The application of the secretary problem to real life dating

The following problem is best when not described by me:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secretary_problem

Although there are many variations, the basic problem can be stated as follows:

  • There is a single secretarial position to fill.
  • There are n applicants for the position, and the value of n is known.
  • The applicants, if seen altogether, can be ranked from best to worst unambiguously.
  • The applicants are interviewed sequentially in random order, with each order being equally likely.
  • Immediately after an interview, the interviewed applicant is either accepted or rejected, and the decision is irrevocable.
  • The decision to accept or reject an applicant can be based only on the relative ranks of the applicants interviewed so far.
  • The objective of the general solution is to have the highest probability of selecting the best applicant of the whole group. This is the same as maximizing the expected payoff, with payoff defined to be one for the best applicant and zero otherwise.


Application

After reading that you can probably see the application to real life.  There are a series of bad and good assumptions following, some are fair, some are not going to be representative of you.  I am going to try to name them all as I go so that you can adapt them with better ones for yourself.  Assuming that you plan to have children and you will probably be doing so like billions of humans have done so far in a monogamous relationship while married (the entire set of assumptions does not break down for poly relationships or relationship-anarchy, but it gets more complicated).  These assumptions help us populate the Secretary problem with numbers in relation to dating for the purpose of children.

If you assume that a biological female’s clock ends at 40. (in that its hard and not healthy for the baby if you try to have a kid past that age), that is effectively the end of the pure and simple biological purpose of relationships. (environment, IVF and adoption aside for a moment).  (yes there are a few more years on that)

For the purpose of this exercise – as a guy – you can add a few years for the potential age gap you would tolerate. (i.e. my parents are 7 years apart, but that seems like a big understanding and maturity gap – they don’t even like the same music), I personally expect I could tolerate an age gap of 4-5 years.

If you make the assumption that you start your dating life around the ages of 16-18. that gives you about [40-18=22]  22-24 (+5 for me as a male), years of expected dating potential time.

If you estimate the number of kids you want to have, and count either:

3 years for each kid OR

2 years for each kid (+1 kid – AKA 2 years)

(Twins will throw this number off, but estimate that they take longer to recover from, or more time raising them to manageable age before you have time to have another kid)

My worked example is myself – as a child of 3, with two siblings of my own I am going to plan to have 3 children. Or 8-9 years of child-having time. If we subtract that from the number above we end up with 11-16 (16-21 for me being a male) years of dating time.

Also if you happen to know someone with a number of siblings (or children) and a family dynamic that you like; then you should consider that number of children for yourself. Remember that as a grown-up you are probably travelling through the world with your siblings beside you.  Which can be beneficial (or detrimental) as well, I would be using the known working model of yourself or the people around you to try to predict whether you will benefit or be at a disadvantage by having siblings.  As they say; You can’t pick your family – for better and worse.  You can pick your friends, if you want them to be as close as a default family – that connection goes both ways – it is possible to cultivate friends that are closer than some families.  However you choose to live your life is up to you.

Assume that once you find the right person – getting married (the process of organising a wedding from the day you have the engagement rings on fingers); and falling pregnant (successfully starting a viable pregnancy) takes at least a year. Maybe two depending on how long you want to be “we just got married and we aren’t having kids just yet”. It looks like 9-15 (15-20 for male adjusted) years of dating.

With my 9-15 years; I estimate a good relationship of working out whether I want to marry someone, is between 6 months and 2 years, (considering as a guy I will probably be proposing and putting an engagement ring on someone’s finger – I get higher say about how long this might take than my significant other does.), (This is about the time it takes to evaluate whether you should put the ring on someone’s finger).  For a total of 4 serious relationships on the low and long end and 30 serious relationships on the upper end. (7-40 male adjusted relationships)

Of course that’s not how real life works. Some relationships will be longer and some will be shorter. I am fairly confident that all my relationships will fall around those numbers.

I have a lucky circumstance; I have already had a few serious relationships (substitute your own numbers in here).  With my existing relationships I can estimate how long I usually spend in a relationship. (2year + 6 year + 2month + 2month /4 = 2.1 years). Which is to say that I probably have a maximum and total of around 7-15 relationships before I gotta stop expecting to have kids, or start compromising on having 3 kids.


 A solution to the secretary equation

A known solution that gives you the best possible candidate the most of the time is to try out 1/e candidates (or roughly 36%), then choose the next candidate that is better than the existing candidates. For my numbers that means to go through 3-7 relationships and then choose the next relationship that is better than all the ones before.

I don’t quite like that.  It depends on how big your set is; as to what the chance of you having the best candidate in the first 1/e trials and then sticking it out till the last candidate, and settling on them.  (this strategy has a ((1/n)*(1/e)) chance of just giving you the last person in the set – which is another opportunity cost risk – what if they are rubbish? Compromise on the age gap, the number of kids or the partners quality…)  If the set is 7, the chance that the best candidate is in the first 1/e is 5.26% (if the set is 15 – the chance is much lower at 2.45%).

Opportunity cost

Each further relationship you have might be costing you another 2 years to get further out of touch with the next generation (kids these days!)  I tend to think about how old I will be when my kids are 15-20 am I growing rapidly out of touch with the next younger generation?  Two years is a very big opportunity spend – another 2 years could see you successfully running a startup and achieving lifelong stability at the cost of the opportunity to have another kid.  I don’t say this to crush you with fear of inaction; but it should factor in along with other details of your situation.

A solution to the risk of having the best candidate in your test phase; or to the risk of lost opportunity – is to lower the bar; instead of choosing the next candidate that is better than all the other candidates; choose the next candidate that is better than 90% of the candidates so far.  Incidentally this probably happens in real life quite often.  In a stroke of, “you’ll do”…

Where it breaks down

Real life is more complicated than that. I would like to think that subsequent relationships that I get into will already not suffer the stupid mistakes of the last ones; As well as the potential opportunity cost of exploration. The more time you spend looking for different partners – you might lose your early soul mate, or might waste time looking for a better one when you can follow a “good enough” policy. No one likes to know they are “good enough”, but we do race the clock in our lifetimes. Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.

As someone with experience will know – we probably test and rule out bad partners in a single conversation, where we don’t even get so far as a date.  Or don’t last more than a week. (I. E the experience set is growing through various means).

People have a tendency to overrate the quality of a relationship while they are in it, versus the ones that already failed.

Did I do something wrong? 

“I got married early – did I do something wrong (or irrational)?”

No.  equations are not real life.  It might have been nice to have the equation, but you obviously didn’t need it.  Also this equation assumes a monogamous relationship.  In real life people have overlapping relationships, you can date a few people and you can be poly. These are all factors that can change the simple assumptions of the equation.

Where does the equation stop working?

Real life is hard.  It doesn’t fall neatly into line, it’s complicated, it’s ugly, it’s rough and smooth and clunky.  But people still get by.  Don’t be afraid to break the rule.

Disclaimer: If this equation is the only thing you are using to evaluate a relationship – it’s not going to go very well for you.  I consider this and many other techniques as part of my toolbox for evaluating decisions.

Should I break up with my partner?

What? no!  Following an equation is not a good reason to live your life.

Does your partner make you miserable?  Then yes you should break up.

Do you feel like they are not ready to have kids yet and you want to settle down?  Tough call.  Even if they were agents also doing the equation; An equation is not real life.  Go by your brain; go by your gut.  Don’t go by just one equation.

Expect another post soon about reasonable considerations that should be made when evaluating relationships.

The given problem makes the assumption that you are able to evaluate partners in the sense that the secretary problem expects.  Humans are not all strategic and can’t really do that.  This is why the world is not going to perfectly follow this equation.  Life is complicated; there are several metrics that make a good partner and they don’t always trade off between one another.


Meta: writing time – 3 hours over a week; 5+ conversations with people about the idea, bothering a handful of programmers and mathematicians for commentary on my thoughts, and generally a whole bunch of fun talking about it.  This post was started on the slack channel when someone asked a related question.

Originally posted on lesswrong:  http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/mtj/

Let me know if this post was helpful or if it worked for you or why not.

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The meta-strategy – Against the five love languages

You are in a relationship, someone made some objection about communication, you don’t seem to understand what’s going on.  Many years later you find yourself looking back at the relationship and reflecting with friends.  That’s when someone brings up The Five Love Languages.  Oh deep and great and meaningful secrets encoded into a book.

The 5 languages are:

  1. Gifts
  2. Quality time
  3. Words of affirmation
  4. Acts of service (devotion)
  5. Physical touch (intimacy)

Oooooh if only you had spent more energy trying to get quality time, and less effort on gifts that relationship could have been saved.  Or the other way – the relationship was doomed because you wanted quality time and they wanted gifts as a show of love.

You start seeing the world in 5 languages, your coworker offering to get you a coffee is a gift.  Your boss praising your good work is words of affirmation.  You start thinking like a Man with a hammer.  Strictly speaking I enjoy man with a hammer syndrome.  I like to use a model to death, and then pick a new model and do it all again.


What I want you to do now is imagine you didn’t do that.  Imagine we cloned the universe.  In one universe we gave you the love-languages book and locked you in a room to read it.  In the second universe we offered to run you through a new relationship-training exercise.  “It’s no guide book on how to communicate with your partner, but it’s a pretty good process”, we lock you in a room with a chair, a desk, some paper, pens (few distractions) and order you to derive some theory and idea about how to communicate with your partner.

Which one do you predict will yield the best result?


When I ask my system 2, it is fairly happy with the idea that using someone else’s model is a shortcut to finding the answers.  After all they pre-derived the model.  No need to spend hours working on it myself when it’s all in a book.

When I ask my system 1, it thinks that the self-derived system is about a billion times better than the one I found in a book.  It’s going to be personally suited, it’s going to be sharp and accurate, and bend to my needs.


Meta-strategy

Which is going to yield the best result for the problem? Self-derived solutions to all future problems? Book-derived solutions for all problems?

I propose that the specific strategy used to answer the problem, depending on the problem (obviously sometimes 1+1 will only be solved with addition, and solving it with subtraction is going to be difficult), is mostly irrelevant compared to having the meta-strategy.

In the original example:

My relationship has bad communication, so we end the relationship.

The meta-strategy for this case:

My relationship has bad communication, how do we find more information about that and solve that problem.

In the general case:

I have a problem, I will fix the problem.

the meta strategy for the general case:

I have a problem, what is the best way to solve the problem?

Or the meta-meta strategy:

I have a problem, how will I go about finding what is the best way to solve the problem?


I propose that having the meta strategy, and the meta-meta strategy is almost as powerful as the true strategy.  On the object level for the problem example, instead of searching for the book in the problem field that is the five love languages you could instead search for any book about the problem area.  Any book is better than no book.  In fact I would make a hierarchy:

The best strategy > a good strategy > any strategy > no strategy
The best book > a good book > any book on the topic > no book on the topic

You encounter a problem in the wild – what should you do?

  1. Try just solve the problem
  2. Try any strategy (with a small amount of thinking – a few seconds or minutes)
  3. search for a better strategy

Depending on the problem, the time, the real factors – the best path forward may be to just “think of what to do then do that”, or it may be to “stop and write out a 10 page plan before executing 10 pages worth of instructions”.


Should you read the five love languages book?  That depends.  What is the problem?  and have you tried solving the problem on your own first?

Meta: this took an hour to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/nta

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The problem – analyse a conversation (Part 2)

From part 1: http://bearlamp.com.au/the-problem-tm-analyse-a-conversation/

I had a chat with a person who admitted to having many problems themselves.  I offered my services as a problem solving amateur, willing to try to get to the bottom of this.  Presented is the conversation (With details changed for privacy).

I had my first shot at analysing the person’s problems and drilling down to the bottom.  I am interested in what other people have to say is the problem.  Here we study the meta-strategy of how to solve the problem, which I find much more interesting than the object level analysis of the problem and how to solve it.

