Posts

The Real Rules Have No Exceptions 2019-07-23T03:38:45.992Z · score: 106 (55 votes)
What is this new (?) Less Wrong feature? (“hidden related question”) 2019-05-15T23:51:16.319Z · score: 13 (4 votes)
History of LessWrong: Some Data Graphics 2018-11-16T07:07:15.501Z · score: 71 (23 votes)
New GreaterWrong feature: image zoom + image slideshows 2018-11-04T07:34:44.907Z · score: 39 (9 votes)
New GreaterWrong feature: anti-kibitzer (hides post/comment author names and karma values) 2018-10-19T21:03:22.649Z · score: 47 (14 votes)
Separate comments feeds for different post listings views? 2018-10-02T16:07:22.942Z · score: 14 (6 votes)
GreaterWrong—new theme and many enhancements 2018-10-01T07:22:01.788Z · score: 38 (9 votes)
Archiving link posts? 2018-09-08T05:45:53.349Z · score: 56 (19 votes)
Shared interests vs. collective interests 2018-05-28T22:06:50.911Z · score: 21 (11 votes)
GreaterWrong—even more new features & enhancements 2018-05-28T05:08:31.236Z · score: 64 (14 votes)
Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from World of Warcraft: Incentives and rewards 2018-05-07T06:44:47.775Z · score: 33 (12 votes)
Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from World of Warcraft: Goodhart’s law 2018-05-03T16:33:50.002Z · score: 83 (23 votes)
GreaterWrong—more new features & enhancements 2018-04-07T20:41:14.357Z · score: 23 (6 votes)
GreaterWrong—several new features & enhancements 2018-03-27T02:36:59.741Z · score: 44 (10 votes)
Key lime pie and the methods of rationality 2018-03-22T06:25:35.193Z · score: 59 (16 votes)
A new, better way to read the Sequences 2017-06-04T05:10:09.886Z · score: 19 (17 votes)
Cargo Cult Language 2012-02-05T21:32:56.631Z · score: 1 (32 votes)

Comments

Comment by saidachmiz on Affordance Widths · 2019-12-06T03:46:34.300Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Charles, David, and Edgar should all be re­ject­ing the frame in which they’re tun­ing {B}, and in­stead be look­ing for third op­tions which make {B} ir­rele­vant. This is easy to over­look when {B} is a generic place­holder rather than a spe­cific be­hav­ior, but be­comes clear when ap­plied to spe­cific ex­am­ples. Edgar, in par­tic­u­lar, is de­scribed as do­ing a prob­a­bly-catas­troph­i­cally-wrong thing, pre­sented as though it were the ob­vi­ous re­ac­tion to cir­cum­stances.

Do you have examples of what this (“look­ing for third op­tions which make {B} ir­rele­vant”) might look like? I confess to skepticism, otherwise; this seems very much like the sort of advice that sounds deeply wise, but in practice is impossible to apply. I would be happy to be convinced otherwise; a world where what you say is valid and sensible advice, would be a better and more fair world than one where it is not!

EDIT:

Edgar, in par­tic­u­lar, is de­scribed as do­ing a prob­a­bly-catas­troph­i­cally-wrong thing, pre­sented as though it were the ob­vi­ous re­ac­tion to cir­cum­stances.

Edgar is described as doing a probably-catastrophically-bad thing, but whether it is a wrong thing is contingent on what you say in the bit I quoted being true and applicable. If, instead, what you say is false or inapplicable, then Edgar’s response does seem to be the obvious one after all.

Comment by saidachmiz on Raemon's Scratchpad · 2019-12-06T03:39:42.670Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you, this is a useful answer.

Comment by saidachmiz on Affordance Widths · 2019-12-05T23:36:52.631Z · score: 19 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Without disagreeing with anything you say in this comment, let me note that the question I was asking was a narrow one, concerning only the matter of whether ‘we’ (by which I took you to mean: “the Less Wrong community”) do, or do not, care about impressing (or, more generally, care about our reputation with) unspecified people, or groups thereof, outside said Less Wrong community, who lack certain epistemic skills or norms.

Now, if the answer to this question is a flat “No”, then we are done here and nothing more needs to be said; all my earlier comments (to which you allude) apply, all your comments also apply, and in general we know where we stand.

However, supposing that the answer is instead (a suitably qualified) “Yes”, then there’s a conversation to be had.


That narrow point having been made, here’s a tentative start to that possibly-necessary conversation (to be disregarded if the “No” option is taken).

The differ­ence be­tween ad­ju­di­cat­ing the so­cial le­gi­t­i­macy of ob­jec­tions in the com­ment sec­tion, and in­clu­sion in the Best-of-2018 com­pila­tion, doesn’t seem that rele­vant to me—does it seem so to you? Or am I miss­ing some­thing else?

Well, perhaps you are. As far as the “social legitimacy of objections in the comment section” goes, if we ban certain sorts of comments (along the lines discussed in the threads you linked), then we’ve crippled our own ability to have epistemically productive conversations, and generally speaking this sort of thing is a serious wound against the epistemic health of the community.

Does this apply to inclusion in a “Best Of” compilation? It’s not clear to me whether it does or does not. By compiling the list, we are saying: “here is the best work done on Less Wrong in [time period]”. But to whom are we saying this? To ourselves, so to speak? Is this for internal consumption—as a guideline for future work, collectively decided on, and meant to be considered as a standard or bar to meet, by us, and anyone who joins us in the future? Or, is this meant for external consumption—a way of saying to others, “see what we have accomplished, and be impressed”, and also “here are the fruits of our labors; take them and make use of them”? Or something else? Or some combination of the above?

