Black box knowledge

This post is a duplicate of the original.

Original post: Black box knowledge

When we want to censor an image we put a black box over it.  Over the area we want to censor.  In a similar sense we can purposely censor our knowledge.  This comes in particular handiness when thinking about things that might be complicated but we don’t need to know.

A deliberate black box around how toasters work would look like this:

bread -> black box -> toast

Not all processes need knowing, for now a black box can be a placeholder for the future.

With the power provided to us by a black box, we can identify what we don’t know.  We can say; Hey!  I don’t know what a toaster is but it would be about 2 hours to work it out.  if I ever did want to work it out, I could just spend two hours to do it.  Until then; I saved myself two hours.  If we take other more time-burdensome fields it works even better.  Say tax.

Need to file tax -> black box accountant -> don’t need to file my tax because I got the accountant to do it for me.

I know I can file my own tax, but that might be 100-200 hours of knowing everything an accountant knows about tax.  (It also might be 10 hours depending on your country and their tax system).  For now I can assume that hiring an accountant saved me a number of hours in doing it myself.  So – Winning!

Take car repairs.  On the one hand; you could do it yourself and unpack the black box, or you could trade your existing currency  $$ (which you already traded your time to earn) for someone else’s skills and time to repair the car.  The system looks like this:

Broken car -> black box mechanic -> working car

By deliberately not knowing how it works; we can tap out of even trying to figure it out for now.  The other advantage is that we can look at; not just what we know in terms of black boxes but more importantly what we don’t know.  We can build better maps by knowing what we don’t know.


Logic gates -> Black box computeryness ->

Or maybe it’s like this: (for more advanced users)


Logic gates -> flip flops -> Black box CPU -> black box GPU ->

The black-box system happens to also have a meme about it:

Step 1. Get out of bed

Step 2. Build AGI

Step 3. ?????

Step 4. Profit

Only now we have a name for deliberately skipping finding out how step 3 works.

Another useful system:


Food in (weight goes up) -> black box human body -> energy out (weight goes down)

Make your own black box systems in the comments.

Meta: short post, 1.5 hour to write, edit and publish. Felt it was an idea that provides useful ways to talk about things.  Needed it to explain something to someone, now all can enjoy!

My Table of contents has my other writings in it.

All suggestions and improvements welcome!

Posted in models of thinking | Leave a comment

Noble excuses

I was talking to a lady in her 60s who was losing weight, and exercising.  She said to me; “All my life, my husband was an iron man.  I felt terribly embarrassed, like everyone in the room was looking at me and thinking – how could he be with her”.  She confided that she wanted to lose weight for completely superficial reasons, really dumb reasons of caring what people thought about what she looked like.  She asked me if this made her a bad person, that she was doing things for the wrong reasons.  We just covered Valid and invalid excuses, the territory of excuses overlaps quite heavily with the territory of goals.  We make excuses and decisions to do some things and not other things because of our goals.  Earlier in the conversation, my friend also shared the usual “get fit, be healthy” attitude that is the more noble reason to be getting fit.

I wouldn’t be the first to name this concept.  There is a class of excuse that is known as the noble excuse.  A noble excuse is the excuse for the action that you are making that sounds the most noble of the possible excuse space.  Which is to say; there are often reasons for doing something that extend beyond one or two reasons, and beyond the reason you want to tell people right away.

When I tell my friends I didn’t go for a run this morning because I “Don’t want to be late for work”. That’s so noble.  It had nothing to do with me being out late the night before, it’s raining, the grass is wet, I have hayfever, I didn’t get enough sleep, missed my alarm and woke up late.  No it’s all for caring about being late for work.

Also coming in the form of Noble justifications, a noble excuse is tricky because it acts as an applause light.  It tells the guilty brain, “okay you can stop looking now we found out why”, it’s safe to say that they don’t really help us, so much as save face among others or even to ourselves.

Speaking of a noble excuse

“Is that the real reason or is that just a noble excuse”

“Let’s not settle on the first noble excuse, what other reasons could there be for these events”

“I wish I could give a noble excuse for being late, but the truth is that I have a bad habit of leaving home late and missing the bus.  Next week I will be trying out setting my watch to a few minutes faster to try to counteract my bad habit.”

“That’s a pretty embarrassing mistake, is there a noble excuse that we can pass on to the client?”

Dealing with a noble excuse

Not all noble excuses are bad.  If you notice someone making a noble excuse, it usually doesn’t hurt to double check if there isn’t another reason behind those actions.  There’s not a lot to understanding noble excuses.  It’s about being aware of your excuses and connecting them back to their underlying goals.

Think carefully about the excuses you are making.

Meta: this took an hour to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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Procrastination checklist

This post duplicates my original.

Original post: Procrastination checklist

This list is a revision of this checklist:

1. What is the task? Make sure you’re going to focus on one thing at a time.  Write it down (helps some people).  (If you need – start with the big picture, one sentence of “what is this for”)

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

2. How long will you work until you take a break?  Prepare to set a timer and commit to focusing.

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

3. What are the parts to this task?  Break things down until they are in *can do it now* steps, if you have a small number of steps that can now be done; stop writing more steps and start doing them.

