How did you make your way back from meta? 2023-09-07T17:23:18.237Z
Where to start with statistics if I want to measure things? 2023-04-20T22:40:58.901Z
Review: Bayesian Statistics the Fun Way by Will Kurt 2022-11-19T18:52:22.043Z
matto's Shortform 2022-10-04T23:38:43.395Z
The Open Society and Its Enemies: Summary and Thoughts 2022-08-16T11:44:57.712Z
To Make Better Software, Do What Artists Do 2022-04-01T18:34:45.502Z
Productivity Notes I 2022-02-15T13:08:12.974Z
Watching Myself Program 2021-11-29T13:44:18.268Z
Debugging Writer's Block 2021-10-09T19:04:31.074Z
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 did you make your way back from meta? · 2023-09-24T20:27:29.649Z · LW · GW

Thank you for sharing that. Parts of it resonate very strongly, like being unable to know how much fuel I have left, or practicing making choices, or the need for strategy (which is just dawning on me). It's helpful to know that someone else has walked this path, at least the common part of it, and made it farther along.

Comment by matto on How did you make your way back from meta? · 2023-09-13T15:46:54.319Z · LW · GW

Funny/uncanny to read this. This is something I've just started working on (+improving sleep) maybe two weeks ago.

How does this work for you if you don't mind me asking?

Comment by matto on How did you make your way back from meta? · 2023-09-09T18:15:14.031Z · LW · GW

The pots theory reminded of this bit about creativity:

In the mid-1960s, researchers Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to discover what led to successful creative careers. Giving them a variety of objects and asking them to compose a still life drawing, two distinct groups emerged: those who hastily chose an object and proceeded straight to drawing, and those that took much more time, carefully considering different arrangements.

In their view, the first group was trying to solve the problem that had been given to them: “How can I produce a good drawing?” The second group was trying to find a problem in the situation they were presented with: “What good drawing can I produce?” A panel of art experts reviewed the drawings and rated the latter group of “problem finders” works as much more creative than the “problem solvers.” Following up on the students 18 years later, they found that the problem finders “were 18 years later significantly more successful–by the standards of the artistic community–than their peers who had approached their still-life drawings as more craftsman-like problem solvers.

It struck me that, to extend the pots example, if you're setting out to produce a god-tier pot, it entails massive resources and risk. It behooves you thus to avoid taking up such quests as much as possible, which in reality translates to creating pots when directed by an outside source, like a teacher or social pressure or whatever.

But if you're out to churn out 50 pots a semester, it's a cheap and risk-free endeavor. After all, you could probably make 42 or 52 or exactly 50 meh pots in a couple of days and still get an A. But that's kind of boring, why not find something cool or fun to do with those pots? Make really slim ones that beg the question if they're pots or pipes. Make a clay klein bottle. Make personalized pots that you will gift to your friends later. Make cube pots. Make a clay Rube Goldberg pot-device. Sky's the limit.

Comment by matto on How did you make your way back from meta? · 2023-09-09T17:30:07.304Z · LW · GW

I can see how this can look like procrastination from the outside. But I think in my case, it really is some weird jedi trickery where meta-level replaced the object-level (at much less energy cost--so why would I ever do object level?)

I've written more this week than in a long time just by clearly asking myself whether I'm doing something meta (fun, leisure) or object-level (building stuff) and there's no ugh-field at all!

Comment by matto on How did you make your way back from meta? · 2023-09-09T17:23:14.926Z · LW · GW

Thank you for writing this out. It resonates with what's happening in my head on a deeper, emotional level ("if I study enough meta, I will become a fearsome champion in my first match, ha ha").

The meta element of anything is a necessary evil

This is going on a post-it on my desk.

Comment by matto on How did you make your way back from meta? · 2023-09-09T17:17:02.396Z · LW · GW

Thanks! Your comment made me realize I built sort of trap for myself: I would go for meta when I would be tired, telling myself "hey, maybe I'm not pushing on The Thing, but at least I'm pushing on it indirectly." But that slowly moved me farther and farther away from The Thing because if I can keeping pushing on it with less energy by going meta, why would I ever push on the object-level which costs more energy for the same effect?

But the effect is not the same of course. I just tricked myself.

Also, from your other comment, the pots theory really resonated because it sounds so much like play--making 50 pots creates so much space for experimentation and silliness!

Comment by matto on We learn long-lasting strategies to protect ourselves from danger and rejection · 2023-05-17T01:13:03.427Z · LW · GW

I'm a big fan of the Replacing Guilt series. But I've always found the "guilt" part troubling because it always felt there was something more behind, something even more primitive.

