Open Thread 96.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. As the off-weekend thread, this is culture-war-free, so please try try to avoid overly controversial topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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417 Responses to Open Thread 96.5

  1. bean says:

    Naval Gazing finishes its look at battleship propulsion this week with a detailed examination of Iowa’s plant.

    • bean says:

      And a special analysis of Putin’s announcement last week. It was written rather quickly, but covers my main responses to the various doommongers.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Q: So the Iskander is still going to use a ballistic flight path and not a typical cruise missile flight path, right?
        Also, Wiki puts the top speed of the Iskander at about Mach 6. What’s the reason for the discrepancy?

        Also, what IS the top speed that a SM-3 could reasonably expect to intercept? I am reading from the Drive that the new model should have good abilities against IRBMs and possibly even intercept ICBMs in some scenarios, so I imagine it’s going to be more than capable of handling an Iskander.

        • bean says:

          So the Iskander is still going to use a ballistic flight path and not a typical cruise missile flight path, right?

          I think it’s a relatively low-trajectory ballistic missile, but it’s definitely not thrusting the whole way, which pretty much rules out a cruise trajectory.

          Also, Wiki puts the top speed of the Iskander at about Mach 6. What’s the reason for the discrepancy?

          That’s after it maneuvers to drop straight on top of the target. It basically has to stop going forward to do that. I was pointing out that by their own numbers, it’s not so hard to intercept.

          Also, what IS the top speed that a SM-3 could reasonably expect to intercept? I am reading from the Drive that the new model should have good abilities against IRBMs and possibly even intercept ICBMs in some scenarios, so I imagine it’s going to be more than capable of handling an Iskander.

          Hard numbers are obviously classified, but I’d put Iskander well within SM-3 envelope, and as a rough estimate assume it’s probably good against something of the same speed, which is 4.5 km/s for the Block II.

  2. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    A couple of years ago, I came across the website of the Church of Reality, who follow the motto “If it’s real, we believe in it.”. I haven’t heard much of them since then. The whole idea seemed charming, the stuff on their website reasonably well thought-out. Since their attitude seems to be a pretty good match with the rationalist movement, I was wondering if anyone here has had contact with them, what your opinion of them is, and if anyone knows if the Church is still active or effectively defunct.

    • christhenottopher says:

      Well given their forum and wiki links are dead, and that google results with anything recent seem to be unrelated to that organization, I’d say this organization is dead as it can be. Perusing their site, I can’t really say I’m surprised.

      Secular religions like this very often just strike me as gratuitously missing the point. That which divides the religious from the atheistic is at it’s most fundamental NOT the question of the literal existence of sentient beings who run or created the universe. If a voice spoke from the sky, caused the sun to stand still, and declared it was YWH, then provided strong scientific evidence it could and did cause all the miracles of the Old and New Testaments, and that it could and does upload our consciousnesses after death into either paradise or hell, atheists would call themselves Christians. But would they be religious believers? I’d say no, because what defines religious belief is belief in truths beyond that which can be accessed by human reason. In that regard, the “Church of Reality” is following an explicitly anti-religion ideology. And in this it was doomed to fail.

      Trying to form a social club around an epistemology is possible (see less wrong/SSC meetups in areas with sufficient critical masses…aka not where I live). But to get what religion provides is a much more complex process than “get a tax exempt status from the IRS.” And having beliefs that are explicitly beyond the capacity of empirical testing or rational thinking to justify is probably part of that. Hence why calling a group dedicated to believing in nothing except that which holds up to scientific testing a church seems kind of misguided.

      • Well... says:

        Tangent, sorry… I’ve never seen anyone vowellessly spell the Hebrews’ God’s transliterated name as YWH before. Is that a thing? If so, the etymological path for it would be interesting:

        God’s name in the Torah is spelled יהוה (yud heh vuv heh) — no vowels or punctuation — which transliterates in English to YHVH. We don’t know how it’s really pronounced; not only do we not know which vowel sounds to make, but each of the three Hebrew consonants involved can have totally different sounds too, based on what vowels accompany them. This is why you hear several of versions of His name spoken, like “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” or “Yehovah” and probably a few others I have either not accounted for or not heard of. Various scholars claim one or the other pronunciation is likely authentic; some scholars insist we can’t know. For their own reasons, most Jews won’t say any version of YHVH anyway, and just substitute in “Adonai” or “Ha Shem”. So those who do say the word pick one preferred pronunciation or rotate through them. “Yahweh” is one of the most popular ways of saying it. “YWH” brings it one step further and back to the beginning by removing the English vowels and capitalizing the remaining consonants, in imitation of the transliteration from Hebrew! Pretty wild.

        • christhenottopher says:

          I misspelled forgot the other H for YHWH, though tbf I hadn’t really the V was the actual letter. So no I haven’t encountered this particular etymological change, just bad proof-reading.

          Nonetheless a fascinating digression on where that trend comes from!

        • AlphaGamma says:

          In Hebrew texts with vowel markings (such as most modern printed prayer books), the name is marked with the vowels for Adonai in order to remind readers to pronounce it “Adonai”.

          I have heard the claim that the pronunciation “Jehovah” came from pronouncing YHVH with the vowels from Adonai.

          As for the Adonai/HaShem distinction, some Jews think that even “Adonai” is too holy to use except when praying, so will substitute in “HaShem” (lit. “The name”) in conversation or when practising a prayer.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          No, there is no ambiguity of the consonants. IHVH/JHVH first appeared in Latin and is the correct transliteration, if you speak Latin. JHVH in English is the result of the copying the Latin word and pronouncing it like English (or other language evolution), while YHWH is the result of transliterating Hebrew straight into English. You yourself suggested both Jehovah and Yehovah, which have the same vowels, demonstrating that the consonants are not consequences of the vowels!

          AlphaGamma: yes, that is what happened with the vowels; wikipedia gives a lot of details. Jehova comes from interpreting the (Masoretic) Hebrew literally, which included YHWH+eoa.

  3. SteveReilly says:

    Maybe a year ago I read the blog of a Finnish journalist who’s based in the US. He talked about a Canadian comedian who asked Americans ridiculous questions (“Since Canada doesn’t have a coastline, the Canadian government wants to put its ships in US navy bases. Do you think that’s a good idea?”) and got serious responses. He pointed out that ignorance like that isn’t just a US thing and showed that the same thing happened if you asked Finns ridiculous questions (“Since Norway doesn’t have a coastline….”). Does anyone know who the journalist was? I’ve tried googling for it and couldn’t find anything.

    • Garrett says:

      That’s almost certainly Rick Mercer in his “Talking To Americans” series.

    • Aapje says:


      If you ask enough people, you will get dumb answers everywhere, because you have people with very low IQs and/or people with very interest in such facts in any nation.

      It’s pretty meaningless unless it’s also noted what percentage of the people who are asked get it right.

      • SteveReilly says:

        Oh, yeah I agree. I know it’s nothing very meaningful. I was just curious if anyone knew who I meant.

      • quaelegit says:

        Agreed with your point that this does not sound like meaningful data. Another point — a comedy routine would be designed to keep the interviewee off balance to get a funny response, and I could see people going along with this even if they would give the correct answer if you flat out asked them “does [Canada/Norway] have a coastline?”

        On the other hand, I appreciate someone demonstrating rhetorically that it’s not only Americans that are clueless about geography. I can think of many of plausible reasons why that stereotype exists and it wouldn’t surprise me if the average U.S. citizen knew less international geography (even about nearby countries) than the average Finnish citizen, but its nice to temper the stereotype a bit.

        Finally, on the point of apparently smart people who still manage not to know really basic facts, as originally written Sherlock Holmes did not know that the earth orbits the sun!

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Reminds me of the survey where Republicans were asked if they were in favor of bombing Agrabah and a significant portion of respondents were, and a similar percentage of Democrats were in favor of increasing foreign aid there.

        While I happen to know that Agrabah is the fictional setting of Disney’s Aladdin, I’m still in favor of bombing it.

        • Protagoras says:

          I’m surprised there weren’t more Democrats also in favor of bombing Agrabah (it’s a bombing campaign I’d favor, certainly).

        • Nick says:

          I really hope the survey worked a “carpet bombing” pun in there.

          • Maladjusted Poor Ones says:


            I really hope the survey worked a “carpet bombing” pun in there.

            *slow clap*

        • Tarpitz says:

          Didn’t Alan Moore write a moderately well-known graphic novel premised on the inadvisability of bombing states protected by giant blue superhumans?

        • Jaskologist says:

          They had an all-powerful AI nicely contained in a box/lamp and they let it out, the fools. Then they topped it off by making another, clearly evil, and even more powerful one.

          Nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.

          • Tarpitz says:

            It’s. Still. Out.

            I’m deeply unsure as to what the result of orbital nuking would be, but little of the possibility space strikes me as good.

    • Fahundo says:

      Only tangentially related but in the navy I met a guy who was Canadian, who would claim he joined the US navy because he didn’t know Canada had one.

      • dark orchid says:

        I’ve heard it said on an otherwise respectable British news site that Switzerland was having such a cold spell that they had snow all the way down to their coasts.

        The Swiss do actually have a military navy, if you accept their own definition of navy.

        • bean says:

          I’ve heard it said on an otherwise respectable British news site that Switzerland was having such a cold spell that they had snow all the way down to their coasts.

          In fairness to the news site, the Swiss did once manage to win the America’s Cup. They have coasts, just not ones on the ocean. I don’t know if “snow to the coasts” is really unusual or not.

  4. adrienlarere says:

    I may be wrong but I’ve noticed that a couple of rationalists, like Scott Alexander and Julia Galef, have at some point mentioned living with flatmates.
    I don’t know about Julia but I understand that for Scott it may be for polyamorous reasons. Are there other, like the cost of living in the SF Bay Area, or the fact that many in the community work for nonprofits and receive small salaries?

    • John Schilling says:

      I’ve known engineers with six-figure salaries, or near to it, living with non-romantic roommates in communities where nice apartments have three-digit monthly rents. Even group homes in such environments. Not everyone prefers to live alone, and not everyone has a romantic partner.

      • adnll says:

        Yes, that makes sense. Do you think that these preferences are overrepresented in the rationalist community?

        • Well... says:

          I think you (or all of us, through discussion) should preregister a hypothesis, then get the data afterward to see if you Know Your Rationalist.

          • Andrew Simpson says:

            I expect the preference to be overrepresented in the rationalist community. I seem to match up with a bunch of the rationalist demographic/personality traits, but I don’t understand wanting roommates at all, and I am always surprised at how often I see people mention how much they like it in rationalist/EA/lesswrong places.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I’m guessing a lot of self identified rationalists don’t like roommates unless it’s people like them, and then maybe that has a greater appeal than living alone.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        That’s presumably a thinko for four-digit monthly rents.

        • John Schilling says:

          The apartment complex I used to live in, currently advertises one-bedroom (not studio) apartments for $980/month, which is about average for the market. The most expensive, upscale apartment complex in the city charges $1500/month for 1BR, but in most places that will get you three bedrooms and two baths. Three-digit rents are a real thing in places that are not Hip, Cool Cities, and for fairly obvious reasons lots of rocket science can’t be done within easy commuting distance of Hip, Cool Cities.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Right. Sorry– for whatever reason, I thought of three figures as *low* three figures rather than somewhat near four figures.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            An average $1000 apartment is a 1BR and an average $1500 apartment is 3BR?

            That seems like very odd scaling. Fully linear is only for Hip Cool Cities, but still that seems a bit too low.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That seems like very odd scaling. Fully linear is only for Hip Cool Cities, but still that seems a bit too low.

            This sounds about right for where I live. In terms of sq ft going from a 1 bed/1 bath to a 2 bed/2bath might only be a 15-20% increase, and to a 3 bed/2bath only a 50% increase.

          • John Schilling says:

            It would be perfectly linear if we assume that each apartment also has a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom, and that all rooms are equally expensive. Which is close to true, though the 3BR apartments will generally have two bathrooms and a larger living room. Presumably there are economies of scale that account for the residual nonlinearity.

          • watsonbladd says:

            I thought rocket science was done far away from anything so when it goes wrong the insurance payouts are nothing.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I imagine in unhip places, 3BR apartments are probably less popular than 1 and 2 BR; most people wanting 3BR probably want a house and can afford it. Combined with this, the 3BRs which exist are probably older (since developers can see that they don’t rent as well and thus prefer to build 1 and 2BR apartments)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t live with anyone except my girlfriend, but this is due to personal idiosyncracies – given Bay Area rents, living with other people is the obvious best choice if you can stand it at all.

      (also, for some reason a lot of the houses in Berkeley are gigantic and have like 8 bedrooms, so you better have flatmates)

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Curiosity: how many bathrooms and kitchens do these residencies have? Are there private “wings” (sort of like master suites)? How’s the noise, does it travel a lot from room to room?

        My Wife and I have discussed taking parents in at one point, and while I don’t mind having extra people….I really do mind extra people in my kitchen! There’s only one oven and one stovetop.

        • quaelegit says:

          Of the large houses I’ve seen in Berkeley (caveat — weighted towards places Undergrads rent and proximity to campus) all had one kitchen and a bunch of bedrooms. Mostly it was a bunch of old, formerly nice, large single-family homes that were now being rented out to large groups of undergrads. I don’t remember seeing any duplex or “house + cottage” arrangements like I’ve seen in some other parts of the country (there’s a term for this that specifically references in-laws but I’m forgetting it).

  5. Anaxagoras says:

    For a class essentially on experimental analysis, I decided to conduct a parapsychology experiment in which I would track how many times in a 30-second interval people pushed a button, and for people in the experimental group, I would be trying to psychically impel them to push it more (while remaining out of sight to rule out a good chunk of alternative explanations for any causal effect I might observe). To my moderate, surprise, I seem to have gotten significant results, though not in the direction I had hypothesized: instead, I seem to be supernaturally unpersuasive.

    I’m rather skeptical of this, but my analysis seems simple enough that it’s not clear to me how I could be getting things wrong. My sample size wasn’t the largest, but it wasn’t completely tiny. My randomization was certainly good, though it’s possible subject blinding was inadequate. I’ve copied my data below. 1 is experimental and 2 is control. Anyone have any idea what’s going on?


    • Nell says:

      Try to see if it replicates? From my back-of-the-excel-spreadsheet analysis, the error bars on the means of your two distributions are still overlapping quite a bit (looks like its between 2 and 3 sigma in significance). If your means become separated by like, 5 sigma, then I would be more inclined to believe something interesting is happening

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What did you do, a t-test? p=.01
      That is inappropriate. A t-test assumes that the two samples are normally distributed. Your observations are obviously not normal. After log-transforming, a t-test yields p=0.2. This is still inappropriate, but it demonstrates how arbitrary these p-values are. More appropriate is a non-parameteric Kolmogorov-Smirnov test: p=0.06.

      What did you do for blinding? How did you give them instructions? If that was done by a person, that person would need to be blinded.

      • Anaxagoras says:

        I pretty much just did a plain old linear regression using R. I agree the inconsistencies on scale are worrisome. Unfortunately, of all the stuff the class is on, this part was covered the least because it was part of a prerequisite I didn’t take, so I’m honestly kind of hazy on what the proper assumptions are. What is this non-parametric Kolmogorov-Smirnov test?

        I gave the subjects the instructions myself, but I delivered the instructions prior to assigning a subject to a group, so I’m well-blinded for that. Blinding pretty much consisted of me lurking out of sight of the subject while I either think at them or don’t. It’s quite possible I was not as out of sight as we believed (and that the subjects did not point this out), or that despite their not being able to see me, an audible change between the conditions broke the blinding.

    • quanta413 says:

      Your subjects have a huge spread in # of times they press the button; as already mentioned by others, any test assuming your data is normally distributed will not work. You’ve got a little over two orders of magnitude of spread. I would compare fake datasets generated by sampling with replacement from your collected data to your actual data. See what sort of scatter there is in the distributions from this procedure.

      I also second the comment above by Douglas Knight about how you handled blinding, instructions, etc.

      Another issue is that there really isn’t much data here when you’ve got such a huge spread in # of pushes. It’s one thing to flip a coin 20 times (2 possible outcomes). It’s another thing when you’ve got 20 or 30 samples and the number of possible outcomes is on the order of 200.

      Honestly, though? You may have just gotten unlucky and your data will look funky in isolation no matter what. We take into account prior information for a reason.

  6. Michael Pershan says:

    Making sure folks here saw the newest growth mindset piece by Yeager et al, this time a pre-registered blockbuster:

  7. a reader says:

    A propos de Scott’s old post about the Birth Order Effect on intelligence: it seems that there is also a little birth order effect on height:

    The association between height and birth order: evidence from 652,518 Swedish men.

    We used the Swedish Military Conscription Register to analyse adult height among 652,518 men born in 1951-1983 using fixed effects regression models that compare brothers and account for genetic and social factors shared by brothers. We stratified the analysis by family size, parental SEP and birth cohort. We compared models with and without birth weight and birth length controls.
    Unadjusted analyses showed no differences between the first two birth orders but in the fixed effects regression, birth orders 2, 3 and 4 were associated with 0.4, 0.7 and 0.8 cm (p<0.001 for each) shorter height than birth order 1, respectively. The associations were similar in large and small and high-SEP and low-SEP families, but were attenuated in recent cohorts. Birth characteristics did not explain these associations.

    Birth order progressively affects childhood height.

    We studied 312 healthy prepubertal children: 157 first-borns and 155 later-borns. Children were aged 3-10 years, born 37-41 weeks gestation, and of birth weight appropriate-for-gestational-age. Clinical assessments included measurement of children’s height, weight, fasting lipid and hormonal profiles and DEXA-derived body composition.

    First-borns were taller than later-borns (P < 0·0001), even when adjusted for parents' heights (0·31 vs 0·03 SDS; P = 0·001). There was an incremental height decrease with increasing birth order, so that first-borns were taller than second-borns (P < 0·001), who were in turn taller than third-borns (P = 0·007). Further, among sibling pairs both height SDS (P = 0.009) and adjusted height SDS (P < 0.0001) were lower in second- vs first-born children.

    Regarding the birth order effect on intelligence, Jensen said long time ago that “it is probably a biological rather than a social-psychological phenomenon” (and if the same happens to height, maybe he was right about that):

    Order of birth contributes a significant proportion of the variance in mental ability. On the average, first-born children are superior in almost every way, mentally and physically. This is the consistent finding of many studies (Altus, 1966) but as yet the phenomenon remains unexplained. (Rimland [1964, pp. 140-143] has put forth some interesting hypotheses to explain the superiority of the first-born.) Since the first-born effect is found throughout all social classes in many countries and has shown up in studies over the past 80 years (it was first noted by Galton), it is probably a biological rather than a social-psychological phenomenon. It is almost certainly not a genetic effect. (It would tend to make for slightly lower estimates of heritability based on sibling comparisons.) It is one of the sources of environmental variance in ability without any significant postnatal environmental correlates. No way is known for giving later-born children the same advantage. The disadvantage of being later-born, however, is very slight and shows up conspicuously only in the extreme upper tail of the distribution of achievements. For example, there is a disproportionate number of firstborn individuals whose biographies appear in Who’s Who and in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    Could it be that both the little advantage in intelligence and the little advantage in height for firstborns depend of some difference during gestation? In the comments of that post about intelligence and birth order, somebody said something about Omega 3 reserves but didn’t give a concludent proof.

    Both height and IQ raised in most of the world in the last decades. Maybe understanding the “birth order effect” on both could be a key to understand the Flynn effect and the way the environment impacts the IQ.

    • Aapje says:

      Perhaps an immune response. Can mothers can get an increasingly strong immune response for each pregnancy?

    • bassicallyboss says:

      I posted about Omega-3s in that other thread. I don’t remember the exact details, but I shared a study in that thread which showed Omega-3s were depleted after birth, but reached repletion around 10 months or so postpartum. If Omega-3 depletion is the sole mechanism for the birth-order IQ effect, we’d expect a stronger effect for siblings closer together, and virtually no effect for siblings younger by 1 year or more. I haven’t looked for studies that control for age-gap, but they could support or falsify the Omega-3 hypothesis.

      The Omega-3-IQ effect is plausible because Omega-3s are important to building a nervous system, I think, especially parts of the brain. (I’m not a developmental biologist, and it’s been a while since I looked into this, so I’m fuzzy on details.) The height thing is very puzzling, since nearly all increase in height happens after birth and I don’t know how prenatal development could affect it. This news about height revises downward my confidence in the Omega-3 hypothesis for IQ, in favor of a common cause for both of them.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      If the effect in height were due to gestational effects, I would expect the effect to go away when controlling for birth weight and length. I think that the first study says that in their case the effect is attenuated, but remains substantial, but I’m not sure what the number is. Moreover, they quote studies in other times and places with very different results, such as where the eldest is born small but grows big.

  8. Vincent Soderberg says:

    Any slate star codex readers that are schizoid PD? What were it like to realize you had it? Curious after Reading the “concept shaped holes” article

    • maintain says:

      There was a post about it in the last open thread. I don’t know if you saw that.


      >What were it like to realize you had it? Curious after Reading the “concept shaped holes” article

      I asked a friend a while ago why women only want to go on one date with me, and he said that it’s because I’m “emotionally distant”. So apparently there’s this thing called emotional distance, which I have, but that other people don’t have. I immediately thought of “concept shaped holes” too.

      I still don’t really get what not being emotionally distant means.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        So apparently there’s this thing called emotional distance, which I have, but that other people don’t have.

        There’s a different way to frame that. Rather than you having a thing they lack, perhaps you lack a thing (a type of desire) that they have.

        When I was in college I noticed that many of my friends felt a deep need to be in a relationship such that if they weren’t in one they felt the lack – it was painful to them. One alternative to that feeling is merely not feeling such a need/requirement, which from the inside can be a little like having a superpower. It’s like not needing to eat or not needing to sleep. You can be way more productive if you’re not spending all your time worrying about the need for a relationship or pining over the last one!

        But if you need a better name for “emotional distance”, try ambivalence.

        • Nick says:

          Ambivalence actually means “strong both ways.” You want a word for not feeling strongly either way, so something like “indifference” or is more accurate.

          • quaelegit says:

            I agree that “ambivalence” doesn’t seem like a synonym to “emotional distance” as described by maintain, but disagree with your definition of ambivalence.

            My general usage (and the usage I hear a lot) is “feeling both ways” without implying strength of feeling. E.g., “Do you want to get Thai or Italian [food for dinner]?” “Eh, I’m ambivalent” — the second speaker likes both Thai food or Italian food, but might feel more or less strongly about how much they want those options. Usually to me this implies that speaker 2 has a small preference for both (if I were feeling strongly that I wanted Thai and that I wanted Italian I would describe myself as “conflicted”) but it comes down to tone and body language cues to indicate how strong I’m feeling.

            Merriam-Webster and Wiktionary seem to agree:,

          • Nick says:

            I’m just following the etymology here. I agree the word’s common use doesn’t directly refer to the strength of the feelings, but they do have to be more or less equal to be described as ambivalent, or else you’d simply say you’d rather have the one over the other. One usually doesn’t express slight preferences anyway—I think it would be kind of odd if I had almost no interest in either Thai or Italian to say I’m ambivalent to the two.

            Edit: Admit it, quaelegit, you just want to out-pedant the pedant. 😀

          • quaelegit says:

            I think your first reply to Glenn was useful in that if he uses “ambivalence” to refer to this “superpower” he might actually confuse people. I wanted to correct you in case someone got the wrong impression and it lead to confusion for them. I now realize this is a rather silly concern in context and I regret wasting people’s time with this tangent. I tend to overthink this kind of thing…

            (Although thanks for the reminder about valeo 😛 )

          • Nick says:

            Oh, the whole thing is silly. 😀 And yeah, I admit someone could have gotten the wrong idea otherwise from the definition I gave. Etymologies are a useful starting point, but I shouldn’t have given the impression they constitute the whole of modern usage.

        • Murphy says:

          I dunno, to me it’s a terminal goals thing.

          I don’t have any particular massive internal urge to be super-rich. I don’t have a massive internal urge to climb into super-high positions. Having some money and a little seniority is an instrumental thing: it makes life easier but it satisfies no independent need in me. Is that a strength?

          A guy I know at a local lab gets almost no satisfaction from food. He’s quite content to eat nutrient rich paste, indeed it saves him time and money and is amused that people say things like “but don’t you want to flavor it with *something*?”. Is that a strength?

          Another guy I know feels no urge to be around loved ones/family. He bears them no ill will or resentment and thinks they’re probably above average family to have, he has no massive desire to get away from them but being surrounded by extended family fills no need within him and fundamentally doesn’t do anything for him. Is that a strength?

          Many people seem to get no fulfillment from creation. Making things does nothing for them. Is that a strength?

