Comment by zedzed on The Best Textbooks on Every Subject · 2016-08-08T04:07:29.085Z · LW · GW

Second the rec on Sadava. I strongly preferred it to Campbell, the other standard intro bio text, which I found insufficiently precise. I'd go to make an Anki card about some concept, only to find that Campbell's discussion lacked enough precision for me to state exactly what was going on. Sadly, I haven't read another biology book (having been quite satisfied with Sadava's), so I can't make a Luke-compliant recommendation.

Comment by zedzed on The Best Textbooks on Every Subject · 2016-03-04T02:16:19.892Z · LW · GW

Book's homepage:

There seems to be threeish versions about:

  1. The original (the one your link goes to), which McAfee believes may be preferred by the mathematically sophisticated or engineers. This is the one I'm personally using, currently.

  2. A second version, meant to improve accessibility, which McAfee expects professors considering the text to prefer

  3. Version 2.1, which appears to be a refinement of version 2. Includes solutions to exercises, cosmetic improvements, and "small edits for consistency of notation and for clarity."

(I'm vaguely reminded of Debian-Ubuntu-Mint Linux distros. Yay open source?)

Comment by zedzed on Open Thread, January 4-10, 2016 · 2016-01-04T17:24:36.456Z · LW · GW

Comment by zedzed on A very long list of sleep maintenance suggestions · 2015-10-15T16:06:04.553Z · LW · GW

There are theoretical reason to expect long-term harm from it.

Such as?

Comment by zedzed on Ultimatums in the Territory · 2015-09-30T07:45:18.430Z · LW · GW

I wouldn't be surprised if every single principle of effective learning has, by someone, somewhere, been co-opted into a dark art.

Comment by zedzed on Ultimatums in the Territory · 2015-09-29T00:03:09.731Z · LW · GW

My favorite part of this post was the inclusion of the exercise left to the reader; working through it really helped me deeply understand what you were saying. I suggest that this type of thing become more common because generation effect.

Comment by zedzed on Should there be more people on the leaderboard? · 2015-09-02T14:37:58.675Z · LW · GW

The answer is 42.

(But, seriously, I think 15 is fine. I'd even be fine reducing it to 10 (username is currently #12)).

Comment by zedzed on Instrumental Rationality Questions Thread · 2015-08-23T23:38:34.664Z · LW · GW

From a technical perspective. However, many of my friends respond to fb messages and not emails. Near as I can tell, they're young enough that, when establishing a "best way to contact me," they chose "website I'm going to be on anyway."

I think, now that they're graduating college, they're going to have to get themselves a professional email, but the best way to contact them socially is going to remain fb because, for most social stuff (or at least, social stuff my friends and I get up to), we don't really need any more features than fb has, which I find disappointing, being in the minority who could really use everything you listed.

Comment by zedzed on Instrumental Rationality Questions Thread · 2015-08-23T03:05:14.580Z · LW · GW

Thank you for the reply. I somewhat disagree that this detracts from the purpose of the thread—I find signalling via grammar (a) nonobvious and (b) useful, making my comment very much in place in a thread about instrumental rationality (albeit less so in a questions thread)—but I do very much appreciate the feedback.

Comment by zedzed on Instrumental Rationality Questions Thread · 2015-08-23T00:54:29.724Z · LW · GW

In that case, "it's" is a contraction equivalent to "it is". For a possessive, use "its".


Practical advice from its members.


It's inspired by the stupid questions.

(What's the point of paying attention to this stuff if you're communicating clearly? Briefly, signalling. If I notice you've made a grammatical error, on average, I estimate you're less well educated or not invested in making the writing worth my while than in the opposite case, and am less likely to finish reading if I get bored or have to expend mental effort to understand what you're saying or something. Also, there's an aesthetic element: error-free writing is, ceter paribus, more pleasing to read.)

(Also, wondering if this was downvoted because someone thinks I'm incorrect, because they think I'm being an ass, or for some other reason.)

Comment by zedzed on Instrumental Rationality Questions Thread · 2015-08-22T23:06:29.155Z · LW · GW

Are there any nootropics that have decent evidence of nonnegligible effectiveness that aren't listed in Slate Star Codex's Nootropics Survey Results. Asking so I can use replies to this comment + survey as an exhaustive list of nootropics worth considering.

Comment by zedzed on Open thread, Aug. 17 - Aug. 23, 2015 · 2015-08-18T21:59:28.665Z · LW · GW

Are there any 2014 videos? I can find the 2013 keynotes here, but nothing since then.

