Posts

BBE W1: HMCM and Notetaking Systems 2020-06-09T19:20:31.975Z
BBE W1: Personal Notetaking Desiderata Walkthrough 2020-06-09T19:19:05.860Z
Build a Better Exobrain: Week 0 Overview 2020-06-09T19:09:14.177Z
Coping and Cultures 2020-05-06T22:49:13.428Z
Does SARS-CoV-2 utilize antibody-dependent enhancement? 2020-03-14T22:46:38.293Z
Bioinfohazards 2019-09-17T02:41:30.175Z
Spiracular's Shortform Feed 2019-06-13T20:36:26.603Z

Comments

Comment by Spiracular on BBE W1: Personal Notetaking Desiderata Walkthrough · 2021-05-05T19:05:51.464Z · LW · GW

It has been about a year, so here's an update.

The initial things that drew me to TiddlyWiki are still covered in this post, and still basically true.

I still love using TW, and it's still my main personal notetaking software. Since this post, I have gone through at least 3 cycles of feeling further charmed by it, after discovering it had some additional functionality that I didn't know it surfaced (ex: easy palette-swapping, changing the journal datetime format, Github saving, easy export to JSON). I've only run into 1 new point of disappointment: its multi-person editing inadequacies.

It has a really good hackability philosophy. TW seems to surface everything it possibly can to deliberate modification, and then tries to make modifying it easy. The software is hackable, old, and a decent number of programmers like it, so the add-on ecosystem is pretty informal but really great.

(Unfortunately, I can't compare it with Roam's current ecosystem, because I haven't tried Roam recently. My fuzzy and weakly-held impression is that TW leans harder towards amazing self-contained functionalities, personalization, and a culture of casual hacking & sharing. While Roam seems better with chrome extensions, the external-facing APIs of other software, and being intuitive to use for non-programmers. I am curious what other people's impressions are.)

Between satisfaction with TW's basic offerings, and a good add-on environment, I have basically gone from "trying new notetaking software all the time," to "notetaking-monogamous for 2+ years."

Notably, my typical response to finding something else that I want my notes to do has changed from "finding a new software suite," to "sketching what I want as a spec, then hunting for an TW add-on or function that does that thing." In some rare cases, I've even written basic implementations myself. The software has done a fabulous job of rising to my growing demands of it.

(To give some idea of the diversity of things out there: There's a TW GTD implementation, Roam-inspired TW variant, TW slide shows, calendar things, timers, several varieties of TW as a code-highlighter (ex: codemirror), some flashcard things, graphs... this list is long. A few TW environments or add-ons barely resemble their starting point in anything but philosophy, and might qualify as full-blown web-apps.)

So, a new thing I recognize as very valuable, if you want a system to grow with you: A good add-on ecosystem!

This thing wasn't in my old list of desirables, but I wish it was: I feel horrified in retrospect that I ever put up with a knowledge-base software that didn't have transclude or lists-from-tag-filters baked in. It saves me a lot of time and frustration to have large chunks of my overview notes use pointers to update themselves.

Something TW isn't good at: With TW, it doesn't look like I can set it up so that 2 people can modify the same file at once. I ended up settling for Github merges. It looks like a few people have gotten part of the way to making this dream work, but there is a lot of set-up required to run it, and it doesn't seem to be able to do this yet anyway. (This difficulty is a serious drawback of the self-contained single-file philosophy TW has.)

Comment by Spiracular on Why haven't we celebrated any major achievements lately? · 2021-05-02T04:08:53.831Z · LW · GW

As someone who has helped run events, I do assume that "loud noises, firearms, and occupying streets without a permit are illegal" probably accounts for a lot of it. Maybe also "people have other means of advertising available," if military, political, or store advertising did a lot to prop up the industries surrounding this.

But here's another one I thought of: Taking weekends off wasn't really standardized in the US until about 1940. When were vacation days standardized? Is it possible that in the absence of a strictly standardized set of days you have off, this becomes a great excuse to take a day off, and that this partially accounted for their size and grandeur?

Maybe people had big celebrations, in part to give a sufficiently strong informal mark of social validation to something being a "holiday?" Only nowadays, that doesn't get you anything much.

(Fortunately, I think this one is easy to test: If these parades were usually on Sundays, I think this doesn't hold up as an explanation.)

Comment by Spiracular on Specializing in Problems We Don't Understand · 2021-04-15T14:56:36.038Z · LW · GW

This could be the flip-side of the flashcard-set you're selling, and I enjoyed learning that Wikipedia included lists like these:

The relevant list of lists probably covers several more, although most don't seem to be following the "Named" naming convention. At a glance I'm seeing...

Comment by Spiracular on niplav's Shortform · 2021-04-14T22:28:55.585Z · LW · GW

It's sorta non-obvious. I kinda poked at this for hours, at some point? It took a while for me to settle on a model I liked for this.

Here's the full notes for what I came up with.

Physics: Feels close. Hm... biological life as a self-compiler on a physics substrate?

DNA or gametes seem really close to a "quine" for this: plug it into the right part of an active compiler, and it outputs many instances of its own code + a customized compiler. Although it crashes/gets rejected if the compiler is too different (ex: plant & animal have different regulatory markers & different sugar-related protein modifications).

I don't have a fixed word for the "custom compiler" thing yet ("optimized compiler"? "coopted compiler"? "spawner"? "Q-spawner"?). I have seen analogous stuff in other places, and I'm tempted to call it a somewhat common pattern, though. (ex: vertically-transmitted CS compiler corruption, or viruses producing tumor micro-environments that are more favorable to replicating the virus)

Comment by Spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2021-04-14T22:13:51.714Z · LW · GW

Live Parsers and Quines

An unusual mathematical-leaning definition of a living thing.

(Or, to be more precise... a potential living immortal? A replicon? Whatever.)

A self-replicating physical entity with...

3 Core Components:

  • Quine: Contains the code to produce itself
  • Parser: A parser for that code
    • Code includes instructions for the parser; ideally, compressed instructions
  • Power: Actively running (probably on some substrate)
    • Not actively running is death, although for some the death is temporary.
    • Access to resources may be a subcomponent of this?

Additional components:

  • Substrate: A material that can be converted into more self
    • Possibly a multi-step process
    • Access to resources is probably a component of this
  • Translator: Converts quine into power, or vice-versa
    • Not always necessary; sometimes a quine is held as power, not substrate

Parser and Code: the information can actually be stored on either; you can extract the correct complex signal from complete randomness using an arbitrarily-complex parser chosen for that purpose. There are analogies that can be drawn in the other direction, too: a fairly dumb parser can make fairly complicated things, given enough instructions. (Something something Turing Machines)

Ideally, though, they're well-paired and the compression method is something sensible, to reduce complexity.

A quine by itself has only a partial life; it is just its own code, it requires a parser to replicate.

(If you allow for arbitrarily complex parsers, any code could be a quine, if you were willing to search for the right parser.)

Compilers are... parsers? (Or translators?)

