Learning to sing

I wanted to test out the skills of learning that I have gathered over time.  I wanted to be better at singing.  What better way to see if I know what I am talking about when I say “here’s how to learn a new area X that you have no idea about

This is part one of me following my own advice.

But I also failed. I did things in the wrong order. That was more fun. So I did step 3, then I did step 5ish because talking to friends about what I am doing is fun. Then I started again from step 1 because actually making progress on goals is important to me.


(skipping step zero – have a growth mindset because I am fairly sure I have one)

This is the process again from step 1:

step 1: Make sure your chosen X is aligned with your actual goals (are you doing it because you want to?). When you want to learn a thing; is X that thing?

I want to be able to hear a song and sing along in tune. For the purpose of once I have that skill I can gradually get better and better at singing along to songs that I know. That seems like fun, it’s a thing I have never been able to do.

step 2: Check that you want to learn X and that will be progress towards a goal (or is a terminal goal.

this goes along with my goal of being a spectacle/interesting person.

step 3: Make a list of what you think that X is. Break it down. Followed by what you know about X, and if possible what you think you are missing about X.

parts:
1. achieve volume control
how loud or soft the sound is that comes from you.
<can already do a bit>
2. hit a note accurately
start at the note, and hold the right note for as long as needed
<cannot do>
3. maintain duration
have enough breath and vocal cord exercise to sing for as long as needed
<cannot do>
4. ability to switch between notes as required
accurately change from note to note.
<cannot do>
5. have a range of high to low pitch of notes.
be able to hit all notes in at least one and preferably more octaves. (accuracy elsewhere)
<can do a bit>
6. clarity of sound
sharp, clear, not wavering sounding and one note, not several.
<bad at it>
7. good breathing
be able to take in lots of air, and sing from the lungs not the neck.
<not sure>
8. accuracy at volume, high notes at volume,
advanced skill
<not yet>

step 4: Do some research to confirm that your rough definition of X is actually correct. Confirm that what you know already is true, if not – replace that existing knowledge with true things about X. Do not jump into everything yet.
https://www.reddit.com/r/singing/comments/2cdd0l/article_day_one_whats_the_very_first_thing_i_can/

Pitch matching. (hear a sound and sing it)
Interval training. (jump between two notes accurately)
Short melody – 3 notes or more.
Scales – can be done at the same time as short melody.

more step 3 from me:
Be able to follow sheet music and sing to it. (optional if I want to)

step 5: Figure out what experts in the area know (by topic area name), try to find what strategies experts in the area use to go about improving themselves.

I have two good friends who are excellent musicians, N has been teaching piano for 10+ years. and Y is a world class choir master and singer. That means I lucked out on the skilled friends. I don’t want to be an idiot who says the equivalent of “teach me everything while I stand on one leg”, but I can reasonably ask a few questions and get guidance.

Bearing in mind that while talking to Y they mentioned that their two year old daughter can sing in tune because there is a genetic factor to ability, and while moving around the house she makes up tunes and sings them. They can sing a melody and she can copy even when she can’t talk yet.

When talking to N, they would routinely be surprised that I can’t just “do this”. and “you just hear it”. Which is just a funny way to show the difference between experts and people with marginally more than zero skill. I have an ego that’s far too big to be discouraged by these things, but I can definitely see how that would make people who didn’t “have it” give up early.

At this point, often experts don’t know how to teach the very very basics because they are well into knowing how it’s done. It would be like asking a normal person how you walk up stairs. “you just do it”, how do you breathe? “I dunno you just do”. I am not complaining, just remarking on the phenomenon of the competence cycle:

Unconscious incompetence
conscious incometence
conscious competence
unconscious competence.


At this point I already found a phone app called “pitch lab lite” which visualises which note on a scale you are currently making. Y almost sneered at the app and insisted he learnt by ear. I am sure that the feedback helps, so I am not putting it down. Y gave me exercises of singing 1, 1-2-1, 1-2-3-2-1, 1-2-3-4-3-2-1, and so on but keeping in tune. I did a few in person and got minor corrections, and using the app on my own I can improve gradually.

N was not sure what to offer and suggested interval training.

step 6: common mistakes people make.

<not sure that this is necessary at the current stage>

further steps: at this point I am not sure that I need to do the further steps, because they are mostly about getting amazing resources. Something I don’t need until I am at least a little better at singing. I am going to try the exercise each day, a few times a day for practice, using the app for feedback I am trying to keep on the right note. I expect that I will lack the ability to get better beyond a certain point where the feedback basically looks much the same no matter what you do.


I want to bring up 14 because I think it’s now extraordinarily relevant.

try to find experiments you can conduct on yourself to confirm you are on the right track towards X. Or ways to measure yourself (measurement or testing is one of the most effective ways to learn) (1hour per experiment, 10-20 experiments)

I have been practicing daily for a few weeks now, and I am not entirely sure I am getting better.  I am going to have to figure out how to design a feedback loop.  Probably with Audacity, visualisation apps and some YouTube videos that I can sing along to.

Any time I am in a place with music playing I try to have the visualisation app going so that I can get used to seeing the feedback of what I am listening to.

unfortunately it looks like my next step is going to involve some deliberate practice (with a computer setup) and be harder to do while passive, i.e. singing along to things when I drive.  This will likely slow my progress down.


meta: this took about 1.5hrs to write and I wrote it up for myself, to keep track of my progress.

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Mistakes bad enough you learn, but not bad enough they kill you

When we suggest to learn by doing, what we tend to mean is learn by making mistakes.  Or teach your system 1 to be better calibrated by making mistakes and adjusting.  Which is fine for the little mistakes: you learn which brand of cereal you like by buying the wrong one, trying it and then writing a note on your shopping list for yourself to buy the right one next time.

When you get to big mistakes it’s a bit harder to learn by doing because you don’t always get a second chance.  Some examples include:

  • Losing a million dollars on a sure bet.
  • Breaking your neck in a recklessly fun car accident
  • Committing suicide instead of asking for help from your peers when you just went through a relationship ending
  • Injuring yourself with industrial machinery

These all carry a pattern in them.  It doesn’t take a genius to say; well if I die – I can’t sit around and say – well next time I won’t be so careless or reckless or risk taking or next time I will be more careful or conservative…


So how is it?  Why is is that we care about learning by trial and error yet that looks like a terrible idea, leading to death and bad decisions over and over.  I propose a maxim:

You want to make mistakes that are bad enough that you learn from them, but not bad enough that they kill you.

