Comment by waveman on Obesity Epidemic Explained in 0.9 Subway Cookies · 2021-08-13T03:14:52.889Z · LW · GW

I find this post naive, like much writing on weight management. 

I have struggled with my weight for 40 years (BMI currently 26, slightly overweight but strangely enough the level at which death rates are lowest). And I have read just about every book on the subject and cubic meters of academic papers. Perhaps I have learned something. 

> things that will help

I tried all, yes all, those things over the years. Some worked, a bit, temporarily and none worked permanently. I agree that they are plausible stories but they are nothing more.

What this and most writing on diet ignore is that weight management is tightly controlled by the body and lower brain, almost entirely out of conscious control. Yes you can eat less for a while, just as you can consciously stop breathing for a while. But in the end willpower has almost zero effect. 

Feedback mechanisms operate through many mechanisms - by regulating appetite. by downregulating metabolism, willingness to expend energy, feelings of fatigue, sleepiness etc. If you have not woken at night having been dreaming about eating, with the only thought in your head being "I don't care what happens I must eat now" you have not experienced hunger. In Ancel Keys' WWII study on starvation subjects were found literally eating from garbage cans after a while.

When people are young they find it far easier to control weight. As you get older it gets harder. BY 50-60 virtually everyone is struggling. So don't declare victory too soon.

The idea that eating one extra cookie a day voluntarily will have the results predicted by a simplistic mathematical model is  not even wrong. You see this in studies where they try to get people to gain weight - it is just as hard for many people to gain weight as it is for others to lose weight. the nody adapts and counters any destablizing inputs.

As Ey pointed out no-one thinks that weight loss is worth the price if it means you effectively lose 15-20 points of IQ because your body has decided to economize on energy supplies to the brain. And no-one thinks that weight loss is good if you mostly lose lean body mass, bone mass and your immune system is weakened. What people want to lose is fat. This is a very different thing from weight loss.

So what is the solution? I have lost 15kg of fat over the years (10 kg of weight when you take into account +5kg muscle).

I do not claim any of the things below are a magic  bullet. Such a thing does not exist. But these things have helped me. 

1. Eat a nutritionally rich diet. If you are lacking nutrients you will be hungry. Something like the diet recommended in "Eat Rich Live Long". Just ignore the author's views on covid19. Protein is often the nutrient in short supply.

1a. In general try to avoid empty calories. Sorry this includes wine and beer, even 'craft' beer. 

2. Limit carbohydrates to the lowest level consistent with feeling OK. Note that a period of adaption is needed.  Especially avoid sugar/fructose. You do not need keto but low carb changed the game for me.

3. Limit polyunsaturated fats especially Omega 6 "vegetable oils". Like sugars they are nutritionally barren and do not provide satiety commensurate with calories. They are essential but only to 2-3% of calories and it is virtually impossible on a diet with real food to go under this. In contrast saturated fat produces great feelings of satiety and is IMO metabolically benign.

4. Eat seldom e.g. once or twice a day.  This helps your body learn to burn fat. 

5. A combination of small amounts of intense exercise and large amounts of light exercise such as walking. I walk about 6km/day and do weightlifting. But rest days are important too.

6. It seems to take about 2 years for the body to adapt to your new level of fat. In the meantime you will be hungry. But after the adaption (IMHO due to a reduction in the number of fat cells - contrary to medical orthodoxy) things get a lot better.

7. Get plenty of sleep and limit stress and have pleasure in your life. If you are miserable and stressed you are far more likely to overeat comfort food.

8. Avoid toxic environments like fast food outlets, most cafes, restaurants etc. The focus on hyper-palatability combined with hyper-calories and hypo-nutrition is terrible. 

9. Be aware that much nutritional advice, including that delivered by captured regulatory agencies, is warped out of recognition by financial agendas, and various other ideological agendas (e.g. that coming out of the College of Nutritional Evangelism, now renamed Loma Linda University, whose doctrines seem to be inspired by 19th century religious fantasies that held that everyone including the lions were vegans in the Garden of Eden). The whole medical field is also very prone to capture by "Great Men" who dominate the field for decades for reasons utterly removed from the correctness of their theories. 

Comment by waveman on Delta variant: we should probably be re-masking · 2021-07-24T06:08:24.471Z · LW · GW

"Here’s what that looks like in the context of exponential growth:"

True but actually it is worse than this. As places like Australia are finding, it is not just a matter of a different growth rate. Measures that stopped the pandemic in its tracks before fail completely in the face of delta.

I would also point out that this is looking a bit like the Spanish Flu (which apparently actually started in the US midwest). Later variants were more infectious and attacked younger people more severely. 

I can attest from personal experience that you do not want to get long covid. There is a view that either you die or you are fine - nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a long way from being over. 

Comment by waveman on Covid 7/15: Rates of Change · 2021-07-16T02:31:11.492Z · LW · GW

"I worry that recently I’ve lacked sufficient skin in the game. Everyone I personally care about is vaccinated or young enough that they don’t need vaccination, so the real sense of danger is largely gone."

[Quotes because editing after using ">" for quotes is totally broken here.]