          A guy who doesn’t care about taste, doesn’t have any drive to create, doesn’t have any desire for advancement or status, doesn’t care about interpersonal relationships…. they’re free to be productive towards some kind of goals, sure, but I wouldn’t particularly want to be them.

        • Aapje says:

          @Glen Raphael

          A lot of superhero movies have loneliness and isolation from humanity as a theme.

          Also, people who lack the level of desire that most others have, don’t necessarily lack desire altogether. When you prefer intensity 5 and most people prefer intensity 10, then there is a high risk that you end up with intensity 0.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @ Aapje:
            That’s fair. Also, whatever your baseline desire level is at, it’s probably not a constant over time – there can be cycles such that the current level rises and falls a bit relative to baseline. So it’s possible to be “like Spock” where, say, once a decade you find yourself interested enough to find and maintain a serious relationship for a while – say a couple of years – but that status doesn’t last and most of the time you’re neither in one or seeking one.

            An additional complicating factor is that if you only have relationships when the other person is unusually persistent at holding up their end of things, the people you do end up with are probably themselves pretty unusual. (eg, my last girlfriend had BPD).

          • maintain says:

            >When you prefer intensity 5 and most people prefer intensity 10, then there is a high risk that you end up with intensity 0.

            This! That’s a good way to put it. I had previously thought of trying to explain it as someone coming up to you and saying “Ok, you’re only allowed to masturbate if you masturbate 5 times each day. If you do it less than that, you’re not allowed to do it at all.”

            But I would probably sound like a weirdo if I tried to explain it like that.

        • maintain says:

          Being unattractive to women isn’t much of a superpower.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            …and now I notice I was answering Vincent’s question more than yours. (I had assumed the context was still related to schizoid PD.)

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I don’t have any formal diagnosis but everything I read about it in the “concept shaped holes” article resonated with me. I’m the kind of person one would consider “kinda aspie”, but if we invent the idea of a schizoid spectrum that seems to fit better than ASPD. So I’m at least confident I have a better casual pseudo-diagnosis than I did before, which is nice. (Except that I can’t tell it to most people because the name sounds too scary… good thing I don’t feel any need to open up to most people about this)

      Mostly I feel like Glen Raphael below and consider it a superpower, though not one with zero drawbacks. I find it easy to ignore a lot of things that seem to cause a lot of people pain.

  9. Anatoly says:

    Here’s a nice logical puzzle that’s not terribly easy, from a Russian math tournament for primary
    school grades. If you post a solution, remember about

    It is known that:

    — the Crocodile always lies;
    — the Elephant always tells the truth;
    — the Monkey always repeats the last answer — made by anyone, not just the Monkey himself — that he heard (and if the Monkey is asked the very first question, he answers randomly);
    — and the Turtle always answers truthfully, but the answer she gives is to the previous question she was asked (and when asked for the first time, the Turtle answers randomly).

    A wise old Mole met these four animals standing in some particular order; being almost blind, the Mole decided to ask them questions to understand who was who.

    But when he asked them in the order they were standing “Are you the Crocodile?”, he only learned from the answers where the Turtle was standing. Then he asked in the same order “Are you the Turtle?”, and learned from the answers where the Crocodile was, but still wasn’t sure about the rest. Only when he asked “Are you the Monkey?” and the first animal answered “Yes”, the Mole knew the order of the animals.

    So what was the order?

    • shakeddown says:

      To clarify, he asks each question of all four, in order?

      Answer (assuming this):
      Fvapr gur svefg navzny’f dhrfgvba va gur guveq nafjre tnir vasbezngvba, jr xabj gur svefg navzny vfa’g gur pebpbqvyr be gur Ghegyr (jr’q nyernql xabj gurve nafjref). Gurersber, vg zhfg or gur zbaxrl be gur ryrcunag. Ohg gur Ryrcunag jbhyq nafjre ab, fb vg zhfg or gur Zbaxrl.

      Gur Zbaxrl nyjnlf ercrngf gur ynfg nafjre, juvpu zrnaf gur sbhegu nafjre va gur frpbaq ebhaq zhfg unir orra “lrf”.

      Jura ur nfxf jub gur ghegyr vf, Gur ghegyr naq ryrcunag jvyy fnl ab, gur pebpbqvyr jvyy fnl lrf. Fvapr jr xabj gur Zbaxrl’f svefg, naq gur sbhegu nafjre jnf n lrf, guvf zrnaf gur pebpbqvyr vf ynfg.

      Fb gur beqre vf Zbaxrl, ?, ?, Pebpbqvyr.

      Abj, yrg’f nffhzr vg’f Zbaxrl, Ghegyr, Ryrcunag, Pebpbqvyr. Va gur svefg ebhaq, gur nafjref zhfg or A/L/A/A (Fvapr L/L/A/A be ?/A/A/A jbhyqa’g tvir njnl jurer gur ghegyr jnf). Va gur frpbaq ebhaq, gur nafjref jvyy or A/A/A/L. Ohg gura jr’q nyernql xabj gur zbaxrl jnfa’g guveq (fvapr vg qvqa’g ercrng gur lrf va gur svefg ebhaq), juvpu jbhyq zrna jr’q xabj vg’f svefg. Urapr guvf vf vzcbffvoyr, fb gur beqre zhfg or Zbaxrl, Ryrcunag, Ghegyr, Pebpbqvyr.

      • Anatoly says:

        >To clarify, he asks each question of all four, in order?

        That’s correct, except with the third question he stops after the first answer. Nice solution!

      • ManyCookies says:

        Ahhh, you did that a better way than I did:

        V jrag va beqre bs Zbyr’f dhrfgvbaf, chggvat zlfrys va uvf fubrf naq yvfgvat cbffvoyr fgngrf/gevivn (“Zbaxrl pna’g sbyybj Ghegyr” rgp.). Ohg vzzrqvngryl svaqvat zbaxrl’f ybpngvba yvxr gung znxrf gur ceboyrz n snve ovg rnfvre.

        Towards the end I completely forgot a basic rule I established at the beginning, ended up with multiple “possible” orderings, then spent about 15 minutes looking for the error before realizing I was an idiot. Even elementary school puzzles offer no escape from debugging hell.

    • The Red Foliot says:

      Not totally sure I got it right, but my guess is zbaxrlryrcunagpebpbqvyrghegyr.

    • Chris says:

      Gur beqre vf Zbaxrl, Ryrcunag, Ghegyr, Pebpbqvyr.

      Gur guveq ebhaq tvirf hf gur zbfg vasbezngvba. Pyrneyl gur ryrcunag vf abg svefg, nf ur jbhyq unir nafjrerq Ab gb jurgure ur jnf gur zbaxrl. Vs gur ghegyr jrer svefg, guvf nafjre jbhyq abg tvir gur zbyr nal arj vasbezngvba nf ur nyernql xabjf jurer gur ghegyr vf naq gung gur ghegyr jvyy nafjre lrf. Gur fnzr vf gehr bs gur pebpbqvyr. Fb gur zbaxrl zhfg or svefg. Guvf vzcyvrf gung gur pebpbqvyr zhfg or ynfg, nf ur vf gur bayl bgure navzny jub pbhyq unir nafjrerq Lrf gb gur frpbaq dhrfgvba.

      Fb gur beqre vf rvgure Z R G P be Z G R P. Va gur svefg pnfr, gur nafjref jbhyq or:

      1: A A L A
      2. A A A L

      Naq va gur frpbaq pnfr:

      1. A L A A
      2. A A A L

      Va gur frpbaq pnfr, gur zbyr jbhyq yrnea nsgre gur frpbaq pnfr gung gur zbaxrl unq gb or va gur svefg cbfvgvba (vg’f gur bayl bar gung unf pbafvfgragyl ercrngrq gur ynfg nafjre), naq fvapr ur xabjf gur ybpngvba bs gur pebpbqvyr naq ghegyr guvf jbhyq nyybj uvz gb fbyir gur jubyr ceboyrz jvgubhg gur guveq dhrfgvba. Fvapr gur zbyr nfxrq gur guveq dhrfgvba, guvf zhfg abg or gur pnfr. Fb gur beqre vf Zbaxrl, Ryrcunag, Ghegyr, Pebpbqvyr.

    • Lillian says:

      The first part was completely obvious to me from the start. The second part requires many minutes of frustration and drawing multiple diagrams before it finally hit me how to distinguish between the two possible orderings.

      Gur bayl fpranevb va juvpu gur svefg navzny fnlvat lrf ba gur guveq ebhaq erirnyf nal vasbezngvba gur Zbyr qbrf abg nyernql xabj vf gur bar va juvpu gur Zbaxrl ercrngf nsgre gur Pebpbqvyr ylvat nobhg orvat n Ghegyr. Guvf zrnaf gur Zbaxrl vf svefg naq gur Pebpbqvyr vf ynfg. Gung whfg yrnirf gur beqre bs gur Ryrcunag naq Ghegyr. Gur svefg dhrfgvba jbhyq bayl or nafjrerq jvgu n Lrf ol rvgure n Zbaxrl be n Ghegyr, naq nal navzny fnlvat Lrf nsgre n Ab zhfg or gur Ghegyr.

      Gurersber gur svefg dhrfgvba zhfg unir erghearq rvgure Ab – Lrf – Ab – Ab be Ab – Ab – Lrf – Ab. Nsgre nfxvat gur frpbaq dhrfgvba gur Zbyr pna’g qvfgvathvfu orgjrra gur Zbaxrl naq gur Ryrcunag, vs ur unq tbggra gur svefg nafjre frg, vg jbhyq or boivbhf gur zbaxrl vf abg guveq, fvapr vg’f abg boivbhf jurer gur Zbaxrl vf, vg zhfg unir orra gur frpbaq nafjre frg. Gurersber gur beqre vf Zbaxrl – Ryrcunag – Ghegyr – Pebpbqvyr.

      Vg’f fyvtugyl qvfbevragvat gb ernq zl bja rkcynangvba. Vg fgnegf ng gur raq naq gura tbrf onpx ng gur ortvaavat, vafgrnq bs whfg sbyybjvat gur Zbyr’f ybtvp, ohg gur Zbyr xabjf jurgure gur Ghegyr vf nsgre gur svefg dhrfgvba naq lbh qba’g, fb lbh unir gb qb ybtvpny ehanebhaqf.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Zl ernfbavat jnf onfvpnyyl gur fnzr nf Puevf’f rkprcg V fgnegrq jvgu gur svefg dhrfgvba vafgrnq bs gur ynfg. Bayl gur zbaxrl naq ghegyr pna nafjre “lrf” gb gur svefg dhrfgvba, naq arvgure zhfg. Vs arvgure nafjref lrf, jr unir ab vasbezngvba. Vs obgu nafjre lrf, rvgure jr pna qvfgvathvfu gurz naq unir gbb zhpu vasbezngvba, be jr pnaabg naq unir gbb yvggyr. Guhf bayl gur ghegyr zhfg unir nafjrerq lrf; vs gur svefg bar nafjrerq lrf, jr pna’g gryy vs vg jnf gur ghegyr be gur zbaxrl, fb vg zhfg unir orra nabgure cbfvgvba (naq gur zbaxrl pnaabg vzzrqvngryl sbyybj gur ghegyr)

      Vg’f rnfvre gb fgneg jvgu gur ynfg dhrfgvba ohg V bayl svtherq gung bhg nsgrejneqf.

    • Nornagest says:

      Gur beqre vf Zbaxrl, Ryrcunag, Ghegyr, Pebpbqvyr.

      Nafjref gb gur svefg dhrfgvba ner Ab Ab Lrf Ab, zrnavat gung gur navzny va guveq cynpr zhfg or Ghegyr. Ynfg zhfg or Pebpbqvyr be Ryrcunag ohg pnaabg or Zbaxrl. Svefg naq frpbaq znl or Zbaxrl, Pebpbqvyr, be Ryrcunag.
      Nafjref gb gur frpbaq dhrfgvba ner Ab Ab Ab Lrf. Ryrcunag jvyy nyjnlf nafjre Ab, Ghegyr jvyy nafjre Ab, Pebpbqvyr jvyy nafjre Lrf, Ghegyr vf xabja. Fb ynfg zhfg or Pebpbqvyr. Svefg naq frpbaq znl or Zbaxrl be Ryrcunag.
      Gur svany dhrfgvba vf nafjrerq Lrf Ab Lrf Lrf. Ryrcunag jvyy nafjre Ab. Pebpbqvyr naq Ghegyr ner xabja. Fb gur navzny va svefg cbfvgvba zhfg or Zbaxrl, ercrngvat gur ynfg nafjre sebz gur ynfg dhrfgvba.

      Guvf bayl jbexf vs gur zbaxrl ercrngf nafjref sebz gur ynfg dhrfgvba — bgurejvfr bgure nafjref ner cbffvoyr.

    • DavidS says:

      Got shakedown’s answer. Feels unusal for logic puzzles: there doesn’t feel to be the same sort of ‘trick’ or lateral thinking involved, more just working through the options like a SuDoku or something.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Insofar as there’s a trick, I think it’s starting at the end. Not that that’s the only way it’s possible, but I think it’s faster and less intuitive.

    • Fahundo says:

      Sbe gur guveq dhrfgvba, gur bayl bar jub pbhyq unir fnvq “lrf” svefg naq tvira uvz nal hfrshy vasbezngvba vf gur zbaxrl. Ur nyernql xarj jurer Ghegyr naq Pebpbqvyr jrer, fb rira gubhtu gurl obgu jbhyq unir fnvq “lrf” gb gur dhrfgvba, gurl pbhyqa’g unir orra svefg. Gurersber zbaxrl vf svefg.

      Gung zrnaf gur sbhegu nafjre gb gur frpbaq dhrfgvba jnf nyfb lrf. Bs gur erznvavat 3, bayl pebpbqvyr jbhyq unir nafjrerq lrf gb gung. Ghegyr jbhyq unir fnvq ab, erfcbaqvat yngr gb gur svefg dhrfgvba, naq ryrcunag jbhyq unir gehgushyyl fnvq ab. Pebpbqvyr vf ynfg.

      Fb, tvira gung zbaxrl vf svefg, naq ghegyr vf rvgure frpbaq be guveq, juvpu cbfvgvba jbhyq pnhfr uvz gb xabj bayl Ghegyr’f cbfvgvba nsgre gur svefg dhrfgvba? Ryrcunag naq Pebpbqvyr jbhyq obgu nafjre ab, naq zbaxrl (orvat svefg) naq ghegyr (nafjrevat ure svefg dhrfgvba) jbhyq obgu nafjre enaqbzyl. N ab nafjre sebz rvgure bs gurz jbhyq znxr gurz vaqvfgvathvfunoyr sebz ryrcunag naq pebpbqvyr. Gurersber ghegyr zhfg unir fnvq lrf. Vs ghegyr vf frpbaq naq gurl obgu fnvq lrf, gura gur gjb ner vaqvfgvathvfunoyr. Vs ghegyr jnf guveq naq gurl obgu fnvq lrf, ur jbhyq nyfb xabj jurer Zbaxrl jnf nsgre gur svefg dhrfgvba.

      Fb, tvira gung zbaxrl jnf svefg naq pebpbqvyr jnf ynfg, ubj qvq ur bayl yrnea ghegyr’f cbfvgvba gur svefg gvzr, naq ubj qvq ur abg svther bhg ryrcunag be zbaxrl’f hagvy gur raq? Ryrcunag naq Pebpbqvyr jbhyq obgu nafjre ab gb gur svefg dhrfgvba, naq zbaxrl (orvat svefg) naq ghegyr (nafjrevat ure svefg dhrfgvba) jbhyq obgu nafjre enaqbzyl. N ab nafjre sebz rvgure bs gurz jbhyq znxr gurz vaqvfgvathvfunoyr sebz ryrcunag naq pebpbqvyr. Gurersber ghegyr zhfg unir fnvq lrf. Vs ghegyr vf frpbaq naq gurl obgu fnvq lrf, gura gur gjb ner vaqvfgvathvfunoyr. Vs ghegyr jnf guveq naq gurl obgu fnvq lrf, ur jbhyq nyfb xabj jurer Zbaxrl jnf nsgre gur svefg dhrfgvba. Gurersber Zbaxrl zhfg unir nafjrerq ab gb gur svefg dhrfgvba.

      Vs gur beqre jnf zbaxrl-ghegyr-ryrcunag-pebpbqvyr, Zbyr jbhyq unir xabja ghegyr’f cbfvgvba nsgre gur svefg dhrfgvba, naq nyfb xabja gung zbaxrl pbhyqa’g unir orra guveq fvapr gur guveq nafjre qvqa’g rpub gur frpbaq. Nsgre gur frpbaq dhrfgvba, pebpbqvyr jbhyq or gur bayl lrf. Xabjvat gung ghegyr vf frpbaq, pebpbqvyr vf sbhegu, naq zbaxrl pna’g or guveq, ur jbhyq xabj nyy gurve cbfvgvbaf. Gurersber guvf pna’g or gur beqre.

      Fb yrg’f purpx gur beqre zbaxrl-ryrcunag-ghegyr-pebpbqvyr.

      Svefg dhrfgvba: ab ab lrf ab. Zbyr pbapyhqrf Ghegyr vf guveq naq Zbaxrl pna’g or sbhegu.

      Frpbaq dhrfgvba: ab ab ab lrf. Zbyr pbapyhqrf Pebpbqvyr vf sbhegu. Ur xabjf Zbaxrl naq ryrcunag ner gur svefg gjb.

      Guveq dhrfgvba, bayl zbaxrl pbhyq fnl lrf svefg. Zbaxrl-ryrcunag-ghegyr-pebpbqvyr vf gur pbeerpg beqre.

  10. Anon. says:

    Do you think that current equity valuations properly reflect the future impact of genetic engineering/GAI?

  11. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    Content Note: Not culture war in the traditional sense, but more in a “Kirk vs Picard” sense.

    So I recently started watching Star Trek: Discovery with a friend of mine and I have to say that while you guys are normally pretty reliable with your (dis)recommendations you were way off base here.

    From what I’ve seen of ST:D it looks pretty promising. The treknobabble is a bit painful and I don’t really care very much about Michael but the show is fun, it looks incredible, the dialogue is better than average for Trek, and the Klingons are an interesting and threatening adversary for the first time since the original series. Did I mention that it’s fun?

    What I’ve seen doesn’t conflict with the Roddenberry vision, at least not the way it was presented in the original series. Humanity is united and free to explore strange new worlds without having to worry about hunger, poverty or disease. They’re not communists, they disagree with one another, and while they don’t start fights at least some members of Starfleet are willing to end them. But that’s not a bad thing! Gene got weird in his old age, let’s let Trek get back to it’s roots a bit. It’s a lot dumber than ToS but everything is dumber now than it was then: our culture has lost a lot in the last seventy years.

    I guess this is more of a rant than anything but I just don’t get it. I feel like the hivemind has really steered me wrong here.

    • Well... says:

      It’s a lot dumber than ToS but everything is dumber now than it was then: our culture has lost a lot in the last seventy years.

      I thought TNG and DS9 were both smarter than TOS, so the “intelligence” curve of Star Trek incarnations plotted over time actually goes up after TOS. That means TOS isn’t a very high bar for Star Trek. (At least not in this humble commenter’s opinion.)

      Also, while there are a lot of shows in the past 10 years that were way overhyped as intelligent when they were actually just really dumb but with astronomic production values, it doesn’t seem like a reasonable argument to say intelligent writing in TV shows has generally trended way down. Maybe you can argue it’s gone down slightly, but there are so many counterexamples, and everyone keeps talking about this “golden age of serial drama” and “Netflix renaissance” we’re in and so forth…

      • Matt M says:

        I’m not sure if society has gotten dumber, but it has definitely gotten less patient.

        Does anyone remember how outright bad seasons 1 – 3.5 of TNG were? DS9 got a little better at this, but still, its best stuff was late.

        Now today, we’re talking about judging the quality of a series after three episodes much less three seasons.

        • John Schilling says:

          1st season TNG was outright mediocre, which is a different thing than bad. With the exception of the “kids in space” thing, pretty much everything Roddenberry and company were doing on TNG was something I wanted to see done, and they clearly had the resources to do it well, it just hadn’t come together. That’s the sort of thing you have patience with.

          And the same could be said for e.g. “The Orville”. “Discovery”, and for that matter Abrams Trek, are truly bad in the sense of their creators deliberately trying to do things to which I ascribe negative value.

          • Matt M says:

            Which season was Riker’s coma clip show in? That was inexcusably awful.

            Any show that tried to pull that shit today would be cancelled immediately.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            @Matt M: The clip show used to be a widely accepted thing. Friends had like four of them.

            You are right that no one will take that anymore, but you can’t really blame TNG for it without some real special pleading.

            (If you haven’t seen Community’s clip show, you should, it’s a great gimmick.)

          • Matt M says:

            I grew up in the 90s – I’m aware that clip shows used to be fairly common, that said, there’s a unique combination of failure about this particular one in that…

            1. It’s happening in a drama, not a sitcom
            2. The setup device for it was particularly lame and bad
            3. They literally tried to run a clip show for a show that was 1.5 seasons old!!!!

          • Wrong Species says:

            I get the sentiment but calling season 1 TNG mediocre is an insult to mediocre shows. There are several episodes that are unwatchable and I don’t think there was a single episode that deserved unqualified praise.

          • John Schilling says:


            I don’t think there was a single episode that deserved unqualified praise.

            There are “Discovery” episodes that you think deserve unqualified praise? Because that’s the standard being used here, with the impatient meanies of the 21st century being unwilling to give ST:D a chance even though it is so much better than 1st-season TNG. So what are the “Discovery” episodes for which you have wholly unqualified praise?


            Any show that tried to pull that shit [clip shows] today would be cancelled immediately

            And any show that tried to pull a shitty 15-episode “season” in 1987, would have been cancelled already because the standard order was for 22. Broadcast had different market requirements, and you didn’t have to watch the quick/cheap filler episodes of shows with otherwise high production values.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            For some reason I liked Stargate’s clip shows (besides the season 2 finale). If you forced me to explain, it was because they were often revisiting some old piece of tech they had acquired and going into the ramifications of having it.

            Also, I was catching it in syndication and didn’t always see every episode. In the days of streaming this is less accepted, although even with Netflix series I wish there were more “hey, remember all this stuff?” shows, because honestly I no longer have the free time to rewatch old episodes to remind myself of things that happened.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @John Schilling

            I’m not sure why you think I’m trying to praise Discovery. It’s the very essence of mediocre. But there’s not a single episode that is as terrible as The Naked Now and that’s just one episode. Granted, it definitely displayed some characteristics of the greatness of the later show which is probably why I soldiered on but if we’re judging solely by the first season and nothing else, TNG was way, way worse.

          • John Schilling says:

            but if we’re judging solely by the first season and nothing else, TNG was way, way worse

            No, it wasn’t.

            And no, it’s not a good idea to present judgements of taste as if they were matters of uncontestable objective fact, indeed it’s really fucking annoying, but if that’s the game we’re playing, hey, I can do that too.

          • Wrong Species says:

            So it’s ok for you to proclaim that TNG season 1 was outright mediocre instead of bad, but when I say the opposite “it’s really fucking annoying”? When people say something is bad or they say it’s bad compared to something else, they aren’t trying to say it’s objectively bad. It’s an implicitly understood thing. If it bothers you so much that people don’t always qualify their statements with “in my subjective opinion”, then I don’t know what to tell you.

          • Deiseach says:

            the impatient meanies of the 21st century being unwilling to give ST:D a chance even though it is so much better than 1st-season TNG

            (1) Part of being an impatient meanie is that the owners of the property that is Star Trek have burned us before (with Enterprise and the Reboot, to name my two big pains) so there’s a lot of distrust to get over

            (2) I agree wholeheartedly about first season TNG. Even at the time I went (with, for example, “The Naked Now”) as “why the hell are they re-making old TOS episodes?” The answer to that, of course, is that there had been no new Trek content (save the movies, and the first one of those nearly did for the franchise) for decades, so having a New! TV! Show! was a really big deal and people wanted to give it a chance (because if they panned it, that was the end for the studio trying any more Trek on TV for who knew how long, maybe forever?) And of course, the makers of the new show wanted to try and copy the old one to recreate what they thought the fans loved, and did that a bit too literally in remaking old episodes, until they got their own voice and established the characters.

            (3) That being said, Discovery is labouring under two disadvantages – first, it’s supposed to be in the same timeframe as the original series (i.e. while Pike is still captain of the Enterprise) but plainly the technological level is much higher than the original series, which leads to some futzing around with “is this Prime universe or Reboot universe?”, and it makes the same mistakes of trying to retain what the writers/creators think the fans want – so we get another unknown family member for Spock, the Klingon war, the Mirror Universe. it hasn’t its own voice and the characters are too unformed yet (Tilly is really bloody annoying and if they don’t want her to be the Wesley Crusher of this series they had better rejig her character sharpish. As I said, “oh shit” is cute from a tiny three year old, it’s not cute from someone whose stated ambition is to be a captain someday).