Can you do it right now?  (If yes then do it)

4. What’s an achievable goal for this sitting? Set a reasonable expectation for yourself.  (until it’s done, 1000 words, complete research on X part)

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

5. How can you make it easier to do the task?

  • Is the environment right?  Desk clear, well lit area…

  • Do you have something to drink? Get yourself some tea, coffee, or water.

  • Are distractions closed? Shut the door, quit Tweetdeck, close the Facebook and Gmail tabs, and set skype to “Do not disturb.”

  • What music will you listen to inspire yourself to be productive? Put on a good instrumental playlist! (video game soundtracks are good)

  • Do you have the right books open?  The right tools in reach?

  • Is your chair comfortable?

  • Can you make it harder to do the distracting or <not this> thing?

  • (step 3 is going to help to make it easier)

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

6. Why are you doing this task?  Trace the value back until you increase the desire to do it.

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

7. Will gamifying help you? What are some ways to gamify the task?  Try to have fun with it!

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

8. What are some rewards you can offer yourself for completing sections of the task? Smiling, throwing your arms up in the air and proclaiming victory, or M&M’s all count, a trip to the beach, a nice milkshake…

Can you do it now? (If yes then do it)

9. are you sure you want to do it?  Deciding either to; not do it now; or not do it at all; are also fine.  It’s up to you to make that decision, keeping in mind what “not doing it” means in it’s entirety.

In first-person form:

1. What is the task? Make sure I’m going to focus on one thing at a time.  Write it down (helps some people).  (If I need – start with the big picture, one sentence of “what is this for”)

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

2. How long will I work until you take a break?  Prepare to set a timer and commit to focusing.

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

3. What are the parts to this task?  I want to break things down until they are in *can do it now* steps, if I have a small number of steps that can now be done; I will stop writing more steps in the process and start doing them.

Can I do it right now?  (If yes then do it)

4. What’s an achievable goal for this sitting? Set a reasonable expectation for myself.  (until it’s done, 1000 words, complete research on X part)

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

5. How can I make it easier to do the task?

  • Is the environment right?  Desk clear, well lit area…

  • Do I have something to drink? Get yourself some tea, coffee, or water.

  • Are my distractions closed? Shut the door, quit Tweetdeck, close the Facebook and Gmail tabs, set skype to “Do not disturb.”

  • What music will I listen to, to inspire myself to be productive? Put on a good instrumental playlist!

  • Do I have the right books open?  The right tools in reach?

  • Is my chair comfortable?

  • Can I make it harder to do the distracting or <not this> thing?

  • (step 3 is going to help to make it easier)

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

6. Why am I doing this task?  Trace the value and feeling back until I increase the desire to do it.

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

7. Will gamifying help me? What are some ways to gamify the task?

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

8. What are some rewards I can offer myself for completing sections of the task? Smiling, throwing my arms up in the air and proclaiming victory, M&M’s all count, a trip to the beach, a nice milkshake…

Can I do it now? (If yes then do it)

9. am I sure I want to do it?  Deciding either to – not do it now; or not do it at all; are also fine.  It’s up to me to make that decision, keeping in mind what “not doing it” means in terms of the task at hand.

Meta: This took about 2 hours to put together; between writing, rewriting, reordering, editing feedback and publishing.

I couldn’t decide whether 2nd person or 1st person was better so I wrote both.  Please let me know which you prefer.

Any adjustments or suggestions are welcome.

My table of contents is where you will find the other things I have written.

feedback on if this works or helps is also welcome.

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On excuses and validity

We learn’t yesterday about what is a problem? I want to talk about one specific aspect of the barrier.  The part of the barrier that is inside your head.  The one that makes excuses.

The barrier inside my own head.  The barrier that says, “ice-cream, but I would have to get up out of my chair for that” and decides against it.

Another way to think about one of the classes of in-head barrier is to call them excuses.  The reasons your mind makes up as to why you can’t do the thing.  If we create a class of “excuses”, we can talk more about it.

Let’s take the simple goal of going for a run in the morning, and look at some of the excuses that might arise from trying to avoid it:

  • I don’t feel like it
  • I wanted to sleep in
  • it’s raining out
  • It’s too early
  • It’s too late
  • It’s too cold
  • It’s too hot
  • It’s too dark
  • I feel sick
  • I have no one to go with
  • I have a broken leg
  • I have asthma and can’t run
  • It’s my rest day
  • I am running late to work
  • I don’t have the time

The thing about excuses is that they are all equally valid.  “not feeling like it” is just as valid as, “I have a broken leg” as “I don’t have the time”.  But also the thing about excuses is that they are all equally invalid as well.  “It’s too dark” is just as much an invalid excuse as “it’s raining out”, as “I have a broken leg”.

What really is an excuse that is valid?  Well on a day that you got to bed at 4am and you need more sleep than waking up at 7am to go for a run; then yes.  “I wanted to sleep in” is a valid excuse.  On a day where you sleep from 7pm and wake up at 7am refreshed with a 12 hour sleep under your belt.  Well then.  Less of an excuse then.  Which is to say; The validity of an excuse depends on the situation in which it is made.

As I said above, any excuse is a valid excuse.  And any excuse is an invalid one.  To a person who gets sick easily; “it’s raining” is a real excuse, to someone who can probably run in the rain; that’s not much of an excuse.

All excuses are real excuses.  There are no rules for which excuses are valid excuses and which excuses are not valid excuses.  The solution lies in sorting out the goal and the counter-goals.  I have referenced Kegan’s immunity to change beforemore than once.  I have talked about barriers before too.  I previously said:

What we are doing with our time is everything else that we are choosing not to do with our time.

