What is moral foundation theory good for? 2012-08-12T05:03:29.457Z
The MIT Mystery Hunt and the Illusion of Transparency 2012-01-19T07:34:41.661Z


Comment by novalis on Is the orthogonality thesis at odds with moral realism? · 2013-11-11T06:20:38.801Z · LW · GW

So you have to start defining "morality" any you figure out pretty quickly that no one has the least idea how to do that in a way that doesn't rapidly lead to disastrous consequences.

No, because it's possible that there genuinely is a possible total ordering, but that nobody knows how to figure out what it is. "No human always knows what's right" is not an argument against moral realism, any more than "No human knows everything about God" is an argument against theism.

(I'm not a moral realist or theist)

Comment by novalis on Halloween thread - rationalist's horrors. · 2013-11-03T07:35:21.140Z · LW · GW

Unless you were both influenced by Perelandra, in which case the odds are much higher.

Comment by novalis on A Voting Puzzle, Some Political Science, and a Nerd Failure Mode · 2013-10-12T00:30:13.127Z · LW · GW

I actually think of Chesterton's fence argument as a rhetorical move. I imagine that some hypothetical "Alice" says, "I can't see any reason for this", in order to force their opponent to justify something which was historically justified by values which are considered obsolete -- for instance, "I can't see any reason why same-sex couples should not marry". Well, Alice probably can see reasons, but if Alice gives those reasons, she is doing her opponent's job. If she instead says, "The only reason for this is bigotry," Chesterton will say, "It's mean to call me a bigot." So Alice goes with, "I can't see any reason for this." And Chesterton, cleverly says, "Well, if you can't see the reason for it, it's because you're not thinking."

Note: neither Alice nor Chesterton are arguing in good faith here.

Comment by novalis on A Voting Puzzle, Some Political Science, and a Nerd Failure Mode · 2013-10-11T23:45:26.478Z · LW · GW

while Democrats could run pretty much the same campaign in the primaries as well as the general election.

Democrats in fact differ between the primary and the general election. Off the top of my head, consider Obama's shift on FISA from 2007 (voted against) to post-primary 2008 (voted for telecom immunity).

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-10-11T23:20:51.045Z · LW · GW

I recently came across this, which seems to have some evidence in my favor (and some irrelevant stuff):

Comment by novalis on Help us Optimize the Contents of the Sequences eBook · 2013-09-20T17:54:04.592Z · LW · GW


Comment by novalis on How sure are you that brain emulations would be conscious? · 2013-08-24T17:13:24.208Z · LW · GW

Before I tell my suicidal friends to volunteer, I want to make sure that your experimental design is good. What experiment are you proposing?

Comment by novalis on Humans are utility monsters · 2013-08-20T04:46:43.725Z · LW · GW

You mean, have not yet expressed an opinion in a way that you understand.

Anyway, the fact that slaves and ex-slaves did advocate for the rights of slaves indicates that closeness to a problem does not necessarily lead one to ignore it.

Comment by novalis on Humans are utility monsters · 2013-08-20T04:42:40.724Z · LW · GW

That doesn't work for preference utilitarians (it would strongly prefer to remain alive).

Comment by novalis on Humans are utility monsters · 2013-08-19T06:31:15.198Z · LW · GW

Um, what about the actual slaves and ex-slaves?

Comment by novalis on Humans are utility monsters · 2013-08-19T06:29:35.819Z · LW · GW

Isn't there an equivalent negative utility monster, who is really in a ferociously large amount of pain right now?

Comment by novalis on Humans are utility monsters · 2013-08-17T00:49:34.767Z · LW · GW

why should I care?

Isn't this an objection to any theory of ethics?

Comment by novalis on Humans are utility monsters · 2013-08-17T00:23:41.390Z · LW · GW

Presumably, that's diminishing marginal returns relative to dollars input. In other words, "You can only drink 30 or 40 glasses of beer a day, no matter how rich you are."

Comment by novalis on Does Checkers have simpler rules than Go? · 2013-08-13T20:10:31.497Z · LW · GW

Yes, but we can generalize the games (which is what Hearn and Demain do), and see how the solving complexity changes with the size of the board. This is the only reasonable way to talk about the computational complexity of games.

