A Better Web is Coming 2021-08-21T20:46:12.499Z
Social media: designed to be bad for you & for society 2021-07-24T18:59:00.600Z
The Web is Turning into Cable TV 2021-05-21T23:06:02.621Z


Comment by matto on How does your data backup solution setup work? · 2021-09-06T19:48:22.664Z · LW · GW

I'm in the process of building my own backup solution.

What I have now are three encrypted external hard drives where I put all the passwords, writing, tax documents, photos, videos, and anything that I want to hold onto. Every three months or so, I will use rsync to update the backups and md5sum to check their integrity. I also have three pen drives that contain my passwords, gpg and ssh keys, and the most important documents. These I backup whenever there's been a few changes to these files and I keep one on my desk, one in my backback, and one in my car.

This setup gives me some reasonable protection from hardware failure. The pen drives also give me a little bit of safety from keeping some data offsite.

All of this is driven using LUKS encryption, rsync, and md5sum because I don't want to worry about tools/formats becoming abandonware and I also want to avoid coding custom solutions as much as possible.

Going forward, I want to:

  1. Automate the manual bits, so I can run these backups at least once a month. More often for the pen drives. It would be great if I could just plug these into a hub and run a script that would copy all the right files to the right places and run some integrity checks.
  2. Look into an offsite solution. I looks like it's possible to get a VPS for <$60/year, which I could use as an offsite, encrypted hard drive essentially. I could then use this as a "hot" backup, updating it even every few days, and use the physical backups and "cooler" backups, which I backup once a month.
Comment by matto on We need a new philosophy of progress · 2021-08-24T17:28:42.414Z · LW · GW

I've been trying to wrap my head around this ever since I read Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History", wherein he brings up "techno-pessimism" as something that exploded during the 20th century on account of both world wars. You could probably trace it back to Romanticism, but I haven't gotten that deep into the rabbit hole.

What captured my attention about anti-progess is how pervasive this meme is. Subjectively, it appears to span countries, cultures, political ideologies, and age brackets. I know people who flinch away progress because it destroys family traditions. I know people who flinch away from it because all it does is produce pollution, surveillance, drones, etc. The older people in my life complain about the speed of change and the destruction of values. The younger seem to focus mostly on the destruction of the environment.

I think the part the worries me specifically is that this feels like such a utopian view. That if we only "went back" to an earlier stage, all would be good. Or if we somehow got to keep our ipads, but switched to hunting wild game instead of eating processed meat. But all of these seem to ignore how complex and deeply rooted progress is and how reverting a few larger pieces may involve the premature ending of hundreds of millions of human lives.

I'll follow rootsofprogress as I'm curious about the broader pro-progress landscape.

Comment by matto on A Better Web is Coming · 2021-08-23T02:24:33.713Z · LW · GW

So Wust is only an idea from a paper, it's not a website you can use now?

Yes, as far as I can tell, that github repo is the implementation of Wust created by the author of the paper I describe.

They also linked to related projects.

Wow, thanks for sharing these. I'll spend some time going down this rabbit hole as soon as I get a chance.

Comment by matto on A Better Web is Coming · 2021-08-23T02:22:19.270Z · LW · GW

That said, I think that the problems of the current version of the web largely stem not from the inaccessibility of these tools, but from the fact that an enormous number of users genuinely demand what is being supplied to them. They want free internet, and they get that through submitting to advertisements. They want memes, and the internet can pretty much inject them directly into their veins at this point. They want a feeling of righteous anger, and that's as available to them as oxygen.

But do they genuinely demand this? If one were to think along the lines of "revealed preference curves", then the answer would be yes - people spend time injecting themselves with memes because this exactly what they want. However, this reminds of a book review posted on ACX about addictions:

Underlying Schüll’s foil is a fairly common instinct that people have about the difference between substance addictions (to drugs, alcohol, or nicotine) and behavioral addictions (to gambling, eating, or exercising). Most people think that substance addictions are caused by things, but behavioral addictions are caused by people.