It is possible for what was "code" information to be embedded into the parser. I think this is part of what happens when you completely integrate parts in IFS.

Examples

Example replicons: A bacterium, a cell, a clonal organism, a pair of opposite-sexed humans (but not a single), self-contained repeating Game of Life automata, the eventual goal of RepRap (a 3D printer fully producing a copy of itself)

Viruses: Sometimes quines, sometimes pre-quine and translator

The distinctive thing about Lisp is that its core is a language defined by writing an interpreter in itself. It wasn't originally intended as a programming language in the ordinary sense. It was meant to be a formal model of computation, an alternative to the Turing machine. If you want to write an interpreter for a language in itself, what's the minimum set of predefined operators you need? The Lisp that John McCarthy invented, or more accurately discovered, is an answer to that question.

-- What I Worked On, Paul Graham

Related: Self-Reference, Post-Irony, Hofstadter's Strange Loop, Turing Machine, Automata (less-so), deconstruction (less-so)

Is Tiddlywiki a quine?

Is a cryonics'd human a quine? (wrt future technology)

The definition of parasite used in Nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of parasites is literally quines.

(Complex multi-step life-cycle in the T5 case, though?. The quine produced a bare-bones quine-compiling "spawner" when it interacts with the wild-type, and then replicates on that. Almost analogous to CS viruses that infect the compiler, and any future compiler compiled by that compiler.)

Process is Art: Is art that demonstrates how to craft the art, a quine on a human compiler?

Some connection to: Compartmentalization (Black Box Testing, unit tests, separation of software components) and the "swappability" of keeping things general and non-embedded, with clearly-marked and limited interface-surfaces (APIs). Generates pressure against having "arbitrary compilers" in practice.

Comment by Spiracular on niplav's Shortform · 2021-04-11T21:40:15.052Z · LW · GW

DNA is a quine, when processed by DNA Replicase.

Although with a sufficiently complex (or specific) compiler or processor, any arbitrary stream of information can be made into a quine.

You can embed information in either of instructions/substrate, or compiler/processor. Quines usually seem limited to describing instructions/substrate, but that's not the only place information can be drawn from. I've kinda come to think of it as 2-term operation (ex: "this bit of quine code is a quine wrt python").

(More physical quines: Ink scribbles on a sheet of paper are a quine wrt a copy-machine. At about the far-end of "replicative complexity gets stored in the processor," you have the "activated button" of a button-making machine (which activates with a button, and outputs buttons in an active state). I think the "activated button" here is either a quine, or almost a quine.)

The cool thing about life is that it it is both a quine, and its own processor. (And also, sorta its own power source.)

I find it simpler to call systems like this "living" (at least while active/functional), since they're meaningfully more than just quines.

Viruses are definitely quines, though. Viruses and plasmids are non-living quines that compile and run on living biological systems.

Comment by Spiracular on How You Can Gain Self Control Without "Self-Control" · 2021-04-03T19:21:32.024Z · LW · GW

One little drawback of ThoughtSaver (although I generally like the idea!)...

The fact that I reclustered these right away, means I had better retention for the leaf-related questions but got annoyed whenever the cluster-branch questions came up. Memorizing how you had phrased it was sometimes in conflict with remembering a more useful clustering, for me.

I don't know how to build things that are resilient to this, but I wanted at least some awareness of this problem.

Comment by Spiracular on How You Can Gain Self Control Without "Self-Control" · 2021-04-03T19:16:42.922Z · LW · GW

I immediately reclustered your motivational-breakdown into the following:

OODA Loop

  • Noticing distractions/impulses
  • Tendency to override distractions/impulses
  • High energy
    • High energy ~ High executive function ~ Agility: ability to deliberately direct or change what you're doing.
    • Separate from staying in flow-state, which basically maps to "momentum." However, initiating a flow-state deliberately can take some energy/agility.

Desires

  • Motivated towards healthy goals
  • Unmotivated by unhealthy desires

Pain Attitude

  • Pain tolerance
  • Pain enjoyment
  • Flow state

Time Discounting

  • Low discount on future gratification
  • High discount on future pain

Same low-level leaves, except that I slightly-rephrased lack of desire for unhealthy things, and I added "pain enjoyment" as separate from "pain tolerance." (I experience and model them as distinct things; one is buffer that can be overwhelmed, but the other can become a bona-fide addiction in some people.)

...might also mention that I see flow-state as potentially fitting into ANY of these categories.

This re-clustering maps much better to how I personally would calculate/model these.

Comment by Spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2021-04-03T19:02:10.720Z · LW · GW

OODAs vs TAPs

TAPs are just abbreviated or stunted OODA loops, and I think I prefer some aspects of the OODA phrasing.

OODA: Observe -> Orient -> Decide -> Act (loop)

TAP: Trigger -> Action (Plan/Pattern)

TAPs usually map to "Observe->Act."

Orient loosely means setting up a Model/Metrics/Framework/Attitude.

(This can take anywhere from 1/2 a second to years; wildly variable amounts of time depending on how simple and familiar the problem and system is. TAPs implicitly assume this is one of the simple/fast cases.)

One case where OODA's phrasing is better, is "Attitude TAPs":

"Attitude TAPs" are one of the most valuable TAP types, but are a non-obvious feature of the TAPs framework unless this is explicitly mentioned.

Ex: (from here)"when I'm finding my daily writing difficult, and I'm thinking about quitting, I'll notice that and try to figure out what's going wrong (rather than mindlessly checking Twitter to avoid writing)."

Alternatively, this could be phrased as an abbreviated OODA that cements an "Observe ->Orient" without fixing an action. Personally, I find this a bit cleaner.

Comment by Spiracular on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-03-21T23:28:42.363Z · LW · GW

A bit of context: I ended up with an odd connection between the way he described a "Realness-gauging heuristic," and how Blockchain works, that I wanted to share. This eventually led to the question bubbling up.

Vervaeke mentioned that a problem with some Higher State of Consciousness (HSC) experiences is that some people experience an "Axial Revolution in miniature," and decide that the real world is the dream, and their experience in the altered state was the reality. (Which they usually feel a need to return to, due to what he dubbed a "Platonic meta-drive" towards realness.)

Usually, with altered states (ex: literal dreaming), one ends up treating the altered state as a dream-like subjective experience, and understand your waking-life as reality. In these cases, this seems to get flipped.

To paraphrase Vervaeke...

Realness is the pattern of intelligibility with the widest, richest scope. It makes the most sense of your experience; your beliefs, your memories, etc.

The way I interpret this is that one of the common heuristics to ascertain "realness" is to search for the most extensive, highest-continuity, or most vividly experienced comprehension algorithm that you've ever built.

This calls faintly to mind fork-resolution in blockchains.

For the most part, blockchains branch constantly, but by design turn whatever is the longest and most-developed legal branch into the canonical one*. This is not purely continuous, since this is not always the same chain over time; one can overtake another. As long as it's the the longest, it becomes the "valid" one.

While this is one of the simplest fork-resolution metics to explain, it is not the only one.