To look back at the early examples while applying this maxim.  Examples that might teach you to be careful without killing you:

  • Losing a few hundred dollars on a sure bet.
  • Breaking your leg in a recklessly fun car accident
  • Getting piss-blind drunk and making a fool of yourself when you just went through a relationship ending
  • injuring yourself with hand tools (that don’t nearly spin as fast as industrial ones)

So how do we have the right kind of mistakes and not the wrong ones?  I don’t really know, but for starters I would say doing less dangerous behaviours and more safe-risk behaviours


It’s very hard to know what it feels like from the inside of a bad risk taking behaviour VS an okay risk taking behaviour.  It might be hard but I suggest classifying risks into multiple categories, and permitting yourself to go through risks that are safe, while restricting risks that are dangerous.  Risks that are safe:

  • low bets, in the few dollars, less than a handful of times a week
  • running late
  • trying new foods
  • trying new hobbies
  • doing activities slightly outside of your comfort zone
  • asking difficult questions
  • trying tasks that are a little difficult or new
  • working hard
  • sleeping a bit less

Dangerous risks might include:

  • big bets
  • signing up for dangerous activities
  • extreme sports
  • changing your entire diet, or fasting without planning or warning or knowing what you are doing.
  • having unprotected sex
  • taking drugs without experience or knowledge about what they will do
  • not sleeping
  • getting into fights with strangers
  • using powerful tools or equipment (industrial anything, or anything that spins very fast)
  • getting very very drunk
  • doing anything at high speeds – i.e. speeding in a car, boat or plane.
  • Using sharp objects while not concentrating

Near miss

Also in this category of risky things is near-misses.  We don’t always have accidents bad enough to register as “dangerous” or “deadly”, but we still want to learn from them.  This might involve being extra attentive to anything that might be noticed as a near miss.  I can’t tell you how to do that (not today in this post, but maybe in the future).


As a reminder again:

You want to make mistakes that are bad enough that you learn from them, but not bad enough that they kill you.


Meta: this took less than an hour to write.

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Good and bad ways to do Comfort Zone Expansion (CoZE)

From the CFAR syallabus, (which may in time change) is a suggestion to take actions that put you outside of your comfort zone even though you might not want to.  Their rational is something along the lines of encouraging you to not settle on a local maxima (your current comfort zone) but instead strive for the true greater and more awesome maxima of other experiences you are currently avoiding because they are outside your comfort zone.

Without giving away their full process, it looks something like:

  • Choose an experience that you’d like to explore
  • Devise an experiment
  • Actually try it
  • Digest the experience

I have previously disagreed with leaving your comfort zone, and advised that there is a way to stay in your comfort zone but still make it larger.  I said:


I would start with evaluating and defining/understanding your comfort zone. I think the best way to explain this is to use a worked example: “going to a bar”

Things about bars that put me outside my comfort zone:

  • Alcohol
  • loud noises
  • strangers
  • uncomfortable seats
  • public places
  • dim lights
  • not able to have valuable conversations with people
  • bad public transport so getting home is difficult
  • messes with my sleep cycle
  • being alone (not having friends there)
  • talking to strangers
  • pubs are expensive
  • fear of having bad conversations
  • fear of getting in a bar fight
  • don’t care for sport on tv’s around bars
  • don’t like being near gambling machines in bars
  • don’t like bar food
  • don’t know what to wear
  • don’t feel comfortable dancing
  • people smoking

This^ is a long list; not all of these apply to me, but each problem may have various solutions:

  • loud noises – wear earplugs, find a bar without loud music playing,
  • don’t like bar food – eat elsewhere first
  • messes with sleep cycle – set alarms or systems that you follow, pre-committing to the decision to leave in time for your normal sleep schedule. Go to lunch-time bars, not lat night bars.
  • talking to strangers – take friends, make sure to go with them, ask friends to help you make more friends. etc.

Eventually most of these have a solution. At the end of running through your list of things, if you can’t solve enough of them, or the solutions are not good enough, you can consider attacking the goal you set out to do.

Why do I want to go to a bar? Is there a better way to achieve that desire?

Reasons to go to a bar:

  • all my friends seem to like it
  • meet new people
  • my favourite band is playing
  • I like pub trivia etc.

These reasons have solutions of their own.

  • favourite band – see if they are playing at other venues.
  • meet new people – try meetups, try local groups.
  • friends like it – do other things with friends, i.e. dinner, board games evening. (get better friends/friends you share mutual interests with)

at the end of the thought exercise you should either be happy to do the thing, or happy preferring not doing the thing. These are the win-states of considering setting out to do X.

And further:

Depends on what is limiting your comfort zone and whether that limit is reasonable or unreasonable. I can’t say for your life whether a limit is reasonable or unreasonable, and to do so yourself might involve comparing your life to the lives of other people and evaluating whether you are fulfilled, happy or missing out on something that other people have.

For example – I am definitely missing out on sky-diving by not sky-diving, but I don’t really feel like I want to do it. Personal choice and all; not really missing out on something by not being comfortable doing it.

A comfort zone has a purpose, as does stereotypes, social structures, religion, fear, disgust, pain, monogamy, straw man arguments, and many more.

To blindly fight existing systems is as bad as to follow them to the letter. I believe in questioning and evaluating before stepping forward. (System 2 over system 1 in this case – thinking over automated)

To take the bar example again: If the reason why I don’t like bars is they are too loud; going to more bars may do several things:

  • cause hearing loss
  • cause me to be even more annoyed by loud bars
  • cause me to get used to it
  • cause me to be more often in an uncomfortable state of being possibly all at once.

If on the other hand I go in search of non-loud bars I can maintain a comfort zone of not too loud things while doing the task (going to a bar) its also a win-state, and I avoid the uncomfortable experience of gradually getting used to it.