Comment by novalis on Does Checkers have simpler rules than Go? · 2013-08-13T19:37:43.405Z · LW · GW

Well, it's not entirely unrelated, since jkaufman says:

Go is the most interesting of the three, and has stood up to centuries of analysis and play, but Dots and Boxes is surprisingly complex (pdf) and there used to be professional Checkers players.

The interest here is not provided by the complexity of the rules themselves, but by the complexity of solving the games (or, rather, playing them well, but this is probably related). One can easily imagine games with very complex rules that nonetheless admit simple strategies and are thus boring.

Comment by novalis on Does Checkers have simpler rules than Go? · 2013-08-13T02:34:49.321Z · LW · GW

You might also look at the computation complexity of solving the games. Games, Puzzles, and Computations, by Hearn and Demaine would be relevant here. Dots and Boxes is apparently NP-hard; a variant of Go called Rengo Kriegspiel might be undecidable; NxN Checkers is Exptime-complete.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-09T17:29:26.980Z · LW · GW

The right comparison is to compare that to how much you'd be bothered if you had to clean up the mess left by an incompetent coworker. Or having to deal with an incompetent bogon in middle management.

Unsurprisingly, I've had to deal with both of these things. It has never seemed to me that yelling at someone could make them more competent. Educating them, or firing them and replacing them seems like a better plan.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-07T21:46:33.990Z · LW · GW

[Linus]: And I do it partly (mostly) because it's who I am, and partly because I honestly despise being subtle or "nice".

Steelman this. I am pretty sure that in the North European culture being "subtle or nice" is dangerously close to being dishonest. You do not do anyone a favour by pretending he's doing OK while in reality he's clearly not doing OK. There is a difference between being direct and blunt - and being mean and nasty.

I don't understand what you're saying here. Are you saying that anyone is proposing that Linus to act in a way that he would see as dishonest? Because I don't think that's the proposal. Consider the difference between these three statements:

  • Only a fucking idiot would think it's OK to frobnicate a beezlebib in the kernel.
  • It is not OK to frobnicate a beezlebib in the kernel.
  • I would prefer that you not frobnicate a beezlebib in the kernel.

The first one is rude, the second one is blunt, the third one is subtle/tactful/whatever. Linus appears to think that people are asking for subtle, when instead they're merely asking for not-rude. Blunt could even be:

  • When you frobnicate a beezlebib, it fucks the primary hairball inverters, so never do that.

So he doesn't even have to stop cursing.

As I said, Linus' style is proven to work. We know it works well. An alternative style might work better or it might not -- we don't know.

There are many FOSS projects that don't use Linus's style and do work well. What's so special about Linux?

I suspect you have a strong prior but no evidence.

I've run a free/open source project; I tried to run it in a friendly way, and it worked out well (and continues to do so even after all of the original developers have left).

I can also point to Karl Fogel's book "Producing Open Source Software", where he says that rudeness shouldn't be tolerated. He's worked on a number of free/open source projects, so he's had the chance to experience a bunch of different styles.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-07T18:25:19.574Z · LW · GW

Since OSS projects are easy to create and it's easy for developers to move from project to project

Creating projects is easy; forking is hard. And nobody wants to create a new kernel from scratch. Kernel hackers don't really have a lot of options. So I don't think your theoretical world has anything to do with the real world. Also, it seems to me that culture doesn't end up contained within a single project; Linux depends on GCC, for instance, so the Linux people have to interact with the GCC people. Which means that culture will bleed over. I was recently at a technical conference and a guy there said, "yeah, security is perhaps the only community that's less friendly than Linux kernel development." So now it's not just one project that's off-limits, but a whole field.

I also don't think there are necessarily any actual roar-and-smash types. That is, I think a fair number of people think it's fun to lay a beatdown on some uppity schmuck. I've experienced that myself, certainly. Why else would anyone bother wasting time arguing with creationists? But I'm not sure there are a lot of people who find it fun to be on the losing end of this. This is an extension of Arguments as Soldiers. When you're having a knock-down, drag-out fight with someone, it's harder to back down.

Notice that the original example of a person in that category was Mannie O'Kelly -- a fictional character.

Put yourself into manager's shoes


And I do it partly (mostly) because it's who I am, and partly because I honestly despise being subtle or "nice".