Perhaps it's just me or people like me but now I believe that thing is fear. Completely subjectively I had an experience recently while watching my thoughts (inspired by and noticed that certain chains if thoughts terminated as if at a wall made up of this panicky feeling, the one where you feel your chest tigthen and your breathing become shallow and difficult. It felt a lot like fear.

Looking forward to your next posts in the series!

Comment by matto on Where to start with statistics if I want to measure things? · 2023-05-13T20:51:20.526Z · LW · GW

Thanks, this is incredibly useful.

I think I understand enough to put together a curriculum to delve into this topic. Starting with the harvard course you recommended.

Comment by matto on Goodhart's Law inside the human mind · 2023-05-09T18:16:24.638Z · LW · GW

I'm reminded of a post from not too long ago:

I haven't run through the exercise that it suggests, but I've borrowed an idea that seems in line with the framework in this post. Internally, I call it a brain debugger.

Basically, from time to time I ask myself what am I thinking and what was I thinking before. To better illustrate what I mean in the context of this post, here's an example:

  • trying to solve problem at work
  • trying to solve problem at work
  • BREAK: I'm thinking about a problem at work. I was thinking about it before.
  • trying to solve a problem at work
  • getting upset at coworker for last week's meeting
  • BREAK: I'm thinking about how upset I am at my coworker. I was thinking about solving a problem at work. WAT? How did I get here? Coworker X isn't even here. Wait, I'm in an imaginary situation. Coworker X isn't here. Why am I arguing with them? Let's go back to work problem

In other words, it's helping me catch myself when my brain is getting stuck in a goodharting loop.

(This doesn't solve the underlying problems, but it does to help with reflection)

Comment by matto on How to get good at programming · 2023-05-05T13:47:44.096Z · LW · GW

This is good advice that I've seen work very well, both for myself and others.

There is, however, a related problem, or rather a metaproblem: how do you choose what to whitebox?

Going with the programming example, the field is huge. Do you invest time into ML? Linux? Rust? Data engineering? SRE?

Then, within each of those categories you can find vast categories: as an SRE do you focus on observability or CI/CD or orchestration or...? Each is a 1-3+ year subfield in itself.

You can use a heuristic like "what's useful for my job" but even then, unless you're already an expert and working in exactly your domain, the number of categories could be vast.

I've been investing my time in seemingly evergreen domains like Linux, programming (python/go), and containers. I want to expand into statistics/metrics.

I'm curious how you and others here have managed this question though.

Comment by matto on Where to start with statistics if I want to measure things? · 2023-04-23T20:06:26.187Z · LW · GW

Thanks! I'll look this over.

Out of curiosity,

Most people with a strong intuition for statistics have taken courses in probability. It is foundational material for the discipline.

Do some people learn statistics without learning probability? Or, what's different for someone who learns only stats and not probability?

(I'm trying to grasp what shape/boundaries are at play between these two bodies of knowledge)

Comment by matto on Where to start with statistics if I want to measure things? · 2023-04-23T20:02:40.012Z · LW · GW

Thanks! This is really helpful--I think this is exactly what I'm trying to do.

Are these texts part of a specific academic track/degree or field of study? It sounds like something someone in engineering would spend a semester on. But also like something someone could spend a career on studying.

Comment by matto on Fighting in various places for a really long time · 2023-03-18T15:56:14.928Z · LW · GW

You raise a good question, but it still relies on following the (historical) authority of the Academy. Perhaps the Academy has changed? Perhaps the environment the Academy is operating has changed, forcing the Academy to adjust?

Of course, this would apply to the non-Academy, ie. broader society, as well--but at different rates, and also different directions.

A stab at answering your question: you should only apply an update based on the Academy if the Academy is an important entity for you. This isn't binary. Awards factor into my perception of movies, but only play a minor role.

Comment by matto on Confusing the ideal for the necessary · 2023-01-21T19:39:05.170Z · LW · GW

As someone who's experienced this, I've found that Slack is a helpful idea to bring to bear.

Sometimes, trying to utilize the small segments of free time leads to scheduling so much work that one small interruption snowballs into a huge failure. So I've often asked myself, "What can I do to create more slack so that I do have the required bigger chunks of time to truly focus on work that matters?"

Comment by matto on Review: Bayesian Statistics the Fun Way by Will Kurt · 2022-11-20T01:18:07.703Z · LW · GW

Many thanks for letting me know!