The strategies being employed at the moment in countries partially but not sufficiently vaccinated are to a close approximation the optimum for evolving viruses that are more transmissible to vaccinated people. We have a huge number of infected and a huge number vaccinated in the same population thus the maximal evolutionary pressure and opportunity.

So it is somewhat likely - hard to tell how likely - that variants that are resistant to the vaccines will appear. 

When a disease is only slowly transmissible there is an evolutionary incentive for it to become less ( and less quickly) fatal. However diseases that are easily transmitted have far less incentive to become less quickly fatal e.g. cholera in some parts of the world.

My conclusion is that given the risk that a more transmissible, more vaccine resistant and more deadly variant will appear, everyone has skin in the game.

Not to mention the "long covid" syndrome which is very nasty and fairly prevalent in young people. And that we really have little idea of the long term consequences of non-fatal infections in young people. 

I remember when Chicken Pox was considered a mild and harmless illness. Tell that to people who have suffered years of excruciating pain from shingles as a result of Chicken Pox later in life. 

Comment by waveman on You are allowed to edit Wikipedia · 2021-07-05T11:12:02.504Z · LW · GW

This was, I think, a reasonable characterisation of wikipedia in the early days. Things are very different now. 

You have to navigate a gauntlet of deletionistas, poorly defined rules, gatekeepers, and political biases. I gave up a  couple of years ago. The most difficult aspect is the arbitrary rules about what sources are authoritative and what are not.

One small example: You are (or were when I looked) required to refer to male genital mutilation as "circumcision" and are not allowed to refer to it as "male genital mutilation". The female version may not be referred to as "circumcision" and must be called "female genital mutilation". The opinions of the doctors who make money from this operation on males must be deferred to as definitive. Basically I found everything was like this. 

You are not allowed to refer to primary sources such as journal articles but must only refer to secondary sources such as textbooks or newspapers, which are often out of date, biased or wrong. You have the ridiculous situation where people have tried to correct their own date of birth by supplying a copy of their birth certificate and this was rejected. In at least one case, the person had to arrange for their date of birth to be mentioned in a newspaper and then it was accepted. 

In fields where there is no political controversy things are not so bad. But you are still subject to the deletionistas who will find any possible reason to nuke your hard work. And wikipedia's view that there is a definitive version of the truth on any given issue makes it utterly hopeless at covering anything that is controversial. I am certain that wikipedia of the early C17 would be presenting the geocentric view of the universe as definitively true.

Comment by waveman on How do the ivermectin meta-reviews come to so different conclusions? · 2021-07-05T08:39:19.926Z · LW · GW

Well worth reading the linked material - quite damning.

Comment by waveman on How do the ivermectin meta-reviews come to so different conclusions? · 2021-07-05T08:33:50.846Z · LW · GW

I read the negative paper (I had already read the positive one). 

The positive one concludes, rightly I think, that there is evidence falling short of proof that IM is likely to be useful. 

I am not at all happy with the negative paper. 

1. Lots of highly emotive language against IM suggesting a lack of objectivity. Another thing suggesting lack of objectivity is that they put <did not find IM useful> in their list of strengths. I wonder who would find this a strength and why? Also sneering about studies done in low income countries did not endear them to me.

2. They really went all out, above and beyond the call of duty, trying to exclude papers. Again it did not seem like they were  humbly and objectively seeking the truth. It seemed to reek of motivation. Having reduced the papers that qualified to a tiny number, then surprise surprise the result is N.S. Which they can then misrepresent (see next point).

3. Misstatement of the conclusion. Lack of statistical significance does not mean you showed the thing doesn't work, especially given P=13% and RR=0.37. Given the small numbers the reduction in deaths would have had to have been enormous (~80%) to achieve significance. 

4. I could not find a design of the study, published before they started. This is a concern, because they excluded studies of prophylaxis (prevention of infection), which is reportedly the strong point of IM. No convincing explanation was given for why they did this. Ironically they criticise other studies for not having prepublished designs.

5. It was interesting that every study that they quoted showed a large reduction in deaths. And they found fault with just about every one of them. Their own study showed a 63% reduction in deaths also, but was N.S.

I too would probably take IM if I had CV (or even was exposed) and could get access. ATM it seems likely it would be helpful and the downside seems low. IM has been in use for decades and billions of people - many with poor nutrition and otherwise vulnerable - have taken it. So it is not a great unknown in terms of side-effects.

Certainly this study does not show IM does not work, but it will be quoted as though it does. There have been studies of vitamin D and CV that are also poorly conducted and seemingly rigged to produce a N.S. result. E.g. you give vitamin D when people are late in the disease, knowing full well that it takes a couple of weeks for it to be metabolised into the fully active form.

Comment by waveman on How do the ivermectin meta-reviews come to so different conclusions? · 2021-07-05T08:14:09.218Z · LW · GW

Is there any kind of resource that reliably turns up high-quality papers?

No you just have to filter. In any particular field you get to know the agendas and limitations of many of the researchers. X is a shill for company Y, A pushes the limits for p hacking, B has a fixed mindset about low fat diets. etc. Some researchers also tend to produce me-too and derivative papers, others are more innovative.

Also you do get quicker at spotting the fatal flaw. 