What, in other words, is the purpose of compiling this list? (And it does no good, please note, to reply that “well, it’s to report the truth, isn’t it, since in fact there are some posts which are the best posts, and we had better be truthful about which ones they are!”. Out of many possible facts about the corpus of all material published on Less Wrong to date, we choose to report this particular fact—that as a result of such-and-such a procedure, meant to compile a list chosen ostensibly on the basis of such-and-such a supposed set of criteria, we have here the following set of such a number of posts… and so on, in all the particulars—that cannot be motivated merely by a generalized principle of “discern and report the truth”. There are too many bits of selection from among a myriad of possibilities!) Tell me the purpose, and I will say whether it is good or bad to exclude an author’s work on any given basis.

The “social legitimacy” argument is entirely based in “if we don’t hold to these epistemic standards, we are destroying our very purpose, i.e., truth-seeking”. The “inclusion in a ‘Best Of’ list” argument cannot be justified in this way.

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling · 2019-12-05T21:10:32.319Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How differ­ent the woman’s way of deal­ing with prob­lems! Whereas the male ap­proach is to pre­sent pos­si­ble solu­tions, weigh­ing their likely im­pact in terms of com­pany ob­jec­tives, the women hardly con­fronted the prob­lem at all. In­stead they spoke at great length about their feel­ings; then closed dis­cus­sion (seem­ingly with­out re­s­olu­tion) by perform­ing some joint ac­tivity re­in­forc­ing group soli­dar­ity.

But… how did this “women’s” group actually… decide what to do?

What sorts of groups were these, anyway? What was the decision-making procedure? (In other words, who had the power to make the decisions?)

These and other details would be needed before any conclusions can be drawn from your anecdote, I think.

Comment by saidachmiz on Affordance Widths · 2019-12-05T21:03:27.945Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Rep­u­ta­tion is a two-place func­tion. Do we re­ally care about im­press­ing peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand the con­cept of “En­dorse­ment of the text of a spe­cific blog post does not con­sti­tute en­dorse­ment of any­thing else about the au­thor”?

I don’t know; do we? The question, I think, is: at whom is this “Best Of” collection aimed? Who’s the target audience, who are the expected audiences, etc.? I don’t know the answers to that—presumably the LW team do. Clearly, though, there exist plausible answers to these questions in the context of which the answer to your question is “yes, we do”. Do you disagree? (LW team folks—care to weigh in on the question of target audience?)

In this hy­po­thet­i­cal sce­nario …

I see, yes, this is a fair point.

Comment by saidachmiz on Affordance Widths · 2019-12-05T17:15:03.850Z · score: 16 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Despite my general stance in favor of free speech and open discussion, I don’t necessarily disagree with this; in this case it seems like reputational concerns are, indeed, worth considering.

However, separately from whether this essay is included in the collection, I think that this is something that it’s worth it for us to discuss, here on Less Wrong:

… the con­tent of the es­say might be in­ter­preted as a veiled at­tempt to jus­tify the au­thor’s moral trans­gres­sions

Veiled attempt or not, does the content of this essay have any bearing on the author’s moral transgressions? If yes—in what way? Are there, in fact, serious problems with the perspective and the analysis presented in this essay? (Note: I upvoted the essay; if there are implications or consequences of its analysis that I’ve overlooked, I would very much like to be shown what they are.)

In short: if such an accusation might conceivably be made, it would behoove us to give it serious thought and discussion.

Comment by saidachmiz on Raemon's Scratchpad · 2019-12-05T03:44:25.039Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I can’t easily find it right now, but there was a comment thread a while back on Slate Star Codex where we concluded that, actually, the problem isn’t with DMVs.

The problem is with DMVs in California.

Any attempt to analyze the problem and/or solve it, must take into account this peculiarity!

EDIT: Found it. The situation’s a bit more nuanced that my one-sentence summary above, but nonetheless it’s clear that “DMVs are just terrible” does not generalize. Some are (seemingly more often in California); many are not.

Comment by saidachmiz on Connectome-Specific Harmonic Waves · 2019-12-05T01:12:45.754Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have not yet read through this post, but I want to note that we had a post on Less Wrong about this theory over a year ago. What do you think about that post, and the comments on it? What does it get right, and what do you consider to be mistakes in it?

EDIT: Since you mention meditation, consider my questions also to apply to this more recent post on CSHW.

Comment by saidachmiz on Open & Welcome Thread - December 2019 · 2019-12-04T19:52:59.542Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Fair enough—thanks for the examples!

Comment by saidachmiz on Open & Welcome Thread - December 2019 · 2019-12-04T19:51:51.283Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Fixed width vs. variable width simply has to do with the way in which the width of the main text column changes when you change the width of the viewport (i.e., the browser window).

To easily see the difference, go to GreaterWrong.com, click on any post, and then look to the top right; you’ll see three small buttons, like this:

GreaterWrong width selector

This is the width selector. Click on any of the three icons to select that width. The left-most button (‘normal’) and the middle button (‘wide’) are fixed-width layouts; the right-most button (‘fluid’) is a variable-width layout. Try resizing your browser window (changing its width) after selecting each of the options, and you’ll see what I am talking about.