The above exercise essentially does a goal-factoring (also a CFAR technique) on what you want to do that is outside your comfort zone, why you want to do it – is there a better way to achieve those same goals? etc.  I find comfort zone to usually be a good thing.  And exist for a reason.  But YMMV, remember Applicable advice and it’s addendum as well as this addon to Scott’s piece on the same topic.  If you find yourself with a restrictive comfort zone that does not yield to analysis, then perhaps overcoming the activation energy and using willpower to push yourself into that new situation will be a better idea than doing the classic think-then-act behaviour.  I know that in game and Pick up, there is a piece of advice along the lines of the 3 second rule, if you see someone, and you want to approach – you have to approach and say something to them within 3 seconds.  This advice works on a very specific type of approach anxiety where your barrier of “what will they think of me?” can be overcome by approaching them before you have time to have that thought.  You might also call it a no johns rule.  But using that advice severely depends on exactly what the nature of your problem is.

And finally have you tried solving the problem.


Meta: this took under an hour to write, and I mostly needed it so I could refer to it in another post about making mistakes.

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Good and bad ways to do Comfort Zone Expansion (CoZE)

From the CFAR syallabus, (which may in time change) is a suggestion to take actions that put you outside of your comfort zone even though you might not want to.  Their rational is something along the lines of encouraging you to not settle on a local maxima (your current comfort zone) but instead strive for the true greater and more awesome maxima of other experiences you are currently avoiding because they are outside your comfort zone.

Without giving away their full process, it looks something like:

  • Choose an experience that you’d like to explore
  • Devise an experiment
  • Actually try it
  • Digest the experience

I have previously disagreed with leaving your comfort zone, and advised that there is a way to stay in your comfort zone but still make it larger.  I said:


I would start with evaluating and defining/understanding your comfort zone. I think the best way to explain this is to use a worked example: “going to a bar”

Things about bars that put me outside my comfort zone:

  • Alcohol
  • loud noises
  • strangers
  • uncomfortable seats
  • public places
  • dim lights
  • not able to have valuable conversations with people
  • bad public transport so getting home is difficult
  • messes with my sleep cycle
  • being alone (not having friends there)
  • talking to strangers
  • pubs are expensive
  • fear of having bad conversations
  • fear of getting in a bar fight
  • don’t care for sport on tv’s around bars
  • don’t like being near gambling machines in bars
  • don’t like bar food
  • don’t know what to wear
  • don’t feel comfortable dancing
  • people smoking

This^ is a long list; not all of these apply to me, but each problem may have various solutions:

  • loud noises – wear earplugs, find a bar without loud music playing,
  • don’t like bar food – eat elsewhere first
  • messes with sleep cycle – set alarms or systems that you follow, pre-committing to the decision to leave in time for your normal sleep schedule. Go to lunch-time bars, not lat night bars.
  • talking to strangers – take friends, make sure to go with them, ask friends to help you make more friends. etc.

Eventually most of these have a solution. At the end of running through your list of things, if you can’t solve enough of them, or the solutions are not good enough, you can consider attacking the goal you set out to do.

Why do I want to go to a bar? Is there a better way to achieve that desire?

Reasons to go to a bar:

  • all my friends seem to like it
  • meet new people
  • my favourite band is playing
  • I like pub trivia etc.

These reasons have solutions of their own.

  • favourite band – see if they are playing at other venues.
  • meet new people – try meetups, try local groups.
  • friends like it – do other things with friends, i.e. dinner, board games evening. (get better friends/friends you share mutual interests with)

at the end of the thought exercise you should either be happy to do the thing, or happy preferring not doing the thing. These are the win-states of considering setting out to do X.

And further:

Depends on what is limiting your comfort zone and whether that limit is reasonable or unreasonable. I can’t say for your life whether a limit is reasonable or unreasonable, and to do so yourself might involve comparing your life to the lives of other people and evaluating whether you are fulfilled, happy or missing out on something that other people have.

For example – I am definitely missing out on sky-diving by not sky-diving, but I don’t really feel like I want to do it. Personal choice and all; not really missing out on something by not being comfortable doing it.

A comfort zone has a purpose, as does stereotypes, social structures, religion, fear, disgust, pain, monogamy, straw man arguments, and many more.

To blindly fight existing systems is as bad as to follow them to the letter. I believe in questioning and evaluating before stepping forward. (System 2 over system 1 in this case – thinking over automated)

To take the bar example again: If the reason why I don’t like bars is they are too loud; going to more bars may do several things:

  • cause hearing loss
  • cause me to be even more annoyed by loud bars
  • cause me to get used to it
  • cause me to be more often in an uncomfortable state of being possibly all at once.

If on the other hand I go in search of non-loud bars I can maintain a comfort zone of not too loud things while doing the task (going to a bar) its also a win-state, and I avoid the uncomfortable experience of gradually getting used to it.


The above exercise essentially does a goal-factoring (also a CFAR technique) on what you want to do that is outside your comfort zone, why you want to do it – is there a better way to achieve those same goals? etc.  I find comfort zone to usually be a good thing.  And exist for a reason.  But YMMV, remember Applicable advice and it’s addendum as well as this addon to Scott’s piece on the same topic.  If you find yourself with a restrictive comfort zone that does not yield to analysis, then perhaps overcoming the activation energy and using willpower to push yourself into that new situation will be a better idea than doing the classic think-then-act behaviour.  I know that in game and Pick up, there is a piece of advice along the lines of the 3 second rule, if you see someone, and you want to approach – you have to approach and say something to them within 3 seconds.  This advice works on a very specific type of approach anxiety where your barrier of “what will they think of me?” can be overcome by approaching them before you have time to have that thought.  You might also call it a no johns rule.  But using that advice severely depends on exactly what the nature of your problem is.

And finally have you tried solving the problem.


Meta: this took under an hour to write, and I mostly needed it so I could refer to it in another post about making mistakes.

Posted in models of thinking, self-improvement | Leave a comment

Qualia of the problem

I have a generic rant about the qualia of the problem.  It goes something like this:

Qualia are a philosophical concept, they refer to subjective personal experience that can not be described, they are personally experienced and cannot be communicated.  Almost sad, how we can never truly share the same experience of us experiencing that sunset, of course we can show someone, or we can tell someone, but we can never directly impart the qualia of experiencing that thing.