(later in that email, he does give a nod to effectiveness, but that doesn't seem to be his primary motivator).

I think it remains an open question whether Linus's style is in fact better than the alternative from the "get shit done" perspective. And the original quote implied, without evidence, that in fact it is. Not really sure why this is a "rationality" quote.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-07T05:53:31.822Z · LW · GW

Do you think we have a basic difference in values or there's some evidence which might push one of us towards the other one's position?

That's a pretty good question.

Hypothesis: I think some of it might be a case of the "Typical Mind Fallacy". Maybe if Linus yelled at you, you wouldn't be bothered at all. But I know that my day would be ruined, and I would be less productive all week. So I assume that many people are like me, and you assume that many people are like you.

I would be curious about a controlled experiment, where free/open source project leaders were told to act more/less like Linus for a month to see what would happen. But I guess that's pretty unlikely to happen. And one confounder is that a lot of people might have already left (or never joined) the free/open source community because of attitudes like Linus's. We could measure project popularity (say, by number of stars on github) against some rating of a project's friendliness.

We might also survey programmers in general about what forces do/don't encourage them to work on specific free/open source projects.

I'm sure there are studies available of what sorts of management are effective generally. I'll ask my MBA friend. I did a two-minute Google search for studies about what cause people to leave their jobs generally, but found a such a variety of conflicting data that I decided it would need more time than I have.

These things could definitely influence me to change my mind.

I also think there might be a value difference, in that I do value fun pretty highly. That's especially true in the free/open source world, where nobody's getting rich, and where a lot of people are volunteers (this last is less true on Linux than on some other projects, but perhaps part of that is that all of the volunteers have been driven away)? But in general, I would like to enjoy the thing I spent eight (or twelve) hours a day on. And if even if this did make me somewhat less productive than I would be if I was less happy, I don't really mind that much.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-07T02:10:51.510Z · LW · GW

I hope you didn't take my position to be that yelling at people is always the right thing to do. There certainly is lots of yelling which is stupid, unjustified, and not useful in any sense.

The issue is whether yelling can ever be useful. You are saying that no, it can never be. I disagree.

No, the issue is whether Linus's yelling is useful, or, whether yelling is generally useful enough in free/open source projects that it outweighs the costs. Specifically, whether "Let’s drive away people unwilling to adopt that “git’r'done” attitude with withering scorn, rather than waste our time pacifying tender-minded ninnies and grievance collectors. That way we might continue to actually, you know, get stuff done." is good or bad advice.

Given this, I'm suspicious of claims that Linus' way is "non-optimal", especially if there is the strong underlying current of "I, personally, don't like it".

You should be even more suspicious, then, of Linus saying that it's necessary and proper, given that he's said that he, personally, does like it.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-07T02:05:09.053Z · LW · GW

Bill Gates failed to create an organization that would thrive in his absence. We'll see how Steve Jobs did in a few more years (it seems likely that he did better, but he also had the famous "reality distortion field", which Linus doesn't). Steve Jobs also got kicked out of his own company for a bunch of years.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-07T01:31:55.395Z · LW · GW

touching the electric fence did not make me a more productive worker.

How do you know?

Well, I can tell you that afterwards, I felt like shit and didn't get much done for a while. Or I started looking for a new job (whether or not I ended up taking one, this takes time and mental energy away from my current job). And getting yelled at has never seemed to me to correlate with me actually being wrong, so I'm not clear on how it would have changed my behavior.

I'm saying that it's not optimal.

How do you know? (other than in a trivial sense that anything in real life is not going to be optimal)

You're making naked assertions without providing evidence.

Upthread, you linked to an article which quotes someone saying, "Thanks for standing up for politeness/respect. If it works, I'll start doing Linux kernel dev. It's been too scary for years." I also pointed out, in my discussion of the rdrand thread, that Linus wastes a bunch of time by being cantankerous. And speaking of the rdrand thread (which I swear I didn't choose as my example for this reason; I really did just stumble across it a few weeks ago), your linked article also quoted Matt Mackall, whom Linus yelled at in that thread: he's no longer a kernel hacker. Is Linus's attitude why? Well, he's complained about Linus's attitude before, and shortly after that thread, he ceased posting on LKML. And he's probably pretty smart -- he wrote Mercurial -- so it's a shame for the kernel to lose him.