Comment by matto on How to Make Easy Decisions · 2022-11-08T01:44:53.347Z · LW · GW

Wish I had heard this sooner. Coming from a place where every purchase had to be planned out weeks in advance, and after finding financial stability, it took me some years to realize I shouldn't be trying to optimize the purchase of chopsticks or closet hanger.

Comment by matto on Company leadership and tactical decisions · 2022-10-04T23:48:22.051Z · LW · GW

Thanks for sharing your perspective. I remember you describing your experience in a little more depth some time ago and it makes me doubt my experience. Perhaps I've been in less healthy orgs. But more likely there are knobs/patterns I can't see, so org change work like this feels out of reach for me. I've got some thinking to do.

Comment by matto on matto's Shortform · 2022-10-04T23:38:43.602Z · LW · GW

I've been thinking about AllAmericanBreakfast's recent shortform posts about mentition. It's because I've been teaching myself three new things and I noticed that one practice I engage in regularly is playing with problems in my head. But this practice seems to largely depend on how good I am at something.

Anecdotal examples:

  • Teaching myself TLA+. It's a programming language used to specify models, which helps verify whether an algorithm behaves like it should, especially concurrent algorithms.
    • I have a few examples that I've looked at (from the course). Throughout the day, I'll turn these around in my mind, looking at different facets, moving things around and occasionally hit on an insight.
  • Going through Bayesian Statistics the Fun Way for a much needed refresher on bayesian stats.
    • Here too I have a few simple examples, problems taken straight from the book, that I turn over in my head. It's harder, though, because different "objects", like numerators and denominators, are hard for my mind to hold onto for long. I need more focus.
  • Writing. Specifically, creative nonfiction.
    • Here, I have a few essays that I really liked that I'm playing with. But this one is the hardest of all to wrestle with in my mind. Ideas, sentences, paragraphs feel so liquid and unholdable. I can only do this type of work with pen and paper or a text editor.

In the first case, in which I have some years of experience, thinking and focusing feels easy. Even in a weird language I've never seen before, I can see "things" and "relationships" and "sequences" and play around with them.

In the last case, there are almost no things, no relationships. It's all one mixed up soup. Only recently did I learn, thanks to a class, about things like ledes, nut graphs, points/themes, angles, calls to action, etc. and this has been an immense help in slowly learning how to "turn around" these things in my mind.

So, if this generalizes in any way, it seems that ramping up to a state where you can do mentition requires first learning to see the structure of whatever it is you're learning. Sort of like priming the pump. Afterwards, there's a lot less "ugh" and a lot more play.

Comment by matto on Company leadership and tactical decisions · 2022-10-02T17:45:28.449Z · LW · GW

I've seen this happen too, along with same end result.

It appears that a common failure mode here is that the middle management layer fails to translate the values into system updates. No one updates performance reviews, no one updates quarterly/half goals, etc. So things just continue as they were before.

Ultimately, it's the responsibility of leadership to fix this. Whether it's by direct intervention or a huddle with middle management, they must do something.

(My experience as an individual contributor that attempted to change how performance reviews are done to better align with a value like "engineering excellence" tells me it's impossible to affect this kind of change as an IC. Unless you're friends with the CEO, which I wasn't).

Comment by matto on Some notes on solving hard problems · 2022-09-20T01:32:00.142Z · LW · GW

Thanks for posting this. I'll add it to my collection of "thinking tools."

These techniques feel like they have the same spirit as some of de Bono's work, for example, his idea of PO:

PO implies, 'That may be the best way of looking at things or putting the information together. That may even turn out to be the only way. But let us look around for other ways.

The two main functions of PO are first to protect an arrangement of information from judgement and to indicate that it is being used provocatively and second to challenge a particular arrangement of information such as an idea, a concept or a way of putting things.

Some of them also remind me of Gerald Weinberg's books, but unfortunately I can't find my notes on them.

Comment by matto on AllAmericanBreakfast's Shortform · 2022-09-06T02:05:59.247Z · LW · GW

In my experience with doing something similar, this practice also helps memorize adjacent concepts.

For example, I was recently explaining to myself Hubbard's technique that uses Student's t-stat to figure out the 90% CI of a range of possible values of a population using a small sample.

Having little memory of statistics from school, I had to refresh my understanding of variance and the standard deviation, which are required to use the t-stat table. So now, whenever I need to "access" variance or stdev, I mentally "reach" for the t-stat table and pick up variance and stdev.

Comment by matto on AllAmericanBreakfast's Shortform · 2022-09-01T18:51:24.324Z · LW · GW

Thirding this. Would love more detail or threads to pull on. Going into the constructivism rabbit hole now.

