Open Thread 102.5

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

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303 Responses to Open Thread 102.5

  1. Scott Alexander says:

    Job ad: I’m looking for someone to handle hidden open threads.

    This would mean someone who knows how the hidden threads around here work (every Wednesday, alternate Sundays, the Sunday ones are culture-war free) would either write a program that auto-generates them on the right schedule, or would make a few hundred of them in advance so I don’t have to post them myself every time. Don’t worry about the non-hidden threads; I’ll continue to handle those myself.

    If you were going to do it by hand, this would just be a lot of cloning WordPress posts, then setting them to auto-post on the right day.

    Qualifications needed: understanding when hidden open threads happen, being able to use WordPress interface, being somebody I trust not to hack the blog if I give you admin access (doesn’t mean you need to be a personal friend, just somebody with a long history of making productive comments here).

    Willing to pay $1 per week of open threads – so if you post hidden threads up to OT200, I will pay you about $200. Or I will pay a flat $250 for a program that handles this forever.

    Please apply by replying to this comment with an address I can contact you at.

    • entobat says:

      I have some of those qualifications! (I’ve been here long enough to know how hidden threads work; haven’t explicitly made a WordPress post before but, uh, how hard could it be?; maybe have enough of a comment history to be trusted; and, though not a qualification you actually listed, I do have a plan of attack for doing this programmatically.)

      I am going to be traveling a lot soon, and cannot promise a start on a programming-based solution for this project before my life becomes hectic due to travel. But I’m more than willing to set up N weeks of open threads to autopost as a way to tide me over until I have the time to write out all the relevant code. (Your payment scheme is ambiguous, but I wouldn’t expect more than $250 for that work.)

      If you’re interested in discussing this with me further you can contact me at

    • a reader says:

      I’m interested. I know when open threads happen:
      – visible open thread N on a Sunday
      – hidden open thread N.25 next Wednesday
      – hidden open thread N.5 next Sunday (culture war free)
      – hidden open thread N.75 next Wednesday

      I am familiar with WordPress interface, I have a WordPress blog (not in English) started in 2009, now less active.

      Mail rot13ed ohtuvznzobent@tznvy.pbz

    • tayfie says:

      I would be interested. I’ve been posting for a couple months and lurking a lot longer. I hope that is long enough.

      rot13 email is pjy@cebgbaznvy.pbz

  2. Seanny123 says:

    I have been desperately look for two pieces of software over the last few months.

    1. A personal/customizable mood tracker

    I’d like to know what things are affecting my mood the most. Is it medication? Is it time I went to bed? To track these, I would like to have a personal offline survey app. However, this doesn’t seem to exist. Multiple friends of mine desire the same thing for other reasons, such as managing their psychological symptoms.

    Further specification of requirements and prior art here:

    2. An sortable table of editor

    I have ideas. Some of them are good, but the definition of good depends on perspective. Consequently, I would like someone to be able to quickly browse/sort through my ideas more easily than awkwardly looking through blog posts with keywords. I would like to rate my ideas numerically according to different priorities, such as profitability, fun, vagueness and socialness. I am not the only one who wants to do this and my lab basically has this for cognitive modelling ideas.

    Further specification of requirements and prior art here:

    Has anyone seen anything matching the description of these two softwares?

    • AwaitingCertainty says:

      Seanny123 From Wm. Davis, M.D.’s 2017’s “Undoctored: Why Health Care has Failed You and How You Can Become Smarter Than Your Doctor.” Am listening to the book and reading it too. pp. 169 – 170 talks about exactly what you’re asking for:

      “New applications are cropping up with astounding frequency. Scent expert Jenny Tillerson PhD for example is applying insights from aromachology, the study of various scents on moods, to stress and mood management. She has helped propel this technology into a microchip-enabled process, having tested it on herself to gain better control over bipolar illness. She is pioneering the use of a device, coupled with a smartphone app, that delivers scents when the emotional need (e.g. stress) is biologically detected (e.g. cortisol stress hormone content of sweat), releasing scents known to have physiological effects, such as lavender for relaxation, sweet orange to reduce anxiety, or peppermint to stimulate wakefulness and attention.

      “A device called Muse ( monitors brain waves with an electronic headband link to your smartphone, generating visual and auditory feedback (e.g. waves on the ocean, chirping seagulls) reflecting your mental and emotional state. Although just another form of biofeedback, the use of this novel parameter (EEG) holds the potential to introduce some new personal insights into mood and mind management.” (p. 170)

      p. 169 “Tap into the online conversations at Quantified Self ( to get an idea of some of the new and extraordinary observations emerging. Individuals from varied backgrounds…apply self-observation and quantification to solve health problems in unexpected ways. People track a mundane but common problem area like blood pressure over time; import values from their blood-pressure-measuring devices to their computers; graph the values, and then correlate them to various parameters, such as food choices, time of day, sleep duration, exercise within the last 48 hours, and stress levels — all leading to better control over blood pressure without medication. The info is shared and discussed, and new insights are obtained.”

      Some other links found via google search:

      • Seanny123 says:

        The Quantified Self community looks like exactly the community I should contact about the survey app. I’ve tried the ones linked in those articles, but they didn’t fit my needs.

    • gvprtskvnis says:

      For the mood tracker, you could try just using a spreadsheet. It’s a bit more annoying since you have to manually record the time and type instead of using a sliding scale or radio buttons, but it works. (Source: used a spreadsheet as a mood tracker for about 200 days.)

  3. toastengineer says:

    Why is LW still filed under “embalmed ones” over to the left there, since it’s been resurrected?

  4. middlesnu says:

    What is the current, best strategy for dating and meeting new people? How much has it changed over the last 10 or 20 years? I have the vague sense that before internet dating became so prevalent, being “cool” and in the right social circles mattered most, and now it’s become more about being attractive and putting lots of time going through various apps.

    This is of personal interest to me: I’m a late-20s and in the Bay Area, recently single and have not dated since college (i.e., pre-Tinder). But I’m interested in the experiences of others in different life circumstances as well.

    • Michael Handy says:

      I have no idea. My hobbies are female dominated, libertine in social mores, and fairly physical (semi-pro opera, baroque dance.) So if you are a male under 45 and even modestly attractive (and both hobbies will make you fit.) You sort of get into entanglements by default.

      • Odovacer says:

        What is semi-pro opera? If it and baroque dance are anything like professional opera societies, I would be very surprised that there are many women there who are under 45 years old. Judging from a few personal experiences.

      • secondcityscientist says:

        This is a specific version of generalized advice I’d given here previously (join a community that does stuff that you enjoy doing and has a favorable M:F ratio). Nice to see it making an appearance again and nice to have more evidence in favor of that model. Semi-pro opera is definitely not a community I’d thought existed, though.

    • FXBDM says:

      In my experience, meeting new people and dating are on a continuum. If you are exposed to new groups, they probably will contain at least a few suitable mates. My recent best strategy for meeting new people (for friendship, I’m already happily paired) was joining an adults sports league. There are many different sports, many different levels of play, and the camaraderie can build quite fast.

    • drunkfish says:

      Also recently single, bay area, 20s, no idea how to date outside of a school setting, so definitely watching this thread…

      In case you haven’t heard of it, I’ve found Coffee Meets Bagel to be massively more pleasant than tinder/bumble. It’s significantly less of a time sink to find matches and (with very limited data) it’s been more successful for me. I’m still really not a fan of dating-by-app, but it’s definitely a step up.

    • j1000000 says:

      No personal experience b/c I have a long-term SO but my friends (late 20s/early 30s) basically only meet people through the apps at this point (Hinge and Bumble mostly, I think? I don’t really pay much attention anymore to the differences between apps, sorry).

      I’m sure you can still meet friends of friends or go to bars and talk to strangers, etc., but the apps seem to be the simplest way.

  5. Andrew Hunter says:

    In today’s episode of Let’s Ask Odd People Life Advice: I have a sleep cycle issue.

    a) I want to get enough sleep. There is infinite evidence. that getting eight solid hours is crucial.

    b) I want to get up at a regular hour, consistently. Everyone says this is good for you.

    c) That hour has to be reasonably early, not least because I can’t sleep in, even after putting in a lot of work to blacking out my bedroom. (I also see some evidence here and there that this in particular is mostly good for you.)

    d) I want to have a social life. The sort of people I want to be around want to be up late.

    How do I square my need to get eight hours of sleep, ending by 8 AM, and also stay out dancing til 12:30? This seems pretty impossible.

    The one idea I’ve had: is it feasible to make a habit of taking a long nap–say, 5-8 – and then sleeping 2-7? Or will this inevitably leave me miserable and sick?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Occasionally there are claims that segmented sleep was once the norm (though not the pattern you describe). Probably won’t kill you to try it; if it’s not feasible it’ll be apparent pretty quickly.

      • cassander says:

        “During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. ” Given how few people could read and write in the time period he’s talking about, and the fact that it would have been dark at the time, and thus reading would have to be done by expensive candlelight, this strikes me as wildly implausible.

    • johan_larson says:

      I don’t see how this is going to work unless you accept that at least a few nights a week — those nights you go out with your night-owl friends — your routine will get compromised. Sounds like your best bet is to not go out with your friends too often (once a week? twice?) and make sure only nights on the town keep you from getting your regularly scheduled sleep.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      Have you tried six hours? Sometimes I’ll go through cycles where I need less than eight hours for a few days. Eight hours is sometimes too much and makes me feel more tired.

      Re: blacking out your bedroom, try falling asleep while a dim (incandescant/reddish) lamp is on. If it’s brighter than the blue light outside, it will make it seem darker for longer. This works for me.

    • TracingWoodgrains says:

      That’s feasible, but 1) you may find it difficult to reliably keep your early evenings clear enough for it to work out fully, 2) three hours is a really long time for a nap and in my experience difficult to maintain even if you want to, and 3) the nap period is close enough to your nighttime sleep that it may interfere. 20 minutes or 90 minutes are usually the ideals for nap lengths. If you can fit it in your schedule, midday (right after lunch) is the most natural time for it.

      I’ve experimented a lot with various forms of biphasic sleep, some more successfully than others. There was a period of a few months when I napped from around 4 to 5:30pm, then slept from 12:30/1:00 to 6am, which worked okay as long as I was consistent but caused trouble whenever I had to do things in the early afternoon, and I kept pushing my bedtime later and later, resulting in being pretty tired a lot of the time during that period. I’m back to sleeping primarily at night unless I specifically need a nap, and I don’t really see myself going back to that schedule even though I’m always hoping to steal a few hours.

      Really no reason not to try it. Nothing terrible will happen. Much stranger sleep cycles have worked well for people in the past.

    • John Schilling says:

      1. It is not the case that every human being requires 8.00 hours of sleep each and every night or Bad Things will happen. Individual variation is substantial, and for healthy adults I think covers the range of 6-9 hours.

      2. Whatever the value is, you can average it over several days as long as you are getting at least ~3 hours per night. A full week might be a bit too long of an averaging period. But do you need to come home at 1:00 every night?

      3. Naps of less than ~1.5 hours probably don’t count towards that 6-9 hour daily average. And you probably can’t take long naps at arbitrary times of day. Siestas seem to be biologically favorable, but don’t fit into a traditional work schedule.

      4. If you’re planning to sleep at a time that doesn’t feel natural, plan ahead and shift to relatively cool, dim lighting for an hour or two beforehand.

      5. These are rough guidelines. Experiment and see what works for you.

      • melolontha says:

        This seems to point to the best option: get up at 8am every morning, stay out dancing until 12:30 some nights, and go to bed early other nights. Even if dancing until 12:30 means you don’t actually get to sleep until 1:30, you could do it four times a week and sleep from 10-8 the other three nights.

    • Fossegrimen says:

      Don’t know about partying, but in ultra-endurance sports, it’s pretty much proven that it’s not the hours that counts, but the number of REM cycles. Most people can ‘function’ on two per day, but will need an average of 40 per ten days to function well. Obviously, it is simplest and quite possibly best to spread the cycles evenly, but you can get away with all sorts of weird combinations. Some athletes will have a member of the support team watching their eyelids as they sleep, so that they can be kicked back on the bike as soon as the REM-cycle passes.

      A very good summary is covered in ‘Masters RAAM – a winning strategy’, but not sure where to find the original research without the book at hand.

      Now, for hours: You are fairly young, as in sub-30? if so, you should be able to get one REM cycle per 1.5 hours or so and can probably spread those cycles out as best fit your schedule. Remember to add time so that you can fall asleep; the 1.5 hours is an estimate based on actual sleep time. As you get older, you will need longer continuous stretches of sleep, and after 50, it’s hard to get by on less than 4 hour sleep sessions. It is however quite feasible to do 2×4 hours rather than 1×8.

      There are quite large individual differences, so you should probably experiment a bit until you find a sleep-cycle distribution that suits you. Sessions shorter than one REM cycle is pretty much wasted for sports purposes, but again not sure how that works for a parties and office work combination.
      On the other hand, lack of sleep and mental issues usually stop people long before the body shuts down in ultra-endurance events, so could be pretty much the same issues at hand.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      Seems to me, like you might want to take a look at the Polyphasic sleep Discord community.
      They have lots of experience with non-traditional sleep schedules like this. Most of it on how to fail spectacularly at it (like myself), but there’s now a sizeable minority, who seems to have gotten the hang of it. You can use the bot to get up to speed to learn/understand their terminology/theories/best practices (when to eat/fast, when to have only red light, how to design your schedule etc.) or talk to the people, actually doing it (some for years now).
      They use Napchart to visualize their schedules, so a potential schedule for you might look like this:
      [just a crudely modified version of Everyman 2 (two naps, one core)]

      I’d stick to Everyman, DC or Segmented variants, because the real crazy stuff probably only works for a very small subset of people (half of them deluded).

      • j1000000 says:

        Yeah.. the fact that polyphasic sleep hasn’t gained a foothold with any of the contrarian health crowds (be it biohackers or alt-right keto/bitcoin types or naturalistic hippies or what have you) makes me think it’s exceedingly difficult.

    • drunkfish says:

      I’m not a huge fan of it (as a total nonexpert), but this study that recently made the rounds through headlines seems to indicate that, at least for mortality, “catching up” on sleep on weekends isn’t worthless. Doesn’t help you actually get more regular sleep, but maybe some comfort if you aren’t able to.

    • phil says:

      It might be easier to attack this from the socializing side.

      You could invite the people you want to socialize with to activities that happen earlier, daytime activities on the weekends, happy hours after work, hosting dinner parties at stereotypical dinner hours.

      Here’s betting that as you and the people you socialize with go from their 20s to their 30s, they’ll appreciate the earlier starts.

    • albertborrow says:

      I have a biphasic sleep cycle like the one you describe. It won’t kill you, or hurt you, but sleeping a couple hours at night and in the afternoon is not really sufficient to keep you operating at full capacity. You will end up getting more than an aggregate eight hours of sleep if you do not set an alarm, because your body will want more than eight hours of sleep – and if you thought being woken up by an alarm was tough once a day, it’s downright unbearable twice. Without some really clever manipulation of lighting and diet, it might leave you easily exhausted.

      If you feel like trading an extra two hours a day and sleeping two cycles of five, it might be a little more natural. I generally go with 3-8 (unregulated) followed up with 2-5 (alarm). The alarm in the morning sucks, but I’m generally not incapable for the ten hours I have to stay awake afterwards, so I guess it’s working. If you have to drive somewhere for a long amount of time, I find it best to get a full night’s sleep. That’s all I know, though, and it’s hardly an official or really rigorous lifehack.

  6. Mark V Anderson says:

    Here is Myth #2 (Myth #1 was on last thread). This Myth is perhaps a bit of strawman, as few intelligent people believe in what I say is a Myth. But I was taught this Myth as a youth. Also, when I start talking about the elite in politics, I often get a response like “the government is us!” or “the voters chose these leaders.” So I think it is a Myth that should be addressed.

    I presume that Wrong Species will take this as further evidence that I believe democracy = dictator. But it isn’t true.

    Myth #2. That the government is “us,” that in the U.S. the government is the same as the aggregate of all its citizens. Most officials run for two year, four year, or six year terms. Thus voters get a choice every two, four or six years. At these times to vote, citizens get the chance to vote for one of two candidates, or if it is a primary, the choice expands to perhaps half a dozen candidates. Once these candidates are elected, they will likely make hundreds or thousands of decisions during their term as elected officials. So the voters get one chance every few years to pick one of the two potential candidates to make hundreds or thousands of future decisions. Voters really have little influence over the government.

    It is true that citizens also have the right to get together to choose their own candidates, or to join an established party to help pick one of their candidates. However, to be successful at having influence in picking these candidates, one must have political skills and the time to spend at long political meetings and conventions. Also one must have an ideological make-up that falls close to the middle range of the political jurisdiction one lives in, or the candidate one supports will never become elected, and probably not even become one of the candidates on the ballot. In practice, a small political elite determines which candidates run for office and thus which officials run the government.

    Another major attribute of the political elite is an inclination for politics. Most citizens are content to let the elite pick the government, because few people have the interest in getting so involved in politics. That a political elite runs the government does not mean this elite is malevolent or conspiring against the citizenry. The people are letting them do it. But it is also not true that the government is being run by the aggregate of the citizens.

    In broad scope, the government is in step ideologically with the citizens. As the citizens become more tolerant, or more warlike, or more individualistic, so the government usually follows. This is largely because the political elite is subject to the same influences as the rest of the citizens. Therefore the elite change with the rest of the citizens, and thus the government.

    The voters can have some influence on the ideological mode of the government, but only amongst the issues in which the Republican and Democratic elites differ. Thus voters can make a difference on the warlike face of the country, or the tax rates of poor versus rich, or policies friendly to businesses or unions, by voting for the Republican or Democrat. But the voter will have no influence in those areas in which the Republican and Democratic elites agree, such as the roughly 50-50 mix of free market versus government, the U.S. as strong military and diplomatic power, and the many regulations on business and substances.

    • Wrong Species says:

      But the voter will have no influence in those areas in which the Republican and Democratic elites agree,

      If Trump winning doesn’t falsify this, then I don’t know what would.

      • John Schilling says:

        But that just moves the question back one level, to how much influence Donald Trump has. He can certainly make people angry, but he has been singularly ineffective at actually implementing policy. Is there anything that the Republican and Democratic elites agree on, that Donald Trump has actually blocked or undone?

        • cassander says:

          there was pretty broad agreement on TPP that he derailed, but that’s about it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Good point on the TPP.

            And the election of Trump does put a bound on the power of the political elite, because one thing the Democratic and Republican elites definitely agreed on was that the voters would accept as their president a dynastic insider with one of the most toxic names in recent US history, so long as they were rammed down the voter’s throats as their Only Hope against the Evil Other Party’s Evil Candidate.

            Fortunately, the Presidency does not wield such absolute power as to make this a catastrophe for the Elite. Probably this is not a coincidence. But even with the constrained powers of the Presidency, a competent Trump could have seriously undermined the position of the Elite. So they got lucky this time, and will probably be smarter about it next time.

          • cassander says:

            I think you’re ascribing more agency to the elite than they really have. It’s not like they chose clinton because she furthered their aims. She was just one of them who clawed her way into a major party nomination, and they defend their own against the unwashed reflexively.