            Mainly I think the problem is they started off as “We’re going to do Enterprise, but we’re going to do it right” and then they got bogged down in the easy, appealing, wrong choice of “Klingon war!” and the rest of it. You need to build up to a war arc, you can’t just dump new characters (and species) on the viewers, throw them into battle, and go “But you really care what happens to these cardboard cut-outs, now don’t you?” Since I only met them ten minutes ago and at least two of them are so annoying I want to see them die horribly, no I don’t.

            Discovery really had a high ratio of “would like to see them get offed in the nasty transporter accident from Star Trek: The Motion Picture“; even Enterprise only annoyed me to the extent of wanting to murder Trip, Phlox and that bloody beagle. Discovery managed to have me want Burnham, Tilly, Creepy Mycologist Guy, Lorca, the new Mudd and that waif and stray guy they picked up all be vaporised! (Their doctor is only there to be The Gay Boyfriend and did so little he hadn’t a chance to annoy me, so naturally he’s the one they kill off).

            Also, how many freakin’ redesigns of the Klingons do we need? Pick one and stick with it!

            As for the clip show episode of TNG, my understanding is that clip/bottle shows are cheap, and they were forced to do this because they’d blown the budget and were really scraping by to get the final episodes of the season made – at least, that was the explanation I heard at the time.

    • toastengineer says:

      My understanding is that the first few episodes were significantly worse than the rest. That might be why so many folks under-estimate its quality.

      • Wrong Species says:

        People hate the new series for two reasons. One for following contemporary trends, like trying to make Game of Thrones in space instead of traditional Trek themes. The other because the series itself is not very good, even outside of being Star Trek. By the end of the season, the show moves away from being Grimdark. But the writing gets worse.

        • DavidS says:

          Wait, is Star Trek: Discovery a bit more grimdark? Because that sounds quite interesting to me (though I love the general optimism of Star Trek would be interesting to see it a bit grittier).

          Then again I not only really like the recent movies but prefer Into Darkness to Star Trek so I’m probably a million miles from most of the fanbase.

          • Deiseach says:

            I wouldn’t mind intelligent grimdark, but the alleged quote from Jason Isaacs about how he wanted to play his character (wanted to give him a catch-phrase and settled on “git ‘er done” which was vetoed on the grounds somebody else used it) made me roll my eyes and groan.

            prefer Into Darkness to Star Trek

            Gasp! Swoon! Clutch pearls! 🙂

            Into Darkness had a lot of possibility which they pissed away, did a lot of stupid crap (Cumberbatch’s character was well-done but he was not Khan and they should have stuck with him being a renegade operative, John Harrison; the Klingon home system is apparently on our doorstep; not just intraship beaming at warp but now interplanetary transporters; Magic Space Blood cures death; not one but two space battles in the space of a couple of years over San Francisco which was only just rebuilt after the last spaceship crashed into it and now they went and crashed another one into it) and probably worst of all (even worse than having Spock beam down* to have a fistfight on a moving vehicle with Khan) ripped off the death scene from The Wrath of Khan, flipped it (so that makes it all brand new and not at all derivative), used that for some cheap character depth and to wring emotion out of the audience, then hadn’t the patience to let that develop but wrapped it all up nicely by the Magic Space Blood Death Cure.

            A shame, since when they let Chris Pine do some acting he was able to give Reboot Kirk some depth and development, but what is that compared to lens flare on the Apple iBridge and space battle space explosions in space?

            *If you can locate Khan’s position to beam down to fight with him, you can beam him back up to the ship and put him straight into the brig, right? But that wouldn’t be as Kewl as a brawl in traffic, I suppose.

    • John Schilling says:

      I am at somewhat of a disadvantage, having decided not to invest my time and money in this story after the first episode, but:

      To say that “they disagree with one another” would seem to constitute an extreme understatement for a story that opens with actual, unrepentant mutiny. To say that “they don’t start fights” seems just plain wrong when the nominal protagonist shoots her own captain without warning so that said protagonist can then shoot the crap out of a Klingon ship, with whom they are not at war, without warning. And from what I have read of the reviews and synopses of the rest of the S1 episodes, there’s a lot more of the same.

      Also from those reviews and synopses, and correct me if I’m wrong, the score stands at:

      Strange new worlds explored: One (Pahvo), but only because they thought they could find a weapon to use in their war with the Klingons.

      New life sought out: Two (spores and tardigrades), only because they thought those would be useful weapons in their war.

      New civilizations: One (the Pahvonians) not so much sought out as stumbled across, and they did try to end the war but, oops, can’t have that.

      Boldly going where no man has gone before: Again once (Pahvo), but see above. And accidentally stumbling into the Mirror Universe, so they can fight yet another war in an even grimmerdarker version of the Star Trek universe.

      This isn’t what Star Trek was about, even if it does have the names and the copyrights. This reads like a description of a war story in outer space. It might be a pretty good war story in outer space, but I’ve got more than enough of those to chose from and I don’t plan on rewarding people who would turn about the only decent space-adventure franchise that isn’t about war stories, into yet another war story in outer space. Which, frankly, I doubt is all that good.

      And if it’s dumber than TOS, well, TOS barely met my standards for smart enough to be worth watching, but got some slack because of the strange new worlds, new life, new civilizations, and boldly going where no man has gone before.

      Wake me up when there’s a Star Trek with about 200% more of that, 80% less war stories, and where the crew of the Enterprise at least can settle their disagreements by talking to one another and then presenting a united front against the dangers they face on the outside. And I’d prefer that it be at least as smart as TNG (ETA: Which, as Well notes, was smarter that TOS, and the best modern television is smarter still)

      That’s my rant, which I will be willing to walk back if people who have watched the first season tell me I’m fundamentally off base. Otherwise, have fun with it. I can’t.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        if people who have watched the first season tell me I’m fundamentally off base. Otherwise, have fun with it. I can’t.

        I haven’t watched the entirety of season 1 yet. That said:

        From what I’ve seen so far you’re correct about the relative lack of strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations. There are anomaly of the week and monster of the week episodes just like in the other series but it’s all put in the context of the war and not as random encounters. As far as I can tell, they’re trading novelty for consistent tone and it’s working pretty well so far.

        The working together aspect, it seems like you’re wrong. Michael’s betrayal of her captain was a singlular event which has completely dominated every episode I’ve seen. She’s “Starfleet’s first mutineer” (which is weird given that Garth of Izar’s crew mutinied years earlier but whatever) and despite her general Mary Sue aura nobody has excused her actions. She’s not breaking moonrocks on a penal colony but she’s been given a much harsher treatment than e.g. Tom Paris on Voyager.

        If your objection is that Star Trek shouldn’t ever do MilSF then yeah this series isn’t for you. But it’s a hell of a lot better than Voyager and Enterprise, better than the reboot movies, odd-numbered movies, and Nemesis, and I’d say the war arc is in on par with or better than DS9’s Dominion War arc. If it’s below your lower bound then your canon only has room for two or three Trek movies, two seasons of ToS, and six seasons of TNG.

        • Randy M says:

          There are anomaly of the week and monster of the week episodes just like in the other series but it’s all put in the context of the war and not as random encounters.

          Random encounter charts are out of vogue. Probably the DM is done with Hexcrawls and into more narrative gaming.

      • Michael Handy says:

        That would probably, as has been mentioned elsewhere, be The Orville, which manages to be smart enough after the first few episodes to start to drop the Family guy stuff and become its own thing.

      • Jaskologist says:

        How did you feel about DS9, which certainly became a war story in space, but started off with a decent amount of strange new worlds, new life, and new civilizations?

        • John Schilling says:

          DS9 got off to a decent start with the premise that, if you build boldly steal a cool enough space station, the strange newness will come to you. I think they ran out of ideas for that, though, and fell back on A: giving the characters a spaceship to go flying off having adventures every other week even while pretending they were running a space station and B: turning it into a war story.

          Also, it was a fairly blatant Babylon 5 knockoff, with better production values but inferior storytelling.

          • cassander says:

            I’m second to no one in my admiration for B5, and I wish more people would try something as ambitious now that serialized TV is in, but I think if you take the average quality level of B5, DS9 consistently comes out on top. B5’s high points are definitely higher, and for sheer ambition it will always stand up there, but B5’s low points are at least as low and more common. Considering the non-planned ahead, non-serialized nature of how DS9 got started, I think the way it managed to evolve into something more serialized was was nothing less than masterful.

    • cassander says:

      My reaction couldn’t be more different. As John Schilling says, the first episode features a violent mutiny for which the main character never really suffers any real consequences, moral or practical, and never learns a lesson.

      There are a few fun moments, but the whole thing is weighed down by the grim-dark war story that is never anywhere near as good as the dominion war was. Frankly, whoever thought that what star trek needed was more sword fights needs to be taken out back to have their senses beaten into them.

      Without getting into specific spoilers, the wrap up of the ongoing threads at the end of the first season was decidedly unsatisfactory on all fronts. I hope that it’s the product of some frantic re-writes and re-shoots (which explain the show’s long delayed release) because if the writers weren’t frantically bailing to get out of the hole they’d dug for themselves and actually think this is where they wanted to end up, I truly despair for the series.

      Even if that was the case, though, the show is hamstrung by its excessive focus on Burnham, who except for the security guy (who has his own issues), is the worst character on the show. She’s not likable, sympathetic, or interesting, and it’s grating how much the narrative seems to insist she is.

      I think the show could be salvaged in season 2 if they get a couple of interesting new crew members, move into more of an ensemble format, and started to do some actual exploration. I think this is possible, I think the end of the last season was the writers bailing, but I’m not particularly optimistic. I think it’s a crying shame that the original ideas for the show, doing it as an anthology series, was dropped.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        You’re absolutely right that Burnham is boring. The focus on her character is probably my biggest beef with the show. That said I think Lorca makes up for it: he’s basically what Colonel Miles Quaritch would have been like if I had written Avatar. Pure badass with zero patience for space hippies.

        The tone is definitely darker than normal for Trek but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The threats are actually threatening, because they can and do kill characters with names and not random redshirts. The enemies are vile and dangerous enough to be worth fighting rather than Ferengi. That’s something that Trek generally lacked: real stakes.

        • cassander says:

          I did like Lorca, and I agree entirely about stakes. I don’t want to spoil things for you, but I’ll just say that I don’t think the promises you see being made get paid off at all satisfactorily. How far into the show are you?

          Also, I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to make the klingons themselves completely boring. Almost every minute they’re onscreen is painfully dull.

        • John Schilling says:

          I think Lorca makes up for it: he’s basically what Colonel Miles Quaritch would have been like if I had written Avatar.

          Now, that is something I would totally be on board with, if it wasn’t saddled with pretending it was Star Trek.

          But since you bring it up, one of the strengths of pretty much all Good Star Trek is the ensemble cast, and that’s another thing I didn’t see much of in the pilot and haven’t heard much of in the reviews. A couple of good characters in clearly supporting roles is not an adequate substitute.

        • Deiseach says:

          That said I think Lorca makes up for it: he’s basically what Colonel Miles Quaritch would have been like if I had written Avatar.

          Lorca could have worked if from the get-go he was presented as the unscrupulous, untrustworthy, manipulative, possibly killed his own crew in cold blood character he was in reality, but whether the writers were trying to go for ambiguity (doubtful) or whether they were really trying to present him as a sympathetic character (and by the Holy Rings of Betazed, I rapidly got fed up to the back teeth with the amount of woobification his character underwent with some fans), he was not portrayed as such – maybe a little morally grey but that’s the tone of “the necessities of war” they were aiming for.

          Then they go the opposite extreme with Harry Mudd and turn what was a confidence trickster and scammer but fundamentally not violent into some kind of I don’t know what bandit and it’s all (of course) Starfleet’s fault for turning an honest man into a crook.

          Okay, whose heads on pikes do I call for here?

      • Deiseach says:

        Discovery never stood much of a chance with me, but it lost me because of (a) Burnham as yet another previously unknown member of Spock’s family who – oh look! – is fighting with the Vulcan establishment and – oh look! – is going into Starfleet, (b) Lorca who is a manipulative bastard, not the woobie a whole lot of the Disco fans I saw online were making him out to be and (c) that whole SPOILER Mirror Universe mini-arc – yeah let’s piss all over canon why don’t we?

        It’s a bad sign when they had to pull out a Mirror Universe episode in the first season, and I don’t trust the writers enough to think this was endgame all along, I think they pulled it out of their asses because of the criticism of the ‘grimdark Klingon war let’s break all the rules in the name of pragmatism’ non-Trek feel to the show.

        I won’t even mention the spore drive and the creepy-crazy engineer/mycologist guy. (No, I did not like him, can you tell?). As for Ensign “Oooh I said a naughty word on TV!” – well, yeah. Congratulations, you are now as advanced and adult as the three year old kid in our service who learned to use naughty words in context from listening to her dad, and it’s a lot funnier when it’s a tiny three year old saying “Oh shit” when she knocks over her blocks (by accident not on purpose) than when it’s an alleged wannabe-officer in Starfleet not knowing when to be professional on duty around her superiors.

        That the Discovery timeline/universe is the Reboot universe and not Prime universe makes a whole heap of sense, and they can stay there for all I care.

        (Well, I care about Sarek. But as I’ve said before, not even Sarek will get me to watch this mess).

        I also think it’s very telling that SPOILER ONCE AGAIN an awful lot of reaction I saw online about “Now it feels like real Trek!” and pleasurable excitement was when the Enterprise showed up (accompanied by the iconic music).

        I’d have liked Discovery a lot better if they stuck with Georgiu as captain, never went near the stupid mutiny/war plot, and gave us “before there was Enterprise, there was this crew (and no, we don’t mean Archer’s gang of losers)”.

        Anyway, when your series can be abbreviated as “Disco”, and you have crew members shamelessly wearing T-shirts with same, for those of us who were around for the original Disco era you’re not as retro hipster cool as you think you are, it’s just lame.

        • cassander says:

          I didn’t find Georgiu all that compelling either. Granted, we very little of her, but I liked that admiral we got in the battle of the binary star a lot better in the 30 seconds he was on screen than anything Georgiu gave me. She was just bland.

          Sarek is great, though.

          The most sensible way to do a new star trek series is to just roll the TNG/VOY/DS9 timeline forward a few decades and kick off a new series. Bring the old cast members back for some cameos if you want nostalgia. If absolutely insist on doing a prequel series though, there’s only one sensible course, which is exploring the romulan war and the founding of the federation, not rehashing stuff that’s already been seen dozens of times.

          • Deiseach says:

            A new series set later on in the timeline (the same way TNG was) would work better, because (a) they could stop inventing new granny’s nephew’s spouse’s hairdresser’s flatmates to be crew of the ship (b) it would let them have Kool Future Tek that didn’t jar with existing timelines (Disco’s tech as compared with TOS is very anachronistic in this instance; at least Enterprise did give a nod to “being prior to TOS, not all the bugs have been worked out yet and we don’t have some of the stuff”, before they decided “hey, let’s have TIME TRAVEL TIME WARS KICK-ASS ARCHER BATTLE-BOSS!”).


          • cassander says:


            I get this, but I think there’s a tricky problem here. You’re writing a story about what is effectively a space navy. This being modern TV, you want to have some sort of long term serialized plot with high stakes and drama. What do you do that isn’t a war, or at least threatening a war? Even TNG had was what basically a low level cold war going as the Enterprise shadowboxed with various romulan plots.

          • John Schilling says:

            TNG and TOS both did Cold War in Space, and cold wars give you a lot more flexibility than hot wars. If your plots are 100% “solve the problem by blowing up the bad guy” or 100% “solve the problem in some way other than blowing up the bad guy”, well, one of these solution spaces is a lot bigger than the other. Also, cold wars make it a lot more plausible that you can spend <<100% of the time contending with your One Great Adversary and do stuff like exploring strange new worlds as well.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I think what happened is that a lot of us really hated the show, and you expected the worst, but because it was instead mediocre it surpassed your expectations. If it wasn’t Star Trek, I probably would have just gotten bored with it instead of having such a strong negative reaction.

      I am baffled by you calling it fun though. The series is by far the darkest one yet and any lighthearted moments have been confined to a handful of scenes, other than the episode with Mudd. The show, as it never ceases to remind you, is about war and all the problems with that. It’s actually notable when someone makes a joke. I certainly can’t imagine an episode like Data’s Day appearing any time soon.

    • pontifex says:

      I guess you’ve heard this all already… but to me, the new trek feels like an attempt to cash in on the name without really continuing the trek tradition. The Expanse is much better grimdark SF, if you’re looking for grimdark.

    • Lillian says:

      While the only bits Star Trek: Discovery i’ve watched are random YouTube clips, and i’m not particularly interested in anything further, i must still give it massive props for providing me the one thing i crave most in space opera: Continental obliteration via massive orbital nuclear bombardment. Seriously, the whole point of having many planets to play around with is that you can break open the atomic fireworks to light up a few without immediately shifting genres to post-apocalyptic. Few writers seem to grasp this, but Discovery actually did it! And it’s so beautiful.

    • Fahundo says:

      It’s a lot dumber than ToS but everything is dumber now than it was then: our culture has lost a lot in the last seventy years.

      Uh, the Wire started in 2002. Any cultural rot that’s occurred has to have been after that.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Just to provide a counterpoint to almost everyone here, I have watched the whole first season, loved it, and think it is the best TV Trek since the day DS9 ended. It does a bunch of really clever stuff, and subverts a lot of traditional Trek tropes in interesting ways while challenging but ultimately reaffirming most of the important ones in way that the best Trek tends to do.

      Also, a lot of the complaints here pretty obviously read as someone who decided about 15 minutes into the first episode that they hated it and drew all further conclusions from there rather than what was on the screen. Anyone who says the show gives Burnham a pass from the consequences of her mutiny basically is showing they do not have even a vague conception of what the show is actually about – dealing with consequences of that crime literally make up the entire through line of the rest of the series. It’s like someone complaining that Deep Space 9 never deals with religion, or that TNG doesn’t have enough conference room meetings.

      • cassander says:

        But she never deals with those consequences. She’s back in uniform by, what, one episode later? She never seems to repent of what she did, never seems to have an epiphany when she realized what she did was wrong or foolish, never seems to learn anything. She gives the big we’re starfleet speech at the end of the season, but with zero reference to what came earlier and apparently zero reflection.

        I love the show you’ve described, I wish I could see it, but I just don’t see it in what we were given. I see a show that constantly twists the characters into doing foolish or out of character things in order to drive the plot (starfleet blowing up the planet, the numerous sword fights, the bizarre behavior of almost every klingon) that ignore their history (Georgiou literally fucking ATE someone and burham rescues her for…reasons) in service to the rule of drama. There are some good ideas there, I’d never deny that, but they’re mostly poorly or lazily implemented.

        • Deiseach says:

          She gives the big we’re starfleet speech at the end of the season

          That’s my main beef with Discovery. The writers/creators/whoever is left from all the “i’m working on it/i’m not working on it” messing around at the start have no real idea what they want to do (or so it seems to me). Starting off with “This will be Star Trek but not the Star Trek seen to date” gets you only so far, and that appears to be “mutiny! dodgy captain! dark Harry Mudd!” and then they found they wrote themselves into a hole and had to plot-fix by “er, Lorca was Mirror Universe all along! Georgiou is not dead, well yeah she is but Mirror Her is still here, look!” (Sorry, Jason, I don’t believe your “I was lying all along in interviews, I knew from the start he was Mirror Universe, that was the plan all along”. My arse it was!)

          Starting off with “not-Trek” is okay but you need to have an idea where you want to go with that, and apart from “grim dark war is kewl, soppy weaksauce ‘no genocide’ pacifism is for losers” they didn’t, so now they have to fall back on the ideals and principles of the Federation and they don’t understand those, they’re using them as I criticised Into Darkness for rehashing Spock’s death for the same reasons, and as exampled by what’s said – they got Burnham to do the big “We are Starfleet” speech, because the history and loyalty built up to what the vision of Trek is (yeah Humanity has done bad things to ourselves and to others, but we can try to be better than that; it is a struggle, but we fall down and get up and do it again, we don’t give in to our worst impulses) in order to give Discovery‘s crew and their universe a much-needed shot of credibility (after all if, pace Mudd, Starfleet are the Bad Guys, why should we care if the Klingons win?) but it’s hollow because the character as presented up to now neither agrees with nor cares about those principles (and no, “I was raised to be logical on Vulcan so I will back-shoot my captain and mutiny since I have Logically Decided this is the Logical Thing to win the predicted war Logically” won’t fly because Vulcans would not be that stupid).

          subverts a lot of traditional Trek tropes in interesting ways while challenging but ultimately reaffirming most of the important ones

          Section 31 is a bad idea in any universe, and I fear that the Mirror Universe characters (Lorca, Empress Georgiou) were/are being used by the show as the counterparts of Section 31 – doing the dirty crap that the high-minded idealists won’t do, but it’s all for The Greater Good because doing dirty crap doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it makes you a pragmatist that we can all empathise with and go “yeah, the Prime Directive is dumb!” And if your main character has, however reluctantly, been going along with “okay, let’s blow up the entire planet” all along then gets very last minute cold feet, no that does not mean “We’re good people!”, it means you were willing to use bad means for a bad end and are indeed a bad person who needs to acknowledge that and work on overcoming it, not clothe yourself in the righteousness of “we are Starfleet” and think that excuses you.

          (This is the counterpart of the “I’m a good person, I deserve to go to Heaven/the Good Place” notion where “good person” means “not a rapist or murderer” and does mean “did all the rest of the crap though”).

          The season should have ended with the entire Bridge crew, if not the crew en masse, being hauled up for a disciplinary hearing (if not quite court martial) and getting sanctions; Tilly should be bounced from the Academy, not patted on the back and officially made Ensign, and Burnham should be made go through repeat year (at least) at the Academy and kept under very watchful eye for a good period after that if they’re not going to drum her out of Starfleet altogether. I’m torn on whether Stamets should be charged with enslaving and abusing a sentient being or sent for psychological treatment (“I always wanted to talk to my mushrooms”??? ‘and now I can use this creature that we are imprisoning and using as an engine power source so I can cosplay a fungus’???????), maybe both (given that canonically in Trek there are no prisons as we know them and instead people get sent to rehab centres). Saru maybe gets a pass as coming from a species that is very easily psychologically manipulated (due to the whole ‘can sense death because we were a prey species’ thing) and that Lorca took advantage of that and coerced and threatened him, but a reduction in rank should still be on the cards.

          And whatever admirals and politicians thought it was a good idea to let Mirror Georgiou bargain to commit genocide in exchange for being allowed run around scot-free in the Federation should be strung up by their thumbs in the scorpion pit for starters. This shit should not be let go unpunished.

          Yes, I’m harsh. Not fair, but harsh.

      • John Schilling says:

        Also, a lot of the complaints here pretty obviously read as someone who decided about 15 minutes into the first episode that they hated it and drew all further conclusions from there rather than what was on the screen.system for most adversaries

        Fifteen minutes into the first episode, we’ve just finished with Burnham and Georgiou on the desert planet, and are seeing with Burnham, Georgiou, and Saru’s different approaches to the damaged relay station. That was the good stuff, the part that had me at least optimistic about where the show was going.

        There were a few annoyingly dumb moments after that, but it didn’t really go to hell until the last five minutes. And I think most of us have been pretty clear on when and why we wrote off Discovery, so please knock it off with the “you were never willing to give it a chance!” whining.

  12. keranih says:

    In the Atlantic, Charles Mann (the author of the pre-Columbian Americas book 1491, not the hockey stick guy) writes about different ways to approach feeding the world of the future.

    What I found most interesting was the discussion about looking for specific hybrids to fill a specific niche – I am wondering if that’s the best option, because it assumes that one knows what one is looking for, and will recognize it, when it appears.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The hockey stick guy is Michael E. Mann, not Charles.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The author gets tons of basic facts wrong, in an effort to make the alarmist case sound more plausible.

      Farmers can’t plant much more land, because almost every accessible acre of arable soil is already in use.

      This is flatly false. Almost all of New England is arable land, most of Massachusetts was once farmland, if you walk through what is now mostly state park land in the Berkshires you will find rock walls winding through woods. Before the Midwest was opened up huge amounts of this area was functioning farmland, and this was 1-3 centuries before the green revolution, with modern technology it would be far more productive now.

      • Deiseach says:

        Farmers can’t plant much more land, because almost every accessible acre of arable soil is already in use.

        Surely that’s incorrect, because there’s a lot of pasturage that could be turned to arable if instead of livestock raising the farmer turned to tillage.

