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Open Thread 143

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. No matter how many times I advertise it, people somehow never figure out there’s an SSC podcast (no extra content, just someone reading the blog posts). And in case you prefer robots to humans (not judging you), now someone’s made an automated version of the same thing.

2. Deiseach, Matt M, Missingno, TheAncientGeek, and toastengineer have served their sentences and are unbanned. If you should be unbanned but can’t post, let me know and I’ll try to figure out why. I’ve also banned a few extra people who deserved it. Spambots and randos don’t get due process, but people with more than 10ish comments who get banned are all on the Register Of Bans with explanation. If you seem to be banned but aren’t on there, let me know – it’s probably a spam filter problem.

3. I’ve also updated the list of people who are banned from IRL meetups. These are vague, don’t use full names, and don’t list offenses – out of sensitivity to the fact that these people haven’t been convicted by any court and I’m not trying to sentence them to Googleable Internet shaming. The people on there generally know what they did, so if you see your name on there and are shocked, it may just be someone with the same first name + last initial as you; message me and I will tell you. If you’re banned and I see you at a meetup, I’ll assume you didn’t notice you were banned, and politely ask you to leave. If you refuse, then I will have to resort to Googleable Internet shaming to make sure everyone else is adequately informed/protected, so please leave.

4. A reader has proposed a redesign for SSC. Please take a look at the mockup (it doesn’t have ads because they’re hard to add to the mockup, but imagine it did) and then vote on whether you think it’s better or worse.

5. I’ll be at the Bay Area Winter Solstice celebration tonight, hope to see some of you there.

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1,004 Responses to Open Thread 143

  1. Whatever says:

    tl;dr: I’m smart, my parents are not. I am also nearly blind in one eye. Is it possible that visual processing power from my brain was reallocated and made me smarter than I would have otherwise been solely based on my genes?

    I am smart. Well, in this crowd I may be below average, but in most of my life I was recognized as well above. I also have an excellent memory. I also walked early, talked early, got potty-trained early (and effortlessly), read, wrote, counted early, etc. I was tested in the (non-US) military and found to be in the top 1% (no more info unfortunately). I got two separate Masters of Science, one in Electrical Engineering and the other in Theoretical Physics; I have published several peer-reviewed papers, one getting over 400 citations. I started a business and retired at ~35yo.

    My parents are not smart. I love them dearly, but they are… dumb. They seem incapable of learning anything that they don’t experience directly, or anything even slightly abstract. [More personal stuff about education and job deleted]. And yet they seem to be the smartest members of their respective families. In other words, my entire family seems dumb.

    Intelligence is at least 80% genetic. The very many studies and datasets on this have convinced me. I don’t mind exploring this question more, but it’d take a bit of work to change my mind on this point. I also know for sure that my parents are my genetic parents (thanks 23andme).

    But I am at least one standard deviation away from anybody in my family, probably two. How could this be? As far as I know there were no special environmental circumstances that would explain the gap. Even if my parents had had inadequate nutrition (they did not), my cousins ate the same things I did and grew up in largely the same environment, and yet they are embarrassingly stupid.

    Maybe I just won the genetic lottery. Or maybe the fact that I have always been blind in one eye has something to do with it. Maybe the neurons normally associated with that eye’s visual processing, and in particular with the processing of 3-d images, have reallocated themselves to the processing of general information instead.

    Is this theory ridiculous? Most people I have talked to thought I was kidding. The idea seems so ludicrous to them that they think it is a joke. I know zero neuroscience so I don’t know if this is possible even in principle.

    This didn’t concern me very much in the past. But now that I have kids of my own the question has taken another dimension. If I somehow got a good combination of genes, even by chance, it is somewhat likely that my kids will too (my wife is super-smart). Otherwise we may see some reversion to a lower mean.

    All comments welcome, even if it is to tell me that this message is evidence that I grossly overestimate my intelligence.

  2. A1987dM says:

    After reading the discussion about Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and whether she’s a “real” physicist in the previous open thread, I started playing around with bibliometric data, and after a while I realized that I hardly know anyone with an Erdős number greater than 5. According to this, Sheldon Glashow has an Erdős number of 2. He co-authored this with Floyd Stecker, giving him an Erdős number of at most 3. The latter, in turn, co-authored papers with lots of people, giving all of them an Erdős number of at most 4, and basically every high-energy astrophysicist in the world co-authored either this or this with at least one of those people.

    Brian May’s Erdős number is at most 6, even without cheating by including his popular science book:
    F.W. Stecker (3) J.-L. Puget (4) M. Rowan-Robinson (5) B.H. May (6).

    My own Brian May number (I mean the academic one — I don’t even know whether I have a finite musical one) is 3:
    M. Rowan-Robinson (1) T. Goto (2) me (3). Most high-energy astrophysicists have a May number of 4 (via any of the several hundred common authors of this and this).

    Chanda Prescod-Weinstein’s Erdős number is at most 5, e.g.
    S.L. Glashow (2) S. Weinberg (3) L. Smolin (4) C. Prescod-Weinstein (5).

    (I can’t be bothered to figure out the separation between Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and myself or Brian May.)

  3. kupe says:

    For the redesign:
    – I do enjoy having the blog roll on the main page.
    + I often find myself zooming in for longer reads and this seems to be making that default

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Not sure about anyone else, but absent the ability to see how the redesign effects the comments, it’s fairly well useless to ask which is better…

    • hnau says:

      I must not be the target audience for the redesign… I have a large monitor, I like small text, and I use the left sidebar constantly and the right sidebar never.

      • acymetric says:

        Removing a side bar and allowing the content section to be wider would hugely improve the bottom layer of nesting (although you could allow a wider main section without removing either bar, really).

        That said, if there is going to be a bar I feel pretty strongly it should be moved to the left side. Right side makes the whole thing feel very off-kilter.

        Text for the title of the post also needs to be larger, or bold, or something so that it stands out more (now that the body text is larger). The text in the sidebar should probably also be increased, maybe not as much as much as the body text but right now with the body text increased the sidebar text looks tiny. I don’t really like increasing the body text generally, but there are probably a lot more people for whom it is a huge benefit/improvement than there are people who are bothered by it enough to matter.