Comment by matto on The Open Society and Its Enemies: Summary and Thoughts · 2022-08-16T12:55:52.574Z · LW · GW

That was my idealism/naivete: that the league of liberal democracies is so mature and strong that they could flip a switch and the war would cease. Maybe they would just tell Putin to stop and he would have to. Because for me, democracy was always a guarantee of peace. But the war made me realize my map was way off from the territory, and Popper's book, in turn, helped to replace my fantasy with something closer to the territory.

Comment by matto on The Parable of the Boy Who Cried 5% Chance of Wolf · 2022-08-15T20:30:03.679Z · LW · GW

This echos an excellent post by Dan Luu that touches on problems you face when you build larger, less legible systems that force you to deal with normalization of deviance:

The action items he recommends are:

Pay attention to weak signals

Resist the urge to be unreasonably optimistic

Teach employees how to conduct emotionally uncomfortable conversations

System operators need to feel safe in speaking up

Realize that oversight and monitoring are never-ending

Most of these go against what is considered normal or comfortable though:

  1. It's difficult to pay attention to weak signals when people build awful attention traps (eg. tiktok, youtube, etc.)
  2. People are commonly [overconfident]( 
  3. Uncomfortable conversations are uncomfortable. In certain cultures, it's better to straight out lie rather than deliver bad news.
  4. Few organizations have set up channels for upwards communication where front line employees can flag problems. It's better to not rock the boat.
  5. Constant oversight and monitoring are mentally and physically draining.  These are also the easiest activities to cut from a budget because they're not visible until an accident happens.

What the boy should have done is establish an organization (Wolf-Spotters) whose responsibility is monitoring for signs of wolves. This organization could be staffed by professional or volunteer observers. They need to do periodic trainings and live-action drills (perhaps using a wolf suit). To the fund this, the boy should have first created a PR campaign to make people aware of the cost of unspotted wolves (death), then use that to get support of some local politicians.

(It's basically a fire department). 

If the boy was open to using the dark arts, he could have executed a false flag wolf attack. That would incentivize local politicians to support his cause.

Comment by matto on Why Portland · 2022-07-10T13:40:49.853Z · LW · GW

Enjoy Portland! Btw, if you want to hang out with some cool people, there's a rationalist space in Seattle called The Territory full of cool people. 

Comment by matto on User research as a barometer of software design · 2022-07-10T13:34:51.031Z · LW · GW

Some people seem to do this automatically. They notice which things make code harder to work with and avoid them. Occasionally, they notice things that make working with code easier and make sure to include those bits in. I guess that's how you get beautiful code like redis or Django.

But I've never seen any formal approach to this. I've gone down the software craftsmanship rabbit hole for a few years and learned a lot thanks to it, but none of it was based on any research--just people like Beck, Uncle Bob, Fowler, etc. distilling their experience into blog posts or books. The downside of that is that it would ignite furious debate that would go nowhere because there was no data to back it up, just anecdotes. These debates, I think, turned a lot of people off, even though there were gems of wisdom there.

Comment by matto on Seeking opinions on the current and forward state of cryptocurrencies. · 2022-07-05T19:17:26.251Z · LW · GW

Disclaimer: I spent about 2 months diving into the crypto space this past December-January. Read a bunch of stuff (here's a shortened list), got an ENS domain, and wrote some Solidity code (w/o deploying any of it, even to a testchain though).

I seems to me that blockchain tech has a lot of potential for building newer, better coordination tools that integrate with an increasingly online lifestyle and culture.

Currently, most of the community's energy seems to be going into financial solutions, which also produces many, many highly suspicious projects--either outright scams or extremely early alpha work that's presented as mature.

My personal bet is that we're in a similar place where PCs used to be in the 80's: crude, underperfoming tech that never amounted to much (ie. productivity gains) but attracted a lot of academics and enthusiasts that kept building and building until we arrived in today's world where our lives are deeply enmeshed with personal computing technology + networks. So I'm expecting that the next 5-10 years will bring even more failed projects in this space, but maybe 1 or 2 will turn out  to be transformational technologies. 

My thinking here is that we need only 1 or 2 "killer apps", something like email or facebook, that give people immense utility, for blockchain to nudge our digital lives onto a different track. Seeing how much people like Vitalik write and talk about eg. quadratic voting or what the people at (Other Internet) are putting out reassures me that some folks in this space are working on coordination tools. 

Comment by matto on Jan Czechowski's Shortform · 2022-06-30T13:14:03.682Z · LW · GW

Another technique is to compare yourself to your past self.