If there were videos recorded and never posted for 2014, then the 2015 prospects look not so good.

Comment by zedzed on Rational approach to finding life partners · 2015-08-16T23:28:24.845Z · LW · GW

Please do.

Comment by zedzed on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-12T12:18:38.318Z · LW · GW

So, Folding at Home, but with money involved? Any idea if it can justify the increased electrical bills?

Comment by zedzed on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-11T19:41:39.131Z · LW · GW

I agree with the point, though my immediate intuition is that a few months might work better than a few years; in StarCraft, there's almost no lag, but that hasn't stopped people from innovating, and any meta that persists more than a few months starts feeling stale.

Maybe have 3ish-month seasons like SC2*, and competitors disclose at the end of the season.

* There's three stages of a season: qualifiers, lower league, and upper league. Anyone can compete in the qualifiers, which consist of single-elimination brackets. The lower league is composed of 24 qualified competitors and the bottom 24 (out of 32) finishers from the previous season's upper league. The qualified competitors match up against the competitors who dropped from last season's upper league, and the winner advances to this season's upper league. These 24 players, along with the top 8 competitor's from last season's upper league compete in a single-elimination bracket, until a champion is crowned (or, I guess, trophied). (There's also dual tournaments, which have the exact same effect of eliminating half the players in a round, but I prefer because it's more forgiving of bad seeding—you don't have #1 seed knocking out #3 seed in round of 32, for instance).

Comment by zedzed on Interesting things to do during a gap year after getting undergraduate degree · 2015-07-21T06:32:13.191Z · LW · GW

Korean academy in Guatemala

I notice that I am confused. What, exactly, is a Korean academy doing halfway around the world? Were you teaching people-who-speak-Korean English in a Spanish-speaking country?

Comment by zedzed on Bragging Thread July 2015 · 2015-07-15T02:13:20.470Z · LW · GW

And thus, another school that could have implemented effective SRS (probably) won't (I'm assuming, with you there to advocate for it, near-universal adoption is inevitable, but without an advocate, nobody will undergo the trivial inconvenience of doing something new, especially when they don't fully understand the cognitive psychology behind it). I'm reminded of Teaching Linear Algebra, where someone applies cognitive psychology to teaching, is hugely successful, and promptly never teaches again because a better opportunity came along.

That said, best of luck!

Comment by zedzed on Open Thread, Jul. 13 - Jul. 19, 2015 · 2015-07-13T20:44:08.532Z · LW · GW

Obligatory link to The Best Textbook on Every Subject.

I'm told that Mas-Colell's book is the classic on microeconomics (provided you have the mathematical prerequisites), although this recommendation is second-hand since it's still on my to-read list.

Comment by zedzed on Seeking advice: Writing skills and workspaces · 2015-06-14T07:58:09.834Z · LW · GW

Oops. I did, in fact, mean vocal music. Fixed and thank you.

Comment by zedzed on Seeking advice: Writing skills and workspaces · 2015-06-13T23:51:53.820Z · LW · GW

Regarding the audio environment: you're combating the irrelevant speech effect. Shuffling and instrumental music are bad; people talking and vocal music are worse. A good bet is industrial-grade earmuffs + earbuds (possibly noise-isolating) playing white noise.

Regarding turning off the internet: experiment. I find it annoying and a hindrance, but I know that it's wildly helpful for other people.

Comment by zedzed on Open Thread, May 25 - May 31, 2015 · 2015-05-25T05:54:38.153Z · LW · GW

Created throwaway, couldn't comment.

(So as to not propagate throwaways testing this, account is less_than_2, and the password is 123456)

Comment by zedzed on Open Thread, May 11 - May 17, 2015 · 2015-05-15T04:37:46.790Z · LW · GW

6th year = book 6 (6th year at Hogwarts) = Half-Blood Prince.

AU = Alternate Universe.

Comment by zedzed on Open Thread, Apr. 13 - Apr. 19, 2015 · 2015-04-15T03:49:20.220Z · LW · GW

Learn to dance

Where? How? I'm interested, but lack knowledge so very thoroughly that I don't know what to Google or how to judge the results of a best-guess Google search beyond "bellydancing is not for me... probably."

Comment by zedzed on Book Review: Discrete Mathematics and Its Applications (MIRI Course List) · 2015-04-14T16:21:49.434Z · LW · GW

I take it the requisite level of mathematical maturity is fairly low? (For instance, I'm assuming Rosen doesn't leave gaps in his proofs for the reader to fill in.)

I ask because I've sometimes had trouble with low-maturity math books with novel content, and "accessible" can mean "little mathematical maturity required" or "high-school-level prerequisites".