Other varieties of forking (ex: a git repo for a software package) may use other canonicity-resolution heuristics. Here's a very common one: for a lot of projects, the most-built one is called an "Alpha" while the canonical version numbers are reserved for branches deemed debugged or "sufficiently stable."

(It is also sometimes possible to provide an avenue for re-integrating or otherwise feeding an off-branch to a main one (ex: uncles), but this can get complicated rather quickly.)

* With the notable exception of hard-forks: a rare event, where there is a social move to quash the validity of a chain in which a substantial misuse has occurred. Coming up with similar cases in history or social reality is left as an exercise for the reader.

Comment by Spiracular on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-03-21T23:22:13.307Z · LW · GW

A question:

What are some of the metrics people use, to judge whether something felt "real?" What are some metrics used to resolve fork-conflicts, between different ways of making sense of the world?

What does it mean, when these are different, and how do you resolve that conflict?

(A few example conflicts: A dream that is obviously not self-consistent, but still makes useful predictions. A vivid memory you have, that none of your friends can recall. A high-confidence intuitive prediction you could make whose certainty colors your perception, but which others insist is based on invalid starting premises.)

Comment by Spiracular on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-03-18T23:51:06.757Z · LW · GW

On a little further thought: "weaker sense of hunger" could be fine or beneficial for some people, and negative for others.

But some people don't seem to be able to undo this change, after doing it. So my advice around it defaults to cautionary, largely for that reason. It's hard to adjust something intelligently after-the-fact, when you can only move a knob easily in 1 direction. (And from my tiny sliver of anecdatums, I think this might be true for at least 1 of the mental-reconfigurations some people can do in this space.)

P.S. "Lonely mouth" is a VASTLY better term (and framing) than "oral fixation." Why the hell did Western Culture* let Freud do this sort of thing to the joint-metaphor-space?

* Do we have a canonical term for "the anthro for decentralized language canon" yet?**

** I get the feeling that a fun (and incredibly-stupid) anthropomorphizing metaphor could easily exist here. New words as offerings, that can be accepted or rejected by facets of Memesis. Descriptivist linguists as the mad prophets of a broken God. Prescriptivists and conlang-users as her ex-paladins or reformers, fallen to the temptations of lawfulness and cursed with his displeasure. An incomplete reification for "Language as They Are," in contrast to the platonic construct of an "Orderly Language that Could Be."

Comment by Spiracular on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-03-16T18:16:46.922Z · LW · GW

I do know at least 1 person (...maybe 2, from another "bad childhood" case) who completely lost touch with their ability to detect their own hunger, and had to rely on social conventions to remember to eat.

(This person's childhood was awful. I think they had been stuck in a lot of situations where they couldn't satisfy their need for food through the "having" frame. While it might be impossible to not need food, it is possible for someone to adjust to not want or think about food much.)

This person was otherwise incredibly well-adjusted*, but the "no sense of hunger" thing stuck.

Do not recommend, btw. It seems to be something that is very hard to unlearn, once acquired. In the absence of other people, "timers" or "actual wooziness" were the shitty secondary indicators these people came to rely on.

* This one was well-adjusted compared to most people, period.**

** Given what he went through, this struck me as an unusual (but pleasant!) surprise. This person's life was far more difficult than most. But he seemed to be able to view a lot of his tragedies as statistics, and he still found it worth living. Had an incredible knack for making found-family, which probably helped.

Comment by Spiracular on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-03-13T08:32:53.139Z · LW · GW

Assyrian Armies of the Axial-Age: Alphabetical, Arithmetic, and Affluent.

Comment by Spiracular on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-03-13T07:31:21.022Z · LW · GW

Here's a single concrete thing he does that drives me nuts. I wonder if it may be a part of what is setting you off, too?

He overuses the term "unifying." He uses it three times an episode, to mean a different thing than I would usually mean by it. I really wish he'd cut it out.

I usually see "unifying" as signifying that there is an overarching model that takes some of the complexity of several models, and collapses them down together. Something that reduces "special casing."

He almost never means that. It's always adding more, or tying together, or connecting bits without simplifying. It comes off to me like a string of broken promises.

In my notes, it means that I produce a ton of pre-emptive "Summary Here Headers" (for theory unifications that seem to never come), that I had to delete in the end. Because usually, there isn't a deep shared root to summarize. When I come back to fill them in, all I find is a tangential binding that's thin as a thread. Which is just not enough to cohesively summarize the next 3 things he talked about as if they were a single object.

I think his "big theory" is actually something more like... spoilers... which I wouldn't have guessed at accurately from the first 2 episodes.

(I can't get spoilers to work on markdown, ugh. Stop reading if you want to avoid them.)

Maybe "attention as a terrain," or maybe something about aligning high-abstraction frames with embodied ones? The former feels basic to me at this point, but the later's actually a pretty decent line of thought.

Comment by Spiracular on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-03-08T21:39:08.577Z · LW · GW

I appreciated the Foolishness vs Ignorance distinction he drew up in Episode 1.

"Foolishness is lack of wisdom, Ignorance is lack of knowledge" sounds initially trite. But when he drills a little further into it, it became clear that his use of "Foolishness" is trying to gesture at premature pattern-identification and pattern-fixation, with a failure to notice alternative patterns.

"Premature reification" is what I've heard Ozzie call something similar, and that's the handle I most often use for it.

There are probably some types of error that a child wouldn't make, but an adult would, because adults more readily project one of their pre-existing reifications.

...but also, you need a reification to build things or coordinate. They're not a thing you want to stop doing, they're a thing you want to learn to monitor, manage, and question sometimes.

It is good to have some tools to dislodge or rewrite reifications which don't actually apply. (And this seems to be what he sees as a selling-point of altered states.)

Comment by Spiracular on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-03-08T21:28:38.646Z · LW · GW

Lesswrong doesn't have a "group"-like (user subthread) functionality, and I mostly think Lesswrong is currently not an optimal place to do "subscribe to a sequence of posts" content (...ironically?), since it doesn't seem presently rigged for this.

(I thought they discontinued sequences functionality? They may have actually limited access to it to a karma score or something, and I'm holding this assumption weakly.)

These are counterbalanced for me by the accessibility/reach of LW (for audience and commenters) and the expected quality of comments, though. And it's always possible to just provide in-text links to tie together a sequence. I think I've convinced myself not to push to change it; it's a fine choice.

I'm... really curious to see how well "discussion-driven something-or-other" goes. I was a little disappointed with how little engagement the "Questions" section sometimes got, and I usually think of "Link-out w/ discussion" as a slightly-similar datatype.

Comment by Spiracular on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-03-08T21:28:21.978Z · LW · GW

This post seems to be the meta-Lecture Club, not Episode 1, so I'm a tad confused about where to object-comment on Epi 1 (high-level? subthread on Episode 1 summary? Both seem a little suboptimal.)

This probably resolves itself as "just do a highest-level comment" after Epi 1, but I wanted to express the confusion.