Comment by saidachmiz on Open & Welcome Thread - December 2019 · 2019-12-04T06:02:55.653Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Most of the wikis I know use a variable width for the body text, rather than a narrow fixed width that is common on many websites (including blogs)

This is only because most wiki administrators use the default wiki layout/skin. For the major wiki systems, many layouts exist that use fixed body width. (e.g. Skins for MediaWiki, Skins for PmWiki)

Most of the wikis I know have a separate discussion page, whereas most blogs have a comments section on the same page as the content

In any decent wiki system, it is trivial to put (or mirror/transclude/etc.) the comments onto the main page.

I think wikis tend to have smaller font size than blogs

This is, obviously, trivially customizable.

Wikis make a hard distinction between internal links (wikilinks) and external links, going so far as to discourage the use of external links in the body text in some cases

As mentioned in another response, this seems to just be Wikipedia.

Has anyone thought about these differences, especially what would explain them? Searching variations of “wikis vs blogs” on the internet yields irrelevant results.

What would explain them is just some contingent design choices of the default layouts of some popular systems (e.g. MediaWiki) and some popular wikis (e.g. Wikipedia), and most wiki administrators not really giving a lot of thought to whether to deviate from those defaults.

Comment by saidachmiz on Open & Welcome Thread - December 2019 · 2019-12-04T05:57:06.415Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
  1. I’ve haven’t seen blogs with a fixed width for body text. (I’ve seen blogs which have a (front) page of fixed width views of articles, each which conclude with a “Keep Reading” link.)

Most blogs have a fixed body text width. Observe:

(All links are to individual post pages, not the blog’s front page.)

That’s ten examples, including a cooking blog, a tabletop RPG blog, a naval history blog, a regular history blog, an economics blog, etc. All have fixed body text widths.

Comment by saidachmiz on CO2 Stripper Postmortem Thoughts · 2019-12-01T07:46:12.964Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Have you done this?

Comment by saidachmiz on Dialogue on Appeals to Consequences · 2019-11-29T01:41:36.621Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does that sound right?

Well, roughly. I don’t think it’s possible to entirely avoid “local politics”, in a totally literal sense, because any interaction of people within any group will end up being ‘politics’ in some sense.

But, certainly my view is closer to the latter than to the former, yes. Basically, it’s just what I said in this earlier comment. To put it another way: if you already have “local politics”, you’re starting out with a disadvantage so crippling that there’s no point in even trying to build any “citadel of truth”.

Comment by saidachmiz on Dialogue on Appeals to Consequences · 2019-11-29T00:28:08.274Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

… to ac­tu­ally Use Truth to Do De­sir­able Things you need to ac­tu­ally to Fo­cus On Truth For It’s Own Sake, and yes, this is a bit con­tra­dic­tory, and I’m not 100% sure how to re­solve the con­tra­dic­tion

I do not think there is any way to resolve the contradiction. It seems clear to me that just as no man may serve two masters, no organization may serve two goals. “What you are will­ing to trade off, may end up traded away. And ultimately, you will sacrifice your pursuit of truth, if what you are actually pursuing is something else—because there will come a time when your actual goal turns out (in that situation, at that time, in that moment) to not be best served by pursuing Truth, for its own sake or otherwise.

And then your Citadel will not even be a Citadel of Truth And Something Else, but only a Citadel of Something Else, And Not Truth At All.

Comment by saidachmiz on Dialogue on Appeals to Consequences · 2019-11-29T00:20:32.394Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The two main prob­lems that the sta­tus quo face AFAICT (i.e. if you put down a flag and say “Truth!” and then some peo­ple show up and start talk­ing, but nonethe­less find that their talk isn’t always truth­track­ing), is:

  • There might be peo­ple Out There who dis­like what you say, and harm or im­pose costs on you in some way

  • There might be peo­ple In the Con­ver­sa­tion who have some kind of stake in the con­ver­sa­tion, that are mo­ti­vated to warp it.

Note that these problems are not separate, but in fact are inextricably linked. This is because people Out There can come In Here (and will absolutely attempt to do so, in proportion to how successful your Citadel becomes), and also people In Here may decide to interact with social forces Out There.

… situ­a­tions where Lo­cal Poli­tics Is Already Here, and peo­ple wish­ing to be able to speak frankly de­spite that. The Ci­tadel of Truth doesn’t seem like it solves that prob­lem at all.

Indeed, it does not. Nor is it meant to.

I’m left with sort of a con­fused “what prob­lem is your con­cep­tion of the Ci­tadel ac­tu­ally try­ing to solve”, though?

Figuring out the truth. Note, as per my other comment, that we currently do not have any institutions that have just that as their goal. Really—none. (If you think that this claim is obviously wrong, then, as usual: provide examples!)

Comment by saidachmiz on Dialogue on Appeals to Consequences · 2019-11-29T00:15:03.326Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Everything else you said aside…

But, a citadel that’s just fo­cused on truth with­out pay­ing at­ten­tion to how that truth will ac­tu­ally get ap­plied to any­thing, that doesn’t at­tempt to re­solve the con­tra­dic­tion, doesn’t seem very in­ter­est­ing to me. That’s not the hard part

It is the hard part. It really, really is.

If you doubt this, witness the fact that we currently have no such institutions.

Comment by saidachmiz on Dialogue on Appeals to Consequences · 2019-11-28T09:47:46.435Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like a quite de­sir­able prop­erty to able to talk freely about which lo­cal orgs and peo­ple de­serve money and pres­tige – but I don’t cur­rently know of ro­bust game me­chan­ics that will ac­tu­ally, re­li­ably en­able this in any en­vi­ron­ment where I don’t per­son­ally know and trust each per­son.

