Posts

Freaking blockchains: How do they work? 2021-05-27T16:22:08.496Z
The 10% Improvement Problem 2018-07-02T16:27:01.146Z
Striving vs Cruising 2018-05-23T23:42:36.768Z
Hotel Concierge: Shame & Society 2018-05-12T23:36:43.645Z

Comments

Comment by norswap on How to Sleep Better · 2021-07-25T13:42:43.478Z · LW · GW

I would highly suggest that anyone interested in sleep check the first few episodes of the Huberman Labs podcast, which are focused on this very issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm1TxQj9IsQ&list=PLPNW_gerXa4Pc8S2qoUQc5e8Ir97RLuVW&index=28
(Confusingly, the playlist is in reverse order.)

The take-away are likely to be different for different people (a lot of mechanisms and techniques are covered), but for me they were:
1. cold showers in the morning - those really wake me up and flush away the grogginess that normally persists for a long time
2. step outside and get sunlight in your eyes in the morning, which helps maintain your waking time and/or shift it earlier (I'm naturally prone to go to bed later and later)
3. it's better to have a consistent sleep duration than to make up for short sleep by sleeping long

The third point of advice in particular was something I'd never heard of and that ran counter to the gist of what I'd heard before. But empirically, it seems to be true - I'm always more tired when I suddenly start sleeping more than I did in the previous days.

Implementing mostly these three points, I got to the point where I could get on with 6 hours of sleep per night with what feels like normal productivity, something that would be absolutely unattainable previously (I think 6 hours is too short, and I want to aim for 7:30 of sleep for about 8 hours in bed in the long run).

I also benefitted a lot from using earplugs and a face mask. Something that I started to do one month or two before applying the advice from the podcast, and might have contributed to the good results.
 

Comment by norswap on Changing my life in 2021, halfway through · 2021-06-18T16:30:29.490Z · LW · GW

Truly inspiring! Are you not afraid you risk falling out of the bandwagon implemeting so many changes in your life simulatenously? I'm not doubting your ability or plan, just going from personal experience that trying to change too many at once has been too ambitious for my time budget in the past.

Comment by norswap on Maximizing Yield on US Dollar Pegged Coins · 2021-06-18T16:26:52.741Z · LW · GW

Might be, but you ought to provide an explanation for the mechanics of it instead of a blank admonition.

Comment by norswap on The BTC equilibriumating and the ETH one-eightening · 2021-06-09T00:03:39.967Z · LW · GW

The number of validators is irrelevant (well, you want it to be large enough so that a few players can't collude to control a majority of the validating power) - what's important is their scale, i.e. how much does one need to stake in order to acquire a majority of the validating power and take over the network.

Comment by norswap on Can Bitcoin transition from PoW to PoS? · 2021-05-20T23:04:27.042Z · LW · GW

It is technically possible. "Materially", Bitcoin is nothing if a record of transactions and the wallet balances it implies. Anybody can come and fork Bitcoin into a new chain which preserves the transactions but changes the implementation and/or the features (as happened with Bitcoin Cash).

The real question is what people believe to be valuable. In this case, what they perceive to be the "real Bitcoin" (currency is a social contract, yadda yadda).

A transition from PoW to PoS must thus find broad community consensus, in particular leadership consensus (but broader consensus is also needed so as to prevent the value of Bitcoin from collapsing).

So who controls the decentralized "uncensorable" currency? Mostly, the miners. The Bitcoin foundation also has power, but as I understand the two are (or at least were) fairly enmeshed.

Of course, miners don't want to transition to PoS, as they would lose their golden goose.

Therefore, it's likely that a transition from PoW would only happen if it is necessary to fend off an existential thread to Bitcoin (which would make mining equally worthless). That could be regulation on PoW, or simply the Ethereum narrative taking over. The point is that the writing has to be on the wall that if Bitcoin doesn't transition, then it is headed to zero, even if it's on a longer timeframe. 

Being much more speculative, I'm going to venture and say that a long-decline of Bitcoin is unlikely. At best, there will be an ambiguous uncertainty period where the Bitcoin faith machine will churn faster than ever, but some proposals for PoS transition will start to emerge and be taken seriously (currently, they're quite unpopular). The ambiguous period will either end with PoS adoption, or with a rapid collapse.

A transition to PoS would probably entail a long phase-out of mining, probably by means of decreased rewards so that established players can amortize their hardware investments.

It's also possible that a PoS bitcoin fork is created (just like Bitcoin Cash) and ends up overtaking the original as the "real Bitcoin" in people's mind. I wouldn't be surprised if such a fork already exists, but timing & support is crucial. A 8-year old forks in 5 years is not going to cut it — it needs to arrive on the scene with as much publicity as possible.

Comment by norswap on A whirlwind tour of Ethereum finance · 2021-04-13T15:50:17.911Z · LW · GW

I'm strongly endorsing this, having done the same thing you did (spent two evenings looking at this stuff) and having come up pretty much exactly with the same picture, and the same set of questions/uncertainties.