With regard to problems and problem solving – I don’t smoke, and I have never gone through the process of trying to quite smoking, but if I did there would be a reason that I was originally smoking and a reason I wanted to quit.  With that in mind, I can propose suggestions for you to the generic, “quit smoking” and what I know about the problem, but even if I had quit myself, I would have probably had a completely different experience of quitting and what was stopping me and what I had to overcome in order to succeed in that goal.

Even if I quit smoking for “health reasons” and you are quitting smoking for “health reasons” those health reasons might not be the same health reasons.

We are humans, we are fallible and we like to summarise when we describe or situation to others.  We do this because it’s easier to summarise than it is to go into detail.  When it comes to problem solving – summarising does the opposite of being helpful, in fact it tends to hide the nature of problems and often obscure us from the solutions.  Einstein said, “if I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes figuring out what the problem is and 5 minutes solving it”

When I ask you what the qualia are of your problem, yes, qualia are unsharable but all the same – I want you to go into details about what the goal is, what is in the way and what it feels like from the inside, trying to quit smoking or choosing to smoke anyway.  And even though some days you will choose to keep smoking, you can still quit smoking even though you will some days choose to keep smoking.  It’s almost like two minds fighting for control of the body.

When you go into details about the health problems, it needs to be abundantly clear that last week you walked up a set of stairs with some friends and you couldn’t keep up and you realised that being able to breathe was more important than smoking, and so you want to quit because you can feel what it’s like to be on one of those machines that breathe for you and it’s not pretty.

Or is it about looking hot for summer?  Because you look in the mirror and think – one of these days I have to start paying attention to my body and making it look like how I want it to look.  Which qualia are your qualia?  And now that we know which qualia are yours, what exactly is the problem related to those quales and how do we fix it?

I have said this rant or a variant of this rant so many times that I can repeat it and explain it on many problem areas.

The thing to realise is that to solve a problem you need to delve into what exactly it feels like to have that problem and usually when you are solving the problem is at a different time to when you are having the problem which means you need to understand the problem abundantly and from a distance in order to solve it.


Try this

  • What is the problem?
  • When was the last time it happened, describe it?
  • What did it feel like to be having the problem?
  • What have you tried to fix the problem?  What happened? Did it work?  Why would it have worked, why won’t it work in the future?
  • What is the most obvious solution?  Why does it usually work for other people?  Why will it work this time?  Why won’t it work?  Can you do something about that to make it actually work?
  • Describe what you were thinking when you were going through the problem?

Meta: this took 1 hour to write.

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Burn rates

Burn rate is a term used to describe a startup that is not yet making more money than it spends.  It makes a lot of sense if you can imagine a company like Uber thinking, hmm – we need users, but to get users we need a fully set up ride-sharing system, and to have enough money to build and maintain a fully set up ride-share system we need a fully set up ride sharing system to generate enough revenue to pay for the development alone.

If you are a small business (not a startup usually) you might think – is there a market here?  Does anyone actually want to buy icecream, from me, on this corner in the middle of nowhere.  So you might start by making a batch, selling to your friends, going to a local market for a few months, making sure people want your product, opening a small online store, processing orders for delivery, then eventually open a shop front, then another THEN TAKE OVER THE WORLD.

You might call this strategy a start small; proven market, grow to meet demand, strategy.

In contrast – thinking like a growth-fuelled startup – if we put together a team of coders and instead of building up from small, launch an Uber with an MVP that appeals to your audience, already working and growing from there…  while burning through a pile of cash, desperately trying to break even and turn big bucks of profit…


Burn rates apply to your own personal life and finances too.  the You Need A Budget website, as well as a few books on personal finance (that after a while start to all overlap), say similar things, think of your bank account as a runway, think of your daily, weekly and monthly spends as your speed down that runway.  The bigger your bank (or savings) budget, the longer the runway is.

Remembering of course that as a startup or a business you want to be travelling fast enough to take off (you want your finances to carry you for your whole life, or for the business to start lifting itself).  For your personal life, if you get sick for a month, if you break a leg and can’t go to work – how long of a runway do you have before you crash on a friends couch because you ran out of money to pay rent…  If you’ve never thought about this, maybe you don’t need to.  Or maybe you have never yet needed to, and that time will come when you will need to be prepared for the next black swan.

The point is that burn rates exist as a concept, and your runway is only so long before the banks start foreclosing on your house and you are pawning your measly possessions to scrape by.


Learning from this

I know I don’t ever take actions without instructions.  So here they are:

  1. Look at your bank account.
  2. Work out how much comes in each month (if you get paid in a regular cycle, use this, don’t bother calculating things right now)
  3. Work out how much goes out each month (or other cycle)
  4. If the money/savings is going down STOP AND FIX THIS RIGHT AWAY.  This short instruction set will not tell you how, google it.
  5. If the money is going up, work out how many months (or cycles) ahead you are.  So if you were removed from your ability to earn, but still had to pay all your expenses up until you ran out of money – how much time would you have to burn?
  6. Are you okay with that length of burn?  Some industries are easy to get a job in, some are harder.  A highly specialised programmer might have a high paid job but be out of work for six months if they get laid off.
  7. Contemplate future major spending – i.e. owning a phone, computer, car, house, investments, or other large lump sums.  How long until you can afford both that large expense and a few cycles of burn?
  8. If a relative or friend called you tomorrow to borrow a few thousand dollars, would you still have enough burn?

This exercise in checking out your finances does not tell you how to fix them, but it can hopefully make you ask the question, “am I okay with the current state of affairs?”


Meta: this took less than an hour to write.

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Addendum to: “should you reverse any advice you

Should You Reverse Any Advice You Hear?

This post relates to the above SSC post.  Scott says:

That lots of the advice people give is useful for some people, but that the opposite advice is useful for other people.

For example, “You need to stop being so hard on yourself, remember you are your own worst critic” versus “Stop making excuses for yourself, you will never be able to change until you admit you’ve hit bottom.”

Or “You need to remember that the government can’t solve all problems and that some regulations are counterproductive” versus “You need to remember that the free market can’t solve all problems and that some regulations are necessary.”