            And frankly, competence or no, I don’t think there’s anything Trump could do to actually undermine their position. What’s he going to do? Lustrate the civil service? defund the universities? set up alternative media on the scale of hollywood? A hyper competent trump might have undermined the elite’s preferred policies, but not their existence. Even if he were ideologically inclined to do so, the presidency can’t touch most of their sources of power.

          • albatross11 says:

            IIRC, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were both campaigning against the TPP, though I think most people thought Hillary would support it in the end.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        If Trump winning doesn’t falsify this, then I don’t know what would.

        I have no idea what this means. I don’t think Trump has particularly radical ideas. He has a very idiosyncratic style, which annoys the Democratic and Republican leadership greatly (and many other folks), but his issues are not at all outside the Dem/Rep Overton window. Can you name one issue in which he advocates for something that both the Dem and Rep elite disagree?

        I will further argue that even if a President is elected that does have arguments outside the applicable Overton window, it doesn’t really matter as long as both parties disagree, because none of of them will be implemented. It is possible that people might elect someone in the future that has such radical ideas, but my point is to cover the government in general, not one person, who cannot change the government by himself, even if he is President.

        • cassander says:

          Can you name one issue in which he advocates for something that both the Dem and Rep elite disagree?

          Immigration, obviously. And a little bit on free trade, though the democratic leadership was never all that enthusiastic about it publically.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Is Trump really outside the elite Overton window on immigration? Okay the wall itself probably isn’t something any other big-time politician on their agenda, so perhaps that is one item. But it’s not like Trump has advocated for lowering immigration down to zero. Except for the wall, I don’t think Trump’s agenda on immigration was much different from Sander’s. Maybe it was, I am not very familiar with Sander’s policy points. But I don’t think Trump’s position on immigration is outside the mainstream.

          • Iain says:

            I spent some time writing up a longer response to this before remembering that it’s the no-culture-war thread. Suffice it to say: here is Bernie’s immigration plan. It bears no meaningful resemblance to Trump’s agenda. (They both complain about NAFTA, but not for the same reasons.)

          • cassander says:


            I would say that the respectable position on immigration is that there should be some sort of comprehensive immigration reform thats legalizes the illegals living in the US now combined with some rather minimal changes to border security. Objecting to that “compromise” is effectively outside the window, or was until trump started running on it. Both bush and obama’s big immigration bills were structured along those lines.

          • powerfuller says:


            That was also the respectable position 30 years ago. I think at least some of the Trumpian backlash to immigration is because there’s no faith that an “amnesty for current illegal immigrants in exchange for better border security to prevent further illegal immigration” compromise would actually be kept.

          • cassander says:


            I agree. And the rhetoric has shifted pretty powerfully in the last couple decades against the “better border security” part being part of the bargain, giving them even less reason for trust.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I would say that the respectable position on immigration is that there should be some sort of comprehensive immigration reform thats legalizes the illegals living in the US now combined with some rather minimal changes to border security. Objecting to that “compromise” is effectively outside the window, or was until trump started running on it. Both bush and obama’s big immigration bills were structured along those lines.

            Okay, I obviously haven’t been paying a lot of attention to immigration discussions. I think I got immigration and trade conflated a bit, which is why I was thinking that Sanders’ position was something like Trump’s. It is kind of the end time of this thread, but I’d appreciate it if someone would give me a bit of an education on this if possible.

            What I don’t understand is if both Obama and Bush had pretty much the same agenda about legalizing illegal immigrants (similar to the amnesty of the ’80’s I assume), then why didn’t this reform happen sometime in the 16 years those two were in office? Maybe they could never get the House and Senate to agree? If so, maybe Trump’s position isn’t so far outside the Overton Window after all?

          • John Schilling says:

            What I don’t understand is if both Obama and Bush had pretty much the same agenda about legalizing illegal immigrants (similar to the amnesty of the ’80’s I assume), then why didn’t this reform happen sometime in the 16 years those two were in office?

            The Bushes are unusual for Republicans in actually kind of sort of favoring this approach, rather than just accepting that overt opposition to it was politically unacceptable. And everyone including the Bushes knew from the example of the 1980s that the deal wasn’t actually going to happen that way, it would just have been amnesty without the border enforcement. So every Republican not named Bush said, “…OK, this sounds good(*) but let’s focus on the border enforcement side first”, no Bush was willing to fight that hard for something they believed in but were only ever going to get half of, and that wasn’t enough to overcome the default to gridlock that is designed into American politics.

            * This part was a lie.

        • hyperboloid says:

          an you name one issue in which he advocates for something that both the Dem and Rep elite disagree?

          If you look at the “platform”(such as it was) that Trump ran on, he wanted to among other things:

          1)Build a thirty foot high wall from along the US-Mexico border, from the gulf coast east of Brownsville to San Diego-Tijuana.

          2) Deport 11 million illegal immigrants from the US.

          3) Ban Muslims from entering the country.

          4)Return to torturing terrorist suspects using methods “far beyond” water boarding.

          5)Target the families of terrorists for reprisal killings.

          6)Forsake America’s traditional allies in Europe for a coalition with Putin against ISIS.

          7)Arrest Hillary Clinton for unspecified crimes.

          8)Use libel laws to silence critics of his administration.

          Of course the constitution, federal law, longstanding national interests of the United States, and (in the case of the wall) basic facts of geology made these policies unworkable. Consequently career federal civil servants have presented him plans for watered down versions of these policies, and he has spent much of his time in office raging against the “deep sate” for foiling his plans to “make america great”.

          I agree with you that Trump has implemented few policies that Republican elites disagree with, but that is because he is incompetent and those policies are for the most part illegal or insane.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @hyper. I don’t think the wild musings of Trump qualify as a platform. Yes, it is difficult to determine what Trump really believes, but I think we should include those things that Trump has said consistently. So he does want a wall, he does want to deport the illegal immigrants, he does want to have a moratorium of Muslims coming to the US, and possibly he wants to torture terrorist suspects. Little of this is particularly radical — it appears that way because of the abrasive manner of Trump and the enthusiastic attention of the media to any gaffes (not that Trump tries to avoid these).

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        And that took enormous amounts of skill, luck and frustration, against both the Democratic and Republican establishment and their entire respective media complexes, in which he squeaked by, losing the popular vote and winning a handful of states by a few tens of thousands of votes. And has then been opposed by a “resistance” of the entire democratic party and half the Republican party leadership.

        Right or wrong, the people who supported Trump (60-odd million voters) want things they truly believe are in their best interests: an end to illegal immigration, less legal immigration, and fairer trade rather than free trade that incentivizes jobs going overseas. The elites of both parties do not want these things, are opposing them strenuously, and the ideas would never have even been debated if it were not for Trump, and who knows what will happen when Trump leaves office.

        All Trump’s election proves is how deeply disconnected the elites and the middle/working class are, and how extraordinarily difficult it is for the working class to even get their foot in the door. It never would have happened if it had been anyone else trying besides Trump.

    • albatross11 says:

      There’s an important point to keep in mind here, when discussing the nation as a whole and the ruling class: a group of people doesn’t have ideas or beliefs or preferences in the same way as an individual. An election can’t reflect the desires of the voters because the collective “voters” don’t have the same kind of preferences as any sane individual would have. (I think of this as one lesson of Arrow’s theorem.)

      Thinking of a collective (a nation, a ruling class, a bureaucracy, a religion, a gender, a political movement) as though it were an individual human is a really common way to get your thinking about some issue hopelessly wrapped around the axle.

    • This is glass-half-empty. Compared to some kind of sortition, democratic government is not an unbiased sample of the population. Compared to monarchism.or aristocracy, or even extreme meritocracy, it’s very ‘us”.

      I live in a country that both a democracy and a monarchy , and, while.I don’t much fancy my chances of becoming an MP, they’re better than my chances of becoming a royal.

      You need to think about how desirable representativeness is. If you maximise it, you will lose out in other areas. Forcing random people to become rulers gives you a lot of representativeness, but you end up being ruled by people who aren’t very competent or committed.

  7. Seen on the main page of Wikipedia today: beta-Hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid.

    It sounds so too-good-to-be-true that I found myself thinking it’s a prank or hoax.

    Anyone more knowledgeable care to comment about this?

    • outis says: does not seem that enthusiastic.

    • SamChevre says:

      A close relative (if my chemistry knowledge is not mixing me up), ractopamine (PayLean) is used as a fed supplement in pigs, specifically to increase relative lean muscle mass.

      An article about the effects in pigs; this is targeted at pork producers.

    • metacelsus says:

      There’s a catch: it exerts its effects by activating mTORC1. You might recognize this as the same target that rapamycin inhibits. If rapamycin is good for preventing aging, then beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid will be bad. Notably, beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid is known to slow down proteolysis, which could lead to buildup of protein aggregates over time.

      Although Wikipedia says that “No adverse effects from long-term use as a dietary supplement in adults have been found” I would be wary of taking it for long periods of time.

  8. TracingWoodgrains says:

    What was your experience with school growing up?

    I’ve been curious about the schooling experiences of SSC readers for a while, and I’m trying to get a feel for how common some situations are among this community. In particular, did you like or dislike it, generally speaking? Did anyone have strongly negative experiences with school, or persistent areas of frustration? What was the pace of schooling like for you, and were you satisfied with it? What sort of long-term impact did your experience there have on you?

    I’ve also posted this on the subreddit, but wanted to cast the net a bit wider.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      I grew up in a somewhat rural small city (~35k). I enjoyed school (the schoolwork, mostly, and a few people that I got along well with) but dealt with social anxiety. I’ll link to the longer answer I posted on your Reddit thread.

    • The Nybbler says:

      As I said in the subreddit, basically hell. Your stereotypical nerd-hell — teasing, physical bullying and fights, trouble with administrators, suspensions, etc. In general the pace of learning was too slow for me, but I still managed not to do the homework (I hated it with a passion). My handwriting was (and is) poor and I found writing physically painful, which added an extra dimension to the pain (this was before ubiquitous computers + printers). Being in trouble at school led to being in trouble at home, which meant I was on edge basically all the time aside summer vacation, for the 10 years I was in public school. Hard to say whether I am what I am today because of that experience, or if my innate qualities resulted in that experience. My desire not to have children, however, is almost certainly a result.

    • (I assume we’re speaking here of schooling up to age 18, not higher education.)

      I didn’t enjoy it at the time, but then, that had a lot more to do with me than with school.

      Yeah, I was bullied at times. I was abused by a second-grade teacher. I ignored a large percentage of what they tried to teach me. I never once diagrammed a sentence; I refused to write in cursive more than absolutely required; I refused to take driver’s ed; I paid little attention in class; I spent most of my time doing my own reading. My social skills were severely lacking. and I was miserable a lot of the time. Notwithstanding my ability, I always got mediocre grades.

      But from third grade through high school, I was in the well-funded and highly-regarded public school system of a university town. The teachers, in general, were good people, enthusiastic and skilled. The science curriculum was excellent.

      I was never in any trouble with the school. Only once was I ever called into the principal’s office for any kind of rebuke. That was as part of the group who published the unofficial/underground school newspaper, because of a gratuitous reference to “rectal thermometers”. Later, when we printed detailed information about birth control and abortion, which were illegal to discuss in public schools at the time, the administration (to our disappointment) took no notice.

      I am pretty sure I would have been worse off in a more typical school situation.

    • BBA says:

      Mine was so bizarre that I don’t think any conclusions can be drawn from it. I was issued a high school diploma at age 13, and then decided to spend a few more years in high school anyway. I think I’ll just leave it at that.

    • John Schilling says:

      Mixed. I attended public schools, in a district where the dominant employer was the General Electric company’s corporate research and development division and its affiliates, which was reflected in the administration and standards of the school district. Also, this was before it had been determined that it was basically a civil rights violation to expel a bully or other delinquent, so the worst of those didn’t stick around. OTOH, it was before it had been recognized that the lesser grades of bullying weren’t good clean “character-building” fun for boys and girls.

      Grade school, I remember little and mostly favorably. My fourth grade teacher had a complete set of Tom Swift, Jr. stories on one of the shelves, and in hindsight that was quite influential. Fourth and fifth grade, I was given a fair degree of latitude for independent/advanced study as long as I kept quiet and out of the way.

      Middle school, basically sucked with two exceptions. First, the dumb terminal in the library hardwired to the high school’s Prime 350 minicomputer. No programming courses, but a few reference manuals from which I tought myself BASIC. Second, in the eighth grade they finally realized they weren’t teaching me anything and sent me over to the high school for an hour a day for AP math.

      Other than that, well, see above about not teaching me anything. And I wasn’t allowed to retreat to the library when I wasn’t learning in class. Also, this was about the point where the other students realized that there were other sorts of bullying than the blatantly physical, which was not tolerated. The much more “fun” social bullying, e.g. inviting me to events where part of the entertainment was seeing how long it took me to recognize that I was being mocked, was entirely tolerated. I can vaguely recall having three friends in middle school; I don’t think there was a fourth.

      High school was an improvement, albeit still mixed. Still the same wonderful social environment. And some of the classes were as bad as anything middle school had to offer. “Social Studies” was blatant propaganda, English was an exercise in sucking the joy out of literature. Except for 9th grade English, thanks to a most exceptional teacher (Richard Colyer, if you’re out there, thank you). But they upgraded the computers while I was there, and they had a much better library – with librarians who wouldn’t kick me out if I was supposed to be in class. And on that subject, they had nearly the full set of AP classes. This was before grade inflation had turned “AP” into “anyone with a three-digit IQ unless they want the stink of loserdom”, so some of these were really quite good.

      If I’d been paying closer attention, I’d have been able to join a social group centered around some of those AP classes, but that didn’t happen until relatively late in the senior year. So, very few friends, roughly the same as middle school. Same sort of social bullying and ostracism, a bit less severe. A bit of physical bullying too, but the administration was usually pretty good at stopping that and turned a blind eye towards my stopping it when they wouldn’t.

      One consequence of all this was that, between the AP classes and the extracurricular reading when I wasn’t playing the High School social game, I was able to basically skip my first year of university and get an engineering degree in three years. This was, in hindsight, rather a mistake because I didn’t really have a plan to exploit that and because the university social environment was one I could enjoy and learn from, but that’s another story.

    • I went, for most of K-12, to an elite private school run by the University of Chicago. I didn’t have strongly negative experiences but I was bored a lot.

      • johan_larson says:

        I seem to recall you homeschooled your children, David. Were you and your wife able to hold full-time jobs while doing so?

        • My wife had stopped working before we had our first child. I was a faculty fellow at a law school, a research position which was technically full time but left me with a lot of flexibility. Later I was a professor teaching half time, one semester on, one semester off. At no point did I have a nine to five job or the equivalent.

          I don’t think home schooling would have been significantly more difficult if I had had an ordinary university position, teaching two semesters a year instead of one. Home schooling would have been difficult if both I and my wife had nine to five jobs, since in the early years there had to be someone home with the kids, so we would had to have some sort of nanny or equivalent to cover in working hours.

          In fact, however, the kids were in a very small and unconventional private school modeled on the Sudbury Valley School (unschooling) up to about the beginning of high school age, home unschooled thereafter, and by that time I think they were old enough so we could have left them at home by themselves during our working hours if we had both had regular working hours. Certainly the fact that we didn’t made it easier.

          • Evan Þ says:

            As another data point, I was homeschooled through tenth grade (and my younger sister through twelfth); my mother stopped working when I was born, and my father worked and still works full time nine-to-five. Having only one parent at home wasn’t a problem at all.

            However, there were several months when my mother was also working part-time. That wasn’t much of a problem because we were old enough to teach ourselves most subjects, but there were still a couple subjects where it was difficult – and if we’d been younger, it probably would’ve been much more of an issue.

          • That wasn’t much of a problem because we were old enough to teach ourselves most subjects, but there were still a couple subjects where it was difficult

            If adults were only need for a small part of your education, wouldn’t an employed father and a part-time employed mother have had enough time to do it?

          • Evan Þ says:

            In theory, yes (at that time; it would’ve been very different when we were younger). In practice, fitting in teaching the few subjects where it was needed, giving us general strategic guidance, taking us to our various activities (neither of us was old enough to drive), and doing all the necessary housework was a large adjustment. It didn’t help that I abhorred the idea of doing schoolwork in the evening.

            We almost certainly could’ve adjusted in time. But as it was, our mother’s part-time position ended after several months.

    • Michael Handy says:

      I loved Primary school.

      Intermediate/Secondary was worse, a good deal of bullying, some social anxiety, a few good friends a few relationships but no sex. Partly this was due to “Standard Nerdom” partly because of that fact I was an arrogant shit, and partly because I didn’t really fill out and look like a teenager until Year 11.

      I was strong academically and first in exams, but way too lazy, especially once I figured out I could do 8 week assignments in the class they were due in and get a Distinction. Partly this was smarts, partly a Fine Motor control issue that makes my handwriting illegible and painfully slow (I got a computer in Year 10, my speed went up to faster than median, and I realised I didn’t need to work.) I always regret not doing a bit more in high school. Especially Maths.

    • Anonymous says:

      Background: Ex-communist reformed school system, villages of 1-2k people for primary education, town of 100k for secondary.

      I hated school – particularly primary – it was a prison which the inmates ran. I shudder to think what my experience would have been like if I weren’t large and unafraid to use physical violence. Secondary education was an improvement in quality of people I shared cells with, but also because I had learned to be suspicious, cynical, reserved and disproportionally vengeful. The first fist-fight I had was probably in first grade, the last sometime mid-secondary education. Our school system also grades behaviour in addition to particular subjects, and my marks were about two levels short of excellent.

      Teachers were a mixed bag. Some were good, some were strange. In both primary and secondary education, my grades started average-to-good but increased to excellent with time. I suspect it’s mostly a result of me min-maxing the system – different subjects and teachers had very different amounts of effort required for a given grade, holding myself as a constant. As time went on, I would learn which ones required what – and apply the bare minimum effort to get a good grade. F.ex. one PE teacher rewarded progress and diligent attendance, so I would have perfect attendance (a common occurrence for me, since that’s a low-hanging fruit for grades) and some progress; therefore I would earn excellent marks compared to my physical superiors, who did not show progress or failed to attend every lesson.

      By around late primary education, I was convinced that what I was being taught was useless trivia (albeit occasionally interesting trivia) that would not help me in life at all. I had said so to my parents, who were unamused when I compared myself better educated to a local drunk, who apparently was well-enough educated to get by in life. I was even somewhat envious that he had superior amounts of leisure time compared to me. While I have higher aspirations now, I don’t disagree with my early teenage self about the usefulness of what I were taught.

    • SamChevre says:

      I attended an Amish-Mennonite school 1-8th grade, and didn’t attend school other than that until I was in my 20’s. School ran 8:00 to noon, and homework was extremely rare. When I started, there were about a dozen students and there was one teacher for all eight grades, Sister Ruth, who had been teaching for many years and was an excellent teacher. Between 4th and 5th grade, they added another teacher, whom I disliked intensely but had as my teacher until I finished school.