There should not be any “local orgs” inside the citadel; and if the people who participate in the citadel also happen to, together, constitute various other orgs… well, first of all, that’s quite a bad sign; but in any case discussions of them, and whether they deserve money and so on, should not take place inside the citadel.

If this is not obvious, then I have not communicated the concept effectively. I urge you to once again consider this part:

Any among us who have some­thing to pro­tect, in the world be­yond the citadel, may wish to take the truths we find, and ap­ply them to that out­side world, and dis­cuss these things with oth­ers who feel as they do. In these dis­cus­sions, of plans and strate­gies for act­ing upon the wider world, the con­se­quences of their words, for that world, may be of the ut­most im­por­tance. But if so, to have such dis­cus­sions, these plan­ners will have to step out­side the citadel’s walls. To talk in such a way in here—to speak, and to hold your­self and oth­ers to con­sid­er­ing the con­se­quences of their words upon the world—is to vi­o­late the citadel’s rule: that all that we do and say within, serves truth, and only truth.

For this reason, I am of the strong opinion that any Citadel of Truth is best built online, and not integrated strongly into any “meatspace” community, and certainly not built within, or “on top of”, or by, any existing such community.

EDIT: The point is, it’s a Citadel of Truth, not—repeat, not!—a Citadel of Discovering the Truth And Then Doing Desirable Things With It, Because That Was Our Goal All Along, Wasn’t It. If that is what you’re trying to build, then forget it; the whole thing is corrupted from the get-go, and will come to no good.

Comment by saidachmiz on Expressive Vocabulary · 2019-11-24T21:34:18.992Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Seconding Zack (and see my earlier comment).

Comment by saidachmiz on Relevance Norms; Or, Gricean Implicature Queers the Decoupling/Contextualizing Binary · 2019-11-22T19:27:47.040Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Meta: it’s implicature. The second vowel is an i.

Comment by saidachmiz on How I do research · 2019-11-21T18:10:31.963Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Some additional thoughts on this (don’t feel that you need to respond if you don’t want to):

It has been said (and we generally take it to be true) that if you say “I’ll try to do X”, then what you really mean is that you’re going to try to try to do X; you might not, in the end, actually try to do X.

It has also been said (and we generally take it to be true) that if you say “I believe X”, or “I believe in X”, then what you’re expressing isn’t a belief in X, but rather a belief that you believe X. Perhaps you actually believe X; perhaps not.

The pattern here is similar to (though not identical with) those patterns. The following two statements are, in fact, expressing different things:

  1. This doesn’t work well.

  2. I don’t think this works well.

Likewise, these two statements are expressing different things:

  1. X is better than Y.

  2. I prefer X to Y.

And, again, these two statements are expressing different things:

  1. X is terrible.

  2. X is sub-optimal.

Consider a norm that you should never make object-level claims; you must only state explicitly that you believe so-and-so. What effect does this have, on our ability to discern and discuss the above distinctions?

Comment by saidachmiz on How I do research · 2019-11-20T22:54:51.552Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(I should note that I am not at all unbiased in recommending the given examples as “the right way”, as I did the current gwern.net site design… but, on that note, thank you for the endorsement! :)

Comment by saidachmiz on How I do research · 2019-11-20T20:56:22.653Z · score: 16 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Your moderation norms are, of course, yours to declare and enforce, but I must note that this:

As an aside, I see that you tried to employ makeshift drop caps, but I don’t think it works well like that.

… does not, actually, have the same meaning as this:

this attempt at “drop caps” is an insult to drop caps.

I am happy to be as civil as you like, but what you propose sacrifices communication for civility. Once again, enforcing such a sacrifice is your right, by Less Wrong’s rules, but then you should know that the given norms will mean that certain information will simply not reach you.

Comment by saidachmiz on How I do research · 2019-11-20T17:56:07.915Z · score: 5 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If you’re stooping to the use of Unicode alternates for your “drop-caps”, then there’s no reason not to do the same for small caps, yes?

(But note that I do not actually advocate doing any of this. None of this—not Unicode “blackboard bold”, not Unicode small caps, not anything along such lines—is an appropriate use of Unicode; it is harmful to accessibility, searchability, archivability, etc., and is generally a gross violation of separation of concerns.)

Comment by saidachmiz on How I do research · 2019-11-20T17:04:34.892Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Instead you should have used the “first several words are in small caps” technique (example).

Comment by saidachmiz on How I do research · 2019-11-20T17:03:19.759Z · score: 9 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I agree. But this attempt at “drop caps” is an insult to drop caps.

Compare these drop caps on gwern.net:

Comment by saidachmiz on How I do research · 2019-11-20T06:02:09.404Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I, on the other hand, consider it a crime against typography. :(

Comment by saidachmiz on Experiments and Consent · 2019-11-12T02:57:17.099Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

com­pa­nies that can keep their UI cur­rent can prob­a­bly, in gen­eral, make bet­ter soft­ware

To the contrary: companies that update their UI to be “current” probably, in general, make worse software (and not only in virtue of the fact that the UI updates often directly make the software worse).

I’m gen­er­ally pretty ret­rogrouch, and do of­ten pre­fer older in­ter­faces (I live on the com­mand line, code in emacs, etc). But I also rec­og­nize that differ­ent in­ter­faces work well for differ­ent peo­ple …

Do they? It’s funny; I’ve seen this sort of sentiment quite a few times. It’s always either “well, actually, I like older UIs, but newer UIs work better [in unspecified ways] for some people [but not me]”, or “I prefer newer UIs, because they’re [vague handwaving about ‘modern’, ‘current’, ‘clean’, ‘not outdated’, etc.,]”. Much less frequent, somehow—to the point of being almost totally absent from my experience—are sentiments along the lines of “I prefer modern UIs, for the following specific reasons; they are superior to older UIs, which have the following specific flaws (which modern UIs lack)”.