        Holding off on voting in the poll because if the sidebar stays on the right it is a significant de-improvement for me.

    • CatCube says:

      The new design is worse on the main metric that I look for on my computer: centering the main content horizontally on the page. With modern high aspect ratio monitors, having something off-center is way more irritating to read than when dealing with the old 4:3, as it puts it even further off-axis. (The limiting factor in this is when you get an actual .txt file in a browser and every line starts in your peripheral vision)

      Everybody in UI design seems to be moving towards this off-center thing–or at least not caring if their design will put stuff off-center–so maybe I’m an outlier in this.

    • I really hate it from an aesthetic perspective, but perhaps others prefer it for functional reasons. I’ve never had a problem with SSC as it is. The new design looks all reddity to me. That said, the change would be no big deal to me; I’ve saved the current design so I can recollect wistfully.

    • Lambert says:

      Can we have some kind of xml page so we can pipe it into whatever format we want?
      I think 3 miller columns would be a pretty optimal way to display comments.

  4. Dan L says:

    Is there going to be an “Impending Survey Discussion Thread” this year? Last year’s was the first such, and was in late November – but I know I’ve seen some discussion of proposed questions in a few OTs, myself included.

  5. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Joy to the world, Deiseach is back!
    Let’s give her Guinness and snacks!

    • Plumber says:

      Saw three posts last Open Thread that the thought of: “What would Deiseach say to this?” crossed my mind.

    • johan_larson says:

      Has she posted anything?

      If someone banned me for three months, I’d be tempted to tell them to take their blog and shove it.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Not that I’ve seen so far. Has anyone heard from her since the ban?

      • GearRatio says:

        Even if it isn’t a “shove it” thing, it’s been three months. I’ve had certain habits/hobbies that fell off entirely after a few busy weeks of not being able to get to them. A person could realize they didn’t like the thing they took a break from, liked the time not doing it gave them, liked themselves not better doing it, etc.

      • Matt M says:

        That was my attitude following my first ban (which lasted six months). But honestly, after a couple months, I was itching to return.

        There really aren’t a lot of places like this on the Internet. No easy substitutes.

      • Dacyn says:

        She came back after her previous ban, though, and I seem to recall it was longer than three months.

      • Aftagley says:

        I’m sure people have seen this already, but yes, she’s back and clearly remains in rare form. A choice quote gleefully presented without context:

        And yep, you can go for full-on Fascism, which they tend to describe as “want to put women in their place/never had sex with a real live woman”.

        Le gasp! I never had sex with a real live woman and I’m traditionally-inclined, it’s all true! I am Le Fascist! (The fact that I’m neither lesbian nor bi and so don’t care that I’ve never had sex with a real live woman and that is not what is turning me to traditionalism – I mean Fascism – is neither here nor there, apparently. Only men can be fascists?)

  6. Whatever says:

    (Second try. First one disappeared.)

    tl;dr: I’m smart, my parents are not. I am also nearly blind in one eye. Is it possible that visual processing power from my brain was reallocated and made me smarter than I would have otherwise been solely based on my genes?

    I am smart. Well, in this crowd I may be below average, but in most of my life I was recognized as well above. I also have an excellent memory. I also walked early, talked early, got potty-trained early (and effortlessly), read, wrote, counted early, etc. I was tested in the (non-US) military and found to be in the top 1% (no more info unfortunately). I got two separate Masters of Science, one in Electrical Engineering and the other in Theoretical Physics; I have published several peer-reviewed papers, one getting over 400 citations. I started a business and retired at ~35yo.

    My parents are not smart. I love them dearly, but they are… dumb. They seem incapable of learning anything that they don’t experience directly, or anything even slightly abstract. [More personal stuff about education and job deleted]. And yet they seem to be the smartest members of their respective families. In other words, my entire family seems dumb.

    Intelligence is at least 80% genetic. The very many studies and datasets on this have convinced me. I don’t mind exploring this question more, but it’d take a bit of work to change my mind on this point. I also know for sure that my parents are my genetic parents (thanks 23andme).

    But I am at least one standard deviation away from anybody in my family, probably two. How could this be? As far as I know there were no special environmental circumstances that would explain the gap. Even if my parents had had inadequate nutrition (they did not), my cousins ate the same things I did and grew up in largely the same environment, and yet they are embarrassingly stupid.

    Maybe I just won the genetic lottery. Or maybe the fact that I have always been blind in one eye has something to do with it. Maybe the neurons normally associated with that eye’s visual processing, and in particular with the processing of 3-d images, have reallocated themselves to the processing of general information instead.

    Is this theory ridiculous? Most people I have talked to thought I was kidding. The idea seems so ludicrous to them that they think it is a joke. I know zero neuroscience so I don’t know if this is possible even in principle.

    This didn’t concern me very much in the past. But now that I have kids of my own the question has taken another dimension. If I somehow got a good combination of genes, even by chance, it is somewhat likely that my kids will too (my wife is super-smart). Otherwise we may see some reversion to a lower mean.

    All comments welcome, even if it is to tell me that this message is evidence that I grossly overestimate my intelligence. 🙂

    • Freddie deBoer says:

      Intelligence is at least 80% genetic.

      The very highest estimates are around .8 heritable, and that’s at adulthood. It is thus not accurate to say that intelligence is at least 80% heritable, and of course heritability estimates are estimates of population-level trends and are not responsibly imputed onto any individual.

      • Whatever says:

        Yes, heritable, and yes, at adulthood. Precisely at adulthood. I’m talking about me and my parents and my adult cousins, etc. I don’t believe we know how to measure the intelligence of children well. A few months can make a big difference, and mostly we end up measuring the kids’ education level instead of their raw intelligence.

        Studies that take this into account find a higher correlation than those that don’t. Here is a nice study on this effect (the so-called Wilson Effect):

        10.1017/thg.2013.54

        In that meta-study, IQ correlations are seen to converge asymptotically around age 25 to a number above 80%. In one study mentioned in the meta-analysis they found a correlation of .96!