In finance there are blogs that pick out recent good papers; these are a huge time saver (e.g. Alpha Architect which I have mentioned before).

Comment by waveman on How do the ivermectin meta-reviews come to so different conclusions? · 2021-06-30T01:24:52.052Z · LW · GW

Some general comments about medical research. Source: I have studied the statistics books in detail, and have read several cubic meters of medical papers and learned most of the lessons the hard way. 

When reading medical papers look for 

1. Funding sources for the study or for the authors of the study (e.g. "speaking fees" and "consulting fees"). He who pays the piper calls the tune. 

2.  Statistical incompetence, which is rife in medical research. For example, you routinely see "lack of statistical significance" interpreted as "proof of no effect". 

3. Pre publication of the study design, end points and intended statistical analysis. There is a lot of scope to move the goalposts and engage in p-hacking and other nefarious activities. 

4. Differences between the abstract and the text. Often you can read the abstract and wonder if it refers to the same paper .

5. In meta-analyses look for whether the selection criteria were adhered to  or not or whether subjective criteria were used to exclude inconvenient studies. 

6. Financial interests. For example it is notable that countries like India, that make generic drugs, appear to be more favourable to generic drugs. Meanwhile in the US, there seems to be a strong bias in favour of drugs in patent. 

7. Read the methods section very carefully. Once you have read enough papers this will become instinctive. 

8. Be ready for the vast majority of papers to be of low quality and worthless. 

9. I routinely see studies rigged to deliver a predetermined outcome. For example, if you want to find a non-statistically significant effect which can be misrepresented as "no effect", then run a small study, for a short period, and use suboptimal doses or take other measures to minimize differences between the groups compared.

Comment by waveman on How do the ivermectin meta-reviews come to so different conclusions? · 2021-06-30T01:12:19.748Z · LW · GW

and other says "is not proven"

In the abstract they make a definitive statement that IM is not useful. This goes well past any rational or reasonable interpretation of the evidence. This raises the question of bias / motivated reasoning. I will read the paper in full today and may comment further.

Comment by waveman on War on Cancer II · 2021-06-25T09:39:12.803Z · LW · GW

Bear in mind a lot of studies are for me-too drugs i.e. slight variants of existing drugs that have the tremendous advantage of being patentable, even if they are no better. Such trials provide little benefit to humanity.

As a fellow member of the reluctant brotherhood I have seen many friends enter trials only to suffer greatly with no, or even a negative, effect on survival. (Sometimes, I suspect, people will have treatment because it allows them to avoid facing The Horrible Truth*). 

*That they are indeed mortal.

Comment by waveman on War on Cancer II · 2021-06-25T09:25:44.821Z · LW · GW

heart disease deaths are a third of what they were in 1950,  (thanks to innovations like statins, stents, and bypass surgery.)

I had a look into this a while back. My conclusion was that two big factors in the reduction in heart attack death rates (not numbers) was in large part due to the reduction in smoking rates particularly in older people and the dramatic reduction in the use of toxic trans fats in processed foods and butter substitutes. 

The evidence for the life-saving qualities of the 3 items listed was not very strong in the studies I ciykd find. Bear in mind in particular that studies started on or before 2003 and meta-analyses incorporating such studies were conducted under lax rules that allowed all sorts of shenanigans e..g changing the end-points, "run-in periods" etc.

I don''t really want to get into a debate about this but be aware at least that the conclusions in the quote above are controversial.

Comment by waveman on ELI12: how do libertarians want wages to work? · 2021-06-24T09:05:07.292Z · LW · GW

You don't mention which libertarian works you consulted in forming your views on the topic. A very accessible introduction is "What it means to be a libertarian" by Charles Murray.

This point of view is very old e.g. the early Daoist works have libertarian threads. So you don't have to imagine what libertarians think, and they have been thinking hard about the issues for a long time. 

One thing that surprises many people is the enthusiastic support among many libertarians for collective action and for cooperative organisations. The caveat being that they are not mandated by overbearing people with guns.

Another thing that often surprises is the realization of how well people are able to coordinate among themselves without too many people who are from the government and here to help.

Comment by waveman on Fauci’s Emails and the Lab Leak Hypothesis · 2021-06-19T05:56:44.122Z · LW · GW

Some examples of possible misinterpretations would add value to your post.

With the climate emails part of the problem was the use of language in a different sense from its normal meaning. In scientific fields, trick is often used in the sense of a nifty hack, with nothing sinister implied. Just as in common parlance "theory" means something far less definite than it does in scientific discourse, more like what scientists would call a hypothesis.

I would add two other comments: 

1. As pointed out in the article, the fact that the lan leak was artificially suppressed does not mean it is right. 

2. Just because government officials chronically lie does not mean that any given thing they say is definitely true. It just reduces the information content of what they say. 

Comment by waveman on The aducanumab approval · 2021-06-18T11:31:34.634Z · LW · GW

There is a whole hierarchy of incentives to medical people at different levels in the system. 

At the bottom
1. Free samples
2. Free education. 
3. Cute/good looking drug reps...