Comment by zedzed on LW's take on nutrition? · 2015-04-10T12:50:49.107Z · LW · GW

This discussion has already happened at great length here.

To summarize my stance: there's risks, but considering that everyone I've read on has had positive results across the board, from body composition to semen taste. I get noticeably improved mental clarity (along with getting so lean I'd be scared I was undereating if I didn't know precisely how many calories I was eating and clearer skin), which makes me willing to accept those risks. Also, because soylent might be safe and come with a load of benefits, there's data-generating value in taking individual components, blending, and pouring them down my throat to see if anything bad happens. (Julia Galef on tradition as it pertains to social systems, that happens to be applicable here.)

But I'm not very worried; I have trouble imagining a food that has positive effects of "improve body comp, improve mental clarity, clear skin, make semen taste good" and no known negative effects and is biochemically plausible to actually be bad in the long term. Certainly not impossible, but not very probable, I think.

Comment by zedzed on LW's take on nutrition? · 2015-04-05T12:05:46.855Z · LW · GW

Lindeberg is a nutrition researcher (conducts studies, co-authors papers) coming from a medical background, which makes him just as much an expert as a nutrition researcher coming from a biochemistry background.

Why wouldn't nutrition scientists studying nutrition come to a similar conclusion about how young, murky, and complicated nutrition is and only make very conservative, very strongly supported recommendations?

We can measure how much a field has progressed by its predictive power, and nutrition is already making concrete predictions with high confidence. Not a lot, not with the confidence of, say, Newtonian mechanics but, given how very much literature there is and how very complicated things are, the level of consensus across researchers who are coming at the problem from disparate-but-legitimate approaches (e.g. biochemical, evolutionary) is sufficiently impressive that I do trust them to judge the literature properly. Humans are biased, so it's unsurprising that we don't yet have a consensus as broad as, say, existence of the golgi apparatus, but the world looks exactly as we'd expect it if nutrition scientists were doing good work in a complicated field.

To summarize: Lindeberg, like Campbell, is an experienced nutrition researcher with impressive and relevant credentials. Nutrition is a young and complex field, so there's no broad consensus about everything—although there is broad consensus about some things—but nutrition scientists are doing a decent enough job of figuring things out that I trust them to judge the literature properly.

Comment by zedzed on LW's take on nutrition? · 2015-04-04T20:18:30.685Z · LW · GW

Read recent academic textbooks

Any recommendations?

Comment by zedzed on LW's take on nutrition? · 2015-04-04T20:15:20.558Z · LW · GW

The selective pressure on being able to digest lactose as an adult is stronger than the selective pressure to not develop heart disease from eating too much meat, since the former kills you before you can reproduce. Lindeberg claims that humans have sufficiently recent common ancestry that, in absence of the kill-you-before-you-reach-childbearing-age selective pressures, we're able to generalize from group-to-group fairly well. Non-Inuit probably do worse than Inuit on Inuit diets, and bool is_Inuit is a useful input in a program to produce an optimal soylent blend for someone, but the selective pressure isn't strong enough for the Inuit to be mostly devoid of heart disease [1] simply because it was selected for.

Also, many other hunter-gatherers from all over eat large amounts of meat (though as much as the Inuit) and are just as devoid of Western disease as are the Kitavans, who consume relatively little, which supports the hypothesis that Inuit aren't mostly devoid of heart disease because they're genetically unusual.

[1] IIRC Inuit do suffer from slightly more Western disease than Kitavans (most calories from plants), but not by a very impressive margin.

Comment by zedzed on LW's take on nutrition? · 2015-04-03T08:49:52.088Z · LW · GW

I've been watching for several years now (I adopted the diet myself in 2010), and all of the negative critiques tend to fall into (a) critiques from non-experts, (b) critiques from experts in unrelated fields, (c) health experts who agree that his recommendations have merit, but that they're impractical for the general public to follow.

I produce for you a book written by a relevant expert with ~2.5 times as many references as The China Study (2034 vs 758) who advocates eating an ancestral diet (lean unprocessed meat/fish, fruit, nuts, vegetables/root vegatables) (1). A list of individuals with relevant graduate degrees who more-or-less agree with him can be found in this list of speakers at a paleo conference he spoke at. His recommendations are at least as similar to the recommendations the Mayo clinic returned for me as Campbell's.

That is, I can make a symmetrical argument for a significantly different diet (2), complete with experts and evidence and stuff.