This is what excuses do.  They (sneakily) say, “I am not going to pursue that goal X, because I am instead going to pursue that goal Y”.

The simple “I don’t want to go for a run because it’s raining”, is really the more complicated and long winded, “I considered my preference of making sure I don’t get sick by avoiding cold and windy conditions and I compared it to my preference of exercising in the morning by going for a run and I decided that I would rather not go for a run, and instead avoid the cold and windy conditions”.  Which is fine.

Ideally any excuse that you make can be written out in it’s long winded form.  In this form the self melts away, the guilt melts away, the shoulds disappear.  all that is left is several goals or several preferences battling it out for what is ultimately the action you take.

What about when we take the long winded of, “I don’t want to go for a run because it’s raining”, and we get something like this, “I weighed up my preference for not getting dripped on while I go for a run alongside my preference to exercise by running in the morning and I realised I don’t want to go running in the rain anyway”.  Well, maybe then it’s time to consider if this is a valid excuse for you.  Or maybe it will be completely obvious whether it is or is not a valid excuse when you lay it out like that.

Putting it to use

0. Be willing to try this.  Precommit to giving it a shot for the next 10 times you notice you make an excuse to not do something.

  1. Noticing.  I can’t really explain how to notice when you make excuses.  But in order to do something about it; you need some kind of trigger, some kind of voice in your head that goes, “hey, wait…  Am I sure that’s not an excuse?”.  Look for times when you say no.  Look for times when people challenge your automatic actions.
  2. Make it a long winded excuse.  Take the surface reasons and trace them back to the goals at the root of the statement.
  3. Lay them out against each other.  You can do this in your head, you can do this on a piece of paper, or a spreadsheet.  In a conversation with a friend.  It doesn’t really matter how you do that.
  4. Choose.  Pick which goals you want to fulfil.  Or investigate how to do all the things you want to do.  Maybe there’s an indoor exercise routine that isn’t running outside that still is exercise but doesn’t get you rained on.  Ideally meeting all the goals is the intention.
  5. Share.  Write back if it worked, if you discovered excuses you make that you can now stop making.

The funny thing about excuses is that they don’t feel like you are making excuses from the inside.  They feel like you are making decisions.  If you hold certain goals strongly enough, then it’s clear when you fail to carry them out.

The great part about this process is you get to say, “yes!  I don’t want to go for a run because I care about not getting sick”, you get to feel good about your preferences.  Even as they take your other preferences and smush them into the ground.  You can feel good about choosing that path because it is your choice.

If that’s not what you want – then it’s time to change your preferences!  Wilfully and because you want it.  with your active brain, not with your passive-whatever “more junk foods” brain.

Next up: Noble excuses

Meta: this took two hours to write.  About half way I got tired and distracted and the rest took a lot longer to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Posted in communication, exercise, models of thinking | Leave a comment

Instrumental behaviour: Inbox zero – A guide – v2

This post is modified from the original.

Original post: Instrumental behaviour: Inbox zero – A guide

This will be brief.

Inbox zero is a valuable thing to maintain.  Roughly promoted around the web as having an empty inbox.

An email inbox collects a few things:

  • junk
  • automatic mail sent to you
  • personal mail sent to you
  • work sent to you
  • (maybe – work you send to yourself because that’s the best way to store information for now)

An inbox is a way to keep track of “how much I have to do yet”.  But that’s not really what it is.  Somewhere along the lines from “I will send via courier a hand scribed letter to yonder”, became newsletters, essays, spam, and many more things mixed together.  Because of this; iit’st’s pretty hard to tell how much work is really in an inbox.  Is it 5 minutes to read this one, or do I have to write an essay back?  It’s pretty important to be in understanding of what volume of work awaits you.  The trick to doing this is doing the incredibly valuable task of getting to inbox zero.

The basic philosophy is that a full inbox and unread emails are not a good place to be keeping at bay the unknowns of “how much work I have to do”.  Instead; other lists, folders, or organisation systems are better at that.  And if you don’t already do it; have ONE list (or like, this advice is complicated, there are different types of lists, but if you have more than one of the same type of lists, you are bound to confuddle up your process and end up doing the other ones that you didn’t need to do instead of the ones that you did need to do).

This guide is for anyone with bajillions of emails in their inbox, some read; some not.  If you have an email system in place; don’t change it.  if not – get one.  (maybe not this one – but do it).



0. decide that this is a good idea (this can be done after) but mostly I want to say – don’t half-arse this, you might end up in a no-mans-land between the old and the new.

1. A program.

I recommend Thunderbird because it’s free.  I used to work in a webmail system but the speed of webmail is a joke in comparison to local mail.  also offline-powers are handy from time to time.  (Disadvantage – not always having backups for everything, alternative: IMAP – duplicates online and offline.)

2. Archive system

This being 2017 we are going to make a few main folders.

  • Old as all hell (or other friendly name)
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017

Anything older than 2014 will probably never get looked at again; (just ask any email veteran) That’s okay – that’s what archives are for.

3. Old

Put anything old into the old folder

4. 2015

That was two years ago!  it will also go the same way as old-as-all-hell, but for now it can sit in 2015.

