Posts

Against "blankfaces" 2021-08-08T23:00:04.126Z
Book Review: Order Without Law 2021-07-10T21:50:03.589Z
99% shorter 2021-05-27T19:50:03.532Z
philh's Shortform 2021-04-22T20:50:46.556Z
A command-line grammar of graphics 2021-03-30T20:30:03.071Z
Haskenthetical update: user-defined macros 2021-03-14T21:20:04.108Z
Specialized Labor and Counterfactual Compensation 2020-11-14T18:13:43.044Z
Against boots theory 2020-09-14T13:20:04.056Z
Classifying games like the Prisoner's Dilemma 2020-07-04T17:10:01.965Z
Short essays on various things I've watched 2020-06-12T22:50:01.957Z
Haskenthetical 2020-05-19T22:00:02.014Z
Chris Masterjohn on Coronavirus, Part 2 2020-04-28T21:50:01.430Z
In my culture: the responsibilities of open source maintainers 2020-04-13T13:40:01.174Z
Chris Masterjohn on Coronavirus, Part 1 2020-03-29T11:00:00.819Z
My Bet Log 2020-03-19T21:10:00.929Z
Tapping Out In Two 2019-12-05T23:10:00.935Z
The history of smallpox and the origins of vaccines 2019-12-01T20:51:29.618Z
The Effect pattern: Transparent updates in Elm 2019-10-20T20:00:01.101Z
London Rationalish meetup (part of SSC meetups everywhere) 2019-09-12T20:32:52.306Z
Is this info on zinc lozenges accurate? 2019-07-27T22:05:11.318Z
A reckless introduction to Hindley-Milner type inference 2019-05-05T14:00:00.862Z
"Now here's why I'm punching you..." 2018-10-16T21:30:01.723Z
Pareto improvements are rarer than they seem 2018-01-27T22:23:24.206Z
2017-10-08 - London Rationalish meetup 2017-10-04T14:46:50.514Z
Authenticity vs. factual accuracy 2016-11-10T22:24:38.810Z
Costs are not benefits 2016-11-03T21:32:07.811Z
GiveWell: A case study in effective altruism, part 1 2016-10-14T10:46:23.303Z
Six principles of a truth-friendly discourse 2016-10-08T16:56:59.994Z
Diaspora roundup thread, 23rd June 2016 2016-06-23T14:03:32.105Z
Diaspora roundup thread, 15th June 2016 2016-06-15T09:36:09.466Z
The Sally-Anne fallacy 2016-04-11T13:06:10.345Z
Meetup : London rationalish meetup - 2016-03-20 2016-03-16T14:39:40.949Z
Meetup : London rationalish meetup - 2016-03-06 2016-03-04T12:52:35.279Z
Meetup : London rationalish meetup, 2016-02-21 2016-02-20T14:09:42.635Z
Meetup : London Rationalish meetup, 7/2/16 2016-02-04T16:34:13.317Z
Meetup : London diaspora meetup: weird foods - 24/01/2016 2016-01-21T16:45:10.166Z
Meetup : London diaspora meetup, 10/01/2016 2016-01-02T20:41:05.950Z
Stupid questions thread, October 2015 2015-10-13T19:39:52.114Z
Bragging thread August 2015 2015-08-01T19:46:45.529Z
Meetup : London meetup 2015-05-14T17:35:18.467Z
Group rationality diary, May 5th - 23rd 2015-05-04T23:59:39.601Z
Meetup : London meetup 2015-05-01T17:16:12.085Z
Cooperative conversational threading 2015-04-15T18:40:50.820Z
Open Thread, Apr. 06 - Apr. 12, 2015 2015-04-06T14:18:34.872Z
[LINK] Interview with "Ex Machina" director Alex Garland 2015-04-02T13:46:56.324Z
[Link] Eric S. Raymond - Me and Less Wrong 2014-12-05T23:44:57.913Z
Meetup : London social meetup in my flat 2014-11-19T23:55:37.211Z
Meetup : London social meetup 2014-09-25T16:35:18.705Z
Meetup : London social meetup 2014-09-07T11:26:52.626Z
Meetup : London social meetup - possibly in a park 2014-07-22T17:20:28.288Z

Comments

Comment by philh on How factories were made safe · 2021-09-18T23:49:49.200Z · LW · GW

Are these externalities, in the relevant sense? The cost is to the workers, and the workers are at the table - we might expect them to demand more money in exchange for the job being dangerous. So modeling this as "internalizing externalities" feels like a weird fit.

On the other hand, given that the workers actively resisted safety measures... I dunno.

Comment by philh on Erratum for "From AI to Zombies" · 2021-09-13T10:12:03.670Z · LW · GW

Believe it or not, what I am doing is charitable interpretation...I am trying to make sense of what he said.

You may be trying to be charitable. You are not succeeding, partly because what you consider to be "making sense" does not make sense.

But also partly because you're routinely failing to acknowledge that you're putting our own spin on things. There is a big difference between "Eliezer said X" and "I don't know what Eliezer was trying to say, but my best guess is that he meant X".

After you say "Eliezer said X" and I say "I don't think Eliezer was trying to say X, I think he was trying to say Y", there's a big difference between "Y implies X" and "okay, I guess I don't really know what he was trying to say, but it seems to me that X follows from Y so my best guess is he meant X".

If this is your idea of charitable interpretation, I wish you would be less charitable.

If he thinks Bayes is systematically better than science, that would imply “Bayes is better than science, so replace science with Bayes”, because that makes more sense than “Bayes is better than science, so don’t replace Science with Bayes”.

I have explained why this is wrong.

Sally-Anne is only a fallacy where the meaning is clear.

This seems exactly wrong. Deciding "someone believes P, and P implies Q, so they must believe Q" is a fallacy because it is possible for someone to believe P, and for P to imply Q, and yet for the person not to believe Q. It's possible even if they additionally believe that P implies Q; people have been known to be inconsistent.

This inference may be correct, mind you, and certainly someone believing P (which implies Q) is reason to suspect that they believe Q. "Fallacies as weak Bayesian evidence" and so forth. But it's still a fallacy in the same way as "P implies Q; Q; therefore P". It is not a valid inference in general.

That's where the meaning is clear. Where the meaning is unclear... what you're doing instead is "someone kind of seems to believe P? I dunno though. And P implies Q. So they definitely believe Q". Which is quite clearly worse.

I am engaging in probablistic reasoning.

Are you, really? Can you point to anything you've said which supports this?

Like, skimming the conversation, as far as I can tell I have not once seen you express uncertainty in your conclusions. You have not once said anything along the lines of "I think Eliezer might have meant this, and if so then... but on the other hand he might have meant this other thing, in which case..."

You have, after much goading, admitted that you can't be sure you know what Eliezer meant. But I haven't seen you carry that uncertainty through to anything else.

I don't know what's going on in your head, but I would be surprised if "probabilistic reasoning" was a good description of the thing you're doing. From the outside, it looks like the thing you're doing might be better termed "making a guess, and then forgetting it was a guess".

Why should I make any attempt to provide evidence, when you are going to reject it out of hand.

I didn't reject the evidence? I agree that it is evidence someone else interpreted Eliezer in the same way you did, which as far as I can tell is what you were trying to show when you presented the evidence?

I still think it's a misinterpretation. This should not be a surprise. It's not like the other person gave me any more reason than you have, to think that Eliezer meant the thing you think he meant. Neither you nor he appears to have actually quoted Eliezer, for example, beyond his titles. (Whereas I have provided a quote which suggests your interpretation is wrong, and which you have all-but ignored.)

And I still don't know what I'm to make of it. I still don't know why you think "someone else also interpreted EY in this way" is particularly relevant.

No, but he could do a lot better. (An elephant-in-the-room issue here is that even though he is still alive, no-one expects him to pop up and say something that actually clarifies the issue).

Perhaps he could, but like... from my perspective you've made an insane leap of logic and you're expecting him to clear up that it's not what he meant. But there are an awful lot of possible insane leaps of logic people can make, and surely have made when reading this essay and others. Why would he spend his time clearing up yours specifically?

It’s about the most basic principle of epistemology, and one which the rationalsphere accepts: lucky guesses stopped clocks are not knowledge, even when they are right, because they are not reliable and systematic.

I still don't know what you mean by "systematically". If you expected this example to help, I don't know why you expected that.

Obviously, that would be the stuff that science is already doing, since EY has argued, at immense length, that it gets quantum mechanics right,.