        Now, I know this is already an argument used by vegans, but that article doesn’t even approach it: if it’s very land and resource intensive to feed livestock, more so than to raise crops, then one answer to the problem of “how do we grow more food” is indeed “drastically cut back on, if not eliminate, meat as a food source and turn that land into crops for humans instead”.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Exactly; it’s a matter of trophic efficiency. A hectare of arable land will always support more vegetarians.
          (Then you can eat a vegetarian. Wait, no.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            Exactly; it’s a matter of trophic efficiency. A hectare of arable land will always support more vegetarians.

            In terms of trophic efficiency its true, but that is far from the only consideration and for biological systems it is actually not true.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Actually I retract my statement about it being true of entrophic efficiency. It is only true if for various species of vegetarians. For a single species this isn’t true as virtually all plants have portions that are indigestible to poorly digestible for people. If you care about total nutritional production for humans per hectare then raising animals that can thrive on the indigestible portions of plants will be superior to straight vegetarianism. You can do this to varying degrees with fungi as well, and some combinations might shift it back in favor of vegetarianism, but the initial objection stands.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @baconbits: Feeding scraps to small livestock is part of traditional farming. So while strict vegetarianism is a matter of religion rather than economics, per capita red meat or poultry consumption would drop to pre-modern levels if we were optimizing for efficiency, I believe.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Right, the point is that a hectare will support more vegetarians than carnivores, but that it can support more omnivores than vegetarians from a strictly entropic POV.

            From all the other non entropic issues the author of the piece fails to demonstrate basic understanding of economics. He relies heavily on calories per acre (despite mentioning that it is imperfect he acts as if it is a highly valuable starting point) to suggest that there are many ways to turn away from wheat/rice/corn production while sustaining upwards of 10 billion people.

          • Deiseach says:

            (Then you can eat a vegetarian. Wait, no.)

            If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? 😉

        • baconbits9 says:

          Surely that’s incorrect, because there’s a lot of pasturage that could be turned to arable if instead of livestock raising the farmer turned to tillage.

          It is clearly an obviously incorrect, the author (or whoever they were quoting) if pressed would probably fall back to ‘every acre of economically arable land is under cultivation’, but they don’t want to say that up front because almost all of the article can only exist under extreme economic ignorance and the introduction of basic price/supply/demand dynamics ruins them.

          The whole article is an attempt to put the ‘prophets’ on par with the ‘wizards’ when the wizards have outdone the prophets 10:1 (at least) over the last century, so the author uses statistical lies to make the prophets warning sound credible.

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I had the misfortune to spend some time near the Erie subway station in Philadelphia at about 9 or 10 at night.

    There are no rest rooms available to public in that area (even if you buy something), though there are any number of stores selling food and drink.

    Aside from thinking about the obvious, I was led to wonder about the economics of making restrooms available to the public. How costly is it? Is it more a matter of culture– whether merchants, rightly or wrongly, trust their customers to not vandalize restrooms? Is it a matter of a bad local minimum where once there is an area without restrooms, anyone who has a restroom will be overwhelmed?

    • The Nybbler says:

      In North Philadelphia? Worries about the restroom being trashed, or being used to shoot up. Or in some cases because it would require the customer enter an area normally kept secure from customers. That’s a really terrible area in general.

    • pjs says:

      Some US cities and states ban paid toilets by law (could not quickly find out whether this is so for PA) which may short-circuit the question of whether there is an obvious market failure.

      But your local minimum argument seems clever. What single merchant wants to bear a cost (potentially large, given homeless, drug addicts, people who get a thrill in abusing facilities, etc) that everyone will benefit from?

      Ok then, you might say, maybe all the merchants can band together to spread the costs and make it happen (ignore transaction and coordination costs) – but, still, is this going to pay off in terms of new customers? In a subway station, where people are probably going to be there anyway (or not), why would we expect it to?

      Even so, if merchants can band together in providing free toilets, and even if the economic payoff (more customers overall) is enough to justify this, why shouldn’t I (one merchant) defect and not contribute? Perhaps you say that no one gets in without buying something at a contributing merchant … but that doesn’t work effectively, since I (the defector), still benefit from my patrons (or perhaps one patron in a group) having the _option_ of relieving themselves for the price of a candy bar elsewhere.

      A free market (pay toilets) could possibly alleviate this problem (but not clear and surely not always). Public provision could, though at what cost? It would be interesting to compare this to other similar societies where public provision would be somewhat taken for granted (I’m currently visiting New Zealand, where it mostly, sort of, seems to be) – what’s the difference? The size of the homeless population? Culture (what specifically?)

  14. Vermillion says:

    You find yourself in one of those featureless white expanses so common in thought experiments. Looking around you see another entity: floating orb, hologram of a dead relative, your favorite B-list actor (Pete Postlethwaite), whatever. It/they/he speaks:

    “Yo. Your existence, such as you know it, has come to an end, don’t worry about the details. We were, natch, simulating it all and for inscrutable, Kardashevy reasons we’ve changed our mind about the whole thing. But even though we simulated your reality, we’re still kinda squeamish about just ending the ‘lives’ of sentient beings. So, feel free to hang out enjoying the not-air you’re breathing and when you’re all set press that giant blinking button over there and you won’t exist anymore.”

    What do you do?

    • pontifex says:

      If I can simulate whatever I want, why wouldn’t I do that? Or try to break out of whatever prison I’m in. If they want to kill me, they’ll have to do it themselves.

      • Vermillion says:

        What would you simulate? Likewise, if you could simulate breaking out, what would ‘out’ look like to you?

        • johnjohn says:

          Reminds me of Aleksandr Sokurovs take on Faust, an absolutely beautiful and extremely odd movie that ends with (spoilers I guess) Faust waking up in an infinite barren wasteland.
          The devil tells him that this is hell and he’ll be stuck here forever.
          Upon hearing this, Faust starts running into the horizon leaping with mad glee, because he has been presented with an infinite amount of time to explore an infinite world with science

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            And it reminds me of a section in “Hell Is Forever” by Bester, in which a character is given the ability to make his own universe. It’s only when he’s trapped there than he discovers hates the sort of art he makes.

          • Deiseach says:

            Upon hearing this, Faust starts running into the horizon leaping with mad glee, because he has been presented with an infinite amount of time to explore an infinite world with science

            And after three million years of “yes, this is sand, and that is sand, and over there more sand, and it behaves just like Earth sand in every way”?

          • johnjohn says:

            I assume that’s why the movie ends where it ends 🙂

    • Well... says:

      What do you do?

      Probably throw up, maybe pass out, or possibly go into shock. People underestimate the effects of disorienting experiences at the level you describe.

      • Vermillion says:

        Any thoughts for after all that?

        • Well... says:

          The experience you describe would be unlike anything known before, but perhaps most closely similar to a dream. The delirious way I think and act in a dream is therefore my most credible model for how I’d think and act in that situation. There would be no sober weighing of this vs. that. My reasoning would be absurd, both the reasoning itself and the fact that I was attempting it. Whatever answer I gave, I’m sure I would not expect what was nominally chosen, but rather just to wake up.

    • Lillian says:

      If i can simulate anything, i’m giving myself an idealized version of my body, making several copies of myself, and then having an orgy for however long it takes me to get bored. Do i have access to a database of all the stuff that was on Earth? Because snacks and party games would be nice to have during breaks. Might as well summon up a stash of drugs too, there’s zero reason not to. Sex, drugs, and games could keep me entertained for quite a long while.

      Also i have a loooong list of self-indulgent Mary Sue fantasies across a wide variety of fictional settings i would very much like to play out. Hey Inuyasha i’m a mysteriously alluring and absurdly powerful demon girl who is super attractive and your brother Sesshomaru is totally into. Meanwhile in Star Wars, i’m a mysteriously alluring woman who has somehow mastered both the dark and light sides of the Force, i can use my powers to make the weak willed fall in love with me, and my lightsaber crackles with lightning, because fuck yeah that’s why. Oh and the Silmarillion needs more warrior princesses, so it’s getting more warrior princesses, specifically a mysteriously alluring Edain warrior princess who the most handsome and noble of Noldor lords totally falls in love with.

      (Yes my fanfics are childish and unironically bad, that’s why i don’t write them down.)

      • liquidpotato says:

        Sounds good to me. It’s all in the execution. I would put it out there. See what the response is. Then work on the next iteration.

        I would share my own not-that-great short story with you as a quid pro quo. Is it ok to share external links here?

        • Lillian says:

          Well the other reason is that i’m lazy and have a short attention span. Also when i try writing things my thoughts slow down and get all tangled up on themselves, which makes writing at length a very difficult and frustrating exercise.

          • liquidpotato says:

            Are you my long lost twin? It’s like reading a description of own writing experience.

            I took 7 months to write a 16-page short story. I will fulfill my dream of a 300 page novel in 20 years at this rate.

            So I took the lessons and feedback I learned and also really paid attention to when and where I do my best writing. Turns out I write best in 15 minute bursts. On the bus, no less. So what I did was borrow from some past experience in coding. I drew flow charts and “declared functions” (short descriptions of plot points). I write them out, glue them together when I have a chunk, went back to “refactor” (cut out unnecessary words and refine my turn of phrase), and so forth.

            I’m on my 2nd short story now. If I can cut down time spent by 50%, I’m buying myself a beer. Would be happy enough with 25% though, and look for other ways to cut down to 50%.

            I think if you have a bunch of stories, it’d be a shame not to share it. It might take time to refine the skills and the technique, but I think learning to handle rejection is a skill we should all learn to have. I say go for it Lillian.

          • Lillian says:

            Thank you for the encouragement, i will have to give some thought to this idea of writing in short bursts. Though unfortunately i have very little coding experience to draw on.

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh and the Silmarillion needs more warrior princesses, so it’s getting more warrior princesses, specifically a mysteriously alluring Edain warrior princess who the most handsome and noble of Noldor lords totally falls in love with.

        So – gonna rewrite the story of Aegnor and Andreth, then? 😀

        I love Haleth. I especially love that she told Caranthir “Up yours”. I do not especially love all the Haleth/Caranthir 4EVA LUV stories that are out there, because no freakin’ way she’d do that.

        • Lillian says:

          Something like that, if Andreth was a warrior woman instead of a wisewoman, and she convinced Aegnor to put babies in her instead of being, “Oh noes, the laws of the Eldar do not let us consummate our love, how tragic!” Screw that, if laws of the elves will not let us get married, then we shall marry by the laws of men.

          Also, i have to say, forbidding marriage while waging a centuries long war strikes me a pretty major strategic mistake. You’re taking losses and restricting the replenishment of your numbers to people who are already married. It’s an incredibly stupid law.

          And yes Haleth the Huntress is cool, though it wasn’t so much an “Up yours” to Caranthir as, “Thank you kindly, but we prefer to live free.”

          • Evan Þ says:

            AIUI, it wasn’t so much a law as a point of culture. It wasn’t as much a problem with them as with us because they were immortal, but still… oops.

          • Lillian says:

            Ancient societies tended to make much less distinction between law and custom. And yes, one way or the other the Noldor still screwed that up.

  15. awalrus says:

    I was reading some reddit thread about adhd and goal setting, and the following comment smacked me across the face:

    So when most people say “imagine yourself in 5 years,” it’s not like some super abstract mental exercise? They can actually develop a clear picture of who they will be and what they will be doing?

    So apparently this is one of those Universal Human Experiences I’m missing? (Also seems related to embodied cognition/predictive processing but I don’t know enough about it to comment.)

    I would appreciate any anecdotes about how literal this “seeing yourself in the future” is, whether you’re good or bad at goal setting!

    • j1000000 says:

      In my experience most people only have vague ideas about the future like “I’ll probably be in a serious relationship, maybe with a family.” If you’re saying you literally can’t imagine yourself holding a baby as a person five years older than this current moment, then I’d say yes, that’s abnormal, but in the same way as that guy who can’t form a mental image of a beach.

      If you’re saying you don’t have a specific five year plan like “I want xyz job at xyz company and I have this 40 point plan to achieve it” and instead your five year plan is “my career now, but with a little more salary and responsibility,” then in my experience no you are most definitely not abnormal. Only very type A outliers do the former.

      As far as goal setting, that’s a spectrum in my experience, but then again I do not have ADHD. I suppose I am not good at “goal setting,” but that’s because I am not particularly ambitious — if I have a thing that I absolutely must do, though, I’ll easily do it. On the other hand, I have friends with ADHD who find it an overwhelming task to get a job, let alone hold it.

      • awalrus says:

        I want xyz job at xyz company and I have this 40 point plan to achieve it

        Yeah, I don’t expect that kind of detail from most people.
        The impression I’m getting is not that it functions as a complete map of the terrain of possible futures, more like… landmarks?
        I don’t know if this analogy makes any sense, but:

        Being able to see various things on the horizon doesn’t give you knowledge of every obstacle on the way, but it lets you pick a general direction to walk, and see how landmarks shift closer over time.
        *Seeing* something in front of you get closer seems a lot more inherently motivating than the landmark-blind experience, which is more like… “walk north, repeat for X days.”

      • Deiseach says:

        In my experience most people only have vague ideas about the future like “I’ll probably be in a serious relationship, maybe with a family.”

        Strangely enough, this was the one thing I was very definite about from the age of nine – never going to get married, no family 🙂 I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life (example: “what do you want to do when you grow up?” “be a librarian” – well that never happened, but the fallback then was “whatever I do, I do not want to work in an office”. Where am I working? In an office) but this was the one thing I never wavered on.

        • Strangely enough, this was the one thing I was very definite about from the age of nine – never going to get married, no family

          That was roughly my current wife’s opinion as well, although I don’t know if it started that young–certainly her view when I met her.

        • Aapje says:


          You see, Deiseach, it’s never too late even for you >:)

          • Deiseach says:

            Aapje, is that a threat? 😉

          • Aapje says:

            Careful, or I’ll start flirting with you. Romantic comedies tell me that you secretly desire a partner and that you just need a man to press the right buttons. I have a typing certificate, so I can press plenty of buttons.

            PS. I’d almost recommend this to you:

            Dag is a Norwegian comedy series about a marriage counselor who thinks that people should live in solitude. He hates spending time with other people

            Except that they mostly ruined it by giving him a love interest and friends. Still, you might enjoy the first episode and perhaps a few more. You probably should quit when the nymphomaniac nun shows up, though.

          • Matt M says:

            Except that they mostly ruined it by giving him a love interest and friends

            The inevitable curse of every “cool introvert” character on TV, from Daria to House, MD…

          • The Nybbler says:

            I wouldn’t call Wilson a love interest per se.

    • b_jonas says:

      I am currently looking for work, and this is such a common question on interviews that it’s worth for me to decide in advance what I reply. My guess is that the majority of people actually can’t imagine themselves in five years, but there’s some valuable information that an interviewer can get from the candidate employee’s answers anyway. I’m not sure what that information exactly is, my current best guess is that it’s a wildcard question that gives the candidate a very wide choice to talk about whatever they want.

      • j1000000 says:

        My sense is that most people aren’t giving “real” answers that they expect to be accurate, they’re giving the answer they think will signal “ambitious enough to do my job and even go above and beyond in doing it, but not so ambitious I’m going to leave for a better opportunity very soon.” They say things like they want to be [whatever job they could realistically have a promotion or two from now] or something.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Some of the hiring managers here can probably comment on this. I think this is probably a good weed-out question for anyone who is obviously delusional…like someone who thinks they will be running the company in 5 years or something.

        • Matt M says:

          My guess is that in practice, it’s far more likely targeting the opposite extreme – those who “lack ambition.”

          In other words, I think you’re probably better off saying “I’ll be CEO in five years” than you are “I’ll be doing the job I’m interviewing for right now in five years.”

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t think that most interviews are that systematic, most interviews aren’t tests to get the right answer, they are to answer the basic question of ‘do I want to work with this guy or not’.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, but often the realistic answer is “I’ll be doing the same job because you need someone to calibrate the doohickey for the wobbleboard every day and once I’m working here for five years, I’ll know enough and have enough experience and familiarity with ‘if the combobulator on Ol’ Shocky goes off, just whack the floosion knob twice’ to keep the place running”.

            It may not be ambitious, but if every candidate you get trained in enough to be useful then moves on to something bigger and better, you are going to have a lot of “the wobbleboard was five degrees out and that’s a day’s entire production ruined and several tens of thousands of money down the drain”.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Maybe. I don’t have a good feel for it. I’m not a hiring manager, but I am sure we have some here. I know John Schilling has mentioned hiring people, though I figure Rocket Science is different from widget-counting.

          • John Schilling says:

            “What do you see yourself doing in five years?”, is not one of the questions we ask even though it would actually be relevant here in a way that wouldn’t be for widget-makers. And I think the only time I have been asked that one is when I was applying for an internal promotion, not as a new-hire interview.

            Mostly, cliché questions with obvious right or wrong answers (see also: “what is your greatest weakness”) are useless because the people you’d use those questions to weed out will come in with prepared lies.

          • Nick says:

            Mostly, cliché questions with obvious right or wrong answers (see also: “what is your greatest weakness”) are useless because the people you’d use those questions to weed out will come in with prepared lies.

            I was asked once for my three greatest weaknesses. I don’t know why anyone would want to hire someone with three crippling weaknesses in the first place. Unless it’s like Savage Worlds where I get a bunch of Edges to compensate for my Hindrances.

          • Aapje says:


            It was probably an attempt to catch people off guard who prepared an answer for ‘your single greatest weakness,’ like ‘I care too much.’

          • MrApophenia says:

            I have done some of these interviews. The goal of questions like these is to find the people with the best prepared lies, because having those indicates you are probably good at office BS in general. The ability to provide obvious business-cliche pablum with a smile, and make it non-worrying while still generally ambitious and positive sounding, speaks highly of your ability to succeed in many jobs.

          • DavidS says:

            Isn’t the traditional compromise answer (if, like in my job, you tend to be interviewed by the person at the level above the one you’re applying for): ‘I want to be doing your job’

            This obviously only works where people move around a lot so it doesn’t come across as a threat…. but it combines reasonable ambition with a side-order of sucking up.

            I’ve interviewed a few people: never used these sort of questions but I think if we did it would largely be a question that you had a small chance of losing points on rather than one which got the job for you. Though if you don’t get another one it might be an opportunity to positively signal about your genuine interest in and knowledge of the area rather than simply promotion per se.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’ve never understood the point of this question for somebody in their first job, because you don’t realistically have enough experience to have any idea what you will be doing in five years’ time – you could be still there, you could be at another company, you could be in a completely different field, you could have been made redundant in six months time after being hired because the company was eaten by a bigger company.

        Someone with more experience and a definite career track can answer that if they have a plan that “I want to be Head of Department by age X, I want to move on to Big MegaCorp after that, then I intend to retire by forty”; I suppose the point of it is to see if you’ll sit there going “Uh, I haven’t thought of that”, but honestly what can you say? “Now that I have an entry level job in Jones’ Thingamajigs, I hope to have a slightly higher level and better paying job here five years from now”?

        (Back when I was going for dairy industry lab tech jobs, I hated being asked that because realistically, going by the experience of the people working there, in five years time if hired I’d probably be doing the exact same job because there’s only one Lab Manager of This Lab post and the guy doing the casein powder grading has been doing it for six years and will be doing it for another six years because they need that product tested in a consistent manner to get consistent results and there’s no point in moving the person who knows all the standards that need to be met to somewhere else).

        • Matt M says:

          I think it’s a test on whether you’ve bothered to, at a basic level, “do your homework” on the company/industry such that you have an idea of what most people are doing 5 years or so after starting the position you’re interviewing for.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        When you interview somebody, you’re trying to answer two different questions:

        (1) does this person in front of me right now seem a good match for the company’s immediate needs?

        (2) is this person in the future likely to be a good match for the company’s needs in the future?

        That is to say, might this person grow into a role they’re not yet qualified for now, if we gave them the time and support necessary to do so?

        The ideal candidate – the one you’ll fight to hire – is somebody who can hit the ground running and be useful now but is also likely to be even more useful in the future. Interviewers who have some idea of what the longer-term needs might be will ask questions aimed at trying to tease some of that out. Especially if your resume is sparse or confusing or otherwise nontraditional and doesn’t reflect a familiar arc they’ve seen before.

        There is no universal “right answer” to the question since different firms have different longterm needs. But if it is this kind of question the best kind of answer has the format: “well, I’ve been doing a lot of X, and I enjoy doing that and I’m good at it, but in the long run I’m also interested in doing more Y, so ultimately I’d be looking for a role that could allow me to grow in that direction.”

        Maybe you’re a coder but you would like to do more interface design or more architecture design; you say that you see yourself doing more of that. Maybe you’re a salesman but you’d like to travel more. Maybe you’re a project manager but you’d like to work on bigger, more impactful projects.

        Heck, maybe you’re an actor “but you really want to direct”. 🙂

        The extra bit of context, that extra spin that says not just what you are now but what direction you are currently aiming for, can help them figure out if you’re a good fit for the firm and also helps them sell you on taking the job they are offering. eg if you say you want to travel more, they can emphasize the potential travel opportunities of the job.

        It can also help them identify if you are applying for the wrong open job and redirect you in the direction of a better one. (Or if there’s really no chance of giving you more Y exposure at this firm, they can tell you that and let you decide if you’re okay with it).

      • Chalid says:

        Related question: what sorts of jobs actually ask the “what will you do in five years” question? I know it’s supposed to be common, but in my life I’ve probably been interviewed by ~100 people and no one has ever actually asked me that.

        Knowing what kinds of jobs ask this question is probably necessary for figuring out what interviewers hope to get out of it.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Most interviewers ask me this, or something like this. I’m a pretty young guy working in some roles that might be considered entry-level, or close to it, so most managers are expecting some movement…mostly lateral into slightly more advanced departments.

          There’s also a bunch of people here who are just lifers, because it’s not a terrible place to wait to die.

          I currently work in Accounts Receivable (collecting money from business partners) and have interviewed for other A/R positions, or positions like Cost Accountant or Financial Analyst (budget setting and forecasting in both positions, with some ad hoc in the FA).

          Typically people use these roles to jump into different roles in either Accounting or Finance. For instance, you can move from A/R into General Accounting, or from FA into Capital Management.

          There’s always the possibility of getting moved into some sort of management role….but that’s typically not the progression. You move upward-laterally from one Lifer position into another Lifer position. Management positions come up rarely and the only people who are hired to MOVE into Management positions are rare super-stars. Plus, most big companies have specific programs for those people, called Management Trainee or rotation programs. You get hired right out of college into those roles and they train you from Day 1 to be an executive, and rotate you through various departments so you can get exposure to lots of different industries.

          And then like I mentioned in a prior thread, a lot of companies like to poach people from the Big 4 Accounting firms for the higher level finance and accounting roles. If you’re interviewing for my kind of role and think you’re moving into management, you’re kidding yourself.

        • Brad says:

          From what I can tell there is enormous variation in what happens in job interviews. Some companies that do a lot of hiring for the same role (e.g. retail) have it down a science, but for many white collar positions at a lot of different companies it seems to be just left up to an ad hoc process that random HR person and random hiring manger come up with on the spot. Sometimes based on little more than what they once saw on a TV show.

          All of which is to say that while “where do you see yourself in five years”, “what’s your biggest weakness”, or “how many jellybeans can fit on a 747” may in some sense be discredited or out of fashion they will never go away completely because someone somewhere will keep using them and the cycle will continue.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The honest, though not advisable, answer in my field:

        “In five years, I’ll be sitting in another interview room at another company somewhere, looking for another job. This will be after doing more or less the same thing for five years at your company, as your promises of possibility of career advancement will have proven to be as bogus as we both know them to be right now. (waits a beat) I’ll see myself out”.

    • Matt M says:

      I can come up with literal visualizations for one possibility or another quite easily.

      The problem is that I don’t just come up with one, I come up with dozens. And I have no particular confidence in any of them as opposed to any of the others.

      So I can give you a pretty detailed answer to “What does your life look like in 5 years?” I just have 0% confidence that it’s correct. Or ideal.

  16. Aapje says:

    Very interesting piece about (some of) the reasons for atomization. Key quote: “Privacy is a form of rest.”

    We may increasingly be isolating ourselves to achieve easy comfort. However, this may be hedonic in the short term, but destructive in the long term. Interacting more strongly with others may be like exercise, which causes pain in the short term, but gives energy and a feeling of wellness in the long term.

  17. johan_larson says:

    Twenty-year predictions. Give estimates for each of these probabilities.

    1. By 2038, someone other than an American will have landed on the moon and returned to Earth. [30%]
    2. In 2038, cab service by driverless vehicles will be available on Manhattan Island. [90%]
    3. In 2038, scheduled commercial flights by supersonic aircraft will be available from the US west coast to some point in Asia. [30%]
    4. In 2038, at least 10% of all cars on the road in the US will be electric. [70%]
    5. In 2038, Americans will spend more time for entertainment in VR than on smartphones. [30%]
    6. In 2038, AIs will routinely pass Turing tests against non-expert questioners. [40%]
    7. Between now and 2038, Chinese and American troops will have fought a battle against each other that caused at least 100 casualties. [10%]
    8. By 2038, at least one currently illegal recreational drug (other than cannabis) will be legalized in California. [50%]
    9. In 2038, the US will have implemented a common labor market with at least one other country. [25%]
    10. In 2038, ownership of a handgun in Houston, Texas will require a license. [10%]

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m going the bah-humbug route

      1. 1%.