      School was tightly focused and tightly supervised, but it concentrated on things I was good at. It was a bit of a refuge for me, since school was very orderly and the household I grew up in could be chaotic. It left me convinced that all-day school is a bad idea, which is one of the major reasons my wife and I homeschool our children.

      [Edit]Two more details:

      Boys and girls played separately at recess, and didn’t talk much. There was only one girl in my class for all eight grades (there were others in some years), and I was friends with her brothers, but don’t think I had any actual conversations with her after second grade. This was normal, not odd.

      Teachers could and did spank students, but it was not common–maybe a quarter of children got spanked even once in the eight grades. I managed to get spanked at least once every year.

    • johan_larson says:

      I went to public schools in Finland and Canada. In my experience elementary school (grades 1-8) was geared much too slow. I think we were taught long division three or four times over the years. Also, some subjects, notably music and phys ed, had no standards at all. It was clear that if you showed up for these classes, and didn’t misbehave, you were going to pass.

      High school (grades 9-12) was better, probably because the Ontario system has streams at the high school level, and I was in the advanced (university-bound) stream. I respect the high school I went to. Given where we were coming out of elementary school, we got pretty far. The final year of true university preparatory courses were particularly demanding, but were taught at such a high level that the first half of the first year of college was just review, meaning they were essentially AP courses.

      Some people have a really tough time in school; they get picked on and sometimes worse. I never experienced any of that. I had a small circle of close friends, and no one who made my life difficult.

      In retrospect, I do have a few regrets. I wish I had sung in the choir in elementary and high school. I think I would have enjoyed it and doing something social like that would have helped my really crappy social skills. I also wish I had been a bit more athletic, either doing school sports seriously or competing in a martial art such as judo.

      If I had to change the system I went through my changes would be fairly modest. Move things along more quickly in elementary school. Complete in six years what is now done in eight. And if that’s just not possible for most, then make it possible for some. And for God’s sake, set the expectations higher in music and phys end.

    • adder says:

      Hm. I went to public school in a fairly fairly well-funded suburban area. I have such a hard time looking back at this time “objectively.” I remember getting bullied a lot in elementary school and basically being depressed from 3rd through 12th grade, but I also have so many positive memories of school, and remain quite satisfied with the education I got there.

      We had a good gifted education program. I remember being tested for it in 1st grade and not passing, then testing again in 3rd and getting in (so I think my IQ was somewhere on the cusp of the 130 point cutoff). I remember realizing very quickly that I was the “dumb” one in my gifted class. It’s much like my experience on SSC! 😛 It was nice though; I think I needed a heavy dose of humility. I had too much “I’m so smart and they’re all just stupid and people are mean to me because they’re all losers.”

      The things I remember from the gifted program include (a) getting to leave english class, (b) watching The Voyage of the Mimi, (b) reading Hobbes, and Locke and I think a couple other philosophers as an exercise to learn about the Declaration of Independence, and (c) having lots of cool brain teaser puzzles to do during free time.

      I was a very poor student when it came to doing my assigned work. I kicked myself for years for not doing more math homework in 6th grade, because they didn’t put me in Algebra 1 in 7th grade (I’m quite into math and ended up getting my degree in mathematics).

      Middle school was a terror socially, but academically I was pretty satisfied. I remember my 7th grade geography class in particular, which was the first time in my school ever that we actually had to learn to memorize a bunch of shit: names of US states and their capitals, names of all European countries and their capitals. I had spent my entire elementary school career being told that rote memorization was a failed educational technique, only to later learn how awesome it was. I had basically no conception of what Europe was geographically/politically until I took this course. (which makes me think…. I should probably do this with some other parts of the world; I can’t imagine trying to tell you what countries are in southeast Asia, e.g.)

      High school was great because they offered a programming course in 9th grade. I don’t think I was able to take programming all 4 years, and some where half-year courses, but I was able to be programming through basically my high school career. I think some classes were way too easy and below my level, but others were comfortably challenging. I took physics twice because I failed the first time (I didn’t do a single lab report), and it was awesome because my teacher the second time was wayyy better than the first. I remember we often started a class with some hypothetical physical situation involving a can of Spam and we had to figure out what would happen. It was one of the rare occasions in which we got to solve open-ended problems rather than memorize a certain example of a problem and then solve a near-identical one on the test.

      Also, random electives in high school were cool. Table tennis, archery, social dance, psychology. Those made a big impact on me.

    • rlms says:

      Pretty good overall (British state schools, fairly recently). It certainly wasn’t that intellectually challenging, but I found things to do in classes and was pretty happy socially. The descriptions of bullying other people have given are alien to me. We did have some bullying, but it certainly wasn’t high-status bullies against low-status smart people, it was low-to-medium status bullies against low status weird non-smart people. The only persistently unpleasant thing I remember was having to play football outside in cold weather with inadequately warm clothing.

    • Chalid says:

      School was between ok and great, in public schools in San Francisco in the 80s to late 90s. I remember being bored in elementary school and middle school but I would do the homework or read the textbook or other books in class when the teacher was going too slow, and I’d usually not have much of any homework left to do when I left the school. There were a couple tyrannical teachers who wouldn’t tolerate that sort of thing but that wasn’t the norm. When I got to high school that changed – I went to the local magnet school which was challenging enough to not be dull, but not so challenging that it was stressful, which let me do a lot of extracurricular activities. In general, I was happily busy in high school and I think it did great things for me; I was introduced to a lot of different fields through electives, I met my future wife and some of my best friends, and school sports gave me a base of physical fitness that I think sticks with me today.

      I was never bullied in any way. In middle school I got my growth spurt early so I was very large for a 6-8th grader and was unbullyable, even though I did traditional bullied-kid activities like play dungeons and dragons. In high school I was normal-sized, but I was in sports and therefore a lot stronger than the average kid. That said, none of my schools were places where bullying was frequent. Most of my friends had no problems. I did have one really good friend (who is still one of my best friends) who was very unpopular and got bullied some but I never felt like it rubbed off on me socially. (Maybe it did and I was oblivious, I don’t know.)

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        “I was never bullied in any way. In middle school I got my growth spurt early so I was very large for a 6-8th grader and was unbullyable, even though I did traditional bullied-kid activities like play dungeons and dragons. In high school I was normal-sized, but I was in sports and therefore a lot stronger than the average kid.”

        Exactly my experience also. Growing early and doing sports is the way to go.

        For a long time I had this weird illusion of feeling a lot taller than I actually was. Or conversely, being oblivious to how much larger than me some guys are. I attribute that to my early growth spurt (and possibly my ego). Unfortunately this cognitive bias seems to have petered out.

    • Iain says:

      French immersion on the Canadian prairies from K-12: K-8 in a small French-immersion-only school with actual francophones instead of former immersion students as teachers, then 9-12 at one of the larger high schools in the city. I have fond memories.

      In retrospect, I suspect that French immersion serves as a similar filter to AP elsewhere. The dumb kids get weeded out relatively early.

      Bullying was limited and not particularly impactful. My most memorable bully transferred to our school in Grade 7; she was only effective at all because we took the same bus home, giving her time to wear me down through sheer tedium. The result of her arrival, though, was to unite everybody else in the class in opposition. By the end of grade 8, everybody else got along pretty well. Indeed, I was somewhat of a nerd mascot for the class. In the last game of the basketball season, our team (which was surprisingly good, thanks to one kid who was over six feet by grade 5) repeatedly fed me the ball until I finally managed to score a basket, which must have been very confusing for the other team.

      I don’t remember any particular concerns with pace. I was a total keener, so I could keep myself motivated by trying to get all the marks. (Also, I remember hiding books inside my desk and reading them whenever class got boring.)

      Every now and then I feel intensely nostalgic about conjugating French verbs. I assume this is a strange form of Stockholm syndrome.

      • rlms says:

        How well did the immersion work — what’s your level of French like now?

        • Iain says:

          I’m quite rusty, since I don’t actually speak French on a regular basis these days. I still understand spoken and written French nearly as well as I did in school, without having to mentally translate into English, although I probably read slower. Producing my own French sentences runs into problems when my brain takes too long to retrieve the appropriate word. That said, I’m pretty confident it would all come back to me if I had a reason to use French on a daily basis. It’s all still in there somewhere.

          It helps that it was serious immersion, with francophone teachers who weren’t tempted to lapse back into English. The only class we took in English was English itself, starting in grade 2. I didn’t have a math class in English until the second semester of grade 11. (Imagine my delight when I realized how much faster “three root two” is to say than “trois racine carrée deux”.)

          • FXBDM says:

            Thank you for making the effort of learning French,

          • Obelix says:

            It helps that it was serious immersion, with francophone teachers who weren’t tempted to lapse back into English.

            That’s probably not uncommon. The job market is difficult for young teachers in Quebec (it can take years to have a full-time job, and even longer to get a permanent position), which can make teaching jobs in French immersion or francophone schools elsewhere in Canada very appealing. Especially since there is less competition for them and, as you point out, French immersion selects for relatively good students.

    • Well... says:

      My experience (in the midwestern US) was apparently far less interesting than other respondents’.

      I did public school for grades 1-6 (suburban, approx. 100 students per grade), then private school for 7 & 8 (exurban, 36 students in my grade), then public again for high school (urban, approx. 750 students per grade).

      The education I received in public school was consistently far better than what I received in private school, and I actually needed tutoring when re-entering public school to essentially catch up on the 2 years of proper schooling I’d missed.

      There were a few bullies in elementary school; I was the victim of one for a few years but it was just an occasional scuffle, based on the fact that I was very scrawny and had an accent. By 3rd or 4th grade I was more like average size and my accent had disappeared.

      In my private junior high I was the outsider and was kept aware of that status, partly by other students and partly by my own reaction against them. The last fistfight I ever got in (not counting fights with my brothers) was at a graduation party when junior high ended. I hated junior high, it was not a good time and there were some events that could have been psychologically traumatic, although I did have a romantic relationship or two which was nice, and one or two friends who were also sort of outcasts. None of those friendships endured much past then.

      The Steve Harvey Show came the closest I’ve ever seen to depicting my high school onscreen. (There actually is a movie that used my high school as a set, but I won’t name it in the interest of not doxxing myself.) There were no stereotypical jock or nerd cliques — instead, cliques had extremely fuzzy edges and overlapped a lot and were based if anything on what junior highs people went to, or things like that. But it really felt like there were no cliques, only various highly entangled circles of friends. I had friends in many different circles, as well as some who had dropped out of school or attended different schools. And I had one or two friends who were already high school graduates in their 20s who I’d play music and do drugs with.

      Also: considering how confrontational and polemic and opinionated I was back then, I’m amazed I never got in a fight in high school. We had a lot of gangs, a lot of kids with knives and guns, and gang fights broke out every few days in the lunch rooms; I very easily might have given someone an excuse to kill me or at least beat me up. My theory is that many people just figured I was crazy and left me alone. Did I mention I was pretty weird?

      ETA: My oldest enters kindergarten this fall and I plan to send both my kids through the public school system as long as there are no obvious major problems. Part of this is I’m cheap, part is I know long-term it’s really genetics that count for the lion’s share of factors that go into their success (plus they have an education-rich home life), and part is a sort of loosely-felt civic pride in public schools as an institution.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I was homeschooled. It was basically pure bliss. I moved at my own pace on everything, including doing Calculus by age 13. I had bunches of friends, and the biggest issue was waiting until ~3 when they finished with school to play with them.

      I never had social issues, because “bad kids” didn’t hang out with my friend group or have a fixed location to bully us. Some of my friends were rough around the edges (I grew up in a working class/lower middle class neighborhood), but overall everyone in my social group was a good kid.

      Long-term, it made me commit to homeschooling my kids because of similar stories to the ones here. My oldest is seven and loves it so far.

    • Aapje says:

      Kindergarten: unhappy, crafts are not for me.

      Primary/grade/elementary school: teachers were fine, but was isolated and bullied. My best fiend* was an abuser; I got company, he got to abuse. Schoolwork was mostly boring.

      High/secondary school: Some really poor teachers**, some good teachers. Schoolwork was mostly boring. Had a few nerdy friends, but was bullied. Did a detour to be able to drop French (dropped to a lower level, graduated, then moved up again and graduated again). Had a minor depression after the first graduation, probably because after graduation #1 it felt like I ought to have been done, but I wasn’t. Careful flirting with a few girls I liked got me responses that suggested they didn’t like me that way. Although one slapped my behind when I stood hunched over a table. Wrote that off as a target of opportunity, which may have been a mistake. Was told that a pretty girl that I had a crush on liked me just before graduation in a ‘ha ha, she is insane’ way. Still unsure whether it was a joke at my expense. Rationalized against taking any action because graduation would separate us anyway.

      Basically, my life gradually improved as I got older and separated myself from the shit end of humanity more and more and so managed to create a safer life for myself. I also mostly got to interact mostly with men by making nerdy (and gender-segregated sport) life choices. My childhood probably made me way too risk-avoidant for my own good.

      * Great documentary, BTW.

      ** One math teacher taught so badly that most of the class failed the examination, so she let us do it again. I now read the textbook carefully and ignored her ramblings and went from a failing grade to a perfect 10. Then the -beeping beep- suddenly wanted to take the average of the two exams, apparently not happy that I now knew the coursework perfectly. Fortunately I got the class to mutiny against this and she backed down.

    • smocc says:

      I did grades K-3 in a public magnet school in the Virginia suburbs, 6-9 in the public school system of a well-off Boston suburb, and grades 4-5 and 10-12 in medium-sized international schools in Indonesia and India, respectively.

      I enjoyed school, for the most part. I always had at least one small group of friends despite being on the nerdy end of the spectrum and never experienced any bullying that I was aware of (I look back now and realize there may have been attempts to mock me, but I’m not sure). If any of my friends got physically bullied I wasn’t aware of it. This might say more about me than about my schools.

      My frustrations with school were either from the usual emotional drama of adolescence and my own stupid decisions, or from having to perform busywork, which I loathed. I did my work and got mostly good grades, but certain classes were agonizing to me.

      International school was great for me. They had the advantage of being smaller so that everyone knew each other, and also since everyone was used to moving frequently the students had the social skills to adopt new friends easily and be adopted as well. Smaller school size also meant I could try new things like track or theater that would have been prohibitively competitive in my larger US school. Theater in particular was life-changing for me; I learned how to handle uncomfortable social situations by treating them as performance. They also had a higher caliber of teacher, for the most part.

      I only came to know in adulthood that a large part of the reason my parents moved our family abroad was to get me into a better which school environment than I would have had in the US. I think they made a great decision. “Wasted potential with legacy admission at the end” is how I would describe a lot of what was going in the US high school I would have attended.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I went to local public schools for kindergarten through highschool, and the experience wasn’t good.

      Academically, the classes were slow and poorly taught. Even the AP classes were taught at the speed of the slowest student, which made the experience excruciating. The honors and regular classes were even worse: I was consistently one or more grades ahead of the rest of the class in every non-AP class except honors math. I learned not to bother studying or doing homework even in the AP classes which probably wasn’t great for my work ethic.

      In terms of discipline, things were even worse. I grew intimidatingly tall after puberty so bullies mostly left me alone, but I got a good lesson in anarcho-tyranny seeing how the school administration treated other students. The school was extremely reluctant to punish chronic misbehavior, up to and including gang activity and drug dealing,, but came down like a ton of bricks on anyone who defended themselves. It was a very diverse school district so I also got to see firsthand who actually has to obey the rules and who gets the kid gloves.

      Socially it was alright. Once I was too tall to bully most people just ignored me, which suited me fine. I made a tight group of friends, including one of the aforementioned drug dealers, and had fun with them outside school. No partying or girlfriends but I got the chance to show up my asshole classmates with my prom date.

    • I went to state comprehensive schools in my hometown in the northwest of England for both my primary and secondary education. I think they were both good, relatively speaking. I never had problems with bullying, or with the teachers’ attitudes. I was very asocial, so I didn’t have any friends, but that’s not changed since I left school. I did well at everything except PE and Technology, and I was able to stop studying those in Year 10. I was comfortable with the pace of learning; perhaps I could have also been comfortable with a faster pace, but who knows. I was often bored in class, but that’s to be expected in my opinion; you can’t be interested in everything. There was a reasonably large proportion of classes that were interesting. I was encouraged to apply to Oxbridge and given lots of support to do so, although I didn’t end up getting an offer (I went to a Russell Group university instead).

      I would have told you at the time that I didn’t like school, because I’d like to be free to do what I liked. But as it turns out, that’s a silly aspiration; in life, you never really get to be free to do what you like. So I’ve removed that from my aspirations, and now, I think, if I was back in school, I’d enjoy it. The part of it I most miss is being able to see lots of other people and observe how they behave; my present life is a lot more isolated.

    • toastengineer says:

      Bad enough that I attempted suicide in middle school. Significant physical abuse, tons of emotional abuse. I was gonna say I never really had any problems with other students but looking back on it, there was an awful lot of cruelty there… just didn’t really notice it over the noise of “your parents pissed off the school so now they’re trying to have your house condemned and making up reports to CYS trying to get them arrested.”

      The most interesting part is probably spending two years in what could be summed up as a fake charter school. The story as far as I know it, from the experience on the inside and from overhearing people talk about the politics surrounding the place, was that the existing public school was so terrible that a group of people were able to convince the local government to shut it down entirely, in favor of a charter school that these people would build and operate. So… they bought an empty lot, dragged three old motor homes on to it, hired around ten people who were too mentally unstable (like, regularly blowing up and screaming and throwing things) to get teaching licenses as “teachers” to a couple hundred kids, and pocketed the money the state gave them. At the time I managed to get out of there they’d just started construction on an actual building. A lot of the kids there didn’t even know what country they were in; we were doing a lesson on geography and it turned out that some of the students, while they’d heard of the United States, didn’t understand that they lived there and thought the state they were in was the country.

      I also spent a year and a half in a little public “if you’re smart and cannot function in normal schooling you get to go here, and also where we run all our experimental programs” institution; that was the best school I’ve ever seen from an institutional standpoint by far. Unfortunately it was also all-but-literally Tumblr except in real life. Like 75% of the students had dyed hair. I ended up getting a GED and dropping out to go to college – which the administration was really supportive of, believe it or not – and that seemed to work out okay.

      That said, most of the schools I ended up in were just mediocre word-search factories.

      All in all school is probably a at least a third of why I’m so deeply horrified and disgusted by the government and distrustful of the concept of institutions in general. I probably wouldn’t have ended up on this website if it weren’t for the school system, so I guess that’s the silver lining. Plus I ended up reading a lot of books that I greatly enjoyed that I probably wouldn’t have run in to otherwise. (Now I want to go back and read The Phantom Tollbooth again…)

      • Anonymous says:

        Bad enough that I attempted suicide in middle school.

        Similar here. Except I didn’t wait until middle school. Fortunately, lack of will and abundance of ineptitude mean that I’m here today. 🙂

      • Why would a fake purely-for-profit charter school be an example of “government bad” rather than “profit motive bad”?

        • toastengineer says:

          I count for-profit entities that are employed by government as part of the government. The government is profit-motivated too, everyone is. What’s good is when you set things up so that the only way to make a profit is to give people something that approximates what they actually want, rather than, yanno, locking a couple hundred children in a double-wide and throwing things at them.

          • Aapje says:

            The government is profit-motivated too, everyone is.