        And yes, this may be more useful for population-level trends, but it still tells you something about the probability that someone will be smart or not. This is why I said that it’s not only my parents who aren’t smart, nobody in my family is. The more people in my family are dumb, the higher the likelihood that I’ll be dumb too. But it turns out that I’m the only one who is not dumb.

      • Dacyn says:

        Some people from a previous thread were saying that in academia “heritable” just means “genetic”. Don’t know whether this is applicable to the estimates you cite.

        • Whatever says:

          Oh, yes, heritable means genetic. I thought that was known. Some people distinguish “inheritable” and “heritable”. Heritable means that your genes define (partly) your intelligence, so that your monozygotic sibling will have about the same IQ as you, not of course that your IQ is an average of your parents’.

          • Dacyn says:

            Google says it means “transmissible from parent to offspring”, which doesn’t specify method of transmission. My impression is that this is the common meaning, and that specifying genes as the method gives you the academic meaning.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Heritable does not mean genetic.

            For example, the number of fingers on a human hand or toes on a human foot is genetically determined: the genes code for five fingers and toes in almost everyone, and five fingers and toes develop in any normal environment. But the heritability of number of fingers and toes in humans is almost certainly very low.

            Conversely, a characteristic can be highly heritable even if it is not genetically determined. Some years ago when only women wore earrings, the heritability of having an earring was high because differences in whether a person had an earring were “due” to a genetic (chromosomal) difference. Now that earrings are less gender-specific, the heritability of having an earring has no doubt decreased.

          • Dacyn says:

            So I think “genetic” is a vague word, it can be unclear whether it means “genetically determined” or “genetically heritable”. Apparently in this thread u/Whatever meant “genetically heritable”.

          • Whatever says:

            Yes, that’s right. Heritability is the fraction of the variance that is genetic.

            Having five fingers is not heritable because we almost all have 5 fingers per hand and when we don’t it is for reasons other than bad genes.

            Likewise we all have some baseline intelligence. But the variation is mostly (80%) due to different genes. If we were looking for the part of intelligence that is genetic we would find 99.9+% but then it wouldn’t be very useful for comparisons among humans.

            Yes, genes interact with the environment. If for cultural reasons only women wear earrings, wearing earrings will show up as heritable. The environment doesn’t register, because the environment is the same for all. The cultural reasons are perfectly legible however. There are no similar factors in the environment in which my cousins and I grew up. We were all treated the same way.

            (I disagree with the paper provided by HBC also but I’m not going to discuss it as it is blatantly CWish; maybe in a fractional open thread.)

            ETA: In other words, the examples offered (5 fingers, women’s earrings) are examples where our intuition about heritability breaks down, but they are largely irrelevant to the current subject.

          • Freddie deBoer says:

            Again, I don’t understand why you’re using the highest estimates as gospel when so many people in the field generally describe the heritability as .50.

            I think perhaps you’d be better served by, rather than obsessing over this question of the relationship between your vision and your cognitive capacity, you asked yourself why defining yourself as an unusually intelligent person is so clearly emotionally important to you. Why do you feel such a need to self-define in this way?

          • albatross11 says:

            Important nitpick:

            The heritability of IQ we measure is defined for a particular set of environmental conditions. Move to a world with widespread development-stunting lead poisoning and malnutrition, and your heritability estimates derived from twin studies will show less of the variance in adult IQ explained by genetics, and more by environment. Move to a world where almost no children are subjected to development-stunting environments, and the heritability estimates will go up.

            In 20th century US and other first-world countries, among families who were eligible for adopting kids, we have some estimates of heritability, and they’re pretty high. It seems likely that heritability is much lower when you look at third-world countries and at first-world homes that would never be permitted to adopt kids. The high heritability of IQ in our society is good news, in that it means that we’ve gone pretty far to equalize environments. The Flynn effect tells us we’re equalizing them by raising the floor rather than by hitting the smart kids on the head with a hammer. To the extent the heritability is much lower in lower-class homes (I think so, but I don’t know for sure), it’s an indication of a place where, as a society, we’re f–king up big time and leaving IQ points on the table. (Which is one reason why, if I were king, we’d devote about 10% of the defense budget to lead remediation.)

          • Whatever says:

            @Freddie

            Again, I don’t understand why you’re using the highest estimates as gospel when so many people in the field generally describe the heritability as .50.

            I’ve answered that already. The link I posted has many references. Studies that find lower heritability tend to look at the IQ (g factor) of children. Most recent studies find heritability above 80%.

            I don’t want to be blocked because I posted too many URLs, but you can look up Panizzon, Vuoksimaa, et al for example (86%) or Plomin in Molecular Psychiatry 2015 (80%), or again Bouchard and his metastudy.

            I think perhaps you’d be better served by, rather than obsessing over this question of the relationship between your vision and your cognitive capacity, you asked yourself why defining yourself as an unusually intelligent person is so clearly emotionally important to you. Why do you feel such a need to self-define in this way?

            1. It is usually recommended to stick to the object level. My motivation should be irrelevant. To be honest I don’t follow that precept and I find motivations interesting in themselves and in fact relevant. So I forgive you here.

            2. Obsessing? Hum, no. Most of my posts don’t even mention vision at all as the topic has veered towards heritability instead.

            3. Defining myself as unusually intelligent? Hum, no. Unusually in my family, yes, but I specifically stated “in this crowd I may be below average”.

            4. Clearly emotionally important? Well, I’m really envious of your superpower here. You see clearly what’s emotionally important to me when I only feel some mild curiosity about an original hypothesis.

            5. I have also stated what my bias is. I don’t want my vision to be a factor, I don’t want to be special that way. I hope I’m smart because I have “good” genes, because it is my genes that I have passed to my children not my disability.

            6. I can’t tell you why I self-define that way because I don’t self-define that way.

            I’m sorry I can’t answer your question. But I hope you will continue to tell me how I would be better served, it may eventually become useful.

          • Whatever says:

            @albatross11

            I agree with you that heritability changes with the environment. And I agree that it is good news as it shows increased equality of opportunity. (Unfortunately equality of outcome has not followed.)

            As far as I know the Flynn effect is a global shift of the curve, not a right-ward squeeze from the left. This is how we know that the reason isn’t nutrition, because if it were we would see poor and less smart people benefit the most. But instead we see that everybody has become smarter.