That was how I in­ter­preted your sug­ges­tion that UX peo­ple start to fol­low a “change UIs only when func­tion­al­ity de­mands”. Any­one who tried to do the “re­spon­si­ble” thing would lose out to less re­spon­si­ble folks. Even if you got a large group of UX peo­ple to re­fuse work they con­sid­ered to be chang­ing UIs for fash­ion, com­pa­nies are in a much stronger po­si­tion since the bar­rier to en­try for UX work is rel­a­tively low.

But note that this objection essentially concedes the point: that the pressure toward “modernization” of UX design is a Molochian race to the bottom.

The ren­der­ing en­g­ines of Chrome/​Edge/​Opera (Blink), Sa­fari (We­bKit), and Fire­fox (Gecko) are all open source and there are many pro­jects that wrap their own UI around a ren­der­ing en­g­ine. The amount of work is re­ally not that much, es­pe­cially on mo­bile (where iOS re­quires you to take this ap­proach).

[emphasis mine]

I have a hard time believing that you are serious, here. I find this to be an absurd claim.

in large part be­cause of anti-com­pet­i­tive be­hav­ior and gen­eral shadi­ness on the part of Google

Not sure what you’re refer­ring to here?

Once again, it is difficult for me to believe that you actually don’t know what I’m talking about—you would have to have spent the last five years, at the very least, not paying any attention to developments in web technologies. But if that’s so, then perhaps the inferential distance between us is too great.

Comment by saidachmiz on Experiments and Consent · 2019-11-11T21:56:12.552Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · LW · GW

users look­ing at it will have a low im­pres­sion of it

Mistakenly, of course. This is a well-attested problem, and is fundamental to this entire topic of discussion.

I don’t think fash­ion is the main mo­ti­va­tor here

No, the halo effect is the main motivator.

you can’t make it go away just by unilat­er­ally stop­ping play­ing

I never said that you could. (Although, in fact, I will now say that you can do so to a much greater extent than people usually assume, though not, of course, completely.)

The “ear­lier un­der­stand­ing” of many prob­lems in UX de­sign was more correct. Knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing in the in­dus­try has, in many cases, degen­er­ated, not im­proved.

How so? I can think of cases where ear­lier UX was a bet­ter fit for ex­pe­rienced users and newer UXes are “dumbed down”, is that what you mean?

In part. A full treatment of this question is beyond the scope of a tangential comment thread, though indeed the question is worthy of a full treatment. I will have to decline to elaborate for now.

If there was mas­sive value de­struc­tion then users would move to soft­ware that changed UI less.

In practice this is often impossible. For example, how do I move to a browser with which I can effectively browse every website, but whose UI stays static? I can’t (in large part because of anti-competitive behavior and general shadiness on the part of Google, in part because of other trends).

The fact is that such simplistic, spherical-cow models of user behavior and systemic incentives fail to capture a large number and scope of “Molochian” dynamics in the tech industry (and the world at large).

Comment by saidachmiz on Experiments and Consent · 2019-11-11T21:45:40.106Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If that’s the most severe (or one of the most severe) problems with Wikipedia’s UI that you can think of, then this only proves my point. As you say, Wikipedia is generally pretty good—which cannot be said for the overwhelming majority of modern websites, even—especially!—those that (quite correctly and reasonably) conform to the “limit text column width” typographic guideline.

Comment by saidachmiz on Experiments and Consent · 2019-11-11T18:42:10.309Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Com­pa­nies that fol­lowed your sug­ges­tions would, over the years, look very dated.

“Dated” is not a problem unless you treat UX design like fashion. UIs don’t rust.

their fea­tures would be clunky, hav­ing been patched onto UIs that were de­signed around an ear­lier un­der­stand­ing of the prob­lem

The “earlier understanding” of many problems in UX design was more correct. Knowledge and understanding in the industry has, in many cases, degenerated, not improved.

As the world changed, and which fea­tures were most use­ful to users changed, the UI would keep em­pha­siz­ing what­ever was origi­nally most im­por­tant. Users would leave for prod­ucts offered by new com­pa­nies that bet­ter fit their needs, and the company would es­pe­cially have a hard time get­ting new users.

Yes, this is certainly the story that designers, engineers, and managers tell themselves. Sometimes it’s even true. Often it’s a lie, to cover the design-as-fashion dynamic.

Chang­ing UIs has costs to users. So does charg­ing for your ser­vice. Is charg­ing for your ser­vice un­eth­i­cal? Think about the vast amount of frus­tra­tion caused by peo­ple not hav­ing enough money, just so the com­pany can shovel even more money onto already over­paid CEOs. (Want to modus again?)

Charging for your service isn’t unethical—though overcharging certainly might be! If companies didn’t charge for their service, they couldn’t provide it (and in cases where this isn’t true, the ethics of charging should certainly be examined). So, yes, once again.

But that’s not the important point. Consider this thought experiment: how much value, translated into money, does the company gain from constant, unnecessary[1] UI changes? Does the company even gain anything from this, or only the designers within it? If the company does gain some value from it, how much of this value is merely from not losing in zero-sum signaling/fashion races with other companies in the industry? And, finally, having arrived at a figure—how does this compare with the aggregate value lost by users?