So, to address your questions directly: you should believe that nutrition is a young and complex field, and therefore shouldn't have everything all figured out; my take is that you may do well to replace grains with root vegetables, since that's something everyone agrees is good (plus they're really tasty!); this isn't good enough to inform your dietary choices because I just used a symmetrical argument for a diet that has nonnegligible discrepancies with the diet Campbell recommends; and I don't know how to dig out a signal that experts, to my knowledge, haven't managed to dig out without becoming an expert.

(FWIW, I spent about 5 years as a vegetarian, followed by 1.5 years doing the paleo thing, and now subsist entirely off DIY soylent, which combines the virtues of deriving all its protein from animal sources and being processed.)

(1) Interestingly, Campbell's and Lindeberg's diets can be eaten simultaneously, and this intersection is 100% in-line with what the Mayo clinic recommended me. The difference is that Campbell allows grains and beans, and Lindeberg allows (unprocessed) lean meats, fish, and eggs.

(2) Again, there's substantial overlap, but also substantial disagreement: Lindeberg, for instance, observe the Inuit derive something like 98% of their calories from animal sources and are virtually untouched by Western disease, and concludes that very high consumption of (unprocessed) animals is perfectly fine, whereas Campbell claims that humans should eat minimal amounts of animal.

Comment by zedzed on Stupid Questions March 2015 · 2015-03-06T13:35:30.517Z · LW · GW

This is a wonderful data point. It moves our model from "if you're a man, don't wear makeup" to "if you're a man, don't wear makeup unless you're going to appear on camera, in which case, wear just enough to counteract visual artifacts." I expect this to be a nontrivially better model for a significant amount of men here.

Comment by zedzed on Stupid Questions March 2015 · 2015-03-05T11:44:11.728Z · LW · GW

Any data on whether women prefer men with light makeup?

Comment by zedzed on Announcement: The Sequences eBook will be released in mid-March · 2015-03-03T04:13:15.479Z · LW · GW

I'm given to understand that the print and audio versions are being held off until readers of the eBook root out the last of the errata. Where should I submit any I find?

Comment by zedzed on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 113 · 2015-02-28T23:00:16.562Z · LW · GW

It occurs to me that, given the philosopher's stone is around, any superweapons Harry could create and conceal with it in slightly under an hour could exist in the clearing, provided that they're enough to let Harry survive another hour, access the time turner, and create said superweapons.

Also, since prophecies are self-fulfilling and Voldemort prefers a world that won't end to a world that will and Harry has already made the appropriate unbreakable vow to do everything to prevent the end of the world, Harry could argue that expected universe where Voldemort lets Harry live is far superior to the one where Harry dies.

Comment by zedzed on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 104 · 2015-02-17T03:48:09.584Z · LW · GW

I'm assuming quaffles are still worth 10?

Comment by zedzed on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 104 · 2015-02-16T01:39:48.547Z · LW · GW

What are some sensible-sounding alternatives to eliminating the snitch entirely?

The best I can think of is have two snitches—red snitch, blue snitch. Whenever a seeker catches their snitch, the opposing team can't score any more; the game ends when the second snitch is caught.

Comment by zedzed on Open thread, Feb. 9 - Feb. 15, 2015 · 2015-02-11T05:38:34.407Z · LW · GW

I believe that the people who attribute criticism #2 to feminism believe that feminists conflate "story about abuse" with "story encouraging abuse." If feminists are indeed doing this (I'm unsure whether they are), then criticism #2 ought to be attributed to feminism; the general population seems to have no problem with stories that portray unacceptable-in-reality sex (for instance, "NonConsent/Reluctance" is a major story tag on Literotica.)

Comment by zedzed on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, January 2015, chapter 103 · 2015-01-30T12:42:51.734Z · LW · GW

Ybjrfg tenqr vf "Gebyy"

Comment by zedzed on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, January 2015, chapter 103 · 2015-01-30T12:34:52.221Z · LW · GW

Salem Witches' Institute or a dojo in Asia seem the obvious choices, so we can probably safely eliminate them (because when was the last time EY used the obvious solution in MOR?)

Comment by zedzed on Open thread, Jan. 19 - Jan. 25, 2015 · 2015-01-28T01:00:31.235Z · LW · GW

Do we actually disagree about anything?

We certainly agree that the Barracuda's are crap in NAS's. I believe that WD Red's are a major improvement and Hitachi Deskstars a further improvement, which is just reading the Backblaze data (which is eminently applicable to NAS environments), so I'm we're in complete agreement that, for NAS's, Barracuda << Red < 7K2000.