Something I found very interesting is the fact that Ethereum is poised to move from proof-of-work (miners who solve a cryptographically hard problem to verify transactions, minting new coins in the process) to proof-of-stake (where one "stakes" coins for a chance to verify transactions, earning interest in the process — I'm not entirely comfortable with the ideas yet, but here's an article on the topic by Ethereum's creator: https://vitalik.ca/general/2021/04/07/sharding.html).

If Ethereum successfully transitions to proof-of-stake, this should theoretically greatly lower the transaction costs and make the whole ecosystem more viable.

Comment by norswap on Book Club: Software Design for Flexibility · 2021-03-26T00:41:10.530Z · LW · GW

I can't judge because I didn't follow the course, but I'd like to share my a priori reaction:

One should not have to modify a working program. One should be able to add to it to implement new functionality or to adjust old functions for new requirements. We call this additive programming.

That does sound like a terrible idea. It's often used to justify horrendous abstractions and over-architecturing, for instance. Now this can make sense when third-parties depend on the code. But if you can change the code, it's often better to do so.

The other school that I am aware on this is to use programming paradigms where you can forcibly add to existing code (for instance, Aspect Programming). This hasn't generally been very successful, and it's not incredibly difficult to understand why: the existing code makes some assumptions, which it does not document (and which are liable to change) - it's easy for the "injected" code to break these assumptions.

I think I've heard of "additive programming" in another context with a slightly different definition. If you can isolate in advance the class of things that can be added (say you have a role playing game, and you know you might add new character classes, and new dungeons for instance). Then making it so that when these things are added, they can be added by writing code in a single location is "additive", whereas having to modify things all over the place is not. I think this is a excellent idea, but it is by it's very nature restricted to the kind of changes you can predict.

Anyhow, I'm curious to see how the course holds up to the promise (who knows, maybe it does hold the grail). If you have been following the course and you want to share your perspective, I'll be grateful.

Comment by norswap on The GameStop Situation: Simplified · 2021-02-04T03:31:42.188Z · LW · GW

This explanation misses one major piece of the whole affair: it was not only a short squeeze (mostly, it was at first), but also a gamma squeeze (or gamma trap). It has to do with the hedging of option sales.

Here is a short explanation I wrote for a colleague:

gamma trap: most options are sold by market makers (e.g. investment banks), and they hedge the options they sell by purchasing (or selling) stock in order to be "delta neutral"
so if they sell one call at the money (strike price = current price), the delta is 0.5 (if the stock price increases by 1$, the call price will increase by 0.5$), and they will buy 50 shares to hedge (now if the price increases by 1$, they are up 50$ on the stock, down 50$ on the call, and they still profit by pocketing the premium)
as an option gets in the money (strike price < current stock price), its delta increases, meaning the market maker must increase the number of stock it purchases to continue being delta-neutral
here what happened is that redditors purchased a lot of cheap out of the money call options (low delta), and as the stock price rose and rose, these ended up far in the money, meaning the market makers had to purchase 100 stocks for each of these calls, driving the stock price higher, and pushing all calls farther in the money

ah, and gamma = the rate of change of delta depending on the stock price (so in particular here the fact that delta increases when an option gets in the money)

Comment by norswap on How can I find trustworthy dietary advice? · 2021-01-29T01:22:45.101Z · LW · GW

I think a productive way to look at it is to look for absence of evidence, which is evidence of absence.

Much has been said about "the western diet" that is killing tons of people, but in reality, what we really know is that being obese is bad for you, as is having severe nutrient deficiencies. Otherwise not a whole lot much is sure.

Let's take an example. Studies on meat consumption barely find a significant effect on all-cause mortality. But most often they fail to control for things as basic as pre-existing obesity or caloric intake. And if you step back one second, it's rather obvious: people who voluntarily reduce their meat consumption (or abstain completely) tend to be quite health-focused. All the people with a junk diet are on the other side. That ought to tip the scales, but even then, the finding is minuscule.

This absence of conclusive evidence really does tell you something: diet is much less impactful (to your health) than people give it the credit for. Consider, for contrast, that being partnered adds, on average, years to your life (I suspect this finding might also have a control problem, but the magnitude of the finding is in another league).

Something where diet really has an impact is your day-to-day well-being. I don't have a solid proof, but it seems to me that if your diet makes you feel like crap, it might not be that great in the long run, and vice-versa (beware deficiencies though, which take a long time to show up).

Unsolicited diet advice:
- Control your calories (track! I guarantee you will be surprised and learn something)
- Eat enough veggies / supplement to avoid deficiencies. You don't need that much, and you don't need to hit the RDAs necessarily - they're incredibly hard to hit with food only, so I supplement to be on the safe side. Also, animal products do actually have a ton of nutrients, compared to what popular wisdom sometimes seems to imply.
- Eat enough proteins. It's really hard to eat too much proteins, it's incredibly good for a ton of things, and it's generally filling besides.
- Eat enough fibers (the better argument for eating more veggies). Personally, my digestive system is weird and I actually supplement this as well (as psyllium), makes a huge difference, but I expect this is quite personal.
- Don't sweat the rest, and enjoy your food!