Or “You need to pay more attention to your diet or you’ll end up very unhealthy” versus “You need to pay less attention to your weight or you’ll end up in a spiral of shame and self-loathing and at risk of eating disorders.”

Or “Follow your dreams, you don’t want to be working forever at a job you hate”, versus “Your dream of becoming a professional cosplayer may not be the best way to ensure a secure future for your family, go into petroleum engineering instead.”

Or “You need to be more conscious of how your actions in social situations can make other people uncomfortable and violate their boundaries” versus “You need to overcome your social phobia by realizing that most interactions go well and that probably talking to people won’t always make them hate you and cause you to be ostracized forever.”

Or “You need to be less selfish and more considerate of the needs of others” versus “You can’t live for others all the time, you need to remember you deserve to be happy as well.”

When I wrote Applicable advice and it’s addendum, I genuinely had the same problem in mind.  However my solution to the same problem sits as a meta-strategy on his suggestion.  This makes me very happy to know that I quite reasonably agree with him.  I think of it as confirmation that I am travelling in the right direction.  To be clear about this I am going to work through his suggestion and apply my suggestion over the top.


Let’s look at the objectivist example given:

For example, maybe you join the Objectivist movement. You follow lots of Objectivist blogs that give you strong arguments for selfishness, hear lots of anecdotes of people being hurt by excessive altruism, and get exposed to any studies that seem to support the pro-selfishness point of view. You probably end up more selfish than you were before you joined the Objectivists.

Consider two possible interpretations of that result.

First, Objectivism might be a successful support group. People who aren’t selfish enough realize they need more selfishness in their lives, join the Objectivists, and support each other as they work to overcome their inbuilt disposition to ignore their own needs. Gradually they all become psychologically healthier people.

Or second, Objectivism might be a vicious cycle. The people who are already too selfish see an opportunity to be selfish with a halo. They join Objectivism, egg each other on, and become even more selfish still. Meanwhile, the people who could really have benefitted from Objectivism, the people who feel guilted into living for others all the time while ignoring their own needs, are off in some kind of effective charity group, egging each other on to be even more self-destructively altruistic.

What exactly have we done here with a piece of advice like “join the objectivists”?  As I wrote in Applicable advice:

If you take the time to understand why it exists and how it works; you can better take advantage of what it offers.

Understand that if this advice worked for someone there was a way that it worked for that someone. And considering if there is a way to make it work for someone, you can maybe find a way to make it work for you too.

As the example describes, we have an idea of what joining objectivist groups will do to you, we also know who it might work for, and who it might not work for including the obvious failure mode (if you are already too selfish you might be made worse, or be using the group as an excuse to be selfish with a halo).

I find this a stronger strategy than just reversing the advice and seeing if it fits more.  The reason it’s stronger is we would be adding complexity to the model to better explain the observations we have made.  If we don’t know why the advice works for some people, and we can assume our introspective tendencies – the ones that sit in system 2, are biased to tell us the good news about how great we are.  We need something better to determine of we actually are in need of the advice or the reverse advice.

The strategy of “you should reverse any advice you hear and see if it fits”, is missing complexity to help us decide if it is appropriate to be applied or not.  I am suggesting that complexity is in understanding why that advice exists and how it works to push people in the right direction.

I hope this helps tie things together and explain why this model needs more complexity.


Meta: this took 45 minutes to write.

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Schelling points, trajectories and iteration cycles

Schelling points

I have lived in the same suburb of the same city for all of my life.  We have a shopping centre that I know, if I go there for more than an hour – I will bump into someone I know.  I know this because it always happens.  And because it’s a natural collection point for humans.  Humans who need to go shopping for time to time.  This shopping centre is a schelling point for me to bump into people I know.

There are many types of schelling points.  When do we think about resolutions?  What time of year do we naturally contemplate the year, and resolve to do things for a new year?  New year’s eve.

When do we think about getting older?  When we officially increment our age by +1: Our birthdays.

When do we think about death?  At funerals.

When do we think about marriage and getting married?  At weddings.  And to a lesser extent wedding anniversaries.  Or engagement parties.

When do we think about having kids?  When we see other people having kids.  When we meet and spend time with lots of kids.

When do we think about luck?  When something particularly lucky happens like finding a coin on the ground.

These are all schelling points, natural times that we are compelled to think about these things.


Trajectory

Yes I mean the projectile motion trajectory.  When you make a plan and set yourself off in motion you make some assumptions that your trajectory will carry you there.

For example: if I read one page of this textbook a day I will be done in 12 months.  It’s a pretty simple calculation that 365 pages can be read in 12 months at the rate of 1/day.  Looks like it’s going to work.  Except that no plan survives first contact with the enemy.  In the first week you might read two pages a day, and then you might have a bad day and then skip a whole week, then to keep up you want to read 3 pages a day just in case that happens again.  But then you find a particularly easy chapter so you slow down and skip a few days.  When suddenly you find yourself stumped by the next chapter and running 30 pages behind.

Trajectory is a great and powerful concept when paired with Schelling Points.  In this example there was some kind of Schelling point to review progress on the textbook roughly each week, until suddenly (at the end) there wasn’t.  And the trajectory failed.

When you throw a rock in space, if you stop looking at it for a few years, you can expect it to keep going for a really long way.  However we don’t play out our plans and goals in space.  Most of them happen here on earth in a noisy system of all kinds of things that can go wrong.  This is why we want a schelling point.  A point to ask, “how am I going with this”, “am I still traversing the streams at the right speed”, “Is this still my goal?”


Iteration cycles

In startups there is a concept called, fail fast.  What you really want to do is not fail at all, but in lieu of that – what you really want to do is fail after the first week, give up and do something different for the other 51 weeks of the year, rather than spend 52 weeks failing spectacularly at the end.  Spend your other 51 weeks trying again, trying different things and trying not to fail.

An iteration cycle is when you go to the optometrist and they hold up lenses and say, “better or worse” repeatedly for 5 minutes, instead of making you a pair of glassed and then handing them to you and asking you if they are right or wrong.

If you set off at a trajectory of y=2x/day, and review at your schelling point in a year to find you are only at 120x for the total 365 days, that’s a lot less useful and you have a lot less chance of getting there on or near the original trajectory than if you review after a month to find your predicted 60x is in fact 10x and it’s time to figure out a different way to reach that trajectory.