I can tell you that I, personally, would be uninterested in working under Linus, although kernel development isn't really my area of expertise, so maybe I don't count.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-07T01:30:01.965Z · LW · GW

Yes, I used to work for RMS; I am well aware of the difference. I should also note that most of the systems you mention use proprietary kernel modules; it would be better if they didn't, and perhaps if Linus's attitude were different, there would be more interest in fixing the problem.

Also, desktops are where I spend most of my time, so I think they still matter a lot.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-06T23:17:29.763Z · LW · GW

Ahem. I think you mean to say that you never touched the electric fence. Doesn't mean the fence is not there.

No, I mean that touching the electric fence did not make me a more productive worker.

The fact that kernel development goes on and goes on pretty successfully is evidence that your concerns are overblown.

I'm not saying that Linus's style will inevitably lead to instant doom. That would be silly. I'm saying that it's not optimal. Linux hasn't exactly taken over the world yet, so there's definitely room for improvement.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-06T19:34:48.545Z · LW · GW

The incentives include both carrots and sticks and sticks are punishments and are meant to be so. If you want to talk about carrots-only management styles, well, that's a different discussion.

For what it's worth, I've never worked at a place that successfully used aversive stimulus. And, since the job market for programmers is so hot, I can't imagine that anyone would willingly do so (outside the games industry, which is a weird case). This is especially true of kernel hackers, who are all highly qualified developers who could find work easily.

I disagree. You treat fun and enjoyment of working at some place as the ultimate, terminal value. It is not. The goal of working is to produce, to create, to make. Whether it's "fun" is subordinate to that. Sure, there are feedback loops, but organizations which exist for the benefit of their employees (to make their life comfortable and "fun") are not a good thing.

I would point out that Linus Torvalds's autobiography is called "Just for Fun". Also, Linus doesn't have employees. Yes, he does manage Linux, but he doesn't employ anyone. I also pointed out a number of ways in which Linus's style was harmful to productivity.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-06T17:07:03.013Z · LW · GW

I think it's pretty clear that Linus is more on the power-play end of the spectrum. Notice his comment above about the Android developer; that's not someone who is part of his microculture (the person in question was a developer on the Android email client, not a kernel hacker). And again, the shouting-as-punishment thing shows that Linus understands the effect that he has, but doesn't care.

Also, Linus, as the person in the position of power, isn't in a position to judge whether his culture is fun. Of course it's fun for him, because he's at the top. "I was just joking around" is always what bullies say when they get called out. The real question is whether it's fun for others. The recent discussion (that presumably sparked the quotes in this thread) was started by someone who didn't find it fun. So even if there are some "good reasons" (none of which you have named), they don't necessarily outweigh the reasons not to have such a culture.

Comment by novalis on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-04T01:47:11.460Z · LW · GW

Linux kernel seems to me a quite well-managed operation (of herding cats, too!) that doesn't waste lots of time on flame wars.

I don't follow kernel development much. Recently, a colleague pointed me to the rdrand instruction. I was curious about Linux kernel support for it, and I found this thread:

Notice that Linus spends a bunch of time (a) flaming people and (b) being wrong about how crypto works (even though the issue was not relevant to the patch).

Is this typical of the linux-kernel mailing list? I decided to look at the latest hundred messages. I saw some minor rudeness, but nothing at that level. Of course, none of these messages were from Linus. But I didn't have to go back more than a few days to find Linus saying things like, "some ass-wipe inside the android team." Imagine if you were that Android developer, and you were reading that email? Would that make you want to work on Linux? Or would that make you want to go find a project where the leader doesn't shit on people?

Here's a revealing quote from one recent message from Linus: "Otherwise I'll have to start shouting at people again." Notice that Linus perceives shouting as a punishment. He's right to do so, as that's how people take it. Sure, "don't get offended", "git 'er done", etc -- but realistically, developers are human and don't necessarily have time to do a bunch of CBT so that they can brush off insults.

Some people, I guess, can continue to be productive after their project leader insults them. The rest either have periodic drops in productivity, or choose to work on projects which are run by people willing to act professionally.

tl;dr: Would you put up with a boss who frequently called you an idiot in public?