I'm often dissatisfied with my writing. But when I look back at stuff that I wrote six months ago, I can't help but notice how much better I've become.

The caveat here is that comparing myself to people like Scott Alexander gives me some direction. Comparing myself to an earlier version of myself doesn't give me that direction. Instead, it gives me a sort of energy/courage to keep on going.

Comment by matto on What do you do to deliberately practice? · 2022-06-07T12:11:33.666Z · LW · GW

I analyze essays: I'll find an essay I really like and then go through it paragraph by paragraph, trying to figure out what makes it so good. I have no formal training in composition above English 101 and 102, so it's been a long journey of finding out things that people have been talking about for centuries. Above all, it has been slowly changing the way I see written texts because now I'm able to discern parts that I couldn't see before.

For some time, I also analyzed my daily work ([wrote about it here](, but I've put that on hold because things became too hectic at work (and I'm also changing jobs).

Comment by matto on Wielding civilization · 2022-06-01T22:46:06.284Z · LW · GW

Thanks for sharing this. I often catch myself thinking this way, about how, for example, the outlet in the very room you're sitting in is connected to another strand of wire, and another, and another, until the very generator in some powerplant somewhere. And since other outlets in other buildings and cities are connected to the same state, you could say that there is almost a complete circuit between your room and every other room connected to the same grid.

Or go up a level: consider that all this infrastructure is being operated by humans, and that connecting each human is an invisible line--a contract, a duty, a responsibility, an agreement--but of course it's never just one line, it's actually a whole infinitely complicated web of them. Imagine the person that agreed and committed to emptying the mailbox on your street and taking the contents to a drop-off location. And the next person who agreed and committed to collecting all the bags of mail and putting them through a sorting machine. And then the next person who agreed to and learned to load up trucks with all these bags. And then all the drivers, complete strangers, who agreed to show up at a certain place in time to pick up some bags and drive them over to another place. And... and then the whole system of judges and inspectors and operations people who make sure that everyone else keeps their commitments, so that you can put a piece of paper in one box and another person can retrieve from another box on a different continent.

It's quite something, this machine. 

Comment by matto on Fighting in various places for a really long time · 2022-05-11T23:17:53.845Z · LW · GW

My impression is that this movie is to older teenagers/early 20-somethings what The Matrix/The Big Lebowski/Fight Club were to me and my age group: grappling with nihilism by taking a long, hard look at all the completely arbitrary social hierarchies that our society is composed of. All of these movies highlight how flimsy social customs are. All of them also give voice to a certain kind of deep anger with the status quo through the violence they portray.

It was a solid movie, though I wouldn't place it in the top 100. I enjoyed it for giving me a window into the thoughts of a group of people I don't normally get to talk with. 

Comment by matto on Crises Don't Need Your Software · 2022-05-11T23:10:10.649Z · LW · GW

This is a trap that software engineers appear to be especially susceptible to. If you hang out in places where they congregate, like Silicon Valley, you'll eventually hear about solutions to all sorts of problems, from homelessness to the opioid crisis.

Being one myself, I attribute this to solving problems every day and getting rewarded for that, then falling under curse of thinking that since you just solved Very Complicated Problem X, you can probably solve Very Complicated Problem Y, except that Y is in a domain you have so little context in that it seems simple. Dan Luu wrote about this: 

When the invasion of Ukraine was just beginning, I thought to myself: if only I was a doctor/architect/carpenter/policy expert/general/etc., I could do something. Then I began donating money across a portfolio of charities, which didn't fully alleviate the feeling of being useless in this situation.

Comment by matto on Duncan Sabien On Writing · 2022-04-08T12:50:13.703Z · LW · GW

Strong upvote too. Thank you for sharing this.

There are innumerable resources with techniques like "avoid passive voice", but very few about the writing process itself, which I think becomes a crucial point to focus on if a person wants to advance beyond a "good enough" level of writing ability. Reading about Duncan's process gave me a few ideas on how to improve my own.

I suspect that this why writers' workshops help people improve--they allow writers to debug each others' writing processes. 

Comment by matto on Becoming a Staff Engineer · 2022-04-03T17:19:33.014Z · LW · GW

build a rich mental model of how software engineering orgs work and be able to use this to change the organization


Are there ways to do this apart from direct experience?

After a little over a year at the startup I switched to from a Large Company, I realized that the engineering org is broken in a way that is not just "growing pains." Levels are hazy and promotions are unclear, which makes it impossible to work towards greater responsibility / bigger problem areas. Hiring is owned by HR, so engineering has no say in this apart from conducting the actual interviews. Engineers high in the hierarchy, eg. "distinguished engineers", are mostly focused on their own 1-person projects and almost never interact with other engineers.