The entire exercise is vastly negative-sum. It is destructive of value on a massive scale. Nothing even remotely like “charging money for products or services” can compare to it. Every CEO in the world can go and buy themselves five additional yachts, right now, and raise prices accordingly, and if in exchange this nonsense of “UX design as fashion” dies forever, I will consider that to be an astoundingly favorable bargain.


  1. That is, changes not motivated by specific usability flaws, specific feature additions, etc. ↩︎

Comment by saidachmiz on Experiments and Consent · 2019-11-11T18:25:24.229Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

At the first glance this seems to me like “ev­ery­thing was bet­ter in the past”.

How do you get “everything was better in the past” out of what I wrote?

I am saying that one specific category of thing was better in the past. For this to be unbelievable to you, to trigger this sort of response, you must believe that nothing was better in the past—which is surely absurd, yes?

It seems to me like a web­site that’s stuck in how things were done in the past like Wikipe­dia which doesn’t do any A/​B tests loses in us­abil­ity com­pared to more mod­ern web­sites that are highly op­ti­mized.

Wikipedia has considerably superior usability to the majority of modern websites.

Comment by saidachmiz on Experiments and Consent · 2019-11-11T05:38:37.186Z · score: 20 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Addendum to my other comment:

… running these [A/B] tests allows them to make products that are better than if they didn’t run the tests.

Empirically, as a trend across the industry, this has turned out to be false. “Design by A/B test” has dramatically eroded the quality of UI/UX design over the last 10-15 years.

Giving everyone worse outcomes to make sure everyone always gets identical outcomes would not be an improvement.

On the contrary, it quite often would be an improvement—and a big one. Not only are “worse” outcomes by the metrics usually used in A/B tests often not even actually worse by any measure that users might care about, but the gains from consistency (both synchronic and diachronic) are commonly underestimated (for example—clearly—by you); in fact such gains are massive, and compound in the long run. Inconsistency, on the other hand, has many detrimental knock-on effects (increased centralization and dependence on unaccountable authorities, un-democratization of expertise, increased education and support costs, the creation and maintenance of a self-perpetuating expert class and the power imbalances that result—all of these things are either directly caused, or exacerbated, by the synchronic and diachronic UI inconsistency that is rampant in today’s software).

Comment by saidachmiz on Experiments and Consent · 2019-11-11T05:27:58.346Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Even just with UI experiments, your argument proves too much: it says it’s unethical for companies to ever change their UI. Now people who are used to it working one way need all need to learn how to use the new interface. And all the Stack Overflow answers are wrong now. But clearly making changes to your UI is ok!

One man’s modus tollens is another’s modus ponens. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “ever”, but the frequency of UI changes that is commonplace today, I would say, is indeed unethical. I do not agree that “clearly making changes to your UI is ok”. It may be fine—there may be good reasons to do it[1]—but as far as I’m concerned, the default is that it’s not fine.

The fact is, “people who are used to it working one way … all need to learn how to use the new interface” is a serious, and seriously underappreciated, problem in today’s UX design practices. Many, many hours of productivity are lost to constant, pointless UI changes; a vast amount of frustration is caused. What, in sum, is the human toll of all of this—this self-indulgent experimentation by UX designers, this constant “innovation” and chasing after novelty? It’s not small; not small by any means.

I say that it is unethical. I say that if we, UX designers, had a stronger sense of professional ethics, then we would not do this, and instead would enshrine “thou shalt not change the UI unless you’re damn sure that it’s necessary and good for all users—existing ones most especially” in our professional codes of conduct.

In short: the argument given in the grandparent proves exactly as much as it should.


  1. And they needn’t be terribly dramatic reasons; “we added a feature” is a fine reason to change the UI… just enough to accommodate that feature. ↩︎

Comment by saidachmiz on Building Intuitions On Non-Empirical Arguments In Science · 2019-11-08T21:58:11.875Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I’m not sure I follow what you’re saying. What are you suggesting is the specific problem that remains after the question of “should we believe this thing” is addressed via the “beliefs are for actions” approach?

Comment by saidachmiz on Building Intuitions On Non-Empirical Arguments In Science · 2019-11-07T13:12:11.221Z · score: 13 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The sword against this particular Gordian knot is “beliefs are for actions”.

Comment by saidachmiz on Judgment, Punishment, and the Information-Suppression Field · 2019-11-06T23:25:47.040Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I also downvoted for precisely this reason. I agree with Ben Pace’s take, but not with his voting decision, though I entirely agree that this post is strong-upvote-worthy with this sort of thing removed.

Comment by saidachmiz on Halloween · 2019-11-01T23:36:28.655Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Isn’t another option just to do… nothing with Halloween?

I mean, there’s no law that says you have to participate in any given holiday, right? If you can’t think of anything to do that feels worthwhile, just… do what you’d do on any other day.

(I know you said you’ve now solved your problem, so consider this comment addressed to your hypothetical past self and/or anyone else who feels similarly to your past self.)

EDIT: Another, more ‘constructive’ (I guess?) suggestion is to do something that is Halloween-themed in content, despite being largely unrelated to Halloween in form. For example, you could get together with friends and bake some cookies shaped like ghosts or something, and watch some horror movies. Or, if you’re into D&D, you could (and this is something I’ve heard of a few people doing) run the Ravenloft adventure (perhaps the most famous horror-genre adventure module). Or anything else in this vein.