I don’t think I got to the bottom of the problem, and I don’t think I conducted myself in a top-notch capacity but needless to say I wonder if you have any comments about what IS TheProblem(tm), how did you come to that conclusion and what can be done about it (for the benefit of this person and anyone with a similar problem).


What is actually the problem?  I have a theory, but I also wanted to publish this without declaring my answer.  I will share my ideas in a few weeks but I want to know what you think and how you came to that answer.


This is a new style of post so I expected some responses along the lines of:

I considered downvoting. I opted instead to ignore after reading the preamble. – buybuydandavis

That’s fine.  It was literally a chat log.  Not for everyone.

I also got some interesting and relevant responses.  There are several and they overlap so I decided it’s best to answer with another post.


Many people narrowed down to a few particularly alarming examples:

  • The most alarming part of that conversation for me was “A few weeks ago I punched a housemate in the face ten times, breaking her nose;” – Strangeattractor
  • Is it really the most alarming part? I would think suicide ideation more so. – Romashka
  • Treatment for mental illness (and possibly organic brain trauma) seems priority #1 here… –CronoDAS
  • Zebra was extremely bad at imagining good outcomes in a way which led to him taking action– in other words, probably depression. – NancyLebovitz 

And then this:

There are lots of problems. If I had to pick only one, it would be that you seem to think there is a single, simple problem that can be identified from this transcript. – Dagon

It sounds a bit as if you are implicitly proposing a principle like “there is always a single underlying problem, if you can only find it” – gjm


To gjm first:

I present “The Problem (TM)” because I suspect in this case there is an underlying problem.  Not always.  Often when problem solving we try to figure out what is the lowest hanging fruit, or what one thing can be changed first.

There was a scene in Doctor Who – The ends of time Part 2 where the doctor is trapped in space on a spaceship that doesn’t work.  Instead of giving up he just (knowing what he is doing) starts fiddling with the heating.  Other characters insist that everything is hopeless and lo and behold; as he fixes the heating; that fixes the engine and the computers and everything whirs back to life and we continue to the next epic fight scene!

Now, generalising from one fictional example.  As rationalists we wish that there really was one thing that you could fix, which would cause the fixing of the next thing and a chain of events that fix everything.  When we look at the accelerating factors, we wish this is how it happens:

13331168_10153822586668878_3315347668470874063_n

We’d be dreaming to think that such a thing can actually happen.  After 41 days we are at 1.5x where we started.  After 70 days 2x, and 111, 3x.  Which is just nuts.  What if I told you that in a month of nudging 1% you’d be nearly 1.5x from where you are.  Not likely, not going to happen.

1 1.01 51 1.6610781401
2 1.0201 52 1.6776889215
3 1.030301 53 1.6944658107
4 1.04060401 54 1.7114104688
5 1.0510100501 55 1.7285245735
6 1.0615201506 56 1.7458098192
7 1.0721353521 57 1.7632679174
8 1.0828567056 58 1.7809005966
9 1.0936852727 59 1.7987096025
10 1.1046221254 60 1.8166966986
11 1.1156683467 61 1.8348636655
12 1.1268250301 62 1.8532123022
13 1.1380932804 63 1.8717444252
14 1.1494742132 64 1.8904618695
15 1.1609689554 65 1.9093664882
16 1.1725786449 66 1.9284601531
17 1.1843044314 67 1.9477447546
18 1.1961474757 68 1.9672222021
19 1.2081089504 69 1.9868944242
20 1.2201900399 70 2.0067633684
21 1.2323919403 71 2.0268310021
22 1.2447158598 72 2.0470993121
23 1.2571630183 73 2.0675703052
24 1.2697346485 74 2.0882460083
25 1.282431995 75 2.1091284684
26 1.295256315 76 2.130219753
27 1.3082088781 77 2.1515219506
28 1.3212909669 78 2.1730371701
29 1.3345038766 79 2.1947675418
30 1.3478489153 80 2.2167152172
31 1.3613274045 81 2.2388823694
32 1.3749406785 82 2.2612711931
33 1.3886900853 83 2.283883905
34 1.4025769862 84 2.306722744
35 1.416602756 85 2.3297899715
36 1.4307687836 86 2.3530878712
37 1.4450764714 87 2.3766187499
38 1.4595272361 88 2.4003849374
39 1.4741225085 89 2.4243887868
40 1.4888637336 90 2.4486326746
41 1.5037523709 91 2.4731190014
42 1.5187898946 92 2.4978501914
43 1.5339777936 93 2.5228286933
44 1.5493175715 94 2.5480569803
45 1.5648107472 95 2.5735375501
46 1.5804588547 96 2.5992729256
47 1.5962634432 97 2.6252656548
48 1.6122260777 98 2.6515183114
49 1.6283483385 99 2.6780334945
50 1.6446318218 100 2.7048138294

Nonetheless we pursue.  It might be important too, to look for the problem at the bottom, otherwise we might find ourselves bikeshedding about the trivial problems.

This week while making the emergency room project, I spent some time looking at other data.  Specifically the (Australian) National Drug Strategy Household Survey data.  Where the first question on the survey was; “When people talk about “a drug problem”, which is the first drug you think of?“.  What kind of information is that likely to yield?  Is it going to return the drug which is the biggest problem in the country?  Or maybe it’s going to yield whatever the media feels makes a good story, (say ICE because it’s dangerous) (weed because it’s controvertial) (or alcohol because it’s the most common)?  Or is it going to yield the one with the most personally damaging reputation (tobacco > alcohol)?

In reality, is the government going to take action on what people think is the biggest problem drug?  Or should the government instead take action on the drug actually killing people?  Are we bikeshedding on this issue?

What actually is the biggest problem, it’s a relevant question, certainly not every time.  but sometimes it’s worth digging into.


To Strangeattractor, Romashka, CronoDAS, NancyLebovitz:

You are not wrong.  The violence, mental health, potential head wound, depression, inability to leave the house, lack of friends, weight problems, exercise problems. Are all very very important problems to tackle.  And I will come back to this.


Some analysis:

I started with simple background questions.  History, etc.  knowing that anything being brought up is probably being brought up because it has special relevance to the topic.  It’s almost like a job interview, when they ask you for your top 10 characteristics, they don’t expect you to tell them about how you can fry a perfect egg (if that’s not relevant to the task at hand).  There is a need to make certain assumptions about the truth and about the validity of the information.

I was previously very depressed, and then recovered for a few years.

Definitely relevant, sets the scene.  I asked, “So you are currently feeling depressed”

Yes. Possibly as a symptom of bipolar disorder (I’ve recently started having manic episodes), or possibly not–I’ve never been diagnosed with that, and until recently had never had issues with mania.

A while back I tried reading the DSM.  While it really doesn’t tell you much about reality it is one instance of a Map of the world, Just like legislation, instruction manuals, guide books, Guides to how a project was done (this is an example of a map of how my process works), and more.  The interesting thing about what the DSM has to say about bipolar diagnosis is that there is a requirement for mania in both the upwards and downwards directions, often affecting sleep, and giving people feelings of godliness or invincibility.

So who cares.  Well; on the one hand; using this knowledge here to ask about sleep is a signal that I at least know a little bit of what is being talked about.  On the other hand I think I got lucky about whether sleep was relevant. (and on the third hand – sleep is a very common problem for people generally and worth asking about.)

I guess immediately I feel quite isolated, very stressed, and don’t know how to proceed forward.

The idea of “feeling stressed” is a complicated one.  On some level, you have an understanding of what “I feel stressed” means.  But on another level – if you spend enough time around different diversely stressed people.  You get the feeling that there is some kind of miscommunication going on.

sorry for the mess meme

Kind of like this one here.  It’s a map and territory problem.  One person’s map of stress is not the same as another person’s map of stress.


ELiot: Is there a specific stress?

I guess; loneliness, numerous tensions with my girlfriend, some financial issues (to a large extent a symptom of the recent mania), extreme dissatisfaction with myself and especially my own appearance, frustrations with daily life, and a general dissatisfaction with the world.

So there’s a list.  But the problem I find with vague lists is it’s easy to see there’s a problem here but harder to address any part and make a difference.  I personally have list making habits.  Something I will one day make a post about.   Which is where this comes from:

I am going to write the list out

1. Loneliness
2. Girlfriend tension
3. Financial issues
4. Self + appearance
5. Daily life
6. Dissatisfied with the world

Which grew a bit by the end of the conversation.


ChristianKl Rightly criticised me for saying this:

ELiot
Would you like to pick a specific one from the list to talk about?

I can pick one if you like

(Why do you offer to pick the specific issue? Agency is important for getting out of depression.) Unfortunately I stripped out time-stamps which would explain why I offered to pick one.  There are three parts to this problem.

  1. Not picking one would likely lead to more complaining about the issues without solving anything.  If Z was unmotivated enough to be unable to pick one (a worse failure mode) then picking any would be better than nothing.
  2. Leading with any of them would be fine, because I planned to cover a few of them and the conversation would naturally tend to flow onto the bigger problems anyway (as it did)
  3. If one cannot decide between them, they are probably all equally relevant-challenging-problematic and equal gains would be made on any of them from a bit of effort.

As it was – it was relatively easy for Z to pick one.  I generally wouldn’t pick one – even if I suggested that I would.  and well done ChristianKl for spotting this.


Is that bad?

I often find myself not eating until nighttime, or sometimes not eating at all, due to wanting to avoid those stressors.

An important question – is that a bad thing?  I repeat this whenever I see an unjustified badness.  In the sense that it should be up to the individual to decide what is or is not bad.  In theory; not eating is a bad thing.  Possibly to lead to mood swings from hunger or sugar levels, and who-knows what else.  But, that’s what I think; not what Z had to say about why it’s bad.


Is this correct: you feel stressed about not wanting to leave to go buy food. Then you feel stressed about not buying food as well.

And I guess I’m kind of lonely.

later

When I go out sometimes it’s ok, and sometimes I realise the people around me are crap and I am too and I get even sadder.

later still

And really I don’t want to be staying at home, as that’s also very stressful.

later still.

There’s nothing much I can identify that I really want to do.

and then:

Also I’m frequently very exhausted, and it’s often hard to work up the energy to do those things.

and on:

Well, I really dislike being alone, but I don’t much like most people.

(I think that’s enough for now)

So Z is lonely, but doesn’t want to go out because sometimes it’s crap, but doesn’t want to be staying home, but doesn’t have anything they really want to do, but is also very exhausted and doesn’t have the energy to do things, but really dislikes being alone….

If we looked at the loneliness it wouldn’t really improve the state of The problem because the loneliness isn’t the big deal.  If we looked at the going out problem, that wouldn’t be it, because Z wants to go out, but also doesn’t like staying home, but also if we solved the going out problem that wouldn’t do it because they don’t really have anything they want to do, but if we found something they want to do that wouldn’t fix it because they don’t have the energy to do that thing.  So what if we solve the energy problem?

In the hope that once we solve the desire to go out they will have the energy, and they won’t need to be stuck at home and they won’t feel alone and they can go on to live a happy and prosperous life.  No.  That’s not it.  Once we dig to the bottom of the energy problem we get to an absence problem:

I kind of zone out, frequently. People find that scary.

And down the rabbit hole we go.

I want to be clear that each of these problems are valid problems, each are the most important problem and each need to be solved to dig Z out of the hole.  I want to not disparage the ongoing discussion and identification of problems until we can really get to that root of all things; fix the heating and whirr the spaceship into action!

That’s not how problems work.  Or at least – not how this one works.  At the bottom of every problem is another problem (reminds me of a poem – There’s a hole in my bucket – this is not a coincidence).  We also have a term for getting side tracked from the real work at hand – Yak shaving.