          • bullseye says:

            As far as I know the Flynn effect is a global shift of the curve, not a right-ward squeeze from the left.

            As far as I know (from reading Wikipedia), it is indeed a right-ward squeeze from the left. I figure it’s at least partly nutrition, and maybe also you need a certain minimum of education but additional education doesn’t help.

            I think there was a comment in a previous thread about an African country with an average IQ around 60. Maybe without basic education your IQ understates your actual intelligence; I feel like a nation where a majority actually have intellectual disabilities wouldn’t be able to make it through everyday life.

          • Whatever says:

            @bulleseye

            Older studies suggested a squeeze, for example Teasdale and Owen 1989 cited in wikipedia.

            Newer ones don’t. Maybe I’ll have a look at my notes on this later and post a longer comment.

            ETA: for example:
            https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/56143/the-flynn-effect-puzzle_0.pdf

    • Atlas says:

      tl;dr: I’m smart, my parents are not. I am also nearly blind in one eye. Is it possible that visual processing power from my brain was reallocated and made me smarter than I would have otherwise been solely based on my genes?

      You might want to consider the possibility that this is an instance of what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls the narrative fallacy.

      Also, maybe chapter 6 of The g Factor, “Biological Correlates of g,” would interest you, though I don’t think that it discusses the specific scenario/traits you raise. (Be advised that the book was published in 1996.)

      • Whatever says:

        Well, yes, the standard narrative (genes drive intelligence) seems to be failing in this case, so I’m considering another narrative. If that narrative is wrong because, for example, neurons in the visual cortex couldn’t possibly be used for general intelligence, then I would have to admit that I just won the genetic lottery. (And I am actually biased in favor of that result, as it would mean that my kids have a good chance of being smart.)

        Thanks for the link on Jensen’s paper. It doesn’t answer the question, but it is a nice reference.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think the part of variance that isn’t explained by genes could be explained by either shared environment (stuff that affects your siblings the same way as it affects you) or other random stuff–developmental noise, when you got sick, feedback loops between interests and brain development[1], and maybe something like your blindness in one eye affecting your brain development. I have no idea how likely it is that this is what happened, but it’s possible.

          It’s interesting to ask whether there might be some environmental thing stunting your family’s mental development that you somehow evaded, rather than the other way around. But you also probably should expect any kids you have to regress toward the mean of your grandparents’ IQ. OTOH, most people are in the same boat, if they weren’t born into the Darwin/Galton/Wedgewood family or the Bernouilli family or something.

          [1] Flynn thinks a lot of the Flynn effect (rising raw IQ scores over time) is due to better technology and greater wealth making these feedback loops more powerful–if you want to develop your brain, then you have way more choices and more ability to do so, and so those inclined in that direction get into a positive feedback loop and increase their mental abilities.

          • Whatever says:

            One nitpick: the shared environment has been shown over and over again to have zero or very little importance. The part that isn’t genetic is noise.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Your theory strikes me as unlikely– or at least I haven’t heard of people with early sensory deficits tending to be smarter.

      I’d go with the idea that you won the genetic or possibly other lottery.

      • Whatever says:

        I doubt that anybody has done a twin study where only one sibling of each pair is congenitally (but not genetically) blind in one eye.

        Congenitally but not genetically is important. And maybe blind in only one eye is important too.

    • onyomi says:

      I believe the eye disorder Tay-Sachs disease, more common in Ashkenazi Jews, has also been theorized to be associated with higher intelligence. To the more general question “are the brain and eyeballs involved in a degree of zero-sum competition for skull space” I think the answer is yes.

      • Another Throw says:

        Now I’m wondering how to get surgical interventions in infants to enlarge their cranial capacity past the ethics board…

        Sci Fi plastic domes on our heads here we come!

      • acymetric says:

        I’m not sure it is really correct to refer to Tay-Sachs as an “eye disorder”. Are you perhaps thinking of something else?

        To your second point, I would tenatively expect that a single eye uses more capacity than two, because it still has to do all the visual processing and now it has to try really hard to interpret things from only one eye that would be easier with the perspective provided by two.

        • onyomi says:

          It is possible I am thinking of something else, but Google’s not helping me. Did I completely hallucinate “that Jewish eye disease that makes you smart because your brain is literally crowding out your eyeballs?” Maybe it’s just an increased risk of glaucoma or something?

          Somewhat related, Odin traded one eye for extra wisdom and the ancient Chinese sage king Shun had two pupils in each eye, whereas his father was blind (and also very unsagely).

          • blacktrance says:

            It is possible I am thinking of something else, but Google’s not helping me. Did I completely hallucinate “that Jewish eye disease that makes you smart because your brain is literally crowding out your eyeballs?”

            Yes, but the Jewish-genetic-disease processing power from your brain was reallocated and made you smarter than you would have otherwise been solely based on your genes.

            (From quick Googling, Tay-Sachs disease does seem to have some effect on vision, but the main effect is lipid accumulation in the brain.)

          • albatross11 says:

            I think being recessive for Tay Sachs is positively correlated with IQ, but having Tay Sachs just means you die very young. Nasty disease.

            Gaucher’s is another (mostly) Eastern European Jewish genetic disease that I think is correlated with IQ, but I don’t know for sure.

    • mtl1882 says:

      My parents are not smart. I love them dearly, but they are… dumb. They seem incapable of learning anything that they don’t experience directly, or anything even slightly abstract. [More personal stuff about education and job deleted]. And yet they seem to be the smartest members of their respective families. In other words, my entire family seems dumb.

      I think a ton of factors play a role in whether someone “ends up” being smart, many of them necessary but not sufficient. The fact that your parents seem like outliers in the family catches my interest, but it could be insignificant. If it means anything, perhaps it means that they had higher levels of curiosity, independence and confidence than their relatives, in addition to or even in lieu of increased intelligence, and therefore were able to look outside of their immediate environment and make “smarter” choices. A focus on “betterment” could explain why they were attracted to each other, as well. But this sort of optimization probably demands more intense focus on concrete rules or patterns than abstract intellect. I definitely think some people develop habits that limit their intellect, directing it away from abstract questions, to save energy for a ruthless pursuit of more concrete things. It probably increases willpower, due to a somewhat false sense of control. This can be an effective strategy in a stable environment, but will look like willful ignorance in another.