However, I also contend that, in a desktop PC, a lot of what makes the Reds and 7K2000 more reliable (e.g. superior vibration resistance) will count for very little, so they'll still fail less often, just not 1/40th as much. Even if they're four times as reliable, moving from, say, a 4% annual failure rate vs a 1% annual failure rate may not be worth the price premium (using Newegg pricing, the Hitachi drive costs 72.5% more, but on Amazon, the Hitachi drive is cheaper. Yay Hitachi?), especially since RAID 1 is a thing (which would give us a 0.16% annual failure rate at a 100% price premium). Obviously, if you can find higher-quality drives for less than lower-quality drives, use those. But, in what we'd naively expect to be the normal case, if you're paying for features that drastically reduce failure rates in NAS environments, but using your drives in a desktop environment where these features are doing little to extend your drive life, then you're probably better off using RAID 1.

(Why do I use low single-digit annual failure rates? Because I remember Linus of Linus Tech Tips, who worked as a product manager at NCIX and therefore is privy to RMA and warranty rates, implied that's about right. He produces a metric shit-ton of content, though, so there's no way I'm going to dig it up.)

I'm also interested why you're dismissive of AnandTech. I currently believe they're gold standard of tech reviews, but if they're not as reputable as I believe they are, I would very much like to stop believing they are.

Comment by zedzed on Open thread, Jan. 19 - Jan. 25, 2015 · 2015-01-26T21:01:28.201Z · LW · GW

My above comment was poorly written. Sorry. Hem.

Consumer-grade HDD's, used properly, all have about same, low failure rate. If you treat your desktop like a NAS or server, they will drop like flies (as evidenced). If you treat your desktop like a desktop, then a lot of the price-raising enterprise-grade features (vibration resistance, 24/7 operation) count for zilch. They're still higher-end drives, and will last longer, but assuming you give your desktop a fraction of the maintenance you give your car (like, take 5 minutes to blow it out every other year), not a lot.

Assumption not in evidence.

Mea culpa. I'll give you heat, but vibration tolerance and 24/7 operation are enterprise-grade features with minimal relevance to desktop hard drives. Evidence. Evidence. Why I'm inclined to distrust anything Backblaze publishes + evidence.

tl;dr Looking at this data and concluding "avoid Seagate Barracuda drives" is a bit like noticing that bikers survive accidents more often when they're wearing a helmet and then issuing a blanket recommendation to a population primarily of car-drivers to wear bike helmets. Sure, it'll reduce your expecting mortality when you go out for a drive, but not nearly as much as you'd expect from the biking numbers.

Comment by zedzed on Open thread, Jan. 19 - Jan. 25, 2015 · 2015-01-26T19:28:32.679Z · LW · GW

Consensus is that modern HDD's from reputable manufacturers have approximately equal low failure rates, especially after the first year. You should still back up important data (low != 0), but the differences failure rates in consumer space is small enough to not really sway purchasing decisions.

Their methodology probably doesn't extrapolate well because they're testing the drives in what amounts to a NAS and the WD reds (which did well) are NAS drives, and therefore designed to operate 24/7 with vibration and nongreat cooling, whereas the Seagate Barracudas are just absolutely not NAS drives (unlike, say, the Seagate NAS drives). So, it's not really surprising they had a much higher failure rate, but it'd also be incorrect to conclude that you should avoid them. If I'm building a rig for work, internet use, or gaming {1}, then my HDD's going to be in a well-cooled, non-vibrating environment, and not used in use 24/7, so I'm essentially throwing away 15% price premium for the WD Red's (or 60% for the HGST Deskstar's). OTOH, if you're backing up your data locally on a NAS, pay the gorram premium.

{1} Again, though, SSD's are increasingly likely the way to go. You can get a sufficiently good 256 GB SSD for about the price of a 3 GB HDD and if you're never going to use more than 250 GB (which, I'm guessing is at least 80% of people reading this who don't already know whether an SSD or HDD better meets their needs), you're essentially getting substantially better performance (up to an order of magnitude), more reliability, and less noise for free. I harp on this because SSD's come in a 2.5-inch form factor and the more the standard storage option is SSD, the more cases won't have a whole bunch of room taken up with 3.5-inch bays I don't use. More importantly, there'll finally be budget laptops that I don't have to immediately take apart, clone the OS onto an SSD, reassemble, and figure out what to do with the HDD it came with just to get a decent experience. Gah! SSD's are the right choice for most people and there's externalities when they get HDD's instead because "more gigabytes".