Imho, these are the 80-20 (or really 98-2) rules of nutrition. I've never seen any evidence that any of the intricate fluff makes any difference.

... or at least at the population level. It might worth experimenting with your own potential intolerances/needs (e.g. like my need for a ton of extra fibers). But that's not something you'll get as general advice. I do think there must exist books or resources on the subject however.

Comment by norswap on Efficiency Wages: A Double-Edged Sword · 2021-01-21T22:23:50.024Z · LW · GW

I agree, but I think the converse point is also true: employers will attempt to pay you less (under industry standards) if the job incurs any kind of side-effect that you might be proud about, or is in a glamorous industry.

I think this is a more important point.

The "it's not just about the money, but also about X, Y, Z" (freedom, cool working conditions, social impact, ...) is almost a platitude. I've had multiple employers using on me, and it really it wasn't warranted at all (the jobs were in niche sectors, but weren't glamorous, impactful to society, nor did they have extremely desirable working conditions).

The argument you make has been completely co-opted by HR departments.

The truth is that the job market is a market. It is a function of supply and demand. Jobs that are glamorous (in which I include impactful job) face more labor supply compared to other jobs, and so wages can be lower.

These jobs will naturally be picked by people whose utility function values the glamour highly compared to money. So your point remains true (they might be more motivated).

Will your high-glamour low-wages job seeker will be more productive than your low-glamour high-wages job seeker? Maybe, but I'm not so convinced. I think a key different is that glamour-preference is relatively inelastic, and there are fewer venues to gratify it. Whereas it's easy to jump ship when money is your only object, just find a company that pays more (not that this is a great strategy for money maximization, but it's easy). Another fact to consider is that there aren't that many truly high-paying job (or at least, high-paying enough such that the utility of the high-wage seeker would equal the utility of the glamour-seeker).

I also think a key driver of this "drive" in glamour-seeker is that, beyond low wages, employers tend to press their advantage by wringing out more from the employees. The video game industry is a prime example of this. I've also heard that many non-profits have notoriously bad working conditions. Mostly anecdotal evidence, but it adds up.

Finally, I doubt public defenders are more skilled than other lawyers - but they did clearly pick a different trade-off.

Comment by norswap on Is Rationalist Self-Improvement Real? · 2020-12-10T03:31:43.560Z · LW · GW

Nominating because the idea that rationalists should win (which we can loosely defined as "be better at achieving their goals than non-rationalists") has been under fire in the community (see for instance Scott's comment on this post).

I think this discusses the concern nicely, and shows what rational self-improvement may look like in practice, re-framing expectations.

While far from the only one, this was one important influence in my own self-improvement journey. It's certainly something that comes to mind whenever I think of my own self-improvement philosophy, and when it comes to trying to convince other to do similarly.

Comment by norswap on Pain is the unit of Effort · 2020-12-04T03:24:32.876Z · LW · GW

It worked! Also now that my interpretation has been confirmed, I can bask in the warm afterglow of rightness. What a day.

Comment by norswap on Pain is the unit of Effort · 2020-12-04T03:17:50.062Z · LW · GW

I assumed this was some kind of pastiche of the judgy-overarchiever trope, and I was quite entertained under that reading. But now I've come to the comments and everyone seems to interpret the post earnestly. I'm confused.

Comment by norswap on [Link] "Where are all the successful rationalists?" · 2020-10-22T17:51:42.245Z · LW · GW

The question pops up regularly. Jacob (Jacobian on here) wrote an answer here: https://putanumonit.com/2019/12/08/rationalist-self-improvement/

One issue I see is the narrow definition of winning used here. I think that people reflective enough to embrace rationality would also be more likely to reconsider the winning criteria not to just be "become filthy rich and/or famous". Consider that maybe the prize is not worth the price. I'd be more interested into people that have become wealthy/established/successful in their fields (without becoming a rock star I mean, just plain old successful, enough to be free of worries and pursue one's one direction).

Comment by norswap on What should experienced rationalists know? · 2020-10-22T15:39:45.751Z · LW · GW

This pays lip services to the sequences, but I don't really see a condensed version of what it teaches in the proposed materials. Not that I have a proposal for that either, but maybe someone has?

Comment by norswap on The US Already Has A Wealth Tax · 2020-08-27T12:38:42.931Z · LW · GW

He is not overstating.

To summarize the two main points, which other people already made:

  • Any wealth tax is on top of inflation. One cannot ban inflation without disastrous economic consequences (or so I'm lead to believe).
  • Invested capital tends to appreciate along with inflation, which makes sense if you think about it, otherwise it means it's losing value. Non-inflation adjusted returns on the stock market are much higher when the inflation is high. Also there is no reason not to stash all your money in the safest possible asset to avoid inflation.
Comment by norswap on My Dating Plan ala Geoffrey Miller · 2020-07-29T13:31:31.667Z · LW · GW

It very much is a non-quantitative argument - since it's a matter of principle. The principle being not to let outside perceptions dictate the topic of conversations.