In other words, if most people hear a story about a kindly old grandmother who was prescribed opioids for a backache, and became an opioid addict, they blame the opioids for causing her addictions. Without the opioids, she would still be that kindly old grandmother. In contrast, if most people hear a story about a kindly old grandmother who started going to casinos to have fun on slot machines, and became a gambling addict, they blame the grandmother for having a defective character. Even if she hadn’t visited casinos, she would always have had that character defect.

So is the bad web like opioids or like casinos? Or, where is the line where instead of blaming users, we would blame the designers and builders of addicting web sites?

Comment by matto on A Better Web is Coming · 2021-08-23T02:00:22.210Z · LW · GW

I think Wust-like systems are heading in a different direction.

The stackexchange network is about questions and answers. While a lot can be accomplished in that format, many things don't fit it well. For example, most questions/answers there are under 1000 words (if I were to give a rough guess, I'd say the median is around 100-150 words). This makes it great for accumulating short bits of knowledge, but I highly doubt that these sites can generate new, interesting knowledge. Additionally, the format of these sites is extremely rigid -- I doubt that StackOverflow would even accept questions about topics like AI risk, for example. And the community has little say in this.

Because of this, I imagine Wust-like systems to be more similar to LessWrong. Places where people can post longform pieces, where whole new domains can be cracked open and explored.

Comment by matto on Living with a homeopath - how? · 2021-08-21T21:02:01.332Z · LW · GW

Changing someone's mind is an incredibly difficult thing to do. In this situation, I would ask myself: is this what I want to pour my time and effort into? Is this the most important thing for me to do right now?

What has worked for me in the past is re-evaluating the situation. Assuming that neither of you will budge, is there an equilibrium you can reach--both now and when you move away? "Walking away" often feels like the only viable option, but in reality, there is usually a whole spectrum of possible options. What would work for you? What are the topics you care and that you want to share with your mother? What are the topics she cares about and wants to share with you? (Is there overlap?) The answers might lead you to finding a new equilibrium, even if it's "meeting my mother twice a year, talking only about food and pets."

Also, because I read the last sentence of your post in a somewhat struggling tone (which may not be true, because words on a screen), I can share that doing a few sessions of talk therapy can be really helpful in a situation like this.

Comment by matto on Social media: designed to be bad for you & for society · 2021-08-13T03:29:59.960Z · LW · GW

Wow, thanks for those links. I've spent a few hours going down the garden/stream rabbithole. I can't believe I hadn't seen it before - though I've seen tools like Roam or the Zettelkasten and such, and of course I've read the Vanevar Bush article, but somehow it never occurred to me that maybe we already have working, albeit relatively not so popular, systems that work very differently than Facebook.

Comment by matto on Social media: designed to be bad for you & for society · 2021-08-07T16:55:01.098Z · LW · GW

That's a good point. Another way to look at the difference between Facebook and X would be that Facebook/Twitter/etc. lean heavily on self-expression. Very little of the content on those sites actually aim to contribute to something, like a dialogue or body of knowledge. I think this is why communities focused around specific goals, say, writers, weight lifters, or rationalists do not do their work over Facebook/Twitter/etc. Some might use those to stay in touch, but the serious work gets done on yee old phpbb forums and the like, where self-expression is not the main point.

Comment by matto on rohinmshah's Shortform · 2021-08-05T13:51:52.810Z · LW · GW

If you look at my posting history, you'll see that all posts I've made on LW (two!) are negative toward social media and one calls out recommender systems explicitly. This post has made me reconsider some of my beliefs, thank you.

I realized that, while I have heard Tristan Harris, read The Attention Merchants, and perused other, similar sources, I haven't looked for studies or data to back it all up. It makes sense on a gut level--that these systems can feed carefully curated information to softly steer a brain toward what the algorithm is optimizing for--but without more solid data, I found I can't quite tell if this is real or if it's just "old man yells at cloud."