But wait!  What is the real problem we should be working on?  If all this talk is just yak shaving our way down the river – how do we know what to actually work on?


The problem

In this case – certainly not repeatable.  I can’t say how often it happens but I wanted to identify this very clear problem as it sneakily tries to evade capture.  This problem is exactly the process of solving the problem has become part of the problem.  We can’t solve the loneliness without first solving the home problem, but first – having nothing to do, but first energy, but first absence feelings.  It’s a problem spiral.

What next?

Let’s say you or a friend has a problem spiral.  You start talking about it and you spiral downwards, every problem being worse than the one before until you feel absolutely terrible, develop an ugh field and resolve to do nothing at all.  (probably a familiar pattern)

You get in this pattern and nothing gets solved.  To break out of this pattern; I propose a known solution (the scientific method).  Pick one of the problems, set a 5 minute timer (or a 20minute pomodoro, or a whole day to work on it).  Your task is to improve the state of this problem, conduct tests, observe what happens.  It’s the loneliness problem, and it sucks because you don’t want to leave the house.  But that’s okay.  Keep trying.  Don’t try to solve the house-leaving problem right now, just work on the loneliness.  Try talking to people about it, try therapists, try leave the house, try online forums, try anything and everything you can think of.  Take notes.

Notes are evidence, evidence is how we make progress.

Your task, should you choose to accept it – is to focus on making some kind of progress on any one of the many problems.  Then when you are sick of this one, or tired, or done, or successful, pick the next one.  repeat, fail, repeat, succeed, repeat.  Iterate.

I propose the 3 part solution to this one meta-problem is:

  1. pick something to work on
  2. work on it
  3. iterate

It’s unlikely that you solve any one problem the first time around.  If you did – take your winnings!  Walk away!  On to the next one.  But if the situation is (as can be expected) a complicated problem – one that you already couldn’t just solve – which led to the stacking up of layer upon layer of problems.  It’s going to take some time.

Keep at it.  Good luck.


Credit goes to Dagon – There are lots of problems. If I had to pick only one, it would be that you seem to think there is a single, simple problem that can be identified from this transcript.

Well done.


Meta: this took two days to write, and the better part of 3+ hours.

If you are interested in a conversation, send me a message.  No guarantees we can solve your problems, but maybe we can try.

This has been a new style of post, not for all – thanks for reading.

Cross posted: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/nt8/the_problem_tm_part_2/

Posted in models of thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nearest emergency room

So you’re a dev, and you just googled.  “where is my nearest emergency room”  and guess what, there is no easy answer.  What if there was a real emergency?  How would you get to the emergency room?  Let’s pretend that we don’t want to just call an ambulance.  You are new to the area, don’t have your insurance paid up to date, it’s not that bad and you think you can walk there, but don’t know what the fastest route is.  Whatever.  The problem is right there.

Let’s not wait till an emergency to need that tool.  Let’s make it here.  Today.


Google maps API

https://developers.google.com/maps/

Basic plan:

  1. Get user location
  2. sort out where the emergency rooms are
  3. calculate the closest emergency room
  4. Suggest a route to there by walking or driving.
  5. Bonus: if it’s going to take more than 10 minutes to walk there; suggest driving (from a friend) or an Uber, if that will take more than 10 minutes, suggest an Ambulance (first responders can usually provide aid before you get to hospital)
  6. Advanced: select the closest 5 emergency rooms and calculate all transport routes and suggest the fastest of the options.

There’s no need to derive this from scratch.  You know what they say, in order to make a hamburger you must first invent the universe.  But also we stand on the shoulders of giants!  Don’t rewrite the universe, good artists copy, great artists steal.


  1. user location

https://developers.google.com/maps/documentation/javascript/tutorials/geolocation

From that page:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
  <head>
    <title>Geolocation</title>
    <meta name="viewport" content="initial-scale=1.0, user-scalable=no">
    <meta charset="utf-8">
    <style>
      html, body {
        height: 100%;
        margin: 0;
        padding: 0;
      }
      #map {
        height: 100%;
      }
    </style>
  </head>
  <body>
    <div id="map"></div>
    <script>
      // Note: This example requires that you consent to location sharing when
      // prompted by your browser. If you see the error "The Geolocation service
      // failed.", it means you probably did not give permission for the browser to
      // locate you.

      function initMap() {
        var map = new google.maps.Map(document.getElementById('map'), {
          center: {lat: -34.397, lng: 150.644},
          zoom: 6
        });
        var infoWindow = new google.maps.InfoWindow({map: map});

        // Try HTML5 geolocation.
        if (navigator.geolocation) {
          navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition(function(position) {
            var pos = {
              lat: position.coords.latitude,
              lng: position.coords.longitude
            };

            infoWindow.setPosition(pos);
            infoWindow.setContent('Location found.');
            map.setCenter(pos);
          }, function() {
            handleLocationError(true, infoWindow, map.getCenter());
          });
        } else {
          // Browser doesn't support Geolocation
          handleLocationError(false, infoWindow, map.getCenter());
        }
      }

      function handleLocationError(browserHasGeolocation, infoWindow, pos) {
        infoWindow.setPosition(pos);
        infoWindow.setContent(browserHasGeolocation ?
                              'Error: The Geolocation service failed.' :
                              'Error: Your browser doesn\'t support geolocation.');
      }
    </script>
    <script async defer
    src="https://maps.googleapis.com/maps/api/js?key=YOUR_API_KEY&callback=initMap">
    </script>
  </body>
</html>

Oh hey!  Yea that works.  Just like that.  Get the user location.


2. location of emergency rooms:

https://data.gov.au/dataset/australian-hospital-statistics-2012-13

Well; that’s my data.  Needs some cleaning up because not all hospitals have an emergency department.

anddddd, the data is formatted as addresses not latitude/longitudes.

Example: NSW data

Hospital name Address Line 1 Address Line 2
Armidale 226 Rusden ST Armidale 2350
Auburn 18-20 Hargrave RD Auburn 2144
Ballina 78-92 Cherry ST Ballina 2478
Bankstown/ Lidcombe 68 Eldridge RD Bankstown 2200
Barraba (MPS) 1 Edward ST Barraba 2347
Batemans Bay 7 Pacific ST Batemans Bay 2536
Bathurst 361 Howick ST Bathurst 2795
Bega 1 McKee DR Bega 2550
Belmont 16 Croudace Bay RD Belmont 2280
Bingara (MPS) 1 Keera ST Bingara 2404
Blacktown 44 Blacktown RD Blacktown 2148
Blue Mountains Lot 3 Woodlands RD Katoomba 2780
Boggabri (MPS) 3 Wee Waa ST Boggabri 2382
Bowral Lot 3 Mona RD Bowral 2576
Broken Hill 176 Thomas ST Broken Hill 2880
Bulahdelah – Myall Lakes 1 Richmond ST Bulahdelah 2423
Bulli 33A Hospital RD Bulli 2516
Byron Bay 10 Shirley ST Byron Bay 2481
Calvary Mater Newcastle 4 Edith ST Waratah 2298
Camden 65 Menangle RD Camden 2570
Campbelltown 1 Therry RD Campbelltown 2560
Canterbury 575 Canterbury RD Campsie 2194
Casino 1 Hotham ST Casino 2470
Cessnock Lot 1 View ST Cessnock 2325
Children’s Hospital Westmead 178 Hawkesbury RD Westmead 2145
Coffs Harbour 345 Pacific HWY Coffs Harbour 2450
Concord 1a Hospital RD Concord West 2138
Denman (MPS) 51-53 Ogilvie ST Denman 2328
Dubbo 1 Myall ST Dubbo 2830
Dungog 58 Hospital RD Dungog 2420
Fairfield 360 Prairie Vale RD Prairiewood 2176
Glen Innes 94 Taylor ST Glen Innes 2370
Gloucester 166 Church ST Gloucester 2422
Gosford 76 Holden ST Gosford 2250
Goulburn 130 Goldsmith ST Goulburn 2580
Grafton 174 Arthur ST Grafton 2460
Griffith 1 Noorebar AV Griffith 2680
Gunnedah 2 Marquis ST Gunnedah 2380
Guyra (MPS) 44-48 Sole ST Guyra 2365
Hawkesbury Cnr Macquarie and Day St Windsor 2756
Hornsby and Ku-Ring-Gai 36-76 Palmerston RD Hornsby 2077
Inverell 41-61 Swanbrook RD Inverell 2360
John Hunter 156 Kookaburra CCT New Lambton Heights 2305
Kurri Kurri 432 Lang ST Kurri Kurri 2327
Lismore 60 Uralba ST Lismore 2480
Lithgow 2 Col Drewe DR Lithgow 2790
Liverpool Lot 2 Elizabeth ST Liverpool 2170
Maclean 21 Union ST Maclean 2463
Macleay Valley – Kempsey 119 River ST Kempsey 2440
Maitland 550 High ST Maitland 2320
Manilla (MPS) 143 Court ST Manilla 2346
Manly 150 Darley RD Manly 2095
Manning 26 York ST Taree 2430
Merriwa (MPS) 1 Mackenzie ST Merriwa 2329
Milton and Ulladulla 104 Princes HWY Milton 2538
Mona Vale 18 Coronation ST Mona Vale 2103
Moree 35 Alice ST Moree 2400
Moruya 2-10 River ST Moruya 2537
Mount Druitt 75 Railway ST Mount Druitt 2770
Mullumbimby 1-3 Azalea ST Mullumbimby 2482
Murrurundi 59 O’Connell ST Murrurundi 2338
Murwillumbah 8 Ewing ST Murwillumbah 2484
Muswellbrook 36 Brentwood ST Muswellbrook 2333
Narrabri 11 Cameron ST Narrabri 2390
Nepean 256 Derby ST Kingswood 2747
Orange Health Service 1502 Forest RD Orange 2800
Port Macquarie 1-31 Wrights RD Port Macquarie 2444
Prince Albert Tenterfield 1-5 Naas ST Tenterfield 2372
Prince of Wales 147 Barker ST Randwick 2031
Quirindi 42 Nowland ST Quirindi 2343
Royal North Shore 1 Reserve RD St Leonards 2065
Royal Prince Alfred 50 Missenden RD Camperdown 2050
Ryde 1 Denistone RD Eastwood 2122
Scott Memorial Scone 24 Stafford ST Scone 2337
Shellharbour 15-17 Madigan BVD Mount Warrigal 2528
Shoalhaven Memorial 2 Shoalhaven ST Nowra 2541
Singleton Lot 20 Dangar RD Singleton 2330
St George 28 Gray ST Kogarah 2017
St Vincent’s Darlinghurst 390 Victoria ST Darlinghurst 2010
Sutherland 430 Kingsway Caringbah 2229
Sydney Children’s 1 High ST Randwick 2031
Sydney/ Sydney Eye 8 Macquarie ST Sydney 2000
Tamworth 31 Dean ST North Tamworth 2340
The Tweed Hospital 14 Powell ST Tweed Heads 2485
Tingha (MPS) 1 Inverell RD Tingha 2369
Tomaree Community 2 Trevally ST Nelson Bay 2315
Vegetable Creek (MPS) 13-33 Glen Innes RD Emmaville 2371
Wagga Wagga 260 Edward ST Wagga Wagga 2650
Walcha (MPS) 7 South ST Walcha 2354
Warialda (MPS) 146 Long ST Warialda 2402
Wee Waa 60 Alma ST Wee Waa 2388
Werris Creek 22-34 North ST Werris Creek 2341
Westmead 166 Darcy RD Westmead 2145
Wollongong 348 Crown ST Wollongong 2500
Wyong Pacific HWY Kanwal 2259