Comment by Spiracular on Bioinfohazards · 2021-01-11T19:22:29.202Z · LW · GW

Edit: Just separating this for coherence's sake


Lab Safety Procedures/PPE/Sanitation: I think I have some ideas for where I could start on that? BSL is probably a good place to start.

I'd feel pretty weird posting about that on LessWrong, tbh? (I still might, though.)

I don't currently feel like writing this. But, I'll keep it in mind as a possibility.

Summary of orgs, positions, room-for-funding: I do not have the means, access, clearance, or credentials to do this. (I don't care about me lacking some of those credentials, but other people have made it clear that they do.)

I really would like this to exist! I get the sense that better people than me have tried, and were usually were only able to get part-way, but I haven't tracked it recently. This has led me to assume that this task is more difficult than you'd expect. I have seen a nice copy of a biosecurity-relevant-orgs spreadsheet circulating at one point, though (which I think could get partial-credit).

The closest thing I probably could output are some thoughts on what broad-projects or areas of research seem likely to be valuable and/or underfunded. But I would expect it to be lower-resolution, and less valuable to people.

Comment by Spiracular on Bioinfohazards · 2021-01-11T18:45:44.643Z · LW · GW

Heh. Damn, did this post end up in the right Everett branch.

Comment by Spiracular on Bioinfohazards · 2021-01-08T23:03:54.686Z · LW · GW

Here's a simplification of my current assessment heuristic...

  • What order-of-magnitude is the audience? (a multiplier)
    • Any relevant audience skews/filters?
    • What are the tails?
  • What's the trade-off for offense vs defense? (+/- direction, & size)
    • Is it + or - overall? How big?
    • Do any points swamp the others in importance?
  • What am I not easily factoring in? Are there any gotchas? (checklist + Murphyjutsu)
    • Future Advances
    • Idea Inoculation
    • Second-degree and unintended audiences
    • Murphyjutsu it
  • Sanity Check: Other
    • Roughly how much do I actually trust the judgement I reached?
      • Should I sleep on it? Withhold it?
    • Anyone I should run things by?
Comment by Spiracular on Bioinfohazards · 2021-01-08T23:02:03.255Z · LW · GW

Ah! Thanks for the clarification.

I've actually had several people say they liked the Concrete Examples section, but that they wish I'd said more that would help them recreate the thought-process.

Unfortunately, these were old thoughts for me. The logic behind a lot of them feels... "self-evident" or "obvious" to me, or something? Which makes me a worse teacher, because I'm a little blind to what it is about them that isn't landing.

I'd need to understand what people were seeing or missing, to be able to offer helpful guidance around it. And... nobody commented.

(My rant on basic knowledge was a partial-attempt on my part, to crack open my logic for one of these.)

Edit: I added my core heuristic to the Concrete Examples thread

Comment by Spiracular on [deleted post] 2020-12-30T07:58:01.768Z

Friston's Free Energy doesn't have its own page. But I think a lot of the PCT-relevant conversation on LW, ends up under that term. Unlike the "mostly just intro-posts" under the PCT term proper, FFE seems to have more-recent engagement, so I think FFE has more of a presence here than PCT.

In retrospect, not including those was a mistake.

Here's a (non-exhaustive) handful of the FFE posts:

Comment by Spiracular on Bioinfohazards · 2020-12-30T02:20:00.914Z · LW · GW

"Basic facts" as "safe discussion topics": Ooh, I disagree! I think this heuristic doesn't always hold, especially for people writing on a large platform.


For basic information, it is sometimes a good idea to think twice if a fact might be very-skewed towards benefiting harmful actions over protective ones. If you have a big platform, it is especially important to do so.

(It might actually be more important for someone to do this for basic facts, than sophisticated ones? They're the ones a larger audience of amateurs can grasp.)

If something is already widely known, that does somewhat reduce the extent of your "fault" for disseminating it. That rule is more likely to hold for basic facts.

But if there is a net risk to a piece of information, and you are spreading it to people who wouldn't otherwise know? Then larger audiences are a risk-multiplier. So, sometimes spreading a low-risk basic thing widely could be more dangerous, overall, than spreading an high-risk but obscure and specialist thing.

It was easy for me to think of at least 2 cases where spreading an obvious, easy-to-grasp fact could disproportionately increase the hazard of bad actors relative to good ones, in at least some petty ways. Here's one.

Ex: A member of the Rajneeshee cult once deliberately gave a bunch of people food poisoning, then got arrested. This is a pretty basic fact. But I wouldn't want to press a button that would disseminate this fact to 10 million random people? People knowing about this isn't actually particularly protective against food poisoning, and I'd bet that there is least 1 nasty human in 10 million people. If I don't have an anticipated benefit to sharing, I would prefer not to risk inspiring that person.

On the other hand, passing around the fact that a particular virus needs mucus membranes to enter cells seems... net-helpful? It's easier for people to use that to advise their protective measures, and it's unlikely to help a rare bad actor who is sitting the razor's-edge case where they would have infected someone IF ONLY they had known to aim for the mucus membranes, AND where they only knew about that because you told them.

(And then you have complicated intermediate cases. Off the top of my head, WHO's somewhat-dishonest attempt to convince people that masks don't work, in a bid to save them for the medical professionals? I don't think I like what they did (they basically set institutional trust on fire), but the situation they were in does tug at some edge-cases around trying to influence actions vs beliefs. The fact that masks did work, but had a limited supply, meant that throwing information in any direction was going to benefit some and harm others. It also highlights that, paradoxically, it can be common for "basic" knowledge to be flat-out wrong, if your source is being untrustworthy and you aren't being careful...)

Comment by Spiracular on Bioinfohazards · 2020-12-30T02:18:25.202Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the proposed edits! I'll look them over.

"Careful, clear, and dry" was basically the tone that I intended. I will try to incorporate the places where your wording was clearer than mine, and I have found several places where it was.

Comment by Spiracular on [deleted post] 2020-12-19T02:48:25.511Z

In trying not to be vague, I veered towards writing too much. So if someone could take what I wrote and destroy half of it (or destroy all of it, and write a new and better thing) that would be lovely.

(In a slight inversion of PCT, I feel very sick of looking at my own writing.)

Comment by Spiracular on [deleted post] 2020-12-19T02:40:36.108Z

I share the impression that there's been a bit more talk and thought on it.

But I tried out the obvious search terms on here, and for the life of me I can't find it. (Other than a few side-mentions, which it didn't seem worth tagging.)

Free Energy Principle gets mentioned a few more times, but I don't know that it's quite the same thing.

Comment by Spiracular on [Linkpost] AlphaFold: a solution to a 50-year-old grand challenge in biology · 2020-12-01T19:11:19.949Z · LW · GW

That is the dream. The reality is harder, and the combinatorics are not friendly.

In practice, trying to "catch 2 proteins hanging out together" has usually been easier.


The main way we actually check to see if 2 proteins are interacting is... well, this metaphor is fun.