Comment by novalis on Fake Explanations in Modern Science: The Case of Inefficiency · 2013-07-25T23:43:10.376Z · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure that argument proves too much: A watermelon substitutes for some other watermelon that I might have bought, so my grocer is worse off because the value of their watermelons are now slightly lower.

Comment by novalis on The Robots, AI, and Unemployment Anti-FAQ · 2013-07-24T22:17:27.661Z · LW · GW

I'd pay $5/hour for someone to drive me almost anywhere if availability was coordinated by Uber, but not taxi prices... This looks to me like a barrier-to-entry, regulatory-and-tax scenario, not "Darn it we're too rich and running out of things for labor to do!"

Federal minimum wage has been falling relative to productivity for decades. Also, Australia has a much higher minimum wage than the US but a lower unemployment rate. They also don't have at-will employment, implying that the risks of hiring are larger. So I'm not sure the regulations are actually the problem here (that said, I oppose many of them anyway on various grounds).

Comment by novalis on Fake Explanations in Modern Science: The Case of Inefficiency · 2013-07-24T17:38:24.422Z · LW · GW

Armen Alchian, the most powerful economist ever

... whom nobody has ever heard of? Like, he's not a Nobel prize winner or anything.

Also, isn't this post sort of meaningless? That is, doesn't it simply boil down to saying "everything is the way it is, and it couldn't be any other way"?

For instance, imagine that I walk by a $20 bill on the street (for the sake of argument, let's say that immediately after I walk by it, it's blown into a storm drain and destroyed). I miss it because I'm looking up in order to count air conditioners, which I'm doing because I had an argument with my landlord, which happened because because because and so on back to the beginning of the universe. Clearly, me picking up that $20 would have been a Pareto-improvement. Was it "possible"? Here's one post that discusses that.

Variants on the $20 scenario have on occasion actually happened. It's not interesting to say that me picking up the $20 "couldn't" have happened. What's interesting is how we make decisions; how we decide that certain states are/are not reachable. If we had access to the mind of God (metaphorically), the only "possible" states would those states in the actual world. There would be no scenario that was not Pareto-efficient, because there would be only one possible scenario.

Comment by novalis on Why Eat Less Meat? · 2013-07-24T00:37:07.653Z · LW · GW

It would take a serious marketing campaign. But Givewell seems to be increasingly popular -- they would probably promote a well-designed program.

Comment by novalis on Why Eat Less Meat? · 2013-07-23T23:04:32.694Z · LW · GW

I was going to ask what you thought about but it is completely fucking useless: "The Animal Care Standards for Chickens Used in Broiler Production do not require that chickens have access to range." So nevermind.

So instead I'll ask why a meaningful set of standards doesn't exist. Step 5, maybe? Their web site sucks, because it doesn't give me a searchable list of products, but maybe they just need some help.

Anyway, this seems like it would be a way more effective thing for EAA to do than just about anything else -- I bet lots more people would be willing to pay more for meat, than would be convinceable to eat less meat directly.

Comment by novalis on Why Eat Less Meat? · 2013-07-23T22:10:51.279Z · LW · GW

This essay's thesis is that we should eat less meat, but its evidence is only that factory-farmed meat is a problem.

Most (but not all) of the meat I eat is not factory-farmed. The coop where I buy my meat says (pdf) that it buys only "humanely and sustainably raised" meat and poultry ... from animals that are free to range on chemical-free pastures, raised on a grass-based diet with quality grain used only as necessary, never given hormones and produced and processed by small-scale farmers." (For eggs, the coop does offer less-humane options, but I only buy the most-humane ones).

I might stop eating most of the factory-farmed meat that I eat. It would simply mean never eating out at non-frou-frou places. The exception would be dealing with non-local family (for local family, I could simply bring meat from the coop to share).

That said, it's hard to know when a restaurant is serving humanely raised meat. It seems like it would be nice to have a site where I could type in a restaurant's name, and find out who their suppliers are and what standards they adhere to. For the vast majority of restaurants, the answer would be that they just don't care. But, at least in NYC, it's common for foodie sorts of restaurants to list their suppliers. My favorite restaurant, Momofuku, for instance, sometimes specifically lists that some dish's meat is from e.g. Niman Ranch. Niman Ranch claims to raise their animals humanely. Do they really? And such a site would increase the pressure on restaurants to choose humane suppliers.