LMGTFY: http://www.unbolt.net/geocode_convertor.phphttp://www.findlatitudeandlongitude.com/batch-geocode/http://www.mapdevelopers.com/batch_geocode_tool.php

Spoilt for choice!  You could even do it twice and double check (Hint: I did)

Hospname original address latitude longitude
Armidale 226 Rusden ST Armidale 2350 -30.512477 151.656561
Auburn 18-20 Hargrave RD Auburn 2144 -33.86093 151.032587
Ballina 78-92 Cherry ST Ballina 2478 -28.863182 153.564435
Bankstown/ Lidcombe 68 Eldridge RD Bankstown 2200 -33.933125 151.020843
Barraba (MPS) 1 Edward ST Barraba 2347 -30.382636 150.610385
Batemans Bay 7 Pacific ST Batemans Bay 2536 -35.713737 150.182253
Bathurst 361 Howick ST Bathurst 2795 -33.410636 149.574939
Bega 1 McKee DR Bega 2550 -36.681218 149.837464
Belmont 16 Croudace Bay RD Belmont 2280 -33.024433 151.648913
Bingara (MPS) 1 Keera ST Bingara 2404 -29.86439 150.571804
Blacktown 44 Blacktown RD Blacktown 2148 -33.775361 150.91895
Blue Mountains Lot 3 Woodlands RD Katoomba 2780 -33.7034 150.321213
Boggabri (MPS) 3 Wee Waa ST Boggabri 2382 -30.712277 150.04153
Bowral Lot 3 Mona RD Bowral 2576 -34.484825 150.424681
Broken Hill 176 Thomas ST Broken Hill 2880 -31.947774 141.45395
Bulahdelah – Myall Lakes 1 Richmond ST Bulahdelah 2423 -32.403967 152.211854
Bulli 33A Hospital RD Bulli 2516 -34.336178 150.906459
Byron Bay 10 Shirley ST Byron Bay 2481 -28.64196 153.609391
Calvary Mater Newcastle 4 Edith ST Waratah 2298 -32.898737 151.721457
Camden 65 Menangle RD Camden 2570 -34.062312 150.694473
Campbelltown 1 Therry RD Campbelltown 2560 -34.080098 150.803486
Canterbury 575 Canterbury RD Campsie 2194 -33.921402 151.096798
Casino 1 Hotham ST Casino 2470 -28.86971 153.03493
Cessnock Lot 1 View ST Cessnock 2325 -32.827465 151.351592
Children’s Hospital Westmead 178 Hawkesbury RD Westmead 2145 -33.800966 150.99277
Coffs Harbour 345 Pacific HWY Coffs Harbour 2450 -30.316138 153.092842
Concord 1a Hospital RD Concord West 2138 -33.837305 151.090948
Denman (MPS) 51-53 Ogilvie ST Denman 2328 -32.389667 150.684524
Dubbo 1 Myall ST Dubbo 2830 -32.240492 148.616006
Dungog 58 Hospital RD Dungog 2420 -32.401379 151.745778
Fairfield 360 Prairie Vale RD Prairiewood 2176 -33.859138 150.9034
Glen Innes 94 Taylor ST Glen Innes 2370 -29.732653 151.732144
Gloucester 166 Church ST Gloucester 2422 -32.014856 151.958353
Gosford 76 Holden ST Gosford 2250 -33.42104 151.340653
Goulburn 130 Goldsmith ST Goulburn 2580 -34.747866 149.713185
Grafton 174 Arthur ST Grafton 2460 -29.675738 152.941764
Griffith 1 Noorebar AV Griffith 2680 -34.281205 146.048545
Gunnedah 2 Marquis ST Gunnedah 2380 -30.984714 150.249085
Guyra (MPS) 44-48 Sole ST Guyra 2365 -30.212657 151.679175
Hawkesbury Cnr Macquarie and Day St Windsor 2756 -33.609917 150.817869
Hornsby and Ku-Ring-Gai 36-76 Palmerston RD Hornsby 2077 -33.702574 151.112587
Inverell 41-61 Swanbrook RD Inverell 2360 -29.770603 151.129266
John Hunter 156 Kookaburra CCT New Lambton Heights 2305 -32.925949 151.671229
Kurri Kurri 432 Lang ST Kurri Kurri 2327 -32.823997 151.462961
Lismore 60 Uralba ST Lismore 2480 -28.80889 153.291498
Lithgow 2 Col Drewe DR Lithgow 2790 -33.499637 150.126252
Liverpool Lot 2 Elizabeth ST Liverpool 2170 -33.920691 150.927895
Maclean 21 Union ST Maclean 2463 -29.453827 153.201618
Macleay Valley – Kempsey 119 River ST Kempsey 2440 -31.068203 152.819666
Maitland 550 High ST Maitland 2320 -32.726924 151.545491
Manilla (MPS) 143 Court ST Manilla 2346 -30.746254 150.731707
Manly 150 Darley RD Manly 2095 -33.805457 151.294866
Manning 26 York ST Taree 2430 -31.910288 152.455006
Merriwa (MPS) 1 Mackenzie ST Merriwa 2329 -32.142491 150.359803
Milton and Ulladulla 104 Princes HWY Milton 2538 -35.317254 150.438953
Mona Vale 18 Coronation ST Mona Vale 2103 -33.685954 151.308016
Moree 35 Alice ST Moree 2400 -29.471284 149.845008
Moruya 2-10 River ST Moruya 2537 -35.904658 150.070182
Mount Druitt 75 Railway ST Mount Druitt 2770 -33.765665 150.83024
Mullumbimby 1-3 Azalea ST Mullumbimby 2482 -28.558816 153.490569
Murrurundi 59 O’Connell ST Murrurundi 2338 -31.769738 150.836195
Murwillumbah 8 Ewing ST Murwillumbah 2484 -28.32364 153.400389
Muswellbrook 36 Brentwood ST Muswellbrook 2333 -32.265462 150.901484
Narrabri 11 Cameron ST Narrabri 2390 -30.326302 149.777348
Nepean 256 Derby ST Kingswood 2747 -33.761319 150.713938
Orange Health Service 1502 Forest RD Orange 2800 -33.314353 149.09494
Port Macquarie 1-31 Wrights RD Port Macquarie 2444 -31.452074 152.878833
Prince Albert Tenterfield 1-5 Naas ST Tenterfield 2372 -29.045184 152.013893
Prince of Wales 147 Barker ST Randwick 2031 -33.920844 151.236595
Quirindi 42 Nowland ST Quirindi 2343 -31.49993 150.677052
Royal North Shore 1 Reserve RD St Leonards 2065 -33.819232 151.189266
Royal Prince Alfred 50 Missenden RD Camperdown 2050 -33.887912 151.180769
Ryde 1 Denistone RD Eastwood 2122 -33.794467 151.089906
Scott Memorial Scone 24 Stafford ST Scone 2337 -32.052428 150.876581
Shellharbour 15-17 Madigan BVD Mount Warrigal 2528 -34.557919 150.842344
Shoalhaven Memorial 2 Shoalhaven ST Nowra 2541 -34.86768 150.597071
Singleton Lot 20 Dangar RD Singleton 2330 -32.565712 151.183596
St George 28 Gray ST Kogarah 2017 -33.9678 151.133217
St Vincent’s Darlinghurst 390 Victoria ST Darlinghurst 2010 -33.8791 151.221783
Sutherland 430 Kingsway Caringbah 2229 -34.037477 151.114783
Sydney Children’s 1 High ST Randwick 2031 -33.915175 151.228012
Sydney/ Sydney Eye 8 Macquarie ST Sydney 2000 -33.860316 151.213237
Tamworth 31 Dean ST North Tamworth 2340 -31.075436 150.922931
The Tweed Hospital 14 Powell ST Tweed Heads 2485 -28.177102 153.545626
Tingha (MPS) 1 Inverell RD Tingha 2369 -29.781998 151.118333
Tomaree Community 2 Trevally ST Nelson Bay 2315 -32.720203 152.159007
Vegetable Creek (MPS) 13-33 Glen Innes RD Emmaville 2371 -29.450119 151.598799
Wagga Wagga 260 Edward ST Wagga Wagga 2650 -35.117999 147.35696
Walcha (MPS) 7 South ST Walcha 2354 -30.983941 151.590481
Warialda (MPS) 146 Long ST Warialda 2402 -29.53833 150.579153
Wee Waa 60 Alma ST Wee Waa 2388 -30.227051 149.443074
Werris Creek 22-34 North ST Werris Creek 2341 -31.346486 150.652519
Westmead 166 Darcy RD Westmead 2145 -33.80075 150.963773
Wollongong 348 Crown ST Wollongong 2500 -34.424749 150.883505
Wyong Pacific HWY Kanwal 2259 -33.256507 151.486545
Map of emergency room hospitals

Map of emergency room hospitals


3. Calculate the closest emergency room to the user:  (my favourite tool of the day LMGTFY)

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/4057665/google-maps-api-v3-find-nearest-markers

It’s done.  Someone has already coded how to find the nearest of a set of pre-set markers.

Math!

function rad(x) {return x*Math.PI/180;}
function find_closest_marker( event ) {
    var lat = event.latLng.lat();
    var lng = event.latLng.lng();
    var R = 6371; // radius of earth in km
    var distances = [];
    var closest = -1;
    for( i=0;i<map.markers.length; i++ ) {
        var mlat = map.markers[i].position.lat();
        var mlng = map.markers[i].position.lng();
        var dLat  = rad(mlat - lat);
        var dLong = rad(mlng - lng);
        var a = Math.sin(dLat/2) * Math.sin(dLat/2) +
            Math.cos(rad(lat)) * Math.cos(rad(lat)) * Math.sin(dLong/2) * Math.sin(dLong/2);
        var c = 2 * Math.atan2(Math.sqrt(a), Math.sqrt(1-a));
        var d = R * c;
        distances[i] = d;
        if ( closest == -1 || d < distances[closest] ) {
            closest = i;
        }
    }

    alert(map.markers[closest].title);
}

Super do-able.  Just needs integration.


4. Navigate to the nearest hospital.

https://developers.google.com/maps/documentation/directions/intro

According to the developer guide it’s going to look something like this:

http://maps.googleapis.com/maps/api/directions/outputFormat?origin=
Mylatitude,Mylongditude&destination=NearestHospitalLatitude,NearestHospitalLongitude&mode=walking

and out the back will spit out some directions.

But there’s a better way.  After we know the nearest hospital we can open a google maps link to that location:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=saddr=UserLat,Userlong&daddr=HospitalLat,HospitalLong&directionsmode=walking

Then the user can open a browser on their device with directions OR their local maps app, which can guide them using that URL.


5. Bonus problem.  Travel time:

https://developers.google.com/maps/documentation/directions/intro#traffic-model

Method for retrieving travel times can be found here.  And because stackX is the answer to all problems:

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1042885/using-google-maps-api-to-get-travel-time-data

According to this information; it’s against the google TOS to display for the user that travel time; if you are not using a google map to display the information.  This needs more thought.  More thought than I have time for right now.

But that’s basically it.


6. Advanced goal:  Using the learning from 5; it wouldn’t be hard to look up all of the transport methods for the nearest 5 hospitals and then only offer the user the fastest time duration (1-3 options)


Notes for future me:  all the geolocations are a little off because even the hospital addresses were not the address of the front door of the emergency room.  This is the problem with any data.  There are 205 hospitals on the register, this needs to be hard-coded otherwise it’s still going to be hard to find the emergency room for the user.  The pin should be directly on top of the door to emergency to make it as easy as possible to get to the door.


Video to go along with it: https://youtu.be/EFCMONjCL_0

Posted in electronics | Leave a comment

The Problem (TM) – Analyse a conversation

I had a chat with a person who admitted to having many problems themselves.  I offered my services as a problem solving amateur, willing to try to get to the bottom of this.  Presented is the conversation (With details changed for privacy).