The free education comes with a nice meal and convivial company. You just need to sit through the drug company propaganda, which is duly accredited as good for mandatory training hours. What happens if your prescribing fails to conform to the desired profile? You don't get invited to the next "free" training. 

At the top (influential professors):
1. Funding for studies 
2. "Speaking fees". 
3. "Consultancy fees"

As with the lucrative "speaking fees" paid to ex politicians and the highly paid and often made-up jobs provided to ex-politicians and bureaucrats and their families, everyone knows the score. If you make trouble the "speaking fees" and the like dry up. Completely by coincidence of course. 

Comment by waveman on The aducanumab approval · 2021-06-18T11:23:45.463Z · LW · GW

I have begun to think that the biggest factor in a drug being approved is drug company sponsorship, and thus the potential for drug company profits. Patentability appears to be a big factor. 

See "regulatory capture". 

Comment by waveman on Deliberately Vague Language is Bullshit · 2021-05-15T01:12:50.147Z · LW · GW

"Fit" is vaguer than BMI...

Which is in every way less precise and useful than body shape index (ABSI). BMI fails for: athletes and strong people, people over 50, smokers and ex-smokers, skinny-fat people; in fact it fails for most people. Maximum longevity is in the (mildly) overweight category of BMI.

ABSI predicts heart disease mortality far better than blood tests. BMI is not even in the race except at extremes.

This is a classic case of medicine's common practice of  persisting with inferior metrics and practices. My suspicion is that this is a result of the excessive power of "great men" and authorities within the field. 

See refs at the end of this

Comment by waveman on Sympathy for the ferryman of Hades, or why we should keep Trump off Twitter · 2021-05-09T11:23:43.487Z · LW · GW

Wireheading is expanding rapidly.

At first it was drugs, with packaging and delivery carefully designed to maximize addictiveness.

Then gambling,  social media. 

More recently...

Stock brokers are increasingly leveraging the well-tested wireheading techniques used by casinos to make their customers into gambling addicts.

Comment by waveman on Why quantitative finance is so hard · 2021-05-08T03:46:37.336Z · LW · GW

Quants are bottlenecked by training data entropy.

Very true and often a big surprise to people. This is one reason people focus on high frequency trades - more data.

> diversification ... free lunch

Mostly true, but at the risk of pedantry it is not quite free. It is quite hard to find 10 good trades and far harder to find 100. Diversification can dilute alpha.

> World conditions change. Competing actors respond to the historical data.

Imagine how hard physics would be if the laws of physics changed whenever you got close the theory of everything. Or if mostly when theories were published they stopped working.

Comment by waveman on Best empirical evidence on better than SP500 investment returns? · 2021-04-25T05:55:41.338Z · LW · GW

Hmmm in order of certainty

1. Save and invest more = more total returns. 
2. Diversification is the only free lunch in finance.
3. A cautious approach to tilting investments in favour of various factors has a lot of evidence around it. See e.g. this blog
4. Strict adherence to dollar cost averaging. Much harder to do than it looks.

Also all the personal finance rules apply - avoid unprofitable debt, take out insurance. avoid financial catastrophes like divorce, maximize marketable job skills, save hard.

In order of certainty, here are the bad ideas

1. Thinking that you can easily beat the market. Maybe with 70 hour weeks for many years... read hundreds of books and papers... otherwise assume you have negative skill to the tune of 4-6% per annum. Also going into the markets with psychological weaknesses unresolved and/or cognitive and emotional biases not dealt with - the markets have ways to find and exploit them all. 
2. Investing in high cost funds based on recent outperformance.
3. Suddenly deciding to invest it all on stocks "for the long run" after a period of outperformance.

Comment by waveman on What weird beliefs do you have? · 2021-04-23T10:06:43.106Z · LW · GW

I had some exposure to this issue a couple of years ago. I got a speeding ticket, which eventually I got off of. 

During this process I documented the government making 26 different errors in all. Starting with the speed limit sign that did not comply with their own standards for speed limit signs in 3 different ways....

So I suspect that huge numbers of things go wrong in government all the time and are not noticed. What % of prisoners get checked as required? What fraction of video cameras are out of order at any given time? So the argument "Aha! The camera just 'happened' to be out of order!" is not as compelling to me as you might expect.

Tho' it would not be surprising that JE was taken out. He seems to have operated a blackmail operation in part and no doubt a few people breathed a sigh of relief on hearing of his fate. But I don't know.

Comment by waveman on What weird beliefs do you have? · 2021-04-23T09:58:57.313Z · LW · GW

Good post.

I have wondered about this myself actually. 

The sad thing is that if we mess it up, there is not enough time before the sun renders multicellular life untenable on earth to restore fossil fuels. So for earth we are the last roll of the dice.

Comment by waveman on Are there opportunities for small investors unavailable to big ones? · 2021-04-23T08:15:11.090Z · LW · GW

Can you describe to me a concrete trade which looks like: 20% return on $1000. (All the ones I can think of tend to be just as amenable to professionals). The other issue of playing in the "micro-investment" pool, is typically liquidity is much lower, so costs are higher.

Here is one example. About a month ago I bought the stock ASK:DSK. The daily trade volume is $AUD100-200k. That made it easy for me to buy $10k worth. It is now up 48%. My slippage was minimal - I was able to buy it all at the offer or better with no market impact. 