I can think of situations were the principles could be broken, or unproductive. If upholding it would make it impossible to have these discussions in the first place (because engaging would mean you get stoned, or something) and hiding is not an option (or still too risky), then it would make sense to move conversations towards the overton window.

Said otherwise, the quantity I care about is "ability to have quote rational unquote conversations" and no amount of outside woke prevalence can change that *as long as they don't drive enough community member away*. It will be a sad day for freedom and for all of us if that ends up one day being the case.

Comment by norswap on My Dating Plan ala Geoffrey Miller · 2020-07-23T01:13:56.978Z · LW · GW
I assume you are not trying to date homeless women. I also assume that women who try to find a date usually don't go to homeless shelters.

I'm not entirely certain about that assumption, to be honest.

Comment by norswap on My Dating Plan ala Geoffrey Miller · 2020-07-23T01:10:35.238Z · LW · GW

I have an extremely negative emotional reaction to this.

More seriously. While LW can be construed as "trying to promote something" (i.e. rational thinking), in my opinion it is mostly a place to have rational discussions, using much stronger discursive standards than elsewhere on the internet.

If people decide to judge us on cherry pickings, that is sad, but it is much better than having them control what topics are or are not allowed. I am with Ben on this one.

About your friend in particular, if they have to be turned off of the community because of some posts and the fact we engage with idea at the object-level instead of yucking-out socially awkward ideas, then she might not yet be ready to receive rationality in her heart.

Comment by norswap on What should I teach to my future daughter? · 2020-06-23T12:52:30.747Z · LW · GW

Totally. But it's cool to want to teach things, and kids actually like to learn when it's fun. So offer to teach, don't impose your teaching. Be ready to jettison your plans and go with whatever your daughter finds interesting. This is what seems to work best in practice (from remembered anecdotal evidence).

Comment by norswap on Stop saying wrong things · 2020-05-06T13:38:47.553Z · LW · GW

I want to discuss the specific example you picked: Etsy & A/B (or generally, data-driven) testing.

I'll start by agreeing to your premise in the abstract: Etsy could probably have done better by using a better A/B testing methodology and doing so sooner.

But: while superior tools used effectively are superior, they also tend to be harder to use and to cause more damage when misused. I've seen a bunch of math-based data-driven analysis that wasn't worth a damn because they were misused. The more sophisticated these tools become, the easier they are to misuse.

A popular cautionary tale in that space is "Steve Jobs vs focus groups". Focus groups are a primitive but, I'd argue, *scientific* method to determine what your customers want. Yet what it comes up with is often lackluster to the point where a visionary with a intuition and taste can run circles around them. Sure, in this primitive case we can easily point to some design flaws in the process. For instance, bringing various people together to discuss a design is likely to produce a compromise design that truly satisfies no one. But is A/B testing free of any such psychological flaws? I think not, and now you also risk screwing up the statistical analysis in one hundred different ways.

Second, trade-offs. If Etsy chose to perfect it's A/B testing methodology, it has to forego doing other things, because it does not have illimited resources (even if it had, if an entity becomes too large to coordinate effectively that comes with a slew of issues — this is well documented (the mythical man month, etc)). Could it be that their unsophisticated/late application of A/B was an effective trade-off in terms of resource use (à la 20/80 principle)?

I think a part of instrumental rationality is the ability to decide which tools to deploy.

Generally, more sophisticated tools can yield better results, but come with an inherent cost. You seem to ignore this basic reality here. Cases where it's as easy to do the smart thing as to do the dumb thing exist, but they're not everywhere - especially in business context (and even more so in startups), where there is a strong evolutionary pressure to adopt these low-hanging fruits.

Comment by norswap on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-03-24T18:17:06.037Z · LW · GW

It doesn't have to be optimal, the question is whether it is better. Is it better to wash all the time (as described in the post), like most people (let's say before eating and after using the bathroom), once-twice a day, or not at all (hands only washed during showers)? I'm not quite sure that "all the time" is better (it could be, but I'm not sure).

There is clearly a phenomenon of adapting to pathogens. I've heard it firsthand from at least two people who worked in less sanitary areas (South-American slums and Center-African countryside). There is no doubt to me that they were better off going through a bit of sickness in order to avoid the overheads of constant hand-washing.

I've also never heard heard about the gains in public hygiene due to hand washing in the general public (I mean that literally, I'm pointedly not saying they don't exist!). In a medical context, sure, the last thing we want is medical personnel spreading pathogens to vulnerable people.

Comment by norswap on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-11T23:55:06.543Z · LW · GW

I came to the comment section expecting to see someone pointing out that not washing out your hands so much could improve your immune system by exposing you to more germs, pathogens, etc.

Well, since nobody did. I'm pointing it out. The argument seems sound to me. Is there something to be said against this perspective? Or something more in favor of it?

Comment by norswap on Is cardio enough for longevity benefits of exercise? · 2020-01-11T23:38:25.025Z · LW · GW

Clearing a fully-general counter-argument: Everything is based on some amount of trust - radical doubt just doesn't scale - you couldn't trust most of what your science textbook tells you without running a lot of experiments, which people don't tend to do.