I had my first shot at analysing the person’s problems and drilling down to the bottom.  I am interested in what other people have to say is the problem.  Here we study the meta-strategy of how to solve the problem, which I find much more interesting than the object level analysis of the problem and how to solve it.

I don’t think I got to the bottom of the problem, and I don’t think I conducted myself in a top-notch capacity but needless to say I wonder if you have any comments about what IS TheProblem(tm), how did you come to that conclusion and what can be done about it (for the benefit of this person and anyone with a similar problem).


Zebra
Hey

ELiot
Where would you like to start?
Do you want to share about your history?

Zebra
I was previously very depressed, and then recovered for a few years. While I’m glad I was able to have those couple years, I don’t think they were worth suffering through the depression, and I didn’t at the time, when I didn’t think it would return.

Zebra
(Though it hasn’t returned as bad as it was.)

ELiot
So you are currently feeling depressed

Zebra
Yes. Possibly as a symptom of bipolar disorder (I’ve recently started having manic episodes), or possibly not–I’ve never been diagnosed with that, and until recently had never had issues with mania.

ELiot
How much are you sleeping? One Indication of bipolar swings is total sleep

Zebra
The last couple days I’ve slept okay, but when I had more manic symptoms sleep was very intermittent. A few weeks ago I punched a housemate in the face ten times, breaking her nose; at that point, I’d not slept in two days.

ELiot
Sounds like a bad event.

Zebra
I guess immediately I feel quite isolated, very stressed, and don’t know how to proceed forward.

ELiot
Is there a specific stress?

Zebra
I guess; loneliness, numerous tensions with my girlfriend, some financial issues (to a large extent a symptom of the recent mania), extreme dissatisfaction with myself and especially my own appearance, frustrations with daily life, and a general dissatisfaction with the world.

ELiot
Manic up should correlate with little sleep, manic down with extra sleep. Manic up should also come with a variation on _feeling invincible_

Which of the things in that list do you think can’t change?

Zebra
I suppose they’re all changeable if you apply enough effort, but that seems like a lot of work, and frankly I’ve never seen much in the world that seems worth it.

As I said, I’ve gotten better, to some extent, previously.

Even after I had already gotten better and I no longer wanted to suicide, I wished I had previously, because even though life then was fine, it just wasn’t worth what had gone before.

I don’t feel invincible really.

ELiot
When in manic up states?

Zebra
When in manic states I still don’t feel invincible.

ELiot
If you could remove the problems listed do you think you would want to live?

Zebra
All of them? Yes, if I could do some magically, or at a reasonable cost.

ELiot
I would say that is a good thing. But it depends on your goals.

I can offer ideas about working with those problems to make them better, but not if you don’t want that.

Zebra
Well those would be good.

ELiot
Would you like to pick a specific one from the list to talk about?

I can pick one if you like

Zebra
Uhm, you can pick. I’m not sure which one would be most imminently solvable.

ELiot
I am going to write the list out

1. Loneliness
2. Girlfriend tension
3. Financial issues
4. Self + appearance
5. Daily life
6. Dissatisfied with the world

Zebra
Yep, that’s most of it.

ELiot
What burdens do you currently have on your life? I. E. Supporting a child, have to show up at work each day. Etc.

Thinking about number 5 – Regular commitments

Zebra
Not a whole lot really. I’ve no job or school (family money, though not a large amount). My girlfriend is financially dependent on me at this point, though she’s supposed to be starting a job this month.

To be honest even going downstairs to buy food, or really even to talk to a delivery person on the phone, feels like a huge burden.

ELiot
So in terms of pressure on your daily life?

Zebra
I often find myself not eating until nighttime, or sometimes not eating at all, due to wanting to avoid those stressors.

ELiot
Is that bad?

Zebra
Well, yeah. It feels very negative and causes me stress and I really don’t feel life has much to offer in return for even minor inconveniences.

ELiot
is there a reason that not eating is a bad thing to do for you?

Zebra
I don’t see life as particularly positive, really, and just want it to be over with so I don’t have to bother with this crap every day. On the other hand, actually going about killing yourself is fucking scary.

So I guess I’m trying to find some way out of that conclusion so I won’t have to face the immediately distasteful action of actually offing myself, even though it’s probably preferable to suffering through a lifetime of even minor annoyances.

ELiot
Is this correct: you feel stressed about not wanting to leave to go buy food. Then you feel stressed about not buying food as well.

Zebra
Yes.

And I guess I’m kind of lonely, and even minor inconveniences, when they have no positive aspects in between, eventually get you really, really down.

I feel like what I do most days is just wait, be sad and lonely, be slightly annoyed, and wait and cry and be lonely more.

When I go out sometimes it’s ok, and sometimes I realise the people around me are crap and I am too and I get even sadder.

ELiot
Here is how I see this very limited problem. Without looking at other things just yet.

When making the first choice, either stay home and not buy food or leave and buy food you choose the less stress option. To stay home. I see that as a win. You successfully made the right choice to avoid the immediate stress. Then later you decide that going out is more important/useful/(Less stress) than staying home and not having food. Seems like you also win by carrying out the choice to leave and get food have less stress.

You appear to be stressing yourself out over two reasonable choices. I would suggest that you have done well to make both the choice of staying home and later the choice to leave for food.

Zebra
The stress of not going is physiological rather than psychological, so I don’t think looking at that differently can really fix it.

And really I don’t want to be staying at home, as that’s also very stressful.

I’m just not sure what else to do…

ELiot
In terms of where to go? Or in terms of how to spend your time?

Zebra
Both

There’s nothing much I can identify that I really want to do.

ELiot
I can suggest options down those paths

Zebra
ok.

ELiot
I don’t know where you are gegraphically, but if we consider specifically where to go and what to do near where you are;

I would look at; google, “things to do in *city*” as well as looking at meetups in city. As well as looking for parks, museums, monuments, walks, local history, pretty geography, public spaces I. E. Libraries, evening classes, sports to play

Zebra
I’m in Hong Kong.

I go to meetups sometimes.

ELiot
Generally the idea of exploration of the place

Also temples, religious places, hikes

Zebra
As for meetups, sometimes you meet interesting people, but often it’s stressful dealing with idiots. And most people are idiots.

ELiot
You are mostly allowed to do what you like with your time. In terms of going places and later going home to sleep etc.

A large fraction of people are idiots

Zebra
And the more interesting people are often difficult to connect with more than superficially.

ELiot
“Allowed to” is a funny idea. No one needs to give you permission to do what you like.

Going to add 7. Social strategy

Zebra
True. I just don’t feel like I _like_ much.

Also I’m frequently very exhausted, and it’s often hard to work up the energy to do those things.

ELiot
Do you think you have tried to find many things you like or do you think the bottle neck lies before that? In trying to find them?

If you do nothing (because you are tired) is that a problem?

Zebra
Yeah, doing nothing all the time sucks. If I stay home I feel like I’m in jail…

but if I go out I feel like I’ve been sent as a labourer to Australia.

ELiot
At some point the desire to stay home because you are tired should weigh up against the desire to go out and feel like you are not in jail. That is a fine time to leave, feeling bad about both staying at home and leaving the house sounds like a recipe for displeasure either way… Does that make sense?

Zebra
Well it is, obviously, which is why I feel like I’m in a no-win situation, and want to die.

(or at least part of it)

I mean, occasionally there are meetups and stuff which I go to, and those are ok, but really I have so much free time and since my mental health issues started I’ve alienated almost everyone I knew.

And that just increases the stress and makes it difficult to make new friends.

ELiot
I would be going down the path of tracing that feeling of bad to its source because it’s not really about staying or going it’s about that bad pressure that appears self imposed.

Do you feel like you _should be doing_ things?

I.e. Going out

Zebra
Well, I really dislike being alone, but I don’t much like most people.

I think that’s what it boils down to.

And yes, I get that that might not be a healthy state to be in, but again, that I’m not in a healthy state has already been established.

ELiot
Do you know what part or kind of social interaction you like? When you say “dislike alone” what is “not alone”

Zebra
Well, I like talking with friends and drinking and doing stuff, but often it’s difficult to make new friends.

ELiot
Conversation with new people is “not alone”

And you sometimes feel alone when you hang around old friends

Zebra
Yes, that’s true.

ELiot
Can you financially afford to go drinking and doing stuff?

Zebra
I guess new people I meet are often very disappointing, and more than that, even when they aren’t, I myself have a lot of recently developed mental issues it takes a lot of effort to control.

I kind of zone out, frequently. People find that scary.

ELiot
What kind of new people would you like to meet?

Zebra
Uhm, I dunno. It’s hard to specify really.

ELiot
Is your zoning out actually absence or is it more like daydreaming?

Zebra
Absence

Or sometimes I just sort of feel sad.

But usually no internal thoughts associated.

I can sort of afford to go drinking and stuff.

ELiot
Do you recall things that happen while you are absent?

Zebra
Mostly not. I can sort of remember it happening but super vague.

ELiot
Do you feel like you are an automa – following a path you were on, and then you zone back in?

Zebra
It’s not like in the middle of a sentence, but people notice that I look dead and then sometimes I don’t respond until they call me a couple times, though sometimes I can respond immediately.

More like my energy’s just gone, I guess.

Sometimes I’ll lose track of the conversation, even when I myself am speaking.

That’s not as common recently, though.

ELiot
I was going to say I suspect an absent seizure. It came up in the lw open thread this week. Let me get you a link

Zebra
My mother claims I told her I was hospitalised for a head injury around the time my mental health problems started worsening.

I can’t remember the incident, though, and she has not much in the way of specific details.

ELiot
http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/niv/open_thread_apr_18_apr_24_2016/d8ow

If you have something like that I am sure it makes everything worse

Zebra
I had depression before that, but as I said, it had mostly gotten better. On the other hand, there were a lot of issues in my life around the same time which may have led to the recurrence of symptoms as well.

ELiot
Okay, what kind of person would you like to meet?

Zebra
Hmm, previously I wanted to see a neurologist because my symptoms were much worse, but they’ve lessened now.

ELiot
There is medication to reduce seizures to nearly nothing

Which might help

Zebra
Well, an intelligent person, but those are rare; or someone who’s fun, but finding one who’s willing to put up with my lethargy and depression is hard; or someone who’s nice and not a complete idiot.

ELiot
It also might help to keep a diary of what you do each day to try to keep track of how often they happen

Zebra
Maybe. I’m not at all certain I’m having seizures, though.

I have pretty bad memory, too.

ELiot
Where might you find intelligent people?

A brain scan would tell you if you are or are not having seizures

Zebra
I have no idea. I guess some of the intellectually-focused meetup groups have some, but not all that many.

Yeah, I’ve been meaning to go to a neurologist, but I frequently fail to get around to stuff.

ELiot
I would suggest university campus as a viable place

To find smart ones

Zebra
Maybe, but I’m not in university and probably don’t have the effort to enter.

Also, somewhat smart, but not very smart, people really annoy me.

Universities have a lot of those.

ELiot
Campuses here are just places you can walk into, not sure what it’s like there

If you want to get out of the house and see something, universities are a nice place to visit

Zebra
Hmm, I guess I could try.

Many offer classes to the public very cheaply.

ELiot
You can probably also work out how to sneak into a lecture anyway – they usually don’t check the roll

Any topic of study fancy your interest? To sneak into a lecture about

Zebra
Hmm, not sure. Linguistics or history might be fun.

CS would probably just be a recap of basic material.

ELiot
You can usually find course details online and work out where the lectures are and just kinda walk in and sit down – For a bit of fun

Zebra
How does that translate to meeting people though?

(If it’s not obvious, I’ve never been to uni.)