      Or maybe the fact that I have always been blind in one eye has something to do with it. Maybe the neurons normally associated with that eye’s visual processing, and in particular with the processing of 3-d images, have reallocated themselves to the processing of general information instead.

      I doubt this is the main explanation, but this could be an example of one of those many things that make a surprising difference, mainly relating to the allocation of a person’s focus and intellect. Differing environments and personality styles will influence how those things manifest, in ways that I suspect makes a big difference. Being able to see things differently, in whatever sense, may make a bigger difference than a marginal IQ increase. I think most of the variables represent trade-offs in one thing or another.

      • Whatever says:

        I probably wasn’t clear. I said my parents are smarter that the rest of their families, but they still aren’t smart. I just meant that nobody, other than me, in my family is smart. I am the only exception.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I understood what you were saying, I just think that there still could be a connection between your parents being outliers in the family, and you being an outlier, even if the gap is much more significant in your case. While IQ is highly heritable, I don’t think it is by any means rare to see a smart person “come out of nowhere” in a family. The distribution is uneven at a high level, but individual talent reliably pops up just about everywhere. I think it has to do with getting an effective combination of a lot of different traits, not ending up with totally new traits, sort of like the “talent stack” idea.

          • Whatever says:

            OK, thanks, makes sense. This suggests that my kids will have substantially better intelligence than my family baseline.

    • AlexanderTheGrand says:

      Science fiction short story based on this premise: None So Blind. A story of an exceptionally smart boy who falls in love with a talented blind women, which gets him brainstorming along the same lines that you are.

      Part of the previously-recommended (by me) “The Best of The Best” anthology, which contains a lot of gems.

    • Regression to the mean applies to your parents every bit as much as it applies to your children. Since this is an IQ-selected environment, we will be smarter on average than our parents and smarter on average than our children.

    • hash872 says:

      I started a business and retired at ~35yo

      I’d be interested in hearing more about the details here, to the extent that you’re comfortable giving them. What roughly did you do for a business? How much is ‘retirement money’ for you?

      • Whatever says:

        No, I’m not comfortable giving more details here. But if you are really interested, you can contact me in private at
        madeforssc at gmail dot com

    • TJ2001 says:

      There is “Potential” and then there is “Kinetic” to paraphrase an old Physics joke….

      99% of “Smart” is really hard work in disguise and the “base material” is already there….

      Take my wife and her twin sister. Neither of her parents and none of her grands made it through high school. Her mother dropped out of middle school. She has other siblings that weren’t “School material” – yet her and her sister both went on to Master’s degrees…

      What changed? Her father recognized that the “Old way” of living was imploding fast and so made a diligent and intentional effort to get his two “baby daughters” educated, and then “up and out”. He pushed them to get educated where he had discouraged the older children from pursuing education over going to work as early as possible, etc.

    • sami says:

      I think the type of life you lead has a larger than commonly recognized effect on intelligence. When I was teenager and young adult I used to get annoyed and frustrated by my mother’s lack of intellectual curiosity and disinterest in what I considered worthwhile conversation, as well as her refusal to try to reason out fairly simple technical problems of home maintenance or housekeeping. Now at almost 40, I find myself doing some of the same things, although not to the same extent. After my first child was born, I found myself frequently forgetting words, and becoming slow and inarticulate in conversation- and I am someone who used to enjoy and excel at debate, and got a perfect verbal SAT score the first time I took the test, in seventh grade. I am also more likely to do tasks in a rote manner and throw up my hands and give up when the usual approach doesn’t work. I’m forced to conclude that having kids has made me functionally dumber. I’ve experienced this as a mostly stay-at-home mom working less than half time, so it makes sense to me that for my own mother, a single parent working full time with basically no support system nearby, the effects would be that much more severe. I don’t know what your family’s circumstances are, but maybe it’s possible that some of the intelligence gap you perceive is due to mental habits that your parents developed due to their life circumstances.

      • Plumber says:

        @sami,

        +1

        Age, long commutes, lack of sleep, drudgery all reduce “smartness”.

        • Matt M says:

          I’d also suggest the theory that as people get older and more experienced, they more keenly prioritize what things are “worth knowing” and what problems are “worth solving” and what aren’t.

          Like, I was a pretty bright kid. At one point in the third grade I had memorized not just the US States and their capitals, but the nations of the Earth and their capitals. I don’t know nearly as many today. Is it because I “got dumber”? I’d argue the opposite. I got smarter and realized that memorizing the capital of Mongolia wasn’t a valuable use of my time.

          Kids (and to a lesser extent, teenagers) aren’t good at distinguishing which forms of knowledge are useful and which forms aren’t. And it turns out that a lot of the ways in which we traditionally signal intelligence is through the memorization of non-useful knowledge.

          • sami says:

            I hope it’s not too CW-ish to suggest that for (some) women this is a more involuntary process than what you described, that happens as a result of childbearing/rearing. I definitely never consciously decided to lose verbal and logical facility in favor of something else! Yet it happened, at the same time that I was developing a sometimes scarily intense attunement to my son’s needs and experiences. My somewhat fanciful explanation is that childbirth somehow puts one in a state of extreme neurological impressionability, like a baby duckling, and so spending a lot of time afterwards alone with just a baby and no adults results in drastic neural pruning and redirection.

          • thomasbrinsmead says:

            There’s probably a good reason why I can’t reply directly to @Sami above, but it’s not necessary to postulate extreme neurological impressionability to explain why spending lots of time focusing on childcare tasks can adversely affect “smartness”. If you spend less time practising thinking and reasoning, you’ll be less good at it. There are probably few genuinely full time parents who are professional athletes for much the same reason. It’s not that having children causes a decrease in physical fitness, its just that if you focus all your effort and attention there, there’s no time left to train at the gym.

          • Aapje says:

            Maximum nesting depth.

      • Not quite the same pattern, but in my seventies I find that I am much less interested in learning a new computer game or reading a new novel, as compared to rereading one I read long enough ago to have forgotten much of it, than I was when much younger.