Comment by zedzed on Open thread, Jan. 19 - Jan. 25, 2015 · 2015-01-25T15:23:25.728Z · LW · GW

I spend time in hardware enthusiast communities and not so impressed with Backblaze. Even here, the Seagate failure rates seem suspiciously anomalous.

Also, SSDs, which are probably a better match for most people here (my rig has run a 256 GB SSD for the past 2.5 years and I'm yet to want for more storage). Especially for laptops; they use less power (= your battery lasts longer) and can stand up to shock (so your laptop doesn't break if you drop it).

Comment by zedzed on Optimal eating (or rather, a step in the right direction) · 2015-01-21T04:23:00.351Z · LW · GW

Huh. From the time I spent in the paleosphere, the arguments I saw against wheat were the six Scott listed plus "carbs are evil!" (Literally the only input to the delta-weight function is grams_carbs.) Lindeberg either ignores or dismisses these arguments. I stopped spending time in the paleosphere a while back and I'm not overwhelmingly proud of the epistemic purity of the parts I did frequent, so maybe you just got to see the paleosphere make their non-wretched arguments.

Comment by zedzed on Optimal eating (or rather, a step in the right direction) · 2015-01-20T14:57:46.621Z · LW · GW

See also discussion here, in particular, soylent green (unsuitable for OP because hypoglycemia), soylent orange (yay complex carbs!) and ketosoylent (most recently Yudkowsky's Mildly Surprising Super Ketonic Dietary Replacement Fluid: Your Alternative To Healthy Eating.)

Comment by zedzed on Optimal eating (or rather, a step in the right direction) · 2015-01-20T02:03:42.425Z · LW · GW

To tl;dr a tl;dr

  • Seeds (read: grains) have the highest concentration of "don't eat me" toxins, because of the role they play in reproduction; phytic acid, for instance, inhibits absorption of several minerals.

  • Humans can live off vegetables and some fish (Kitavans) or almost entirely meat (Inuit) and be pretty healthy. However, even animals optimized for eating seeds, much less humans, cannot live off grains exclusively without developing pellegra and beriberi.

  • Cereals have exceptionally high energy density, which may lead to overfeeding.

  • It's plausible grains interfere with satiety responses via endocrine disruption

  • Grains have a bad omega-3 : omega-6 ratio.

  • Grains have poor nutrient density.

Distilling Lindeberg's object-level advice: eat lean meat, fish, vegetables (including root vegetables), fruit, and nuts (but not too many). Do not eat grains, dairy, sugar, beans, or processed things. Drink water. I've written about how he comes to this (and my reservations about the lack of extant evidence to support any strong recommendations, including his) previously.

Comment by zedzed on Optimal eating (or rather, a step in the right direction) · 2015-01-19T15:23:26.677Z · LW · GW

Let's talk about drugs!

Caffeine's an adenosine antagonist. Now, let's figure out what that means.

Neurons have proteins embedded in their membranes called receptors. Chemicals (e.g. neurotransmitters) can bind to these receptors, which causes stuff to happen. For instance, adenosine is a chemical, and it can bind to receptors in your brain cells, resulting in sleepy behavior.

(Here seems to be the place to mention that this is a vastly oversimplified explanation. Those interested in a technical explanation would do well to check out the appropriate textbook, because I literally just condensed over three chapters of my psychopharmacology textbook in as many sentences.)

Caffeine is an antagonist. Antagonists are able to bind to receptors without causing the stuff to happen. Since the receptors are already bound, the adenosine can't bind to them, meaning the stuff (in this case, sleepy behavior) happens less.

This leads nicely into tolerance. Your body reacts to not-enough-working-adenosine-receptors by adding adenosine receptors. Thus, when your not hopped up on caffeine, you have too many adenosine receptors (and therefore too much sleepy behavior), and even when you are on caffeine, the effects are muted.

Fortunately, it's pretty straightforward to reduce the number of adenosine receptors: you just stop ingesting caffeine, your body notices there's too many adenosine receptors, and removes them. This doesn't happen immediately, so you get withdrawal. Checking wikipedia, this should last 2–9 days at nuisance level. (Relative to the other drugs in my textbook, this is positively innocuous).

Also, it's worth mentioning caffeine's pharmacokinetics. The rate at which caffeine is metabolized is proportional to how much is in your system. Solving the differential equation gives you something like $A e^{-kt}$; the important thing to know is it has a half-life of about 6 hours.

Out of every course I took in college, psychopharmacology had by far the highest [actual IRL use] : [expected IRL use] ratio. Drugs are ubiquitous and having a solid understanding constantly pays small dividends.