Comment by saidachmiz on The Technique Taboo · 2019-10-30T21:18:17.214Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In fact I was taught how to use the command line—in college (in one of the required courses for my degree), and in my high school Computer Science classes as well.[1] We weren’t taught Vim (why are you so focused on Vim, anyway…?), but we were taught the basics of emacs. (In any case, learning how to use specific text editors is surely something that you can learn on your own…? And if not, then what business do you have being a programmer?)


  1. I even took some sort of supplemental/optional college-level classes, while in high school (this was a long time ago, so I don’t recall what this program was, nor any other administrative details); one of those was a class in C programming—and there, too, we absolutely were taught how to use the command line. ↩︎

Comment by saidachmiz on The Technique Taboo · 2019-10-30T20:57:03.473Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that if you have to pause to think, typing speed was never a bottleneck anyway.

Seconding this question, which is, indeed, one of the things that “technique touch typing” advocates have never been able to answer to my satisfaction.

Comment by saidachmiz on The Technique Taboo · 2019-10-30T20:55:17.047Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A Computer Science Engineering major…well, you get the idea.

My undergraduate degree is in Computer Science (not even any “Engineering”, just plain old academic Computer Science).

Included in the requirements for said major were two semesters of “Design & Implementation of Software Applications”. The class was taught by a tech industry veteran and successful entrepreneur (he was an “associate professor” or some such, i.e. teaching this class was a side job for him), and it dealt directly with practical, real-world software engineering skills, including development methodologies, requirements specification, etc., in addition to the usual techniques of object-oriented application development and so on.

Other classes included Operating Systems (where we did not simply study theory but did things like writing a process scheduler), Computer Graphics, and more; and the final project for the degree was “find some professor / office / organization on campus that needs some app written, or piece of research code, or other useful piece of software, and write it for them”.

So… the idea that CS degrees don’t teach skills, seems to me to be extremely far-out.

Comment by saidachmiz on The Technique Taboo · 2019-10-30T20:40:52.283Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Note again that I type more than fast enough for my profession, without any specific technique at all—just naturally developed typing skills, picked up over years of using computers. This directly undermines the “touch typing” example, which is one of the examples you give to support your point.

Comment by saidachmiz on The Technique Taboo · 2019-10-30T20:18:56.595Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I’m friends with programmers who can’t touch type.

If by “touch type” you mean the “home row” sort of technique that’s taught in typing classes, then I have yet to see a single convincing argument for why I should bother to learn this. (I’m a programmer.) I see it often taken for granted that this sort of “touch typing” is simply a must for coders, but whenever I ask why that’s so, the reasons I’ve seen given do not make the slightest bit of sense.

Now, if you simply mean “typing without having to look at the keyboard”, well, sure. I can do that. Didn’t have to learn any specific “technique” for it, though.

P.S.:

50 to 80 words per minute is around the average for professional typists, and should be what most people strive for if they type for a living.

—from https://elearningindustry.com/why-average-typing-speed-is-important

I just took an online typing test. On my MacBook Pro, while lying on the couch, in a not-entirely-comfortable typing position, my typing speed is 73 wpm.

Specific “touch typing” techniques are completely unnecessary. Please let’s let this absurd myth die.

Comment by saidachmiz on Ms. Blue, meet Mr. Green · 2019-10-29T17:41:20.697Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

… these mo­ments of frus­tra­tion with one’s model or ap­proach might be the pri­mary op­por­tu­ni­ties for mak­ing progress on the Y prob­lem. If that op­por­tu­nity would evap­o­rate when you pre­sented a solu­tion to X, then Mor­pheus’s strat­egy seems bet­ter.

I am highly skeptical of such claims—but for the sake of argument, let’s grant the possibility, in full and without reservation.

Now suppose I ask you such an “X question”, and you do the usual thing, where you refuse to answer my question, or claim that you are answering it but actually give a Morpheus-style non-answer, etc., all because (so you claim) you’re trying to help me progress on the “Y problem”.

And suppose that actually there is an answer to my question, and you do know this answer, and thus you could, if you wanted to, simply answer my question (while knowing that ultimately, in some greater or more important sense, the answer will not help me).

And now suppose I say to you: “Yes, yes, I understand that you think answering my ‘X question’ won’t help me; I understand that you’re trying to help me solve some ‘Y problem’ that you think is actually my problem, or that you think is more important, etc., etc. I understand that you’re trying to be helpful. But I want you to answer my actual question anyway.”

If, in response to this, you still refuse to give a straight answer (again, recall that we’re assuming that you could easily answer my “X question”!), then I must conclude that you are—and I hope you’ll forgive the language—rather a huge asshole. Because that’s what it is, when you judge yourself to have more right to make decisions on my behalf than I do, in direct contravention to my explicitly stated choices, and when you so blatantly disregard my agency. After all, what else is it, to say: “No, for all your protestations, I simply know better than you what information you should acquire and when and how and in what order, and what your goals ought to be vis-a-vis your epistemic advancement; and I, and not you, have the right to decide what you ought to be told, and what you ought not be told; and your wishes in the matter are simply irrelevant.”

… the other possibility, of course, is that one of our assumptions fails to hold. (Perhaps the one about there actually being an answer to the “X question”, and you knowing the answer?)

In any case, that’s the dilemma: blatant disregard for agency and autonomy, or intellectual fraud. Either is entirely possible, a priori; in tech-oriented communities I have encountered quite a bit of the former, for example. Determining which of these is the case for the topic at hand is, I suppose, an exercise for the reader.