        • sami says:

          I increasingly enjoy rereading novels as I get older too, but I think a lot of that is the pleasure of picking up on things I missed the first time around; being able to infer perceptions or beliefs that the author had that led to artistic or plot choices is enjoyable, especially when I can recall reading the same book before and not making these connections because I lacked the experience to do so.

      • Whatever says:

        @sami.

        I certainly agree that cognitive abilities vary with circumstances (before or after coffee or lunch; lack of sleep; etc.) but comparing myself and parents or cousins in the same circumstances doesn’t help (for example, at the same age). As I said, there is nothing in my cousins’ environment that was markedly different (same school, same TV programs, same books, same general environment, same culture).

        Also, the general consensus is that the shared environment has zero or very little influence on IQ (see link above for example). If there were something in the environment that causes a 2-sigma difference in IQ, we’d know about it and it would have been a very visible factor in my family.

        • sami says:

          What I’m suggesting is not that IQ is directly due to environment, but that the mental habits that people adopt, partly due to personality and partly in response to their environment, have some significant effect on IQ. It might explain some of the discrepancy you observe.

          • Whatever says:

            I’m not sure why directly or not directly is important. Personality is also about 50% heritable. The personality traits that lead to better mental habits are either genetic (heritable) or a result of the environment. If having a low intelligence family means that the right genes are simply not there (genes either directly influencing intelligence or indirectly via personality) then there must be something in the environment.

            But there is nothing obvious, and something obvious would be needed to explain a 2-sigma gap.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Whatever

            something obvious would be needed to explain a 2-sigma gap.

            Why? 2 sigma gaps should happen naturally 2% of the time with identical environments by the nature of bell curves.

        • albatross11 says:

          I’m pretty sure this is largely an artifact of the selection of homes done for adoption studies, and probably isn’t true in, say, a refugee camp in Turkey with not quite enough food and lousy sanitation.

          • Whatever says:

            This seems like a reply to me. You mean the shared environment is an artifact of adoption studies?

            No, all studies (including twin studies) show very little effect.

          • albatross11 says:

            That tells us that shared environment is not very important in modern first-world conditions, within households that are permitted to adopt children. We can’t extrapolate from that to, say, conditions in a refugee camp in Turkey, or in the favelas around Rio de Janeiro.

          • Whatever says:

            Yeah, I replied too fast. Your comment is related to your first one above (“important nitpick”), not really to the subthread. (The context of my question implicitly assumes first-world conditions, not favelas or refugee camps.)

            I fully agree with you. We can only conclude that heritability is high and shared environment is low in first-world conditions. If a child doesn’t have enough to eat, things may be different.

            As a side note, but somewhat relevant, there is an interesting study about Dutch pregnant women experiencing a famine during WWII and their kids’ IQ years later… here it is:

            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3066429/

            We investigated the consequences of gestational exposure to the Dutch famine of 1944–45 for cognitive functioning at the age of 59 years.

            There were no differences in cognitive performance at the age of 59 years between individuals exposed to gestational undernutrition and those without this exposure.

            It doesn’t disprove the fact that under-nourished kids won’t develop to their full potential, obviously, but still a very counter-intuitive result.

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTR that there were a lot of other knock-on effects of the famine, though….

    • Douglas Knight says:

      A standard deviation is just not that much.

      Under gaussian assumptions and linearity, regardless of heritability, the variance of the offspring is the same as the variance of the population. 16% of the population is more than 1 standard deviation above the mean and 16% of the population is 1 standard deviation above their parental average. 2% of the population is 2 standard deviations above their parental average. 2% events happen all the time. It’s no reason to assume something happened outside the model.

      As for kids, would you do anything differently depending on your estimates of their genes? Just don’t worry about it.

      • Whatever says:

        Thanks.

        OK, so I had a 2% chance of being 2-sigma to the right of the mean family IQ. Not implausible after all.

        My kids then have a high likelihood of also being in that neighborhood. (Correct?) I had only a 2% chance of getting the “right” genes, but luckily I won the prize. My kids get my genes and my wife’s genes (let’s assume same IQ) so they have a ~70% chance of being less than one SD from us. (Correct?)

        ETA: looks like you may have edited your comment or maybe I didn’t read to the end. You’re right I wouldn’t do anything different with my kids. I’m just curious about this and I’d like to understand it better, that’s all.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Under the assumption of 100% narrow heritability, the child has a 70% chance of being within one sd of the parental average. Originally I was going to make that assumption to simplify the calculation, but then I disclaimed it, without quite correcting the rest. Everything I said is technically correct because I averaged over the population; and I think the numbers 16% and 2% are reasonable for the case of you the child. But for your children, the best prediction is regressed from the parental average by the narrow-sense heritability, perhaps h²=0.8. Each child has a 70% chance of being within one sd of that number.

          Yes, I edited, in particular adding the second paragraph.

          • J Mann says:

            Not my field at all, but as you move farther to the edges of the curve, your kids probably won’t have an evenly distributed distribution, right?

            Again, if we are just tracking the heritable potions of intelligence, somebody who is already in the top 0.5% of the population for genetic factors of intelligence only has so many switches remaining to be thrown in the “genetically more intelligent” direction, and a lot more in the “genetically less intelligent.”

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Here’s a heuristic for evaluating claims about intelligence, especially claims about its genetics: compare it to height. There are differences, especially because height is a lot more measureable. But if it’s a claim about math, it’s probably going to break down.

            The second paragraph is definitely false. I did calculations assuming infinitely many genes because it’s something like 100,000 for height and even more for IQ. You don’t run out of height genes or IQ genes.

          • J Mann says:

            Thanks!

        • uau says:

          Grandparents’ IQ does have some predictive value on top of knowing the parents’ IQs. You should expect “regression toward the mean” in parent to child IQs, and the relevant “mean” may differ for different subpopulations.

          If your family background suggests bad genes, you’re more likely to have achieved your intelligence by luck in other factors which are not directly heritable, which somewhat lowers the estimate for your children’s IQs. I wrote a bit more about that effect some threads ago here. It’s not a huge effect though – you likely had luck for genes and other factors, and the gene part will be heritable.