We try to work out which proteins are a couple, by trying to catch the proteins holding hands at the school dance. Either by freezing them, or sticking glue on their hands.

Sometimes even dragging one of them out of the school dance, and then checking to see if the other one tagged along.

Or if you already have a pretty good guess, try just grounding one of them and see if the other one starts acting weird.

I guess this turns the simulation method into "computer-modeling which people are likely to end up in a relationship together" which... seems to capture some of the right intuitions for how hard it is, and how much knowing "they were present in the same place at the same time" matters (whether they had an opportunity to meet in a cell type & cell compartment; something protein-shape doesn't tell you). Watching for hand-holding has typically been easier.


Un-metaphoring: there's multiple variants of this broad class of technique, and there's even a variant of it for DNA-DNA, DNA-protein, or RNA-protein interactions.

Here's some slightly-de-metaphored executions:

  • Glue: A chimeric-protein with a sticky-end (and then isolating one of the proteins in a binding column, and checking what else tagged along).
  • Freeze: Chemicals that halt cellular processes and cause semi-random-binding (ideally reversible) of things that happen to be next to each other whenever you took the freeze-frame.
  • Grounding: Here that means either altering, removing, or silencing one protein, to see how it affects the behavior of another.

And of course, whenever you do this, you still have to do: isolating, sequencing, and identifying the batch of proteins you've nabbed.

Comment by Spiracular on What is “protein folding”? A brief explanation · 2020-12-01T17:57:39.315Z · LW · GW

To give a somewhat-simplified explanation...

TL;DR: In water, charged parts will tend to rotate outward. In neutrally charged hydrophobic environments, non-charged protein parts will try to face outward. Cell membrane is a partially-hydrophobic environment, so one of the standard protein-folding rules is inverted in its fatty-layer zone. When taken out of it, the protein may literally flip (and also clump, with both itself and other membrane proteins).


Trans-membrane (TM) proteins aren't woven, they're sewed (and then folded). They're threaded in and out of the membrane through a pore, as the ribosome prints them. (While the sewing is loose, not tight, sewing is almost exactly the right way to think about it.*)

Amino acids (AA) can be charged +, charged -, or roughly neutral depending on sequence/peptide. AAs are the component parts of the thread that folds into proteins, and a long string of +charged AAs can help make a whole region on that thread charged (or for 0charge, neutral).

Water molecules are charged and bi-polar. Near a strong charge, they'll rotate their faces like a magnet to put their + end near a -, or - end near a +. Alternatively phrased: charged molecules are usually hydrophilic and drawn to water molecules (more like water-molecules are drawn to them... but same difference), while large non-charged molecules (ex: the main-body of fats and oils) are hydrophobic by comparison and tend to clump among themselves (something weak Van der Waals forces something).

(You know how oil and water self-assort, and don't mix? It's a lot like that.)

The membrane is charged on the surfaces (both inner and outer surface)**, but has a fatty, hydrophobic, neutrally-charged environment in its middle.

This alters the preferred/stable protein structure for the AAs in the (fatty, hydrophobic) threading-zone. In water, charged parts will tend to rotate outward. In neutrally charged hydrophobic environments, non-charged protein parts will try to face outward. While the charged AAs will... wish they had anywhere else to be; usually gravitating harder towards any water they can find, or to each other.

So, one of the standard protein-folding rules is inverted in the fatty-layer zone. Basically.

If you took them out of the embedded fat layer, they would literally flip (to the extent to which that was physically allowed), or that section would clump with the uncharged middle-portions of itself or other TM proteins.***

And since a sizable fraction of TM proteins are cross-membrane pores (transporting a specific molecule from one side of the membrane to the other), getting that cross-membrane portion accurately matters a LOT if you're trying to understand function.

* For once-through proteins, there's even a specialized trans-membrane starter-peptide-sequence "needle" that can tell the cell it's a TM protein in the first place. It's the first thing to get threaded through, and gets cut off after its job is done. See: Signal Peptide.

** Membrane is a "lipid bi-layer" technically; it's like a "charged-end - fat & fat - charged-end" sandwich

*** Side-note: TM proteins float around in the membrane like rafts. It's pretty cool.

Comment by Spiracular on Why isn't increasing ventilation of public spaces part of the best practice response to the Coronovirus? · 2020-11-27T03:39:03.083Z · LW · GW

Boy, it's been quite a while! Have a half-assed conclusion (/retrospective/answer).

Here's an article with a lot of illustrations whose models suggest that increased ventilation (in several common scenarios) results in a reduction in infection rate by a factor of about 5-7x, even when compared to mask wearing.

A room, a bar and a classroom

https://www.microcovid.org/ 's model seems to be using a 5x reduction number for indoor vs "almost-outdoor," which seems to roughly line up with this.

For comparison, mCov's factor-reductions for surgical-mask wearing are 2x, and n95s are 10x. So "open-windows and heavy ventilation" lands basically right between the two in reducing risk.

My impression at this point is that adequate ventilation was a pretty strong target for reducing spread.

So... Kudos or BayesPoints to ChristianKI (whichever you prefer) for calling that 8 months ago.

Comment by Spiracular on Is Success the Enemy of Freedom? (Full) · 2020-10-28T03:05:44.882Z · LW · GW

I suspect with Starcraft there might be the issue of... conflicting intuitions/muscle-memories? Muscle-memory mix-ups sometimes happen when you learn 2 things that have similar cues, and avoiding those mistakes can cost you in reaction-time.

If there's a batch of early-game keystrokes you need to drill into muscle-memory to begin a Zerg play, and a different batch of keystrokes for a Protoss play, having them mash-up on you under stress is a setback on both skillsets.

A more glaring example: learning to ride left-right reversed bikes is likely to disrupt your ability to do regular bike-riding for some time.

I'd have suspected that for things as different as baseball and basketball, this probably wouldn't apply as much. (And if you commit HARD to the switch, it's probably not as big of an issue; just a hill to climb initially, then smooth sailing for a while, but some transition-time needed when you switch back.)

...but the Michael Jordan article actually mentions that there was at least one case where MJ followed basketball intuitions to run more bases than anyone else thought was optimal. So the "misapplied cross-field intuitions" disadvantage might still have a role here.

(Something something generalizability vs hyperspecialization trade-off)

Comment by Spiracular on March Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-09-15T19:07:45.159Z · LW · GW

Chinese virology researcher released something claiming it SARS-2 might even be genetically-manipulated after all? ZC45 and/or ZXC21 backbone. Claims that the RaTG13 genome was a concocted cover-up. After assessing, I'm not really convinced of the GMO claims, but the RaTG13 story seems to have something weird going on.

https://zenodo.org/record/4028830#.X2EJo5NKj0v

See here for my further thoughts on this.

EDIT: After assessing, I'm not finding the GMO claims convincing. The RaTG13 story does seem to have something weird going on, and there's several people and papers that note weird inconsistencies (See the further thoughts, I don't have a simple explanation.).