EDIT: What is also, in my experience, quite indicative, is whether the answer-giver admits that he could simply answer the given “X question”, and makes his refusal straightforward; or whether he gives (apparently-)obscurantist responses even to attempts to determine his policy.

For example, I have encountered situations where a technical “X question” was asked, and a knowledgeable respondent, upon being pressed by the questioner, said something along these lines: “Yes, indeed I could simply answer your question, which does, as stated, have a straightforward answer, which I know and could give you. But I will not do this; because if I do, then whatever task you’re trying to accomplish, you will mess up, and you will—believe me, newbie, I’ve seen this play out many times before!—you will be angry at me, and you’ll come back here and you’ll have bigger problems and pester me with more questions, and all this can be avoided if you accept my judgment and advice, as I am your superior in these matters and I am telling you what you need to know, not what you want to know.”

Well, fair enough. There’s still a good chance that this person is being a jerk, of course. (But perhaps understandably so? After all, among the ranks of clueless newbies there are quite few who can take responsibility for their decisions, and who will know not to blame the honest question-answerer for their own shortsightedness…) But at least we (in the role of questioner) know where we stand! At least the respondent makes clear to us that he is outright refusing to give an answer—and we can judge him for his choices, fair and square.

But how do we judge a Morpheus-wannabe? Is he able to answer, but refuses? Or is he feeding us a line of mumbo-jumbo because there is no answer? Lack of clarity even at the conversational meta level—that is a very bad sign!

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-26T00:55:57.965Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Playing the devil’s advocate:

It should be pointed out that it’s possible to agree with most or all of your predictions, while disagreeing with their valence, or in other words, to say: “Yes, all these things indeed are likely to happen—and that’s a good thing!”

I do not endorse this view myself, but it’s important to realize that many people do, and such people would respond to your points in ways somewhat like the following:

Where are we to get our peo­ple from, if not from our own cit­i­zenry? …

“Our society has no greater value than anyone else’s, and replacing our citizenry and our culture with other people is not inherently problematic in any way.”

We know the recipe for kil­ling pop­u­la­tion growth, and we’ve de­ployed it suc­cess­fully in Africa (and by ac­ci­dent, here too): ed­u­ca­tion for girls fol­lowed by em­ploy­ment (and you don’t even need birth con­trol to see the dra­matic effects).

“This is not only not a problem, it is a positive good; what you describe is indeed the recipe for the liberation and empowerment of women.”

… and so on.

I bring this up only to remind everyone in this conversation to keep a very firm grasp on the distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’.

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-25T23:40:40.410Z · score: 17 (6 votes) · LW · GW

On the one hand, you’re certainly right in the abstract, and I do agree that more precise terminology is desperately needed here.

On the other hand—you don’t rob liquor stores, do you? Snatch old ladies’ purses? I’ll assume that you don’t. But why don’t you? Is it ‘violence’? After all, the state can and does credibly threaten violence to perpetrators of such actions, so is ‘violence’, or ‘counterfactual violence’, or ‘structural violence’, your reason for not doing things of this nature?

A slave on a plantation in the old South has no agency at all (or close enough to none, for government work), and the reason for that slave not running away may quite reasonably be described as ‘violence’.

A slave in ancient Greece has somewhat more agency than the Southern plantation slave—though, perhaps, still close enough to ‘no agency’ for the term to be used in good faith; and the reason for that slave not running away might, with only some amount of stretch, be described as ‘counterfactual violence’.

A Jewish peasant living in the Pale of Settlement has quite limited agency, but does ‘no agency’ still describe his situation? Perhaps, perhaps not. Why doesn’t he move to somewhere else—is it ‘violence’? At some remove, perhaps, though he would be unlikely to describe it this way.

A Japanese salaryman who’s spent his whole career at the same company and has no transferable skills has distinct limitations on his agency, but saying he has ‘no agency’ would be tendentious, at best. Why doesn’t he take up a different career? Is it ‘violence’? That, too, seems like a poor description, yet we might give it some thought and note that violence of some sort is involved at some point in the chain of reasoning.

The more broadly you want to define ‘no agency’, the less sense it makes to claim that lack of agency is usually enforced by violence, or even ‘counterfactual violence’ (or any similar construction).

Therefore whether Elizabeth’s response to Stuart Anderson is apt, depends on whether we think a society that could evade the latter’s criticisms would necessarily limit women’s agency to the level of the Southern plantation slave, or the ancient Greek slave, or the 18th-century Jewish peasant, or the Japanese salaryman, etc.

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-25T23:27:19.359Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

situ­a­tions where threat-of-vi­o­lence is still in­volved at some point, but is a cou­ple steps re­moved (where maybe the threat is more like ex­plu­sion from the tribe, which then in­creases your chance of death or harm)

Exactly.

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-25T22:49:13.978Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you say more about what you mean by ‘engagement’?

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-25T22:45:43.652Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That… seems like a perfectly ordinary definition, actually?

Historically, in many time periods, many or even most people lacked meaningful (or, for large subsets of those, any) agency, and… this usually didn’t require violence, because it was simply how things were.

And while you can certainly consider this state of affairs to be unjust—I certainly do (to a first approximation)—nevertheless saying that having much of the population lack agency is violence, is a severe abuse of language.

Things can be bad without being violence. (In fact things can even be worse than violence, while still not being violence.)

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-24T01:10:02.961Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

As per my other comment—is it the “public” part that you feel is critical here, or the “online” part, or are they both separately necessary (and if so—are they together sufficient? … though this is a much trickier question, of course).