With that out of the way, you can decide who to trust based on other information. So in this case, you can look at the collection of people reporting sports-related improvement, and see how it overlaps with people saying that <dubious thing> made them feel better.

As far as I know, there's a PLETHORA of studies linking exercise to health. You say you assume they are p-hacked etc... hhm why? I know science can be unreliable, but when everything we have points in the same direction, and there's a large volume of it, well, that's certainly some strong evidence.

I also seem to recall that elite athletes do in fact live significantly longer than the general population on average.

Comment by norswap on Is cardio enough for longevity benefits of exercise? · 2020-01-07T09:39:45.027Z · LW · GW

People report they feel better after they take up exercise / get in shape though. This is not strictly health, but I'd be very surprised if someone tried to argue it's not correlated. I'd also be surprised that everyone is self-deceiving — especially since that would make me one of them ;)

As for cognitive benefits... I'm more skeptical of that. I haven't experienced something profound on that front. But you do better work when you feel better day round. I think that ability to focus for longer periods of time improved slightly.

Comment by norswap on Why are people so bad at dating? · 2019-11-14T00:06:33.258Z · LW · GW

I don't think we necessarily disagree. Photo feeler does not strike me as requiring a large effort. But taking new pictures did. (In my case the new pictures did work better, so that was a required step.)

I think what you're saying here is that taking pictures wasn't a big effort for you (since just a friend could do it?). But for me too it was just my brother who lives with me and using my mobile phone.

And objectively, I expect for some people this is cake-walk, but for me it felt very tedious (but at least I ended up doing it! though it required quite a bit of willpower, explaining why other people who are like me would end up never implementing this strategy).

Comment by norswap on Why are people so bad at dating? · 2019-11-08T16:58:51.829Z · LW · GW

Regarding pictures, I think you underestimate the effort required.

You need to get a phone or camera capable of taking good-looking picture, you need someone that is semi-competent at shooting, you need nice looking clothes and a good-enough looking background. These are all things that need to be planned/accounted for. It also takes time.

I don't especially enjoy doing these things, and it took quite a bit of willpower to grab a few nice clothes (I already owned!) and my brother (whom I trust) to go and shoot a few pictures (in my garden).

There is also a diminishing marginal utility of better pictures. If your pictures are ugly blurry messes of you in weird poses, then you stand to gain a lot. If they are already decent, the gain is less.

As others have pointed out, there is a pressure to be "genuine". I think this is not entirely stupid. If someone likes you for your good looking pictures but you never wear these kind of clothes / go to these kind of places, you're may be setting yourself up for failure.

On the other hand, in my own experience, getting matches on apps like Tinder has proved to be the bottleneck — people like me well enough when they meet me, but it's hard to shine whatever they like about me through the pictures. So sweetening the honeypot might not be that bad of a strategy.

Nevertheless, the sentiment that matches obtained through more "genuine" pictures might be better suited might not be wrong. I guess you have to use feedback: are you happy with the matches you get? Why? If you deem they're "low quality", maybe you should sell yourself more. If you have too many shallow matches, maybe you should filter more (but consider that this filtering might eliminate the matches you do find desirable). Said otherwise (a) an increase in quantity is not necessarily an increase in quality and (b) a decrease in quantity is not necessarily an increase in quality. But they might be.

Comment by norswap on Sets and Functions · 2019-10-14T22:19:26.164Z · LW · GW

Here is what confuses me: from before, I thought morphisms were "just" arrows between objects, with a specific identity.

But in the case of functions, we have to smuggle in the set of ordered pairs that define them. Do you simply equate the identity of a function with this set definition?

That might be fine, but it means there needs to be some kind of ... semantics? that gives us the "meaning" (~ implementation) of composition based on the "meaning" (the set of ordered pairs) of the composed morphisms.

Am I right here?

Comment by norswap on What's your favorite notetaking system? · 2019-10-07T23:04:31.205Z · LW · GW

I'll add the biggest minus in my book:

Potential alternatives:

Comment by norswap on Candy for Nets · 2019-10-07T22:44:18.663Z · LW · GW

This was a really heartwarming story that brought a smile to my face!

I'd like to give a special shout-out to

As we go I'm going to continue to try very hard not to pressure or manipulate her, while still giving advice and helping her explore her motivations here.

That's very important indeed.

Comment by norswap on How good is the case for retraining yourself to sleep on your back? · 2019-09-30T22:19:39.213Z · LW · GW

I watched one or two videos of this channel a while back and was impressed by the seemingly solid - but non-conventional - argument (it was on salt intake). I subscribed and was *dismayed* by further videos. I wouldn't put much stock into the either the research being quoted (if you didn't review it yourself) nor the treatment of the research made by this channel.

That being said, I haven't watched this particular video. What it says might all be true.

Comment by norswap on Compilers/PLs book recommendation? · 2019-08-06T02:05:10.447Z · LW · GW

Not a very pointed answer, but a collection of leads:

Most books I can find on compilers/PLs tend to spend most of their time on the text representation (and algorithms for translating programs out of text, i.e. parsing) and the machine-code representation (and algorithms for translating programs into machine code).