For someone with $10B FUM keeping the portfolio size to 100 stocks would mean that assuming they only bought 10% of the daily trades per day it would take them 3-4 years to buy in and a similar time to get out of the trade. So this stock, which is by no means unusually small, having a market cap larger than 2/3 of the stocks on the ASX, is out of reach for the big guys.

Comment by waveman on Are there opportunities for small investors unavailable to big ones? · 2021-04-23T08:10:06.284Z · LW · GW

I think the investment floor argument here is actually understated. 

Successful investors rapidly find themselves in a world where the vast majority of stocks are too small to buy. Try putting on a multi-million dollar position on for a stock that trades $10k/day on average.

Even index funds struggle with this. There are "small cap[italization]" index funds that have a median firm size of well over $1.6 Billion dollars larger than the vast majority of stocks. 

This is reflected also in research showing that fund managers do not exploit the small cap outperformance anomaly nor the fact that other anomalies (like value) are far more powerful in small cap stocks.

You see this reflected also in the reversion to the mean of fund performance as they get larger.

Other disadvantages of the smart money are documented in the paper "the limits of arbitrage" 

One issue is that fund managers, who control most of the investment funds, live and die by short term performance and cannot implement any strategy that underperforms the relevant index by 6 months or so. This is why fund managers typically do their mean variance optimization on tracking error, not on total returns. 

They are in effect only as smart and well informed as their investors. See the 2018 paper "What Do Mutual Fund Investors Really Care About?" for some information on this.

The other main issue is that mispricings can get far worse before they are resolved. This makes it very hard to bet against them. Several people who bet against the toxic waste (subprime) mortgage trusts before 2008 lost a lot of money and were forced out of the trade. See the paper "Toil and Trouble, Don’t Get Burned Shorting Bubbles" by Aaron Brown et al 

> After analyzing the data and speaking with traders who actively researched
subprime mortgages we highlight latent risks that were associated with shorting subprime
mortgages. These latent risks help explain why many smart, informed traders decided not
to short subprime mortgages ...

Having said that it is actually very hard to beat indexing. People should assume this is a serious and difficult endevour requiring lots of hard work on learning the field and on their own psychology.

Comment by waveman on Reasonable ways for an average LW retail investor to get upside risk? · 2021-02-26T00:12:36.756Z · LW · GW

Anatomy of a bubble. 

1. People are not interested
2. People ask for advice on getting into the market.  
3. People give experienced traders advice on trading.
4. Crash.

I'd say we are between (2) and (3) at this stage.

Comment by waveman on Reasonable ways for an average LW retail investor to get upside risk? · 2021-02-26T00:06:38.590Z · LW · GW

the average trader

The average retail trader underperforms the market by 4-5% per annum before costs. Far worse than this after costs. Yes they have negative skill.

The average professional fund manager outperforms the market by less than 1% before the costs they charge to the punters. After costs they underperform. 

The average professional fund manager works very hard and has studied finance for years. 

My point is you need to do a lot better than average to win.

Comment by waveman on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T02:57:31.363Z · LW · GW

To be of LW standard this essay should also steelman the opposing argument and assess it fairly 

Ie that Censorship of words can cause harm.

Comment by waveman on Leaky Delegation: You are not a Commodity · 2021-01-25T21:05:34.232Z · LW · GW


I found that often certifiers lack teeth and are more of a PR exercise that genuine quality control. Sometimes they are the real thing, sometimes not. 

A recent example would be various forms of "organic" certification which are highly variable in validity. You need to look at each case. One question to ask is how many people were denied certification or had certification withdrawn in the last 12 months? How many lawyers were actually struck off by the bar association and what did they have to do to get struck off? 

Comment by waveman on Leaky Delegation: You are not a Commodity · 2021-01-25T21:03:21.598Z · LW · GW

An excellent and thoughtful post IMHO.

I would add the dimension of hidden or invisible quality.

Sometimes it is hard to determine or effectively specify the quality of an outsourced product or service. For example, if I go to a restaurant, I don't know if the chef washed his hands or has a cold or other illness. I don't know if they use cheap/semi-rancid seed oils or actually extra-virgin olive oil as claimed. Friends who worked in expensive restaurants claim that such cost-cutting is common, and it is almost invisible. My experience is that often when quality is not immediately visible to the customer, corners are cut.

Another example of this is when buying food and supplements. Often I have bought food that is supposedly free of additives, only to have a bad reaction, due to additives that were in fact present. Minced beef often contains sulfites which is illegal but often done. These preservatives are then used to disguise old product. One vitamin C tablet supposedly contained only natural colors and flavors and affected me quite badly. I later found out that it contained coal tar base dies and cyclamates and saccharine.

[as background I have a defective gene for the breakdown of histamines (defective enzyme is diamine oxidase) so I am sensitive to histamines in diet and also to the very common chemicals that inhibit the breakdown of histamines or that trigger its release from the mast cells].

A friend of mine went to a presentation for a coffee shop chain. They boasted that they could get coffee for $1.50AUD/kg. "How can you get good coffee for that price?" my friend asked. "You can't - and that's the secret!!! - they can't tell the difference, especially if you add some flavours".