What stuff specifically? Science is doing a lot of things. Is Bayes supposed to be better than science at producing jobs for grant writers?

And, I point out that this is you replying to what was mostly an aside, while ignoring the bits that seemed to me more important. You've ignored where I said "even if we specify that, I don’t see...". You've ignored where I said "I'm not sure what clear statement you expect me to make". You've ignored where I said "I don't know why you'd care whether or not I make it".

If there is some objective factor about a person that makes them incapable of understanding Bayes , then a Bayesian should surely identify it. But where else has EY ever so much as hinted that some people are un-Bayesian?

I don't know why you're asking the question, but I'm pretty sure it rests on a confused premise in ways that I've explained, so I'm not going to try to figure this out.

Why do I have to tell you what I think in order for you to tell me what you think?

I don't think I've been coy about what I think? I don't know what you're getting at here. My best guess is that you wanted me to explain why I thought "individuals should be willing to trust in Bayes over science" does not imply "we should replace science-the-institution with Bayes", and you were unwilling to answer my questions until I answered this?

If that's what you wanted, then I'd point out firstly that I did give a brief explanation, "Bayes might give some people better answers than science, and not give other people better answers than science". Apparently my brief answer didn't satisfy you, but, well... why should I give a more in depth answer when you've been refusing to answer my questions? I'm not convinced there's any relationship between these things (whether or not I should answer your questions and whether or not you've answered mine; and whether or not you should answer my questions and whether or not I've answered yours). But if there is, I guess I think I feel like the ball's in your court and has been for a while.

But also, I repeatedly said that I thought it was besides the point. "I do not know how it intends to engage with my comment." "I think you’re wrong, but even if you’re right… okay, so what?" "I’m not inclined to engage on that further, because I don’t think it’s particularly relevant". "I think this is wrong. But even if it’s right, I do not think your reply engaged with the comment it was replying to."

If you thought it was not besides the point, you had ample opportunity to try to convince me? As far as I can tell you did not try.

And also, recall that you started this thread by leveling an accusation. I was asking my questions to try to get you to elaborate on what you had said, because I did not know what accusation you were making. If you refuse to explain the meaning of your terms, until the person asking for clarification answers other questions you ask of them...

...and if you do this while complaining about someone else not writing as clearly as you might hope, and not popping in to clarify his meanings...

then, honestly, I cannot help but wonder what you think is happening, here. It does not feel, for example, like your accusation was coming from a place of "here is a mistake LW is making, I will try to help LW see that they are making this mistake, and that will make LW a better place".

Here’s the exchange:

Me: Do you think LessWrong-at-large currently thinks “individuals should be willing to trust in Bayes over science”?

You: Dunno if you think this either, also probably not super relevant.

What? This exchange has not happened. I asked that question, and when you declined to answer, I wrote the second line too. I hope you already know this? (Honestly though, I'm genuinely not sure that you do.) But I have no idea what you're trying to say.

(Are you asking me whether I think LW-at-large currently thinks that? If so the answer is "yes, I already said that I think that, that's why I mentioned Covid content.")


I am now tapping out. I guess I might make low-effort comments going forwards, if I think that will serve my purposes. But I won't expend significant energy talking to you on this subject unless I somehow become convinced it will be worth my time. (I hope not to expend significant energy talking to you on any subject, in fact.)

I am strong-downvoting your original accusation. I was reluctant to do so at first, because I don't want LW to be an echo chamber; I wanted to check whether the accusation had merit. I am satisfied it has little-to-none.

Comment by philh on Erratum for "From AI to Zombies" · 2021-09-12T21:50:35.723Z · LW · GW

It perhaps unhelpful that you never said which if your previous comments they referred to .

I'm afraid I don't think this was very ambiguous. Like, the bit where I introduced X and Y read

I read my comment as: I think Eliezer was not saying X. I think Eliezer was saying Y. I think Y is still active here, and if you think otherwise I’m surprised.

At the time of writing, I had exactly one comment in this thread which remotely fit that schema. And, the start of that comment was

I think this is a false dichotomy; and also I do not know how it intends to engage with my comment.

where I think "this" is, in context, fairly obviously referring to the comment it replies to; and so "my comment" is fairly obviously the comment that was replying to? And then when I refer to "my comment" in the next paragraph, the obvious conclusion is that it's the same comment, which again is the only one which remotely fit the schema outlined in that paragraph.

I predict that at least 90% of LW commenters would have parsed this correctly.

(Is this relevant? I think it must be, because a lot of this discussion is about "what did person mean when they said thing?" And, there's no polite way to say this, but if you can't get this right... when you accuse Eliezer of being an unclear writer, I cannot help but consider that maybe instead you're a bad reader, and I suggest that you consider this possibility too. Of course, if I'm wrong and what I said wasn't clear, I have to downweight my trust in my own reading comprehension.)

I suggested Bayes should replace science if it is objectively, systemstically better. In other words, Bayes replacing science is somethung EY should have said , because it follows from the other claim.

But do you think he actually said it? I reminded you, earlier, of the Sally-Anne fallacy, the failure to distinguish between "this person said a thing" and "this person said something that implies a thing", and I feel I must remind you again. Because if the thing you think LW has "quitely forgotten about" is something that Eliezer didn't say, but that you think follows from something Eliezer said, that is a very different accusation!

It might be that LW and/or Eliezer don't realize the thing follows from what Eliezer said, and this would reflect badly on LW and/or Eliezer but it wouldn't say much about how errata work around here.

Or, of course, it might be that you are wrong, and the thing doesn't follow from what Eliezer said.

But I can’t get “you” to make a clear statement that “individuals should use Bayes” means “Bayes is systematically better”.

I mean, I think individuals should use Bayes. Whether Bayes is "systematically better" than science is, I think, a meaningless question without specifying what it's supposed to be better at. And even if we specify that, I don't see that the first thing would mean the second thing. So I'm not sure what clear statement you expect me to make...

...and I don't know why you'd care whether or not I make it? My own personal opinions here seem basically irrelevant. You accused LW-at-large of quietly forgetting something that Eliezer said. Whether that accusation holds or not has little to do with whether I personally agree with the thing.

If Bayes is better without being systematically better,if it only works for some people, then you shouldn’t replace science with it. But what does that even mean? Why would it only work for some people?

Ugh, fine. I've been trying to avoid this but here goes.

So first off I don't think I know what you mean by "systematically". Eliezer doesn't use the word. It seems clear, at least, that he's dubious "teach more Bayes to Robert Aumann" would cause Robert Aumann to have more correct beliefs. So, maybe Eliezer doesn't even think Bayes is systematically better in the sense that you mean? Again, I don't know what that sense is, so I don't know. But putting that aside...

One reason it might only work for some people is because some people are less intelligent than others? Like, if I tell you you're going to need to solve a hedge maze and you'll be judged on time but you can see the layout before you enter, then "learn the fastest route before you enter" is systematically better than "take the left path at every fork", in the sense that you'll get through the maze faster - if you're capable of memorizing the fastest route, and keeping track of where you are. If you're not capable of that, I'd advise you to stick to the left path strategy.

I'm not saying this is what's going on, just... it seems like an obvious sort of thing to consider, and I find it bizarre that you haven't considered it.

Another thing here is: what works/is optimal for a person might not work/be optimal for a group? One person making paperclips will do a bunch of different things, two people making paperclips together might only do half of those things each, but also some extra things because of coordination overhead and perhaps differing incentives.

And then it might not even be meaningful to talk about a group in the same way as an individual. An agent might assign probability 0.6 to a hypothesis; another agent might assign probability 0.2; what probability does "the group consisting of these two agents" assign? If each agent does a Bayesian update upon observing evidence, does the group also do a Bayesian update?

All of which is to say, I am baffled by your insistence that if Bayes is better than science for individuals, we should replace science-the-institution with Bayes. This seems unjustified on many levels.

And where the hell did Yudkowsky say anything of the kind?

It sounds to me like:

  • You said "X iff Y".
  • I said, "I don't think so, here's one reason you might have one but not the other." (I've now given a much more detailed explanation of why I think you're mistaken.)
  • You're asking where EY said anything like what I said.

This seems confused, because I never said that EY said anything like what I said. I don't think there's any particular reason to expect him to have done. He cannot explicitly reject every possible mistake someone might make while reading his essays.