Comment by Spiracular on Jimrandomh's Shortform · 2020-09-15T18:55:20.546Z · LW · GW

Chinese virology researcher released something claiming that SARS-2 might even be genetically-manipulated after all? After assessing, I'm not really convinced of the GMO claims, but the RaTG13 story definitely seems to have something weird going on.

Claims that the RaTG13 genome release was a cover-up (it does look like something's fishy with RaTG13, although it might be different than Yan thinks). Claims ZC45 and/or ZXC21 was the actual backbone (I'm feeling super-skeptical of this bit, but it has been hard for me to confirm either way).

https://zenodo.org/record/4028830#.X2EJo5NKj0v (aka Yan Report)

RaTG13 Looks Fishy

Looks like something fishy happened with RaTG13, although I'm not convinced that genetic modification was involved. This is an argument built on pre-prints, but they appear to offer several different lines of evidence that something weird happened here.

Simplest story (via R&B): It looks like people first sequenced this virus in 2016, under the name "BtCOV/4991", using mine samples from 2013. And for some reason, WIV re-released the sequence as "RaTG13" at a later date?

(edit: I may have just had a misunderstanding. Maybe BtCOV/4991 is the name of the virus as sequenced from miner-lungs, RaTG13 is the name of the virus as sequenced from floor droppings? But in that case, why is the "fecal" sample reading so weirdly low-bacteria? And they probably are embarrassed that it took them that long to sequence the fecal samples, and should be.)

A paper by by Indian researchers Rahalkar and Bahulikar ( https://doi.org/10.20944/preprints202005.0322.v1 ) notes that BtCoV/4991 sequenced in 2016 by the same Wuhan Virology Institute researchers (and taken from 2013 samples of a mineshaft that gave miners deadly pneumonia) was very similar, and likely the same, as RaTG13.

A preprint by Rahalkar and Bahulikar (R&B) ( doi: 10.20944/preprints202008.0205.v1 ) notes that the fraction of bacterial genomes in in the RaTG13 "fecal" sample was ABSURDLY low ("only 0.7% in contrast to 70-90% abundance in other fecal swabs from bats"). Something's weird there.

A more recent weird datapoint: A pre-print Yan referenced ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7337384/ ), whose finding (in graphs; it was left unclear in their wording) was indeed that a RaTG13 protein didn't competently bind their Bat ACE2 samples, but rather their Rat, Mouse, Human, and Pig ACE2. It's supposedly a horseshoe bat virus (sequenced by the Wuhan lab), so this seems hecka fishy to me.

(Sure, their bat samples weren't precisely the same species, but they tried 2 species from the same genus. SARS-2 DID bind for their R. macrotis bat sample, so it seems extra-fishy to me that RaTG13 didn't.).

((...oh. According to the R&B paper about the mineshaft, it was FILTY with rats, bats, poop, and fungus. And the CoV genome showed up in only one of ~280 samples taken. If it's like that, who the hell knew if it came from a rat or bat?))

At this point, RaTG13 is genuinely looking pretty fishy to me. It might actually take evidence of a conspiracy theory in the other direction for me to go back to neutral on that.

E-Protein Similarity? Meh.

I'm not finding the Protein-E sequence similarity super-convincing in itself, because while the logic is fine, it's very multiple-hypothesis-testing flavored.

I'm still looking into the ZC45 / ZXC21 claim, which I'm currently feeling skeptical of. Here's the paper that characterized those: doi: 10.1038/s41426-018-0155-5 . It's true that it was by people working at "Research Institute for Medicine of Nanjing Command." However, someone on twitter used BLAST on the E-protein sequence, and found a giant pile of different highly-related SARS-like coronaviruses. I'm trying to replicate that analysis using BLAST myself, and at a skim the 100% results are all more SARS-CoV-2, and the close (95%) results are damned diverse. ...I don't see ZC in them, it looks like it wasn't uploaded. Ugh. (The E-protein is only 75 amino acids long anyway. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/protein/QIH45055.1 )

A different paper mentions extreme S2-protein similarity of early COVID-19 to ZC45 , but that protein is highly-conserved. That makes this a less surprising or meaningful result. (E was claimed to be fast-evolving, so its identicality would have been more surprising, but I couldn't confirm it.) https://doi.org/10.1080/22221751.2020.1719902

Other

I think Yan offers a reasonable argument that a method could have been used that avoids obvious genetic-modification "stitches," instead using methods that are hard to distinguish from natural recombination events (ex: recombination in yeast). Sounds totally possible to me.

The fact that the early SARS-CoV-2 samples were already quite adapted to human ACE2 and didn't have the rapid-evolution you'd expect from a fresh zoonotic infection is something a friend of mine had previously noted, probably after reading the following paper (recommended): https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.01.073262v1 (Zhan, Deverman, Chan). This fact does seem fishy, and had already pushed me a bit towards the "Wuhan lab adaptation & escape" theory.

Comment by Spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2020-08-18T03:17:56.604Z · LW · GW

On Community Coordinator Roles

Some things I think help are:

  • Personal fit to the particular job demands (which can include some subset of: lots of people-time, navigating conflict, frequent task-switching, personal initiative, weighing values (or performing triage), etc.)
  • Personal investment in appropriate values, and a lasting commitment to doing the role well.
  • Having it be fairly clear what they're biting off, what resources they can use, and what additional resources they can petition for. Having these things be actually fairly realistic.

(Minimum expertise to thrive is probably set by needing to find someone who will advocate for these things well enough to make them clear, or who can at least learn how to. Nebulous roles can be navigated, but it is harder, and in practice means they need to be able to survive redefining the role for themselves several times.)

  • Having some connections they (and others) respect who will help support what (and how) they're doing, lend some consistent sense of meaning to the work, and people who will offer reliable outside judgement. Quite possibly, these things come from different people.

(Public opinion is often too noisy and fickle for most human brains to learn off of it alone.)

  • For roles that require the buy-in of others, it's helpful if they have enough general respect or backing that they will mostly be treated as "legitimate" in the role. But some roles really only require a small subset of high-buy-in people.
  • Also, some sort of step-down procedure.

Extracted from a FB thread, where I was thinking about burnout around nebulously-defined community leader roles, and what preparedness and a good role would look like. Parts of this answer feel like I'm being too vague and obvious, but I thought it was worth making the list slightly more findable.

Comment by Spiracular on [META] Building a rationalist communication system to avoid censorship · 2020-06-25T23:52:32.477Z · LW · GW

I've seen some presentations about how to do style-matching off of GitHub repos to pretty-confidently ID anonymous coders. While set-up requires a sizable amount of compute and data, the results have gotten quite impressive. There are ways to work against this (stuff that deliberately obscures your coding style, usually by rewriting your code), but they're not that well known. And a similar thing can be done with writing style and writing samples.

Staying anonymous against high-effort attempts to discern your identity has gotten very hard, and is only likely to get harder.

At some point, all you can do is guard against the low-effort ones.