Synthetic Schelling points

So you don’t currently have enough Schelling points?  It’s okay.  Most people don’t.  For starters it might be worth identifying your existing schelling points.  Some examples include:

  • Talking to your mother
  • New year
  • Birthdays
  • End of big assignments or projects
  • “payday”
  • When you buy new clothes (an entire new wardrobe)
  • The onset of seasonal change
  • Big fights with people you care about
  • political events
  • major financial changes, (i.e. buying a house or car, winning a prize)
  • new relationships, ending relationships
  • new job
  • weddings, anniversaries,
  • funerals, death of pets

You may have points here, you may not.  Whether you actually attend a funeral is different to whether you use that opportunity to consider your trajectories (and relevant trajectories to that event).

How frequent Schelling points is too frequent?  Every person will be a bit different.  I propose a test to find out.  Declare and test a Schelling point once a week.  If that’s too often, reduce to once a fortnight, and once a month.  If that’s not often enough – increase.  The other thing to keep in mind is the duration may change over time.  Some iterations will be shorter than others, some will be longer.


Starting a Synthetic Schelling point

To help, here are some seed questions to guide introspection.  They have an overlap with Hamming questions (from CFAR), but are generally known for being the really really important question that you want to have obvious answers to:

  • Am I travelling at the right trajectory?
  • Do I know my goals and do I still feel connected to them?
  • What were some of my biggest achievements?  When is my next one?  Am I heading there at speed?
  • Is my plan working?
  • Can I do the things that I am currently doing in a faster/better way?

Try it and report back.


Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write

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adding and removing complexity from models

I had a really interesting conversation with a guy about modelling information.  what I did when talking to him is in one case insist that his model be made more simple because adding more variation in the model was unhelpful, and then in another case in the same conversation, insist his model be made more complicated to account for the available information that didn’t fit his model.

On reflection I realised that I had applied two opposing forces to models of information and could only vaguely explain why.  With that in mind I decided to work out what was going on.  The following is obvious, but that’s why I am writing it out, so that no one else has to do the obvious thing.


Case where a model should be simplified

This all comes down to what you are measuring or describing.  If you are trying to describe something rather general, like “what impact do number of beach-goers have on the pollution at the beach?”, it’s probably not important what gender, age, race, time spent at the beach or socioeconomic status the beach goers are.  (With the exception of maybe socioeconomic status of the surrounding geopolitical territory), what is important is maybe two pieces of information:

  1. A measure of the number of beach goers
  2. A measure of the pollution

That’s it.  This would be a case for reducing the survey of beach goers down to a counter of beach goers and a daily photo of the remaining state of the beach at the end of the day (which could be compared to other similar photos).  Or even just – 3 photos, one at 9am (start), one at 1pm (peak) and one at 5pm (end).  This model needs no more moving parts.  The day you want to start using historic information to decide how many beach cleaners you want to employ, you can do that from the limited but effective data you have gathered.

Case where a model should have more moving parts added to it.

Let’s continue the same example.  You have 3 photos of each day, but sometimes the 1pm photo is deserted.  Nearly no one is at the beach, and you wonder why.  It’s also messing with your predictions because there is still a bit of rubbish at 5pm even though very few people were at the beach.  The model no longer explains the state of the world.  The map is wrong.  But that’s okay.  We can fix it by adding more information.  You notice that most days the model is good, so there might be something going on for the other days which needs a + k factor to the equation (+k is something added in chemistry, in algebra it’s sometimes called a +c as in y=mx+b+c, and physics +x, but generally adding a variable to an equation is common to all science fields).  Some new variable.

Let’s say that being omniscient to our own made up examples we know that the cause is the weather.  On stormy windy rainy days – no one goes to the beach, but some rubbish washes up.  Does this match the data? almost perfectly.  Does this help explain the map?  Yes.  Is it necessary?  That depends on what you are doing with the information.  Maybe it’s significant enough in this scenario that it is necessary.


Second example

The example that came up in conversation was his own internal model that there is fundamentally something different between someone who does exercise, and someone who Doesn’t exercise.  I challenged this model for having too much complexity.  I argue that the model of – there is a hidden and secret moving part between does/doesn’t exercise, is a model that doesn’t describe the world better than a model without that moving part.

The model does something else (and found its way into existence for this reason).  If you find yourself on one side of the model (i.e. the “I don’t exercise”) then you can protect yourself from attributing the failure to exercise to your own inability to do it by declaring that there is a hidden and secret moving part that prevents me from being in the other observable group.  This preserves your non-changing and let’s you get away with it for a longer time.  I know this model because that is what I did.  I held this model very strongly.  And then I went out and searched for the hidden and secret moving part that I could change in order to move myself into the other group.  There was no hidden and secret moving part.  Or if there was I couldn’t find it.  However, I did manage to stop holding the model that there was some hidden and secret moving part, and instead just start exercising more.

In figuring out if this model is real or a made up model to protect your own brain from being critical of itself, start to think of what the world would look like if it were true.  If there was some difference between people who do exercise and people who do not – we might see people clustered in observable groups and never be able to change between them (This is not true because we regularly see people publishing their weight loss journeys, we also regularly see people getting fatter and unhealthier, suggesting that travel in either direction is entirely possible and happens all the time).  If there were something describable it would be as obvious as different species, in fact – thinking evolutionarily – if such a thing existed, it’s likely that it would have significantly shaped the state of the world already to be completely different…  Given that we can’t know for sure, this might not be a very strong argument.

If you got this far – as I did and wondered, so why can’t I be in the other group – I have news for you.  You can.


  • Does this pattern of models with too many moving parts sound familiar to another model you have seen in action?
  • Is there a model that you use that could do with more moving parts?

Meta: this took an hour to write.  If I were to spend more time on it, it would probably be to tighten up the examples and maybe provide more examples.  I am not sure that such time would be useful to you and am interested in if you think it will be useful.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/nxx

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many draft concepts

I create ideas at about the rate of 2 a day, without trying to.  I write at about a rate of 1.5 a day.  Which leaves me always behind.  Even if I write about the best ideas I can think of, some good ones might never be covered.  This is an effort to draft out a good stack of them so that maybe it can help me not have to write them all out, by better defining which ones are the good ones and which ones are a bit more useless.