I’m not the only person who ever thought EY meant to replace science with Bayes [...] For instance see this...please

Okay, so another person misinterpreted him in a similar way. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to make of this. Even if EY was unclear, that's also a different criticism than the idea that LW has quietly forgotten things.

you can’t be completely sure of your interpretation either, for the same reason.

Maybe not, but, like... you brought it up? If you think you know what he meant, stand by it and defend your interpretation. If you don't think you know what he meant, admit that outright. If you don't think you know what he meant, but you think I don't know either... so what? Does me being also wrong vindicate you somehow? Feels like a prosecutor being asked "do you have any reason to think the defendant was near the scene of the crime that night" and replying "okay, maybe not, but you don't know where he was either".

I note that you have once again declined to answer my direct questions, so I'll try to fill in what I think you think.

Do you think Eliezer was saying “Bayes should replace science as an institution”?

You apparently don't think he said this? (At least I don't think you've justified the idea that he has. Nor have you addressed the bit I quoted above about Robert Aumann, where I think he suggests the opposite of this.) You just think it follows from something he did say. I've now explained in some detail both why I think you're wrong about that, and why even if you were right, it would be important to distinguish from him actually saying it.

Do you think Eliezer was saying “individuals should be willing to trust in Bayes over science”?

Dunno if you think this, probably not super relevant.

Do you think LessWrong-at-large currently thinks “Bayes should replace science as an institution”?

I guess you think this is not the case, and this is what you think has been "quietly forgotten about". I agree LW-at-large does not currently think this, I just think EY never proposed it either.

Do you think LessWrong-at-large currently thinks “individuals should be willing to trust in Bayes over science”?

Dunno if you think this either, also probably not super relevant.

Comment by philh on Erratum for "From AI to Zombies" · 2021-09-09T20:43:16.053Z · LW · GW

No, Y is not meant to be that, and also that option was not "use Bayes if it suits you" and can not be fairly summed up that way.

Rather, X was

Eliezer wants science as an institution to be replaced with something like “just teach people Bayes”

and Y was

Eliezer wants individuals to be willing to say “if science the institution tells me one thing, and Bayes tells me another, I will trust in Bayes”.

(It is perhaps unsurprising that the things I referred to in shorthand as X and Y, are things that I had written in an earlier comment.)

Allow me to unpack in light of this.

I said previously that I do not think Eliezer was saying "Bayes should replace science as an institution". Rather, I think Eliezer was saying that individuals should be willing to trust in Bayes over science. And I think LessWrong-at-large currently thinks that individuals should be willing to trust in Bayes over scince.

Thus, when you say "that was quietly forgotten about" - "that" being "the modest proposal that science is wrong and should be replaced with Bayes" - I think you're mistaken. I think that, depending how I interpret your comment: either you think something was said that was not said, or you think something has been forgotten that has not been forgotten.

Your reply to this suggested that Bayes should replace science iff individuals should be willing to trust in Bayes over science.

I think this is wrong. But even if it's right, I do not think your reply engaged with the comment it was replying to.

Do you think Eliezer was saying "Bayes should replace science as an institution"? Do you think Eliezer was saying "individuals should be willing to trust in Bayes over science"? Do you think LessWrong-at-large currently thinks "Bayes should replace science as an institution"? Do you think LessWrong-at-large currently thinks "individuals should be willing to trust in Bayes over science"?

Your "quietly forgotten about" comment suggests that you think Eliezer was saying something that LessWrong-at-large currently does not think. But I do not know what you think that might be.

I'm going to limit myself to two more comments in this thread. I am not optimistic that they will be productive.

Comment by philh on Erratum for "From AI to Zombies" · 2021-09-09T18:39:06.922Z · LW · GW

For example, that Bayes might give some people better answers than science, and not give other people better answers than science?

But I'm not inclined to engage on that further, because I don't think it's particularly relevant; see the edit I made to my previous comment.

Comment by philh on Erratum for "From AI to Zombies" · 2021-09-09T18:21:38.484Z · LW · GW

I think this is a false dichotomy; and also I do not know how it intends to engage with my comment.

Edit: okay, to elaborate briefly. I read my comment as: I think Eliezer was not saying X. I think Eliezer was saying Y. I think Y is still active here, and if you think otherwise I'm surprised.

I read your comment as: X is true iff Y is true. I think you're wrong, but even if you're right... okay, so what?

Do you think Eliezer was saying both X and Y? Do you think both X and Y have been forgotten about? (Bear in mind that even if they imply each other, people might not realize this.) What do you make of my example of Covid content, which to me was evidence that Y is still active here?

Comment by philh on Erratum for "From AI to Zombies" · 2021-09-07T14:28:57.953Z · LW · GW

"science is wrong and should be replaced with Bayes" isn't quite how I'd describe the thesis of that post. In particular, that makes it sound like Eliezer wants science as an institution to be replaced with something like "just teach people Bayes", and I don't think he suggests that. If anything, the opposite. ("Do you want Aumann thinking that once you’ve got Solomonoff induction, you can forget about the experimental method? Do you think that’s going to help him? And most scientists out there will not rise to the level of Robert Aumann.")

Rather, I think Eliezer wants individuals to be willing to say "if science the institution tells me one thing, and Bayes tells me another, I will trust in Bayes". Is that roughly what you meant?

And I don't think that's been quietly forgotten about, and I'm surprised if you think it has. Like, I feel like there's been an awful lot of Covid content here which is "science the institution is saying this thing, and here's what we should actually believe".

Comment by philh on Covid 8/26: Full Vaccine Approval · 2021-09-05T19:34:11.093Z · LW · GW

OK...but I don’t see how that helps.

Helps with what? It's relevant in that when you asked Zian "do you mean that when you said...", Zian had not said that thing. It seemed to me that you were talking to Zian under the impression that they were Zvi, and this seemed worth pointing out. It seemed like it might help avoid people talking past each other, for example.

It might be Zian’s idea that poor people obviously do or should get water vouchers...but is it Zvi’s idea? Zvi brief statement sounded like pure pay-or-go-to-the-wall libertarianism.

I don't claim to know exactly what Zvi thinks, and I don't feel like getting into the weeds on this any more than it seems he does. But...

You've made three comments in this thread so far, and in not one of them have you acknowledged that Zvi included the phrase "if desired or needed give people a credit to avoid distributional concerns".

I feel like that phrase is obviously relevant to your concern, even if you don't know exactly what he means by it and/or what you think he means doesn't fully address your concern. And I think failing to acknowledge it reflects poorly.

(I would say that Zvi spends 18 words on libertarian content, "the way ... for water", and 12 on addressing a possible failure mode of the libertarian content, "if desired ... distributional concerns". It seems to me that calling this "pure pay-or-go-to-the-wall libertarianism" is frankly ridiculous.)

Comment by philh on Covid 8/26: Full Vaccine Approval · 2021-09-02T12:52:32.500Z · LW · GW

How long does it take a lawn to die? The request in this case was to leave them for a week when there'd likely be a thunderstorm, so I'm guessing it's not a serious worry in this case. (But it might be one in other cases where there's a limited supply.)

Comment by philh on Covid 8/26: Full Vaccine Approval · 2021-09-02T12:44:46.703Z · LW · GW

(Note that the user you're replying to is not Zvi.)

Comment by philh on There isn't just one unemployment rate · 2021-08-19T12:52:34.095Z · LW · GW

Ah, following that first link a bit further, it looks like indeed they're not counted as part of the labor force.

For the second, I didn't mean these aren't unemployment rates. Rather, there are other things that one might also call unemployment rates. Trivially, a lot of the questions here are fairly arbitrary - anyone below 16 is never in the labor force, but why not 18? The marginally attached are those who last searched between 4 weeks and 12 months ago, but why not 6 weeks - 8 months? Perhaps more interestingly, anyone who just doesn't want a job isn't counted in the numerator or denominator of any of these rates, which I think means that if we get UBI and want to know "did this discourage people from wanting to work", none of the unemployment statistics will tell us. (The "labor force participation rate" would be relevant.) Or, someone on active duty in the armed forces (looks like 1.3 million people) also doesn't count in any of these, so the army downsizing would affect the rates differently than a civilian employer downsizing by the same number of people.