ELiot
Chat to people if you want to. Lectures have breaks, uni tries to encourage social groups too usually, barbecues and stuff

If you make yourself look approachable and friendly people will talk to you. It’s how I avoid approaching others. I wear funny hats and strangers talk to me

Zebra
Really? Haha, what sort of hats?

ELiot
Pirate hat, top hats, Stetson,

I have about 50 hats

Different ones all the time

That’s on the topic of appearance tho

Zebra
I don’t look very approachable now 🙁 Since I became ill again my personal health and hygeine have done very poorly.

ELiot
Do you like being hygienic? Indifferent?

Zebra
Well, I like being hygenic, but getting to that state is difficult.

Also, I’ve probably gained 40kg since then, so even if I was it’s probably all for naught.

ELiot
What contributes to that state? For me it’s having a shower and brushing my teeth.

Maybe deodorant too. And clean clothes

Zebra
Well, those things.

Now I’ve got so fat it’s hard to buy clothes :-/

ELiot
I would say you can work on that

Both the fat and the clothes

If you want to

Exercise would help you, leaving the house to go for a walk would help you, you don’t need anywhere to go other than around a block or something

Do you track your weight?

Zebra
Yes, but it’s very difficult.

ELiot
Is it still climbing or staying where it is?

Zebra
I’ve tried some stuff. Fasting, methamphetamine, etc., but I was never able to really reduce it.

ELiot
Difficult to track? To walk? To exercise? To buy clothes?

Weight loss is difficult, Yes

Zebra
I just don’t have the energy to excercise. Even when I was taking methamphetamine I didn’t have the energy for it.

ELiot
Would you consider paying for a service that helped you lose weight?

Zebra
Right now I think it’s not climbing, but I didn’t buy a new scale when my last one broke.

Yes, if I thought it had reasonable chance of being effective.

ELiot
An option would be to look at what is available

Near to where you live

Zebra
I don’t think there are any drugs that work as well for weighy loss as meth, though, and that was not effective enough.

I don’t know what else such a service could provide really.

I mean, I _know_ you need to excercise and eat healthy, but I just haven’t been able to do it.

ELiot
Commitment, a gym, a trainer setting a program

There are greater experts in the field of weight loss than I

Zebra
Honestly, I’ve tried so much, I do not realistically think I would continue to follow through with that.

ELiot
Okay

Zebra
Other than the very deepest depths of depression (which I still haven’t fallen to this time around), I’ve never experienced anything as unpleasant as excercise.

ELiot
I can offer ideas about weight loss and exercise but maybe another time.

What types of exercise?

Zebra
I suppose there are some illnesses which might do better than meth, but trying to induce those makes me feel very squeamish.

Pretty much anything.

It’a just so hot and icky and tiring.

ELiot
Oh! Yes, a problem with your geography

Other geographies are not as hot and sticky. Even that has solutions. My exercise is walking, running, swimming, unicycle, circus skills, rock climbing, ice skating, laser tag, and trampoline, I also did pole dance for a while. Also I would kayak and hike more if I had more opportunities…

Zebra
True. I had some fun doing outdoor type stuff in the Southwestern US.

Moving has its own host of problems, though.

ELiot
Other sports I have done include table tennis, actual tennis, archery…

Zebra
The primary one being that I don’t know anyone anywhere else.

ELiot
I don’t imagine moving will solve all your problems

Zebra
Except my mother in Florida, USA.

ELiot
Yes I was going to say, it would certainly make loneliness harder

Especially when you don’t currently know how to make new friends very well

You can exercise at night, find an indoor pool to swim in maybe.

Zebra
Yes. I did the moving thing once, and it was probably good at the time, but I had fairly exceptional circumstances then which I don’t have now.

There’s a pretty nice pool in my condo, but I get tired. Swimming is exhausting.

And very self-conscious doing excercise around others.

ELiot
Yes.

Zebra
That’s probably equally as serious an issue as the exhaustion.

ELiot
Night time for self conscious

Take a friend or girlfriend?

Moral support?

Zebra
Makes me more self conscious 🙁

ELiot
You need support network not criticism

Do you trust these people?

Do you think you could track how far you swim and try to increase laps or so?

The idea being to measure progress and feel like you are going somewhere

Zebra
I don’t think I’ve ever actually trusted anyone, even as a child.

ELiot
That is a different problem

Zebra
Yeah. I have a lot of problems. 🙁

ELiot
That is okay for a place to be

Better to know than not know.

To be more specific you have a lot of problems *at the same time*

Which is making it hard to work out what the biggest one is, and where to start

Zebra
Yes. That kind of sucks.

ELiot
It appears that at the bottom of each problem there is a slightly different problem, also with a solution but one that too needs implementation

I am confident that this can all be fixed, I am also confident that you can enjoy the journey of doing so.

Perhaps you might benefit from writing down the problems until you have a clearer picture for yourself

Zebra
Yes, that’s how it feels to me too. There’s a large web of problems which are fixable with enough effort, but inter-related so hard to fix one at a time, and I don’t really feel like I have the effort to do it all at once, nor that it would be worth it.

ELiot
As you talk to me you are clarifying the problems, I imagine that can help to identify them to help solve them.

If I were in your position I would pick the first one that I encountered and try to make a little progress on it before the next one hit me, and trying to make progress on the next one too.

I firmly believe in the concept of _making it easier for future you_.

Zebra
Sometimes I feel that all of them could be fixed in one go with a more radical change, but that’s a rather scary thing to do.

ELiot
It is. Especially without experience in radical changes.

Zebra
Well, I moved alone to a country I’d never been when I was 18. So I guess it’s not entirely unfamiliar.

ELiot
A change of scenery would probably change the problems. Not necessarily fix them

Zebra
Yeah.

ELiot
It could be the motivation you need to help make it easier for you to make progress

But it could also leave you exhausted and worse off

Zebra
I’ve looked some into moving to the Republic of Georgia.

But I do have friends here, even if there are only a few remaining and I feel increasingly alienated from them.

ELiot
You might benefit from a time management system

Zebra
Why? I don’t have enough to even fill one activity per day…

ELiot
A list of problems, followed by a list of ways to solve the problems followed by a plan of how to spend your next 168 hours towards solving those problems while also not making new ones…

Each week

Energy limited? That’s also a problem. With a solution. You do need sleep and rest

Zebra
I usually sleep a lot, but it doesn’t feel restful.

I try to go on holidays, but again, usually come back more stressed than before.

ELiot
That too has a solution. Are you getting enough light when you wake up?

Zebra
I typically keep the blinds closed.

I don’t like light 🙁

ELiot
Bright light when you wake up will help you feel awake more. Only when you wake up.

Zebra
But then what do I do?

ELiot
Pick something you want to change and go for it.

The strategy of: “Try X”

It might help to have a notebook paper trail of ideas you have tried

Or thoughts you have had about each problem and how to solve it

Zebra
Most of the things I want to change are hard to change, computer related (and this not really helpful to not feeling terrible and alone), or things I don’t have a good plan for how to change.

ELiot
You have as much to do as you want to. You can make a plan.

Zebra
I guess if I did something computer related it could make money, maybe, but I’d still feel awful. In the longer term it may be helpful, but I’ve tried this before and it is difficult to not get depressed and quit to go cry all day after 30 minutes.

ELiot
Even the meta strategy of “trying to plan” can help

You should write down that idea

It also seems like you apply pressure and expectations above what you have evidence of yourself being capable of.

Zebra
The idea of trying to plan, or?

ELiot
Yes and the “computer thing” idea

You should update on the estimation of your capabilities to be more of a reflection on what you have recently observed you are able to do

Zebra
I have a lot of computer thing ideas. I know pretty specifically how to do them, but sitting it down and typing it out is harder.

Well, I can walk to 7/11 if I put a lot of effort into it.

That’s about it…

ELiot
Which is a way of saying to start small. Reset from the beginning (which is not easy)

Zebra
That doesn’t seem helpful.

ELiot
That’s what your baseline is

Anything upwards is now impressive.

Including this conversation

You have come a long way already

Zebra
Doesn’t feel like it. Starting from walking to 7/11 sounds kind of exhausting and not very enjoyable.

ELiot
But that’s where you are right now

I would say try habit RPG, but I never found it useful to me

Zebra
Yeah, but I mean, back on to the original point, all this seems much harder than trying to work through my hangups about suicide.

ELiot
Possibly, Yes.

All these problems are solveable, But perhaps

What about the possibility of solving the most immediate discomfort at any time?

What is the most immediate discomfort right now?

Zebra
I feel stressed about life being shit generally, I guess.

Which is generally how I feel when I have nothing specific to be stressed about.

ELiot
What can you do about that right now? How can you make life less generally shit for the you that lives 10 minutes in the future?

Or maybe make yourself feel less stressed about it

Zebra
I guess I could try to do some meditation. That used to work, but hasn’t been so much recently.

For the stress part, at least.

I have no idea how to make life immediately less crap in the next ten minutes.

ELiot
I would suggest your environment or hygiene

As they are usually quick low hanging ideas.

Zebra
What sorts of things are you thinking of specifically with regard to those that could be accomplished within 10 minutes?

ELiot
A shower, a little cleaning up your space, changing clothes

Taking out the trash

Zebra
I guess that’s doable.

Zebra
Welp, done that. I suppose I do feel mildly better…

ELiot
That particular strategy is called success spirals. Successfully doing a thing to help the you of the future slightly. One bit at a time.

I should add – if you want to talk about death we should have that talk too

Death, dying, pain

Zebra
Well, death seems somewhat scary in the immediate sense.

Especially death by falling, which is the most low-effort solution for someone living in a high rise building.

ELiot
You need at least 10 floors to be confident of a sudden death

Zebra
More high-effort strategies, like pentobarbital or such, seem more palatable, but not quite as immediately actionable.

I’m on the tenth floor, and I think there’s 20 something.

ELiot
And it depends whether you want to impact others I. E. Seeing you fall and or the body

Zebra
I don’t really care, though obviously I wouldn’t want anyone seeing me “on the ledge” if I couldn’t go through with it.

OTOH, nighttime is a thing.

ELiot
Yes

Zebra
But it’s … scary.

Have you ever been with someone during suicide?

ELiot
No, I recently discouraged someone from taking action in person. They were making rash decisions at the time

Zebra
Ah

ELiot
At least 3 people in my life have come close. They are not all better yet, still in limbo of up and down

I would still encourage you to do the things that you want. Have you read the guilt series by nate soares?

Zebra
No. What is it about?

ELiot
Why we have guilt and defeating it where it’s not appropriate

Zebra
I don’t think I experience a significant amount of guilt.

ELiot
Guilt in the sense of, “should be going out” but “should stay in”. The conflicting desire of parts of you to do different things. And sorting it out
Zebra
Ah, hmm

I will read the Guilt series then…

ELiot
I also went through a period of time when I felt purposeless, I described it as, “everything is meaningless” and it’s bothering me. As distinctly different to, “everything is meaningless and it doesn’t matter”

Zebra
Everything being meaningless doesn’t bother me. I don’t think meaningfulness is a possible thing in any universe. Everything being shitty and empty bothers me, but that’s rather different.

http://mindingourway.com/dont-steer-with-guilt/ <- this?

ELiot
Yes, but that’s the middle of the series, better to start in the beginning

http://mindingourway.com/guilt/

That’s the table of contents

Zebra
Hmm, it’s a pretty good read.

———————————— Later in time……………
Zebra
Finished it. It was long!

I liked it more than Eliezer’s writing. It may even have been potentially useful irl, maybe.

ELiot
do you think you can apply things to your life?

Zebra
Maybe. I’ve been trying to do the breaking things up part.

I made a small amount of money with stupid computer things… I guess that’s a modicum of progress, maybe.

I liked the last part about changing goals. That might be useful.

