the privacy in and how private they want it, which is incompatible with nano or pod style accommodations long term. I suspect that increased prevalence of time-shared, "public" private spaces with the right features and price points could increase how many people are able to build a lifestyle with enough privacy for their needs in a nano style living space. Examples of these "public" private spaces include hotel rooms, karaoke booths, float tanks or private meditation rooms, parks which allow sufficient distance from others, well-appointed bathrooms, and similar.

comment by TAG · 2021-05-03T20:31:40.450Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why no nano apartments *where Part of what you are talking about sounds like bedsits, and part like foyers.which exist in some places.

comment by matto · 2021-05-21T14:20:12.289Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hello all!

I've been lurking LW and SCC on and off since about 2013, when I stumbled upon the sequences. I got sucked back in and became a daily visitor since the pandemic began. I also started listening to the Bayesian Conspiracy podcast and finally read HPMOR and realized that this (LW) is the crowd of people I'd love to hang out with.

I'm in early 30's and currently doing SRE work remotely. I like to think that wrangling software has infected me with an appreciation for systems thinking (or vice versa?) and the LW topics that grab my attention the most are those that talk about coordination like the one about the Swiss system [LW · GW] or this one about negotiation and Schelling points [LW · GW]. Kaj Sotala's and others' posts about the mind have been very influential for me as well. I'll venture out into other topics like AI safety as well, but less often.

Looking forward to exploring things together!

comment by Mary Chernyshenko (mary-chernyshenko) · 2021-05-29T16:54:17.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm learning to drive and I'd love to read articles on a game theoretical approach to traffic. I don't mean the "pirates be pirates" approach, but the "here's what the rules say, and here's what people often do, and the actual driver in a similar situation should keep in mind both these things, because the guy in the other lane counts on him knowing them (and they both know people sometimes break rules)". I think it rather odd that I can't remember such articles, but maybe it's because I didn't pay attention to them.

comment by brianianday · 2021-05-24T06:56:33.526Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mabuhay! My name is Brian, 34, born and raised in Manila, Philippines, and currently living in San Francisco, California. 

How did I get here-here? I fell down a rabbit hole. ;)

If you looked at my [insert name of time-eating mainstream internet video platform] history, you'd find countless videos on science, philosophy, art, music, writing, and self-development (along with cheerleading, musicals, fitness, and walking tours of my hometown in Manila). I also have a small collection of books on topics like language, ethics, aesthetics, literary theory, etc. 

Why am I here? I'm here because I wonder, and I'd like to have less-wrong conclusions.

For much of my "conscious" life, I feel like I was being thrown around by invisible forces outside my control. I was adopted at birth by a family that gave me tons of complexes which required years of psychotherapy; I was educated in a country with a system that severely needed restructuring, but also unaccommodating of different types of learners; I grew up multi-cultural while being compelled by a society to adopt a singular socio-political identity; etc, etc. (not to mention that I survived a global pandemic, OMG).

I'm here because I have this insatiable hunger, and I understand that "beings" naturally orient themselves to the direction of sustenance. I also like to think of my situation as looking through a telescope and mercilessly refining the knobs and lenses to get a better view. Whatever it may be, I think I stumbled upon a place that I'd like be in.

Thank you for creating this space of refuge.

comment by Siddhartha Gautama · 2021-06-01T17:10:43.472Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm Brian.  I'm 27 years of age.  I work as a lawyer in Ireland but am looking to pivot into a career that is: 1) higher impact from an EA perspective; and 2) more intellectually engaging through proactive and longer-term, bigger picture thinking vis a vis the reactive, short-term nature of life as a lawyer. 