This isn't necessarily a big deal, certainly I'm not saying the BLS should be publishing any statistics it's currently not. Just, you said "Here are all the unemployment rates in the United States", and... to be clear I don't expect this was your intent, just a thing I mildly read into your wording. And I feel like I'm writing a lot of words on this relative to how much I think it matters. But, I dunno, I kind of feels like it mildly reifies official statistics? Like, this post already does a great job at pointing out "the idea of an unemployment rate might sound fairly simple, if you hear what it is you might think you know what that means, but there are a bunch of complications and different reasonable ways one might calculate it, you need to look under the hood". But I think it's worth remembering that it doesn't stop at the official statistics, it's possible (at least in theory) to look under the hood in other ways too.

Incidentally, I'm amused that the investopedia article, after explaining what the different unemployment rates are and why you might care about the difference, doesn't tell you which one is used in the "unemployment by race/gender" graphs.

Comment by philh on There isn't just one unemployment rate · 2021-08-18T23:16:17.445Z · LW · GW

I'm surprised discouraged workers and marginally attached get added to the denominators for U4-6. Do they not count as labor force?

Also, seems worth clarifying that although these may be all the unemployment rates the BLS publishes, they're certainly not all the things one might reasonably call an unemployment rate.

Comment by philh on Erratum for "From AI to Zombies" · 2021-08-17T09:36:58.234Z · LW · GW

It was a tool to teach you rationality. Personally, I think it failed at that, and instead created a local lore guided by the teacher’s password, “MWI is obviously right”.

This could well be the case, I have no particular opinion on it.

And yes, I think he said nearly as much on multiple occasions.

(To clarify, I take it "as much" here means "MWI is obviously right", not "the sequence failed at teaching rationality".)

So the distinction I've been making in my head is between a specific interpretation called MWI, and multi-world interpretations in general. That is, I've been thinking there are other interpretations that we don't call MWI, but which share the property of, something like, "if it looks to you like your observations are collapsing quantum superposition, that's just what happens when you yourself enter superposition".

My (again, vague) understanding is that Eliezer thinks "some interpretation with that property" is obviously correct, but not necessarily the specific interpretation we might call MWI. But if I'm wrong about what MWI means, and it just refers to all interpretations with that property (or there is/can be only one such interpretation), then Eliezer certainly thinks "this is obviously by far the best hypothesis we have" and I agree that it sounds like he also thinks "this is obviously correct". And it seems like Scott is using it in the latter sense in that blog post, at least.

(And, yeah, I find Eliezer pretty convincing here, though I'm not currently capable of evaluating most of the technical arguments. My read is that Scott's weaker position seems to be something like, "okay but we haven't looked everywhere, there are possibilities we have no particular reason to expect to happen but that we can't experimentally rule out yet".)

Comment by philh on Erratum for "From AI to Zombies" · 2021-08-15T20:32:43.176Z · LW · GW

Seems important to note here that the point of the quantum physics sequence, in context, is not to teach you physics. So reading a physics book doesn't give you what the sequence is intended to, and in particular it doesn't take the place of errata for that sequence.

At least, it's been a long time since I've read it, but I'm pretty confident the point isn't to teach you physics. I'm less confident of this, but to my memory the point is something like, "here's a worked example of a place where rationality can guide you to the truth faster than the scientific establishment can".

If Eliezer was wrong here, and rationality didn't help guide him to the truth, I think that would be actually really important. But I also think that having better interpretations of QM then MWI ten years later isn't obviously a failing, since - again, to my memory - he didn't say that MWI was obviously correct but that it was obviously the best we had, or maybe even just obviously better than Copenhagen.

Comment by philh on What made the UK COVID-19 case count drop? · 2021-08-05T21:56:37.670Z · LW · GW

This is more of a "hypothesis available to me" than an active prediction, and I don't really know offhand how we'd check it. But the European soccer championship ended on July 11th. England hosted a few of the games, notably including the final and semifinals; I'm not sure how much difference that would have made. (I guess the number of people going to the stadium wouldn't have impacted the numbers too much?) But also, my impression is lots of people went to the pub to watch the games, especially the ones with England and especially the final. I could see that making a big difference.

So, one factor might have been that the Euros were making case counts rise faster than they would have done otherwise, and then they stopped doing that.

Comment by philh on Ask Not "How Are You Doing?" · 2021-07-22T15:54:42.628Z · LW · GW

Have you tried something like "what's something exciting" instead? "The most exciting" would lead me down some internal flailing like "ahh geeze, the most exciting? Okay time to rank all the things that have happened", but I could believe it works better on average.

Comment by philh on Re: Competent Elites · 2021-07-17T10:49:35.918Z · LW · GW

To clarify, does this differ from saying that this community-at-large believes things you don't believe?

Like, I could imagine someone saying this community "lacks brakes" on the subject of AI risk, because we take it seriously and encourage other people to take it seriously and sometimes to significantly change their life in response to taking it seriously. And how someone feels about that probably depends on whether they think AI risk actually is that big a deal or not. (I guess someone could say, like, "yes, that's the community lacking brakes, and in this case that's a good thing".)

Is that the sort of thing you mean, or?

Comment by philh on Book Review: Order Without Law · 2021-07-12T08:35:26.213Z · LW · GW

Interesting, thanks!

I imagine it's been too long by now, but if by chance you happen to remember where you got the sense of reluctance from, I'd be curious to hear more?

(I guess we should note the possibility that he was an anarchist in 1991 but not in 2017, but I have no particular reason to expect that.)

Comment by philh on Book Review: Order Without Law · 2021-07-11T22:31:02.097Z · LW · GW

Thank you! :)

Comment by philh on Causes of a Debt Crisis—Economic · 2021-07-06T20:00:35.173Z · LW · GW

You’d think there’d be some way to make a more symmetric asset, but there really isn’t, not one that people are interested in.

Today's Money Stuff talks about "cash-settled swaps": "just a bet in which you pay me $1 for every dollar that Tesla stock goes up, and I pay you $1 for every dollar that Tesla stock goes down."

Do you have thoughts on those? They sound like they'd be more symmetric, but I could well believe I'm missing something. (Maybe them being exactly symmetric makes them not super useful? But I don't see why they'd have to be; I assume you could make it $0.80 for every dollar that Tesla stock goes up, or one party could pay the other for entering into the trade.)

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-07-05T21:10:20.930Z · LW · GW

Fall of Civilizations #13: The Assyrians - Empire of Iron

(Okay look this is a three hour episode, approximately none of the names are in my orthography which means I have trouble telling people apart, and the dates don't mean much to me either. I'd be amazed if I don't misremember anything here.)

During some Persian civil war, one of the combatants hired a bunch of Greek mercenaries. They won one particular battle, but the Persian dude got killed so there wasn't much left for the greeks and they started running away towards the Black Sea. On the way they found two large abandoned cities that they had no idea what was going on. This was before the Parthenon or the Colusseum. Now we know the names of the cities (one was Nineveh, I forget the other) and that they were part of the Assyrian empire.

The empire started with a city named Assur, somehow related to the previous Sumerian empire. It became pretty good at fighting. The god of the city (also called Assur, it was normal for a city to have a god back then) came to take over the place of the king of the gods. Then came the bronze age collapse and it survived better than most.

They started conquering places around them. For a while Babylon kept them in check, but then didn't, and they conquered Babylon. Their kings got pretty brutal. They could field large armies, over 100k when the world population was only like 50m. The armies did have to go home for harvest though, so there were only a few months of the year where they could campaign. Their subjects could time insurrections carefully to avoid getting spanked. Except then they didn't need that, either, and laid siege to a city for three years. They also had army engineers making siege engines and digging roads through mountains and stuff. A lot of their subjects didn't much like them, but they didn't much like each other either, so they didn't team up and Assyria was able to suppress them one at a time even if they rebelled simultaneously.

They also have a lot of writing, on clay tablets which means a lot of it has survived, enough that most has never even been looked at by an expert. There's a letter from a child at school to his mum, complaining that you never buy me new clothes. Father's servant's son gets new clothes. His mother loves him even though he's adopted, but you don't love me.

Babylon was still starting shit, and at some point they got tired of it and completely destroyed the place. They took its god, Marduk, to Nineveh, and later made Nineveh the capital city. Some people think the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were actually there.

At some point there was a lot of insurrections at once, partly aided by Egypt which didn't like Assyria. This included Judah, which had been separated from Israel by previous Assyrian conquests. Assyria marched on Lakish, sacked and destroyed it, and scattered the population throughout the empire - that was a thing they did a lot. Then tried to do the same to Jerusalem. The king had put up a new wall and a tunnel to a water supply, and paid a tribute, but they still besieged. But then something, possibly plague, killed a bunch of them and they had to turn back. This episode is something we have from both sides, because it's in the Bible, though the Assyrians didn't say much about their eventual defeat.