Somewhat alluded to is the issue of operational entanglement. Providers will often attempt to "lock you in" so that you end up spending more than you planned because it is difficult to extract yourself. I am in this situation at present where a lawyer has set things up so that he can charge $$$s for work I could do, but it is difficult to get him out of the picture.

Comment by waveman on Book Review: On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins (and Sandra Blakeslee) · 2020-12-30T05:00:04.621Z · LW · GW

I think it's a great book and anyone interested in the brain at a well informed layperson level would probably enjoy it and learn a lot from it.

Hawkins makes a good case for a common cortical algorithm - the studies involving ferrets whose visual nerves were connected to the audio centres and who learned to see are one compelling piece of evidence. He makes some plausible arguments that he has identified one key part of the algorithm - hierarchical predictive models - and he relates it in some detail to cortical micro-architecture. It is also quite interesting how motor control can be seen as a form of predictive algorithm (though frustratingly this is left at the hand-waving level and I found it surprisingly hard to convert this insight into code!). 

His key insight is that we learn by recognizing temporal patterns, and that the temporal nature of our learning is central. and I suspect this has a lot of truth to it and remains under-appreciated.

There are clear gaps that he kind of glosses over e.g. how neuronal networks produce higher level mental processes like logical thought. So it is not perfect and is not a complete model of the brain. I would definitely read his new book when it comes out.

Comment by waveman on The Perversity of High Standards · 2020-12-27T21:51:40.690Z · LW · GW

I don't think the problem in this case is one of excessively high standards. I think the problem is that our political system selects people who are good, talkers, who can spin a narrative, who can and do lie convincingly. 

After 50 years following politics my heuristic is to ignore what politicians say and watch only their actions. I find that what they say is generally devoid of useful information. The only conclusion one can draw is that they want you to believe what they are saying. 

Track record is the only useful guide to their likely future actions.

Comment by waveman on Covid 12/24: We’re F***ed, It’s Over · 2020-12-24T22:35:12.390Z · LW · GW

then the risk for young and healthy people remains low


Don't confuse risk of death with risk overall. I personally know several young people who suffered months of debilitation, in some cases still feeling sick months later. From some limited studies this appears to be common, and permanent damage appears to be not uncommon including damage to testes, brain/memory etc. 

At best we do not know the long term effects. Tell someone suffering from shingles (which was eventually found to be a result of prior chicken pox infection) that chicken pox is a "mild" condition.

Comment by waveman on Covid 12/24: We’re F***ed, It’s Over · 2020-12-24T22:30:34.080Z · LW · GW

One point not noted anywhere as far as I can see is that, by allowing the pandemic to spread to millions of people, the risk of a more dangerous or virulent strain appearing increased enormously.

If the pandemic had been kept to relatively small numbers, as in Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, (China if you believe their statistics on this, unlike all their other statistics are correct) etc. this new more infective strain would likely never have appeared. 

Comment by waveman on Covid 12/24: We’re F***ed, It’s Over · 2020-12-24T22:23:31.291Z · LW · GW

Does that [cutting cases by 50% per week] sound like something any Western country could possibly accomplish from here?

Yes. Have a look at the state of Victoria in Australia, which went from close to 700 cases a day in early August to zero in about 8 weeks.

I sympathise with people in countries run by incompetent buffoons (i.e. most of Europe and the Americas) but it is not inevitable.

Overall a terrific post - your point about the need to act before there is certainty is solid gold. 


Comment by waveman on Probability theory implies Occam's razor · 2020-12-18T10:25:53.046Z · LW · GW

I am not sure you actually justified your claim, that OR follows from the laws of probability with no empirical input. 

Reading your arguments carefully you seem to have snuck in some prior knowledge about the universe (that age does not matter much to the weight of cows after a certain age for example). 

There is a big mystery to me as to why the universe is so simple e.g. the laws of physics can be written out (though not explained) in a few pages. Why are they so small, not to mention finite, not to mention not uncountable...

Marcus Hutter's AIXI has a prior that makes simple worlds more likely. See also

Comment by waveman on How We Failed COVID-19 · 2020-12-03T10:24:14.194Z · LW · GW

Democracies seem to select leaders who are good talkers, but the selectivity for actual competence looks to be very weak. This is not a surprise; it has been commented on for millennia. Have a look at how ancient Athens got into the disastrous invasion of Sicily which ultimately led to its defeat by Sparta for example. 

Having done polling and talked to average voters it seems to me a miracle that sometimes half-decent leaders gets up. So an incompetent response is expected.

Some things not often mentioned with Taiwan's response to the coronavirus 2 pandemic.

1. They are not a member of the WHO and thus were not misled by their very bad advice early.

2. They had experienced SARS1 and thus did not believe the CCP's misrepresentations of the situation this time around. 

3. Their government seems to be trusted by the population as to competence and as to having good intentions. By contrast from my times in the US, the populace seem to regard the government as a bunch of lying thieves. This makes it much easier for Taiwan to get cooperation. 