            That is only true if you use an idiosyncratic definition of profit-motivated. Perhaps you mean to say that everyone cares about money, but that is not the same as a profit motive.

          • 1. Offer free education.
            2. ???
            3. Profit!

    • marshwiggle says:

      Suburban United States, reasonably well funded public schools.

      My elementary school had an amazing librarian. There were school rules against letting younger children choose their own books or read anything above grade level. After kindergarden my parents managed to negotiate an exception for me. So I did a lot of sneaking books into class. When I wasn’t caught I learned something. My 4th grade teacher was at least moderately motivated, and he let me go to the library an hour a day to do a history research project on the grounds that I wasn’t going to learn anything in class. But for the most part the official education was simply not at my level.

      We also had a gifted program for about an hour a week. The quality of instruction varied – one year the instructor was objectively less capable than us at basically everything relevant. But 1st grade it was pretty good, and 4th grade we had both an amazing teacher and a little community were it was culturally ok to be smart. I think that is almost the most important thing such a program can do.

      Middle school had a full time gifted program. English and math were decent. Science was pretty bad. One of our teachers pretty much slept through class. The library was ok in history and not so good at science, but I started getting books from other sources so I was fine.

      High school I had a few decent teachers. They didn’t teach me anything, but they did let me teach and or learn on my own in their classes. Most of high school was pretty bad though.

      There was a lot of bullying. I was capable of defeating multiple larger unskilled attackers without hurting them so I got through all right. I did less well against social bullying. 5 big guys try to stuff me into a toilet? It’s pretty clear what to do to not lose – don’t let them move you into the stall. 5 guys more socially skilled come at me? I had no idea what my objectives should be except to not tell any lies.

      Specific questions: In general I disliked it. Persistent areas of frustration: bullying, uselessness or worse of adults in stopping bullying or educating, the culture of the other kids being destructive of character, a sense that I was wasting time I could be learning things. Pace: glacial at best, unsatisfied. Long-term impact: I educated myself just fine, and when I saw public school refusing to educate my kids, my wife and I started homeschooling them.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I went to the public schools (US public) in middle class suburbia on the East Coast in the ’60’s and ’70’s. I was bored in school most of the time, after 1st and 2nd grade. This wasn’t so much that they were too slow for me — I just don’t like other people deciding what they are going to teach me. I mostly stayed away from advanced courses in high school, because I had no interest in doing extra work. Just because I am an intellectual and am interested in ideas does not mean I am interested in school. Also by the time I was in high school I had decided that compulsory schooling was inherently wrong, so I was intellectually committed not to cooperate with them anyway. My independence way outweighed any interest I might have had in the subject matter. In retrospect, I also doubt that any of even the advanced classes in high school were very deep. The teachers simply weren’t intellectual enough themselves to take more than a shallow approach.

      I did have very bad social skills, so I did not enjoy that part of school either. Occasional bullying, but really lack of friends was worse. Although I am pretty sure that it is those that have few friends that are the ones who get bullied, so it goes together.

    • FXBDM says:

      Grade school: easy, never did any work, read novels most of the time, finished in the top 10%. Few friends, but probably reasonably good ones even if I drifted away from most.
      High School: went to a top rated school in the province, accelerated program, still did no work, managed to get detention for not doing my homework, still got decent grades. Social life a weird mix. Met a few friends that I see to this day. I was far from the “cool” groups and made up a whole mythology of exclusion to explain it. In hindsight the prime cause was probably me being a complete asshole most of the time. I have this weird theory that a lot of it was caused by me getting my social cues from TV and books, where the witty, cutting, moody hero gets the girl and the friends, instead of just being left in a corner like he should. Desired various girls but never spoke with them. In hindsight I realise I actually was bullying those even lower on the social totem pole.
      CEGEP (16 to 19 years old pre-university college, kind of like a mix of grade 12 and first year of college, if I’m not mistaken): started drinking. Got into the school newspaper and basically went to 50% of classes without doing any work. Drank quite a bit, met a lot of people, got a lot of social skills levelled up, started getting dates. Drank very much, didn’t get high enough grades to join my friends at Engineering school, so decided for political science instead. No real plan. Those years were the best of my life and the decisions I made haunt me to this day.

    • Nick says:

      I went to small town private Catholic schooling my whole education, including college—if you want to call Jesuits Catholic, anyway. I wasn’t a big fan of my elementary school classmates, though the environment (teachers, classes, the school itself) was pretty good. There was bullying. Conversely, I liked my high school classmates quite a bit more, but the environment was a lot more flawed. My senior year of high school and sophomore year of college were bad times for me, but mostly not because of school.

      School was always too slow, but for a long time I didn’t mind. What I minded a lot more were pointless assignments and busy work.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Small-town public schools K-7 (skipping 1st), old-money New England prep school 9-12 (skipping 8th).

      In general I loved the parts of school that were about learning new things, showing off how much I already knew, and making music. I hated the parts that were about (a) regurgitating stuff I was already bored with, didn’t care about, or, worst of all, knew wasn’t true, (b) navigating social dynamics involving classmates, or (c) following rules I thought were stupid and arbitrary. Through a combination of appearing testably/demonstrably “gifted” and having personal connections (mom was on the school board of the small-town public district, aunt was the principal of the old-money prep school), I managed to get myself onto a more-or-less bespoke academic path that minimized (a)– the grade skips were part of that but far from the only part. I handled (b) mostly by relating very well to adults and having very few age-mate friends, which I was perfectly happy with because I thought of myself as an adult unjustly trapped in a child’s body. I couldn’t do very much about (c) and that is what first drew me to libertarianism.

      Surprisingly, I was hardly ever bullied, despite being small, physically inept, socially oblivious, and nerdy. I think this is because becoming a target of bullying requires a certain minimum level of participation in the traditional social dynamic of one’s age-mates, and I just didn’t meet that minimum. It may be that would-be bullies didn’t understand how I worked well enough to bully me, or to want to.

      So overall a very successful school experience. The hardest part was being in ninth grade when I was 12 and everyone else was 14, and realizing there was this whole language of relationships and desires, learning about which was part of actually becoming an adult, which my classmates had learned a good deal about already and which I knew nothing about at all. That was also the year I was bullied the most– probably because that knowledge gap, and my desire to cross it, made me a more conventional target than before or after.

    • drunkfish says:

      Religious primary school that I hated, selective enrollment public high school that I enjoyed my time at and I think served me very well, prestigious university that beat the shit out of me but set me up really well and I enjoyed quite a bit, jury still out on grad school but so far very mixed feelings about academia.

    • tayfie says:

      I went to public K-12 (Midwestern US).

      Echoing probably the most common sentiment here, I was bored. The pace was too slow and work was not interesting. Being forced by law to get up early and go somewhere to learn things I already know means permanent and firm dislike. Still, I was studious and couldn’t bear low standards. Many classes, I ignored the teacher to do the homework of a previous class. I never actually needed to take it home, and I always got high grades.

      Unlike some others, I was never bullied and I didn’t see much bullying. The social environment was very accepting and all cliques were relatively loose. I may have just been socially oblivious, but I prefer to chalk it up to a small population where it was possible to know everyone as individuals. One consistent source of frustration was living quite a bit farther outside town than most. My friends could often walk to each other’s houses, and I could never do those kinds of spontaneous visits. I’ve been kind of a loner ever since.

    • I went to a three hundred year old school founded by a world famous scientist. It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds.

      It was a direct grant grammar , a kind of publicly (but not generously) funded school for the academic elite. In many ways an imitation of a British “public” school, with lots of sport and Latin on the curriculum, but a cheap imitation.

    • rahien.din says:

      We moved around enough during my elementary school that I didn’t find solid footing.

      Then we settled into [well-funded east coast public school system] which I ended up liking pretty well. The pace of it seemed fine, enough to provide some mental challenge but not to expose my overall lack of diligence in homework, allowing me to maintain a good GPA without grinding myself down. I was able to devote myself to multiple niches in which I had natural talent, which kept things interesting and varied. I was lucky enough to have good teachers in the less-interesting classes. I had access to the accelerated classes I needed (or even wanted) for college prep.

      I was insulated from general cliquishness by being in more academically challenging classes, being generally well-liked if not exactly well-known, and having enough muscle to not be worth picking on but still not constituting some implicit threat to another guy’s dominance. That’s the sweet spot for not having to deal with bullshit.

      I can’t think of anything about school itself that either was persistently frustrating or had intense and lasting negative impact, but, I’m a fairly easygoing guy at baseline.

      Long term impact was mostly good.

      I felt well-prepared for college by my core curriculum, so that was an easy and successful transition. I was able to develop several talents to the degree that my interest in them became self-sustaining, and, such that I could pursue them further as side courses in college. These are things that I still find immensely rewarding. I feel very happy to have gotten exactly what I needed and wanted out of my education. Bryan Caplan’s critique of our education system is positively alien to me.

      That said, my biggest problem coming out of high school was rather painful social anxiety, and I don’t think my success in school really helped that. It was pretty nice to have the benign neglect of my classmates, and it was really rewarding to be able to discover and pursue several talents, but ultimately it meant that the only thing I brought to the social arena was my abilities. Because I was able to coast on those, I didn’t have to actually develop socially. I was able to sort that out later, but not without time, pain, and regret that I wish I had spent in high school when it would have mattered far less.

    • achenx says:

      OK, I guess?

      Great Lakes state. (I’ve been known to argue about the definition of “midwest”, so I will leave that term out, but you might use it.) Early elementary in a small town that was not quite a suburb of anything, later elementary and higher in a small town that was definitely not a suburb of anything; regular public schools. (People from cities might call the second one rural, but compared to many other schools in the area it was not rural at all.) Late 80s through 90s.

      Gifted program at the old school from 2nd-4th grade, and the new school 5th-6th grade. I’m not sure I really learned anything there (though memories are vague), but at the time it was certainly more fun and interesting than regular class.

      In younger years I probably came across as arrogant a bit — in the sense of “hey I actually like learning things, and here’s some awesome knowledge I’m going to tell you about”. In retrospect, I think my 2nd grade teacher really didn’t like me for that, though I missed that at the time. Later on, shyness kicked in, I made the important realization that most people do not think like I do, and I mostly kept that impulse to myself. That said, generally most teachers liked me, if perhaps frustrated by a sometimes lack of effort on my part.

      Academically there was not a lot going on. Some classes were boring, some were ok. I had the personality type of “if I can not do any studying at all, and half-ass my homework, and get B+ to A-, I’m doing that rather than putting in effort to get solid As”. This did not suit me well after high school, where it turned out that in real classes, not studying and half-assing homework got me within the range of “failing to C-” instead.

      Social life as a kid seemed fine at first. Moving schools in 5th grade was very hard on me. Starting a bit in 6th grade and then kicking in strongly after that there was a bit of “bullying”, which seemed hard and awful at the time, and in general I was over-sensitive, though honestly it was pretty half-assed on the bullies’ part, and I was never, you know, “beat up” or anything.

      Had a few incidents of minor “betrayal” by friends which combined with the minor bullying probably created some trust issues that I still have.

      Due to shyness, the fact that I was (am) essentially goofy-looking, compounded with my, um, “fashion” choices at the time, I had no real interaction with girls from about 6th grade through 11th grade. Somehow or other that changed a bit in 11th and 12th grade, though I managed to screw things up multiple times, and indeed finished high school without having kissed anyone. (My myriad problems there continued through college for awhile, in some cases due to just the same problems, plus getting a bit older without having an experience base to work with that I “should have” had. It worked out alright in the end, but if for some reason I found myself having to “date” again I still would be up a creek without a paddle, as they say.)

      Not sure any of this means anything; just rambling a bit. Overall school was not great; there were some good parts; it could have easily been a lot worse.

    • gbdub says:

      Short version: I did pretty well in mostly public schools, but they were pretty good ones and I had involved parents.

      I spent elementary at a small (~25 students per grade) Catholic school associated with our church. But it was “Catholic-lite” – no uniforms, only nun was the principal and I think I only saw her in a habit like once when the Bishop visited for confirmation. We had like 2 hours of religious instruction plus a mass once a week. It seemed to be better than the public school options for elementary school, but no idea how much.

      I skipped first grade because I was reading well beyond that level, so good on the school for supporting that. I was a bit behind socially in the second grade group but mostly caught up by 3rd grade (I got along just fine with the kids but I didn’t quite have personal time management skills until late in 2nd grade).

      Basically had one bully in elementary school, but he was everybody’s bully. Just kind of a rough kid with a rough life that took it out on other people.

      Went to public school for middle-high. Two big things mostly driven by my mom helped: we took advantage of a school choice program to go to the school in the larger town one over from where we lived. And my mom basically berated the principal of the junior high into letting me take math and english courses a year past my grade level even though they didn’t have a formal program for this.

      Had something of a bully in middle school, but again he was just a big dumb kid with a rough life, nobody was really on his side, and even he mostly grew out of it by high school.

      Switched high schools (we moved) in 11th grade, which was a bit tough socially but academically worked well because they offered more AP classes and also had an agreement with the local community college, so half my day was spend over there taking literature and math classes.

      Never had “mean girls” style cliques as far as I could tell. Social circles to be sure but they didn’t seem to antagonize each other. I was in really nerdy stuff (band, debate, quiz bowl) but this was never a problem. Mostly just seemed like the popular kids were pretty smart, and the smart kids were relatively popular. Marching band was probably the biggest / strongest “clique”. And our football team sucked, so “jock” status didn’t buy you much.

      Then again the longer I go, the more I realize that I actually have (and had) pretty good social skills and had just sort of internalized that I was fat, shy, and awkward in middle school and didn’t realize I didn’t necessarily need to stay that way in HS. May have been too that, being a year younger than most of my class, my puberty peak was a bit off.

      I certainly wouldn’t say high school was my best part of life or anything, but it was reasonably pleasant and if anything I wish I had made more out of it than I did.

    • bean says:

      Fairly typical suburban school K-1st half of 3rd grade. Homeschooled the second half of 3rd grade. Then went to the regional gifted program. That was full-time for 4th and 5th, and basically involved special scheduling and maybe a specialized class or two from 6th onward. Skipped 7th grade.
      I didn’t particularly like the regular school. I was far enough ahead of almost everyone else to be really bored and mostly friendless. And it was slow.
      The gifted program was the first time I had a genuine peer group, which was a massive blessing. We also had teachers that ranged from good to excellent, and knew how to deal with us. I had a generally pretty good experience from that point on. In Middle and High School, we had our own scheduler, who made sure we generally got the best teachers. The schools themselves were good ones, and had enough smart students to have a very active honors/AP program. Nothing strongly negative.

    • To expand on my previous response, after looking at other people’s.

      I already knew how to read when I entered first grade and ended up skipping second grade, which meant I was a year younger than the other students thereafter. My school combined seventh and eighth grade into one year, so everyone ended up a year young going to college, I ended up two years young.

      I was intellectually precocious and socially retarded–probably true of many here. Being younger than those around me may have made the latter a little more of a problem, but I think it would have been true anyway, so I don’t regret having gone to college at sixteen. I had a few friends in high school, something of a crush on one girl a year ahead of me but nothing came of it, probably because of my social incompetence. No girlfriends, no sex.

      The quality of teachers varied a good deal. On the down side …

      In drivers ed, we were told that two cars hitting head on, each going fifty miles an hour, was like each car running into a brick wall at a hundred miles an hour. I objected that that was false, and I could prove it was false. The drivers ed teacher responded, reasonably enough, that he didn’t know if it was true or my proof was correct, but it was what the book said, so we agreed to take it to the physics teacher. The physics teacher said the book was right but offered no rebuttal to my proof–his position was that since he was the teacher he knew better than I did. I have always regretted that I didn’t encounter him at some point after I got my PhD in physics to continue the argument.

      One English teacher told me I should write rhymed verse rather than free verse, but offered no argument for that claim. I now agree with her–but I still object to claims backed only by authority. My father at some point for some reason sat in to observe that class, and commented later that he thought the teacher was putting down students to make herself feel more important.

      On the other hand … . The other English teacher was very good. My social studies teacher, probably senior year, was politically liberal, had no objection to being disagreed with, so that was fun. My chemistry teacher became a friend–I remember playing chess with him after school. I have no special memories of other teachers.

      I was always an outsider to the social scene, although in my senior year I became to some extent part of a small cluster of friendly people. I think that was the point when I decided that there was some truth to the claim that not all conversations should be arguments–prior to that I viewed that as a statement by fuzzy minded people who didn’t want to have to defend their views. I had a few individual friends, one of whom, politically liberal, I had interesting arguments with. But my real peer group, the people I thought of as “us” rather than “them,” was my family not my classmates.

      So far as classes, I don’t remember spending much time doing homework and I got consistently good grades. My senior year I took first year calculus at the university (Chicago) that owned the school I was going to—I think that was a result of at some point getting a year ahead in the math sequence and being allowed to take the senior math course when I was a junior.

      The year I should have been in fourth grade we were in Cambridge, England, and I was put in third form (by age) of a private school (Perse, if anyone here is from Cambridge–school colors purple and black). I spent more time doing homework there than at any other point of K-12, probably more than in college, in part because my handwriting was (and is) terrible and they cared about that. I don’t remember anything much about the classes.

      Ninth grade we were in Palo Alto, and I went to a junior high there (Wilbur, I believe). The one negative bit I remember was a class that included Piltdown man in the list of ancient men. I objected that he was known to be a fake, the teacher denied it. My parents told me that at some later point one of them was talking to the teacher, who claimed she knew it was a fake and was just saying the opposite for some educational reason.

      That was also the year when I met people other than my family who had read Tolkien–it was about 1957 and the books were not yet famous. There was a small clique of admirers in the school, which I joined. The most useful things I remember learning that year were typing and mechanical drawing–one result of the latter being that I learned to print legibly, which is still what I do when needed.

      As I think I mentioned in a previous comment, I was subject to a little bullying, probably around pre-freshman (the combined 7th and 8th grade year), but not enough to really matter. Mostly I was just an outsider to the whole world of social relations, dating, status, aside from intellectual interactions.

      • Evan Þ says:

        To run off on a tangent, can you explain why that driver’s ed example is false? The relative velocity of the two 50-mph cars running into each other is 100 mph, which is exactly the same as the relative velocity of the one 100-mph car and the brick wall. Granted, since a brick wall is built more firmly than a car, the two cars will slow more during the collision by crumpling more than the one car hitting a wall; is that your objection? Or am I missing something?

        • bean says:

          It’s how much you have to accelerate. If you hit a brick wall going at 100 mph, you go from 100 to 0. The correct model is hitting a brick wall at 50 mph, or hitting a stationary car at 100. In both cases you have a change in velocity of 50 mph in a very short period. (Ludicrously oversimplified, I know, but I’m not feeling like doing physics today.)

          • Evan Þ says:

            Ahh, that makes perfect sense; thank you!

            (I haven’t done much physics for the last six years.)

          • My proof was:

            Let the two cars be mirror images of each other. Hang a sheet exactly at the midpoint. No part of either car can pass the sheet, by symmetry–there is an exactly equal part of the other car pushing just as hard on the other side.

            So the sheet behaves like a perfectly rigid brick wall, which the cars have hit, from either side, at 50 mph.