Visualising bad things seems like a potentially helpful strategy as well.

Zebra
A lot of the techniques do seem effective. Hopefully it will make a positive difference.

———————A long time later————–
ELiot
hey

I promised to get back to you.

how are things?

Zebra
Hi

ELiot
it’s been a while..

Zebra
I’m doing somewhat better. Got on meds for bipolar disorder, which has helped a lot.

Yeah. Been trying to actually do things now, so I feel less stagnant.

ELiot
Oh! great!

Zebra
Hopefully life will end up in a better place than before.


The Problem TM

What is actually the problem?  I have a theory, but I also wanted to publish this without declaring my answer.  I will share my ideas in a few weeks but I want to know what you think and how you came to that answer.


Meta: this conversation happened over 6 months ago, this took 2 hours to collate, tidy and publish.

Also published on lesswrong here: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/nsn/

Part 2: http://bearlamp.com.au/the-problem-analyse-a-conversation-part-2/
Part 2 on lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/nt8/the_problem_tm_part_2/

 

Posted in models of thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arduino simple serial echo

Part of my process of going from a large and complicated A, to a large and complicated B is to do small things along the way that gradually inch me closer to what I want to do.

What I really wanted was this example of an arduino script from which I could test and get confidence on my next step in the process.

without too much explanation, this short arduino code tells your peripheral device to receive a string on the serial communication port and send it back out to the same serial communication port.


/* Arduino serial echo

The circuit:
Any serial device attached to Serial port
Serial monitor open on Serial port:

This example code is in the public domain.*/

void setup() {
// initialize serial port:
Serial.begin(115200);
}

void loop() {
// read from port, send to port:
if (Serial.available()) {
char inStr = Serial.read();
// delay(100) //optional delay of 1ms
Serial.write(inStr);
}
}


Geez.  That wasn’t so hard was it?  Now hopefully if anyone searches google for an arduino serial echo they will get here and be able to make handy use of this script along the way to bigger things.


Meta: This took 10mins to write

Edit: oh hey look here it is https://www.arduino.cc/en/Serial/Available same as my script only I didn’t know the command Available prior to hacking it into a script

Posted in electronics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

correlations, correlation – What came before

I went to a funeral once for someone I had recently met.  it was unfortunate and I barely knew him.  At the ceremony his father got up and said:

to the young people in the room, my son was a great kid he was happy and healthy and then one day he tried drugs, and he was never the same.  He got very sad and turned very dark and then one day he took his own life.

Don’t take drugs.

Not bad advice, stay away from X, because it caused my son’s death.

Today I was reconsidering this advice.  In the context of drugs.  What we know generally of people who are living on the streets and taking drugs, they often have mental health troubles, but along with that they will often take the drug that is the street version of the prescription drug designed to help the mental health condition that they have.  Almost in the self-prescription form.  As far as we know – they do this because it feels better.  Treating the underlying mental health condition is a big and important effect of drug-taking.  (Some people just take drugs.  Let’s not talk about them right now)

In light of this concept of self-treating drug treatment I have to consider, which came first.  Was it the drugs or was it the condition that caused him to reach out to drugs.  I can’t credit a father to know everything about his son, there might have been more drugs, there might have been more conditions and more stress.  I don’t want to speak of his memory in vain.  Maybe there was more going on.

I have always asked myself – can I do more?  Could I have done more?  Could I have known.  (not in the beat-myself-up eternally way, but in the can-I-be-ready-for-next-time), in order to be prepared, I ask the question – What came before?

(a post for another day) I ask the same question for any breaking-down argument.  What came before?

But what’s the moral of the story?  People die.  That guy is still gone.  I don’t know what to do.  But I have one idea.  It takes a 10 minute commitment:

  1. Go to your list of facebook friends
  2. Look for the people who you think of as most unhappy, most miserable, most angry, most misunderstood, most lost, most alone…
  3. Send them a message.  Talk about it.

No one has to be alone.


Meta: this took 30mins to write.

Posted in life maintenance | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vegetarian moussaka

Cultivated a moussaka recipe.

Moussaka is a mostly eggplant based recipe which involves layers of flavours of various vegetables.  When you take a mouthful through several layers you want to experience several flavours at once.  Which means that you want the several vegetable parts cooked in flavourful ways so that they still hold their original form, but also can be eaten with ease.  This dish commonly is made with a meat filling but I chose to make a vegetarian version.

I happen to know a few of the flavours and vegetables I like already so I picked those as the layers (after looking at a few recipes online).

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar of tomato-pasta sauce
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 tennis-ball sized brown onion
  • 700g of sliced mushrooms
  • 250g potato
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • truffle oil
  • pepper + salt
  • butter
  • cornflour
  • 750ml milk
  • shredded cheese
  • breadcrumbs
  • lazagne sheets

Prep:

each of the onion, zucchini, eggplant, potato and mushrooms need cooking.  How you do that is up to you.  It’s especially exciting if each of them has a unique flavour.

Once you have approximately the flavour, each ingredient gets added as a layer to the final dish.

Here is how I did my layers:

  1. Pasta sauce on the bottom, followed by a lazagne sheet and some pasta sauce on top.  The sauce will soak into  the sheets and make a soft base for the dish.
  2. Onions
    fried in olive oil (simple flavour, good base)
  3. Eggplant
    slice them thin (1/4cm or thinner), lay them on an oven tray with some olive oil and truffle oil, bake for around 15mins @ 180c to lightly cook through.
  4. Zuccini
    Similar to the eggplant, some herbs on top, baked with light drizzle of olive oil.  Add pepper as needed.
  5. Pasta sauce and Lazagne sheet again
  6. Mushroom
    Fried, with garlic. (they will shrink) the earlier you add the garlic the weaker it will be.  If you want powerful garlic, add it just as you finish frying.
  7. Potatoes
    I sliced mine as thin as I could then microwaved them to cook them.  This is very lazy.  but it works.  A better way to cook them would be baked or boiled with butter/cream or any other flavour that you like.
  8. white sauce
    1. melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pot
    2. Take it off the heat, and add two heaped tablespoons of cornflour and mix till the cornflour is a paste with the butter.
    3. Add 1-2 cups of milk (optional: cream) and stir to dissolve the cornflour
    4. Put back on the heat for 10mins and stir so that the sauce thickens.
  9. Cheese
    For delicious meltyness
  10. breadcrumbs
    For extra crunch.

Bake for around 30mins at 180c or until the cheese is crispy.  All of the ingredients are pre-cooked (except for the lazagne sheets) so this step is mostly to bring the flavours together, melt the cheese and get the lazagne soft.

Serves 10, more or less depending on the size of your vegetables.

Also is delicious.


Meta: takes 45mins to prepare + 15-30mins in the oven to melt the cheese,

Writing this down took 15mins.  After some feedback, rewriting this took 20 minutes.

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One model of understanding independent differences in sensory perception

This week my friend Anna said to me; “I just discovered my typical mind fallacy around visualisation is wrong”. Naturally I was perplexed and confused. She said;

“When I was in second grade the teacher had the class do an exercise in visualisation. The students sat in a circle and the teacher instructed us to picture an ice cream cone with our favourite ice cream. I thought about my favourite type of cone and my favourite flavor, but the teacher emphasised “picture this in your head, see the ice cream.” I tried this, and nothing happened. I couldn’t see anything in my head, let alone an ice cream. I concluded, in my childish vanity, that no one could see things in their head, “visualising” must just be strong figurative language for “pretending,” and the exercise was just boring.”

Typical mind fallacy

“everyone thinks like me” (Or A-typical mind fallacy – “no one thinks like me”). My good friend had discovered (a long time ago) that she had no visualisation function. But only recently made sense of it (approximately 15-20 years later). Anna came to me upset, “I am missing out on a function of the brain; limited in my experiences”. Yes; true. She was. And we talked about it and tried to measure and understand that loss in better terms. The next day Anna was back but resolved to feeling better about it. Of course realising the value of individual differences in humans, and accepting that whatever she was missing; she was compensating for it by being an ordinary functional human (give or take a few things here and there), and perhaps there were some advantages.

Together we set off down the road of evaluating the concept of the visualisation sense. So bearing in mind; that we started with “visualise an ice cream”… Here is what we covered.

Close your eyes for a moment, (after reading this paragraph), you can see the “blackness’ but you can also see the white sparkles/splotches and some red stuff (maybe beige), as well as the echo-y shadows of what you last looked at, probably your white computer screen. They echo and bounce around your vision. That’s pretty easy. Now close your eyes and picture an ice cream cone. The visualisation-imagination space is not in my visual field, but what I do have is a canvas somewhere on which I draw that ice cream; and anything else I visualise. It’s definitely in a different place. (We will come back to “where” it is later)

So either you have this “notepad“; “canvas” in your head for the visual perception space or you do not. Well; it’s more like a spectrum of strength of visualisation; where some people will visualise clear and vivid with a photographic memory; and others will have (for lack of better terms) “grey”; “echoes”; Shadows; or foggy visualisation, where drawing that is a really hard thing to do. Anna describes what she can get now in adulthood as a vague kind of bas relief of an image, like an after effect. So it should help you model other people by understanding that variously people can visualise better or worse. (probably not a big deal yet; just wait).

It occurs that there are other canvases; not just for the visual space but for smell and taste as well. So now try to canvas up some smells of lavender or rose, or some soap. You will probably find soap is possible to do; being memorable and regular. The taste of chocolate; kind of appears from all those memories you have; as does cheese; lemon and salt; (but of course someone is screaming at the page about how they don’t understand when I say that chocolate “kind of appears”, because it’s very very vivid to them, and someone else can smell soap but it’s quite far away and grey/cloudy).

It occurs to me now that as a teenage male I never cared about my odour; and that I regularly took feedback from some people about the fact that I should deal with that, (personal lack of noticing aside), and I would wonder why a few people would care a lot; and others would not ever care. I can make sense of these happenings by theorising that these people have a stronger smell canvas/faculty than other people. Which makes a whole lot of reasonable sense.

Interesting yet?  There is more.  This is a big one.

Sound

more specifically music. Having explored the insight of having a canvas for these senses with several people over the past week; And noting that Anna from the story above confidently boasts an over-active music canvas with tunes always going on in her head. For a very long time I decided that I was just not a person who cared about music; and never really knew to ask or try to explain why. Just that it doesn’t matter to me. Now I have a model.

I can canvas music as it happens – in real time; and reproduce to a tune; but I have no canvas for visualising auditory sounds without stimulation. (what inspired the entire write-up here was someone saying how it finally made them understand why they didn’t make sense of other people’s interests in sounds and music) If you ask me to “hear” the C note on my auditory canvas; I literally have no canvas on which to “draw” that note. I can probably hum a C (although I am not sure how), But I can’t play that thing in my head.

Interestingly I asked a very talented pianist. And the response was; “of course I have a musical canvas”, (to my slight disappointment). Of course she mentioned it being a big space; and a trained thing as well. (As a professional concert pianist) She can play fully imagined practice on a not-real piano and hear a whole piece. Which makes for excellent practice when waiting for other things to happen, (waiting rooms, ques, public transport…).

Anna is not a musician, and says her head-music is not always pleasant but simply satisfactory to her. Sometimes songs she has heard, but mostly noises her mind produces. And words, always words. She speaks quickly and fluently, because her thoughts occur to her in words fully formed.

I don’t care very much about music because I don’t “see” (imagine) it. Songs do get stuck in my head but they are more like echoes of songs I have just heard, not ones I can canvas myself.

Now to my favourite sense. My sense of touch. My biggest canvas is my touch canvas. “feel the weight on your shoulders?”, I can feel that. “Wind through your hair?”, yes. The itch; yes, The scrape on your skin, The rough wall, the sand between your toes. All of that.