Subjectively, I've seen friends and family get sucked into social media and change into more toxic versions of themselves. Or maybe they were always assholes, and social media just lent them a specific, hivemind kind of flavor, which triggered my alarms? Hard to say.

Comment by matto on Josephine's Shortform · 2021-08-01T19:50:01.941Z · LW · GW

I'm impressed by how accurately this describes learning complex skills.

I'm practicing writing and I feel the same way most of the points describe: as if I'm exploring a system of caves without a map, finding bits and pieces of other explorers (sometimes even meeting them), but it's all walking a complicated, 3d structure and constantly bumping into unknown unknowns. Let me illustrate it this way: about 3 years ago, when I started on this journey, I thought I would read 1-2 books about writing and I'll be good. Now, I'm standing in sub-cave system #416, taking a hard look at "creativity"/"new ideas" and chuckling at my younger self who thought that sub-cave system #18 "good sentences" will lead him to the exit.

And even though I haven't practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu since the pandemic began, I see a lot of similarities there. At first, I thought I just have to practice a move. Then I noticed that there are many small variations depending on my energy level, the opponents size and weight, etc. Then I noticed that I could fake moves to lure my opponent into making mistakes, but I should avoid mistakes myself. Then I noticed that my opponents were better in at some moves than others. Then I noticed that my own build gave me certain advantages and disadvantages. Then I noticed...

At the end, just before the lockdowns, I learned a lot about humility and began to discard all the "factual knowledge" I got from youtube videos or books and instead began focusing on sets of small details to explore how they worked in different situations. Then, just practiced it over and over until I saw "the thing".

Comment by matto on Social media: designed to be bad for you & for society · 2021-07-27T02:23:36.081Z · LW · GW

You laid out the problem and all its sub-problems quiet well.

I suspect that the only way out is to provide a solution that has all the advantages of e.g. Facebook, without most of the disadvantages.

I'm writing a post about a potential solution like this that I picked up from reading a paper :). It's a very interesting space, which I feel doesn't get a lot of focus because a) most people dont want to build/program b) most people are satisfied with things as-is and c) the problem space is huge and searching it is hard. But with the malleability of software, I think that once we hit a new, working set of ideas, they will take over as quickly as social media pushed out traditional forums/mailing lists/link rings back in the 00's.

Facebook is like GMail + instant messenger + web forums, all in one, and requires minimum setup.

Well put. It's like Facebook/Twitter/etc. are an extra layer above everything else, a "layer 8" in the OSI model, that allows people to completely not care about all the protocols, filesystems, name-spacing schemes, storage requirements that sit underneath it. Just point your browser to this one page and you get it all (no installer, no plug'n'play, no versions/updates, no fees...).

Now another question is how to pay for the costs. (...) Then we have the problem of policing content... (...)

I feel this is very accurate in how it points out that we're dealing with issues on both the technical layer and the social one. My gut tells me that purely technical solutions like mastodon will never take over because they don't address any of the social issues like usability, moderation, accountability, etc.. I don't have a good example of something that would work well on the social layer, but not on a technical one.

Currently, I place a lot of hope on stuff like the push for decentralization and web3. (I need to read up more about it though as right now these are just utopian ideas in my head). If we were able to get the efficiencies of centralized platform on a decentralized one, then that, I think, would have a good chance of winning in the sense of migrating over hundreds of millions of users. I imagine it would work by allowing users to very precisely price/pay for what they use, eg. the average user would most likely pay most of their fee for photo/video storage, while a power use would dedicate most of their fee toward specific features, or even characteristics like uptime. In both cases, they could still enjoy living on a higher level of abstraction than running their own email servers, but they get as much value as the price they're willing to pay.

Comment by matto on Social media: designed to be bad for you & for society · 2021-07-27T02:04:02.174Z · LW · GW

Thanks for sharing those twitter handles, I'll check 'em out.

They found that the overwhelming majority of users were deeply ingrained in either a science community or a conspiracy community;

Yes, they mention this specifically in how they setup their experiment -- they sampled FB groups that were explicitly either about conspiracy theories or science -- so their sample is not representative of the larger group.