I describe this because it took me over a year that all these behaviors are not merely growing pains and that I cannot do anything to change them because I am merely a "code/yaml production resource".  I am now looking for another company (in NYC!) and thinking really hard how to avoid joining another broken engineering organization. 

Comment by matto on Beyond Blame Minimization: Thoughts from the comments · 2022-03-31T12:08:52.239Z · LW · GW

I'm confused by what we mean by bureaucracy. Is is a governenment-run agency, like the DMV for example? Or is it a low-feedback cost center inside of a for-profit company?

To me it seems that a bureaucracy is any organization, including a suborganization, where incentives and feedback loops weaken or become unaligned, making the whole thing more extractive toward those people it was supposed to benefit. Eg. the DMV still provides a useful service for citizens, but it does so inefficiently at a high cost. Or an IT department might not be run well, leading to blame-shifting behavior among its leadership, which will slow down any IT-related projects the larger company is demanding from it--this can go on for months or years at a big enough place because of how illegible such behavior can be made to be.

In this sense, I would absolutely expect alien to have bureaucracies. At least those aliens that need coordination mechanisms (Zerg don't), which introduce the possibility of individuals being bad at coordinating, leading to the creation of maze-like behaviors.

P.S. Thanks for writing this. I see value in studying bureaucracies in order to make them better, so I find discussions like this very interesting.

Comment by matto on Do a cost-benefit analysis of your technology usage · 2022-03-29T12:59:49.530Z · LW · GW

Postman is a great writer and this is one my favorite books.

What's changed between 1985 and today is that human attention has become the scarcest (ie. most valuable) resource. Because of this, the Web is under immense market pressure to turn into a perfected form of cable TV as described by Postman. This is what's driving platform centralization (ie. Facebook, TikTok, etc.) as well as the one-to-many model where a handful of users (influencers) produce while a great majority merely consume.

We're not there yet, but we've swung strongly in that direction in just a decade with change. My hope is that counter-forces like Digital Minimalism as well as the inherent flexibility of the medium of the Web will arrest or even revert this change.

Comment by matto on Mental nonsense: my anti-insomnia trick · 2022-03-29T00:42:41.176Z · LW · GW

My trick is to focus on bodily sensations and move this focus around.

For example, I will focus on how my arm feels again the pillow. Then I'll start probing details, like how does my palm feel? How does my elbow feel? How does the skin on my knuckles feel? And then I'll zoom out and shift to another major body part. It's kind of like shining a flashlight and refocusing the beam. 

Comment by matto on How to prevent authoritarian revolts? · 2022-03-22T12:11:30.661Z · LW · GW

Funny, I just started reading The Open Society and Its Enemies to find some answers or at least threads to pull on.

One point that struct me, right in the introduction, is Popper saying that totalitarianism appeals to people because it absolves them of individual responsibility, a responsibility that we, humans, gained (became burdened by) because civilizational progress pull us out of tribes.

I understand your suggestion as being in line with this theme of personal responsibility--you cannot become any sort of -Bot and instead you have to evaluate every interaction separately and decide whether you want to cooperate or defect.

Also, I wonder if this problem exists in the type of uniform society we have now, but would become largely irrelevant in the type of society that Scott describes in Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism. If you lived on your own island full of edgy people like yourself, then the benefits of being edgy would cancel out as you wouldn't have a larger society to defect against.

I know that right now this is just a theoretical exercise, but sometimes it does feel like society is fragmenting into smaller and smaller subcultures through a process fueled by globalization.

Comment by matto on Searching for post on Community Takeover · 2022-03-22T11:45:35.263Z · LW · GW

This probably isn't the post you are looking for, however it describes a similar process:

Comment by matto on How to prevent authoritarian revolts? · 2022-03-20T17:33:25.468Z · LW · GW

This is a problem I've been wrestling with for some time. The recent invasion of Ukraine brought it back to the forefront of my mind, but so far I haven't found concrete actions an individual can take.

At the moment, it seems to me that the key to keeping authoritarianism at bay is repairing and strengthening institutions because my assumption is that a well-functioning collection of institutions (aka. a state) is what prevents people from turning to bloody revolution. In other words, if people trust the government to get their needs met, they will not wish to overturn it.