Comment by zedzed on Optimal eating (or rather, a step in the right direction) · 2015-01-19T03:55:00.891Z · LW · GW

You might want to say something like "quick" instead of "fast" because homonyms (I first thought you were going to talk about intermittent fasting, which didn't make sense because of the hypoglycemia).

Why are you skeptical of whey protein? I've only ever heard good stuff, and I've spent enough time reading about nutrition to construct not-unreasonable arguments against almost every food. (Vegetables? Plants don't want to be eaten (except for fruit), so they contain bad-to-eat chemicals that humans almost certainly can't metabolize! Fruits? Have inferior nutrient density relative to vegetables!)

Thoughts on wheaty things: you can probably dismiss the paleosphere arguments against wheat. You're still dealing with a plant that doesn't want to be eaten and therefore contains toxic chemicals, but unlike other plants (e.g. broccolli), wheat doesn't come with killer micronutrient density. The naive approach would be to displace as many wheat-calories with vegetable/fruit/meat/nut/anything-else-with-higher-micronutrient-density calories. However, I also get the need for cheap calories, so if you're already eating all the micronutrients you need to, I can't really argue too hard against wheat.

Meat: near as I can tell, the important distinction is "processed/not processed" (see top comment thread in Lifestyle Interventions to Increase Longevity). There's also good reasons to prefer lean: better nutrient density, fewer toxins (which often are fat-soluble), although we again run into "more cost per calorie."

Caffeine: have you considered/tried not doing caffeine? I'm biased against it, since I don't really get the stimulant benefits but do suffer from withdrawal symptoms, but if you're a normal human, you're going to build tolerance, and suddenly your coffee-to-improve-performance-beyond-baseline has turned into coffee-to-keep-performance-at-baseline and it costs more than water. Also, chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine (another minor stimulant); consider restricting your chocolate consumption for days you need a performance boost and cut the coffee entirely.

I'll recommend Food and Western Disease as a book on nutrition that reads a bit like Gwern (1, 2) and lends itself to being updated upon (the book concludes with a recommendation for a version of paleo (which is almost closer to what you have here than what you'd find on, say, Mark's Daily Apple, but I used the same principles to arrive at eating soylent exclusively, and I'm confident that it could improve your nutrition plan significantly.)

Comment by zedzed on Who are your favorite "hidden rationalists"? · 2015-01-13T01:53:26.601Z · LW · GW

Doug McGuff (author of Body By Science) reminds me of Staffan Lindeberg (author of Food and Western Disease).

McGuff updates away from "common wisdom" of exercise, usually in a direction that makes things better.

  • McGuff is an opponent of large amounts of moderate-intensity cardio, arguing that it has extremely poor return-on-investment (too much time, energy, effort) and causes too much injury. His recommendation to do minimal amounts of high-intensity exercise line up nicely with Romeo Steven's recommendations and recent research.

  • McGuff focuses on recovery, recommending to err on the side of too much recovery, rather than too little. I'll take exception to his recommended recovery intervals (ACSM and Romeo Stevens both recommend exercising 2–3 times a week, rather than once a week), but he's definitely erring on the right side; overtraining will waste your time, make you weak, and injure you, whereas undertraining just means you don't achieve results quite as quickly.

  • McGuff separates exercise (an activity designed to produce a physiological response) and physical activity (moving your body). This is in line with the scientific community (this very distinction is made in chapter one of ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription). In particular, since exercise is optimizing for a desirable physiological response under the constraint of not getting injured, it should come as no surprise that exercise is by far the most efficient way of achieving a desirable physioligical response and doesn't injure you. When the weather permits, I play ultimate frisbee several hours a week, and it's fun, but I've had numerous (minor) injuries and hold no illusions that I couldn't achieve approximately equivalent results with 12 minutes a week of Tabata sprints.

  • McGuff advocates for using machines over free weights because, even though the latter will produce slightly better outcomes, it's difficult to hold proper form as your muscles approach failure, and bad form with free weights is a recipe for getting injured.

  • McGuff is big on having genetics as an input to your exercise function. In particular, a routine that's optimal for the genetically gifted isn't going to be good for anyone else; if I tried exercising as much as Michael Phelps, my body would break because I'm not an outlier freak whose body can handle that much physical stress. This is in opposition to a (bad) common argument that goes "X has physique Y, which I desire. If I follow the same exercise program as X, I'll obtain physique Y. However, no matter what routine I do, I'll never have Triple H's body because my bones aren't thick enough.) McGuff like an anecdote about out-of-shape people swimming because they want the long, lean body of a swimmer, even though elite swimmers have long, lean bodies because anyone with a different body type doesn't become an elite swimmer.