    • abystander says:

      Generally in the sight impaired the brain regions responsible for visual processing are reassigned to other sensual processing rather than other cognitive development.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6322049/

      • Whatever says:

        Thank you, that’s very relevant.

        I knew about this, but I wondered if having only one eye affected made a difference. In my case the main loss is stereoscopic (3-D) vision. I don’t see in 3-D like most people.

        On the other hand, this has affected my life very little. I seem able to judge distances as well as anybody. I drive at least as well as most people (everybody thinks they are above average driver, no exception here). I can maneuver 50 foot boats, etc. I can shoot guns and I’m decent at it. I can’t legally fly a plane, which is a shame, so I don’t know whether I would be measurably worse than other pilots.

        I also don’t have a “better ear” or better sense of smell as normal. I’m even probably below average.

        So I wondered, maybe the stereoscopic processing power of the brain is different from other sensory processing components. Maybe it gets reassigned differently.

        But maybe not. In fact maybe it is used to compensate for the loss of vision in one eye. This would explain why I am not measurably worse judging distance or manipulating 3-d objects.

        By the way, in HS I was particularly good in geometry, 3-d or otherwise.

        So, what if not having input from one eye forced the part of the brain that normally construct a 3-d model to work in a different way, a way based on internal (non-sensory) 3-d modeling, a way that also helps and extends other abilities? For example, it has been suggested that humans represent information in geometrical space. So greater ability to reconstruct 3-d objects may also spill over to abilities to process information.

        Yeah, I knew it was far fetched. But I’ve enjoyed this discussion.

  7. tmedonaldson says:

    I’d like to start buying “carbon offsets” – but there is a dizzying array of choices and I’m not sure which services to trust. I’d love to read a rigorous evaluation of some of these services. Perhaps someone in the EA world has looked into this?

    I’d be glad of any help – thanks!

    • Hey says:

      Giving What We Can has evaluated some climate change charities back in 2016, (https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/report/modelling-climate-change-cost-effectiveness/), more recent information is available in the links at the top of their post. IIRC, they recommend an anti-deforestation organization called Cool Earth. If you want to actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere instead of preventing emissions, I think the only current choice for individuals is Climeworks, which is super expensive (about 1000€ per tonne).

    • TJ2001 says:

      I would be very careful at this point because it’s not really well established what you get when you pay for “Carbon offsets”… So for example – if somebody buries used tires in the ground – does that count as “Carbon offsets”? Then – the terminology and wording leaves this *very* open to swindlers and fraudsters stepping in to separate you from your money.

      The best “answer” I could potentially give is to buy acres of commercial timber property which was recently logged or “row crop” land which is typically planted and harvested annually. Replant it with hardwood trees and leave it forested for the rest of your life or manage it as commercial timber. I am talking actual physical real estate property near where you live which you will own 100% outright and can visit – not some sort of “Credits” or other non-verifiable “purchase”…

      This may not technically qualify as a “Carbon offset purchase” – but it will do a lot of good for the planet and it will tie up a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere.

  8. Max Chaplin says:

    The webcomic Seed has just started its second season (prologue here, second season starts with episode 33). It’s a rare work of fiction outside the rationalist sphere to deal with a Bostromian AGI risk. It seems to be aimed at a young audience, and the superintelligence in question doesn’t behave quite like how I’d think one would, but I’m glad to see the idea getting traction.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Just binged it. That was excellent. I’ve never seen transhumanism/singularitarianism done so well in webcomic form; certainly much better than something like Dresden Codak. I really like how story establishes high stakes early on by univat gur NV nyzbfg qebja gur tvey Rzzn vf naablrq ng. The art is great, too; those shots with the drones over the city are gorgeous.

      The only thing I had trouble with was realizing that comics went all the way down. I accidentally read episode two first because of that, then I went back to the prologue and episode one and saw that I could scroll down to read the rest of them.

    • Randy M says:

      Hey, this is good.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Just binge read it as well. Yeah, this is good. I don’t know how much of this feeling is part to being atuned to AI philosophy and discussions that go around here, but this got into my head/under my skin very quickly, for what starts out as a rathe unassuming story.

    • Nick says:

      Started reading it, but my lunch break is almost over. It’s getting interesting.

      • Nick says:

        Can I just point out that the school’s security AI is produced by “Gladis”?

        • Nick says:

          Okay, I’m all caught up. Man, this is great.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          haha, that’s a nice easter egg I missed!

        • aristides says:

          There are a lot of cool Easter Eggs. I just finished Steins; Gate 0, and the old IBM computer was clearly a reference to that series. Add that the camera looks like HAL, he is referencing as many fictional AIs as possible.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            Oh, that’s what that was a reference to! It was nagging me in the back of my mind, I felt like the computer would be important and then was mildly disturbed when it was immediately revealed to be useless and tangential to the actual story, but I couldn’t have put my finger on why.

    • roystgnr says:

      That was really good. “Outside the rationalist sphere” or not, I’m surprised I haven’t seen it on /r/rational yet. Maybe “the superintelligence in question doesn’t behave quite like how I’d think one would” – until we’ve seen more about that thing’s utility function it’s hard to say to what extent the story exhibits rational behavior as opposed to just rationalist-popular tropes.

    • bzium says:

      Kind of disappointed that the dark-haired girl who’s apparently bullying the red-headed Emma isn’t named Taylor.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Loved it! I like how it focuses on a relatable human main character, while maintaining undertones that her interactions with the AI could have globally important consequences. Can’t wait for the next installment!

    • Whatever says:

      Emma: “I’m not gonna make the same dumb mistakes.”
      Turry: “I don’t see the utility of making different mistakes.”

      Hahaha. Thanks for the link, I loved it.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      10/10. That was phenomenal. Everyone must read. And I can’t wait to see what happens next!

  9. Clutzy says:

    The modern wedding reception: What is the point, and who the hell is it actually for?

    Note, I am not disputing the idea of marriage, a perfectly sensible institution, nor the wedding ceremony (pointless, but mostly harmless). The reception inevitably bankrupts someone, has bad food (impossible to serve that many people anything other than pulled pork and salad), results in no one getting meaningful time with the bride & groom, and is generally just a crappy party with a lot of people who mostly don’t know each other.