      2. 5%

      3. 1%

      4. 1%

      5. 40%

      6. Mu. Eliza could fool non-expert questioners.

      7. 10%

      8. 20%.

      9. 30%, but it’ll be Canada if so.

      10. 5%, by Federal law.

      Progress is pretty much over in the established sectors; self-driving cars will join nuclear fusion and flying cars in the “always promised, never delivered categories”, and the age of supersonic travel has come and gone. There’s nothing on the moon worth going there for. The age of freedom is also over, though California and drugs aways have the potential for exception.

      • limestone says:

        Why so skeptical about the self-driving cars? Unlike the cold fusion and the flying cars the technology seems to be pretty much done.

    • Well... says:

      I’m sorry, I have no idea how I’d estimate most of these, though Nybbler’s guesses smell like they’re in the right direction. But I do want to discuss some of them:

      5. There are some important loose variables here. What else is competing for our attention in 2038? People currently try to interact with their phones while driving, but to spend time in VR you really have to clock out of everything else. I could see AR (augmented reality) taking a big slice of the attention pie — provided it’s worthwhile to people — but VR is more like going to a movie theater to see a movie than it is like sitting down to play a video game. There’s a big disorienting jump to get to it. On the other hand, maybe in 20 years everyone will have acclimated to that stuff.

      6. This depends how you define AIs and how you define those interactions. Facebook already makes people think their friends have shared stuff with them when in reality it’s an algorithm defining what you get to see. It took me two or three tries before I stopped getting fooled by those pre-recorded telemarketing calls where the voice actress leaves a gap and then laughs and says she’s having trouble with her headset. I imagine whatever company uses that technology has already made lots of money off the elderly and other people who don’t realize it’s fake. Also, some people have already won chess tournaments by cheating, using the computers on their phones, which I think also counts.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      1 (walk on moon) 20%
      2 (driverless cabs) 90%
      3 (supersonic travel) 20%
      4 (electric cars) 90%
      5 (VR) 10%
      6 (Turing test) 5%
      7 (war with China) 5% <– I have low confidence in my answer here
      8 (drugs) 30% <– I have low confidence in my answer here
      9 (common labor market) 10% <– I have low confidence in my answer here
      10 (gun license) 30% <– I have low confidence in my answer here

      So basically I don't think that driverless cars will lead to strong AI, and VR will never catch on. I think that the thrust of your VR question is about VR getting better, not fragmentation leading to smartphones being less dominant?

    • Nornagest says:

      1. 24.5%. I’d give roughly 10% odds of a national mission and 15% of a commercial or joint mission that includes a non-American.
      2. 60%. The tech is going to be there but there’s substantial regulatory risk.
      3. 5%. This is a serious long shot, and nothing I’m aware of is in development for commercial service.
      4. 70%. Existing trends are pointed in this direction but scaling problems could kill it.
      5. 10%. Plausible that VR will be popular, but smartphones are a different niche that it’s not really competing with. It could overtake video games and TV.
      6. 90%. But it won’t be strong AI. It’s not that hard to make good chatbots.
      7. 15%. Can’t see it coming but a lot can happen in 20 years.
      8. 25%. Lot of inertia here.
      9. 15%. Canada is the only real possibility and current politics aren’t pointed in that direction.
      10. 10%, and only if federally required.

      • johan_larson says:

        3. 5%. This is a serious long shot, and nothing I’m aware of is in development for commercial service.

        Have you heard of Boom?

        • bean says:

          I’m skeptical of them. Even if their engineering is good, they don’t have the expertise necessary to make the regulatory side work. And that’s a big chunk of the airline business.

        • Nornagest says:

          I hadn’t. That might bump it up to 10% or so, but it still seems like a long shot — most startups fail, and this is a really ambitious one.

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay, so how will they make it work when Concorde in the long run couldn’t? It operated for twenty-seven years but eventually went out of service.

          Maybe if they work on really long-haul flights where the convenience of cutting hours off travel time will make it worth paying the kind of eye-watering ticket prices charged, so it will have a market, but is there that much of a demand for getting to/from Australia to enable them to run such a service?

          Ireland to Australia takes about 23 hours and necessitates a break in Dubai, so even knocking a couple of hours off that would be great, but for ordinary travellers the price would (I imagine) be prohibitive.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s even harder than that: Concorde was a prestige project for Britain and France, and this is a startup. They have a much shallower pool of money to draw from, and less incentive to stick it out and make an product if it looks like it’s going to be a money-loser.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            It is at least mildly plausible that in the approximately 60 years between when the Concorde was introduced and the 2038 deadline of this projection, a technological advance makes a new supersonic passenger liner have a better economy than the Concorde.

          • John Schilling says:

            …but is there that much of a demand for getting to/from Australia to enable them to run such a service

            One thing that approximately all of the current SST ventures are doing right, is not shooting for a 100+ passenger vehicle at the outset. So they can presumably hope for profitability with a market demand per route less than half of that which Concorde would have required.

            They’ll still need to keep costs below Concorde levels, I think, and that will have to come down to improved technology. Not sure if it will be enough, but I’m happy to see them try.

          • bean says:

            Two reasons:
            1. The relevant technology has gotten significantly better, which means that operating cost will be lower. At least for BA, Concorde showed a small profit after the government wrote off procurement and R&D costs. I’m not sure they’ve managed to bring the cost down enough to make the plane profitable for them and the airlines, and I strongly suspect we’ll see a bizjet first, with the relevant company then partnering with/bought by Boeing or Airbus to bring it to the commercial market.
            2. It’s a smaller plane, about a third the seating capacity. This does wonderful things to operating economics. At a given frequency, you now only have to sell a third as many tickets, to the people who want to fly supersonic the most. Alternatively, it opens up a lot more routes, because while you may not be able to find 120 people/day who want to fly London-Atlanta enough to pay supersonic prices, you might well be able to find 40.

        • Protagoras says:

          They’ve been discussed here before, if I recall correctly. Which perhaps I do not; it might have been somewhere else that I’m misremembering. Still, one admittedly trivial but still not encouraging point; it seems poor marketing to make one of the best known problems with supersonic aircraft their company name.

    • Tarhalindur says:

      1) Depends on whether the Chinese leadership thinks putting a man on the moon brings enough prestige to be worth it, and that’s a variable I have no good information on. 75% if yes, 15% if no.
      2) 55%. Interestingly, that’s mostly downside risk on the part of Manhattan specifically – I’m sure somewhere is going to have driverless cabs by then, though it may only be some rich city-state. (China/India may avoid driverless cabs to make more jobs for the populace; Russia may have problems with weather and security.)
      3) 10%. The niche (ultra-fast flights for the very wealthy) is clear, but I’d want more evidence that some of the downsides are mitigated (*glances at sonic booms and Pacific islands*) and there’s MASSIVE political/geopolitical and to a lesser extent climate risks in play. Those odds would rise if you allowed Vancouver, though not much. (The most likely way for this scenario to pan out is the current US West Coast becoming a Chinese client state.)
      4) 30%, somewhat higher if we allow “former US”. Near-to-medium term stability risks, possible resource limits on key metals, and Red Tribe possibly taking an anti-electric car stance (don’t see any reason they won’t go there given current framing) all point against.
      5) 10%.
      6) Insufficient data, may have already happened courtesy of questioner quality.
      7) 75%. That’s way too low. Looking at the incentive structures for certain people and reading between the lines on statements from American officials I’d put at least 50% odds America attacks North Korea this year, and at that point it only takes 20% odds that China intervenes in a way that results in 100 total casualties (plausible, especially given NK’s historic role as a Chinese buffer state) to give us a 10% chance to fulfill this possibility this year. More generally, I don’t see America maintaining global dominance through 2038, reigning dominant powers rarely go down without a fight, and the factors that staved off conflict between the US and Great Britain (cultural links and the Germans) aren’t in play. The main factors pushing against hot war are nukes and the possibility that the US falls on itself first.
      8) 35%; if so, it’ll probably be a hallucinogen.
      9) 5% – I’d be surprised if Red Tribe approved, and that firewalls most scenarios with both common labor markets and an extant US. This requires either Red (base, not leadership) changing its position or Blue winning a civil war in such a way that the US is preserved and Red Tribe is crushed and another country (presumably Canada, though I suppose the cartels suborning both Mexican and American institutions is technically possible) still being willing to implement a common labor market with the US.
      10) 20%? Low confidence, too many variables.

      • johan_larson says:

        4) 30%, somewhat higher if we allow “former US”. Near-to-medium term stability risks, possible resource limits on key metals, and Red Tribe possibly taking an anti-electric car stance (don’t see any reason they won’t go there given current framing) all point against.

        You think there is a substantial chance the US will split into two or more countries in the next twenty years? That sounds like a stretch to me, but I’d be interested in what scenario you forsee.

        7) … More generally, I don’t see America maintaining global dominance through 2038, reigning dominant powers rarely go down without a fight, and the factors that staved off conflict between the US and Great Britain (cultural links and the Germans) aren’t in play. The main factors pushing against hot war are nukes and the possibility that the US falls on itself first.

        I’m expecting the US and China to pull back from the brink over North Korea. But I do expect them to keep jostling for power in Asia and Africa, and that could get 100 people killed quite easily. For example, the Chinese might detect a sub in their territorial waters and in their efforts to drive it off with depth charges inadvertently sink it. That’s more than 100 dead right there. It’s also possible that the US and China could back different factions in an African civil war, which could get more than a hundred troops killed who were present as trainers and advisors, or possibly operating something like an air defence system.

        8) 35%; if so, it’ll probably be a hallucinogen.

        If something gets legalized, it will probably be something seen as pretty harmless. My bet would be on MDMA.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’d put at least 50% odds America attacks North Korea this year

        I’d take that bet.

  18. Jaskologist says:

    What are your favorite organizational methods? I’ve finally reached the point in my career where I need to develop actual methods for time management. How do you properly juggle the many meetings, general things you’ve committed to get done, and the dozen interruptions that come up throughout the day.

    • Well... says:

      The Pomodoro method is popular among a lot of people I respect. I used it for a while too and would recommend it.

    • maintain says:

      I like the pomodoro technique.

      It seems to be beloved by programmers, and ignored by everyone else. I don’t know why.

    • Vermillion says:

      I used a combination of a lot of different techniques because meta-procrastination-where you do a lot of work looking into why you’re not working right now-was eventually useful. 1st I read this book: Getting Things Done, which had a lot of useful tips and strategies for that end. Here are some of them:

      1) If you can do a task in 2 minutes, do it right away. Anything longer than that, put it on the calendar.
      2) Schedule everything, and stick to it. Instead of checking your email every 30 seconds, put in an alert to check it 3 times a day.
      3) Speaking of email, get to 0 and stay there by a) dealing with it right away, if you can do it in 2 minutes, or scheduling a time to deal with whatever issue it’s about. Or if it’s totally irrelevant, archive it.

      There’s a lot more in there (and looks like there’s an updated version out now too) but those are the most useful bits I think. I like scheduling, and the pomodoro method because it makes it easier to stay focused and avoid distractions, which is a pretty big part of being productive. Other tools I found useful were Rescuetime and Beeminder, which can be combined to make a pretty effective commitment device. I’ve never paid a dime, the threat is sufficient motivation to put in the consistent effort a complex project demands. Consistency being another prerequisite for successful time management I think.

      I don’t know what kind of work you do, but I’ve found it a lot easier to manage my time when I’m using that time very efficiently. Hope that helps!

      • Vermillion says:

        One other thing, taking a few hours to examine a lot of different organizational styles is probably time well spent. What I described worked well for me, but I also fooled around with a lot of other programs that didn’t land at all. Throw a lot at the wall and see what sticks.

    • Incurian says:

      Write them down in a notebook and carry it with you.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      My system is too complicated to describe here, but I think there are two things which are vital to any productivity scheme.

      The first is that you need to have some kind of rough plan a couple days in advance. Because if you make time management decisions in the heat of the moment, you will end up goofing off way too much.

      Second, you need to allocate time nearly every day for long term projects which are important but not urgent. E.g. writing your book. Otherwise you will wake up one day, 70 or 80 years old, and realize that you have a lot of regrets.

  19. AlphaGamma says:

    Following on from the discussion of military museums in other countries (specifically Turkey and Japan) in the last OT, I was reminded of my visit to the Serbian military museum in the Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade a few years ago, which was similarly “odd”.

    It was laid out in a sequential way telling a story through time. Most of the museum did not appear to have changed since the 1970s- the ancient and medieval sections were unremarkable apart perhaps from a focus on peasant revolts, and the WW2 section was lots of red stars and partisan memorabilia, including Marshal Tito’s personal effects, with no mention of any non-Communist resistance (incidentally, one of the few probably post-1990 additions to this part of the museum was a display of photos of Serb villagers being converted to Catholicism at gunpoint by the Ustase).

    This part of the museum ended in what appeared to have been the original final room of the museum, an exhibit on “Yugoslav Army peacekeeping efforts today”.

    After this was a further room, perhaps the most famous part of this museum, with bits of shot-down F-117, weapons captured from “KLA terrorists”, a depleted uranium bullet (in a lead-glass case with some kind of report from the Belgrade University Nuclear Physics department) and plenty of maps of how plucky little Serbia resisted NATO aggression…

    (The museum also has a captured HMMWV outside)

    • SamChevre says:

      A military museum that I enjoyed was the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna. It had uniforms, and weapons, and stuff, from before the Thirty Years war until the Anschluss-including a copy of what may be the most famous poster of the 20th Century. (Rva Ervpu, Rva Ibyx…) And also the car in which Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, and a whole courtyard full of tanks, and a building-full of cannon.

      • b_jonas says:

        Interesting. I’m planning to visit Vienna for a few days in the near future and watch the two big museums, because they made a great impression on me when I saw them eleven years ago. I’ve never been to the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, but now I’ll consider visiting it too. Thank you for the hint.

        • SamChevre says:

          I studied for a month in Vienna between college and my first full-time job, and there’s so much to see it’s very hard to choose badly. After 15 years, the four most memorable things in Vienna are the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, the MAK, the opera (I’d never seen an opera before: get the ground-level standing places not the balcony), and the Mostheuriger in the Gentzgasse where I had cider and schnitzel when I was shivering cold and it was like eating in someone’s kitchen.

          • The Graz armory was something of a disappointment. They claim to be the world’s biggest historical armory, and it may be true–if you count a hundred identical muskets as a hundred items.

            The basic problem is that it was an armory, not a museum.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            there’s so much to see it’s very hard to choose badly

            I managed it 🙂 – can dis-recommend the Haus der Musik. It was a lot more intended-for-children than I expected, and a lot of the exhibits didn’t really work.

            But I can recommend the Weltmuseum, if you like anthropological collections – this one including an impressive array of Mesoamerican exhibits including a surprisingly well-preserved Aztec feather headdress.

          • quaelegit says:

            HdM was my absolute FAVORITE museum in Vienna — but I first visited when I was 11, so I guess that emphasizes your point about target audience. We were there from opening to close and they had to politely shoo us out b/c my sister and I didn’t want to leave. 😛 (I was also there briefly at age 15 but don’t remember my second impression.) Another point is its possible the exhibits haven’t aged well — I remember lots of interactive and tech-based exhibits that could seem boring compared to today’s technology, idk (I’m 23 now).

            Anyways, I absolutely would recommend HdM for anyone bringing kids to Vienna.

          • In the course of a speaking trip this April, I will be spending time in, among other places, Belgrade and Sofia. Any recommendations?

        • dndnrsn says:

          I don’t know if it’s still available but when I visited Vienna there was a whole collection of museums you could get a pass to at one price. Can’t remember if it included the Kunsthistorischesmuseum though, which is certainly worth seeing.

  20. Andrew Hunter says:

    I apologize if this is inappropriate, but: do SSC readers have a recommended source of {ar,}modafinil? The best I had heard of has gone out of business. r/finil has a few suggestions but if any of the regulars here have had good experiences somewhere I’d love to know.

    • Aido says:

      I’ve ordered two (good) batches from RxRex. The more recent one was towards the beginning of this year. Can only say positive things about the experience.

      Hoping this isn’t the supplier you mentioned has gone out of business…

    • zz says:

      I’ve had success with RxRex (although some of the pills might have been weak tea? Don’t really remember; also, might have been tolerance. Everyone I shared with was fully satisfied.). More recently, ordered from BTCNootropics; I was happy with every step of the process and shipping time was somewhat less, despite being in December.

  21. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Did we cover this in the past few months?

    It’s a sort-of follow-up on Scott’s “considerations on cost disease” from a year ago.

    The answer for New York and the Hudson Tunnel appears to be the particular way that union contracts are set up. It’s not just “unions” because France is way unionized and can build things for a fraction of the cost. New York seems to have a collection of insane work rules combined with an explosion in the number of workers. (They seem to get paid a lot, too, but I honestly don’t have the knowledge to know if they are underpaid or overpaid.)

    (It is not my intent to violate culture war violations here.)

    • Brad says:

      It’s not just the way union contracts are set up, it’s the way the contacts with the contractors are set up and bid, including how those contracts require the contractors and all subcontractors to deal with unions.

      At the highest level of the problem is a lack of empowerment on the part of an unit of government directly accountable to the voters to make decisions — first because the organizations (MTA/PA) are only tenuously accountable to voters and second because they are subject to a crazy quilt set of federal, state, and local rules. When you drill down to the implications of that high level problem they are: specific parts of those rules especially around bidding and unions, agency incompetence, and quasi-corruption.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Wait, I don’t buy the “only tenuously accountable to voters” explanation. You’re telling me that in all of the approximately 100% of countries that build infrastructure cheaper than we do, all of their public transit authorities are directly accountable to voters? That can’t be right. Nobody is accountable to voters in Japan, say.

        • Brad says:

          That’s a fair point. There’s a lot of bad governance around the world.

          But having observed the MTA (16 member board made up of appointees of the governor, the mayor, and 6 different county executives) and the PA (12 member board with members evenly split between NJ governor appointees and NY governor appointees) for many years I can’t help but think that the lack of accountability plays a role. For example last summer, known as the summer of hell because of problems at Penn Station and the subways, there was a lot of finger pointing back and forth between Governor Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio and also between both and Amtrak.

        • cassander says:

          Accountable to someone, I think, matters more than voters. No one is effectively in charge of transit in most of the US, so everyone uses it as a piggy bank to reward their particular constituencies. In Japan, I assume, there is a civil servant or minister somewhere who with a modicum of authority, and while the various stakeholders will get their share, his career will be derailed if things get too far out of control.

      • BBA says:

        There’s also the overreaction against the old system, under which Robert Moses was arbitrarily leveling neighborhoods to build freeways nobody used left and right. We’ve decided that was wrong, so now we require every community organization within a five-mile radius to sign off on painting a new bike lane.

        (I’m exaggerating for comic effect here, which should go without saying but doesn’t.)

  22. Svein Ove Aas says:

    I believe there was an article linked to recently, about sentencing(?) bias driven by AI algorithms, written by a statistician trying to explain that it’s not bias in the *statistical* sense, and that any alternative would increase the number of guilty people walking free / innocent people jailed.

    But I can’t find it. Does anyone know which article I’m talking about?

  23. proyas says:

    I was reading through back issues of SSC and found this:

    ‘Scott Alexander says:
    May 30, 2014 at 9:00 pm ~new~
    This is just about what I think on this problem too. Except I think this time I might have successfully out-crazied you. I am becoming more and more attracted to the theory in this short story I wrote in 2010.’

    It’s in the comments section of this blog entry:

    Unfortunately, the link to the short story is broken? Can you repost it?

  24. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    I have a bit of a weird question but I think that people here are uniquely well qualified to answer it. Besides you guys already helped me out a lot before.

    What would people use for currency in a fantasy setting where it was possible for alchemists to transmute base metals into silver or gold and common stones into precious stones? The setting is otherwise similar to the Holy Roman Empire in the early modern period with ice age ecology and megafauna. So principalities, city leagues and landsknechte plus mammoths.

    I’m assuming that some kind of banknotes would serve as a medium of exchange but I’m having a hard time figuring out how that would work. From what I understand it was only very recently that currencies emerged that weren’t backed by prescious metals. Renaissance banks issued promissory notes but their value came from how much coinage they could be exchanged for. I’m just having a hard time seeing anyone handing out bills denominated in head of cattle.

    • Matt M says:

      I’m just having a hard time seeing anyone handing out bills denominated in head of cattle.


      Other than the fact that it never had to happen, precisely because precious metals were more practical.

      I recall listening to a podcast about some African country where a lot of business (including arranged marriages) is still conducted with cattle as the primary unit of exchange. But they mentioned that, for practical reasons, it was uncommon that transactions were conducted literally with huge amounts of physical cattle being transferred from owner to owner on the spot.

      Rather, if you owed the brides father 500 cows, you might give him 50 cows right away, with the balance to be redeemed later, at some sort of reasonable pace that works for both parties. The father could also transfer these cattle claims to others if he wanted. I don’t think there was paper involved in any of this, it was just a standing verbal IOU. But like, in a larger, lower-trust society, there surely could be paper.

      • Maladjusted Poor Ones says:

        I’m wondering how much the risk of livestock deaths (or livestock quality and health) might affect people’s trust in the system – might not be an issue depending on Nabil ad Dajjal’s society (maybe it is high-magic enough that sudden plagues or harsh winters wouldn’t be a factor, but that’s on him).

        Would an animal-based product (hides, pelts, ivory) be a more stable (non-spoilable) substitute to back promissory notes? Or would they be too inflationary? (i.e. if they’re sufficiently stable and the amount grows year-on-year as more get produced for their value than get used for their inherent utility, would that cause too much inflation for an economic-stability-craving people to tolerate?)

        Just thinking out loud.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Would this make a villain planning to unleash a magical cow disease upon all but his own cows the equivalent of Goldfinger planning to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox?

        • Civilis says:

          Would an animal-based product (hides, pelts, ivory) be a more stable (non-spoilable) substitute to back promissory notes?

          Even assuming that the animal-based products don’t spoil enough to become useless as a store of value, they run into the issue that it’s hard to divide them up. 100 10g gold coins probably have roughly the same usefulness as a 1kg gold bar. 100 one square inch pieces of hide don’t have the usefulness as a 10 by 10 in piece of hide. (You also run into issues with the variable quality of the hide or ivory).

          My understanding is the Japanese used the koku, the amount of rice able to feed one person for a year, as both a measure and effectively a currency, and areas that didn’t grow rice evaluated their crop yield in terms of koku. Rice or wheat is divisible enough to be able to trade with, and presumably the quality of the rice or wheat is at least understandable to the average farmer so that he can understand the value of what he’s trading; “Two man-years worth of rice for your cow” is perfectly understandable to a farmer.

    • FLWAB says:

      If you want their monetary system to be more sophisticated than trading in livestock, you need something inherently valuable, that can be easily owned or controlled, that can be split up into smaller amounts without damaging the value, and doesn’t spoil. Off the top of my head marble or salt could work, but I don’t know if your alchemists can whip them up as easily. If they can it get’s tricky. Some of my more out there ideas:

      -Land: the bank manages the land, people trade deeds. Problem: what to do with profits from the land? Perhaps the bank distributes them as dividends. But if we’re going to do that, why not just use…
      -Stocks: nobody uses money, they just trade stock in corporations. Of course you run the risk of all your money becoming worthless if the company goes under, but that can be mitigated if the company is large enough and “too big to fail”: perhaps an analogue to the East India Company would work, something with a government monopoly that is huge and solidly profitable.
      -Water: Everyone needs water, it doesn’t “spoil” but it’s so available you’d need each note to be backed by huge amounts of water: and how would you store it? Massive cisterns?
      -Favors: each promissory note is worth a certain amount of favors from the King. Problem: how to you subdivide a favor, and how did the King end up owing enough favors that it can support a currency? Possible answer: one favor is worth like $1,000,000 dollars, so basically everyone trades in tiny fractions of a favor, and the wealthy occasionally buy them up to get an actual favor out of the king, which gives them value. Still, probably too bonkers to actually work.
      -Precious wood? It would have to be pretty darn precious.
      -Incense? Spices? Rare dyes? Could work, unless those dang alchemists can make up synthetic versions.
      -Oil: who doesn’t like oil? I don’t know what people in a fantasy world will do with it, but it could work. Maybe the alchemists need oil as feed stock to make cool things? That almost makes scientific sense!
      -Genie wishes: see favors above, but $1,000,000,000 gets you a wish from a genie! Hey, you said it was fantasy.