I'm interested in a relatively disparate range of areas: epistemology, philosophy, blockchain technology, Bitcoin, animal rights, longtermism, and FinTech in third world countries (I have worked in India and South Africa and seen the need for better access to capital).  I think temperamentally I'd be more suited to a researcher/academic type role since I enjoy studying and breaking down complex topics by communicating them through writing for a public audience.  I keep a Substack blog.  I have considered going back to pursue a masters and/or PhD but there are sunk cost fallacy biases to overcome before then (and financial undertakings).  I have also leveraged 80,000 Hours' helpful resources.  

The thing I most enjoy about the Less Wrong community - beyond the intellectual engagement - is finding connection in the experiences documented and challenges faced as critical, questioning, high standards thinkers.  I also really appreciate the compassion and humility throughout this forum.  I'm often very intimidated by the intellectual might and achievements of the average LW participant; I'm cognisant of my own limitations and (at least, explored) cognitive boundaries. 

A colleague and I are currently working on curating a critical thinking introductory presentation for high school students in Ireland.  We've received the backing of the UCD School of Philosophy, which has been an encouraging endorsement.  Neel Nanda's post on Less Wrong and the CFAR Handbook (amongst other resources) were both helpful in our process.  Earlier this year I also explored establishing a network of legal practitioners in Ireland to engage in pro bono animal rights work but the startup financial energy required is something I underestimated and need to reconsider my ad hoc approach. 

I would like to start engaging with LW threads a bit more going forward, to positively contribute to this great community and sharpen my own thinking.  I've been a passive observer for a couple of years now. 

comment by MondSemmel · 2021-05-31T20:02:39.889Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I've found another small Less Wrong bug:

  • I wanted to tag this post [LW · GW] with the "Health" tag, but while tagging it with any other tag was possible, trying to use this tag bugged out, i.e. the action timed out or something, and the tag wasn't applied.
  • The "Health" tag is not listed on the Concepts Portal tag page [? · GW].
  • Using Less Wrong's search functionality to search for Health shows this:
  • And that Health link leads to this page [? · GW] (the URL contains a "health-1" for some reason), which causes a 404 error.

In conclusion, some parts of the website think the Health tag exists, and other parts think it doesn't exist.

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-31T22:13:39.964Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I bet we deleted the health tag, but didn't properly delete it from our search index. Will remove it from the search index.

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2021-06-02T01:53:41.882Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why was the health tag deleted?

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-06-02T05:06:57.651Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We had a bit of discussion in the tagger Slack about it. It mostly felt like it was better captured by some more specific tags, and it ended up without many posts in it after existing for multiple weeks. A lot of stuff was better captured by well-being, or longevity, or productivity, and then what was left didn't seem above critical mass for having its own tag, though totally plausible we should have one if we get more health-related posts on the site (or if someone wants to put in the effort to actually find all of them and curate them, in which case people should feel free to create one again). 

comment by GeneSmith · 2021-05-15T22:08:25.256Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyone have ideas about how to protect oneself against the higher-than-average inflation we'll likely experience in the next couple of years? I have a fair bit of cash and a fair bit of low-interest debt and I'm wondering if there are any easy no-brainer moves I could make to reduce my expected losses to inflation.

Replies from: gilch
comment by gilch · 2021-05-16T21:17:05.612Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The obvious inflation hedges are gold and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS).

Less obvious ones include other precious metals, cryptocurrency, emerging market stocks, and certain foreign currencies. Diversification is usually helpful.

Why, exactly, are you expecting more inflation? Some of these might be better or worse investments, depending on your forecasts. For example, while EM stocks do relatively better when inflation is high, they also do best when growth is also high, and tend to perform poorly when growth is low, even if inflation is high.

comment by ChaseG · 2021-05-06T07:21:27.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyone have tips for calculating someone’s risk of death from COVID? I want to take age, smoking status, gender and pre-existing conditions into account. Thinking about flying my in-laws over here to get vaccinated and wondering whether it’s worth the cost. They are in a country with zero vaccine access.