There are many forces destroying institutions. Many are internal, such as corruption and bureaucratic cost disease. These things decrease the trust in institutions, making people upset and pushing them toward fixing issues on their own. At best, this means self-help groups, but at worst, this turns into armed militias. There are external forces as well, ranging from nature (disasters, pandemics, etc.) to other states (propaganda, blockades, etc.--depending which country you live in).

I recently read an article about how Estonia is strengthening its defenses against Russian hybrid warfare. It boils down to how hybrid warfare damages social contracts (formal/informal, small/large institutions), decreasing the legitimacy of the government and of democracy itself, potentially weakening Estonia's reaction against a Crimea-like land grab. It set my mind thinking about how it should be possible to apply reverse-hybrid warfare to instead strengthen the social contracts that hold society together.

But it seems like all of this is large scale, long term work, and nothing an individual can get going in a month or six.

Like I said, I don't have concrete ideas for individual actions, but this line of inquiry has pointed me in some direction as opposed to wandering randomly. It has also made visible to me concrete examples of things that damage liberal democracy, such as the tweet you posted, perhaps helping me take on a more defensive posture.

Comment by matto on [deleted post] 2022-03-15T11:55:41.333Z

Another point to the NATO-Warsaw Pact comparison:

  • In 1958, Hungary wanted independence from the Stalinist USSR, so the Pact threw over thirty thousand troops at the problem, resulting in "repression of the Hungarian Uprising killed 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet Army soldiers, and compelled 200,000 Hungarians to seek political refuge abroad."
  • In 1968, Czechoslovakia wanted to enact liberal reforms, but the Pact interfered by invading Czechoslovakia with over a quarter million troops along with tanks and aircraft. As a result, I believe about a hundred civilians were killed, and the conflict lead to "a wave of emigration, largely of highly qualified people, unseen before and stopped shortly after (estimate: 70,000 immediately, 300,000 in total)

Compared to that, NATO seems much more of a neutral defense pact--for example, despite the increasingly illiberal governments in Poland and Hungary today, I have heard no mention of using NATO to ~imbue their evil hearts with liberal values~ correct the situation.

Also, speaking to the "Poor people just want freedom and protection" point, from talking with my parents it seems like freedom is a lesser value (less understood, less sought after). The two big ones though are security, especially from the big, aggressive neighbor to the east, and prosperity, in which the difference between the West and those countries behind the iron curtain was vast.

Comment by matto on When should you relocate to mitigate the risk of dying in a nuclear war? · 2022-03-05T14:40:56.541Z · LW · GW

I was about to comment about how nuclear winter may not be as serious threat after reading the first few chapters of "Nuclear War Survival Skills" and then reading through the wikipedia section you linked.

On another note, why do you think 10 years of food, medication, and weapons would be needed when you also say that basic law and order would remain intact?

If there is basic law and order, then food and weapons should not be a hard requirement. I'm estimating that a large part of the population would not survive the initial attack, so food, even without modern fertilizers, should not be that hard to produce, at least in the US with all that rich land. Medication and medication for bartering - this makes sense, since manufacturing would likely take years to rebuild.

Comment by matto on Raemon's Shortform · 2022-03-02T01:23:47.228Z · LW · GW

One of their developers reached out to me recently to talk about working for them. I got strong good vibes about the quality of their engineering culture. For example, they are 100% remote and seem to be doing it well enough that employees are happy. They also organize a week of all-company PTO every quarter, which also speaks to the stability of their systems.

I associate good engineering culture with good writing, and this email is pretty good as far as terms and conditions go.

Comment by matto on Design policy to be testable · 2022-02-01T01:24:50.931Z · LW · GW

Level 1: “There’s a lion across the river.” = There’s a lion across the river.

Level 2: “There’s a lion across the river.” = I don’t want to go (or have other people go) across the river

Level 3: “There’s a lion across the river.” = I’m with the popular kids who are too cool to go across the river.

Level 4: “There’s a lion across the river.” = A firm stance against trans-river expansionism focus grouped well with undecided voters in my constituency.


The optimization you are describing is strongly rooted in level 1. There's a clear image of a before/after state along with a feedback loop for correction. I presume this speaks to many people in the LW community, along with good project managers, engineers, etc., anyone really who really wants to change something in the world, whether it's big or small.

However, I think politicians and the bureaucrats that work for them (or vice versa?) are on levels 3 and 4. Having metrics and using them to score policies would only get in the way of signaling group affiliation or building consensus. This is just another way of saying that often, the real impact a decision has is of less importance than how the people making the decision look and act.

That said, I've found a similar technique mentioned in productivity circles. Perhaps it was in a book by Peter Drucker. The gist was: When making a decision, make to include criteria which tell you whether it's working or not.