5. 2016

two options here – either:

a. leave them in your inbox and through the year sort them into the 2015 folder; remembering that things that old should go to sleep easy.

b. put them in 2016 where you can look at them when you need them.

6. 2017

There are a few simple behaviours that make the ongoing use of the system handy.

a. if you read a thing, and you have no more to do with it; file it away into 2017

b. if you read a thing and still have more to do; leave it in the inbox (If you can resolve it in under 5 minutes; try to do it now)

c. if you don’t plan to read a thing AND it’s not important AND you don’t want to delete it; I strongly advise unsubscribing from the source; finding a way to stop them from coming in, or setting up a rule to auto-sort into a folder. (or set up a second email address for signing up to newsletters)

d.  Every automatically generated email has an unsubscribe button at the bottom.  If you have a one-time unsubscribe policy you will never have to see the same junk twice.

e. do some work; answer emails; send other emails etc.  and file things as you go.

f. mammoth – these emails are huge-ass things.  they are the result of a days worth of work to do, and send back the results.  Don’t leave them in the inbox.  Something that big belongs on a serious to-do list.  You can generate other folders.  Including a folder for those juggling balls that are up in the air, waiting for the replies to come back, as well as mammoths, and a folder for emails from mum that you can’t delete but you also can’t quite file.

7. other email folders

sure sometimes things need a bit of preserving; sometimes things need sorting – go ahead and do that.  Don’t let me stop you.

Using this fairly ordinary system I can get my total email time down to about half an hour a week.

Don’t like it? find a better system.  But don’t leave them all there.

Final note: I have an email address for things I subscribe to that is separate to the email address I give out or use; this way I can check my subscriptions quickly without mixing them up with work/life/important things.



This post came out of a discussion in the IRC.  It took 30mins to write.  This was written with no research and there are likely better systems in existence.  It partially incorporates a “Getting Things Done” attitude but I might post more about that soon.

Feel free to share your system in the comments, or suggest improvements.

Also posted to lesswrong:

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What is a problem?

I originally posed this idea in my list of short stubs.  Under that heading I briefly outlined:

What is a problem – On the path of problem solving, understanding what a problem is will help you to understand how to attack it.  Nothing more complicated than this picture to explain it.  The barrier is a problem.  This doesn’t seem important on it’s own but as a foundation for thinking about problems it’s good to have  sitting around somewhere.


I want to expand on that a bit more. I have labelled some states in this picture:

  • Present state
  • Goal state
  • Barrier to the goal
  • Path to the goal

Present state

All things being unchanged; prior to actions in pursuit of a goal, this is where you are.  Sitting at home in my chair at my computer I have not yet decided I want to go get ice-cream.  If I do nothing, I might eventually end up getting ice-cream by happenstance.  I may casually interact with friends who encourage me to get ice-cream with them this evening.  Nothing entirely stops me from getting ice-cream but also nothing propels me to do it either.  Without goals, without paths, you can live a lot of life, casually random-walking your way through the galaxy, encountering what you encounter, and responding at will to those stimuli.  We might describe a specimen who only cares about the present state, as having low agency.

Goal state

Let’s pretend that we duplicated the universe, with the slight modification that I am now eating ice-cream.  That might be my goal.  Or as close as possible as I can get to that goal-state.  There are lots of things that are not ice-cream-goal state and lots of things that come close.  I could eat my toes, I could eat some cheese I have in my fridge which is a bit cold.  I could eat an apple, I could eat some ice cubes, I could drink a glass of milk, I could make my own ice-cream, I could give ice-cream to other people.  All of these things are not quite the goal, but are quite close.  Notice that this goal doesn’t currently include my path to ice-cream.  Just that I have a goal now.


We can visualise a path in many ways.  This should be unsurprising.  The fact is that if I want ice-cream, I need to get up out of my chair and look in my freezer for the ice-cream.  If I want to be eating it I probably also need a spoon and some way to open the lid of the container.  But actually when I get to the freezer I remember I don’t keep ice-cream in my house because I am on a diet and that slows me down from eating ice-cream.  (Thanks past-me)  With that in mind my corrected path is actually to find my money, exit my house, and go to the store where I can buy more ice-cream.  (or make my own ice-cream) or any number of other pathways to ice-cream.

System 2 is very good at paths.  So good that in fact that it forgets about what can go wrong, and the barriers.  It’s the part of my brain that will tell me that the nearest ice-cream is in the store and I can walk right up to the freezer section and shove the ice-cream into my face (Disregarding the need for spoons, the need for money to pay for the ice-cream, and the need to be wearing a shirt when I leave my house).

If this seems obvious; it is only obvious because it already all makes sense to you.  For someone without an understanding of states or paths or goals this might be a solid learning step.


A barrier is what gets in the way of the path.  There are always barriers and most of them are overcome without a second though.  As you think deeper and harder about barriers they get more complicated, and start encompassing more details.  The barriers to me getting my ice-cream include knowing how to walk (which I know) and knowing how to use my eyeballs.  The simple barriers get overlooked because we already have them down.

The more complicated barriers start to pop up as you think more about the goal, or set up more complicated goals, or goals that are further away (geographically, mentally, metaphorically, some measure of hardness of goal).