Replies from: ChaseG
comment by ChaseG · 2021-05-06T16:21:59.716Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Found a calculator:

comment by Hans R (hans-r) · 2021-05-28T08:40:21.111Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hello there, just saw this. I'm Hans, a 22-year-old Software Engineer. I've been reading cursory here for a while, but to be perfectly honest, I have no clue how I stumbled upon it. This page is bookmarked since January, a time at which I was working on my Bachelor's Thesis, so I reckon I found it after taking one to many (or perhaps the exact right amount of) tangents while researching. Another hypothesis has just formed in my mind since gwern wrote about the Libera channel lower, and I faintly remember stumbling upon Libera at the same time. (Not as a tangent to research, but as a procrastination)

I haven't read much here yet, but the Sequences are firmly on my to-read list. What convinced me to stay was the fact that I devoured Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality - I've read it over the course of a few days, whenever I was bored and was SHOCKED when I saw how long the PDF-version would have been. (I did not perceive it that lengthy)

When looking back, I've always valued "Rationality" (whatever that was in my mind really) a lot.
In fact, there were times in my life where I, weirdly, regarded emotions as weak.
Even now, Intellect is a large part of my identity, but at the same time I feel terribly lacking in actually rationally applying that and having a direction for advanced thought. I sometimes struggle with taking agency and doing something that I would myself call "productive".
I also value conversation and abstract thinking / arguing tremendously, but I often find that it results in confrontation where non was intended. This might both warrant work on my social circle and my rhetoric.

Of course, I'm as interested in the concept of Artificial Intelligence as the next person, but I have yet invested the time necessary to learn anything but the basics. Especially at this time, where I'll soon be thinking about my future education again, having found a community interested both in Rationality and AI is delightfully helpful for my situation.

I hope to read from many interesting people here and learn (perhaps from each other) in the process. I'm still unsure about most of the M.O. of this community, so I hope that was of interest to anyone.
If it did, I'm looking forward to getting to know you all!

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2021-05-06T06:21:42.367Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Was there a recent post, where some expert claimed that deep learning can't deal with ... some kind of discreteness? 

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2021-06-14T03:08:08.875Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Turns out it was a post at Steve Hsu's blog about Francois Chollet

comment by Alexei · 2021-05-05T01:35:39.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My cryptocurrency quant hedge fund is looking to hire engineers. If you're curious, PM me. :)

comment by GeneSmith · 2021-06-06T02:15:28.514Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyone have reading recommendations for fiction or even just a summary description of what a positive future with AI looks like? I've been trying to decide what to work on for the rest of my career. I really want to work on genetics, but worry that, like every other field, it's basically going to become irrelevant since AI will do everything in the future.

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-06-06T02:21:35.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I literally 2 minutes ago created the June Open thread for this year and pinned that one. So if I were you I would probably repost this there instead of here: [LW · GW

comment by philip_b (crabman) · 2021-05-10T15:10:43.287Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is Ziz, the author of, a blog about saving the humanity from unfriendly AI, hating on MIRI and CFAR, and gender, banned on LessWrong? If yes, why and is it for reasons similar to [the ban of ialdabaoth][ [LW · GW])? If he reasons are similar , then why was there no site-wide announcement like with ialdabaoth?

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-10T16:50:32.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We once gave them a temporary ban. I think it's pretty likely we would ban them permanently if it came up, but it hasn't since then. 

Replies from: niplav
comment by niplav · 2021-05-11T17:53:50.806Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Out of interest, is there a public registry of bans? I assume not all bans are announced as in the case of ialdabaoth?

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-11T18:05:03.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We have the moderation dashboard [? · GW], but I guess that doesn't have global bans. I think basically all global bans for users with more than 100 karma are announced globally. We do ban a lot of spammers and weird crackpots, which I don't think are listed anywhere. 

Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2021-05-11T18:11:18.485Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We have a list of bans and warnings here [LW · GW], though I'm not sure it's up to date. It certainly doesn't include all the bans of spam accounts and new user accounts.