4. Quarantine of arrivals was strictly and competently enforced. 

5. Face masks were made mandatory. While annoying to wear, they do not prevent most business and commercial activities.

6. Checking of people at entrances to work, shops, transport, schools etc. Those with suspicious symptoms or a high temperature are sent home. Many have pointed out, irrelevantly, that this is not an accurate test for coronavirus. But it excludes a high percentage of the infected and, with face masks, helps get the R0 infectivity under 1.

7. Some high risk establishments like "hostess bars" were closed, though most businesses remained open and the economy only fell slightly. 

8, Contact tracing was indeed well done and helpful but modeling suggests it is not enough on its own. You need to get infectivity down and keep from importing cases as much as possible. 

Comment by waveman on Are index funds still a good investment? · 2020-12-03T10:05:39.270Z · LW · GW

The academic research (e.g. Santa Fe institute work referenced in Jarrod Wilcox's "Investing by the Numbers", an excellent book for LessWrong-ish people), suggests that while truly passive indexers do not cause problems directly, they can cause problems in other ways. 

They tend to amplify the effects of momentum players and price insensitive growth-oriented traders for example. In sufficient numbers they can therefore indirectly destabilize the market.

When they are not really indexers but picking sectors to "index" in, they certainly can add to the chaos.

Comment by waveman on Are index funds still a good investment? · 2020-12-03T09:56:38.042Z · LW · GW

Throughout the last decade (or last 15 years, really), FAANG stocks (and QQQ) have consistently overperformed the market/index funds

True but you conveniently cut off the dot com crash, in which the NASDAQ QQQ crashed from 107 to 23 (79%) while the S&P500 only fell about 43%. In finance beware the selective "well chosen" example. 

From the 2000 top that is a return of only about 5% per annum compound. 

Comment by waveman on Are index funds still a good investment? · 2020-12-03T09:41:37.699Z · LW · GW

markets are likely quite robust even to large amounts of so-called 'uniformed flow'

I don't agree and would be interested in evidence for this. Have a look at what happened in 1999-2000 and see if you still think this. Investors moved en masse into hot tech funds, many "index" funds. The fund managers were to a large degree helpless as they had to follow fund mandates. Fund managers who stood aside as the madness grew lost funds under management rapidly.

"Indexing" is not actually indexing if you don't own the whole market. That would include stocks, bonds and real estate in proportion to market value. You could start with an all world index fund like this and add an international fond fund and some get exposure to real estate all over the world (most REITs are more bond-like than real estate like).

If you are, say, in the S&P 500 only or over-weighted to the NASDAQ you are not indexing. 

Comment by waveman on Prize: Interesting Examples of Evaluations · 2020-11-28T21:44:59.412Z · LW · GW

It would be helpful if you would explain what you mean by an "evaluation system". You seem to regard it as obvious. You provide no definition. You give a few examples. But do you really want people to have to spend time to reverse engineer what you are talking about.

When people put terms in quotes when not quoting someone, as you do, it usually signifies the use of those words in some non-standard manner. The fact that you put terms in quotes thus suggests to me that you are using the words in some unspecified non-standard manner.

I can guess what you might mean and I might even feel confident I am right. And I might later find out that you intended some other meaning and I should have known what you mean.

The first rule of any essay is to be clear what you are talking about. It is not a sin to state the "obvious". Karl Popper was notorious for this - being unclear and then deriding people for misconstruing him. See his later papers and books.

Comment by waveman on The central limit theorem in terms of convolutions · 2020-11-22T11:55:00.594Z · LW · GW

Key questions for me. 

1. Under what assumptions is the CLT valid? There seem to be many real world situations where it is not valid. E.g. finite variance is one such assumption. 

2. How easily can one check that the assumptions are valid in a given case? The very existence f fat tails can make it hard to notice that there are fat tails and easy to assume that tails are not fat.

2. Even when valid, how fast does the ensemble distribution converge, in particular how fast does the "zone of normality" spread? Even when CLT applies to the mean of the distribution it may not apply to the far tails for a long time.

Comment by waveman on Covid 11/12: The Winds of Winter · 2020-11-12T21:29:57.024Z · LW · GW

Specifically on the Pfizer press release. Due to various medical conditions I have been following medical research, press releases, government policy etc for many decades and have read cubic meters of medical research papers, textbooks, statistics texts etc.

TL;DR and one thing I have learned : A press release from a pharmaceutical company saying <thing> is very weak evidence that <thing> is true.

In any case realistically a vaccine rollout is extremely unlikely to be done before the end of 2021. This is a best case scenario. And we do not know the extent of the economic damage. 

Comment by waveman on Covid 11/12: The Winds of Winter · 2020-11-12T21:25:08.358Z · LW · GW

It is complete hypocrisy to make numerous inflammatory political comments and then demand that others refrain from political comments themselves. And very unhelpful and anti-Lesswrong in spirit. Please stop doing that. 

You dismiss betting markets, which still give Donald Trump close to 10% chance of winning the election. This in spite of betting markets doing far better than the pundits. Given that Biden's margin seems to have been about 0.4% (i.e. if every state had seem the Trump vote 0.5% higher, Trump would have won the electoral college) rather than about 5%+ which the polls were predicting, the betting market odds of 65% for Biden seem to have been closer to reality than the polls. And better than the pundits (and lesswrong commentators) who were saying Biden was about 90% likely to win.