Comment by novalis on Valuable economics knowledge available, ironically, for free · 2013-07-19T04:59:31.933Z · LW · GW

See among others:

More tendentiously,

(Edit: removed irrelevant bit)

Comment by novalis on "Can we know what to do about AI?": An Introduction · 2013-07-10T05:05:40.575Z · LW · GW

I'm not a military historian (I'm not any kind of historian), but it strikes me that there are probably lots of examples of military planning which turned out to be for the wrong war or wrong technological environment. Like putting rams on ships in the late 19th Century:

No other ironclad was ever sunk by an enemy ship in time of war by the use of the ram, although the ram was regarded by all major navies for some 30 years as primary battleship armament. A number of ships were, however, rammed in peacetime by ships of their own navy.

On the other hand, Dwight Eisenhower said, "in preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." So, it might make sense for MIRI to think about what interventions would be useful -- even if nothing they think of is directly useful.

Comment by novalis on "Can we know what to do about AI?": An Introduction · 2013-07-09T21:03:27.185Z · LW · GW

Do you have a sense for the size of the threat that Y2K presented?

Some competing cost estimates. I tend towards the "fix it when it fails" side of things, but that is a tendency not a rule.

And a related issue

Albania spent billions of dollars on useless bunkers in case of an invasion.

Can you give a reference? Who did they anticipate potential invasion from?

Bunkers - invasion from the US or the USSR; cost was twice the Maginot Line, which Wikipedia elsewhere describes as 3 billion French Francs.

this is the conversion to 2012 Euros

Comment by novalis on "Can we know what to do about AI?": An Introduction · 2013-07-09T20:40:22.157Z · LW · GW

Here, for example:

Why? Three possible reasons. First, the Brave New World Factor: Research cloning gives man too much power for evil. Second, the Slippery Slope: The habit of embryonic violation is in and of itself dangerous. Violate the blastocyst today and every day, and the practice will inure you to violating the fetus or even the infant tomorrow. Third, Manufacture: The very act of creating embryos for the sole purpose of exploiting and then destroying them will ultimately predispose us to a ruthless utilitarianism about human life itself.

All of these are speculative.

And here:

Human cloning violates the precautionary principle A foundation of environmentalism, the precautionary principle requires that people must consider the consequences of their actions before they carry them out. The genetic engineering field is infamous for some of the unintended and unforeseen effects of genetic modification, such as the Bt corn’s harmful effects on the Monarch butterfly.

Comment by novalis on "Can we know what to do about AI?": An Introduction · 2013-07-09T19:24:23.434Z · LW · GW

Many countries now or in the past have banned human cloning. There are a number of justifications for this, but some of them center around speculative risks.

Comment by novalis on "Can we know what to do about AI?": An Introduction · 2013-07-09T19:17:46.355Z · LW · GW

Some random examples:

Y2K mitigation.

Doris Lessing's "Report on the Threatened City" (I found it unreadable, so this is not a recommendation) points out that Californians live with the constant threat of a major earthquake. A big enough quake could kill millions, although a quake of that magnitude would be rather infrequent. In general, seismic, volcanic, and weather events are a matter of when, not whether, so perhaps this is not quite in the right reference class.

Albania spent billions of dollars on useless bunkers in case of an invasion.

Comment by novalis on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 19, chapter 88-89 · 2013-06-30T20:45:17.212Z · LW · GW

Maybe this is the moment to ask why Hermione isn't already the hero of HP:MOR. If the point of HP:MOR is that someone who is smart and rational (and raised by smart/rational muggles) would immediately find a million holes in the Potter-verse, why not start with the character who is already known to be the smart one, and is at least a bit more rational than canon Harry? Sure, there's some issues with the prophesies -- but (rot13 for spoiler) Hayhaqha had a pretty good solution to that.

Comment by novalis on An attempt at a short no-prerequisite test for programming inclination · 2013-06-30T17:27:43.623Z · LW · GW

The indirection syntax should be rewritten to be left to right.

I don't actually think so. The final answer is simply f(g(h(x))), which is a perfectly normal thing to see in programming.