            There are other ways of making the argument, in terms of energy dissipated or momentum change, but that’s the simplest, in my view.

        • CatCube says:

          Assume that both cars are totally identical and traveling at equal speeds in precisely the opposite direction. Since the problem is symmetrical, just consider one car. Once it touches the other car, it’s going to come to a complete stop by decelerating from 50mph to zero with the bumper at that point of contact.

          Now take away the second car and put a brick wall in its place. From the perspective of that first car, the problem hasn’t changed. It’s still going to come to a complete stop by decelerating from 50mph to zero with the bumper still at that point of contact. Since it’s totally symmetrical, you can see that what the other object is or its velocity won’t change the outcome.

          Of course, if you change the problem from symmetrical in any way (such as different speeds, or one of the cars is now a semitruck), this analysis no longer works. You’ll need to consider the relative energies of both and the energy absorbed in the collision, etc. Note that in my symmetrical analysis, both cars could crumple, or both could bounce off of each other like rubber balls, or anything in between, and it won’t change the outcome. It’s useful only as a toy problem to show that two cars travelling at each other at 50 mph isn’t necessarily the same as hitting a fixed object at 100 mph.

          • gbdub says:

            Of course, here we are assuming “brick wall” is shorthand for “idealized wall that brings the car to a halt without giving at all” – in practice brick walls are fairly brittle, and the car would probably plow through it, eventually coming to rest some distance beyond the original plane of the wall. So not quite as bad as hitting another car head on with both at 50 mph 😉

        • hls2003 says:

          At the risk of misremembering my physics, the issue isn’t that the driver’s ed example is false, but rather that it’s trivially true and does not support its conclusion. The total force involved in the two-car collision at 50 mph should be the same as the total force involved in a single-car collision at 100 mph. In that sense the driver’s ed example is true. However, it is only trivially true, because the total energy is distributed between two cars, not one. Each car (in the idealized scenario) absorbs half that energy, thus crumpling both cars half as much as the 100 mph scenario. Since the driver’s ed text apparently used the equal-force argument as a reason why head-on collisions are more dangerous than single-car accidents, it was using a true fact to support an incorrect claim – that each car’s occupant would experience the force of a 100 mph collision.

          My back-of-envelope physics on this is simply Newton’s equation F=ma. In metric units, if a car of mass 1000 kg hits a wall at 100 mph (about 45 m/s) and stops within half a second, then the total deceleration is 90 m/s^2 and the force generated is 90,000 N (kg-m/s^2). If instead two cars hit each other at 50 mph (22.5 m/s) and stop within half a second, then each 1000 kg car experiences total deceleration of 45 m/s^2 and force of 45,000 N. Obviously much better for the occupant of either car. But the force involved in the entire collision – taking both cars together – multiplies 45,000 N x 2 cars for the same 90,000 N force as a 100 mph collision with a brick wall.

          EDIT: I think the explanation still holds up – it’s twice as much for Car A in the wall collision due to force applied under Newton’s Second Law – but I think I misstated the total force applied to the system as a whole. The car exerts the same force on the wall as the wall exerts on the car, so there is actually 180,000 N of force applied on both sides of that collision, while only 90,000 N of total force is applied on both sides of the head-on collision. But the total amount of force being applied to a car or cars is the same in each case (since in the wall case half is being applied to a non-car). Dang, it’s been awhile.

          • gbdub says:

            Kinetic energy is proportional to the square of velocity. So a single car crash at 100 mph has four times the energy of a one car 50 mph crash. The two car 50 mph head on collision only has twice the kinetic energy of the 50 mph crash into a wall.

            Another error (more of an inaccurate assumption): the time of deceleration will probably not remain constant – the distance over which each car decelerates remaining constant is probably a better assumption (i.e. assume every crash fully compresses the available crumple space, which is probably a not-terrible assumption for a 50mph+ crash).

          • hls2003 says:


            Yes, you’re right about kinetic energy, and I’ll concede that’s probably a better way of handling the question. Those equations square with my later realization about the dual forces at work. But of course F=ma still applies to the forces being exerted upon both the wall and car (or car and car) and I believe gives more or less the same result. You don’t care about kinetic energy of the crash, you care about force applied to the car (and thereby to its occupant) by the sudden deceleration.

            Yes, the time of deceleration was an assumption, but given the nature of the question I think a fair one to illustrate the point that you’re better off in the head-on collision by a factor of two.

          • Which bothers the rest of you more:

            1. The fact that the physics teacher at an elite private school got the answer wrong.

            2. The fact that a teacher insisted that he was right by authority, rather than feeling obliged to defend his view.


            In my case it was 2. I think I already knew, but didn’t say, that I was smarter than he was.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @DavidFriedman, #2, hands-down. It’s contrary to the whole point of science classes, if not of education itself.

        • James C says:

          I do feel that going into the numbers of a high speed car crash is rather missing the point from a Drivers Ed point of view. The point is to demonstrate how dangerous dicking around on the road can be, not model the behavior of two quasi physical objects. Over in the real world, two cars hitting each other head on at 50 is worse than hitting a brick wall at the same speed. After all, while the forces may cancel out on average, individual pieces won’t and those individuals can be the cars’ occupants. I wouldn’t go so far too say it’s like hitting a wall at 100, but its a fair approximate for teaching people not to risk it.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It was somewhat bad, but I wonder whether depression at my end was a contributing factor. On the other hand, there are ways that school probably made depression worse.

      I was mostly bored. When I think about what I did to kill time…. drawing tesseracts in four point perspective, drawing rectangles with evenly divided sides and connecting all the points (why did some of them have two points where a bunch of diagonals meet and others have one?), drawing n-pointed stars (at least I eventually figured out relative primality), tracking whether my fellow students had their hands near their faces (it seemed to correlate with when the teacher was boring)…..

      I knew how to read when I went into school. It took me years to figure out what the point of view was in the Dick and Jane books. What I know of math is mostly from school.

      I was bullied from fourth grade to twelfth– almost all of it verbal. I think this contributed to a sense of despair, since no one seemed to care about it. Decades later, someone apologized for being a bystander.

      On the despair side, the pledge of allegiance and the Lord’s prayer (sometimes the 23rd Psalm) didn’t help because I didn’t feel a sense of connection to my country or God, and it seemed incredibly stupid that people thought forced words would create a sense of connection. It did not seem safe to bring up that point, and I didn’t. Much later, it occurred to me that at least I was hearing some pretty prose with the religious material.

      I was mostly bad at gym, and the thing I was good at (serving volleyball) wasn’t noticed. To be fair, the kids played crack the whip at recess, and I was good enough at leading it. I had a trick I can’t explain of forcing the followers to rotate around me– and the kids never put me at the end of the whip, presumably because I was small.

      I had a couple of friends when I was in school, but I’m not sure it was ever shown at school. I was pretty much excluded, and looking back, I’m not sure how much was a result of bullying and how much was self-exclusion.

      I’ll mention a teacher who was good– Mr. Gummery, high school chemistry. His approach was simple and competent. He wasn’t especially inspiring, but he didn’t waste time. He got going at the beginning of class, and he didn’t expect us to memorize atomic numbers. I don’t know how much of the good effect was also the result of one student who asked questions that I (at least) didn’t have the nerve to ask, but out of about 25 students, 6 got 800 on the PSAT and 2 got 795.

      I could keep finding details, but the short version is baddish, a lot of time wasted, could have been worse, I did learn some things, but also learned some really bad habits of killing time.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        How should schools deal with kids who are smart but depressed/knocked out?

        • Put them in a context where they are interacting with other smart kids.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It might help. I’ll note that I was in the top tracked class starting in seventh grade, and I was still socially isolated.

          • quanta413 says:

            There are typically only 2 or 3 tracks in the U.S. though right?

            I think the ability range is still wide enough that if you’re top 1-2% or so, the top track may still feel horribly slow and you might be bored to tears.

            I would’ve been happier with more challenging work, but socially I think high school wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t always great, but I adjusted. It might even have been accidentally beneficial as it was the last time I had real social contact outside of the college educated class or those about to join it (which is a remarkably narrow group in many ways). I don’t feel a strong social need to hang out primarily with smart people although I certainly enjoy smart people’s company.

          • bean says:

            I think the ability range is still wide enough that if you’re top 1-2% or so, the top track may still feel horribly slow and you might be bored to tears.

            There’s an easy way to deal with this. Grade-skipping works pretty well for this, particularly when combined with soft tracking.

          • SamChevre says:

            I was more socially isolated in college (where I was surrounded by smart kids) than in elementary school (where i wasn’t). “People with common interests and experience” is a narrower set than “smart”, at least for me.

            I’ve met at least one person for whom grade-skipping and tracking wouldn’t have helped. One of my math professors was tutoring him, and recruited some of the senior math students to take a practice Putnam exam with him. He was far and away better than we were. He was 14.

          • bean says:

            I’ve met at least one person for whom grade-skipping and tracking wouldn’t have helped. One of my math professors was tutoring him, and recruited some of the senior math students to take a practice Putnam exam with him. He was far and away better than we were. He was 14.

            Yes, but that kid isn’t top 1%. He’s top .01% or something like that, and the situation there is rather different.

      • I was mostly bad at gym

        So was I. I think my working assumption was that I was innately a good deal less athletic than average. Looking back, I think the reason was that the other kids were doing things like baseball and basketball for fun on their own time and I wasn’t, so they were much better at them than I was.

        What mostly changed my view was getting into SCA combat when it was new–I joined around A.S. 4, shortly before the area I was in became the Middle Kingdom. SCA combat was a new sport for all of us, and it turned out that I was good at it. That was also the context where I concluded that I was stronger, not weaker, than the average of my age and sex.

    • Beck says:

      I went to a county school in a rural to semi-rural area in Alabama. The elementary school seemed excellent, largely due to one 5th grade teacher that taught there for about 25 years and had a big impact on a lot of people in the area.
      Middle school wasn’t quite as good. The teachers there ranged form very good to very bad and I began to get bored with the pace. That’s also when status seems to have become more important and being visibly poor started to really bother me. I do remember having a lot of friends both at school and in the neighborhood and staying at other kids’ houses once a week or so.
      I kind of phoned it in through high school. Drinking and minor drug use was pretty common in our crowd and I didn’t need to put in a lot of effort to keep up with classes. I also did a lot of reading on my own. I had a big circle of friends and people I was friendly with and didn’t have a bad time overall. I regret not putting in more effort, but by that time I’d already decided to enlist after graduation, so it didn’t seem terribly important.

      I was fortunate enough not to experience a lot of it firsthand, but I think it was a somewhat violent school even for the area. Not gun play-type violent, but fights and bullying were extremely common. Corporal punishment was a little over the top, too, to the point that some teachers had personalized paddles that they kept hanging on the wall and spent a lot of time discussing the merits of things like drilling holes in the paddle or leaving it solid. That seems kind of weird remembering it now.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      Middle-class public schools. I could have skipped 1st grade but I have a fall birthday so I was already one of the youngest in my class and my parents worried I’d be (more) socially awkward. Actually I wasn’t; I had lots of friends and was never considered a geek or nerd or whatever, in spite of my raging OCD. I was slooooow to get comfortable with girls, and there was nothing doing until college. Schools were profoundly mediocre in quality. The teachers were good enough but elementary school was unchallenging, and in junior high there were no electives that were interesting, and I wound up taking woodshop and metalworking. In high school, math stopped at pre-calc, though there was a second year of chemistry (2hrs/day!) and one heroic teacher took it on himself to teach college physics – we went through the whole text in one year, the equivalent of college Phys 101 and 102, basically – which was something new to the school for my year. We had 12 kids in that physics class and eight in the advanced chemistry. I was the only one in both.

      What struck me a little bit at the time, and much more looking back, was how low the sights were set for the schools, and so also for the students. Simply graduating from high school was not taken for granted by any means. My HS class started out with 750 kids, and 635 graduated. There were literally hundreds of pregnancies in my HS every year. There wasn’t a lot of bullying – some, but not a lot – and no gangs or anything really serious. There was just a sense that a lot of the kids would get working-class jobs at the factory like their dads or office jobs like their moms, and hopefully a fair number would go to college for some reason or other. Maybe 20 of us went to UW-Madison, and a bunch went to smaller state system schools. Three went to Ivy or Ivy-like schools. And that was a historic year for our school. In most years the number would be zero. I got congratulated for getting into UW by one friend, and I shrugged it off, as back then it was no real achievement to get accepted there. I was surprised to learn that he was affronted by that, because to him that was a big deal. It was only later, after I had been in grad school for a few years, that I realized the power of the assumptions people grow up with about the trajectories of their lives.

    • Trevor Clinton says:

      After I learned social skills and started regular highschool I was had a great time. The only problem was that I could not stay awake for first period. The work was easy for everything except English. I was not bullied since some of the people I help with AP homework were the popular smart jocks (sports team + AP classes). I also made some connections through the art class. Some people used it as an easy class, and I had a great time chatting with the hippie and stoners. They like my lectures on psychopharmacology. In video production I played a bullied kid who got his revenge by dropping a giant dictionary on the head of the bully at the end.

  9. BBA says:

    Enough with these heady discussions, let’s talk about booze!

    One of the unusual things about whiskey is that the rules for how it’s labeled vary considerably based on where it’s made. Scotch whisky is divided into mutually exclusive categories: “malt” whisky is made from a 100% malted barley mash in pot stills. Whisky with other grains in the mash, or made in column stills, is “grain” whisky. Whisky made at one distillery is “single malt” or “single grain” while blends of whiskies made at different distilleries are “blended malt” or “blended grain”, and a blend of malt and grain whiskies is just called “blended” regardless of how many distilleries produced the component whiskies. This is all fairly straightforward.

    American whiskey, by contrast, has a large number of subcategories and doesn’t necessarily fall into any of them. Many of them are what would be called grain whiskey if made in Scotland: bourbon must be made from a 51% corn mash, rye whiskey likewise must be a 51% rye mash. However an American “malt whiskey” only has to be 51% malted barley, unlike the 100% malt requirements used in Scotland and elsewhere. Also, all of these varieties are required to be aged in new barrels, while scotch is traditionally aged in used barrels – and why not, with all these bourbon barrels that can’t be reused in America. There are stricter requirements for labeling whiskey “straight”, as many Kentucky bourbons are, or the more obscure “bottled in bond”, which is the only one that must be from a single distillery. “Blended whiskey”, in America and nowhere else, must be at least 20% straight whiskey, but the rest of it can be neutral spirits, otherwise known as vodka. There are numerous other categories I’m not going to go into. Finally, a whiskey that qualifies for one category doesn’t need to be labeled with it. Most famously, Jack Daniel’s could legally be called bourbon but its producer has long preferred to label it “Tennessee whiskey” instead.

    Now the weird part is that when whiskey is exported, it retains the categories used in the producing country. Most single malt scotch, being aged in used barrels, doesn’t meet the definition of malt whiskey used in the US, but it can be sold under its Scottish category rather than its American category (which as far as I can tell is just “whiskey”). Likewise bourbon doesn’t have to be relabeled as “single grain” or “blended grain” to be sold in the UK, although that’s what it’d be called if it was made there using the same recipe and method. I suppose scotch and bourbon are just thought of as distinct products so no confusion arises from the conflicting terminologies.

    Briefly, so that the rest of the world isn’t left out: Irish whiskey mostly follows the categories used in Scotland, but with the addition of “single pot still” for a particular kind of grain whiskey. Canadian whisky has its own rules, most unusually that anything qualifying as “Canadian whisky” can be labeled “rye” even if it doesn’t have any rye in it. (The regulations make “rye” synonymous with “Canadian”, indicating that American ryes have to be relabeled for sale there, but a quick check of the Ontario liquor monopoly’s website shows American rye is sold there anyway, so I give up.) Japanese whisky is mostly produced in the “single malt” style but I don’t know how it’s regulated there.

    Finally, the weirdest part is how the word is spelled, which doesn’t follow the usual break between the US and the Commonwealth. The US and Ireland call it whiskey with an E, while the rest of the world calls it whisky with no E. And generally you follow the producing country’s rules on this too.

    • SamChevre says:

      One more detail: Bourbon must be aged 4 years, or labeled if less than that. Straight whiskey must be aged for two years.

      • Lambert says:

        Scotch has to be 3 years at absolute minimum.
        Age statements are done by the youngest in there.

      • gbdub says:

        This is, I think, incorrect. The age statement is only required if it is labeled “straight” AND is aged less than 4 years. I think in practice no one actually bothers with making bourbons in the 2-4 range – most brands of “straight” bourbon I’m aware of are aged between 4-7 years, and bourbons rarely get an age statement except if it’s unusually long or to differentiate between different bottlings (e.g. Pappy van Winkle comes in multiple versions differentiated by age).

    • AlphaGamma says:

      An interesting side-effect of the laws about whisky (in the UK) is that recently there was a boom in various craft spirits and liqueurs, including vodka and gin as well as less expected things like limoncello. At least some of this was people setting up distilleries to make whisky, but needing something to sell during the minimum 3-year aging period required to sell their product as whisky.

      • BBA says:

        American start-up distilleries just buy whiskey in bulk from commercial operations (most notably MGP) and bottle it under their own labels until their “real” whiskey is done aging. This is totally legal and has been common in the past, but feels a bit sleazy.

        The long production time makes it hard to adjust to moves in the market. Japanese whisky is hot now and Suntory is reporting shortages in their 12-year-old bottlings… and here I’m thinking that if they’d only ramped up production due to all the foreign attention they got from Lost in Translation they’d be all set by now.

        • johan_larson says:

          American start-up distilleries just buy whiskey in bulk from commercial operations (most notably MGP) and bottle it under their own labels until their “real” whiskey is done aging.

          That’s cool. Many mass-market beers are made with a beer-base named Industrial Fluid 5. Add two parts water, a bit of flavor and a lot of marketing, and it’s ready to bottle. In fact, one of the biggest brands of beer is nothing but IF-5 and two parts water.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I can’t tell if this is satire, or not, but that seems unlikely. I can also find no references to this on Google.

          • johan_larson says:

            It’s satire.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Thanks for clarifying. It looked like satire, but I wasn’t quite sure.

          • pontifex says:

            Replace IF-5 with alcohol, and beer with vodka, and satire becomes truth.

          • rlms says:

            Yes, there are obviously two Industrial Fluids (one for lager, one for ale).

          • BBA says:

            The way to make vodka is to distill pure alcohol and then add water until it reaches the desired ABV. The thing is, pure alcohol is exactly the same no matter where you get it from, so it shouldn’t be surprising or scandalous that nearly all vodka brands (yes, even “craft” vodkas like Tito’s) buy third-party alcohol instead of distilling it themselves, and yet it is. For whatever reason we look at the alcohol as the essential part rather than a raw ingredient. You don’t call a bakery fraudulent if they don’t mill their own flour.

          • gbdub says:

            Considering that both alcohol and bread leavening are the product of the operations of yeast, and distillation is kind of like baking/cooking, buying alcohol from somewhere else for your vodka is basically like a bakery selling someone else’s bread warmed over in the microwave. It’s not really like just raw flour at all.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            The way to make vodka is to distill pure alcohol and then add water until it reaches the desired ABV. The thing is, pure alcohol is exactly the same no matter where you get it from,

            This is flatly not true.