I have to go to the store to get ice-cream.  I need social convention down pat, so I remember to put a shirt on.  And I need money to pay for ice-cream. Hey, I probably need a functional democracy, not to mention electricity, production lines, hygiene and a whole lot more built on top just so I can do that.  Assuming all those great things are there, what if I don’t have money.  Well I would have to work, which means I need a functional economy, some way to trade my abilities for currency (another thing I need) which I can later exchange for ice-cream.

There’s another type of barrier that doesn’t quite fit with the rest, and that’s the barrier inside my own head.  The barrier that says, “ice-cream, but I would have to get up out of my chair for that” and decides against it.  Ice-cream as a goal, is not so desperate that I would die if I didn’t get it, but maybe there are goals that are more serious.  Having enough money, friends, family, what are your goals?  Have you seen the list of common human goals?  Each goal has barriers to completing it.  And each barrier is able to be stared at intently and questioned.

Is this barrier going to stop you?  Or are you making excuses?

Next post: On excuses and validity

Meta: This took an hour to write and will be a foundation for a few posts that follow.

If this doesn’t seem all that big a deal, well. It’s not.  Unless your problem solving, solution seeking barrier facing system is not functioning at optimum.  In that case: knowing how it works, knowing what is or is not functioning, being able to debug this process.  That’s breaking down the meta barriers.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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

2015: a year in science

This post is duplicated in full.  (and from December 2015)

Original post: This year’s biggest scientific achievements

For our solstice event I tried to put together a list of this year’s biggest scientific achievements.  They can likely all be looked up with a bit of searching and each one is worthy of a celebration in their own right.  But mostly I want to say; we have come a long way this year.  And we have a long way to go.

I tried to include science and magic in this list, but really anything world-scale (non-terrorism or natural disaster) is worthy of celebrating.

  • Rosetta mission lands on a comet


  • using young blood to fight old age (rats)


  • kinghorn human sequencing machines (Sydney relevant)
  • 100,000 genomes project


  • the world’s oldest cave art @ 40,000 years old


  • tesla battery//released their patents on their electric engines for use by anyone.


  • Virtual reality (cardboard)


  • Astronauts growing their own food


  • Uncontrollably swerving cars


  • cubesats


  • Lab grown kidneys successfully implanted into animals


  • synthetic DNA
  • Chicken with a reptile face


  • nearly an altzeimers cure (ultrasound techniques)


  • DAWN orbits Ceres


  • Deepdreaming machine learning (and twitch-deepdream)
  • Prosthetic limbs that transmit feeling back to the user
  • Autonomous rocket landing pointy end up
  • Lightsail project
  • Ion spaaace travel engine
  • Anti – aging virus injected into the patient 0
  • Super black substance made
  • Q-carbon
  • High temperature superconductor (-70c)
  • 23&me were allowed to open back up
  • Enchroma colourblindness adjusting glasses
  • Google releases “Tensor Flow” which whilst its not very good at the moment has the potential to centralize the Deep Learning libraries.
  • CRISPR’s ability to change the germ line.
  • Deep Dreaming, but also image generation.  Faces generated, bedrooms generated and even a toilet in a field. Its clear that within the next few years you will have pictures entirely generated by Neural Nets. (Code:


April 29 – The World Health Organization (WHO) declares that rubella has been eradicated from the ‘Muricas.

July 14 – NASA’s New Horizons spaaacecraft performs a close flyby of Pluto, becoming the first spaaacecraft in history to visit the distant world.

September 10 – Scientists announce the discovery of Homo naledi, a previously unknown species of early human in South Africa.

September 28 – NASA announces that liquid water has been found on Mars.

Recommendations from the slack:

china makes a genetically modified micropig and sells it:

psyc studies can’t be reproduced:

zoom contact lenses

room temperature synthetic diamonds

Notable deaths

terry pratchett passed away

malcolm fraser

John Forbes Nash Jr

Oliver Sacks

Christopher lee

Nobel medals this year

Chemistry – Paul L. Modrich; Aziz Sancar and Tomas Lindahl (“for mechanistic studies of DNA repair”)

Economics – Angus Deaton (“for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare”)

Literature – Svetlana Alexievich (“for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time” )

Peace – Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet (“for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011”)

Physics – Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald (“for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass”)

Physiology or Medicine – William C Campbell, Satoshi ĹŒmura (“for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites”) and Tu Youyou (“for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria”[116])



The dress

Ebola outbreak

Polio came back

(also this year) – upcoming spaaaceX return flight on the 19th dec

runner up: vat meat is almost ready.

runner up: soylent got a lot better this year

runner up: quantum computing having progressive developments but nothing specific


Things that happened 100 years ago (from wikipedia):

  • March 19 – Pluto is photographed for the first time
  • September 11 – The Pennsylvania Railroad begins electrified commuter rail service between Paoli and Philadelphia, using overhead AC trolley wires for power. This type of system is later used in long-distance passenger trains between New York City, Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
  • November 25 – Einstein’s theory of general relativity is formulated.
  • Alfred Wegener publishes his theory of Pangaea.
  • Thomas Huckle Weller, ‘Murican virologist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (d. 2008)
  • Charles Townes, ‘Murican physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2015)
  • August 27 – Norman F. Ramsey, ‘Murican physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2011)
  • Clifford Shull, ‘Murican physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2001)
  • November 19 – Earl Wilbur Sutherland Jr., ‘Murican physiologist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1974)
  • Henry Taube, Canadian-born chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2005)
  • Paul Ehrlich, German scientist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (b. 1854)
  • December 19 – Alois Alzheimer, German psychiatrist and neuropathologist (b. 1864)
Nobel Prizes:
  • Chemistry – Richard Willstätter
  • Literature – Romain Rolland
  • Medicine – not awarded
  • Peace – not awarded
  • Physics – William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg

Meta – This list was compiled for Sydney’s Solstice event; I figured I would share this because it’s pretty neat.