Comment by matto on Covid 1/27/22: Let My People Go · 2022-01-28T00:04:44.838Z · LW · GW

Quebec is mandating that if an unvaccinated shopper is going into a big-box store, an employee must follow them around at all times to ensure they don’t sneak off and buy something that is not food or medicine.

This makes me feel like we're moving away from an Orwell-inspired dystopia to a Kafka-inspired one.

It also increases my prediction bet that we will see governments, from state to local, try and tighten restrictions despite most people desiring to loosen them, leading to a few months of increase conflict despite the situation improving on simulacrum level 1.

Comment by matto on NFTs, Coin Collecting, and Expensive Paintings · 2022-01-25T00:58:28.652Z · LW · GW

My hypothesis is that the hatred they receive recently is related to Facebook's big announcement about the metaverse!

The metaverse idea has been around before Facebook changed their name. Neal Stephenson used this name in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. And in the crypto space, this idea existed at least around 01/21 -, but given that Not Boring is relatively lagging, I wouldn't be surprised if the ideas that fall under the metaverse label existed months, even years before that post. So Facebook changing its name and the crypto folks using the label "metaverse" are rather coincidental than a planned effort to part users with their money.

And, to your point about "NFT people" trying to extract profit from NFTs, I understand that idea is just the opposite. Right now, content published to platforms like Facebook or Twitter is difficult to extract and transport over. But NFTs exist on some blockchains, which is globally readable--a Twitter or Facebook cannot "lock in" your NFT. They can only build some integrations to enable you to showcase it and show other users that you are the owner, but that's as far as they can go.

Comment by matto on NFTs, Coin Collecting, and Expensive Paintings · 2022-01-25T00:51:31.363Z · LW · GW

Good point, you are correct. I conflated the status conferred by ownership with a part of a content distribution mechanism.

Though I think NFTs are about something bigger than patronage. Our brains are wired for building and navigating hierarchies. Status management is a huge aspect of that. On the NFT-less web, managing status was hard and more often than not boiled down to things like post or follower count. But NFTs change the game by allowing more of our built-in status-seeking drives to exist online. One way the game is different is that, unlike followers, NFTs can be gifted--although a version existed for this in the form of "guest posts" and similar mechanisms to share status.

Also, unrelated to this train of thought, I wouldn't want to own the Mona Lisa. I don't find that image helpful or inspiring or anything like that. But my monkey brain would love to own an NFT of Meditations on Moloch because of how meaningful that text is for me--and for the community I care about.

Comment by matto on NFTs, Coin Collecting, and Expensive Paintings · 2022-01-24T14:17:35.193Z · LW · GW

Another angle on the artificial scarcity point is that scarcity is very hard to do in the digital world. Until NFTs showed up, there really was no way of signaling being the first to own/post a blog post, jpeg, meme, whatever - information like this used to be coded in "lore", stories about people who made the best online game maps or particularly good blog posts, often backed up by links to the internet archive.

In other words, NFTs are for users what DRM was for media producers, perhaps.

Comment by matto on NFTs Are Probably Not Beanie Babies · 2022-01-20T13:10:01.073Z · LW · GW

On the anti-regulation aspect, my subjective reading of the web3 community is that very few of its members hold strong anti-regulation stances whereas most just want less bureaucracy. For example, a16z, an investor in OpenSea and a number of other web3 companies, writes this on their policy page:

We are radically optimistic about the potential of web3 to restore trust in institutions and expand access to opportunity. But realizing that potential depends on smart policy. Good regulation establishes a framework for how innovation can benefit society while managing the real risks that might otherwise harm consumers. It’s time to define that vision.

It's interesting that you bring up the dot-com bubble angle. I can't remember where I read it, but I found a stance that basically said the bubble was good because it injected a massive amount of money into the web market, so after the bubble burst, there were a lot of people trained to build web apps, people that could be hired for less-than-crazy amounts of money, which in turn led to the slow, steady growth of the web in the second half of the 00's. Kind of like priming the pump.

I like to think that this may be one outcome of what's happening with web3--that the buildup of talent will lead to building high-utility blockchain-based applications, especially in the coordination problem space.

Comment by matto on Don't Look Up (Film Review) · 2021-12-31T18:25:42.119Z · LW · GW

The other tribes will probably never see the film, or if they do, they'll see themselves portrayed with such disdain that they'll just end up distrusting scientists even more. Nobody will update.

That's my feeling as well. It grated on me because it was an opportunity to reflect that maybe playing on simulacra level 4 isnt good even when your ingroup does it.