            There are a lot of vodkas which are marketing + industrial grain alcohol. There exist a number that just aren’t. Anyone who repeatedly tells you that “vodka is supposed to be tasteless, it’s all the same” has no idea what they’re talking about. It’s certainly distilled to a very high level (80% ABV or higher), but many are still tastable. (I favor High West 7000′, though St. George also makes good product and I will put money down that I can pick it out of a lineup blindfolded.)

            I wrote more about this in a previous OT.

          • BBA says:

            Both of those brands add their stills’ output to a “base spirit”, i.e. industrial alcohol. So I suspect most of the C2H5OH in those bottles was purchased from elsewhere – and there’s nothing wrong with that, any two C2H5OH molecules are identical no matter whose still they came out of. The only relevance of the source is for religious qualities like “kosher for Passover” or “non-GMO.”

            And I’m not asserting that all vodka tastes the same. I had figured the differences were due to production processes and water sources – having grown up on NYC water I can tell you that tap water in any other city doesn’t taste quite right. Mixing a little locally produced spirit with the pure industrial stuff is certainly a more efficient way to claim to be craft without going through the trouble of running the same stuff through a pot still 10 times.

          • Brad says:

            I wrote more about this in a previous OT.

            From there:

            It’s a myth that vodka is “pure alcohol” or “supposed to taste like nothing at all” or any of the other statements. It is, generally speaking, distilled (not bottled!) at a much higher proof (at least one reputable distiller claimed to me “it’s not legally vodka unless you take it above X proof in the still” (I believe X was around 180–whiskey will come out of the copper at something like 120-140, by comparison), but I don’t think this is a universally regulated standard) which means it’s going to be closer to pure EtOH/H2O solution than other liquor, but there are definitely other components. Some trade regs get quoted a lot as saying its “flavorless” but this is just flatly wrong.

            But then after they distill it to 95% purity, don’t manufacturers then carbon filter it–at least one brand famously three times? I’m sure you aren’t getting lab grade EtOh before being diluted, and the human palate is pretty sensitive, but that should be a pretty strongly homogenizing process.

            At least until you add back in water, which I take it is rarely or never distilled, and the additives (IIRC traditional honey and today often glycerin). Given the relative amounts of each I’d expect these two to have a much bigger impact on the final taste then whatever residuals are left from the alcohol base creation process.

    • gbdub says:

      Minor quibble: my understanding is that the “aged in new oak barrels” part is only required for particular varieties of whiskey labeled as such (e.g. bourbon, rye whiskey, malt whiskey). Generically labeled “whiskey” doesn’t require new oak. I know a guy who runs a local grain-to-bottle craft distillery and their flagship smoked whiskey spends very little time in oak (mostly for color) and derives the majority of its flavor from spending time in a stainless steel vat with heavily charred oak staves. Also they have a bourbon that is ideal at about 1 year old, and doesn’t require an age statement because they don’t market it as “straight” (they age in smaller barrels, so the flavor peaks a bit earlier – they are a new distillery, and are aging longer experimentally, but the returns are diminishing so far and demand is high so they will probably keep releasing at that age for some time).

      You mentioned contract distilling, which can be a bit shady if not well-publicized. But my distiller friend is a bit more sympathetic to it – the demand for craft gin and vodka is niche, everyone wants brown spirits, and there’s only so much you can do to speed up the process of aging.

      What really bothers him is places that use “neutral grain spirits”, basically super high proof generic vodka. Labeling laws allow a producer to say something is “Distilled in (locality)” as long as that’s the last place it was boiled before bottling. So what some craft distillers will do is take this neutral spirt, add local water, and perform a superfluous re-distillation. This lets them get past the craftier consumers who are aware of contract distilling, but avoids having to do the hard work of actual mashing and fermentation from grain.

      And a last difference between US and Scotch whiskey: US producers are not allowed to add any coloring additives, while Scotch producers often use caramel color (the used barrels they use often add minimal color even after long aging), so if you’ve got a Scotch that’s as dark as a bourbon, it either spent some time in new or first fill casks, or more likely it’s got some of the same stuff that makes Coca-Cola brown.

  10. bean says:

    Jutland has returned to Naval Gazing. I’m spending the week reposting last year’s Jutland series, one part per day, with the last one split across Friday and Saturday.
    Today, we look at the strategic background, the forces, and the men who lead them.

  11. outis says:

    Apparently, Italy’s new populist government was aborted because the president would not accept the proposed finance minister due to his strongly anti-Euro views, and the majority parties would not propose a different candidate. They may end up having new elections.

    The interesting thing is that the president explicitly mentioned market reactions as a reason to reject that minister. The populist parties are arguing that the markets/the EU are being allowed to override the popular vote. But the result is that, in case of a new election, the populists are likely to make further gains.

    Does anybody have more detailed news, or thoughts? What does this mean for the EU?

    • A1987dM says:

      It means I’m going to draw a dick on the ballot in a few months. (I’m strongly postcynic about this.)

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I enjoyed the postcynic discussion linked, and mostly agree with the postcynic positions (or at least will try to look beneath the surface of the idealist and cynic positions).

        But I have no idea what you you by drawing a dick on the ballot. In my literal US way, I picture you creating an obscene picture on your ballot, but I doubt that is what you mean.

        Italy’s current political situation is fascinating and I’d love to understand what is going on there. We get next to no news on Italy in the US. I suppose I could surf the net to try to understand, but I never know what to believe there.

      • j1000000 says:

        Huh. Didn’t realize Scott invented the Galaxy Brain meme.

    • hyperboloid says:

      the result is that, in case of a new election, the populists are likely to make further gains.

      Do we know that?

      If voting for the populists resulted in chaos and dysfunction than perhaps voters will opt for a more sensible alternative.

  12. queenshulamit says:

    I am seeking two things:

    1. People in Seattle to co-work with and/or hang out platonically with during weekdays. My current situation is that I have come to the US on a K-1 visa and married my husband. Although I am here legally, I have to apply for work authorisation separately and this takes several months to be approved. Currently this means I can get quite bored and lonely while my husband is at work. I’m doing some remote volunteering for Rethink Charity, but it’s hard to motivate myself to work without the social pressure of someone watching me. My husband works roughly 9-5. I sometimes hang out and co-work with one of my housemates (there are 6 people living in our house, but most of them are out a lot.) I would appreciate people who would either come over or who I could go and visit. Please reply to this comment or email glowing dot ember dot girl at gmail dot com, or contact me in some other way if you know me.

    2. General advice about wedding planning (we have already had our legal wedding in the courthouse, but we’re having a bigger ceremony in August.) I’m not talking full wedding planner, I just want to talk to someone who has planned a wedding for about half an hour. (Preferably a wedding that was 1. secular, 2. fairly recent and 3. had to cater to vegans. If the wedding was in Seattle specifically, that’s even better.)

    • AKL says:

      Not precisely what you asked for in #2, but our wedding fits your criteria (less the Seattle location). We had a very casual backyard BBQ in lieu of a rehearsal dinner, then did both the wedding ceremony and reception at our favorite restaurant.

      The restaurant did not advertise itself as available for functions or weddings, so even inquiring was somewhat of a random shot in the dark. We were able to buy out the whole space, and I strongly recommend this approach. It was completely full service (decor, food, desert, bar) and their events manager (we did not know they had one) basically acted as our wedding planner. We did not have pay extra and it wasn’t a super-high touch role: just recommending and coordinating with other vendors (audio folks, our friends who brought in flowers), managing the seating chart, day-of coordination, etc. But it was exactly what we needed. The restaurant buyout was a fixed cost and it was really nice not having to ask yourself, “is this edge case invitee worth the extra cost?”. And of course the food & bar were precisely aligned with our preferences.

      The restaurant buyout was significantly less expensive than comparable a la carte options (separately paying a venue, tent company, caterer, bar tender, planner, etc.), and the fact that it was a one-stop-shop was a shockingly big deal in re: whether wedding planning was fun & exciting or a stressful, long hard slog.

      I could not recommend this approach more. If you have a favorite vegan friendly restaurant, ask if they do weddings. Happy to chat about the details outside this forum if you want – let me know and I’ll email you.

      • queenshulamit says:

        Thanks for the tip – I have looked into various venues and one does offer food as part of the event. I will discuss it with my husband. 🙂

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Not near the west coast, but I’ve photographed over 300 weddings, from backyard get togethers to 200+ people at the Ritz Carlton, to destination weddings from the Caribbean to Colorado and pretty much every faith, culture and race. Except muslim I guess, but I’ve done atheist and christian and jewish and hindu. If you have general wedding planning questions, well, I’ve seen a lot of them so ask away.

      • queenshulamit says:

        Thanks. One thing I am interested in – how much is reasonable to spend on a wedding photographer? Neither of us have much idea what a reasonable price is.

        • Aapje says:

          This seems useful:

          Especially the part where you figure out first how many hours you want the photographer to be present, whether you want extra services and paying more for skilled photographers.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          It’s an entirely free market. There are no licenses, no tests, no accreditation, anyone with a camera can call themselves a photographer and everyone does. As such, prices vary wildly. There are people who will charge you $800 for all day coverage and people who charge $25,000.

          What I would say, though, is to be wary of anyone charging less than $2000. This is someone who has not calculated the real expenses involved in the business and is almost certainly losing money on each job. They may not be around that long, and if they’re that incompetent in business, they’re likely incompetent in other ways, too.

          So, you can spend as much or as little as you want, and you generally get what you pay for. A competent professional is probably going to be around $3000 for time and files. But anyone under about $2000 and you’re gambling. I’d recommend looking around websites of photographers in your area to get an idea of whose work you like, and then asking for recommendations from friends and from other wedding vendors. That is, ask the cake maker, the florist, the reception venue, etc, who they recommend for photography. If you keep hearing the same names again and again those are probably your best bets.

          Also, if you narrow it down to a few finalists I’ll be happy to look at their websites and give you my opinion. I’m a PPA Master Photographer and Photographic Craftsman and (former, anyway) print competition judge, so my opinion isn’t entirely arbitrary.

  13. Tatterdemalion says:

    On average, Americans clearly have much less faith in their government’s ability to good than Western Europeans, Canadians, Australians, etc.

    Do you think that’s just down to different histories and national character and mythology, or is the American government actually less good at doing good than those of other nations?

    My guess is that the latter might be true – I suspect that a lot of the “checks and balances” that the American government has built in to stop it becoming a dictatorship may also make it much less efficient – but I don’t have strong evidence either way, or even a clear idea of what that evidence might look like.

    • Aapje says:

      Germany has a lot of checks and balances. They still have more faith in their government.

      My perception is that there is a self-fulfilling prophecy where Americans expect bad government and dislike bureaucrats, so they get a government with low ambitions and with poor bureaucrats (because good workers strongly prefer the private sector).

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        My perception is that there is a self-fulfilling prophecy where Americans expect bad government and dislike bureaucrats, so they get a government with low ambitions and with poor bureaucrats (because good workers strongly prefer the private sector).

        To a certain extent I think this is true. I’ve never lived outside the US, so it is possible that my perception is skewed, but it seems to me that working for the government is much higher status in other countries than it is in the US. It is my impression that the highest status universities in most countries are feeders to government service, which is not as much true in the US. It is true that say Harvard does supply a lot of the technocrats to the US government, but Harvard also provides a lot of graduates to the private market, and those graduates are not lower status. Also, some top schools such as MIT and Stanford provide few graduates to the US government. Well, what I hear about are technocrats that teach at Harvard; I guess I am assuming the school also provides graduates there.

        And I think this US situation is a good thing. Every country has a limited number of genius level people. I think it is generally better for society if they go into technology or business than government service. This may result in poorer government operations, but more advancement in the for profit sector, which is more important for society’s well being. Of course this opinion is part of being an American.

        • Aapje says:

          Every country has a limited number of genius level people.

          I’m not talking about true geniuses, but just good people.

          This may result in poorer government operations, but more advancement in the for profit sector, which is more important for society’s well being.


          Shouldn’t the government logically have about the same percentages of good workers as the percentage of the GDP spent by the government?

          The government runs such things as education and long-term research, the military, etc. Seems quite important for society’s well being, to me.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Shouldn’t the government logically have about the same percentages of good workers as the percentage of the GDP spent by the government?

            No. I think a lot of things will make the percentages different. I think the government probably has a higher proportion of workers than industry because government services are less capital intensive on average. Although in the US at least, a whole lot of government services are contracted out. I’ve heard that over the last few decades the spending on government services has increased dramatically but the number of government workers has been somewhat static, because of so much more contracting. So it could go in the other direction too, with government being much lower proportion of workers. In any case, number of workers probably doesn’t match the proportion spent.

            The type of workers will also vary greatly. In the US at least, government service is much more stable and so it will likely attract lower risk people. Of course government workers will surely attract more Blues than Reds also; I don’t know that this in itself makes one better than the other. My previous comment was about top level workers, and I do think it probable that the status of each type of work will greatly matter in the caliber of who is attracted to it.

            The government runs such things as education and long-term research, the military, etc. Seems quite important for society’s well being, to me.

            Government does run most schools. I am in Bryan Caplan’s camp about most schooling being signaling, so no, not so important.

            Long-term research. I am not sure how much is spent by government vs industry. Probably important.

            Military. This is necessary spending, but certainly zero sum if looked at globally.

            Innovation that increases wealth is almost all done outside government. IMO, this is what is the biggest driver increasing well being in the past and the future.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Note: The chart displays 2018 numbers, and gives the change since 2017 (I looked at the PDF, and the chart is giving raw percentage points in the change column, so the US score was 47% in 2017). By those numbers, the US was in 4th place instead of 11th on the chart, ahead of every European country and Canada on the chart.

        So if this is our data source, any explanation which doesn’t say “this is why Americans had more faith in their government than everybody else until this year” are invalid.

        More pointedly, all the talk downthread about conservatism, welfare states, or the US being big is invalid. I think the only explanation needed is “Trump got elected, and trust tanked.”

        • rlms says:

          I defy the data. I’m pretty sure that people in the UK at least generally trust the government more than people in the US. Looking at the details of the PDF seems to confirm this. The US had a rating of 47% in 2017, but that seems to be anomalous — the highest rating given in the preceding five years was 39% and the average in that period was 35%. But that still only gives them a rating comparable to the UK, not lower, so I still think something strange is going on. It would be nice to look to compare the US’s answer to “which institution is the most broken: business, media, NGOs or government?” (59% say government) to European countries, but the only other country for which results are given for that question is China.

          • Jaskologist says:

            What if the real question should be “Why is America better at giving a voice to the clear majority of their country who doesn’t trust the government than Western Europe, Australia, Canada, etc?”

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Neither. It’s due to conservative movement propaganda taking over one of the major parties and driving it to an extreme retrogressive position. The most hardcore right-wing parties in other developed countries still believe in a welfare state, etc.

      • toastengineer says:

        The median Republican believes in a welfare state just fine, they just don’t talk about it as much and prefer to call it a “safety net” because believing in a welfare state is Blue Team signaling.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          That’s a good point too. If you sat down the average Republican voter and asked them objectively about different programs the government could run and responsibilities the government could take up, free of tribal labels and signals, I think the perceived “cynicism” would evaporate. IIRC Republican voters are deeply cynical about any party solving immigration, but much more enthusiastic about environmental regulation, extending Medicare for All, intervening with corporations, and upgrading infrastructure than the people they elect would have you believe. The principled states rights, etc. view is very tiny, just repeated by a lot of the powerful so it looks more reflective of the culture than it is.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Don’t polls generally show that if you poll people on programs one by one, generally each is significantly more popular than “social welfare programs” as a whole, just like each individual member of the House is more popular than the House as a whole, etc?

          • cassander says:

            they would also like the ideas of less regulation, cutting wasteful spending, keeping the government off the back of the free market, and so on. the public’s is not informed on policy, and there’s almost policy that won’t poll plurality support when phrased positively. Pointing this out proves nothing.

          • ilikekittycat says:

            It proves that the claim that “Americans clearly have much less faith in their government’s ability to good than Western Europeans, Canadians, Australians, etc.” is questionably “clear”

          • dndnrsn says:

            If you ask Americans how they feel about Medicare, they might give about the same positive % as Canadians about public health insurance, or whatever – I don’t know if this is actually true; it’s just an example. But as a whole, if you ask them, “so, that whole government, whatchu think ’bout that” the % who like it are smaller.

    • rlms says:

      I agree with Aapje that it’s both, although I think that the very high population of the US (in comparison to other developed countries) probably plays a part. How competent are state governments generally thought to be relative to the federal one?

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        In my experience, state and local government is worse than the federal government. Certainly in my role as a tax accountant, the general level of competency of tax auditors decreases noticeably with the size of the entity. So the federal tax authorities are the most competent, and the local ones can barely tie their shoelaces. I think this is largely due to salary differences at each level, with the smallest jurisdiction workers being paid at the level of clerks. My guess is that the rest of government is pretty similar. So the fact that states are smaller entities doesn’t really make them comparable to countries of the same size, because in the US the best bureaucrats are drawn to the US government.

        • Nicholas Weininger says:

          What state(s) are your experiences from? AIUI the studies done on this have shown the states to vary very widely in competence– places like MN, MA, UT relatively competent, the biggest states much more dysfunctional and corrupt.

          • Protagoras says:

            How about small states (those seem kind of middle sized, being ranked from 15th to 31st in population)?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Well it is true that the least competent of the states was California. But one of the least competent auditors I dealt with was from Arizona; she never would have survived working for the IRS. But it is also true that the most competent auditors usually work within the state. The one competent CA auditor I worked with was in-state when our CA subsidiary was audited. And I do think MN was more competent, but I am in MN, so I got in-state auditors. But these kinds of details detract from the general theme that almost all of the IRS auditors I dealt with were very smart, the state auditors averaged less so, and all of the local ones were not at all bright.

          • SamChevre says:

            MArk V Anderson

            California–that brings back memories; their auditors were incredibly clueless.

            In insurance, you pay a “premium tax” on premiums; it is primarily used to fund the insurance regulatory system. We had some policies in my first job that had been issued by another insurer, where that insurer had paid us to manage the actual payout of the benefits. California did an audit, and wanted to know why we hadn’t paid premium tax (they weren’t our policies, and we hadn’t received any premiums on them). I was still answering questions 5 years later–on a completely normal, basic, 101-level question that anyone in the industry could have sorted out in 5 minutes.

        • Nornagest says:

          This tallies well with my experience. One of my previous jobs was on a product marketed towards defense and public security customers, mostly in the US; requirements came from several agencies and many levels. The DOD was probably the easiest to work with overall, although they had some weird, picky requirements; the FBI was ugly and parochial (we had to provide a VB6 API for everything, for example) but mostly competent; and state and local were just an unending chore to deal with.

    • Lambert says:

      I’m guessing a big proportion of it was WWII.
      Gov’t was what stood between us and occupation by those dastardly Germans/French/British (delete as appropriate).