      That’s my random thoughts. It’s a tough problem. I don’t think a Medieval-Renaissance era society is ready for fiat currency; we’ve only really had it since Nixon.

    • Civilis says:

      If alchemy is a major part of the economy, any alchemical reagent that can’t be produced in bulk would serve as a store of value, especially if it’s used in either the most valued alchemical formulas. If most alchemy requires mercury and mercury is something hard or impossible to produce alchemically, then you’d have currency backed by stocks of mercury or a common mercury compound like cinnabar. It would be interesting to see how banks managed hard currency transactions if the hard currency stocks were in elemental mercury.

      Another option is common salt. It’s something that historically was in high demand, and since it can be extracted in low quantities there’s probably no reason to justify alchemical production.

    • cassander says:

      you can use precious stones that have a particular structure. turning lead into carbon, on it’s own, doesn’t give you diamond. For them you have to have that carbon arranged in exactly the right pattern at the atomic level, which maybe you can’t do efficiently.

      That or material consumable material components required for spells. If you need a lot of guano or whatever to make all those fire enchantments, it’s going to be valuable even if alchemists can whip it up.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Gold-pressed latinum; that is, something rare that the alchemists can’t transmute (or perhaps can transmute only with extreme difficulty). An ice age ecology suggests mammoth ivory as a possibility.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      How efficient is it for alchemists to do this? Do they make most materials super-abundant? Is there anything they can’t create? (I don’t mean a super-special orichalcum, I mean a class of things: Can they create/turn useless crap into wood? Ivory, as someone suggested above?)

      If alchemists can create more-or-less anything, but it costs a fairly substantial fixed price per unit of mass of item to be created, then you could plausibly back your currency with like “fifty pounds of steel,” even if “grams of gold” aren’t useful.

      If alchemists can’t create organic things, then you could use ivory, or indeed woods, or bushels of grain as the backing for your currency.

      If alchemists can create anything not currently living in relatively large amounts, consider that you don’t have an early modern period, you’ve got a post-scarcity economy. But yeah, backing your currency with heads of cattle doesn’t seem completely nuts.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        It’s an interesting question.

        I guess my answer is that an alchemist probably could transmute base matter into a different kind of base matter, the same way that a doctor could use his knowledge of medicine to poison his patients. But it’s not what they’re trained to do and it’s antithetical to their philosophy.

        The purification of base matter into silver or gold was historically an allegory for purifying the soul to achieve henosis or enlightenment. Buddhists even have their own version of the philosopher’s stone, the Cintimani, which serves the same allegorical purpose.

        And on a more practical level, I’d imagine that transmuting stone into iron would probably be a lot more expensive than just mining it. Maybe in a metal poor area like Japan that wouldn’t be the case but I’ve been assuming that most raw materials like iron or stone are in excess and the rate limiting step is that manufacturing is done by cottage industry.

    • beleester says:

      I’m seconding the idea of mammoth ivory coins as a non-replicable currency. Or some other animal product – cowrie shells were a common organic currency in much of the world. Wampum beads were also used as currency in the Americas.

      Also, one interesting thing I saw in a sci-fi setting was a currency backed by “printer time.” A space colony’s fabricators are basically giant 3D printers that can make anything you need, but the printers are ludicrously big and expensive, so a colony only has one of them, and you parcel out tiny shares of its output to use as currency.

      If alchemy can create anything, but alchemists themselves are rare and their time is expensive, then “shares in the Guild of Alchemists” or something similar might be the only truly scarce good.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Have your alchemists developed the Elixir of Life? If so, how does it work?

        Strata, one of Terry Pratchett’s lesser-known works, has the main currency be the Day, which can be exchanged for enough life-extension drugs to add one day to your lifespan. The average daily salary is a reasonably large number of Days, so as long as people keep working (with the odd sabbatical break) they can effectively live as long as they want.

        The other, more dystopian possibility is that everyone is immortal due to the Elixir, but to keep the population down you must keep paying to not be killed.

        • Murphy says:

          Also something similar in the film “In Time” where seconds of life are a currency and if the clock on your arm runs out you die. Implied to be used as a form of population control where the “cost of living” is adjusted by the dystopian state (after a bank heist where the robbers give away the time) to keep the prole death rate steady.

          “5 minutes for a cup of coffee?”

          I really think they could have done better with that film rather than it just being a clunky criticism of modern capitalism.

          • Incurian says:

            I really think they could have done better with that film rather than it just being a clunky criticism of modern capitalism.

            This actually applies to a lot of art.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          See also To Live Forever by Jack Vance, in which people compete for life extension.

          Blish’s Cities in Flight has an economic collapse caused by a switch to anti-agathics (life extension meds).

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I like the idea of ivory, especially since it gives a default motivation for players to be running around on the mammoth steppe. Plus if you have to steal a carcass from a saber tooth cat or a pack of hyenas in order to get paid then there’s a path for adventures to acquire wealth and experience at the same time.

        There needs to be a handwave for why a society with hand cannons hasn’t driven mammoths, rhinos, and hippos to extinction when in our world we did it with fire-hardened spears. But that was already an inconsistency in the setting so it’s not creating a new problem so much as calling attention to an existing one.

        I’ll have to think it over.

        • bean says:

          Plus if you have to steal a carcass from a saber tooth cat or a pack of hyenas in order to get paid then there’s a path for adventures to acquire wealth and experience at the same time.

          Why would you have to steal a carcass? The hyenas and sabertooths (saberteeth?) have no real use for the tusks, and from what I remember of animal behavior, aren’t going to be dragging all their kills back to a guarded lair. Why not just wander around looking for old kills?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Because that’s much less exciting?

            I guess I need to think that one over a bit more.

          • The Nybbler says:

            One possible answer: Because if you wait for the scavengers to be gone, you risk another human party showing up to contend with you.

    • Murphy says:

      Is there anything that’s actually rare in this world?

      Does alchemy require any rare reagents? If so they make a decent substitute. Even if the reagents sit in a vault and you exchange the deeds to some quantity.

      If no and alchemy takes no special materials:

      Does alchemy take extreme skill or do guilds control the trade in some way?One option might be promissory notes issued by alchemists guilds backed by the promise that you can exchange them for some amount of an alchemists time/labor to create whatever you want. 50KG of gold might not be so valuable but the promise of 50KG of any material of your choice still has value unless every tom dick and harry has their own alchemy set.

      if alchemy is easy:

      if it’s a medieval setting then you still need to turn those metals into useful things so other trade guilds could get in on that action: A master blacksmith’s time and their work was incredibly valuable to the point where there are cases of a master blacksmith being paid a village in exchange for a top-tier suit of armor, as in a whole village with the right to collect taxes from it. So other craft guilds might also issue “currency” denominated in the time/work of craftsmen of various levels.

      Or if that doesn’t work you can fall back on extreme-value crafted items and biologicals in a barter economy. Like finely made weapons and armor, silks, spices, etc.

      Slaves were a pseudo currency at some points: extremely valuable and quite transportable across borders.

      • dndnrsn says:

        This is pretty much what I was going to say. It depends on the nature of alchemy. If alchemy is high-skilled, requires expensive gear/equipment, etc, then the time of an alchemist of such-and-such a skill level with so-and-so gear might become what currency measures. Imagine if we lived in a world where you could produce REAL stuff using 0s and 1s. The time and effort of computer programmers would likely become the currency. If it’s common, cheap, and easy, etc then whatever the limiting factor is on the economy might become the thing the currency ostensibly measures.

    • dodrian says:

      The traditional culture of the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea have some interesting currency ideas. The Wikipedia article doesn’t go into much detail (I’m remembering in a bit more from a documentary I watched years ago). They trade shells, yams, and additionally women create their own currency by preparing bundles of banana leaves in a specific way. Creating a bundle takes a few days, and strikes me as similar to proof of work (a stone-age bitbananacoin?)

      Part of the currency is additionally backed by stringent cultural norms (restrictions on who can grow yams / make banana leaf bundles). That may or may not play well into your setting. But they may serve as interesting or inspirational ideas!

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        This is so surreal that I can’t even really do anything except quote it:

        Trobrianders use yams as currency, and consider them a sign of wealth and power. […]

        Each year, a man grows yams for his sister, and his daughter if she is married. The husband does not provide yams to his wife. The more yams a woman receives, the more powerful and rich she is. The husband is expected to give his wife’s father or brother a gift in turn for the yams they give his wife. When the woman is first married, she receives yams from her father until the woman’s brother thinks his sister and her husband are old enough for him to give the yams.

        At the beginning of the yam harvest, the yams stay on display in gardens for about a month before the gardener takes them to the owner. The owner is always a woman. There is a great ceremony for this every year. The yams are loaded into the woman’s husband’s empty yam house. Young people come to the gardens dressed in their most festive traditional clothes early on the day the yams are delivered to the yam house. The young people are all related to the gardener, and carry the yam baskets to the owner’s hamlet. When they get to the owner’s hamlet, they sing out to announce the arrival of the yams while thrusting out their hips in a sexually provocative motion. This emphasizes the relation between yams and sexuality. […]

        […] The yam house owner also may decide not kill a pig for the gardener because he is unsatisfied with the number of yams, or is angry with the gardener for another reason. Once the yam houses are full, a man performs a special magic spell for the hamlet that wards off hunger by making people feel full.

        This is very interesting but it also sounds like a skit from Borat. It’s just indescribably weird, like if David Lynch got stranded on a desert island and started his own yam-based society.

        The banana leaf currency is interesting and probably more usable for my purposes. I also wouldn’t have thought of the connection to crypto-currency myself.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Since I was a bit ambiguous, let me try to describe alchemy in a bit more detail.

      Out of universe, I don’t want this place to look like Eberron or the Tippyverse. I’m glad that Eberron exists as a setting but it’s not the feel I’m going for. My goal is to keep magic rare enough that it’s still wondrous but also think through the effects of that magic on the world.

      My idea for what alchemists can do so far is roughly based on Paracelsus’ idea of the three primes. They can make different pure substances which have miraculous effects:

      1. Philosopher’s Salt: the sort of salt you see in folk magic, able to bind or ward off spirits. If you have this and you’re reasonably clever you can get the elemental spirits of nature to do your bidding. E.g., if you trick the water-spirit / undine of a river into a circle of Philosopher’s Salt you can force it to part the river for long enough to get across or to drive a waterwheel.
      2. Philosopher’s Mercury: A panacea or elixer of life. It can cure illness, heal mortal wounds, and maybe extend your lifespan if you’re rich enough to take it regularly. If you wash your eyes in it you can see and communicate with spirits.
      3. Philosopher’s Sulfur: Gunpowder by way of Greek fire. It burns even when wet and combusts with enough force to be useful in primitive guns and mortars. I’m not sure if it’s smokeless or not: that’s going to have a big effect on how warfare works so it’s important to make the right decision there.
      4. Philosopher’s Stone (White or Red): The white stone allows you to transmute silver, the red stone allows you to transmute gold. You can probably also animate homonculi or golems although I’m a little less clear on how that would work.

      Also this isn’t Full Metal Alchemist style alchemy. You need an actual lab with glassware and the rest to make any of this stuff. You’re not going to be able to decant in the middle of a battlefield.

      • Brad says:

        We have:
        lead + red stone = gold

        Is the red stone used up or is it a catalyst? Is there any limiting factor on the number of red stones around? On the transmutation rate?

        The possibilities are that gold is still at least somewhat precious because transmuting gold is cheaper than mining it but not all that much, or that gold is no longer precious because it’s only a little more expensive than lead (or copper, mercury, or whatever).

        In the latter scenario, paradoxically, the Philosopher’s Stone turns out to be a mostly useless novelty because there’s little point in transmuting to gold when everyone can transmute to gold. Gold itself is a mostly useless novelty. Something like how we think of fool’s gold or quartz crystals — a pretty rock to give to a child but economically meaningless.

        On the other hand if the Philosopher’s Stones are strictly used for gold and silver then there’s no reason that platinum, palladium, or even aluminium (assuming these guys don’t have electrolysis) couldn’t play the gold role in this world. That’s a little bit boring maybe, but it might make some interesting exposition how gold was the basis of the world’s economy until the alchemists figured out how to create it but in doing so made it the effort pointless.

        Or maybe, now that I think about it, even if there’s no natural rate limiting step what about if the guild of alchemists regulates the production à la De Beers to keep it precious? That would open up story telling around rogue alchemists trying to break guild rules and powerful guild enforcers coming after them.

        • dndnrsn says:

          A Philosopher’s Stone is Forever.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Is the red stone used up or is it a catalyst? Is there any limiting factor on the number of red stones around? On the transmutation rate?

          I was picturing it as a catalyst. Otherwise it’s just a bit lame.

          The limit to producing them is that you need to be a master alchemist. The stone is the completion of the Magnum Opus, so you’re looking at probably years of work by a specialist.

          I haven’t really thought about the reaction rate too much. I guess I haven’t been thinking much like a biochemist in that respect. I need to figure out the limiting step and use that to regulate how this works.


          Or maybe, now that I think about it, even if there’s no natural rate limiting step the guild of alchemists regulates the production à la De Beers to keep it precious? That would open up story telling around rogue alchemists trying to break guild rules and powerful guild enforcers coming after them.

          That’s an option.

          Generally using conspiracies to explain game mechanics make me roll my eyes really hard. But in this case there’s a historical precedent and it provides built in quest hooks so it may be more forgivable.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Is there magic otherwise? Like, what’s the power level? Because you’re right – most fantasy settings don’t really grapple with what having wizards and so on around would do. They have power levels waaaaaaay higher than the swords and sorcery pulps D&D is actually based on, let alone LotR (which, honestly, became a fantasy touchstone, but D&D started off more like “you got your Fritz Leiber in my wargaming” “no, you got your wargaming in my Fritz Leiber!”, and LotR kind of got read backwards into it – but your average mid-level wizard is vastly more powerful than Gandalf) but still sort of assume that society would be recognizably medieval. Eberron – never played it but I gathered it was kinda “wizardpunk” – or Planescape are actually the most “realistic” D&D settings. Discworld is one of the most “realistic” fantasy novels for its level of magic, because magic actually gets involved in the world, as do elves and trolls and all that.

        So, the question is, how rare are these four things?

        1. How likely is it that, say, an army could ford a river they shouldn’t be able to ford, get behind you, etc? Unless it’s really rare, people are going to start protecting against its effects just in case. That’s just the example I can think of.
        2. How rich do you have to be to get your hands on this stuff? If it’s only for kings and emperors – what does the king having a longer lifespan, being less likely to randomly die of dysentery, etc, do to the system of monarchy? Would an ambitious and unscrupulous heir be finding ways to get his dad’s alchemist to instead give a placebo? If it’s cheaper, to the point that the top 1% or 5% or whatever of society by wealth can afford it – what does it mean that now the merchants, or top merchants, and aristocrats, or non-starving-knight aristocrats, can stave off death, or at a minimum survive the plague when it rolls into town?
        3. Gunpowder had already changed things before smokeless came about. Everything not a musket became increasingly less relevant when the socket bayonet was developed (why have pikemen if your musketeers can fire AND poke things?) and once the rifle-musket comes around…
        4. Silver and gold we’re already talking about. What do homonculi or golems mean for society? Can you have sleepless, no-need-for-eating-or-breathing golems sitting at the bottom of mines pumping water like in the Discworld?

        If you decide to have these things anything but really rare (eg, the Deathless Emperor is an unusual enough thing that it’s considered noteworthy that he’s Deathless; if the all the monarchy can afford the stuff, that’s like saying The Movie Star With A Nosejob) maybe try this for fun: run a brief intro adventure or two set in the times before alchemy became a thing, see what wacky things your players (the first alchemists?) do with their magic, and then use those inspirations to build the world.

        EDIT: Or, if magic is common or common enough, what’s the limiting factor? Eg, by Call of Cthulhu’s book-inflation, every damn university has at least a few magic tomes sitting around. But anyone who tries to use the damn things is heading for SAN 0 pretty quick, and when you start off trying to use magic to get rich but go crazy in the process, you probably end up deciding money isn’t as important as venerating the true beauty that is Omchaperon, the Cowled Destiny.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          1. The word evocation comes from the Roman practice of attempting to strip enemy cities if their patron deities during wartime to get an advantage in battle and avoid curses. The Norse similarly thought that keeping their land spirits happy and intimidating the spirits of foreign lands was an important part of warfare. So I’d be okay with something like that playing a role in warfare. Getting help from the earth spirit / gnome of a mountain to prevent an invasion through an unguarded pass sounds like a hell of an adventure.

          2. The Salt and Sulfur need to be reasonably affordable but you’re right that Mercury would really screw things up if it’s too cheap. Maybe it needs a nerf, making it more like antibiotics than a fountain of youth.

          3. Eh. Landsknecht infantry fought with pike and shot for centuries, ditto Reiter cavalry with pistols and swords. Gunpowder didn’t imediately end the age of armored soldiers the way it’s popularly imagined.

          The reason smokeless or black powder matters is about the relative usefulness of rifles. If a line of musketmen throw out thick clouds of smoke then it doesn’t matter whether or not they can aim after the first shot or two. Their increased firing rate and the cheapness of their weapons becomes an advantage. But if you can still see after firing then a rifle’s range is more important as a deciding factor.

          4. Good point. As I said, I haven’t really sketched that part out very clearly so it’s something to keep an eye on.

          • dndnrsn says:

            1. If it’s something worth building an adventure around, then it’s presumably at least a bit rare. You’ve said you don’t want an Eberron feel – while an “alchemypunk” setting (the screaming dive-bomber automatons powered by petrified dragon’s hearts suppressing enemy gremlin artillery while the field alchemist units bargain with the river sprites so the golem-powered tanks can get across the river!) would be cool, it’s not what you want. What’s the limiting factor? Especially for metagame reasons: you want to be able to have “the enemy has bargained with the river sprites and gotten behind our forces!” as something to explain why the PCs’ side just got their asses kicked, not something so basic that the PCs’ king forgetting to guard places that would be fordable by magic is an “idiot ball” situation.

            2. That’s a good idea. Maybe have alchemy able to replicate – at great cost, for a very limited few – some elements of modern medicine? Say, 1950s level. Not having your kids die, being able to survive the bubonic plague, wounds that would kill you from infection or blood loss being in theory survivable, living into your 70s or 80s with most of your teeth, etc, is pretty magical by medieval standards.

            (Which raises the game mechanics question: what are the mechanics for communicable disease, for your wounds getting infected, etc? On a slightly less mechanical level: are you going to apply them to PCs and NPCs – to put it another way, are your PCs going to be dying from infected minor wounds, from the plague, etc? Are they going to starve? Are you going to have a 1st ed Twilight 2000 feel where foraging food and trying to avoid dying of dysentery are major game mechanics? Some players would hate this)

            3. Yeah, it wasn’t immediate, but after a certain point, the technology had improved enough that the advantages were greater than the disadvantages, and infantry with other weapons were kind of obsolete. By the end of the 17th century?

            In any case, the best answer for “how common is it” is probably “rare enough that it only gets used for siege weapons.” This solves the problem of balancing gunpowder weapons (in my experience fantasy games usually either make arquebuses and the like pure garbage nobody would ever use, or armour-piercing death machines).

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            1. True. I still need to identify the limiting step.
            2. Sounds about right.
            3. I still don’t buy it though. A group of landsknechte or a tercio might have as many as two musketmen to a pikeman but they still fought in armor. They were still bullet-proofing plate armor at least as late as the English Civil War and cuirasses were still somewhat effective as late as the Napoleonic Wars. It’s just a mistake to say that the two can’t mix: they did, in great numbers, and for quite a long time.

            Which raises the game mechanics question: what are the mechanics for communicable disease, for your wounds getting infected, etc?

            I personally like the miasmatic theory of disease a lot.

            Did you drink from a well that someone defiled? Did you get mud from a blood-soaked battlefield in your wounds? Have you been sucking in the air coming out of a stygian pit? Congratulations, you’ve given a polluted spirit a free shot at your internal organs. Better get those humours re-balanced!

            RPGs are really good at answering the question “who would win in a fight?” but in my experience are really crummy at answering questions like “can I carry this rock into town?” I’m hoping that by using spirits I can convert most if not all of those sort of fiddly corner-case rules into simple opposed actions.

            On a slightly less mechanical level: are you going to apply them to PCs and NPCs – to put it another way, are your PCs going to be dying from infected minor wounds, from the plague, etc? Are they going to starve? Are you going to have a 1st ed Twilight 2000 feel where foraging food and trying to avoid dying of dysentery are major game mechanics? Some players would hate this

            I’m not under any misconception that I’m going to dethrone D&D or Pathfinder. If anyone outside of my circle of friends ever plays this game it’s going to be because of the way it differs from the standard FRPG and not in spite of it.

            So I’m not really worried that people want a more forgiving or more kitchen-sink RPG. If they want that then there are a million better alternatives.

          • dndnrsn says:

            3. I still don’t buy it though. A group of landsknechte or a tercio might have as many as two musketmen to a pikeman but they still fought in armor. They were still bullet-proofing plate armor at least as late as the English Civil War and cuirasses were still somewhat effective as late as the Napoleonic Wars. It’s just a mistake to say that the two can’t mix: they did, in great numbers, and for quite a long time.

            Oh, they coexisted for quite a while, but as gunpowder weapons got better by comparison, everything else fell by the wayside sooner or later.

            I personally like the miasmatic theory of disease a lot.

            Did you drink from a well that someone defiled? Did you get mud from a blood-soaked battlefield in your wounds? Have you been sucking in the air coming out of a stygian pit? Congratulations, you’ve given a polluted spirit a free shot at your internal organs. Better get those humours re-balanced!

            RPGs are really good at answering the question “who would win in a fight?” but in my experience are really crummy at answering questions like “can I carry this rock into town?” I’m hoping that by using spirits I can convert most if not all of those sort of fiddly corner-case rules into simple opposed actions.

            Listen to this guy who doesn’t realize miasmas are the result of astrological coincidences, in this, anno domini 1318.

            I’m not under any misconception that I’m going to dethrone D&D or Pathfinder. If anyone outside of my circle of friends ever plays this game it’s going to be because of the way it differs from the standard FRPG and not in spite of it.

            So I’m not really worried that people want a more forgiving or more kitchen-sink RPG. If they want that then there are a million better alternatives.

            I meant more, some players would hate that, as in, what about your players? You know them – some people would like a game where they have to worry about taking a few HP of damage because they might get gangrene and die. Some would hate it. Some people might say “I want to play a realistic, gritty RPG” but they mean “a few good sword hits kills ya” not “a glancing blow causes you to die a week later of blood poisoning.”

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Oh, I misunderstood. Yeah my players would be fine with that.

            When I ran Keep on the Borderlands for them they were sweating having one hit die each at first but after their first fight they were bugging me about when the next session would be. It seemed like the tension really helped.

            It was also the only time in my entire RPG career that I ever saw PCs withdraw from a fight that wasn’t going well. Not to mention some of the best coordination I’ve seen between players, and the most thoughtful treatment of NPC hirelings.

            Maybe that’s because they were all women or because only one of them had previous RPG experience. But they seem to really enjoy my uncompromising GM style.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It could just be personalities rather than “they’re women” or “most aren’t capital-G Gamers” – Terry Pratchett had a story of running a D&D (or similar) adventure for a group of middle-aged or elderly women when he was younger, and them (unprompted) behaving in a way that most of us would think only teenage boys playing games (or war criminals in real life, who may or may not be teenage boys) did (eg, tying up a captured goblin and using him to check for traps, or something of that nature).

            I’ve found that forcing myself to be less compromising – rolling in the open, mainly – has improved my game. It’s also easier in “mission-based” gameplay – a long campaign requires you keep people alive more than “the director calls you into his office…”

          • Lillian says:

            It was also the only time in my entire RPG career that I ever saw PCs withdraw from a fight that wasn’t going well. Not to mention some of the best coordination I’ve seen between players, and the most thoughtful treatment of NPC hirelings.

            You know, i’m aware of the streotype if PCs stubbornly fighting to death when they could have just surrendered or retreated, but i’ve never actually seen it play out. In games i’ve played in, the PCs have never failed to at least attempt a retreat when things go bad. Hell sometimes PCs decline to go into fights just because they don’t like the odds; which depending on player/character temperament could mean anything from “they outnumber us by too much” to “we don’t outnumber them by enough”.

            Coordination on the other hand is can be a bit hit and miss in my experience. As for hirelings, i prefer the term “retinue” and tend to give them names and grow attached to them. It might have something to do with my preferred play style being domain building.

          • beleester says:

            It’s not really that players won’t retreat, it’s that the D&D mechanics don’t make it easy to do a successful retreat.

            First, there’s not a lot of margin for error, especially at low levels. At 1 HP, you’re still fully combat effective, and you can be healed to full HP with no long-term consequences. At -1 HP, you’re unconscious and dying. One good critical hit can be the difference between a flawless victory and a dead party member.