Time to compose: 3-4hrs

With comments from the IRC and slack

To see more of my posts visit my Table of contents

As usual; any suggestions welcome below.

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New year’s resolutions: Things worth considering for next year

Original post: New year’s resolutions: Things worth considering for next year

This post is duplicated in full from the original.

The beginning of the new year is a natural Schelling Point and swiftly approaching. With that in mind I have created a handy go-to list of things worth considering for next year.

Alongside this process; another thing you might like to do is conduct a review of this year, confirming your progress on major goals; double checking that you are on track.  and conduct any last-minute summaries of potential failures or learning-cases.

This list is designed to be used for imagination, opportunity, and potential planning purposes.  If you find yourself having the feelings of (disappointment, failure, fear, regret, burdens, guilt and others) reconsider looking at this list and instead do something that will not lead to negative feelings about the future.  If you are not getting something positive out of doing this exercise, don’t.  That’s a silly idea.  I am banking on the fact that it will be more helpful than not; for most people.  If you are in the category of people that it does not help – I am sorry; I assume you know your priorities and are working on them as reasonably effectively as possible – good luck with that task.

This list is going to look a bit like my List of common human goals because it was written concurrenlty with the ideas listed there (and by the same person).

You might want a pen and paper; and 10 minutes to go through this list and consider what things you want to do over the next year that fall into these categories.  This time is not for you to plan out an entire year, but something of a chance to consider the playing field of “a year of time”.  After you have a list of things you want to do; there are lots of things you can do with them.  i.e. time planning, research, goal factoring, task-generating.

without further ado; the list:

1. things I might want to study or learn next year

Often people like learning.  Are you thinking of higher level study?  Or keen to upskill?  Thinking of picking up a textbook (our list of best textbooks on every subject) on a topic.  Or joining a learning group for a skill

2. life goals I would like to have completed by next year

Do you already have a list of life goals?  Should you review them and do you want to particularly work on one over the next year?  Is something overdue?  Is there something you have been putting off starting?

3. health goals

Are there health targets that you let get away from you this year?  Are you looking to set future health targets?  Start new habits for the year?  beeminder suggests setting actionable goals as beeminding tasks, i.e. “eat carrots today” rather than targets “lose 1kg this month”.

4. savings I want to achieve by next year.

Do you want to save money towards something?  You need a budget has a free course on getting ahead of the paycheck cycle, pocketbook can also help you manage your money.  The best advice seems to be to open a savings account and initiate automatic transactions each week of $n.  After several weeks (provided you don’t pull money out) you will have accrued several*n dollars of savings.  (relevant to people who have a tendency to spend any money in their account at any given time.  It’s a bit harder to spend money not in your spending-account) In any case; having savings and putting it towards owning a passive income stream is a good goal to have or consider getting in on.

This post may also be of use.

5. job/earning goals

Are you planning to get a new job?  Hoping to get a raise?  transfer to a new department?  work less hours?  work more hours?  land a few big gigs? While I can’t tell you what is worthwhile; it’s worth knowing that in the process of interviewing for a new job – you should ask for more pay.  for that 5-10 uncomfortable minutes of your life (asking for a raise) you have the potential to earn $5-10 thousand dollars more (or more) for the exact same work.

6. relationship goals + family goals

Married; Kids; Poly; single->not transition; break-up? Divorce? moving away from your parents?  Getting better Friends?  Thanking your current friends for being so awesome?  Doing something different to previously – now is the chance to give it a few minutes thought.  There’s never a good time to stage a break-up but also living in a bad state of affairs is also not a good thing to prolong.  (Disclaimer: before quitting a relationship; first improve communication, if needed contact a professional counsellor)

About families and friends – A lot of people feel like their family holds a stronger bond than their friends by default.  For an excellent family that is supportive in your darkest hour that is an excellent situation to be in.  However for a burdensome family that drags you down; often it can be hard to get away.  In contrast to friends; where good ones can be better than family and bad ones can be walked away from.  Specifically what’s worth considering is that friends OR family can be a result of how you choose to treat them.  in the sense that if you have a preference that your friends be stronger than the strongest family ties then you can carry that into reality and achieve friendships to the envy of most families, and the same goes for a strong supportive family.  Your choice of what shape of reality you want to make for yourself will influence (on some levels) what sort of mess you get yourself into, and what sort of support network you have around.  Make that consideration over the next year of what sort of friendships and families you want to make for yourself and keep for yourself.

7. lifestyle goals

Start exercising daily (do you even lift)? Quitting smoking?  Do you go clubbing too often?  maybe you want to get out more? Addicted to curry puffs?  Hate hanging out with that group of friends?  Don’t like going to pub trivia but do it anyway?  Too many doughnuts?  Go hiking?  Thinking of trying out a new hobby? holding out for “the right time”. take that leap, sign up for a class.  Now is the time to make lifestyle changes.  (fair warning: most new year’s resolutions fail, look into SMART goals)

8. holiday goals/ travelling goals

looking at doing a month-long holiday?  Visiting someone in another place?  Maybe consider planning from now.  Studies have shown that anticipation and putting energy towards planning positive things leads to happiness (in the journey) the ability to look forward to your next holiday is going to have positive impacts on the way you live.