That said, I still think it's a bad test. It involves no reasoning whatsoever -- merely following instructions carefully. I'm a reasonably good programmer, but sometimes a bit sloppy (that's why I write tests). So, I ended up with the correct final answer but a wrong number in one of the boxes.

Comment by novalis on Book: AKA Shakespeare (an extended Bayesian investigation) · 2013-06-28T18:20:04.126Z · LW · GW

Well-calibrated means that your certainty matches your odds of correctness. Do we really think that Beatrice can make ten trillion statements of this form and have only one of them be wrong? Even if she uses "Bayesian" methods? Or, if you prefer the wagering approach -- do you really think she would bet at those odds?

Comment by novalis on Book: AKA Shakespeare (an extended Bayesian investigation) · 2013-06-28T18:14:41.640Z · LW · GW

It promotes, among other bullshit, equidistant letter sequences.

Comment by novalis on Initial Thoughts on Personally Finding a High-Impact Career · 2013-06-20T04:17:29.291Z · LW · GW

was there a meta-charity category before Give Well?

Yes: Guidestar has been around for quite some time.

Comment by novalis on Initial Thoughts on Personally Finding a High-Impact Career · 2013-06-20T04:16:01.081Z · LW · GW

Recall that in law, you're mostly dealing with people who have a problem. Yes, there is some transactional work, but it is usually either low-paying or at least somewhat adversarial. Will dealing with miserable people all day make you miserable? If so, skip law.

For programming, if you follow the path that LW recommends, you should be able to tell within a month or two whether you like it enough to continue.

I would be surprised to learn that market research pays well. I just Googled, and this was the first hit that had salary data. It's not terrible, but any of the other careers (except law, if you're not in the top tier) will do better. That's not surprising; there are a ton of psychology and political science majors produced every year.

Comment by novalis on Learning programming: so I've learned the basics of Python, what next? · 2013-06-18T19:21:23.370Z · LW · GW

That's totally a big area, yes. And if it's what excites Chris, then he should totally go for it. But it isn't my first recommendation, because most mobile apps are written in Objective C or Java, while Chris has learned Python. There's a fairly large amount of new stuff that one has to learn to transition from Python to a statically typed language, so it's not the most efficient path to a working app.

(It doesn't feel that different if you have been programming for a while, especially if you learned a statically-typed language first, but you've probably forgotten about having to learn about covariance/contravariance/invariance, or about memory allocation, or about type-casting).

Comment by novalis on Learning programming: so I've learned the basics of Python, what next? · 2013-06-18T00:10:23.052Z · LW · GW

Oh, and one more thing: Consider taking the Algorithms and Data Structures class on Coursera. It will make you a better programmer, and help you with job interviews. When I am interviewing programmers, I always ask candidates to name any algorithm or data structure and tell me how it works.

Comment by novalis on Learning programming: so I've learned the basics of Python, what next? · 2013-06-18T00:02:12.930Z · LW · GW
  1. Learn a framework for developing web applications. Specifically, learn Django.

    This is because most new applications are web applications, and because you can write a satisfying application without knowing much. Also, you get immediate feedback on your code -- you can see whether or not the app is coming out the way you want.

    Django is recommended because (a) it is written in Python, (b) it is relatively popular, and (c) it is similar to Rails, which is very, very popular and thus easy to get hired for.

  2. (in parallel with 1) Decide on an application that you want to write, and write it. Put the code on Github or Gitorious or Bitbucket (as you go -- not just once you finish).

  3. If you are exited about getting involved in free and open source software, it's usually best to work on a project that you actually use. That way, you at least understand some of how users expect the program to work. Unfortunately, the programs that you use are likely to be the ones used by zillions of other people, so much of the low-hanging fruit will be already plucked. But maybe you have a more obscure interest which involves software? For instance, I have added features to electronics schematic software, vector graphics software, an interactive fiction virtual machine, a search engine, and a bunch of other random stuff. If you don't see a feature you want to add or a bug you want to fix, just take a look on the bug tracker and see if anything catches your eye. Don't worry if you can't fix any given bug; if it were easy, someone would have done it already!

Comment by novalis on Rationality witticisms suitable for t-shirts or bumper stickers · 2013-06-17T05:42:24.964Z · LW · GW

If you want funny and pithy, I would recommend Catharine G. Evans, @aristosophy on twitter.