The king who did that seems to have become a lot less warlike and a lot more buildy afterwards. It might have been him who decided to rebuild Babylon in exactly its previous layout. When his eldest son died, he named his eldest remaining son his successor, but then changed his mind and named a different son. Eldest remaining son got pissed and started conspiring with the other sons, the successor had to flee. Successor came back with a big army, and a lot of usurper's army surrendered because usurper had done something or other shitty. Successor killed the conspirators and their families. (Not sure at what point in this the previous king had died.)

This new king wants to avoid that kind of succession crisis, so he appoints his younger son king of Assyria, and elder son king of Babylon, underneath Assyria, when he dies. Which happens after a prolonged bout of possibly-depression, illness and paranoia, on a campaign to kill a bunch of people spreading a prophecy of his doom, in the town where the prophecy was made.

So his sons ascend. The new-new Assyrian king gets tired of the egyptians and attacks them. But then things kind of blow up with the Elamites(?), in modern-day Iran. King of Babylon has been feeling hard done by, no one takes him seriously, his brother is meddling and his advisors listen to his brother instead of him. So he offers to help the Elamites possibly in exchange for getting to be king of Babylon not subject to anyone else. Assyria beats the Elamites, we don't know if they know Babylon was involved. In any case, then Babylon rebels and declares independence. So Assyria besieges Babylon, reduces them to cannibalism, finally enters and sacks the place again. Then goes on a war of extermination against Elam, completely destroys their capital Susa.

Also, this king hadn't originally been intended for Kingship. He'd been going to do some temple work or something. So unlike most kings, he could read and write, and he was proud of it. He built a library and sent around for copies of every book published, which got preserved well when the city got burned later. But towards the end of his reign he seems to get depressed too, his last writing is a woe-is-me. Around this point we stop getting Assyrian chronicles and have to pick up with Babylonian ones a bit later.

So what goes wrong for Assyria? Part of it might be climate change. Until now they'd been in an unusually wet period, but now things started to dry up. In the north they had to start constructing irrigation like they'd been doing already in the south. This would have shaken their power. But the price of wheat didn't change much, so it's not clear how much difference it made.

Narrator thinks it's more significant that the Elamites left a power vacuum, that was filled by the Medes, their old enemies who Assyria hadn't had much contact with. And the Medes decided to attack Assyria, and came and burned Assur. Babylon declared independence again, joined forces with Media (a Babylonian prince married a Median princess, or something), and together they went on to completely destroy Nineveh. The king dies at some point (I think this was a new king by now?) and a general holds out for a bit but they beat him too, and that's it for Assyria. Before too long no one in the area remembers them.

Comment by philh on Covid 7/1: Don’t Panic · 2021-07-04T14:38:57.710Z · LW · GW

Those lines aren't flat, they're just hard to read on that scale. I made my own based on the heatmap of case rates for england (there doesn't seem to be a whole-UK heatmap).

Cases

Comment by philh on Covid 7/1: Don’t Panic · 2021-07-04T11:30:48.192Z · LW · GW

I've seen graphs on /r/CoronavirusUK showing AZ and Pfizer roughly equal in count, and Moderna a tiny sliver. Couldn't find any of those on demand, though. (I thought the data was available somewhere in the adverse effects reports, but I can't find those now either.)

Comment by philh on Why did no LessWrong discourse on gain of function research develop in 2013/2014? · 2021-06-27T09:17:32.373Z · LW · GW

(I'm not sure to what extent you're trying to "give background info" versus "be more specific about how people thought of GoF research as an infohazard" versus "be more specific about how GoF research actually was an infohazard" versus other things, so I might be talking past you a bit here.)

The debate about gain of function research started as a debate about infohazards when Fouchier and Kawaoka modified H5N1 in 2011 and published the modified sequence.

So this seems to me likely to be an infohazard that was found through GoF research, but not obviously GoF-research-as-infohazard. That is, even if we grant that the modified sequence was an infohazard and a mistake to publish, it doesn't then follow that it's a mistake to talk about GoF research in general. Because when GoF research is already happening, it's already known within certain circles, and those circles disproportionately contain the people we'd want to keep the knowledge from. It might be the case that talking about GoF research is a mistake, but it's not obviously so.

What I'm trying to get at is that "info hazard concerns" is pretty vague and not very helpful. What were people concerned about, specifically, and was it a reasonable thing to be concerned about? (It's entirely possible that people made the mental leap from "this thing found through GoF is an infohazard" to "GoF is an infohazard", but if so it seems important to realize that that's a leap.)

a frame that suggests that possible military use or someone stealing engineered viruses and intentionally spreading them is what the problem is about.

Here, too: if this is what we're worried about, it's not clear that "not talking about GoF research" helps the problem at all.

Comment by philh on Why did no LessWrong discourse on gain of function research develop in 2013/2014? · 2021-06-25T15:30:30.565Z · LW · GW

I agree probably only a small fraction of people were aware that GoF research was a thing until recently. I would assume that fraction included most of the people who were capable of acting on the knowledge. (That is, the question isn't "what fraction of people know about GoF research" but "what fraction of people who are plausibly capable of causing GoF research to happen know about it".) But maybe that depends on the specific way you think it's hazardous .

Comment by philh on Why did no LessWrong discourse on gain of function research develop in 2013/2014? · 2021-06-25T13:16:59.187Z · LW · GW

Can you be more specific? My vague impression is that if GoF research is already happening, talking about GoF research isn't likely to be an info hazard because the info is already in the heads of the people in whose heads it's hazardous.

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-06-25T11:41:44.105Z · LW · GW

Planet Money: The Day India's Cash Disappeared

2019 rerun of a 2017 episode.

Recently the Prime Minister of India, a guy named Modi, announced that all the 500 and 1000 rupee Indian banknotes would become worthless. That's 85% of India's cash, and most people don't have credit cards. People had just 30 days to trade their cash in, and only a certain amount a day - a high amount by most Indians' standards, but not for the wealthy. And the lines to do so were long.

This sucked hard for a lot of people. A man found 3000 Rupees in his dead wife's Sari, weeks or months of farm work for him, and couldn't trade it in because the deadline had passed. The bank was allowed to make exceptions but didn't. A baby died because its parents didn't have cash for a taxi.

The point was to get black money used by the mafia out of the economy. An engineer named Anil came up with it, along with his engineer buddies. They did run it by some economists too, who broadly thought it was a good idea. Then Anil quit his job and formed a sort of collective devoted to promoting this idea. He gave a talk on it thousands of times, to politicians, professors, businessmen, whoever would listen. Eventually he gave it to Modi, before Modi became Prime Minister but when Modi already had a reputation for being able to get shit done. It was supposed to be a nine minute meeting, it turned into ninety, and Modi said he'd make it happen if he became PM.

Economist criticizes: yes it's a good plan but it's an engineer's plan, you need more data. Anil responds: this is why nothing gets better, you keep asking for more data when you need to do things. This will hurt at first but improve things in the long run.

2019 update: demonetization slowed India's economic growth by 2 percentage points in the early months, which was almost all of its growth. You could see the effects from space as fewer lights were turned on. Since then growth has recovered. (This is not a very detailed update, annoyingly.)

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-06-23T12:47:47.607Z · LW · GW

Planet Money: The capitalists of North Korea

Jessie grew up in North Korea. One day when she was like eight her family needed matches, so she picked a bunch of wild raspberries and sold them at market for the rough equivalent of a nickle. People didn't buy them so much because they were good raspberries for the price but because she was eight. (I guess similar to lemonade stands.) With the leftover money she got a peach for her mum. Seeing her mum's happiness at the peach she decided to make a lot of money to keep making her mum happy. So she kept that kind of thing up. One time she walked six hours each way to buy purer alcohol than people in her village were drinking, then sold it on. She was still small at the time so she could only carry 5kg of it. Also started smuggling between NK and China, I suspect that came a bit later.

NK has a weapons program, which raises the question where did that money come from? It used to be in an economic race with SK, but now SK's economy is like 50x higher. NK is the only country to have had a peacetime famine in an urban, literate population.

When Kim Jong Un came into power, he said he was going to improve the economy and build weapons. For the economy he started turning a blind eye to capitalists ("dongju"?) like Jessie, who had always been operating illegally. He allowed people in to give business lessons. They weren't allowed to discuss certain things, but if you talk about trading between a fictional "big island" and "small island", everyone knows you mean China and NK. Some people were even allowed out of the country to learn business. One person was excited to see an ATM. But then the profits from this sort of thing went into the weapons program, which is awkward.