            Worse, a party member falling into the negatives gives you an incentive to stay and fight. Because now you’re on a ticking clock – you have a few rounds to get your fallen party member stabilized before he’s gone for good. Win the fight, and that’s easy. Retreat, and you have to pick up the bodies and cast cure spells while you run, taking attacks of opportunity the whole way.

            D&D could really use some sort of “Out of the fight but still able to move” status to give the players a signal that it’s time to run.

          • Lillian says:

            Okay it probably helps that i’ve never played D&D, nor have any particular interest in ever doing so. The most thematically similar system i’ve played is Earthdawn, which has very little in-combat healing, and also a wounds system complementing hitpoints, so if you’re wounded and low on health, that’s a pretty good cue to consider retreat or surrender. The most mechanically similar is Mutants & Masterminds 3, which has no hitpoints at all, only wound levels. Additionally, characters can only be killed by a deliberate follow-up attack after they’re knocked unconscious, and there’s no such thing as bleeding out, so grabbing your fallen and making a run for it is completely viable.

            Then there’s games like Vampire, where combat is so lethal that you’re strongly encouraged to see fair fights as a sign that something has gone horribly wrong. Either you have the advantage, in which case you press it, or you don’t in which case you make concessions. In such a dangerous environment nearly all fights start as ambushes, which means that one side is usually trying to retreat. Stand and fight only happens when someone gets cornered, or both sides happen to think they have the advantage.

        • Civilis says:

          2. How rich do you have to be to get your hands on this stuff? If it’s only for kings and emperors – what does the king having a longer lifespan, being less likely to randomly die of dysentery, etc, do to the system of monarchy? Would an ambitious and unscrupulous heir be finding ways to get his dad’s alchemist to instead give a placebo? If it’s cheaper, to the point that the top 1% or 5% or whatever of society by wealth can afford it – what does it mean that now the merchants, or top merchants, and aristocrats, or non-starving-knight aristocrats, can stave off death, or at a minimum survive the plague when it rolls into town?

          If the services of alchemists are for sale, we can connect this to the original question: there’s rumors of the plague; what do I offer to the alchemists in trade for a dose of Philosopher’s Mercury? Whatever the alchemists want is probably going to be valuable enough to serve as a basis for the currency.

          The alchemists might not need ivory or salt, but if they know they can reliably trade it for the rare reagents they need, they’ll take it as payment for their services. If the noble or rich merchant knows that the alchemists will always accept ivory, then ivory becomes a reliable store of value.

          • dndnrsn says:

            This makes me think – what keeps the alchemists from becoming the kings, the power behind the throne, etc? Or, if they are, what does that look like?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Nabil has told us that alchemists need infrastructure — labs, glassware, etc. So they’re not like Dark Wizards who can take over on the strength of their own personal power. Running a kingdom able to provide such infrastructure is going to take that old bugaboo, leadership, and there’s no reason to suppose alchemists are any better at it than anyone else. Besides, running a kingdom takes away valuable time spent researching new alchemy, making philosopher’s stones, etc.

            Not that I’d suggest any rulers actually _anger_ the local Alchemist’s Guild; eliminating a king is much easier than running a kingdom.

        • Maladjusted Poor Ones says:

          Discworld is one of the most “realistic” fantasy novels for its level of magic, because magic actually gets involved in the world, as do elves and trolls and all that.

          And the absolute genius of the Sourcery backstory to explain why wizards’ magic isn’t the be-all-and-end-all solution to all problems, given the whole “once the plural for ‘wizard’ was ‘war'” / mysterious things from the Dungeon Dimensions problems.

          It’s been awhile since I’ve read the Moist von Lipwig Discworld series, but didn’t he end up setting their currency to the Golem Standard instead of the Gold Standard? Might be a possibility for the original question if Nabil ad Dajjal is still a bit on the fence about it. (Or if he wants some variety for the currency of different city states / leagues.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        How about pearls? They’re precious, but not precious stones.

        Their drawbacks as currency is that they aren’t durable or dividable, and they aren’t (I think) easily standardized.

    • gbdub says:

      I think this only matters if the alchemists can create arbitrary amounts of gold/gems out of thin air. Otherwise, gold/gems will still be a perfectly fine store of value because they will represent the accumulated effort of obtaining the base materials, any reagents, and the alchemist’s lavbor.

      Let’s say the recipe for 1 oz alchemical gold is 1 oz lead (transmuted), 1 drop mercury (consumed), a philosopher’s stone (reusable but rare), 10 minutes of incantations from an alchemist (skilled labor), and 20 minutes preparing the inputs and outputs (unskilled labor).

      Every part of that process is valuable and potentially scarce. What would be really interesting is that at some point, it might actually be more expensive to produce gold via alchemy than to just dig it out of the ground.

      Story idea: two empires are at war. The first, Fortuus, employs a massive workforce of alchemists, little better than slaves, who must toil long hours producing gold from rocks to fund the Fortuusian war machine. The second, Logia, sits atop a huge, rich vein of gold, and can easily pluck from the earth all the gold they need. They have therefore turned their alchemist’s minds and powers toward creating technological marvels. The Logian merchant fleet plies the seas in fast sailless ships, adding great wealth through trade.

      The two armies meet in a climatic battle. The small but well equipped Logian military fights well and inflicts many casualties on the Fortuusians, but is ultimately overwhelmed. Just before the capital falls, the leading alchemists of Logia manage to escape in the Logian Navy’s fastest ship, which is called Iowa for some reason known only to the eccentric Admiral Beanian.

      It seems as though all is lost. The mighty empire of Fortuus, now in control of the wealth and technology of conquered Logia, seems ready to crush the rest of the world benaeath their gilded jackboots. The slave army of alchemists in Fortuus, surplus to needs, are cast off.

      But in secret, the escaped alchemists of Logia meet the banished Fortuusian alchemists and hatch a plan. Using their advanced scientific knowledge combined with the well honed practical skills of their Fortuusian counterparts, they construct a huge factory in a remote seaside mountain that produces transmuted gold on a truly industrial scale. They smuggle the gold into sympathetic ports on the Iowa, rapidly flooding the market and crashing the Fortuusian economy.

      The ensuing depression sparks a massive peasant revolt that overthrows the Fortuusian Emperor. The alchemists come out of hiding, rule as a philosopher senate, and introduce a fiat currency that stabilizes the market.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I guess that’s a good point. As long as alchemy is relatively rare they won’t necessarily devalue the currency too much.

        My worry though is that player characters with alchemy will be incentivized to not go on adventures. If running a lab pays more than questing then the only alchemists will be NPCs the players hire for specific jobs. That’s less interesting even if it makes more sense.

        • bean says:

          My worry though is that player characters with alchemy will be incentivized to not go on adventures. If running a lab pays more than questing then the only alchemists will be NPCs the players hire for specific jobs. That’s less interesting even if it makes more sense.

          Or you set the adventure in the alchemy lab. Maybe you’re a group of apprentice alchemists, who, to get tenure master status, get sent on quests for materials. Maybe there’s a rivalry between local alchemists that doesn’t always stay within the bounds of the law…

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Congratulations, you just invented Ars Magica, the only role playing game where you play a graduate student. (We liked this too much during school despite the implications.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, they say to write what you know…

        • AnarchyDice says:

          Or they might be the unlicensed alchemists either unable or unwilling to work with the “guild” or governing authorities who license alchemists (all the more important if your currency does end up being gold or something analogous, as the authorities don’t want counterfeiters). That also applies to most adventurers anyways, as their is much more stability for swordsmen or marksmen or spies to work for governments than the high risk high reward path of murder-hobo-ing.
          It would give you some levers on any alchemist classes, as they would either be self-taught and worse but unhindered by licensing, trained but rogue and on the run, or constrained by what their license allows and guild responsibilities.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:


          I mean a creative GM can make nearly anything work. I’d like the game to still be fun even if the person running it isn’t terribly inspired.


          Your idea is reminding me of Krynn for some reason. I think they had something similar?

          I just remember that if you tried to do magic without getting licensed at one of the towers your character was basically unplayable because every wizard you met would try to kill you.

          • AnarchyDice says:

            The Dragonlance stuff I remember most was the series about the evil goddess stealing away the world (and messing with all magic/death in the process), so I couldn’t say. It did bring an interesting thought to mind though, what about magic-launderers? Guild approved wizards that would, for a fee, claim to do magic that unlicensed wizards actually do?

        • dndnrsn says:

          If they want to play a pen-and-paper lab-management simulator, presumably they have reasons for wanting that other than “there are more GP this way!” – in some games, the incentive is to take your starting gold and retire immediately, because adventurers are often given really outsize starting gold, and why wait until your adventurer retires to start an inn? – but very few people do that, even if it is the paperclip-maximizer thing to do.

          If they look at the game and think “we could fight dragons, OR WE COULD APPLY FOR OUR ZONING PERMITS, AW YEAH” maybe they’re saying “we’ve fought a lot of dragons, and yet, we have never dealt with magical health and safety inspectors”. To quote a great series of blog posts:

          …any time that a player chooses to do something, that implicitly means that it’s something that they want.

          The essay is on railroading, which I’m not accusing you of (and it’s not really a relevant charge, given this is worldbuilding talk) but I think the same sentiment applies: if the players decide they want to be small-business owners, presumably that’s because they think that’s fun. I can’t judge; I once spent two hours figuring out my wagon load in a fantasy game where I was a merchant.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            That’s a good point and I’m mostly on board with it.

            I want there to be the option for players to be a poet or a craftsman if they choose to. But there needs to be something meaningful for those characters to do in the game if they decide to go that route.

            That’s the issue: if the system is clearly not designed to handle a certain play style, including it as an option can end up creating trap choices. I saw it a lot when I played 3.5. Giving people token non-combat options in a heavily combat focused game ends up either screwing over thoughtful players or putting a big workload on the DM. I was able to make interesting non-combat challenges for my players but it was hard and I had to fight the game in order to do it.

            Also thanks for the essay link, it looks interesting!

          • dndnrsn says:

            Yeah, or you end up with a situation where there’s only one guy good at anything not about murderhoboing, so everyone gets to sit around waiting for the talky guy to finish.

            On the other hand, attempts to make systems to have social interaction be as in-depth and option-rich as combat tend to fail. A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying had this problem: it was a brave attempt, but it led to all sorts of weirdness, like being able to make characters who could get anyone to love them in a few minutes, or “teaming up” being a thing in “social combat” which led to the entire party just yelling at one NPC until they broke.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think I’ve ever seen a really good system of mechanics for social/diplomatic stuff. Every big rules system tries to incorporate it at some point and it always end up being horribly broken.

            At this point I think the smart move is just to accept that anything that’s actually fun is going to lean heavily on roleplaying, and confine game mechanics to ancillary roles once the talking begins.

          • Nornagest says:

            This is really only a single instance of a broader problem with rules-heavy systems, though, which is that every mechanical feature you introduce constrains player action at least as much as it enables it, and often in a way that makes party-level decisions harder. Say you’ve got a party that’s recently escaped from prison and needs to get past a lightly manned guardpost. In a rules-light system you could have the whole party sneak past, or dress up in stolen uniforms and bluff their way through, or scale an exterior wall; in a rules-heavy system the only person that’s going to pass the stealth checks is the sneaky one, and the only person that’s going to pass the bluff checks is the party face (if you’ve got one), and the only person that’s going to make the climb checks is the athletic one.

            There are other options, sure, but one of the only straightforward ones that can work now, certainly one of the only ones that everyone can contribute to, is the one where they fight their way out. So rules-heavy systems, in the hands of GMs that don’t want to bore most of the party most of the time, are almost by necessity also combat-heavy ones.

          • dndnrsn says:


            SIFRP’s system was the most in-depth I’ve seen, and man did it ever screw the pooch. The game as a whole was an attempt to sort of recreate the “Game of Thrones” feel but it failed overall.

            Justin Alexander (whose site I linked elsewhere) talks about who you make roll, when. One point he makes is that making everyone roll stealth checks means everyone is going to fail when one person fails – if you have 10 awesome ninjas with 90% Sneak, and they all have to roll, or roll against 10 guards’ 30% Perception, it’s likely the alarm is going to be sounded. Based on this I’ve started having the person crappiest at stealth roll, and assume if they make it so do the people better at it. Not hugely realistic, but preserves stealth as a possibility for the whole party. For the bluff, I might let them roll a luck check, or the guard rolls intelligence, to see if the best or the worst person rolls, or maybe the median party member. For climbing, there’s usually an “aid another” type dealie.

            EDIT: on the other hand, I am not a fan of rules-heavy systems, really.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: This is really only a single instance of a broader problem with rules-heavy systems, though, which is that every mechanical feature you introduce constrains player action at least as much as it enables it, and often in a way that makes party-level decisions harder.

            This is one reason my dream is to design a rules-light fantasy RPG that’s also clear enough to be adjudicated without a GM. i.e. like some of the “RPG” board games, but with the broad play-space of a true RPG instead of just a dungeon crawl or just overland travel, etc.

          • johan_larson says:

            When designing (or choosing) a rules system, it is worth considering what sort of play the players actually want. Useful taxonomies of players usually gets to three types.

            There are “gamers”, who are trying to win a game. They want a consistent set of understandable rules, strictly applied, and they will try to “win” the game by them. Realism is at a secondary issue.

            There are “simulationists”, who are trying to produce a set of rules that model reality. When playing they want things to work in a way that makes sense, as through it were actually happening. This tends to produce intricate, heavily-researched rule sets.

            Finally there are “story-tellers”, who want to live vicariously through an interesting experience that they have a chance to contribute to. As long as the experience is worthwhile, they don’t care how you get there. Rules can be simple, and will often be over-ridden in the service of the story anyway.

            These are of course simplifications, but they can be useful. A rule set designed for simulationists is going to be pretty darn complicated. It has to be, because real people can encounter a lot of different situations and try many different things in those situations. And the system has to let them, and sort out what the results are. A gamer using such a system is going to be looking for loopholes, edge cases and mini-max opportunities that gain an advantage, even if they produce behaviors that make no sense in reality. A story-teller, by contrast, is going to ignore much of the complexity and just make stuff up as they go along, sometimes using the formal rules to adjudicate things where is no obvious right solution.

            Personally, I lean toward the story-teller archetype. I can remember being a simulationist, but at this point the charm of poring through hundred-page treatments of firearms combat to adjudicate a desperate mag dump by a mook has faded.

          • Lillian says:

            Exalted 3rd Edition has a really good social influence system. It’s based around the concept of Intimacies, the things that matter to each individual person: their loves, their hates, their aspirations. Much like in real life order to influence, manipulate, or convince somebody, you first have to find out what matters to them, and use those things as leverage. If you don’t have an intimacy to work with, you’re not likely to be able to get anything more than directions and maybe bus fare out of them.

            Now you can build intimacies in other people, or erode the ones they already have, but that takes time and effort, and it’s also opposed by the target’s other intimacies. There’s also something called Unacceptable Influence, wherein something is so out of line with a person’s intimacies that will simply refuse to do it regardless of how well you roll.

            This means that people can only be convinced to do things that make sense in relation to their character. A loyal samurai won’t turn on her master just because you’re very charming and rolled well. You’re going to have to find something she values more than her loyalty and appeal to that, or spend a lot of time and effort changing her values. It also means that it’s mechanically subpar to make a murderhobo who doesn’t care about anything, since that can actually make your character easier to sway on account of their general indifference.

            Naturally mighty beings like Gods, Demons, and the Exalted get to cheat. For example there’s a charm (supernatural power) that makes you so attractive you can seduce people who would otherwise consider your attempt unacceptable influence, though you still have to actually convince them. Another lets you follow a culture’s customs so well, everyone with positive intimacies towards that culture immediately gains one of respect towards you. There’s also outright mind-control, which can be very effective and bypass the whole social influence system, but it tends to make people very upset.

            It’s frankly the best social system i have ever seen in any game. The combat system is also pretty good at doing exactly what it’s intended to do: high flying wuxia action. Unfortunately while the base system is really great, the stuff they built on top of it is so bloated and clunky i have little interest in ever actually playing it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @johan: I really can’t wrap my mind around simulationism in a fantasy RPG. Apparently this was the unexamined assumption of all the early D&D alternatives except Tunnels & Trolls… but why? What you’re simulating isn’t real, it’s stories of heroes vs the supernatural.

          • johan_larson says:

            @Le Maistre Chat:
            Even when what is simulated is wholly fictional, there are still standards against which the simulation can be judged. Is it consistent? Does it conform to expected behavior in the genre? Some would add more subjective notions like balance.

            Also, even when some elements of a game are fictional, others are not. Fireball and Magic Missile don’t exist, but swords and shields certainly do. If the rules make swords and shields behave in ways the real things do not, some people will object. Some people will object even if they behave exactly as they would in real life, but not the way the do in the movies.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            How much of the GM’s job is adjudication, though? There are games where the game spits out the other stuff somehow, or where the players collaboratively come up with the stuff the GM would do that’s not adjudication, but they seem fairly constrained by that.

            As for why a lot of early hack-and-slash games attempted simulationism, it makes sense when you consider that RPGs came out of wargaming. It wasn’t “hey I like these Moorcock books, so let’s come up with a rules system in order to have a game like that.” Instead, it was guys who were into wargames saying “hey, why can’t we some fireballs and elves up in this business?” D&D started off as, more or less, an addon to Chainmail which was a medieval wargame, but with fantasy added. A lot of early games companies’ founding stories go like “Alan got out of the Army in 1970-whatever and went to university, where he met Bill and Charlie at the campus wargaming club. One day one of them showed up with a copy of Dungeons and Dragons, and they decided they could make their own game.”


            I guess my group and I would fall under “story-tellers” but I have a real hate for rules getting overridden. The purpose of rules is to adjudicate what happens in the game, and it becomes impossible for players to predict what will come of a given action if the rules can just be ignored when expedient. If the GM is going to ignore the rules at least they should have the decency to explain it and say why.

    • John Schilling says:

      Tobacco was used effectively as money in e.g. Virginia during the Early Modern Period. And in other economies in the current postmodern period. Also salt, pepper, tea, cocoa, rice, beaver pelts, etc, etc, depending on local conditions.

      There is no great obstacle to using consumable goods as money. Almost nobody who understands what money is good for will want to actually hold on to the raw substance for very long, so you won’t be greatly interfering with actual consumption even if there are a few misers here and there with tobacco-bins full of hoarded leaf that they aren’t letting anyone smoke. Mostly, velocity of money is such that using a consumable as money will on average delay its consumption by a few months.

      You probably do want to use a commodity that can be stored for at least a few years, just to give yourself some margin. And you’ll want something value-dense enough that one doesn’t need to hire porters for an ordinary trip to the market. Tobacco meets both of these requirements, as do most of the other commodities used as money.

      And note that an early modern economy is quite capable of generating paper money to simplify the handling of inconvenient commodities.

      Probably the biggest obstacles to commodity money in fantasy storytelling are, first, that it’s a bit of worldbuilding that you’ll have to explain to most audiences when you’re already trying to shoehorn in an unhealthy amount of infodumping, and B: it rules out all those fun plots involving lost treasure hoards buried in ages past.

    • quaelegit says:

      I’ve only skimmed this thread, so apologies if this is redundant or not quite relevant. The alchemy problem reminds me of Kipper- und Wipperzeit, a time of widespread debasing of coinage in the HRE:

      The article above is a fun intro but doesn’t really say how they solved it — in 1623 they tried to revert exchange rules but the article says this was only a temporary solution. Also the Thirty Years War was happening and that kindof dwarfs other affects economically. Still, might be worth researching that bit of history to see if there’s any ideas to use there.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Thanks, that’s really interesting and useful.

        The article seems a bit hyperbolic claiming that the 500% inflation in the Kipper and Wipper times were equivalent to the 325,000,000% inflation in the Weimar Republic. But the historical information is really interesting especially given that this is roughly the period I’m interested in.

    • no one special says:

      This thread reminds me of the Economicon:

      tl;dr: At high levels, anything you can get with a wish is worthless trash, and anything you can’t get with a wish is so valuable it can’t be bought with money, so feel free to let your players get a giant hoard of GP, they can’t spend it on anything really valuable anyway.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Shares in alchemists.

      Slightly more seriously, maybe steel. Mammoth ivory?

  25. rlms says:

    Anyone else doing the Hybrid Forecasting Competition?

  26. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    A lot of psychiatric symptoms can be caused by lead poisoning and such, but psychiatry has made a subtle error of assuming that psychosis is a matter of innate biochemistry rather than things that happened to people, even though the latter can be the cause– might even frequently be the cause.

    If you’ve had psychiatric treatment, were you checked for poisons? Were you given a blood test for heavy metals?

    A medical site which takes environmental poisons seriously. It’s functional medicine rather than mainstream medicine, though. As far as I can tell, it has a generally reasonable take on things.

    • Nornagest says:

      I thought psychosis was generally understood as a symptom rather than an underlying pathology?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Can many different psychiatric symptoms be caused by lead poisoning? It looks to me that Dumont jumped to that conclusion without any evidence at all.

      Siderea (and Dumont) equivocate between acute and chronic lead poisoning (or individual vs neighborhood poisoning). Should psychiatrists do blood tests to look for acute lead poisoning? Quite plausibly. But maybe not, because acute lead poisoning is quite rare.

      Dumont’s tests discovering that his whole neighborhood had slightly elevated levels are worthless, because they do not inform his practice. If lead is in the air, there is nothing he can do about it. Sometimes it is in the water, as in Flint, but that is exceptional. Well, yes, he did lobby against painting the bridge with lead, but that has nothing to do with psychiatry. He could have been a PCP who tested his patients, or an amateur protesting illegal pollution.

      Siderea’s suggestion of a study test of whether low-level lead poisoning interacts with the efficacy of psychiatric drugs sounds like a good idea. But my guess is that the answer is no.

      Your second link does not take this topic seriously.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      FWIW when I stopped studying foreign language, my English skills slowly but steadily improved for years and years.

      I think that today I would score a lot higher on the verbal sat or gre than I did 20 or 30 years ago. Which makes sense as the human brain surely has finite capacity.

  27. fortaleza84 says:

    What is the name for the type of mathematics which deals with the following type of problem:

    You are searching for white ravens. Is it better to look for ravens and see if you find any white ones? Or better to look for white things and see if you find any ravens?

    Clearly the first option is more efficient, but what do you call this type of problem?

    • The Nybbler says:

      In the context of databases the problem is query optimization; the field would be relational algebra. But I’m not sure what the real-world equivalent would be.

  28. Aapje says:

    Since many people here like puzzles and procrastination, I’d like to point people to Mr.Puzzle on YouTube, who reviews physical puzzles. He has a really nice German accent, as well.

    Here is a good example of a puzzle that seems impossible. Note that this particular puzzle can also be used to store weed something, so such a puzzle can make a great geek gift. Bonus points if you put an engagement ring in there and your partner first gets frustrated and then super happy upon opening it.

    If you prefer a puzzle with an immensely difficult solution, look here.

  29. Well... says:

    I find the following experiences physically uncomfortable bordering on painful:

    – Going down a big hill on a roller coaster
    – Jumping off a high dive

    But so you know my baseline for other-than-1-G experiences, I find the following fun and enjoyable:

    – Accelerating over a hill in my car so I feel like I’m rising out of my seat a bit
    – Feeling pressed into my seat in my car (e.g. on the freeway onramp) or in an airplane (e.g. during takeoff)
    – Going down a water slide
    – Swimming underwater
    – Bouncing on a trampoline

    How do you think I would do in a parabolic flight where I experience intermittent weightlessness?

    Are there exercises I can do to overcome my physical discomfort on roller coasters and high dives?

    • AnarchyDice says:

      Are you sure there isn’t a fear of heights component in there? I have a similar spread of enjoy-dislikes, but I know that mine is related to heights* but I love the high speeds of coasters. I close my eyes on the slow ride up the first rise on a rollercoaster but feel little fear after the first drop starts.

      *or more accurately a fear that the structure I’m on will collapse/break enough to drop me, as enclosed spaces like airplanes don’t bother me at all even when high up. I don’t like trampolines for the same reason.

      • Nornagest says:

        Fear of heights is odd. I have absolutely no trouble with heights when I’m climbing, but I have trouble with rappelling — it’s actually safer but it feels less so.

        • Matt M says:

          That strikes me as a fear of heights that is ameliorated by not being as consciously aware of the height.

          When climbing you’re looking up – when rappelling you’re looking down.

          • AnarchyDice says:

            I can confirm that the height differential is important to my lizard brain, to an extent. If I’m looking out over the Grand Canyon, cool, no problem, if I look down into the valley, then I get a spike of anxiety if I’m too close to the edge. That is despite the fact that I’m nominally at “ground level” and the valley is the exception.