9. donations 

Have you had intention to make donations but haven’t made the plunge?  Maybe put some thought into how much you might like to donate and when/where to?  Many LW’ers are also EA’s and have interests in motivated and purposeful giving for maximising possible outcomes.  This could be an opportunity to join the group of EA’s that are actively giving.

10. volunteering

Have you always wanted to volunteer but never looked into it?  Maybe next year is the year to try.  Put some research in and find a group in need of volunteers.  Volunteering has the potential to give you a lot of positive feelings as well as a sense of community; being part of something bigger, and more.

You could stop here but there are a few more.  Out of the more general List of common human goals comes the following list of other areas to consider.  They are shorter in description and left open to imagination than those above.

11. Revenge

Is next year your chance to exact revenge on your foes?

12. Virtual reality success

Is next year the chance to harvest your gemstones?

13. Addiction

Is next year the year to get addicted (to something healthy or good for you, like exercise), or un-addicted (to something unhealthy for you)?

14. Ambassador

Are there things you want to do next year which will leave you as a representative of a group?  Is there a way to push that forward?  Or better prepare for that event?

15. Help others?

Do you know how you might go about helping others next year?

16. Keeping up with the joneses

Are you competing with anyone?  Is there something you are likely to need to prepare for throught the year?

17. Feedback

Are you looking for feedback from others?  Are you looking to give feedback to others?  Is this the year for new feedback?

18. Influence

Do you want to influence the public?

19. fame

Do you want to achieve some level of fame?  We live in a realm of the internet!  You wouldn’t believe how easy that is these days…

20. being part of something greater

Joining a movement?  Helping to create a revolution?  This could be the year…

21. Improve the tools available

As scientists we stand on the shoulders of the knowledge before us in order to grow.  We need sharp tools to make accurate cuts and finely tuned instruments to make exact measurements.  Can you help the world by pushing that requirement forward?

22. create something new

Is there something new that you want to do; is next year appropriate for doing it?

23. Break a record

Have your eye on a record?  How are you going to make it happen?

24. free yourself of your shackles

Are there things holding you back or tying you down?  Can you release those burdens?

25. experience

hoping to have a new experience, can you make it happen with thinking about it in advance?

26. Art

Want to have developed a creation?  Can you put wheels into motion?

27. Spirituality

Anything from a religion based spiritual appreciation to a general appreciation of the universe.  Revel in the “merely real” of our universe.

28. community

Looking to make a community, looking to be part of an existing community.  Looking to start a lesswrong branch?  Do it!


about 2.5 hours of writing plus feedback from the room and the Slack channel

If you are looking for some common ways to work on these possible goals?  That sounds like a great title for the next post in a matching series (one I have not written yet).  If you want to be a munchkin and start compiling thoughts on the idea, feel free to send me a message with a link to a google doc, otherwise you might have to wait.  This post was written out of necessity for the new-year, and wasn’t on my to-do list so the next one might take time to create.

Feel free to comment on goals; plans; progress or post your plans for the next year below.

If you can see improvements to this post – don’t be afraid to mention them!

To see more posts I have written see my Table of contents

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A strategy against the call of the void.

I wrote before about The call of the void.  That uncomfortable feeling where a voice in your head seems to ask you:

What would happen if I jumped off the balcony here…

Previously I quoted the one paper that exists on the topic:

…we propose that at its core, the experience of the high place phenomenon stems from the misinterpretation of a safety or survival signal. (e.g., “back up, you might fall”)

Now I wonder; if that were the case, which is to say that the hypothesis were true; how could we go about using this knowledge to relieve the feeling.  I came across an idea that I have tried out the few times that I have been struck with a call since writing about it above.  My idea is this:

Focus wholly and completely and loudly on the concept.  Let it take your full attention and acknowledge that yes; this is in fact a present danger.  Of course don’t jump, or do anything drastic, just acknowledge the feeling, boldly, sharply, ugly.  Then return as you were to the other tasks at hand.

I have tried this, and it seems to work, almost like clockwork the feeling of The Call drifts away.  Any intrusion is no longer intrusive.

I once heard the story of Dr. Morton Doran who is a surgeon but also has tourette syndrome.  How might that be possible?  Tourette syndrome is known for it’s involuntary tics:

A tic is a sudden, repetitive, nonrhythmic motor movement or vocalization involving discrete muscle groups. Tics can be invisible to the observer, such as abdominal tensing or toe crunching. Common motor and phonic tics are, respectively, eye blinking and throat clearing.

Well the interesting thing about Tourette syndrome is that it comes with a feeling of an involuntary urge or need to release the tics, which can be supressed from time to time, but a release is needed.  So all he has to do is go into another room, release the tics and return to concentrating on the surgery at hand.

This solution feels like the same solution; there is some kind of build up of urge in the brain; that warns you to DO THIS and to relieve it you need to give it a certain amount of focus.  This gives that part of the brain that is urging you to DO a feeling of acknowledgement that yes; it’s definitely been acknowledged.  It’s certainly really a ledge to jump off.