And because the capitalists were still in a legal grey area, they could have their stuff seized. Jessie's uncle reported her. She lost everything and was lucky not to go to prison. So she smuggled herself out using her connections from smuggling goods. Now she's in South Korea, but not really planning to go into business again. Her mum is dead now, and that was a lot of her motivation.

Comment by philh on Bad names make you open the box · 2021-06-13T10:36:27.796Z · LW · GW

The other thing about filterPromotedPosts is that it kind of sounds like the input is promoted posts and the output is some unspecified subset of them. filterPostsForPromoted avoids that but starts to feel unwieldy to me. (But maybe I should just be more okay with unwieldy names.)

Even in an impure language I think filter sounds to me like it would return a new list rather than editing in place. That's how the python filter function works for example, and Perl's grep (which is basically a synonym for me), and I had to look this up but JavaScript's filter too.

Comment by philh on We need a standard set of community advice for how to financially prepare for AGI · 2021-06-11T21:51:59.339Z · LW · GW

I'd worry that if we're looking at a potentially civilization-ending pandemic, a would-be warlord with a handful of followers decides that north sentinel island seems a kind of attractive place to go all of a sudden.

Comment by philh on What to optimize for in life? · 2021-06-10T21:26:10.853Z · LW · GW

I'm not following why a larger Pareto frontier would mean fewer tradeoffs on the frontier, could you elaborate on that?

Comment by philh on Search-in-Territory vs Search-in-Map · 2021-06-10T20:50:45.958Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure if these are examples of the thing you're talking about or something else, but:

Consider a missile that's guided by GPS until it reaches its rough target location, then uses sensors to locate the target precisely. (Though arguably this is simply "SIM followed by SIT".)

Or consider when I do something similar myself. I use the map on my phone screen to guide me to roughly where I want to be, and then I use my eyes to guide me to exactly where I want to be. And I don't just switch from SIM to SIT; I keep checking with both, in case e.g. I miss it and go too far.

Comment by philh on Search-in-Territory vs Search-in-Map · 2021-06-10T20:39:39.577Z · LW · GW

We're want the rock that's closest but not higher, and that's what we get. We don't necessarily get the closest rock, but we do get the best one, which is what John said.

Comment by philh on Why has no one compared Covid-19 and Vaccine Risks? · 2021-06-09T22:41:21.309Z · LW · GW

Apart from the things Jonathan mentions, the Pandemrix vaccine used for swine flu seems to have caused narcolepsy in rare cases.

Note that Fauci in that video is talking about delayed effects, not long-term effects.

Comment by philh on An Intuitive Guide to Garrabrant Induction · 2021-06-09T22:25:48.713Z · LW · GW

The logical induction criterion requires that, in the limit, all logical inductors assign probability 0 to Fermat’s last theorem being false. Conditioning on an event with probability 0 is ill-defined, so we have no formal guarantee that these conditional probabilities are well-behaved.

From what I understand, an LI need not assign probability 0 to Fermat's last theorem at any finite time. She might give it price on day . In practice I don't know if the LI constructed according to the paper will ever assign price to it. For all I know that would depend on the particular enumerations of traders and rationals used.

So if she never assigns price 0 except in the limit, we could condition on FLT being false at any finite time, and mayybe we could even consider the limit of those conditionings?

I'd, uh, be surprised if this works.

Comment by philh on Anatomy, diseases and aging damage · 2021-06-03T18:22:45.196Z · LW · GW

I took a screenshot from my anatomy atlas app, hopefully it's a bit helpful. https://i.ibb.co/RpMfpJX/Screenshot-20210603-191621.png

The muscle Christian is talking about is highlighted in blue, and the tendon sheath is the blue tube at the bottom. My read is that that sheath had moved to the side a bit, closer to the others?

Comment by philh on Update 2021-05-31 · 2021-06-03T16:44:48.266Z · LW · GW

For others confused like me: this is an update to a longer post. AGI in context is Adjusted Gross Income.

Comment by philh on For Better Commenting, Take an Oath of Reply. · 2021-06-03T14:21:45.569Z · LW · GW

So, this seems like a fine policy. But calling it an "oath of reply" feels like it waters down the word "oath" in a way I dislike. (cf. the people who've taken the GWWC pledge, and said that if in future they think it's not a good idea, they'll just stop doing it.) Especially when the stuff you've said should be a universal understanding (around self care, rudeness, circumstances changing) is left implicit. That stuff won't be universally understood.

As a simple change that I personally would consider an improvement, I'd call it a "reply policy". A few words making it clear that this not absolute might be good too. Perhaps, for the one you left on this post:

For this post, my reply policy is to respond to top-level comments at least once, absent a specific reason not to, through August 2021. I will likely pursue longer-form discussions. If commenters provide especially helpful feedback, I’ll note it here along with an acknowledgement.

(Possible downside: readers might take that to be weaker than you consider it.)

Comment by philh on Merry Newtonmas LW. Have some rationalist music. · 2021-05-31T21:46:12.162Z · LW · GW

Dunno if anyone from the band still reads LW, but I just wanted to say thanks; I've been enjoying this album for, I guess, coming up on ten years now. I think "Carry On" and "Keeping Me Away" are my favorites.

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-05-30T12:48:33.194Z · LW · GW

99% Invisible: Matters of Time

A few short stories on the subject of time.

Standardized time across a whole country came into existence with train networks. It was important for these because people needed to know when the train would be there to catch it, and also being a few minutes off could cause crashes. They'd get someone with a good watch to sync it up in London, then travel around the network and have station operators sync their clocks from the watch. A clock on the side of the Bristol Corn Exchange still has both London and Bristol time, 12 minutes apart.

When industrialization started to become a thing, people would have to get up early before dawn to go to their shift, but didn't have alarm clocks yet. (Got the vague impression this was related to standardized time, and I could see that being related, but it also seems unnecessary.) So there'd be knockers-up, who went around waking people. No good to knock on the door, that could wake neighbors too (either annoying them or giving them a service for free). A long cane could rap directly on their bedroom window, or at least one person used a pea-shooter. Not a great wage, a lot of them were older women who couldn't do much physical labor any more. Also constables with the night shift would often moonlight as knockers-up, and the constable first told about the first Jack the Ripper victim was too busy doing that to come look at the body at first. The last one retired only in the early 70s. Vaguely related, there was at least one report in the ripper case saying things like "at 6:19... six minutes later" which is just way more precise than people would have been able to measure at the time.

China doesn't have time zones, the whole country is on Beijing time. For a while it was divided up, but when the PRC became a thing in the 50s it decided to promote unity by having one time zone. Beijing is in the east. Xinjiang, to the west, should really be about two hours behind according to the sun, and most people do run their lives on Xinjiang time, they open their shops later than in Beijing and so on, they just name the times in Beijing time. Except the Uyghurs often talk amongst themselves in Xinjiang time, and switch to Beijing time when talking to Han Chinese. What with state surveillance of phones, having your phone set to Xinjiang time isn't officially illegal but it's a "you might want to look closer at this person" sort of flag. Roman says that having Xinjiang run on Beijing time instead of solar time is "denying reality", and is not surprised it goes along with denying human rights.

Daylight saving time is controversial. People think it was to help farmers, but farmers rise with the sun whatever the time says. In fact it was because a house builder was going for walks and thought it was a shame people were missing out on the daylight. He wrote a pamphlet and it came up before parliament a few times but kept getting rejected. Not long after he died, Germany implemented DST during WWI, and then Britain followed. The advantage was saving energy, less fuel needed to heat and light homes. (Or maybe that was specifically the WWII bit later, and the advantage here was different?) Some people think we should actually be on DST year-round, and double-DST during Summer. Roman thinks this sounds like a nice plan. (He apparently does not consider it to be denying reality?) This has been floated in the UK. It hasn't taken off partly because Scotland doesn't like the idea and it would make them more likely to become independent, and also apparently Jacob Rees-Mogg attached a rider making Somerset time 15 minutes off the rest of the UK. He fully admits he's being ridiculous and just trying to make the bill less likely to pass. Also, it was tried during WWII, and people accepted it as a wartime measure but didn't like it, the dark mornings were crap.