There are good reasons for the time spent on them — they are more difficult than the parts that go in the middle, which is "merely" software engineering, although of an unusual kind.

There is also a dearth on resources on the topic. And because of that, it is actually fairly hard.

One reason is that the basics of it is quite simple: generate a tree as the output of parsing, then transform this tree. Generate derivative trees and graphs from these trees to perform particular analyses.

Phrased like that, it seems that knowledge on how to work with trees and graphs is going to serve you well, and that is indeed correct.

A good read (though with a very narrow focus) is that discussion of syntax tree architecture in Roslyn. The Roslyn whitepaper is also quite interesting though more oriented towards exposing compiler features to user.

Personally, I did some research on trying to implement name resolution (relating an identifier user to its declaration site) and typing as a reactive framework: you would define the typing rules for you language by defining inference rules, e.g. once your type the type of node A and the type of node B, you can derive the type of node C. The reactive part was then to simply find the applicable inference rules and run them.

The project didn't really pan out. In reality, the logic ends looking quite obfuscated and it's just easier to write some boring non-modular old code where the logic is readily apparent.

(Incidentally, fighting against this "it's easier to just code it manually" effect — but in parsing — is what my PhD thesis is about.)

I might advise you to look at research done on the Spoofax language workbench. Spoofax includes declarative language to specify name binding, typing, semantics and more. These languages do not offer enormous flexibility but they cover the most common language idioms. Since those were codified in a formal system (the declarative language), it might tell you something about the structure of the underlying problem (... which is not really about something quite as simple as data structure selection, but there you have it).

For purposes of this question, I'm not particularly interested in either of these representations - they're not very natural data structures for representing programs, and we mostly use them because we have to.

I'd like to point out I have seen very convincing arguments to the contrary. One argument in particular was that while the data structures used to represent program will tend to change (for engineering reasons, supporting new features, ...), the text representation stays constant. This was made in the context of a macro system, I believe (defending the use of quasiquotes).

Regarding machine code, it would be immensely useful even if we didn't need to run code on CPUs. Look at virtual machines: they work with bytecode. A list of sequential instructions is just the extremum of the idea of translating high-level stuff into a more limited number of lower-level primitives that are easier to deal with.

Is there some other question I should be asking, e.g. a different term to search for?
On the meta-level, where else should I look/ask this question?

For academic literature on the topic, I would like at the proceedings of the GPCE (Generative Programming: Concepts & Experiences) and SLE (Software Language Engineering) conferences.

I think there exists some program transformation framework out there, and you might also learn something from them, though in my experience they're quite byzantine. One such is Rascal MPL (meta-programming language). Another is Stratego (part of Spoofax) (I read some papers on that one a while ago that were palatable).

So anyay, here goes. Hope it helps. You can contact me if you need more info!

Comment by norswap on Old Man Jevons Can’t Save You Now (Part 2/2) · 2019-07-29T22:35:20.807Z · LW · GW

I'd be more interested in the in-between: what about cases where we don't have general AI, but we have automation that drastically cuts jobs in a field, without causing counter-balancing wage increases or job creation in another field?

For instance, imagine the new technology is something really simple to manufacture (or worse, a new purpose for something we already manufacture en masse) — it's so easy to produce these things, we don't need really need to hire more workers, just push a couple levers and all the demand is met just like that.

Is there something interesting to be said about what happens then? Can this be modeled?

(In practice, even this is too extreme a scenario of course, everything sits on a continuum.)

Something more realistic, I think, is that even when a new useful machine and introduced, and the productivity of the producers of that machine shots up, the salaries of the machine-maker won't shot up in a way that is proportional (maybe it's easy to train people to make these machines?). And maybe the ratio skews: like automation will remove X people, and the increased demand for automation will get X/5 people hired. So on the one hand you get major job loss, and on the other a minor salary hike and minor job creation.

How to model what is lost here? Isn't there some kind of conservation law and the surplus disappears somewhere (presumably in the pockets of the shareholders of both the companies buying and producing the machines?).

Comment by norswap on When is rationality useful? · 2019-04-30T14:45:54.466Z · LW · GW

I think rationality ought to encompass more than explicit decision making (and I think there are plenty of writing on this website that show it does even within the community).

If you think of instrumental rationality of the science of how to win, then necessarily it entails considering things like how to setup your environment, unthinking habits, how to "hack" into your psyche/emotions.

Put otherwise, it seems you share your definition of Rationality with David Chapman (of https://meaningness.com/ ) — and I'm thinking of that + what he calls "meta-rationality".

So when is rationality relevant? Always! It's literally the science of how to make your life better / achieving your values.

Of course I'm setting that up by definition... And if you look at what's actually available community-wise, we still have a long way to go. But still, there is quite a bit of content about fundamentals ways in which to improve not all of which have to do with explicit decision making or an explicit step-by-step plan where each step is an action to carry explicitly.