It occurs to me that this explains a lot of details of my life that never really came together. When I was little I used to touch a lot of things, my parents were notorious for shouting my name just as I reached to grab things. I was known as a “bull in a china shop” because I would touch everything and move everything and feel everything and get into all kinds of trouble with my touch. I once found myself walking along next to a building while swiping my hand along the building – I was with a friend who was trying out drugs (weed), She put her hands on the wall and remarked how this would be interesting to touch while high. At the time I probably said something like; “right okay”. And now I understand just what everyone else is missing out on.

I spend most days wearing as few clothes as possible, (while being normal and modest), I still pick up odd objects around. There is a branch of Autism where the people are super-sensitive to touch and any touch upsets or distracts them; a solution is to wear tight-fitting clothing to dull the senses. I completely understand that and what it means to have a noisy-touch canvas.

All I can say to someone is that you have no idea what you are missing out on; and before this week – neither did I. But from today I can better understand myself and the people around me.

There is something to be said on this topic for various methods of thinking; some people “think in words”, and some people don’t think in words, they think in pictures or concepts. I can’t cover that in this post; but keep that in mind as well for “the natural language of my brain”

One more exercise (try to play along – it pays off). Can you imagine 3 lines, connected; an equilateral triangle on a 2D plane. Rotate that around; good (some people will already be unable to do this). Now draw three more of these. Easy for some. Now I want you to line them up so that the three triangles are around the first one. Now fold the shape into a 3D shape.

How many corners?
How many edges?
How many faces?

Okay good. Now I want you to draw a 2D square. Simple; Now add another 4 triangles. Then; like before surround the square with the triangles and fold it into a pyramid. Again;

How many edges?
How many corners?
How many faces?

Now I want you to take the previous triangle shape; and attach it to one of the triangles of the square-pyramid shape. Got it?

Now how many corners?
How many edges?
How many faces?

That was easy right? Maybe not that last step. So it turns out I am not a super visualiser. I know this because those people who are a super visualisers will find that when they place the triangular pyramid on to the square pyramid; The side faces of the triangle pyramid merge into a rhombus with the square pyramid; effectively making 1 face out of 2 triangle faces; and removing an edge (and doing that twice over for two sides of the shape). Those who understand will be going “duh” and those who don’t understand will be going “huh?”, what happened?

Pretty cool right?

Don’t believe me? Don’t worry – there is a good explanation for those who don’t see it right away – at this link http://wordplay.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/pyramid-2/?_r=1

From a super-visualiser:

“I would say, for me, visualisation is less like having a mental playground, and more like having an entire other pair of eyes. And there’s this empty darkness into which I can insert almost anything. If it gets too detailed, I might have to stop and close my outer eyes, or I might have to stop moving so I don’t walk into anything. That makes it sound like a playground, but there’s much more to it than that.

Imagine that you see someone buying something in a shop. They pay cash, and the red of the twenty catches your eye. It’s pretty, and it’s vivid, and it makes you happy. And if you imagine a camera zooming out, you see red moving from customers to clerks at all the registers. Not everyone is paying with twenties, but commerce is red, now. It’s like the air flashes and lights up like fireworks, every time somebody buys something.

And if you keep zooming out, you can see red blurs all over the town, all over the map. So if you read about international trade, it’s almost like the paper comes to life, and some parts of it are highlighted red. And if you do that for long enough, it becomes a habit, and something really weird starts to happen.

When someone tells you about their car, there’s a little red flash just out the corner of your eye, and you know they probably didn’t pay full price, because there’s a movie you can watch, and in the time they got the car, they didn’t have a job and they were stressed, so there’s not as much red in that part of the movie, so there has to be some way they got the car without losing even more red. But it’s not just colors, and it’s definitely not just money.

Happiness might be shimmering motion. Connection with friends might be almost a blurring together at the center. And all these amazing visual metaphors that you usually only see in an art gallery are almost literally there in the world, if you look with the other pair of eyes. So sometimes things really do sort of jump out at you, and nobody else noticed them. But it has to start with one thing. One meaning, one visual metaphor.”

Synaesthesia

Way up top I mentioned the “where” of the visualisation space. It’s not really in the eye, a good name for it might be “the mind’s eye“. My personal visualisation canvas is located back up left tilted downwards and facing forwards.

Synaesthesia is a lot of possible effects. The most well known one is where people associate a colour with a letter, when they think of the letter they have a sense of a colour that goes with the letter. Some letter’s don’t have colours, sometimes numbers have colours.

There are other branches of Synaesthesia. Locating things in the physical space. Days of the week can be laid out in a row in front of you; numbers can be located somewhere. Some can be heavier than others. Sounds can have weights; Smells can have colours; Musical notes can have a taste. Words can feel rough or smooth.

Synaesthesia is a class of cross-classification that is done when the brain interprets a stimulus, where (we think) it can be caused by crossed sensory wiring in the brain; It’s pretty fun. Turns out most people have some kind of Synaesthesia. Usually to do with weights of numbers, or days being in a row. Sometimes Tuesdays are lower than the other days. Who knows. If you pay attention to how sometimes things have an alternative sensory perception, chances are that’s a bit of the natural Synaesthete coming out.

So what now?

Synaesthesia is supposed to make you smarter. Crossing brain faculty help you remember things better; if you can think of numbers in terms of how heavy they are you could probably train your system 1 to do simple arithmetic by “knowing” how heavy the answer is. If it doesn’t come naturally to you – these are no longer low-hanging fruit implementations of these ideas.

What is a low-hanging fruit; Consider all your “canvases” of thinking; Work out which ones you care more about; and which ones don’t matter. (when I write it I will insert a link to superpowers and kryptonites: use your strong senses to your advantage; and make sure you avoid using your weaker senses) (or go on a bender to rebuild your map; influence your territory and train your sensory canvases. Or don’t because that wouldn’t be a low hanging fruit).

Keep this model around

It can be used for both good and evil. But get the model out there. Talk to people about it. Ask your friends and family if they are able to visualise. Ask about all the senses. Imagine if suddenly you discovered that someone you know; can’t “smell” things in their imagination. Or doesn’t know what you mean by, “feel this” (you have no idea what you are missing out on the touch spectrum in my little bubble).

You are going to have good senses and bad ones. That’s okay! The more you know; the more you can use it to your advantage!


Meta: Post write up time 1 hour; plus a week of my social life being dominated by the same conversation over and over with different people where I excitedly explain the most exciting thing of this week. plus 1hr*4, plus 3 people editing and reviewing, plus a rationality dojo where I presented this topic.

Meta2: I waited 3 weeks for other people to review this. There were no substantial changes and I should have not waited so long. in future I won’t wait that long.

Originally posted here:  http://lesswrong.com/lw/ms9/one_model_of_understanding_independent/

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Should you change where you live? (a worked “how to solve a question”)

It’s not a hard question, but it potentially has a lot of moving parts.

This post is going to be two in one.  The first is whether you should move geography, the second is how I go through a problem.  In red.

First up – brainstorm ideas:

Meta-level

  • Make a list of relevant factors of staying or going (then google it to check for any I missed)
  • Decision making strategies

Object level

  • Why did this come up?
  • Make a list of things you wish were different with how you live now
  • Make a list of features of your current geography
  • Make a list of features that you know of in other geographies that you would like to obtain.

relevant factors

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Relationships
  • Population density
  • Population diversity breakdown
  • Local safety (bad neighbourhoods)
  • Religion
  • Politics, country-scale political climate
  • Government structure, public welfare
  • public transport
  • cost of living
  • quality of food, variation of food, culture of food.
  • exchange rate
  • Normal temperature/weather/climate (rain, cloud, sun, heat, cold, wind)
  • Extreme weather risk.  (i.e. cyclones, earthquakes, bushfires)
  • Work (and commute)
  • Salary
  • Pollution (Light, Air or noise pollution)
  • Residential or natural environment, parks, trees, tall buildings…
  • Ocean (if you swim, or like beach culture)
  • Landmarks
  • native plants, animals, diseases.
  • culture, art.
  • difficulty in moving
  • opportunity/plans
  • language barrier
  • public amenities
  • Education
  • Dwelling -> upsize, downsize, sidegrade…
  • Sleep – are you getting enough of it
  • postage costs

Why did this come up?

Usually you are thinking of a seeding factor; a reason why you are moving.  It will help to keep it in mind when planning other things.  Is there something wrong or pushing you out, is the current location stagnant, is something pulling you?  Write that down.    Keep it in mind.  Considering the context of the event may help you make a more informed choice, it’s also why it’s often hard to ask for advice without being more specific about what seems to be the difficulty.

Factors

When you move you will be exchanging your current set of these factors for a new and different set of these factors.  Sometimes you might move with your family, sometimes you might be moving across town and still have the same public transport network but just pay cheaper rent.

Your job; should you choose to accept it: work out which ones are getting better, which are getting worse, and which are staying the same.  Some of them will do both.

Example: you live in a small town with a few friends. you are moving to a big city where you know nobody but you expect to make many more friends quickly.  friends are getting both worse and better at the same time.

How?

There should be some instruction set to make it easier to actually come to an answer.  Not everyone could have automatically generated this list, and not everyone will know what to do with it now.  So what to do with the information is listed here.

  1. Take the list above – best of copied to a spreadsheet, make two copies of the list, for each point; write a few words about what you have now in your current location.
  2. If certain points seem irrelevant to you then don’t worry.  Cross them out.
    E.g. If the weather doesn’t bother you much then you can skip it.
  3. For each point, out of 10, rate – how much do you care about this factor?  and also out of 10 – How well do you fulfil this need right now.  (this is where it’s necessary to understand which ones you don’t care about)
  4. On the second copy, fill out the details of the place you want to go.  If you don’t yet have a destination; look at the first list and find the things that you care about a lot with a low rating.  to start your search, make a list of places that you expect will have a high rating in those area, or search by that thing (i.e. places of religious significance).Of course there are ways to do this badly.  for example, as above – you live in a small town with a few friends. you are moving to a big city where you know nobody but you expect to make many more friends quickly.  friends are getting both worse and better at the same time.  If on pondering you realise that no place ever will have more friends than the place you are now, because everywhere else is foreign, then that makes it a not-great metric to go on.  However (in this example) you might benefit from considering instead where might have the potential to have good friends, (or crazy ideas like taking your friends with you)
  5. Use your newly laid out knowledge as a guide on where to go and what to look for.

Consider the inverse proposal

Heuristic thinking strategies that might help you.  There are generic ones for problems and then there are questions that suit certain problems very well.  These are relatively generic but I have heard great success in applying them to moving decisions.

This is very generic.  If you are leaving a place for an obvious reason (for example political unrest), it would take a lot to convince you to stay.  This is where the idea of thinking of the inverse proposal comes in.

Example: your work has offered you a promotion.  It’s $20,000 extra.  But you would have to leave your friends and family and work in a city several hours away for at least a year.

Example in reverse:  I am going to offer you a $20,000 pay cut and in exchange you get to live in a town with your friends.

*it can be hard to generate the reverse example from your own perspective.

Some people can easily say, pay “$20k just for my lousy friends, hell no”.  Other people can easily say, “listen boss, $50k and you got a deal.”

Is there an alternative solution

This is a fully generic question to ask.

Before you convince yourself that the factors are out of your hands, consider if you can take it into your own hands.  If you don’t at least ask, you will genuinely never know if it could have gone differently.  Can you take your friends with?  Can you take the pay rise but not move for work?  Can you still have a nice lake even if you don’t have an ocean?  Who knows.  At least consider it.

How can you make it easier for yourself?

This is a fully generic strategy for getting things done.

As with many decisions in life, they are big, they are hard, they are scary.  Are there things you can do to make the decision easier for yourself?


Meta: this took three hours to research and write.

Also posted on Lesswrong.

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