Comment by Spiracular on [META] Building a rationalist communication system to avoid censorship · 2020-06-25T23:28:54.160Z · LW · GW

A quiz and a day's wait before adding a new user is another option. Make it something that a regular lurker who read the rules would be able to pass easily, but a rando couldn't. SCP wiki did something like this, it seemed to help with quality control.

Rotate through 3 different quizes, or scramble the quiz order sometimes, if you want to make automated sign-ups annoying for mobs and spammers. Have the web people track the number of sign-up-quiz fails (it's a nice metric for "is there a mob at the doorstep").

(Edit: Ah, someone already proposed a more-elaborate variant using GPT-X. Simple quizes with a few mild gotcha-questions should be enough of a screen for most cases, though.)

A proposal I think I haven't seen posed is giving new members a "trial period." If an average (or randomly-selected) post doesn't have a karma score of at least X by the end of the period (or if it dips below Y at any point), they're out and their stuff is deleted. Ban them from handing out karma until after the trial, or this quickly breaks. This probably still has weird incentive consequences that I'm not seeing, though...

...it does mean having a bit of an evaporative-filter for quality-ratings, and it means links to crappy posts turn into deadlinks in just a matter of time.

Comment by Spiracular on Does SARS-CoV-2 utilize antibody-dependent enhancement? · 2020-06-17T22:53:15.104Z · LW · GW

I did specify long-term, which for me meant time-frames of around a year to a decade out. Honestly, I suspect you're largely right about the short-term.

Well, except I might be more optimistic about vaccination efforts. Effective vaccination pushes in the past give me some hope.

Also, the mutation rate is a good bit lower than the seasonal flu. SARS-CoV-2's point-mutations per year is around 28 substitutions, which is about 1/2 as many as the flu. Or around 1/3 the rate, at ~1.1e-3 subs per site per year, compared to flu's 3.3 subs per site per year. (Different genome lengths, hence the different answers.)

Comment by Spiracular on BBE W1: Personal Notetaking Desiderata Walkthrough · 2020-06-11T18:32:12.953Z · LW · GW

It's kinda weird to me how limited the options seem to be for flashcards and annotation/marginalia. While plenty of things perform the core functionality, I haven't seen anywhere near as many interesting experiments with these formats as I have with outliners.

And for flashcards particularly? You'd think it'd be the simplest damn thing to program!

I'm not much of an index card person, but there seem to be a lot of people who swear on elaborate index-card set-ups. That I haven't seen more of them implemented as software confuses me too.

(It does seem like it would be a good use of flashcards to set up a rudimentary priority queue, or stack. Possibly with added randomness. I'm honestly a little surprised it doesn't allow that.)

Comment by Spiracular on BBE W1: HMCM and Notetaking Systems · 2020-06-11T18:10:14.395Z · LW · GW

I think this is a good question. Here are some probable components of programmability...

  • Did it surface most of its actual functionality to users?
    • A couple different settings: Closed proprietary cloud software, API (how friendly or permissive is it?), downloadable open-source...
  • How easy (and safe!) it is to call relevant utility functions?
    • Do you need to close the software to edit it? Did they merely surface the functionality, or did they also leave functions that were highly-exposed, labeled, well-documented, and easy to use? How well do they adhere to various standards, and therefore benefit from skill-transfer? Is it easy to screw up? To revert? What's the learning curve like?
Comment by Spiracular on BBE W1: HMCM and Notetaking Systems · 2020-06-11T17:51:47.796Z · LW · GW

TextCards

I really wish there was better flashcard and annotation/marginalia software out there! It's kinda weird to me how limited the options seem to be for both. While plenty of things perform the core functionality, I haven't seen as many interesting experiments with it as I have with, say, outliners.

While writing this post, I developed a vague suspicion that there's something in-between Annotator and Flashcard that could be pretty valuable if someone actually implemented it. This seems as good a place as any to describe it. (And if someone has already done it, or wants to do it, cool!)

Annotators and Flashcards are both often tracking an underlying dictionary-ish data-type, and a lot of flashcards seem to originate from textbooks. I have a suspicion that there should exist a good standardized-format notetaker that goes something like... this?

TextCards: 3 linked items

  • A bounded section of highlighted textbook (Any size, from a section to entire chapter. Sometimes discontinuous.)
  • An index-card laconic description (or answer)
  • A title (or question)

Sometimes, it could be used to pose standard quiz-questions (the highlighted section is just the part of the book the quiz came from, the title is the question, the description is an answer). But where it might really shine is in "Summarize Chapter X" questions; it encourages you to write along as you read the text, and if you miss something on a quiz, you can click right to the sections you were originally summarizing.

When rendered as marginalia, the small titles (until click) should make that experience more tolerable for frequent-margin-users. (Marginalia asyncing with the page seems like a really common problem, otherwise.)

For convenience, adding something that swipes all of the questions from a highlighted section of the text to form the front end of flashcards (that you then answer) seems pretty nice. For well-formatted answer-sections, you might even be able to get it to pair the two (but you'd probably need to highlight where to look). Additionally, it wouldn't be that hard for it to track which chapter's questions you're doing poorly on -and therefore what chapters you should re-read- if it knows where in the book you swiped them from. Bonus points if you can sort and cross-link notes by title, folder, tags, overlapping highlights, and/or order in text.

Presumably this is usually harder than I think it should be, because PDFs are just awful (I've dragged tables from PDFs before; I feel so sorry for Tabula!). But HTML books and ebooks don't have that problem, and often simulate a textbook-like structure.

Comment by Spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2020-06-08T22:22:03.518Z · LW · GW

At minimum it's oversimplified. That's why I called it a parable.

I appreciate the nuance in your comment even as it is. But I'm curious about the facts/narratives you have that disagree with it?

(My personal strongest murphyjitsu was that "space program defunding" was more complicated than this. If you know more about that than I do, I'd be curious to hear about it.)

Comment by Spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2020-06-04T18:43:42.702Z · LW · GW

A Parable on Visual Impact

A long time ago, you could get the biggest positive visual impact for your money by generating art, and if you wanted awe you could fund gardens and cathedrals. And lo, these areas were well-funded!

The printing press arrived. Now, you could get massive numbers of pamphlets and woodcuts for a fraction of the price of paintings. And lo, these areas were well-funded!

Then tv appeared. Now, if you wanted the greatest awe and the biggest positive visual impact for your money, you crafted something suitable for the new medium. And in that time, there were massive made-for-tv propaganda campaigns, and money poured into developing spacecraft, and we got our first awe-inspiring images of Earth from the moon.

Some even claim the Soviet Union was defeated by the view through a television screen of a better life in America.

And then we developed CGI and 3D MMORPGs. And lo, the space program defunded, as people built entire cities, entire planets in CGI for a tiny fraction of the cost!

Comment by Spiracular on Stop saying wrong things · 2020-05-12T23:49:39.782Z · LW · GW

I didn't downvote it, but I did find the writing style mildly grating. (Relatedly: I cannot exceed your set-point of smug, it is over 9000 :) )

To be clear: I think the underlying point was pretty good, and I mostly had issues with the delivery. I still feel it was probably something worth writing, although I also think I'm not the target audience for this particular bit of advice.