However, I feel McGuff sometimes ignores or cherrypicks evidence to reach his preconceived notions of what optimal exercise ought to look like. Most notably, he advocates for one set to failure, whereas the consensus amongst people who look closely at the evidence recommend 4 sets at a weight, number of reps, and cadence such that you can barely finish the last set.

Similarly for Lindeberg in nutrition:

  • Most popular nutrition literature reads something like "X is good for you because it has a lot of Y!" Lindeberg's book reads a lot like "foods from class X are problematic because they contain Y which causes Z." (Foods from the class legumes are problematic because they contain phytic acid which is problematic because it binds to metals, meaning that you don't absorb the iron or magnesium you've eaten. Plants really didn't evolve to be good things to eat (fruit excepted).)

  • Lindeberg argues that micronutrient:calorie ratios, not macronutrient ratios, are important. (He's well-known for his study of Kitavans, an indigenous population known to not suffer from western disease. They have a very high-carbohydrate diet. Lindeberg also notes that the Inuit, who are also basically devoid of western disease, derive a few percent of their calories from carbohydrates.)

  • Lindeberg isn't overconfident. Nutrition is hard to study: we can't really placebo food, we can only usually measure biomarkers (which don't quite equal health outcomes), and doing controlled intervention studies is hard (you need to get a large group of people to adhere to a diet long enough to see far-down-the-road health outcomes), so there aren't nearly enough of them. It's also nonobvious how to "slice" food: is it that meat an unhealthy class of food, is it mostly harmless and just processed meat that's bad? Should we be comparing high carb/low carb or processed/unprocessed or GMO/natural or paleo/modern or…?

Ultimately, Lindeberg does recommend a paleo diet (which bears a passing relationship to mainstream paleo), but, on account of there not being enough good evidence, despite writing a book with >2k references, I remember not being entirely convinced he presented enough evidence to justify his recommendations.

Ultimately, what makes McGuff and Lindeberg hidden rationalists is not that they present the best arguments, although they do a better job than most. What makes them hidden rationalists is they present good arguments that lend themselves to updating. McGuff outlines a bunch of exercise principles, most of which I still use, but I made small changes when Romeo Stevens posted Optimal Exercise. Lindeberg outlines nutrition principles, which back up the paleo diet, most of which I abide by, even though I eat soylent, which is about the least-paleo thing there is.

This becomes remarkable when you compare it to the "normal" situation, which is, near as I can tell, amalgamating a mishmash heuristic from articles written by morons who have no clue what they're talking about (the prototypical example being a friend who started working out based on recommendations from bodybuilding forums.) You can certainly update in this case (I can tell friend he's exercising too frequently and he goes to the gym less often), but it's not nearly as good as being able to update intelligently: it's the difference between looking at a gallup poll and scientific evidence to determine whether global warming is true. (Actually, that methodology is better; if I'm reading random idiots on the internet, I'm subject to a massive confirmation bias. Also, only reading the 10% of literature on exercise that falls outside of Sturgeon's law saves a lot of time.)

Also, I endorse Staffan Lindeberg as a hidden rationalist and wholeheartedly recommend his book. >2k references! (To compare, OP's Body By Science has about a tenth as many. Which is exceptional—Lindeberg is just really exceptional.)

Comment by zedzed on What topics are appropriate for LessWrong? · 2015-01-13T01:31:17.155Z · LW · GW

I have this heuristic which states, if a bunch of smart people get excited about something, you should check it out. There's no obligation to also get excited about it (a lot of smart people get excited over classical literature, which does less than nothing for me, but I'm sure this is a product of my draw in the lottery of fascinations and not sloth.)

At this point, "anything that you find interesting and doesn't get downvoted into oblivion because nobody else finds it interesting" seems a reasonable criteria for "appropriate for LW". There's a chance that this allows a spontaneous influx of people who want to write about classical literature or social justice politics, but as long as our core material is The Sequences and the wobsite has MIRI, CFAR, and Future for Humanity Institute in the upper right, I'm not worried about losing what makes LessWrong shiny.

Comment by zedzed on The Superstar Effect · 2015-01-03T19:16:35.388Z · LW · GW

Also, the testing effect. There seems to be some sort of consensus among scientists who research in the relevant area that many, low-stakes quizzes is better than few high-stakes tests, because it reduces student anxiety, encourages a more spread out practice distribution, and leverages the testing effect more. (There exists proper empirical support which I'm too lazy to dig up, but will if asked to.)