I think their main finding is this: "In the discussions here, users show a tendency to seek out and receive information that strengthens their preferred narrative (see the reaction to trolling posts in conspiracy echo chambers) and to reject information that undermines it (see the failure of debunking)". However, it does seem to me that their method would lead to this finding, like if you go out looking for echo chambers, you will end up finding them, because there are over four billion users on social media.

Comment by matto on Social media: designed to be bad for you & for society · 2021-07-25T02:48:01.680Z · LW · GW

I've seen papers like this: However, given the difficulties in testing for their existence, I assign only a weak probability that echo chambers are real enough to affect human behavior.

Would you mind sharing your studies that they are an overrated issue? I would love to adjust my position.

Comment by matto on Covid 7/22: Error Correction · 2021-07-24T19:06:37.907Z · LW · GW

I agree with you that social media is an existential problem to our civilization. In my mind, it is as dangerous as climate change, yet taken far less seriously.

However, I think that the west/China dichotomy is a false one -- there is likely a way to evolve the (western/democratic) system as it is into one that continues to allow the free flow of information, and at the same time limits harmful information. It seems easy to discount this because social systems take much longer to develop and implement than, say, a new car design. I hope that, given how fast the Internet evolves, we won't have to wait long for an alternative to appear though.

Comment by matto on How to Sleep Better · 2021-07-19T14:13:45.168Z · LW · GW

I don't adhere to these guidelines strictly, which helps when they conflict. For example, if I'm tired before my usual bed time, then the "no screen rule" goes out the window because I won't have trouble sleeping. And when I'm not tired by my usual bed time and haven't been looking at a screen, then I have plenty of paperbacks to keep me company (or exercise, or cooking, etc.) before I eventually get tired and fall asleep.

Practically, this means that I don't use screen after 9pm. I usually fall asleep between 9:30pm and 11:00pm, where the median is around 10:15pm or so. I guess this variance comes from different days, days when I do a lot of exercise or little, days with plenty of sun or just a bit, etc.

Comment by matto on How to Sleep Better · 2021-07-16T14:14:32.543Z · LW · GW

Good write up. Do you think that by having whoop's data available, you began nudging yourself toward a different rhythm (even not entirely consciously)?

I agree with your conclusions. Sleep seems like an obviously easy thing to do, but somehow many people drift away from an optimal equilibrium. I know I did, for a couple of years, until I realized it about a year ago. I began taking sleep supplements (valerian root), which brought instant and welcome relief. However, this didn't help with the underlying problem, so I couldn't sleep well if I didn't take the supplement.

2-3 months ago, I read some comments on ACX about CBT for insomnia. I obtained "Say Goodnight to Insomnia", a self-guided CBT course that takes 6 weeks. It begins by going over much of what is written in this post, then the 6 week course starts. By week 3, I was falling asleep without any supplements 4-5 nights a week and waking up rested, as if by miracle.

I think what helped me was:

  • understanding that my body knows best how much sleep it needs. Before, I was getting anxious about not getting enough sleep, which prevented me from sleeping, which made me more anxious, etc. A vicious cycle. Understanding this somehow made the anxiety go away. This also brought a change of habits - I don't force myself to sleep, and only sleep when I'm tired.
  • taking sleep hygiene seriously. No screens an hour before bed, adding cardio to my exercise routine, ensuring that the window is open and that the temperature will be just right.

I didn't even get to week 4 because right now, I'm doing good enough that I only take the sleeping supplement maybe 1 times a week, usually after a more stressful day.

Comment by matto on Unbundling Humans, or, Unbundling Human Creation. · 2021-06-18T20:12:02.878Z · LW · GW

Thank you for writing this out. Even though I knew about the bundling/unbundling idea, it would have never struck me as something to apply to human mating. It's a pretty interesting way of looking at the knobs that are available to us in this domain and trying to figure out potential futures.

perhaps kids becoming earning machines or cash flow positive, like their 18th century counterparts.