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-05-30T10:46:48.572Z · LW · GW

Planet Money: Bad Credit Bureau

Credit ratings agencies started in the late 19th century in Brooklyn. For a while if you wanted to buy from a shop on credit, that was fine, the shopowner knew you. Then more people started moving in, and owners wouldn't know who to trust.

The Sells brothers went around to all the shops, asked to look at their books, and compiled a list of people with simple categorizations: do they pay on time, do they pay cash, is there something you should talk to us about first? Then owners could have a copy of the book and look up an unknown person in that.

This sort of thing was also useful for e.g. banks and insurance companies, and there was competitive pressure to start including more and more detail. Ratings agencies were basically flying under the radar with this sort of thing. Then in the 60s Congress was discussing something else, "it would be bad if this led to..." and someone was like "you know the CRAs do that already right?" Congress apparently did not know this and started looking at the CRAs. One woman had been denied a job for being rated as, like, disagreeable and "neurotic or psychotic"; there was no citation for this, it's not like it was a doctor's diagnosis, just a thing that had been written down for some unclear reason. Congress doesn't like this sort of thing and starts to impose rules on them.

The modern connection is to the Equifax hack.

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-05-27T19:31:04.276Z · LW · GW

Planet Money: the Benefits of Bankruptcy

Rerun of a 2015 episode.

Queen City Appliances was founded ~1950, at some point the founder's son Ronny took over as CEO. It was doing well, and borrowing money to make money. Then 2008 happened, and in 2009 the business was doing badly, no one buying new refrigerators. So Ronny filed for bankruptcy. He had to sign the papers along with his 80something-year-old mother, who had helped to build the business from the ground up and still did accounts four days a week. It was one of the worst days of his life. These papers are public, telling the court and the world everyone you owe money to. Within minutes a local paper had a story about it on its website, and his son texted to ask if he was okay.

But bankruptcy is kind of weird in the US, because you don't necessarily have to stop operating, you can file for "chapter 11". This goes back to railroads, which would run out of money at the slightest economic crisis but everyone still wanted them to run. So some means was developed for that to happen.

QCA went for it. Ronnie had to convince a judge and his creditors (via vote) that he had a way forward. After that, he had to ask permission for everything, including "paying his electricity bill" and "filling his trucks up with gas". And he had to submit weekly progress reports. He went from 17 stores to 4. His creditors wouldn't get everything back, some low on the pecking order only got 10%, but better than nothing. And after 1 1/2 years, he got a super short legal document saying his company was no longer bankrupt.

Everyone else thought the US was crazy when they first implemented this, but some economists think it's part of why they did better during the recession than most, and some other countries are looking to emulate it now. Ronnie's mum also likes bankruptcy more than she used to, having previously thought it was a "morally upright people do not do this" sort of thing. No one at church judged her for it either.

In a present day (as of rerun airing) update, QCA had a couple of bad years in between, but it's doing well again.

Comment by philh on Finite Factored Sets · 2021-05-26T23:05:43.097Z · LW · GW

Imagine that I had a bit, and it’s either a 0 or a 1, and it’s either blue or green. And these two facts are primitive and independently generated. And I also have this other concept that’s like, “Is it grue or bleen?”, which is the XOR of blue/​green and 0⁄1.

There’s a sense in which we’re inferring X is before Y, and in that case, we can infer that blueness is before grueness. And that’s pointing at the fact that blueness is more primitive, and grueness is a derived property.

I found it helpful to work through this example. Let's say is "is the bit 0 or 1" (resp. probabilities 1/4 and 3/4), is "is the bit blue or green" (independent of , 1/3 and 2/3), and is "is the bit bleen (blue/0 or green/1) or grue (blue/1 or green/0)" (7/12 and 5/12).

We have and independent of each other, but and aren't independent, and and aren't independent.

We have

  • is orthogonal to
  • can be computed from and
  • So by the theorem you proved, is before .

(And applying the theorem a second time, we have is before .)

And you can't do this in reverse. Someone might try to say: "no, the bit is bleen or grue with probabilities 7/12 and 5/12, and then it's blue if it's bleen/0 or grue/1 and which has probability 1/3". But they couldn't tell you that bleen/grue and 0/1 are independent; you can reframe all you like, but that won't change. And so the theorem won't apply, we'll still have before and not before .

(But per a discussion elsethread, this wouldn't work if the probabilities were all 1/2, because then and are independent and so are and .)

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-05-26T21:49:07.456Z · LW · GW

Planet Money: Flood Money

Bill's house has flooded three times since he's lived there, and by now he's getting used to it. Why not move? Insurance!

You can't really get private insurance for floods, because it's too correlated. When the company has to pay out for one person, it has to pay out for everyone, and it goes bankrupt. So this insurance is backed by the government. He pays something like $4k/year for a house that cost him under $500k, and its paid out over $800k so far. That's not counting the most recent flood, after which it'll be over $1m. (I don't remember if this counts the twice it flooded before Bill bought the house.)

The government body in charge of things like this nominally tries to take in more in premiums than it pays out, for a while it even succeeded, but it basically doesn't work. Part of this is because America is generally down on mandated insurance, and only a relative handful of people have this insurance. Bill is a gun-owning, libertarian-leaning Texan, but he still thinks people should be required to buy flood insurance.

The body in question has borrowed more and more money from some other government body to make up for the shortfall. Ostensibly it'll pay it back but it's just going to fall to taxpayers eventually. (One of these bodies is FEMA, I forget which.) It's not allowed to refuse to insure someone, and while it has some control over how much it charges, congress also has a lot of control.

The body also tries to encourage things like "building your house more resilient to floods, like on stilts" and "moving away from flood prone areas", but the cheap insurance kind of doesn't help on that front. Bill actually wants to put his house on stilts, but hasn't been able to get a grant for doing that yet.

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-05-25T19:23:18.272Z · LW · GW

Planet Money (13 May 2021): Hot Cheetos

Attention conservation notice: the LA Times says this story is untrue. (I've only skimmed that article but it has some more details and corrections, both wrt reality and wrt what PM reported. For example, his name was Richard, not Robert. h/t Money Stuff, when I listened to the episode I remembered seeing it link to this.)

Robert? grew up in a family of farm workers. He was bussed into a previously all white school, sat with the other Latin Americans, and all the white kids were like wtf at his lunch burrito. He asked his mum to make him a sandwich next time. She made him two burritos, one to share, and soon he was selling burritos at school.

He joined a gang for a bit but sucked at it, kept getting arrested. When he turned 18 his girlfriend said it was time to get a real job. She wrote him a fabricated resume and he got work as a janitor in a chip factory. This was the early 80s?

He thought he was doing great, then someone called him in and said they'd have to let him go, he had no initiative. He blustered his way through, got them to give him another chance. Went home, then went to the library with his girlfriend and they looked up the word in a dictionary. Oh, that thing? I can do that.

So he started learning to do like everything. He'd sit in on sales meetings, and take over for people on the factory floor when they went on breaks, and was still being a janitor. At some point the company instituted a "give us an idea, we'll give you a dollar" policy, a dollar was decent compared to his wage, so he submitted loads. (Not clear if the idea had to be adopted?)

At some point he and his girlfriend decided to make hot chips. Decided for whatever reason that cheetos would be the kind of chip. He took a bunch home with him one day and they experimented, eventually getting something good, sharing it with friends. He went back to work, looked through the company directory and called the CEO. Got past the secretary, who was a bit confused - you work at the ___ factory, like you're the regional manager? Head of sales? Oh, you're the janitor? Um, okay, sure. CEO said he was going to be there in two weeks, he liked to tour his factories, and wanted to meet then.

So two weeks later he was in a room with the CEO and a bunch of other bigwigs pitching his hot cheetos. Latin Americans like spicy stuff, this is an underserved market. How much of the market can we capture, you ask? Thiiis much, opening his arms wide. Whoops, that's not the kind of thing you do in this kind of place. But it's okay, the CEO saves him: gentlemen, do you realize Robert just told us we can capture thiiis much of the market? Opening his own arms wide too.

So they like the idea, and their techies go away to develop hot cheetos. Robert doesn't get in on that, but it's based on his girlfriend's recipe and they don't get any payment for that. And they become a big deal. Later Robert moved up and on and became a manager or exec type at Pepsi, and there's a movie in the works about the story.

Sidenote that there were already hot cheetos on the market, but (I forget the but). Also sidenote that they couldn't verify most of the story, the factory in question didn't keep good records and the CEO passed away (they did speak to the secretary).