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      I was about to delete a reply to @Tatterdemalion
      in the 1-hour window, which was quite too CW-like and hotheaded.
      Did someone already do that for me or did WordPress have that for lunch?
      [just expected a warning or feedback, because I’ve only seen bold, red text
      + “You are banned”, when someone crossed a line and now I’m wondering if I just did]
      I’m glad if nobody read that though (the points I was trying to make, should have been made in a dispassionate tone).

    • cassander says:

      The US simply being much larger and less homogenous than any developed country is going to make governing it more difficult than any of them, it’s hard to disentangle that effect from the efficacy of the underlying structure.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I do think the US has somewhat less competent government than other countries. Some of this is surely related to the size of the country. And this doesn’t mean the states are run better than the states, partly because of the tendency of the best bureaucrats to work at the federal level, as I state elsewhere, but also because government in the US is so entangled between different jurisdictions, that the complications of the US government has effects on every state and local jurisdiction.

      I really think the only solution to this is to greatly simplify government, which fits in perfectly in the book I wrote called Simplify Government. :-). I think every government in the world could probably use simplification to better its operations, but the US needs it desperately. The federal, state, and local jurisdictions need to stop passing funds between themselves, since that wastes much money as it destroys accountability. Also, every politician in every jurisdiction thinks they need to solve every problem, and this is very dysfunctional in a 330 million person country for thousands of politicians to be all working on the same thing, inevitably often at cross purposes.

      Of course those who push hard for federalism (almost all power at the state level) solve much of the simplification problem. At least then the state level carries out most of government’s functions, which allows the state bureaucrats to do their thing without interference by the feds, and there would be much less incentive for the best bureaucrats to go to the federal level, but few jobs at the federal level.

    • tayfie says:

      I think there are multiple queries buried under “faith”.

      How much do people trust government to perform its current duties correctly?

      How much do people want government to take on new duties?

      Not wanting government to take on new duties does not necessarily demonstrate low trust in the job government does now. I trust my my mother on lots of things, but never with entertainment nor fashion.

      Maybe relevant.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      I’m Canadian. I don’t think Canada has much faith in their government’s ability to do good. People complained about Harper, and even complain about Trudeau, nearly as much as America complains about Trump (though this isn’t obvious, because the Canadian media also complains about American government). There are constantly government scandals here.

      My impression is that we have faith in our population to do good, and sometimes regard our independent organizations as highly and formally as government if that makes any sense.

      (I’m deliberately conflating how our media potrays our “people” and how I perceive our people. It seems accurate, but I don’t know if that’s just because people I know want to be how they’re portrayed, or if the media is portraying the people I know.

      The term Our People means something like “the people who are active in society and communities,” not every single person, and certainly not me.)

    • Wander says:

      For what it’s worth, complaining about our current government is the Australian national pasttime. I know almost no one who thinks the government is actually useful or does useful things, on either side about any party.

  14. SamChevre says:


    • johan_larson says:

      (I accidentally deleted this post.)

      This thread is for true but absurd statements. Let me illustrate.

      The motto of the International Red Cross is not, “Fill full the mouth of famine, and bid the sickness cease.”

      Singing “Every Sperm is Sacred” is not part of the rite of First Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.

      No NASA administrator is on record as saying, “Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department.”

  15. johan_larson says:

    The phone directory informs me that there are several people with the surname Hitler in the US.

    That just has to be a rough way to grow up.

  16. I just got back from spending most of the weekend at Baycon, a local sf convention. My last panel was on the Fermi puzzle, a subject recently discussed here. It looks as though, if current trends continue, we will have interstellar travel within a few centuries and be all over this end of the galaxy in a few millennia. There are lots of other planets where life could evolve and some of it should have a lead on us of at least millions, possibly billions, of years. Where are they all?

    It occurred to me that I had a possible answer which I had not seen offered in the past.

    All human societies face the coordination problem–how to coordinate the actions of the millions of people who have to coordinate in order to get anything done. The obvious solution, top down control, scales very badly, so is unworkable for societies of substantial size. The solution that does work is some variant of decentralized coordination, with private property, exchange, and prices the most familiar example.

    For that to work, the effects of individual actions have to be mostly local enough so that they can be converted into incentives by some mixture of prices (my hiring you to work in my factory means you don’t have leisure, but I have to pay you enough to make up for that or the value to you of an alternative job, depending which is your alternative, so the cost to you is transmitted to me) and legal mechanisms such as tort. If people are routinely taking actions a large part of the net effect of which goes to lots of other and distant people, that’s a problem.

    The poster child is AGW. As it happens, I don’t think it is a serious problem, but the reasons for that—my estimates of net costs and benefits—are accidental not essential. If it does threaten a catastrophe, it isn’t clear there is any set of institutions, with the possible exception of world government, that makes it in the interest of people to act in ways that prevent it.

    One effect of technological progress is to increase the power individual actors have, which tends to increase the range of the effects of their actions. Perhaps this problem, in one form or another, becomes serious enough to either destroy the population or block further progress before a society progresses to the point where it can spread itself to other star systems.

    I discussed this issue in more detail, although not in the context of the Fermi puzzle, in the final chapter of my Future Imperfect.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      DF, you bring up a couple of fascinating subjects here, but I don’t understand how they fit together.

      You talked about the issue of why aliens have not shown up on Earth, when it seems there should be lots of them out there, with all star systems out there.

      Then you talked about the issue of de-centralization, showing how top down solutions don’t work real well, even when they are needed.

      Somehow I think you are saying the second issue is a solution of the first, but I would like to see your intermediary steps.

      • Sorry if I was unclear.

        Decentralization is the only way of solving the coordination problem for a large and interdependent society.

        For decentralization to work, most of the effects of individual choices have to be reasonably local. If every time I do something most of the costs and benefits go to people all over the world, there is no set of institutions that will make it in my interest to take all and only the acts that produce net benefits, or anything close.

        As technology improves, the range of the effects of individual actions increases. If too much of that happens, decentralized coordination no longer works, so we are down from one solution to the coordination problem to none.

        If every society runs into this problem before it has developed far enough for space colonization, that explains why no society has actually made it to a level at which it is colonizing the galaxy.

        You might find the more detailed explanation of the first part of this argument in the chapter I linked to helpful.

        • Zephalinda says:

          Follow-up questions, feel free to ignore if these are too dumb!
          — Is the phenomenon you’re describing something different from garden-variety tragedy of the commons (+ difficulties administering large state apparatuses to reduce same)? If so, how?

          — If traditional, centrally-administered “legal mechanisms such as tort” have worked in the past to control this, why wouldn’t we assume that advancing technology could help scale those mechanisms as well? For example, technology could plausibly provide ever-more-granular or even probabilistic information about the consequences of individual actions for the general welfare, which individual actors could then be held accountable for via traditional courts.

          –Finally, I think I’m missing the part where we can assume that market-style decentralized coordination, if only we could keep it up, is reliably the thing that would enable us to solve complex technological problems like interstellar space travel. Is this generally accepted in Baycon-attending circles? I have seen arguments that decentralized coordination is inherently bad at those types of problems. (I realize that this is beside your point, so more a curiosity question about the intellectual landscape than a request to debate/defend.)

          • — Is the phenomenon you’re describing something different from garden-variety tragedy of the commons

            It’s tragedy of the commons in a situation where there is no way of avoiding it by converting the commons into private property.

            If traditional, centrally-administered “legal mechanisms such as tort” have worked in the past to control this, why wouldn’t we assume that advancing technology could help scale those mechanisms as well?

            Tort law works very poorly when there are ten million tortfeasors, each with the same hundred million victims. Class action suits are the kludge we use to try to deal with smaller versions of that, but they have serious problems.

            –Finally, I think I’m missing the part where we can assume that market-style decentralized coordination, if only we could keep it up, is reliably the thing that would enable us to solve complex technological problems like interstellar space travel. Is this generally accepted in Baycon-attending circles? I have seen arguments that decentralized coordination is inherently bad at those types of problems.

            One of the other panelists works for Space X, and he seemed to see that as an example of non-decentralized coordination. I pointed out that SpaceX doesn’t have to mine their own iron ore, and refine it, and … and … and … They are working inside a system of decentralized coordination that transmits the cost of almost everything they are doing as a price, not as having to do it themselves.

            But your question is at a tangent to my argument. My point isn’t that we need decentralized coordination to produce interstellar travel. It’s that we need decentralized coordination to keep us alive and prospering, that technological progress might make that impossible before it gets to the point where interstellar colonization is doable, in which case our civilization crashes, or freezes, and never gets any farther.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          That makes sense, but what about highly competent and motivated individuals like Elon Musk? He wants to get to Mars, and getting him there is the entire purpose of his other enterprises. You don’t need a whole society deciding to colonize the galaxy, just a few motivated exceptional individuals (given the technology is within reach).

          Or are you suggesting no one can ever get within reach because once enough power is available to individuals and separated from consequences, self-destruction is inevitable? Given a Star Trek replicator, someone is going to build a supernuke and there you go? Isn’t this just the same as the “societies kill themselves before they can get to the stars” answer, except instead of it being collective action (Global Thermonuclear War) it’s individual action?

          • SpaceX came up, since one of the other panelists works for them.

            “Societies kill themselves” is more dramatic than necessary. More “societies become unable to function well enough to maintain the continued progress necessary to get to the stars.”

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          You are making the assumption that the technology to travel between the stars is only possible with the wealth of a centralized government. I don’t think that is true. If you look at the US, you can see that getting to the moon in ten years was possible only because it used the wealth of the United States government. But even as NASA has greatly scaled back, individual entrepreneurs are slowly moving into space. It takes a lot longer, but it is happening. Most of the movement isn’t occurring from sharp-eyed profit maximizers that see great wealth out there, but instead rich adventurers probably lying to themselves about the potential profits. But that works too. I don’t see where we won’t eventually get to the stars through this process of individuals incrementally going one step further until someone makes the leap of actually leaving the solar system. It may take 1000 years, but eventually. And this is if no great new technologies are discovered, which would speed up the process. I don’t think your decentralization theory explains the Fermi paradox. Not to speak of the possibility of other types of creatures that are much more effective working as a group, as John suggests below.

          • You are making the assumption that the technology to travel between the stars is only possible with the wealth of a centralized government.

            If that is directed at me, you have entirely misunderstood my point.

      • No, no, no… decentralisation does nothing to increse coordination, and tends to reduce it. The advantage of decentralisation is that if a single processor maxes out before you’ve solved the problem, and you can’t get more powerful processors (ie, theres a limit to what one brain can do), the then you need more processors.

        But more processors are only useful if they can interoperate. They need a shared protocol to do so. Ten humans who know that exactly one language each, all different languages, can’t combine their brain power.

        Examples of shared protocols include language, law, and currency. A market is not just a bunch of atomised individuals, it is a bunch of individual actors who have a shared protocol for trading with each other. Communication is the precursor of coordination.

        The story of the railways begins with individual actors who were no coordinating…they were using different guages and so on. Railways worked better when the pure private enterprise model was supplemented with shared protocols, whether by agreement or top down imposition. Computers communicate with common protocols, we are using them now.

        Complete centralisation in all things is hopeless, complete atomisation in all things is hopeless

    • John Schilling says:

      I don’t think you can make this work for all or even almost all alien civilizations, which is what it would take to resolve the Fermi paradox. Just for starters, that little “…with the possible exception of world government”, may not be terribly exceptional on the galactic scale.

      Consider also literal hive minds, Hierarchical societies where the God-Emperor can delegate as necessary to coordinate the economy secure in the knowledge that it is biologically impossible for his minions to act against His interests. Superintelligent AIs that can actually solve the coordination problem. Extremely conservative species that make changes slowly enough to observe the full results and secure a consensus on the path forward, e.g. taking ten thousand years to grudgingly accept that using steam engines to pump water out of mines does no harm, but will still Dysonize their home sun in way less than an eon. Extremely long-lived species where individuals are able to make and carry through vast plans if they don’t lose focus. A hundred other possibilities I haven’t thought of yet because I’ve only been at this a few minutes.

      Even if you are correct that e.g. short-lived self-interested biological atomic individuals can’t do interstellar colonization, it is still surprising that the galaxy wasn’t fully colonized a few billion years ago.

      • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

        I don’t think you can make this work for all or even almost all alien civilizations,

        I’m not so certain. All these hive-minds, God-Emperors, conservative consensus builders, and what not – all of them are fantasies. Not entirely implausible fantasies, but still… Meanwhile, the only available real-life evidence (admittedly, n=1) suggests that to develop technological civilization you need a species of individualistic and fiercely competitive monkeys. I mean, look at eusocial insects – thousands of species of ants have been on this planet for over 100 million years. Based on a distinct lack of technological accomplishment, seems clear their evolutionary path is not suitable for colonizing the galaxy.

        In other words, to attain intelligence level comparable to ours, you must be essentially similar to us.

        Extremely conservative species that make changes slowly enough to observe the full results and secure a consensus on the path forward, e.g. taking ten thousand years to grudgingly accept

        I can just about see it: Ents are having a proper 10000-year Entmoot, deliberating adoption of the new and exciting technology of “fire”. After all, the little bipedal monkeys have been using that tech for something like 100000 years and seem to be doing well for themselves. Luckily, cooler heads seem to be prevailing at the esteemed gathering (it does not take a genius to spot a difficulty in “ents + fire” situation), so the decision is not expected for several more millennia.

        • John Schilling says:

          Meanwhile, the only available real-life evidence (admittedly, n=1) suggests that to develop technological civilization you need a species of individualistic and fiercely competitive monkeys…

          …living on a planet orbiting a G-type star of 1.000000 solar masses at a distance of 1.000000 AU, with a surface gravity of 1.000000 g, a 24.000000 hour day, and a large moon. Anything else, while not entirely implausible, is a fantasy.

          Fermi Paradox solved. The probability of non-fantasy technological civilization developing anywhere but Earth is, per all available real-life evidence, is negligible. Right?

          In other words, to attain intelligence level comparable to ours, you must be essentially similar to us.

          Citation very much needed.

          • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

            Look, I’m extrapolating from the observation that there are natural laws and things are what they are for a reason. Physics determines what kind of chemistry can exist, chemistry determines what kind of biology, and biology determines what kind of psychology (I am going to assume for the purpose of this discussion that it is a job for psychology to determine what is intelligent and what is not). Physics to chemistry is easy: you can buy COTS software to compute properties and reactivity of chemical elements. Chemistry to biology is much harder, but we do know some things.

            Biology to psychology, we can’t compute anything. So we look for weaker observational data. Which shows that to get a technological civilization, you need species like us. And I freely admit that at n=1 it is pretty weak evidence indeed. Nevertheless, having to chose between weak evidence for David Friedman’s hypothesis and your counterargument, for which I don’t see any evidence at all,.. well, I chose evidence. Especially since it does resolve the paradox.

          • That looks like a logic fallacy to me. If reductionism is true, there is no guarantee of a a unique reduction basis for any higher level property.

        • Nornagest says:

          Two million years ago, you could have said this:

          I mean, look at primates – thousands of species of individualistic and fiercely competitive monkeys have been on this planet for over 50 million years. Based on a distinct lack of technological accomplishment, seems clear their evolutionary path is not suitable for colonizing the galaxy.

          I’m not saying ants are about to invent fire, but you’re drawing some awfully strong conclusions from a single evolutionary snapshot.

          (“Thousands” is a stretch currently — there are several hundred known living primate species. But if we include extinct ones we can probably get there.)

          • albatross11 says:

            Ants have invented agriculture and herding, so it’s not obvious to me that it’s impossible for ants to invent fire. (Imagine a species with a mobile ant colony evolving to use fire to clear land for further expansion.)

            As with AI, it doesn’t matter if the intelligence that spreads throughout the galaxy has a brain or consciousness at all like we have, or could ever pass the Turing test, it just matters if it can adapt to the problem of spreading throughout the galaxy[1], given a few billion years to do it.

            [1] Or turning us all into paperclips.

    • David Speyer says:

      In hope of better understanding the Fermi paradox, I ask the following question: Suppose that Omega assured us that there was a civilization R lightyears away who technological level was an exact clone of ours, including that they have a SETI research program the size of ours. However, we don’t know in what direction they are. We decide to launch a massive engineering project, costing M dollars, to send them an unambiguous signal that we are here. For what values of M and R is this possible?

      • John Schilling says:

        Three data points. For M=0, R~40, we’ve already done this as a side effect of using high-power missile warning radars throughout the cold war. For M=small, R~100 by repurposing those same radars, optimizing and targeting them as interstellar transmitters rather than just letting their beams wash over target stars at random and with whatever modulation works best for missile detection. And for M=150E9, R~500 by way of building a classic Solar Power Satellite and use its microwave beam as a beacon. There are probably other options, maybe more efficient ones, but those are what we have at the tip of my fingers.

        And all of these assume we don’t know where the target civilization is and have to send a detectable message to every likely candidate within R light-years. R goes up by at least an order of magnitude if you know where your neighbors live, and really good telescopes aren’t that expensive.

        R also goes up quite a bit with the level of technology and industrialization used to build the transmitter; that’s hard to predict, but “technological level is an exact clone of our own” is going to be a huge underestimate. Advanced civilizations will likely be galactically known if they aren’t actively hiding, and your explanation for why they are hiding needs to apply to all possible advanced civilizations.

        • David Speyer says:

          Thanks! This definitely pushes me in the direction of increased belief that the bottleneck is somewhere before our civilization level.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Or immediately after? Maybe every civilization gets to where we are and then within a 100 years collapses due to nuclear war or environmental devastation. So maybe there was another civilization 40 light years away but by chance they developed intelligence a million years before we did and died a million years before we die.

          • albatross11 says:

            The puzzling thing isn’t that there might be a point at which many civilizations die, it’s that they *all* die/get stuck there.

            Consider the vast range of life on Earth. Among them, there’s apparently intelligent behavior that looks kinda like ours not only in the other primates, but in wolves, elephants, dolphins, and crows, among others. There’s kind-of intelligent-looking behavior among eusocial insects that you could imagine maybe evolving into something that could start using technology [1] and ultimately spread out to the stars.

            Consider the vast range of human civilizations we know about. Rigid caste systems, loose affiliations of individuals, family/kin dominated societies, urban societies ruled by a king, dynasties of god-emperors, theocracies, republics of various kinds, feudalism, etc.

            So you could imagine hive minds, or god-emperors who have ruled for so long they’ve selectively bred their subjects to be obedient, or super-solitary individualists who *can’t* form a government or large corporation, or super-collectivist species who naturally form up around a leader in any situation, or sentient mobile Redwoods who can spend a century getting from one star to another and think of it as a moderately long and boring trip, or ….

            The Fermi Paradox is a puzzle because, given the rough numbers, it seems like there has to be a filter that gets almost everyone, despite how weirdly different life and civilization might turn out to be. It can’t just work for human-like creatures with human-like societies and tendencies, it has to work for any kind of creature that could conceivably spread to the stars, over billions of years.

            [1] Ants have already invented war, agriculture, herding, and slavery. They’ve managed to spread across continents in human ships.

    • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

      One effect of technological progress is to increase the power individual actors have, which tends to increase the range of the effects of their actions. Perhaps this problem, in one form or another, becomes serious enough to either destroy the population or block further progress before a society progresses to the point where it can spread itself to other star systems.