With that in mind, in no particular order – a list of unwritten posts:


From my old table of contents

Goals of your lesswrong group – As a guided/workthrough exercise in deciding why the group exists and what it should do.  Help people work out what they want out of it (do people know)? setting goals, doing something particularly interesting or routine, having fun, changing your mind, being activists in the world around you.  Whatever the reasons you care about, work them out and move towards them.  Nothing particularly groundbreaking in the process here.  Sit down with the group with pens and paper, maybe run a resolve cycle, maybe talk about ideas and settle on a few, then decide how to carry them out.  Relevant links: Sydney meetup,  group resources (estimate 2hrs to write)

Goals interrogation + Goal levels – Goal interrogation is about asking <is this thing I want to do actually a goal of mine> and <is my current plan the best way to achieve that>, goal levels are something out of Sydney Lesswrong that help you have mutual long term goals and supporting short term goal.  There are 3 main levels, Dream, Year, Daily (or approximate) you want dream goals like going to the moon, you want yearly goals like getting another year further in your degree and you want daily goals like studying today that contribute to the upper level goals.  Any time you are feeling lost you can look at the guide you set out for yourself and use it to direct you. (3hrs)

How to human – A zero to human guide. A guide for basic functionality of a humanoid system. Something of a conglomeration of maslow, mental health, so you feel like shit and system thinking.  Am I conscious?Am I breathing? Am I bleeding or injured (major or minor)? Am I falling or otherwise in danger and about to cause the earlier questions to return false?  Do I know where I am?  Am I safe?  Do I need to relieve myself (or other bodily functions, i.e. itchy)?  Have I had enough water? sleep? food?  Is my mind altered (alcohol or other drugs)?  Am I stuck with sensory input I can’t control (noise, smells, things touching me)?  Am I too hot or too cold?  Is my environment too hot or too cold?  Or unstable?  Am I with people or alone? Is this okay?  Am I clean (showered, teeth, other personal cleaning rituals)?  Have I had some sunlight and fresh air in the past few days?  Have I had too much sunlight or wind in the past few days?  Do I feel stressed?  Okay?  Happy?  Worried?  Suspicious?  Scared? Was I doing something?  What am I doing?  do I want to be doing something else?  Am I being watched (is that okay?)?  Have I interacted with humans in the past 24 hours?  Have I had alone time in the past 24 hours?  Do I have any existing conditions I can run a check on – i.e. depression?  Are my valuables secure?  Are the people I care about safe?  (4hrs)

List of common strategies for getting shit done – things like scheduling/allocating time, pomodoros, committing to things externally, complice, beeminder, other trackers. (4hrs)

List of superpowers and kryptonites – when asking the question “what are my superpowers?” and “what are my kryptonites?”. Knowledge is power; working with your powers and working out how to avoid your kryptonites is a method to improve yourself.  What are you really good at, and what do you absolutely suck at and would be better delegating to other people.  The more you know about yourself, the more you can do the right thing by your powers or weaknesses and save yourself troubles.

List of effective behaviours – small life-improving habits that add together to make awesomeness from nothing. And how to pick them up.  Short list: toothbrush in the shower, scales in front of the  fridge, healthy food in the most accessible position in the fridge, make the unhealthy stuff a little more inacessible, keep some clocks fast – i.e. the clock in your car (so you get there early),  prepare for expected barriers ahead of time (i.e. packing the gym bag and leaving it at the door), and more.

Stress prevention checklist – feeling off? You want to have already outsourced the hard work for “things I should check on about myself” to your past self. Make it easier for future you. Especially in the times that you might be vulnerable.  Generate a list of things that you want to check are working correctly.  i.e. did I drink today?  Did I do my regular exercise?  Did I take my medication?  Have I run late today?  Do I have my work under control?

Make it easier for future you. Especially in the times that you might be vulnerable. – as its own post in curtailing bad habits that you can expect to happen when you are compromised.  inspired by candy-bar moments and turning them into carrot-moments or other more productive things.  This applies beyond diet, and might involve turning TV-hour into book-hour (for other tasks you want to do instead of tasks you automatically do)

A p=np approach to learning – Sometimes you have to learn things the long way; but sometimes there is a short cut. Where you could say, “I wish someone had just taken me on the easy path early on”. It’s not a perfect idea; but start looking for the shortcuts where you might be saying “I wish someone had told me sooner”. Of course the answer is, “but I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway” which is something that can be worked on as well. (2hrs)

Rationalists guide to dating – Attraction. Relationships. Doing things with a known preference. Don’t like unintelligent people? Don’t try to date them. Think first; then act – and iteratively experiment; an exercise in thinking hard about things before trying trial-and-error on the world. Think about places where you might meet the kinds of people you want to meet, then use strategies that go there instead of strategies that flop in the general direction of progress.  (half written)

Training inherent powers (weights, temperatures, smells, estimation powers) – practice makes perfect right? Imagine if you knew the temperature always, the weight of things by lifting them, the composition of foods by tasting them, the distance between things without measuring. How can we train these, how can we improve.  Probably not inherently useful to life, but fun to train your system 1! (2hrs)

Strike to the heart of the question. The strongest one; not the one you want to defeat – Steelman not Strawman. Don’t ask “how do I win at the question”; ask, “am I giving the best answer to the best question I can give”.  More poetic than anything else – this post would enumerate the feelings of victory and what not to feel victorious about, as well as trying to feel what it’s like to be on the other side of the discussion to yourself, frustratingly trying to get a point across while a point is being flung at yourself. (2hrs)

How to approach a new problem – similar to the “How to solve X” post.  But considerations for working backwards from a wicked problem, as well as trying “The least bad solution I know of”, Murphy-jitsu, and known solutions to similar problems.  Step 0. I notice I am approaching a problem.

Turning Stimming into a flourish – For autists, to make a presentability out of a flaw.

How to manage time – estimating the length of future tasks (and more), covered in notch system, and do tasks in a different order.  But presented on it’s own.