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-05-25T19:22:48.607Z · LW · GW

Planet Money (Rerun 21 May 2021): Big Government Cheese

In the 70s, Carter wanted to increase the retail price of milk by 6¢/gal, a decent amount. The point being that if the USA isn't self-sufficient for food that's a national security thing, so it's worth overpaying to keep your farmers local. Then congress outdid him and wanted the price to raise every six months?

But you can't just say "the price will be this now", you have to do something concrete which will have that effect, either lower supply or raise demand. Lowering supply means telling people not to make milk, not the kind of thing one does in America. (Plus seems like it would defeat the national security thing?) Raising demand means the government buying milk.

That's what it does with wheat and corn, and dumps them in silos. But those keep well, milk doesn't. So instead it decides to buy milk products that do keep well: cheddar cheese, butter, and "nonfat dry milk"? We only follow the cheese story.

Since the government is buying as much as you can produce, obviously farmers are going to want to sell their shittiest cheese. So they hire cheese graders to take core samples, taste them, and check they're good quality. Cheese hack: it's stored in barrels, so you can put good cheese on top and crap cheese on bottom, the grader mentioned that as a thing people did but didn't say how he'd find out or whatever.

And having bought the cheese, it basically just dumps it all in a set of caves in Kansas City. (Private caves that they're renting.) But the stockpile keeps growing and eventually growing mold. And it's hard to get rid of. They can't really sell it, that would compete with the farmers, not at all what they want. Normally they'd give it in foreign aid, but cheese doesn't travel well. The military takes some but not enough. They settle on food banks, the idea being that food bank recipients aren't buying cheese anyway.

It's awkward because it comes in way bigger barrels than the food banks want, but they cut it up and give it out, and government cheese becomes a whole thing in the public consciousness.

Some discussion of unintended consequences and the dangers of meddling in markets, but if there was a "this was clearly bad in hindsight because..." I missed it.

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-05-24T22:16:47.551Z · LW · GW

Planet Money (20 May 2021): Get The Vaccine, Lose The Skinny Jeans

Two thematically related stories.

Once the Covid vaccine is available, there's a question of "how do we convince people to get it?" We speak to someone in this area. Her group tried a bunch of things.

  • A joke, "did you hear the one about the flu? Don't spread it!": not effective.
  • "Wealthy educated people are getting the vaccine!": not effective.
  • "Lots of people are getting the vaccine!": effective.
  • Ohio's million dollar lottery: effective.

In other news: Skinny jeans became popular in the early 2000s. Two relevant things are the Strokes wearing them on the cover of an album (their debut?) and stretch denim making them more comfortable and easier to put on/take off. For a long time they just completely dominate the jeans industry, which is awkward for designers because how do you sell someone a new pair when they already have like five?

Then a fashion student? on Tiktok starts giving wardrobe advice during the pandemic. At some point she realizes she has a pair of skinny jeans she hasn't worn in ages, they're (apparently despite stretch fabric?) kind of uncomfortable and a pain to put on and take off and why would she bother in a pandemic. She makes a video like, "three uses for your skinny jeans: trash them, cut them up, burn them". This apparently sparks/unexpectedly finds itself part of a broader anti-skinny-jeans Whole Thing, which is also part of the millenial/gen Z Whole Thing? Anyway by now skinny jeans are down to like, only 30% of all jeans sales.

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-05-24T18:12:19.681Z · LW · GW

Planet Money (14 May 2021): Blood Money

America lets you sell blood plasma for money. The centers will call it a donation, but you get money for it, so. You can come in a couple of times a week and especially for low income people it can be a significant addition to their income. There are referral bonuses, and you get paid more if you come in more often. (Seems weird?) These centers are mostly located in low-income areas.

There's a history here involving Nicaragua. Under a dictator there was a center doing this, and a journalist was writing about concerns, and eventually the dictator had the journalist killed. Riots in the aftermath left the center burned down and eventually the dictator got deposed. At some point the WHO wrote up an agreement or something not to allow blood plasma to be sold. Almost everyone's signed, but not the USA. Now almost everyone gets their blood plasma from the USA. Four exceptions, who allow it to be sold and are self-sufficient: Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary.

(Farmer's Dilemma!)

We speak to a Canadian healthcare person about why Canada doesn't allow it. Three concerns. He's not too worried about incentives for people to sell bad blood, apparently we can sanitize it, even of HIV. He's also not too worried about health impacts on sellers; they get a checkup every four months to make sure they're still good, and there's some anecdotal evidence that maybe it should be more frequent but basically it seems fine. He seemed more concerned about "if people can sell plasma, will they do other things like regular blood donation for free?" I don't remember the commentary on that. I think he said that if the USA didn't allow selling they'd probably have to in Canada, but as long as they do it's unlikely to change.

We also speak to a Brazilian doctor saying that plasma and the things it's used for are essential, there are people who will die without it, get over yourselves.

Concerns that if either demand raises (finding new uses: there are studies showing promise in Alzheimers) or supply drops, there might not be enough. In fact supply has dropped during Covid: possible reasons include "sellers need the money less thanks to stimulus"; "if your kids are at home all the time you might be too busy"; "a lot of the sellers near the border are Mexicans who can't come over any more".

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-05-23T21:36:30.416Z · LW · GW

99% Invisible #442 (11 May 2021): Tanz Tanz Revolution

Berlin is known for its club scene, and this comes from the Berlin wall. No one really wanted to live in West Berlin, it was cut off from the rest of West Germany, so the government offered incentives: subsidized rent and food, exemption from mandatory military service.

(I'm surprised post-war Germany was allowed to have mandatory military service.)

This leads I guess to a bunch of musicians coming in, and they start defining a music scene. There's I think mutual influence between them and Detroit? They broadcast on the radio, and they say where they're DJing tonight, "come to the UFO club to hear this live" kind of thing.

Meanwhile in East Berlin, only state-sanctioned music is allowed, certainly nothing countercultural. If you want to hold a dance party, you need months worth of permits and bullshitting about how this will make the participants better soviet citizens through the ecstacy of dance. But the radio broadcasts from West Berlin are still there, so the East Berliners know what they're missing out on.

Eventually the wall comes down, they're allowed to mix freely, and East Berliners go to West Berlin clubs. Anyone who was there will tell you that the reunification of Germany happened on the dance floor.

West Berlin didn't have that much space, but East Berlin did. And for a lot of it, the ownership was unclear - the nazis had expropriated it from a Jewish owner, then the soviets from the nazis, and now in theory it was supposed to go back to its original owner but that could take a while (if they were even still alive I guess). In the meantime you could kind of just rock up to an abandoned warehouse and hold a rave? You'd be there for a couple of nights and then move on.

At some point one started staying in a dedicated location, somewhere that had held a bunch of records? I kind of zoned out and missed a lot of this.

Discussion of the link between Berlin and Detroit, but I missed a lot of that too. One specific record shop owner in Berlin was important.

Comment by philh on philh's Shortform · 2021-05-21T21:59:30.520Z · LW · GW

Planet Money (7 May 2021): Emission Impossible

Microsoft's CEO has announced that the company will be carbon negative by (2030 or 2050 or something). What does this mean?

(Explanation of carbon offsetting.)

One person selling carbon offsets is an Indonesian guy. He and a buddy bought up a load of Indonesian forest and now they charge money not to cut it down.

(Would cutting it down be a problem? Seems to me as long as you replant, and use the timber for construction, or store it, or otherwise make sure the carbon doesn't get released back in the atmosphere - it would be fine? But then I guess probably an old tree captures more carbon year-on-year than a young one. And also I guess the forest ecosystem is healthier with old trees, and constant replanting would eventually fail?)

Then there's a middleman. He knows how to make his way in Silicon Valley, he describes himself as offering the Airbnb of carbon offsets. The offset seller lists on the brokerage platform, and companies who want to buy offsets find them there.

There are a few potential problems with this. One is "regulation" but I don't remember what that means precisely. Another is, how do we know what it's worth to not cut down a forest? We have to compare to a hypothetical where no one bought the offsets, how much would have been cut down then? We can't know, but seller provides a number anyway. Comparing to similar forests, a study says that number is noticeably too high. There are ratings available, and this particular project gets either 0/5 or 1/5 stars.

(I don't remember if this is brought up in the episode, but I guess also: the person selling the offsets has incentive to encourage more logging in other forests.)

PM interviews someone, I think the broker, about these problems. He seems confident everything is fine. PM is unconvinced. Microsoft does not buy these particular offsets.