      This is a plot device in Vernon Vinge’s Rainbows End:

      Grpuabybtl rzcbjref vaqvivqhnyf gbb zhpu, guhf gb fnir uhznavgl sebz vgfrys, gur nagntbavfg frrf ab bgure pubvpr ohg gb qrcybl zvaq pbageby. Cerfhznoyl, unq ur fhpprrqrq, gur erfhyg jbhyq or rireynfgvat fbpvrgny fgntangvba, ng gur grpuabybtl yriry bs rneyl 21fg praghel.

  17. FXBDM says:

    In reviewing past mistakes I have hit on a pattern. I would like to know if anyone has the same experience. Sometimes when faced with a simple question or problem (whether in games or in business) I go into over analyzing mode. I feel this as a distinctly different mode of acting and thinking. When I’m making these decisions, I have a back-of-the-mind feeling that I’m going too far in my analysis and that no, the other player in the game can’t be thinking 12 moves in advance and that the move I’m planning to counter it will most certainly backfire when he does the obvious, simple thing. However, I generally am unable to snap out of this mode and to just do the simple, safe thing.

    I find this experience troubling and keep reminding myself of the symptoms (being sure I’ve uncovered a covered plan, a weird sort of restlessnes) so that some day I can notice it and snap out of it.

    Does anyone have a similar experience?

    • Zephalinda says:

      If I’m understanding you correctly, I think I get this sometimes– would you say it’s roughly the same thing that pop culture describes as “analysis paralysis”, except that instead of feeling compelled not to decide, you feel compelled to make a choice that you know is overthought?

      I generally find it to be an issue with anxiety + situationally diminished executive function (sometimes connected to sleep deprivation, recent poor exercise/eating habits, etc.). The “altered state”/ “I know this is a bad idea, but I can’t help it!” components definitely sound like anxiety to me.

      • FXBDM says:

        Thank you, this is a very good point. I had not thought of looking at it in those terms.

        Do you have any insight as to how to snap out of it?

        • ninjafetus says:

          What works for me to avoid “analysis paralysis” is mentally valuing my time. I try to only analyze things proportional to their importance. (well, for “chores”, not for things I analyze for fun :p)

          E.g., If I’m weighing a decision between two things where the difference cost/value/pleasure etc. is only $5, I’m certainly not going to give it an hour of my time. I value my time more than that. If it’s $5k? You’d better believe that I’m making a spreadsheet.

          This concept is easy to say but not really precise or easy for everyone to do. It takes some practice and discipline to make small decisions quickly and be happy with the “good enough even if maybe sub-optimal” results. But once you see the benefit from reduced mental stress and extra time, you might find it worthwhile 🙂

  18. johan_larson says:

    The Atlantic has an interesting article about the American gentry, the “9.9 percent” as the author calls them:

    The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children. We are not innocent bystanders to the growing concentration of wealth in our time. We are the principal accomplices in a process that is slowly strangling the economy, destabilizing American politics, and eroding democracy. Our delusions of merit now prevent us from recognizing the nature of the problem that our emergence as a class represents. We tend to think that the victims of our success are just the people excluded from the club. But history shows quite clearly that, in the kind of game we’re playing, everybody loses badly in the end.

  19. Zephalinda says:

    I’m looking for some nicely-written scientific papers– not novelty forms or pop-science essays, but just regular old traditionally-formatted papers that also happen to be noticeably lucid and readable in their presentation, or that do an especially good job of clarifying the research field and the particular investigative contribution.

    Any topic is great, but somewhat accessible subject material would be great. What has everyone been enjoying reading lately?

  20. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Just for boring improvements to the safety net, what would it cost to permit recipients to have larger cash reserves (I’m thinking 10 to 20K) and phasing out benefits more slowly so that people who get jobs aren’t facing a 100% or worse marginal cost?

    • albatross11 says:


      IMO, the right thing to compare UBI against is some rationalized version of current welfare programs, where we try to get rid of the perverse incentives (like Medicaid not letting you have any savings, or cutting out because you got a second job).

  21. Urstoff says:

    Is there a good book or site for the laymen on the fundamentals about how computers work at a physical level? As in, how do transistors act as logic gates (or whatever they act as), how are basic programs executed using those transistors, how does a computer “know” how to execute a basic program at that level, etc.?

    • Iain says:

      On the more interactive end, Nand2Tetris starts (as the name implies) with nand gates and slowly builds enough levels of abstraction on top of that to write a simple Tetris-style game. It won’t answer your first question, but it should help with the latter two.

    • CatCube says:

      I normally don’t like videos for the low information density, but Ben Eater’s series on building a (simple) 8-bit computer on a breadboard from nothing more complicated than logic gates really helped me understand what’s happening on a circuit level inside a processor.

      The downside is if you’re starting now, there’s a significant time investment. There are 45 videos, and they average 30-45 minutes each. There’s really no good place to start other than the beginning.

    • powerfuller says:

      I really liked the book Code by Charles Petzold. He starts off talking about how to build logic gates out of telegraph relays and builds up to a basic computer. It’s aimed at laymen, and reading it was the first time I could picture how computers work at a physical level.

  22. J.R. says:

    It’s the day after Memorial Day, so us American corporate drones have returned to the office after the long weekend.

    My weekend was great. I got to spend quality time with my friends, spouse, and hobbies. I got to sleep in. I exercised twice. I was in a good mood.

    Today, not so much. The familiar cloud of anxiety/depression came over me this morning upon anticipating that I was returning to work. Getting out of bed was impossible – I missed my group’s morning meeting. And now that I’m at the office, I feel pretty sad and overwhelmed*. And I feel pretty sad and overwhelmed often when I’m at work — so often that it’s my default emotional state now.

    But at home, I feel fine. I’m able to compartmentalize my emotional issues, enjoy spending time with my spouse, watching TV, cooking dinner, etc. Until I go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat worrying if I caused a disaster at work (which causes me to get up, open my work laptop, and check to make sure that a disaster didn’t happen, then go to bed relieved that I didn’t make a disaster happened, but my mind is already thinking of all the OTHER disasters I could have caused). My Sundays are typically filled with a feeling of dread about returning to the office, feeling anxious about mistakes I could make, or how unpredictable my hours are going to be. The long weekend drew a stark contrast between how I feel at home versus how I feel at the office, or when I’m preparing to go to the office, since I had an extra day of buffer to spread out my chores. **

    Question (hopefully this can be answered without being construed as medical advice): does/did anyone else have mood/emotional issues confined to one aspect of their lives?*** The simplest explanation is that my job exacerbates underlying issues or things that I am naturally susceptible to, which makes sense.

    * Maybe I wouldn’t feel so terrible if I didn’t comment on SSC
    ** I typically spend Sunday afternoons doing my chores for the week (laundry, preparing lunch for the week, etc.)
    *** No, I have not seen a doctor yet. But I know Scott’s advice is that I should.

    • j1000000 says:

      Do you hate your job? Or do you hate “work”?

      I mostly have the latter issue so I’m sort of resigned to a numb feeling during the hours of 9 to 5 (give or take) for the rest of my life. But you sound like your problem is more acute.

      (And yeah you should probably see someone.)

    • MrApophenia says:

      Did you have this feeling in past jobs, or is it just this one? You might be mentally fine, and just have a genuinely shitty job which you are having a reasonable response to. I had a job like that once, and changing jobs really did help.

      If you feel like this no matter what the job is, different story, of course.

      • J.R. says:

        Good question. j1000000 got at the same thing above.

        This is my first “real” job outside of an academic/research setting, so I have a hard time determining whether my feelings are caused by this particular job sucking or whether it is I who suck.

        Context: I’m in my mid-20s, working as an engineer in manufacturing. There is some history of anxiety/depression in my family. I’ve always been conscientious and competitive. I have acquired some things that are very good signals of such (degrees, mostly). But I’ve never felt quite so miserable about expending effort before.

        Some things about my job that make me suffer are:

        a) Spinning many (20-50) plates at the same time. I’m not particularly organized (and I’ve gotten a lot better in recent months), but it’s very easy to let something slip and make a mistake. Something as simple as not doing a 10-second operation can destroy experimental plans if I am not careful. This is what makes me wake up in the middle of the night, worried that I forgot something that will cause a disaster.

        b) Having to constantly manage items that can move forward without my physical presence. Not only am I spinning plates, but folks in the factory need to be managed so they move my experiments forward, I have to constantly check on signoff loops so I can ensure my experimental plans get approved on time, and I need to monitor the progress of things that can run in the factory without my input (and, again, poke the relevant factory workers who can help move them).

        c) Answering to a customer who always changes their mind without much protection from my management. This customer also is very opaque about their project due to a variety of reasons I can’t get into here. My primary role is heading a project catered to a specific customer’s material. I also work on ways to improve their manufacturing process. And if any one of those plates doesn’t keep spinning, I feel like I’ve disappointed the customer. They also have the bad habit of changing their mind often, so I am constantly questioning which path is the right one. There is also the schedule pressure associated with managing the customer and being accountable to them.

        d) Having the ability to do a) and b) when at home, which makes me feel guilty for not working. The anxiety of feeling like things could be falling apart and I should check on them is overwhelming. But this is tempered by the feeling of dread that I feel every time I open the computer. So I don’t feel at peace when I’m at home unless I make a very conscious decision to limit my time at work, as I did this weekend.

        There are some good parts. I get paid well, have good vacation, and nominally good hours. But the bad parts make my job paralyzing at times.

        • Aapje says:

          You need to accept that there are limits to what you can do and that others will push against/over your limits.

          Decide who you want to be. Do you want to be the fast guy who sometimes ruins experiments, or do you want to take the extra time to check your work carefully, making you slow(er)? You cannot be both.

          Recognize that you will have to learn to manage your customers & boss. Make your problem their problem, if they cause your problem. Make your default position that you won’t compromise on your work-life balance. So if the customer/boss makes a decision that makes you take 12 hours, rather than 8 to do a job, you communicate that the change will take half a day extra. Don’t silently work the evening to get it done, because then people will start to expect that from you.

          Most people recognize and accept that there are limits to what they can get, but they need to be told the limits. The few people who don’t accept this, will abuse you if you let them.

          Especially don’t do overtime without complaining/telling them you did so. You usually won’t get respect for secretly doing overtime. Complaining and then doing it if they insist will often result in more respect and less overtime.

          Ask your boss to help you with your weaknesses, if you know a solution. For example, there are courses to help with social skills.

          Separate private and work time & try not to feel guilty when you’re off. Without enough downtime, your work will suffer. You are only obliged to put in a good effort, not to be perfect.

          Are there conferences or such where you can meet & befriend (young) colleagues to hear from them about their experiences at other companies & how they deal with the issues you have? It’s helpful to calibrate against what others are doing, especially since:

          PS. Note that all of the above is culturally dependent advice, so YMMV.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          To a certain extent, this is situational. It is your first professional job, so it is hard for you to know what you need to do. So you don’t know if your difficulty handling all these different tasks at once is because you just aren’t good enough, or if the job is truly impossible. Please do realize that you will be looking back at this stage in your life in ten years with some incredulity about your lack of knowledge or perhaps indignation at your employers for making your life so miserable.

          Even if it is you that aren’t good enough at these tasks doesn’t mean that your career is toast. Everyone is good at something, at least if you got through college okay. I think you have to be pretty careful in using Aapje’s techniques, because you really don’t know what is reasonable and what it not, at this stage in your career.

          Beyond the pablum I wrote above, the only advice I can give you is that if this goes on for several months, then get a new job. It is certainly possible that this job isn’t for you. I am curious what your supervisor thinks of your job so far. Not that this is a perfect test, because there are plenty of dumb supervisors and asshole supervisors. But maybe you are worrying too much?

          I didn’t much like my job at the beginning of my career. But it got steadily better as I got older. I found out what I was good at and bad at. I found out what expectations were unreasonable. It is usually better for your career to stick it out, but not if it’s driving you crazy. There’s a job out there for you.

          • So you don’t know if your difficulty handling all these different tasks at once is because you just aren’t good enough, or if the job is truly impossible.

            Or if the standard you are trying to live up to is unrealistically high. You might get some idea of that by talking with other employees in similar situations and see how nearly perfect they expect their performance to be.

  23. Andrew Hunter says:

    An interesting question of law and philosophy, inspired by two sources:

    – An incident someone related to me when Kanye West updated some of his songs with new content after release.

    – John C. Wright’s _Golden Age_ post-singularity novels: among the many consequences of mind recordings and manipulation is their justice system. The constitution is defined by their Supreme Court, whose minds are permanently (and unalterably) recorded. The constitution, then, is “what will these three people vote for?”

    Suppose, twenty years in the future, I’m a rapper. I release a song, but it’s not an audio track: it’s a partial, limited recording of my mind. At playback time this recording is instantiated, given a few random bits and some external context, and creates a live freestyle over fixed backing and themes. So every time you listen to it, you get a fresh take on the same ideas.

    a) Wouldn’t this be super cool?

    b) How the hell would copyright work? If you reproduce one instance of the song, have you violated the copyright? Do we know how to copyright a varying thing?

    • Randy M says:

      That would be super cool. It would also be fascinating in contexts like improv comedy or game design perhaps. The trouble would be that at that point are you really ever able to sell more than one work? Sure, maybe another version of your mind gives a more playful rather than angry rap, but having a near endless variety off of the first diminishes the need for the creator to continue. Copyright law would be a mess but I suspect there are going to be some revolutions on the subject when mind recordings become a thing.

    • gbdub says:

      How does current law handle bootleg recordings of live performances (many of which, particularly for jazz or rap, might contain a lot of unique improve)? Isn’t this basically the same thing?

      To me it seems fairly obvious that owning such a set of code would let you listen to it, or maybe record particular iterations for personal use, but playing them publicly or selling recordings would be prohibited.

      Individual artists / producers could choose to (not) tolerate this bootlegging as they desired – much as they do now.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Wouldn’t the solution just be to copyright the software that generates the songs?

      • lvlln says:

        That was my thought, too. The idea just sounds like a very specific type of video game – instead of a video game where a character whose movements are different in every play session depending on the random number generator and the player’s own inputs, you’re getting a software that has a virtual “character” whose “singing” is different in every play session depending on the random number generator.

    • J Mann says:

      Isn’t this pretty much exactly how live concerts work now? I mean, technically, Tom Waits two weeks from now in Seattle isn’t exactly the same mind as Tom Waits tonight in Boston, but either way, his mind shows up and instantiates The Piano Has Been Drinking in a potentially different way than the time before.

  24. marshwiggle says:

    Perhaps people have already seen this, but there’s a paper out demonstrating a function with only one parameter that can get you arbitrarily close fit to an an arbitrary scatter plot. I doubt anyone actually uses this for anything positive. But I think it may have some negative use in disproving or at least calling into question some arguments about what statistical methods we should use to interpret evidence. The author also points out some cautions for machine learning. Also, the paper is mercifully short and has a funny demonstration where the authors fit a function to a picture of an elephant using only one parameter as input.


    • Another Throw says:

      So… basically you can Hilbert Hotel the hell out of a parameter, and collapse what, to a human, comprises something-something-cardinality many logically distinct parameters down into a single parameter of something-something-cardinality.

      That sound like just the sort of thing a machine learning system to come up with.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      Relevant posts

      I don’t see how this improves upon the Stone-Weierstrass theorem, aside from expanding the range of functions that can uniformly approximate a continuous function or scatter plot. A scatter plot can be turned into a continuous function by setting the value to be the linear function that connects the two nearest data points, a piecewise linear function.

      —Meta Commentary—
      This is only an improvement in a superficial, linguistic sense though. If the single coefficient is just a bit-packing representation of many more degrees of freedom (because of its huge precision), then from a model information complexity point of view, the polynomial model could actually have fewer parameters, in the sense that the overall size of the combined parameter space is smaller, e.g. it’s a smaller program size.

      • smocc says:

        But the paper isn’t claiming to be an improvement on anything. It’s merely making the point that reducing the naive number of parameters in a theory isn’t always an improvement. Based on those comments it seems that’s an obvious point to many experts, but it made me, a non-expert, think “huh, good point, I better think more carefully in the future.”

        As a cute and memorable demonstration of a known but not-totally-obvious principle, I think it’s great.

        • ohwhatisthis? says:

          It was not claiming that, I know(I was thinking of editing the comment to go on that). To me, the paper just isn’t that big of a deal. There are lots of functions that can represent any arbitrary decimal point(simple example is doing a binary search to find the point. )

          Its useful in the “Watch out when heuristics break/the heuristic isn’t a rule” sort of way, I will say that. You don’t want to have to fiddle around with 50 knobs in a program.

          • marshwiggle says:

            Looking into this more it has become clear to me that this paper is more about politics against some faction doing machine learning stuff. I’m pretty sure the paper knows how ridiculous its function is. The idea is to paint a class of methods that are seeing use and acceptability with the same ridiculousness.

  25. entobat says:

    Hi all,

    I am a software engineer, early 20s, male, moving to the Bay to work at a job in Mountain View starting in July. I will be in Mountain View in…three hours! as part of an apartment search. I’m staying for about a week.

    If anyone in the area (Palo Alto, MPK, Sunnyvale, even [gasp] Redwood City) has a room opening—apartment or rationalist house or whatever—I’d be more than happy to hear about it and come take a look. I have no pets but don’t mind if others do. Just reply and we can get in touch over email!

    • Best wishes on your quest for a place to live!

      If anyone in the area (Palo Alto, MPK, Sunnyvale, even [gasp] Redwood City) has a room opening—

      I’m curious: why does Redwood City, in particular, deserve a bracketed “gasp”?

      Do you anticipate people gasping in [mock?] horror that you’re willing to live there? Are you ridiculing them for having that reaction?

      Redwood City is less affluent than the other cities you listed, but it is still considerably richer than the US average.

      Is it the name “Redwood City”? Are people riled up because it nakedly advertises the concept of cutting down thousand-year-old redwood trees to build a city?

      • Too late to edit, but if I could, I’d change “ridiculing” (way too strong) to “making fun of”.

        The larger question is about the widespread use of the parenthetical gasp. Why do people do this, and what are they trying to express with it?

      • pontifex says:

        I assume that the gasp is because Redwood City is farther from the job he’s taking in Mountain View. Although it’s not really worth a gasp…

      • entobat says:

        Pontifex has it right further downthread. I was just listing places in increasing order of how far away they were from my job; the wealth implication is unfortunate and I apologize for it.

        • @entobat

          And I apologize for picking on you about what is admittedly a more widespread issue with “gasp”. See my lengthy comment in the next open thread.

          Continued, abundant best wishes on finding a great place to live!

  26. BeefSnakStikR says:

    This isn’t really anything of substance, but I love doing Brendan Emmet Quigley’s crosswords. They’re hard (for me at least) but I like that he uses clues that keep up with events, pop culture, and recent slang, which is a nice change from newspaper crosswords which try to keep things as standard and safe as possible.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      Seconded. I’m always looking for hard puzzles. I do his Monday puzzles, and yeah, he usually throws in a bit of new slang that I only get because I have a teenage daughter or am on the internet all the time, or both. His Mondays are only NYT-thursday-level difficult, but well worth doing. Erik Agard is great also, but he’s been posting less frequently lately.

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