Spices – Adventures in sensory experience land.  I ran an event of spice-smelling/guessing for a group of 30 people.  I wrote several documents in the process about spices and how to run the event.  I want to publish these.  As an exercise – it’s a fun game of guess-the-spice.

Wing it VS Plan – All of the what, why, who, and what you should do of the two.  Some people seem to be the kind of person who is always just winging it.  In contrast, some people make ridiculously complicated plans that work.  Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle.  I suggest that the more of a planner you can be the better because you can always fall back on winging it, and you probably will.  But if you don’t have a plan and are already winging it – you can’t fall back on the other option.  This concept came to me while playing ingress, which encourages you to plan your actions before you make them.

On-stage bias – The changes we make when we go onto a stage include extra makeup to adjust for the bright lights, and speaking louder to adjust for the audience which is far away. When we consider the rest of our lives, maybe we want to appear specifically X (i.e, confident, friendly) so we should change ourselves to suit the natural skews in how we present based on the “stage” we are appearing on.  appear as the person you want to appear as, not the person you naturally appear as.

Creating a workspace – considerations when thinking about a “place” of work, including desk, screen, surrounding distractions, and basically any factors that come into it.  Similar to how the very long list of sleep maintenance suggestions covers environmental factors in your sleep environment but for a workspace.


Posts added to the list since then

Doing a cost|benefit analysis – This is something we rely on when enumerating the options and choices ahead of us, but something I have never explicitly looked into.  Some costs that can get overlooked include: Time, Money, Energy, Emotions, Space, Clutter, Distraction/Attention, Memory, Side effects, and probably more.  I’d like to see a How to X guide for CBA. (wikipedia)

Extinction learning at home – A cross between intermittent reward (the worst kind of addiction), and what we know about extinguishing it.  Then applying that to “convincing” yourself to extinguish bad habits by experiential learning.  Uses the CFAR internal Double Crux technique, precommit yourself to a challenge, for example – “If I scroll through 20 facebook posts in a row and they are all not worth my time, I will be convinced that I should spend less time on facebook because it’s not worth my time”  Adjust 20 to whatever position your double crux believes to be true, then run a test and iterate.  You have to genuinely agree with the premise before running the test.  This can work for a number of committed habits which you want to extinguish.  (new idea as at the writing of this post)

How to write a dating ad – A suggestion to include information that is easy to ask questions about (this is hard).  For example; don’t write, “I like camping”, write “I like hiking overnight with my dog”, giving away details in a way that makes them worth inquiring about.  The same reason applies to why writing “I’m a great guy” is really not going to get people to believe you, as opposed to demonstrating the claim. (show, don’t tell)

How to give yourself aversions – an investigation into aversive actions and potentially how to avoid collecting them when you have a better understanding of how they happen.  (I have not done the research and will need to do that before publishing the post)

How to give someone else an aversion – similar to above, we know we can work differently to other people, and at the intersection of that is a misunderstanding that can leave people uncomfortable.

Lists – Creating lists is a great thing, currently in draft – some considerations about what lists are, what they do, what they are used for, what they can be used for, where they come in handy, and the suggestion that you should use lists more. (also some digital list-keeping solutions)

Choice to remember the details – this stems from choosing to remember names, a point in the conversation where people sometimes tune out.  As a mindfulness concept you can choose to remember the details. (short article, not exactly sure why I wanted to write about this)

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.

whatisaproblem

How to/not attend a meetup – for anyone who has never been to a meetup, and anyone who wants the good tips on etiquette for being the new guy in a room of friends.  First meetup: shut up and listen, try not to be too much of an impact on the existing meetup group or you might misunderstand the culture.

Noticing the world, Repercussions and taking advantage of them – There are regularly world events that I notice.  Things like the olympics, Pokemon go coming out, the (recent) spaceX rocket failure.  I try to notice when big events happen and try to think about how to take advantage of the event or the repercussions caused by that event.  Motivated to think not only about all the olympians (and the fuss leading up to the olympics), but all the people at home who signed up to a gym because of the publicity of the competitive sport.  If only I could get in on the profit of gym signups…

leastgood but only solution I know of – So you know of a solution, but it’s rubbish.  Or probably is.  Also you have no better solutions.  Treat this solution as the best solution you have (because it is) and start implementing it, as you do that – keep looking for other solutions.  But at least you have a solution to work with!

Self-management thoughts – When you ask yourself, “am I making progress?”, “do I want to be in this conversation?” and other self management thoughts.  And an investigation into them – it’s a CFAR technique but their writing on the topic is brief.  (needs research)

instrumental supply-hoarding behaviour – A discussion about the benefits of hoarding supplies for future use.  Covering also – what supplies are not a good idea to store, and what supplies are.  Maybe this will be useful for people who store things for later days, and hopefully help to consolidate and add some purposefulness to their process.

list of sub groups that I have tried – Before running my local lesswrong group I partook in a great deal of other groups.  This was meant as a list with comments on each group.

If you have nothing to do – make better tools for use when real work comes along – This was probably going to be a poetic style motivation post about exactly what the title suggests.  Be Prepared.

what other people are good at (as support) – When reaching out for support, some people will be good at things that other people are not.  For example – emotional support, time to spend on each other, ideas for solving your problems.  Different people might be better or worse than others.  Thinking about this can make your strategies towards solving your problems a bit easier to manage.  Knowing what works and what does not work, or what you can reliably expect when you reach out for support from some people – is going to supercharge your fulfilment of those needs.

Focusing – An already written guide to Eugine Gendlin’s focusing technique.  That needs polishing before publishing.  The short form: treat your system 1 as a very powerful machine that understands your problems and their solutions more than you do; use your system 2 to ask it questions and see what it returns.

Rewrite: how to become a 1000 year old vampire – I got as far as breaking down this post and got stuck at draft form before rewriting.  Might take another stab at it soon.

Should you tell people your goals? This thread in a post.  In summary: It depends on the environment, the wrong environment is actually demotivational, the right environment is extra motivational.


Meta: this took around 4 hours to write up.  Which is ridiculous.  I noticed a substantial number of breaks being taken – not sure if that relates to the difficulty of creating so many summaries or just me today.  Still.  This experiment might help my future writing focus/direction so I figured I would try it out.

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