            Enclosures/fences higher than roughly shoulder height seem to make my lizard brain calm down about heights too.

          • quanta413 says:

            When climbing you’re looking up – when rappelling you’re looking down.

            This has not been my experience. I sometimes need to look down when climbing. And I don’t rappel fast, so I mostly only need to look in front of me to rappel (very slightly down I guess).

        • ProfessorQuirrell says:

          What type of climbing? Rappelling is certainly safer than lead climbing, but probably not as safe as top-roping (provided you have a competent belayer).

          Rappelling scares me too! Lots to go wrong, especially with a free-hanging rap.

          • Nornagest says:

            Mainly top-roping, but also some free climbing (that mostly in a caving context, though). I haven’t done much lead climbing.

      • Well... says:

        Are you sure there isn’t a fear of heights component in there?

        I don’t have any fear of open heights beyond normal parameters you’d expect in a sane person. Actually, I’m probably a teeny bit on the daredevil side, usually willing to lean over and look down when others aren’t. That’s why I think the aspect of roller coasters and high dives I dislike is almost entirely physical and related to the dropping feeling. Also, I know people who are, compared to me, very afraid of heights, but who enjoy roller coasters and high dives.

        When I was a kid I used to jump off the 15′ or 20′ high dive repeatedly to try and acclimate my body to the dropping feeling, and I was never able to. In fact I was never able to get over the paralysis I felt during the descent, such that I couldn’t even get my legs tucked in to do a cannonball. I’d try and curl up by grabbing my knees, but my arms and legs felt like they weighed a thousand pounds, and I’d hit the water before I had visibly changed my posture much.

        • Well... says:

          More evidence of my lack of fear of heights: climbing trees (free-climbing, none of that nonsense with helmets and harnesses) is one of my favorite activities.

    • j1000000 says:

      This may or may not help, but I was deathly afraid of roller coasters growing up. A few years ago some friends were going to an amusement park and I decided I wanted to get over my fear. I started with the lamest, kiddiest ones that people my height were allowed on, and I progressed bit by bit in coaster intensity until I got to the most intense coaster. It worked and wasn’t merely temporary; I am still fine on roller coasters years later.

      • Well... says:

        Were you just afraid, or did you find them physically uncomfortable-bordering-on-painful? I’m not really afraid of them.

        • j1000000 says:

          “Painful” is not how I’d describe it, I guess. I’d been on two very mild rollercoasters, and it was like very intense nausea mixed with a fatal heart attack. (Although I neither puked nor had a heart attack.)

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I have never been on a parabolic flight and experienced extended weightlessness, but the things that you listed as painful are the ones that more closely approximate extended weightlessness, in my view.

      So I think you would hate parabolic flight, albeit with low confidence.

    • b_jonas says:

      Have you tried keeping your eyes closed on the roller-coaster? For me, that made the ride much less uncomfortable, although it also removed a lot of the enjoyment or thrill of the ride. I don’t know if it has any long-term effect for later rides when you don’t close your eyes.

  30. Mark says:

    Kevin C –

    I like reading your stuff. I like your intelligence.

    We’re all here, eager and willing, if you have anything you want to say.

    • Kevin C. says:

      We’re all here, eager and willing, if you have anything you want to say.

      You mean like asking which one of you nosy [expletives deleted] tracked down and emailed my mother!? And why you can’t mind your own business?

      • Aapje says:

        WTF. Not cool.

        • Matt M says:

          This is the much necessary addendum to “Never talk to psychiatrists or they’ll take your guns away.”

          Never talk about mental health issues online or a bunch of over-zealous wannabe heroes will call the cops every time you don’t post for a few days.

          • Lillian says:

            That’s what pseudonyms and obfuscating details are for, so you can talk about that kind of stuff online without it coming back to you. Though it is unfortunate that such measures are necessary, people should have more respect for other’s privacy.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yep, that was straight-up doxxing, and if it had a slightly different brand of “but I meant well!” than other brands of doxxing, it’s still A: wrong and B: harmful.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        To be fair, you rant about your life everywhere there’s a willing audience, it could have been one of the nosy [expletive] from any other community.

  31. littskad says:

    The wreckage of the USS Lexington, lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea, has been located.

    • gbdub says:

      Very cool pictures, and there’s never a bad reason to read about Lady Lex.

      For some reason though I’m not super excited about this find? It’s not as though there was a particular mystery about the circumstances of the sinking, she was an important ship but her loss was not unusually tragic or decisive. There wasn’t any mad race to find her. And the whole thing is just a nerdy billionaire’s hobby to impress other nerdy billionaires – it’s not as though such a deep and remote site is ever going to be accessible to sport divers.

      Did they also find (or plan to find) the destroyer that was sunk by the same torpedo salvo that doomed Lexington?

    • bean says:

      Oh, right. Missed this earlier. Found out about this shortly after it happened, and wondered when it would get posted here. Not a whole lot interesting here. As gbdub says, the loss was well understood, and Coral Sea wasn’t the most decisive battle of the war. Now if he’d just go after Fuso and Yamashiro…

      • cassander says:

        Coral Sea is underrated. It demonstrates to US naval higher command that they can stand up to japanese carrier groups, which encourages them to stand at midway. And while they weren’t sunk, knocking the Shōkakus out of action long enough to keep them from midway is what allowed the US to win the crushing victory it did there. 3 vs 4 carriers is a much better bet for the US than 4 vs. 6.

  32. Ketil says:

    Here they argue (I think) that IMDB should weight movie ratings by gender, so that the sum of votes by males equal the sum of votes by (the much fewer) female users. Since IMDB users are a self selected population anyway, I don’t think it makes much sense statistically speaking to try to re-weight things to approximate some target population. But I’m no statistician, and 538 is supposed to be good at these things – am I missing something here?

    • Brad says:

      IMDB isn’t a sociology think tank, it’s a business. As a business move the question depends on the make up of IMDB’s current audience and if and how they’d like to see that change.

    • Protagoras says:

      The article does not in fact argue what you suggest. It says that the self-selected population is a problem, and repeatedly mentions that attempts to unskew flawed data are unlikely to remove the flaws and quite likely to introduce new flaws. Which admittedly raises the question of why they bother trying to come up with the reweighted results, but perhaps they wanted to pad out the article. And in any event that there is a pattern in the flawed data of women having substantially different preferences than men at worst gives us more clues about further ways in which the data might be flawed, and may if we’re lucky give some vague sense of how much error the gender skew might be introducing.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Brad hit the nail on the head here.

      IMDB isn’t doing a scientific study on the quality of cinema, it’s providing a service to its users*. If those users are predominantly men then it makes sense that the scores it gives largely reflect men’s taste in movies.

      Now you could argue that IMDB shouldn’t be providing that service. That it should change in order to attract a more gender-balanced audience either because it could make more money with a broader userbase or just for ideological reasons. But this article doesn’t actually make that argument because the author doesn’t understand why IMDB does things the way it does.

      This is a good example of Chesterton’s fence applied to contemporary “fences.” It’s a bad sign when the person demanding that a practice change isn’t able to articulate the purpose of said practice.

      *Not exactly, because the users are the product and not the customers. But the end result is the same: if the users don’t like it they’ll leave and the advertisers will follow them.

      • Matt M says:

        It strikes me as bizarre to suggest that they need to radically change their rankings formula in order to reflect a gender distribution that is not reflective of the actual gender distribution of their actual audience.

        If their thesis is right, that there’s a bunch of women out there who would love to rate movies and such but are scared away by IMDB’s evil sexism, then that seems like a pretty big market opportunity that maybe they should take advantage of themselves.

        • Brad says:

          The raters are presumably a small portion of the total audience. I’d wild ass guess that the total audience is also skewed to men but not as much as the ratings-weighted-raters are skewed but at least based on this article we don’t know.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            By the same token though, that small portion of the audience may be responsible for an outsized proportion of total views and clicks. It could easily be a power law scenario where a small core of dedicated users are responsible for a large percentage of ad revenue.

            Obviously that’s pure speculation but the point remains that a simple comparison to the demographics of American moviegoers isn’t going to answer the question. We need a more nuanced view which considers things like the demographics of the userbase and the site’s business model.

          • Matt M says:

            Reading more closely, I’d rephrase my primary objection to be something like this:

            The article seems to heavily imply that IMDB is claiming to have objectively identified the “best” movies.

            But I would say that they are making no such claim. They’re simply asking their own audience what they think, and reporting on the results.

            If you think that the opinions of their audience aren’t valuable, for whatever reason (gender distribution of the audience is one potential reason, but surely there are others… I’m guessing the audience is also heavily weighted towards Americans, younger people, etc.) then simply say that. Offer your own better alternative (as others have – the article specifically references the Academy Awards, which is another competing system that claims to identify the “best” movies – RT would be another, Metacritic would be another, AFI’s “top 200 movies” list would be another, etc.)

            If their main point is “this particular list not fully objective” then sure, fine, I don’t disagree. But I don’t think anyone ever claimed it was in the first place…

          • Brad says:


            It could easily be a power law scenario where a small core of dedicated users are responsible for a large percentage of ad revenue.

            Thankfully I’ve never had to dig too deeply into the online advertising business, but I’ve vaguely heard of the concept of “uniques”. It may be that someone that’s on your site all day long is less valuable than if all those hits were from different people.

            That’s just speculation and nitpicking. I think we are in agreement on the main point.

            @Matt M

            If their main point is “this particular list not fully objective” then sure, fine, I don’t disagree. But I don’t think anyone ever claimed it was in the first place…

            Given the publication this might well have arisen out of some sort of twitter debate where someone utilized IMDB rankings as “proof” of something or other.

            They (538) are in the business, among other things, of saying things like “hey sampling issues means you can’t use IMDB rankings that way”.

        • Matt M says:

          Also, in a really practical sense, if you make it known that you are gender weighting the results, such that female opinions now matter more, and male opinions now matter less, you’re simply incentivizing people who care about having their opinions taken seriously to simply claim to be female.

          If I’m answering an online poll and I want my answer to matter and the pollster tells me “claim to be male if you want your answer to count for one point, claim to be female if you want your answer to count for two points” and it’s a completely anonymous exercise with no attempts at verification – what do you expect me to pick?

      • Iain says:

        Two responses:

        1. You are conflating two different senses of “user”. IMDb’s product is eyeballs on webpages. The vast majority of those eyeballs are people looking at ratings, not contributing ratings of their own. Women may be a minority of raters, but they are a small majority of movie-goers. I don’t see any particular reason to think that men are more likely than women to look up ratings, so it seems safe to assume that IMDb’s actual audience (as far as advertisers are concerned) is likely much more gender-balanced than its ratings. If women realize that IMDb scores are biased against movies with a primarily female audience, they may turn to other sites for reviews. That’s clearly bad for IMDb.

        2. None of us work for IMDb, or have any reason to care about their business model. Whether or not it is in IMDb’s interest to change their rankings, it is useful for the rest of us to assess their bias — not just when choosing movies to watch, but when using IMDb ratings as a mental shorthand. How may quick-and-dirty data analyses do you think are out there treating IMDb ratings as a proxy for film quality?

        This article isn’t a demand that IMDb overhaul its business model. It’s just a reminder that IMDb’s ratings are the result of a business model and a biased sample, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

        • j1000000 says:

          Yes, the article is fine to me, and interesting. Attitudes a bit to the left of this author that would foist this re-weighting onto everyone and everything, those I find dangerous. But this article pointed out to me something I did not know — that IMDB raters skew so heavily male — and showed me mildly interesting data in the “Men Only/Female Only” section. And it included a critique of the idea of re-weighting. No complaints from me.

          I never, ever would’ve guessed that women like Fight Club even more than men (or at least, this biased sample of women more strongly prefers it relative to other movies.)

          • quaelegit says:

            Same, I was really surprised that Fight Club and LoTR move up in the list. Mean while, “Its a Wonderful Life” dropped a fair amount.

          • dndnrsn says:

            LotR didn’t really surprise me. Huge contingent of female nerds love LotR, of multiple generations.

          • quaelegit says:

            True but so do male nerds. I’m surprised there is enough of a discrepancy to affect their placement on the list (although now that I think about it, that could be due to other movies dropping lower in the list than the LoTR movies rising).

          • dndnrsn says:

            Let me put that in a different way: I would guess, based on my painstakingly acquired anecdata, that while LotR is popular with nerds of all genders, perhaps the movies were more popular with female than male nerds? All the people I personally know who were really gung-ho about the movies were female, at least. Like I said, anecdata. Or, your interpretation might be right – it requires adding less new information that is hardly proven.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Further anecdata: I went to a couple of the fan-run Oscar parties for the movies and they were maybe 60-40 women over men. The fact that they were fancy dress (costumes or evening wear) may have skewed the numbers a bit, but nothing else I’ve seen in many years in Tolkien fandom suggests that they were wildly unrepresentative.

          • John Schilling says:

            I believe Orlando Bloom got more screen time than Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, and Cate Blanchett combined, and that this may have a tiny something to do with the observed result.

    • Murphy says:

      the spreadsheet at the bottom is kinda interesting.

      I was curious what films had the largest discordance between male and female ratings:

      Turns out women love the harry potter films way more than men.

      The Greatest Showman
      Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
      Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
      Pride & Prejudice
      Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
      Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

      And at the other end men apparently liked bollywood way more than women.

      Baahubali 2: The Conclusion
      Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
      Chak de! India
      Rang De Basanti
      Bahubali: The Beginning

      • dndnrsn says:

        Bollywood and Kurosawa, it would appear. Men also rate Seven Samurai (19th actual/339th for women/39th for men/59th weighted) and Rashomon (110th/626th/185th/233rd) significantly higher than women.

        (also, looking at the rankings, am I reading this right? Fight Club ranks higher with women than men? The Silence of the Lambs ditto? These seem surprising – of course, men/women who use the site are a different population from women in general, but still, what explains this? It’s the opposite of what I would expect; I’ve seen women kvetching about guys being too into Fight Club)

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, I noticed that too. I wonder if there’s just a low enough n for women here that it’s a bit murky with some outliers throwing off the data maybe?

          • dndnrsn says:

            One thing I noticed is that a couple of the recent Captain America movies do quite a bit better with women than men, which is the opposite of what lazy stereotypes would say about comic book movies. What I do know is that there is a certain segment of women who are really, really into some of the Captain America characters and shipping them and such. So while “low n and outliers” is probably more likely to be true, because the more boring explanation is usually correct, “women who use imdb like action-movie homoeroticism” is a more amusing explanation for it.

          • Nornagest says:

            Gotta say the first answer that came to mind was “Brad Pitt’s sweaty torso”.

          • Matt M says:

            Maybe sexist of me, but seeing Pirates of the Caribbean outperform among females made me instantly think “Chicks love them some Johnny Depp”

          • Murphy says:


            Because women like some fan-service too?

            Chris Evans sweaty torso, Brad Pitt’s sweaty torso, Michael B. Jordan’s torso

        • DavidS says:

          From a very quick look at the ratings, I wonder whether some of the differences are based on things like
          – Male reviewers are on average older
          – Probably confounded with above: male reviewers on average give higher ratings to ‘great/worthy’ films whereas women more just films they enjoy (e.g. Godfather 2 is 5th for men but 22nd for women while the Lion King is 4th for women and 29th for men)

          • dndnrsn says:

            Are you saying that The Lion King isn’t a great movie? Best Hamlet I’ve seen, that’s for sure.

    • lvlln says:

      Since IMDB users are a self selected population anyway, I don’t think it makes much sense statistically speaking to try to re-weight things to approximate some target population. But I’m no statistician, and 538 is supposed to be good at these things – am I missing something here?

      To answer your question, I don’t think you’re missing anything. I’m not sure the article makes an argument prescribing some changes to IMDB’s ratings system in some specific way, but it does make the argument that the current system is flawed because it seems that the overall ratings of all men have more influence than the overall ratings of all women, despite women making up over half the moviegoing population.

      But such an argument misses the fact that IMDB’s voting population is self-selected, and as such there’s no good reason to believe that the population of men who have rated a movie on IMDB will reflect the views of men in general, or that the population of women who have rated a movie in IMDB will reflect the views of women in general. For all we know, it could be the opposite: that due to the selection effects, the overall ratings of all men who have rated a movie in IMDB might be more reflective of the tastes of all moviegoing women than of the tastes of all moviegoing men, and the overall ratings of all women who have rated a movie in IMDB might be more reflective of the tastes of all moviegoing men than of the tastes of all moviegoing women. And maybe that’s why IMDB’s top 250 list produced using their secret adjustment method tends to be more reflective of the ratings of the men who have rated movies on IMDB – in order to create a final rating that best reflects the moviegoing population in general with its 48/52 M/F split, the overall ratings of all men who have rated a movie in IMDB has to get more weight than the overall ratings of all women who have rated a movie in IMDB.

      Of course, it’s not a bad default assumption that the self-selected group of people who rated a movie on IMDB will be somewhat similar to the larger population. But it’s also one that should be very weakly held, upon which no meaningful analysis should be built. At the very least, it should be provided as a huge caveat that could topple the entire analysis with further research. Intuitively, it seems to me that people who rate movies in IMDB would be significantly different from the overall population, but also that gender differences should be relatively stable, but one thing we know about human intuition is that it’s basically the worst guide that can possibly exist for figuring out patterns of human behavior.

      There’s also the additional twist that Brad mentioned, which is that there’s no particular reason to believe that IMDB’s audience will reflect the tastes or demographics of the overall population of moviegoers. And even further, as Nabil mentions, IMDB might not be interested in their entire audience, but rather a smaller subset that is responsible for the majority of their pageviews/engagement/whatever.

      • Matt M says:

        If you really want to create a list of the “best movies” that is “representative of the moviegoing audience” why wouldn’t you just use inflation-adjusted box-office receipts?

        (My first-reaction cynical answer to this hypothetical question is: “Because that would produce results that film critics and lay movie snobs would find highly disagreeable.”)

        • David Speyer says:

          Because (1) people decide whether to pay for a movie before they see it, so you can have movies with huge opening weekend income and then a crash when people realize they are bad (2) because people are looking at the list to learn about good movies they don’t already know about.

        • Tandagore says:

          I am not quite sure if you have to be a film snob to agree that Avatar is not the best movie of all time (or second best movie if you adjust for inflation).

          • Matt M says:

            Why did everyone see it if it’s so mediocre? (I ask, legitimately, as a person who never saw it, because it looked dumb to me)

            Look, I’m not saying a “the public is stupid” argument is wrong, I’m just saying that appeals to “the public is stupid” are inconsistent with complaints of “these various ‘best film’ lists are not representative of the public!”

            If you want your lists to be representative of public tastes – there’s a very easy (and objective) way to get there!

          • smocc says:

            Have you never payed to see a movie and then regretted it and never watched it again? If we want to use the market to determine movie quality we should probably focus on DVD sales or Netflix viewership long after the movie leaves theaters.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s pretty rare – but then again, I almost never go to movies on their opening weekend – I tend to wait, not really for reviews, but from feedback from friends or family whose opinions I trust more than those of film critics.

            I see your point that in theory, some movie could have great marketing and get a huge opening weekend but then everyone realizes it sucks and nobody sees it after that. I just expect that to be the exception, rather than the rule, and for it to not be a major factor at the very top end of any sort of “best movie” list. I’m struggling to think of such a movie. That story doesn’t really apply to “Avatar” which was generally well regarded upon release – it wasn’t a case of everyone getting tricked into seeing something they hated afterwards. And a lot of movies we tend to think of as “bombs” are labeled such following a poor opening weekend.

            Just out of curiosity – could someone give a few examples of movies that had huge opening weekends then fell to nothing once everyone realized they were bad? I’m not a huge movie person and nothing is really coming to mind for me.

            Edit: And I’d be totally fine with adding in VHS/DVD ownership, rentals, digital rentals or streaming, etc. to the totals.

          • gbdub says:

            Avatar was a visual spectacle, the sort of thing where seeing it in a theater really adds to the experience (or IS the experience). I saw it in a theater, even paid extra for IMAX, precisely for this reason.

            I have never watched it all the way through since then. (But I won’t say I regretted watching it at the theater)

            On the other hand the only money I have ever spent on Blazing Saddles is $5 on a DVD in the discount bin, and I’ve watched that movie probably 30 times.

          • Matt M says:

            And, is “willingness to pay” not a relevant consideration here?

            You can tell me all you want how much better Blazing Saddles is than Avatar, and come up with a million reasons to justify your various purchases.

            But if you actually spent $10 on Avatar, but only $5 on Blazing Saddles, isn’t that worth knowing, and taking into account?

          • rlms says:

            No, because the difference in price is largely due to difference in supply: presumably gbdub would’ve paid more than $5 (and indeed more than $10) for Blazing Saddles if they’d had to.

          • BBA says:

            When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

          • gbdub says:

            My point is I’m the public, I am no film snob, I usually hate Oscar bait, and my “public taste” has basically no correlation with how much money I’ve spent on movies.

            I mean, looking at the list of best movies adjusted for inflation, none are bad but…

            I suspect high box office recipients are a good measure of “broad appeal over some threshold large enough to buy a ticket” but beyond that you’re basically saying the McDonald’s has the world’s best cheeseburger because they sell the most.

          • bean says:

            And, is “willingness to pay” not a relevant consideration here?

            Willingness to pay and need to pay are not the same thing. Take two books. One, I value at $200, but it’s available for $40. The other, I only value at $100, but it’s going to cost me $80. I’ll buy both, but my ranking of their value is a lot different than the sticker prices. If my local library has a copy of the first one I can get easily, it’s going to affect my valuations of it, too.

          • Matt M says:

            I suspect high box office recipients are a good measure of “broad appeal over some threshold large enough to buy a ticket” but beyond that you’re basically saying the McDonald’s has the world’s best cheeseburger because they sell the most.

            But why do they sell the most?

            I feel like if you were to make a list of “World’s best fast food” and you wanted to claim it was “representative of the fast-food eating public” then you’d pretty much have to put McDonalds pretty high up there, certainly over some gourmet burger stand in Tulsa, Oklahoma or whatever.

          • Matt M says:

            One, I value at $200, but it’s available for $40. The other, I only value at $100, but it’s going to cost me $80. I’ll buy both, but my ranking of their value is a lot different than the sticker prices.

            Why are they priced so differently in the first place?

          • bean says:

            Why are they priced so differently in the first place?

            Any number of reasons. For the categories of books I was thinking of, the first one is represented by something like US Battleships – An Illustrated Design History. It’s a superb book, and one that has a lot of relevant information I can’t get elsewhere. But it’s also a fairly common book, marketed to people who will pay $40 for it. The producer has no way to get the money I’d have spent on it without pricing it out of the reach of those people. (Well, the Naval Institute Press gets the money, they just have to give me more books for it.)
            The other might be something like this. It’s definitely not as unique a book, lowering my valuation, and it’s also not being sold into the same popular market as the Friedman book is.

            Returning to the original point, maybe Blazing Saddles is/was on TV every few months, so even though gbdub really likes it, the actual amount he was willing to pay was fairly minimal. (The book equivalent to this would be not buying it because the local library has it.)

      • Iain says:

        For all we know, it could be the opposite: that due to the selection effects, the overall ratings of all men who have rated a movie in IMDB might be more reflective of the tastes of all moviegoing women than of the tastes of all moviegoing men, and the overall ratings of all women who have rated a movie in IMDB might be more reflective of the tastes of all moviegoing men than of the tastes of all moviegoing women.

        As I posted above, this does not appear to be the case.

        • lvlln says:

          I read that article way back when it was 1st published, and I just reread it, and I didn’t see anything in the article that indicates that this does not appear to be the case.

          At a bare minimum, any argument for this would have to compare the demographic splits of ratings made by the general moviegoing population with the ratings made by the population of people who rated things on IMDB, and show that the trends are similar. From what I can tell, that article digs only into IMDB ratings data and doesn’t look at any data that’s reflective of the general moviegoing population for comparison. Which is all fine and good for that article, from what I can tell, because really all that article was about was male and female rating trends within the IMDB-rating population, and it had nothing to say with respect to how much those trends related to trends within the general moviegoing population.

          Obviously, it might not be the case, and my intuition says that it’s probably not the case, but rather that any population differences in movie ratings between men & women among the general moviegoing population will be similar to the population differences in movie ratings between men & women who have self-selected to rate things on IMDB. But even more obviously, my intuition is less than worthless as a guide for an empirical truth about reality when it comes to such trends.

        • Murphy says:

          There’s something… kinda messed up with the authors viewpoint. Apparently not liking the ghostbusters remake and refusing to review it makes him misogynistic. Case closed. If you really dislike a bad movie for any reason then you’re an evil misogynist. You have shown your colors and are thus on the side of evil and badness. all must love the sacred film!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      So the author is suggesting men and women have different preferences? Somebody round up a twitter mob and get this nazi fired.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Bad? news is this is the culture war free thread.

      Good news is .75 is up.