Comment by norswap on Counterfactuals about Social Media · 2019-04-30T14:38:41.660Z · LW · GW

Seems to me you're on about treating (or more to the point, dreaming about treating) the cure rather than the symptoms that make people vulnerable to the social network sink in the first place. The same fundamental weakness probably has a lot of other failure modes.

Comment by norswap on Why does category theory exist? · 2019-04-29T22:49:18.584Z · LW · GW

Category theory, of which I'm acquainted with at a basic level, seems to formalize a lot of regularities I already knew about as a programmer and a student of <those mathematics topics that were taught to me as part of my CS master's degree>.

I found it mathematically neat, but I have never derived any useful insights from it. Said otherwise, nothing would have changed if I had never been introduced to it. This seems quite wrong to me, so I was quite interested in reading the answers here. Unfortunately, there is not much in ways of insight.

Comment by norswap on IRL 5/8: Maximum Causal Entropy IRL · 2019-04-04T22:25:15.739Z · LW · GW

What is this? The links seem to require some login and registration is limited to students of some specific universities.

Comment by norswap on Renaming "Frontpage" · 2019-03-12T00:53:26.815Z · LW · GW

Is it even possible to avoid for a curated selection to be deemed better? Maybe only if it fails horribly at what it set out to do, but otherwise?

I strongly second Michaël's recommendation — of any place, the front page of Less Wrong is where things should be clear.

Comment by norswap on When does introspection avoid the pitfalls of rumination? · 2019-02-25T01:58:46.869Z · LW · GW

For me, what separates mindfulness from rumination is that in mindfulness you observe things and accept them, whereas in rumination you're trying to fight or hold onto something.

Constantly reminiscing a slight is a good way to make it loom large. It's an unwillingness to either resolve the matter and letting it be.

Similarly, fighting some negative emotions (pain, loss, anger) makes them worse when they inevitably breaks through.

Comment by norswap on [deleted post] 2019-02-21T00:18:56.415Z

Great post! More of an exploration than a presentation, but a thoroughly enjoyable one.

Last year, I sat down with some hard thoughts about my own life philosophy, and came out with essentially the same conclusion: that enjoying life is about the process of getting somewhere rather than about actually getting there.

There are some intriguing new elements here, including the link with entropy (though I do tend to think that the ending is perhaps a tad too abstract and speculative).

I too, was inspired by reading and quotes, here are a few that guided me in this direction, the most related of which is perhaps:

What man actually needs is not some tension-less state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.
— Viktor Frankl

(feel free to reach out, there's a whole lot more of them)

I also can't resist to link this Hunter S Thompson letter, which is perhaps the piece of writing that has influenced me the most, and is completely in line with what you propose here.

Comment by norswap on In what way has the generation after us "gone too far"? · 2019-01-24T14:44:33.783Z · LW · GW

You should probably specify which generation you're in =)

I'm 28. I don't know that the next generation has "gone too far", but the big difference I see between them and my generation is that we were the last generation to grow up without pervasive internet / smartphones / social networks. Facebook boomed (at least in Europe) right as I entered college.

What it entails is a lack of focus. I won't say my generation is very focused, but the next one is certainly worse. As a TA, I can witness this firsthand.

Comment by norswap on What are the open problems in Human Rationality? · 2019-01-22T14:11:28.439Z · LW · GW

For applied rationality, my 10% improvement problem: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Aq8QSD3wb2epxuzEC/the-10-improvement-problem

Basically, how do you notice small (10% or less) improvements in areas that are hard to quantify. This is important, because after reaping the low-hanging fruits, stacking those small improvements is how you get ahead.

Comment by norswap on I want it my way! · 2019-01-07T22:42:46.898Z · LW · GW

I thought the piece was interesting.

If I can offer some feedback on form, I also thought it was too long for what it did say, and conversely did not say some things I would have wanted it to.

For me, the gist of the article really is this:

What I really wanted out of the system, in each case, wasn't the most valuable thing to get, or what it had to teach me. What I wanted was me, and my own beliefs, and for everything to stay the same, so that my prime directive would be met.

This is somewhat relatable. It's intriguing! But

  • is it true? I'm having some doubts. If I'm taking on some endeavour, or even some experiment, my goal isn't to be confirmed in my current identity. But could my current identity be a force that acts against that endeavour or the honest fullfilment of the experiment? Probably. Would you agree or do you see this differently?
  • Where does this come from?
  • What to do about it?
Comment by norswap on Akrasia is confusion about what you want · 2018-12-31T16:39:22.737Z · LW · GW

Would the tl;dr "integrate the evidence presented by revealed preferences" be accurate?

Comment by norswap on Why Don't Creators Switch to their Own Platforms? · 2018-12-25T21:54:01.259Z · LW · GW

Putting technical limitations aside (which are a huge deal, at the very least for video), the problem is that the audiences were built using the platform, and don't carry over easily.