Some of it was probably a tone thing, which I won't go into. But here are some things that seem tractable:

My experience of it was a bit better as soon as I switched out almost all the "You"s for "I"s. I have something of a distaste for the... puppety-feeling where someone seems to be trying to put words into my mouth, that don't fit with my actual experience. This set it off pretty badly. There are a lot of specifics, and it's clearly your personal account; own it.*

This got really stark for me at around...

First, you just end up being an asshole pretending to be honest

...which instantly broke my immersion. My experience of being painfully honest with myself, and then others, was radically different.**

It probably also could have used more short paragraphs, and some variety in presentation. Some of the goals you've acted on and then forgotten, such as Real Analysis or Mandarin, could have been better-presented as single bullet-points after going into only 1 of them in-depth. The Etsy section could have used a header, and been broken into more than 1 paragraph. That kind of thing.

*A lot of bad advice on persuasive essay writing encourages the formation of habits like this. One cannot list the number of times one has been told to make that unnatural substitution of "One," where "I" would have been better, and more honest. Teachers who do this are just... wrong. Technical writing is a real thing, but this way of teaching it is crap, and can ruin otherwise-decent writers.

** My experience was close to painful self-consciousness (for self-honesty), and weird social penalties (for honesty with others). Real honesty is often distinctly un-charming, but in my case... bluntness leaned closer to "overly-invested*** eccentric" than "asshole." If it had been framed as a self-account, this jarring wouldn't have been an issue.

*** Exhibit A: This overgrown write-up.

Comment by Spiracular on Why don't we tape surgical masks to the face to seal them airtight? · 2020-05-12T21:48:30.494Z · LW · GW

I've personally found that just stapling shut the outer edge of the first fold on either side of a surgical mask results in a mask that mostly sucks to my face when I breathe in. It doesn't stick well when I breathe out, though.

This is much easier to implement than fancy adherents; all it takes is 2 staples and a stapler, or a needle and thread. It struck me as a plausible 80-20. (Well, less than 80%. Obviously, this is no N95.)

(It might only work for some face-shapes, though.)

This generates a new problem, which would also apply to taped/glued solutions:

The front is made of a softer fabric than N95s. After an hour of wear, it will suck to my lips if I breathe in with my mouth. And since it doesn't stick on out-breaths, air still gets out the sides and sometimes the top. I don't know how much additional risk this presents, but I would be curious to hear someone weigh in.

(It also has uncomfortably-high humidity, but that's even more true of N95s.)

Comment by Spiracular on April Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-05-09T19:32:46.520Z · LW · GW

Late Edit: Pangolins with this viral infection have been found from smuggled ones from both Guangxi and Guangdong provinces, but do not show up in wild pangolin populations in general.

Despite the virus being characterized in pangolins, after looking into this, I now think it is basically incorrect to think of this as primarily a "pangolin virus." The pangolins were a dying canary in a coal mine, and probably caught it from something else that serves as the real reservoir species for this nCOV precursor*.

These pangolins were being smuggled when they were captured by the authorities in Guangxi. They were dying of probably several diseases; they had lesions in their skin, intense congestion, and were in generally atrocious condition when they got sequenced for viruses. They turned up positive for all manner of things (herpes out the wazoo, but also a sendai virus which was most closely related to the sequence of a human-taken sample, a paramyxovirus, and yes, several coronaviruses).

Here's the original article on the pangolins whose virome they sequenced, and the article noting its relatedness to nCOV.

Given that so many of the pangolins died, the pangolins look more like a highly-susceptible secondary species, than a mostly-asymptomatic primary reserve species* to me.

* GD/PIL or GD/P2S is thought of as a possible nCOV progenitor, alongside bat-virus RaTG13. GD/PIL's receptor-binding motif (RBM) in particular is identical to SARS-2's, although nCOV otherwise appears more closely related to RaTG13.

** On educated priors, I think the true reservoir is probably rats, bats, or (less likely) humans in the Guanxi, Hunan, and/or Hubei province.

Personally, I assign >90% on either rats (strong priors + skin lesions) or bats (strong priors + simplest story). But these were exotic animal smugglers; there is a small chance that the original reservoir species could be any animal.

Comment by Spiracular on Jimrandomh's Shortform · 2020-05-09T19:28:03.796Z · LW · GW

I think it's probably a virus that was merely identified in pangolins, but whose primary host is probably not pangolins.

The pangolins they sequenced weren't asymptomatic carriers at all; they were sad smuggled specimens that were dying of many different diseases simultaneously.

I looked into this semi-recently, and wrote up something here.


The pangolins were apprehended in Guangxi, which shares some of its border with Yunnan. Neither of these provinces are directly contiguous with Hubei (Wuhan's province), fwiw. (map)

Comment by Spiracular on Coping and Cultures · 2020-05-07T15:45:10.972Z · LW · GW

True, and I've seen lab work cultivate something similar.

(I'm pretty sure this particular skill is the inverse of programmer-style "laziness," funnily enough. In one field, seeing repetition is reassuring. In the other, it can be evidence that your code is not as elegant and modularized as it could be.)

I always thought you'd automatically learn the gait if you just did the work often enough, though. It's definitely a coping skill, but I read its origins as more cultivated than culturally-induced or taught.

It mostly follows the natural incentive gradients of the work. This can be in contrast to things like separation of self and client in psychology, which seems to feel actively un-natural for many people. Of course, there's something of a spectrum here, with heavy individual variation.

Comment by Spiracular on Coping and Cultures · 2020-05-07T06:28:15.340Z · LW · GW

Thanks! Sounds like a promising lead.

Comment by Spiracular on Coping and Cultures · 2020-05-07T06:26:13.183Z · LW · GW

It's more "Ugh, I hate pissing people off on the internet" than "Oh Noes the Governments." Whether I have good or bad things to say, it's a contentious and semi-political topic. That said, I'm still probably overreacting.

(I'm more worried that I'll be wrong about something, that people will badly misinterpret me or misconstrue my beliefs, or that I rub people's personal issues the wrong way than that I Awaken the Powers That Be by... armchair philosophizing about the influence of culture on PTSD?)

Comment by Spiracular on Coping and Cultures · 2020-05-07T00:49:26.991Z · LW · GW

The set of cultures I most want to poke this lens at, and yet want to write up not at all, are the various military ones.

High-stress environment, with a strong culture and close-to-explicit transmission to young people. And the type of stress varies considerably depending on whether you're in the Army, Navy, Air Force... it seems like an ideal case-study. But it's also a Whole Can of Worms. I suspect it's a bad idea for me to try to publicly analyze subsets of American military culture with thoughts that are half-cocked.

At minimum: I kinda suspect the style of Boydian thought was an excellent fit to the challenges and culture of fighter pilots at the time. Agile judgements that take uncertainty into account, done within a competitive environment where "outmaneuvering your opponent without overextending yourself" is the name of the game.