If you recognise it; this strategy might look familiar because it overlaps with Acceptance Commitment therapy (ACT).  A process of accepting thoughts, being mindful of the present, observing yourself and moving forward towards your values.

Act seems powerful overall, and is worth looking into to add to your toolbox of ideas.

Meta: this took an hour to write.  It’s been a while but I hope to write more over the coming weeks.

Late edit: January 8, 2015 episode about intrusive thoughts.

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Worked example of a mnemonic Memory technique

In 2015 I wrote a list of techniques to help you remember names.

Today I was working through trying to remember a specific theory and I noticed a pattern I have been using for a few days now.  When trying to remember theories or ideas.  The inspiration for this concept came to me because I have been using an app called FBreader, and a Text-to-speech plugin.  Using the two I now listen to ebooks in robot-voice while I drive or concentrate on other tasks.  The trouble is that sometimes a book will present (verbally because it’s being read out to me) some model or list of ideas that I need to hold in my head for the book to make any sense over the next few minutes or pages.  So I needed a way to generate a picture (possibly a system 1 visceral image) of the ideas so that I could play around with them as the chapter continued or also just; as I needed to recall the information a few days later.

I hope this post describes what it feels like from the inside to be performing this skill.

The process

This is what I have been doing in my head:

0. (regular check on the trigger: this seems like useful information/this list seems important) Do I feel like I will remember it?  If yes, end here.  (if unknown – practice via trial and error, intuitively knowing what you are likely to forget is powerful and useful information to hold)

1. Think about the concept and how I am going to remember it.

2. Build a visual/spatial/sensory model that feels right to me about the model.

  • What does it sound like?  (words sound like other words)
  • What does it remind me of? (other theories or systems that are similar)
  • Do I have any memories of experiences that seem to relate? (people who acted in ways that fit the model)
  • What does it line up to? (if it’s a list of 9 items, maybe 3 of them line up to some of the 9 circles of hell, which is convenient)
  • Can I play with it a bit in my head?

3. double check that it feels right, hone it till it does.  (Maybe it only has 5 pieces but 3 of them are already circles of hell. Can I make a new version of hell for my purposes of remembering these details – and why not?)


example 1:  reading models of therapy around extramarital affairs.  (from the paper – an intergrative intervention for promoting recovery from extramarial affairs (paywalled))

This model has 3 stages:

  1. Dealing with impact
  2. Exploring context and finding meaning
  3. Moving on.

my visual/spatial model (because it works for me) is like this:

  1. An asteroid hits the earth (impact)
  2. There is general rubble everywhere and people start to explore the damage (exploring and finding things)
  3. People begin to rebuild (moving on)

My model tells a story, and all I need to do is remember parts of the story and the rest comes back.  I have checked with myself that it sounds like I will recall the model, so I am safe to hold onto it in this way.

Example 2: From the book Difficult conversations.

There are 4 types of conversations, the important take away from the book is to square with the participants what type of conversation this is, so as to lay the grounds of understanding what will happen next.  The 4 types are:

  1. communicating an existing decision
  2. collaborative on a decision to be made together
  3. consulting on a decision you will make
  4. delegation of a decision to someone else

To remember these on the fly the best I could do (which works better than the names) is to imagine a circle, an arrow and a dot.  For each of the above, the picture of the type of conversation looks like:

  1. A circle with an arrow leading through a dot to the east. (a decision was made and is being communicated to the dot)
  2. A circle and a dot each with an arrow leading out from them to the east.
  3. A dot with an arrow leading north to a circle, then an arrow leading east from the circle
  4. A circle with an arrow leading south to a dot with an arrow leading east.
I am not sure that my description makes sense, but they strongly visually represent the information for me, so much so that I accidentally had a hard time explaining the 4 types of conversations to someone when I tried to repeat back my knowledge (because I forgot the names of them and only held the pictures)
In contrast, information also from that book – the 3 major conversations that go on in a difficult conversation are:
  1. The recount of what happened (Observation)
  2. The feeling surrounding the events (Feelings)
  3. The implications on people’s identities (Identity)

For this set of information I have recently also been looking into Non-Violent Communication (NVC) (see here: watch in double speed), Which has a 4 step model of communicating needs in a non-judgemental way (Observation, Feeling, Need, Request) – the 3 major conversations are so similar that I have no need to build a picture to recall this information.

At the top of this post I mentioned my post about how to remember names.  One of the strongest techniques for names is the mnemonic technique.  Where you build a sensory model of this person which connects them to their name (like the name Rose, imagine a rose on their head).  I mentioned it in 2015; as it’s basically the accepted strong model of how to remember people’s names like a champion.  What really hit me across the face like a wet fish today was that the mnemonic system is exactly what I was doing here.  But I never used it on names, I adamantly swear by the fact that I just did everything else on the list to remember names and didn’t need the mnemonics, I only just started using this technique now as I was needing it – as I was encountering information that was not staying in my head, I had to set up a system 2 loop in my head to remind me to check if I am likely to remember it.  And work out how to remember it.  Mnemonics are how to remember things.

I can’t tell you how to use this system exactly, nor can I make up the models that work for your memory.  But hopefully this description helps with feeling out the need and ability to build pictures of recalling information you need to store in your head.

Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write and sprung up accidentally as I realised what was going on in my head.

Feedback appreciated.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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