The creators were able to build their audiences because, notably

  • The platforms have idle eyeballs actively looking for good content *on the platform*. No one google for content these days, only for answers.
  • The recommendation algorithms sometimes work, or at least you can make them work for you. Even if you have to figure out the peculiarities in the algorithm, this is vastly simpler than cracking global marketing. And again, active digital marketing for content typical passes through social media anyway! This is were the people are, and it's where they look, and it's where they will stumble on you if they're not looking.
  • The alternative is being so damn appealing that you'll spread by word of mouth. And even then, you'd do better on a platform, it's just an incredible force multiplier.

The audiences don't carry over because, simply put, they are living on the platform. It's centralized. They consume many things there, so they will check it. Most people don't know RSS and it's being phased out of many browsers. You'll lose most of your subscribers.

And you are wrong, the algorithms do account for many of the views of the top creators, on top of their subscribers.

Could they survive without the platform? Of course! Would they do better? No chance.

Finally, anger at the platform is generally at being less good than it used to be. But think about, for instance, demonetization on YouTube. Well, you can still sign your own deals and include your own ads in the videos. If you leave the platform, you have to do this. But if you stay there, it's still an option.

Comment by norswap on Experiences of Self-deception · 2018-12-25T19:42:59.869Z · LW · GW

Brings two things to mind:

  • The Dark Arts of Rationality series and its compartmentalization and inconsistency techniques. I'm toying with that a bit, but I don't have a good account to give yet.
  • The fact (apparently) that placebo work even if you know they are placebo.

So I'd say that clearly many people are getting self-reported benefits from self-deception.

Key in understanding the phenomenon is the system 1 / system 2 (fast / slow) distinction. Typically you know in system 2 that you are deceiving yourself but you act out the deception in system 1.

Comment by norswap on Gwern about centaurs: there is no chance that any useful man+machine combination will work together for more than 10 years, as humans soon will be only a liability · 2018-12-25T19:03:42.944Z · LW · GW

I don't think one can generalize so easily from bounded-options full-information games like those to the whole range of human endeavours.

Comment by norswap on Rationality Is Not Systematized Winning · 2018-11-14T10:19:11.699Z · LW · GW

I'm reading this, and it seems very reasonable, and then:

Changing our perspective might have significant benefits. Systematized winning is not an actionable definition. Most domains already have field specific knowledge on how to win, and in aggregate these organized practices are called society. The most powerful engine of systematized winning developed thus far is civilization.

So, assume civilization is a set of guidelines that dictate a course of actions. Just like rationality in fact. How can this beat rationality? If it dictates the correct course of actions, rationality will too. And often, rationality can suggest something more effective.

The possible counters c are: (a) rationality is hard work, and mostly sticking with civilization is fine. (b) Or you're not a good enough rationalist (or have enough good information) to beat civilizational guidelines.

But the article does not really suggest those. It says civilization is already winning. Well, it all hinges on the definition of winning. But it's quite clear you can achieve better outcomes through rationality if that's what you care about and are not put off by the extra work (counter (a)).

The counters are interesting but ultimately irrelevant. You can actually rationality arrive at (a): determining that the cost incurred by practicing rationality is more than the benefits accrued. That being said, it's so general a statement, I don't think anyone it can be true for anyone capable to think the thoughts. You can also rationally arrive at (b), and in fact, if it's true you should: civilization IS evidence, and it has to be valued accurately. If civilization guidelines keep trumping your best guesses, the weight of civilizational evidence should increase accordingly.

Comment by norswap on Rationality of demonstrating & voting · 2018-11-12T23:25:32.050Z · LW · GW

Why bother voting? Your vote will only change the result if it would otherwise be an exact tie; and the chance of that is negligible – one in millions.
But a chance of one in millions is worth taking if the jackpot is billions or trillions. That is, the opportunity for you to select a better rather than worse government, thereby making the country – though not yourself – billions or trillions of dollars better off. So as long as you care at least slightly about the rest of the country, voting is rational; civic duty really is a reason to vote.

That's an incredibly spurious premise right from the bat. Personally, I don't care all that much if the country is billions or trillions better off... That's ranging from single-digit dollar amounts to a couple hundreds. Also that's supposing the government has this kind of influence (esp. if you counter the last by positing bigger amounts). Also as long as people are not going into poverty, I still mostly care about myself.

People hate to hear this, and I usually don't bring it up because it's counterproductive, but: voting is not rational except in very small elections. The problem is that if everyone thinks this, you have a serious problem. Yep, that's the tragedy of the commons.

A possible way to solve the issue is to make the vote legally mandatory (which is the case in my country - Belgium). This might lead to more uninformed ballots being cast, but I'm not entirely sure (most of the ballots are uninformed regardless).

Comment by norswap on Criticism Scheduling and Privacy · 2018-10-06T23:43:11.811Z · LW · GW

Bravo! This essay is very well put together, and it make my mind go "bling" a couple times.

I have experienced guilt for not taking well to criticism, and I feel this piece helps to explain why: the criticism didn't address my own unsatisfaction with the work, nor highlight what I thought was an important shortcoming. Looking forward, it required things of me without actually helping me making something better. But as you mentioned, feedback (just an alias for criticism) is almost sacred is certain circles nowadays.