This reminds me of the recent ACX book review on "How Children Fail" in the sense that, an arrangement like this would give children more autonomy than they have now, which may prove a huge improvement over the education system that tries squish kids into uniformity in some high-modernist ideal.

Comment by matto on Avoid News, Part 2: What the Stock Market Taught Me about News · 2021-06-15T14:19:49.991Z · LW · GW

I really like the "storyteller" metaphor. Most of the news that I read seems to contain a handful of facts weaved into a work with a plot, characters, etc. One such story that comes to mind is the one about Scott Alexander published by the NYT. While it contains many facts about Scott, the whole piece is contorted into such a weird shape (eg. the hints about alt-right ties) that there's a taste of fiction to it.

So my conclusion is that people who really want good information are better off today, but the average person's information diet is likely getting a bit worse.

This seems to be a replay of the food situation from the 20th century, when we figured out ways to produce huge quantities of food. The average person did not have the skills to search/filter in that area of life, which triggered a huge increase in average body weight because of all the food-like substances like fast food. Today, in an age of information abundance, despite having access to more, high quality information, there's also tons of fast-food-like information that merely captures attention, but doesn't serve any purpose.

Comment by matto on The Web is Turning into Cable TV · 2021-05-24T14:12:41.122Z · LW · GW

Yes, technically this would be easy, even simple, to do.

However, I think the problem would be about FLoC being enabled by default. If a hundred thousand technical users disabled FLoC, that would do nothing for the other 3+ billion users with Chrome enabled (estimating based on Chrome's 70-80% market share). And the reason why I find that worrying would be why I would be worried if cigarette companies put opium in their products--I would feel that millions of members of society around me would be getting exploited.

Comment by matto on Sympathy for the ferryman of Hades, or why we should keep Trump off Twitter · 2021-05-22T23:56:57.339Z · LW · GW

I had been thinking of social media as "digital nicotine", but the metaphor of MMORPG/casino fills in a large gap in that picture.

Nicotine is a natural substance that presses certain buttons in our brains that make us crave more of it. Cigarette companies' whole deal is to figure out the optimal delivery platform (form, size, flavor, etc.) and make money off our brains' reaction.

But MMORPGs and casinos, they're designed by us to be like little theme parks for our brains. Instead of pressing buttons like "pleasure" or "chill", they press buttons like "family", "status", etc. Coupled with instant feedback loops that can optimize the input for each unique user in real-time, it seems to me that social media is on a whole different level than mere nicotine.

Comment by matto on The Web is Turning into Cable TV · 2021-05-22T17:01:38.936Z · LW · GW

From what I've read, Firefox, Brave, and Safari are also not interested in FLoC either. The community behind Wordpress, which powers ~40% of the worlds websites, is considering treating FLoC as a security concern, too.

Comment by matto on The Web is Turning into Cable TV · 2021-05-22T16:46:20.305Z · LW · GW

I don't disagree, but I don't know what specifically to object to.

Thanks for the feedback. Admittedly, and I probably should have included this in the text, I think of these as weak signals about getting closer to a boundary of what is acceptable. I'm not against advertising or people making money off entertainment, but I see the online ad industry as a race to the bottom that will only stop once a larger group of people realize that ads have gone too far.

Maybe I do disagree with the implied dichotomy that "the web" can only be one thing, and if it's more ad-supported-entertainment, it has to be less long-form idea exploration and thoughtful discussion.

This is actually what I am worried about. Right now, the web can be many things. However, by baking advertising into the browser, this could shift the balance toward just one thing.

I realize my argument could be viewed as slippery slope, but from a different perspective, actions like FLoC could be stake-driving--attempts to move the window of what is acceptable.

I presume you don't remember the introduction and popularization of cable TV.

Nope! I was born too late for that. Growing up, TV for me and my friends was already something slow and boring and full of TV shopping channels.

Comment by matto on Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021 · 2021-05-21T14:20:12.289Z · LW · GW

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 or this one about negotiation and Schelling points. 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!