You say "this wave is the climax". I would be interested to hear your evidence for this. Like many of the other claims in your post, this was made without any apparent data, facts, argument or justification.

Comment by waveman on The Born Rule is Time-Symmetric · 2020-11-11T22:36:12.987Z · LW · GW

For the benefit of others reading this, in Shankar's book referenced below, this is said to not be a full symmetry i.e. not always valid.

There is no reason to think that the evolution of the conjugate function will be the same as the evolution of the original function. 

Also there is no time-reversed Copenhagen measurement process in the theory which he implicitly requires.

Think about a massive object like a planet moving from L to R. It is massive so quantum effects can be ignored. It is clearly not true that the planet would be measured as being in the same place 10 minutes ago and 10 minutes hence. So the statement "All possible futures are also possible pasts" is wrong.

Comment by waveman on What could one do with truly unlimited computational power? · 2020-11-11T10:34:16.018Z · LW · GW

I suppose I would test out the claim by getting it to mine a few hundred $million of bitcoin for me.

Then crack all the interesting crypto data that is floating around. 

Then brute force search for proofs/solutions of all the big problems such as Riemann Hypothesis, factoring etc. Try all texts shorter than say 100 terabytes and see if they solved the problem.

Work out the implications of all the human genes by calculating out how the human body works. This would include things like solving protein folding.

Find the best/shortest algorithm for all the AI/ML challenges that delivers near perfect results. 

Then simulate the body with various chemical compounds added to cure cancer, infections etc. Design vaccine + cure for coronavirusV2 and also machines to make them.

I guess you could create a model of the brain and then run all sorts of experiments on the simulation to work out how it works. 

Simulate atoms and molecules and brute force ways to build things that would build arbitrary nanotech engines.

At what point would you get worried about AI safety?

Comment by waveman on Does BioNtech's vaccine result of 90% disease prevention mean that 90% of the vaccinated can't pass the virus to other people? · 2020-11-10T22:18:42.932Z · LW · GW

It means that they have put out a press release. I would be waiting for the paper and hopefully more data. I have found that such press releases often subtly and unsubtly overstate how good the results are. 

From the reports, it looks like 90% of the infections were in the control group. Make of that what you will. It does sound encouraging. We don't know if the "uninfected" were shedding virus at any given time.

Comment by waveman on [deleted post] 2020-11-10T09:06:04.963Z

IMHO headless posts like this should be removed. By headless posts I mean things like "Link! Check it out!". 

Why should we listen to this? What is it even about?

We are all snowed under by things we might watch or listen to or read. You need to provide good reasons for people to devote their time to something.

Here is the blurb on the podcast. For something that goes for almost 2 hours.

"We discuss the future, legal systems very different from our own, how technology drives progress, and what the future might look like. "

Comment by waveman on Please steelman the accusations of election fraud · 2020-11-10T09:03:04.419Z · LW · GW

HIlarious the way they quote the NYT on the high incidence of voter fraud, a view they may not entirely adhere to nowadays.

Comment by waveman on Please steelman the accusations of election fraud · 2020-11-10T09:02:06.072Z · LW · GW

Here is one attempt. I have not evaluated it in any detail.

Interestingly he dismisses the Benford's Law arguments with links that provide what look like cogent reasons.

Comment by waveman on Bet On Biden · 2020-11-04T08:26:56.217Z · LW · GW

I got heavily downvoted for suggesting that Nate Silver's credibility was not strong enough to make this a good bet.

The most you could say at this point (late in the night on election day) is that it looks like the election is very close. This suggests to me that those people saying that betting on it at 65% odds for Biden was a huge steal, were overconfident. People were quoted who thought Biden's P(win) was 96%. 

I am interested in any suggestions about what went wrong. I can't think of a lot of edifying reasons. 

1. Rationalists don't win

2. Dunning-Kruger effect

3. General overconfidence

4. Saying Trump had a chance runs the risk of signaling that you are a "Trumptard".

5. Stating high confidence is one way to signal high intelligence. "Uh I'm not sure" doesn't sound too smart. 


Comment by waveman on Bet On Biden · 2020-11-04T08:07:09.744Z · LW · GW

> What do you mean by this?

 I mean that given he won, the actual odds of him winning were actually better than 10%. 

I cannot prove this externally but  - before the election in 2016 I said to several people, who remember this, that it would be somewhere between a narrow Clinton win and a strong Trump win. So it was not outlandish to think Trump could win. The main reason I had was what is now known as the "shy Trump voter" effect. People did not want to get cancelled for admitting that they were a 'fascist'.  

> Look at Nate's track record

If Trump wins this one, as looks fairly likely at the moment, NS will be 3/5 for Presidential elections, no better than chance.

My main beef with the argument from credibility is a) NS does not have a long strong track record in this field of presidential elections, b) Credible is different than totally accurate. I pointed out if he was wrong by a few tens of percents, like last time, his view is not strong evidence that there is a winning bet here. 

Funnily enough NS reduced his P(Biden) to about 50% on election day (or maybe the day before).