    And now, I just got invited to a wedding (between 2 people I don’t know), in freaking Australia. I suppose the point is for people not to go (a plus), but then why not just invite less freaking people! If you are rich enough to throw an Australian wedding, you don’t need a dozen sheetpans and silver platters from people.

    • brad says:

      In my observation the people that seem to enjoy weddings the most are: the parents and the college friends*. The exception for the parents’ part is if they were too involved in the planning, then they don’t have as much fun. Similarly the college friends that bring a date that doesn’t know the rest of the college friends isn’t as likely to have a good time.

      That said, the wedding is for the couple. It’s true they don’t have a good time, but a wedding lasts a few hours and rose colored memories last a lifetimes.

      * or high school or whatever, the key is a critical mass and geographic dispersion in day to day life.

      • Freddie deBoer says:

        The rose colored memories part is the answer. You only remember the good parts and filter out the rest. Same with vacation sometimes.

      • Atlas says:

        That said, the wedding is for the couple. It’s true they don’t have a good time, but a wedding lasts a few hours and rose colored memories last a lifetimes.

        Kahneman’s distinction between the experiencing and remembering selves is a very interesting and useful one, IMHO.

      • quanta413 says:

        That said, the wedding is for the couple. It’s true they don’t have a good time, but a wedding lasts a few hours and rose colored memories last a lifetimes.

        Hey! I had a great time at my wedding once it started, and it hasn’t been nearly long enough for rose colored memories yet.

        Preparing for it on the other hand, was a mix of a little bit of stressful and boring. Waiting was stressful too.

        • Lord Nelson says:

          Seconding this. I had a great time at my wedding despite feeling incredibly sick for over half of it (thanks, chronic health problems).

          Though in my case, preparing for it was a special kind of torture because I made the mistake of thinking “yes, I can totally plan this wedding all on my own in 4 months”.

          • quanta413 says:

            Ouch that sounds rough. My wife and I planned together although she honestly did >80% of the planning. And planning was spread over almost a year I think. I mostly helped pick food, cake, toured everywhere with her, and did more of the driving. I think I also helped fill out invitations. She found the venue (although we toured it together), handled contact with all the vendors, decided on all the decorations, and made the wedding favors (except gifts for my groomsmen which I got).

            And her dress was way more complicated to arrange than my suit. I think I was in and out of men’s wearhouse in 30 minutes. She had several appointments for her wedding dress.

    • Lambert says:

      Signaling.

      Vicious cycle.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I’ve been to two wedding receptions with good food; it does happen. In one of them, the bride’s parents paid (I didn’t hear numbers but I infer it was a lot); in the other one, the bride and groom ordered the food from a good local Chinese restaurant.

      And in both those weddings, I knew enough people that I really enjoyed spending time with them at the reception.

      • Charlie Lima says:

        To this day, I still get complements on our wedding reception’s food. Our trick was not to get it officially catered and do it all outdoors. We had two calves on rotisseries watched by the obsessive grill master in the family; he also grilled some corn on the cob. We tasked a vegan friend with getting good salad and veggie sides. A family friend was a baker who did the wedding cake and a bunch of bread-like things. Everything else was bought by family or friends from Costco or similar.

        We rented a park for the whole shebang. This provided us with a perfect way to “allow” BYOB, but stop people from going crazy at the bar (alcohol was officially banned so nobody was allowed to drink obnoxiously).

        The real trouble, we were told, was “what will people think”; our response of “we are not about to begin to care” seems to have been warranted.

    • Tyler linked to a study that found that controlling for a number of demographic and relationship characteristics, marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony:

      https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/10/dont-spend-too-much-on-your-ring-or-wedding-ceremony.html

      Now maybe this study isn’t gonna replicate, but it sure does fit with my priors… You know the kinda people who consider “shopping” to be a hobby? Well, some of them get married…

      I’ve toyed with the idea that the real function of expensive weddings is to give people an excuse not to get married. Think about being in a relationship where you’re happy or at least you present yourself as happy and the question comes up, are you going to get married? You can’t say “this relationship is short term, this person isn’t who I want to marry.” You can’t say “I’m not satisfied and am keeping my eye open for a better deal.” You can’t say “I don’t really want this marriage and kids stuff, I’m just saying that to preserve the relationship.” What do you want to be able to say? “Oh, that’s a big step, a long way away. We need a mortgage and money for a big ceremony and honeymoon, we can’t do that yet.”

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I have a notion that wedding planning is (frequently) so difficult and complex that people are unwilling to do something drastic like cancel when it starts to seem to them that the marriage would be a bad idea.

      • acymetric says:

        Did they differentiate by source of financing for the wedding? (i.e. self-financed, parents, some combination).

      • Here’s an article about the decline in marriage in Gaza:

        “In 2018, our courts received 15,392 marriage applications, while in 2017 we had received 17,367 cases,” Jojo said. “In 2016, we received 19,248 files. This means that each year we have a drop of around 2,000 marriage applications.

        {snip}

        The average dowry in Gaza nowadays ranges between $5,000 and $7,000, and the cost of wedding parties may exceed $6,000, not to mention that aspiring newlyweds need housing, with rent for an apartment in Gaza coming in at around $300 per month.

        With the average monthly salary in Gaza at about $174 in 2014, and some 80 percent of the population living under the poverty line, such staggering costs have led many young adults to put marriage on the backburner, possibly permanently.

        {snip}

        Qandeel, meanwhile, said he felt frustrated and trapped by the huge expenses and social expectations tied to weddings.

        “We wish to have some social campaigns to raise awareness between families in Gaza to decrease costly marriage expenses and not to pursue ostentatious wedding ceremonies,” he said.

        Social conservatives in America ought to create such a campaign.

      • Etoile says:

        That’s a terrible reason to stay in a relationship! That’s kind of stringing the other person along for your own comfort – especially if THEY want marriage and kids, and THEY’re female and their clock is ticking….

    • acymetric says:

      The reception inevitably bankrupts someone, has bad food (impossible to serve that many people anything other than pulled pork and salad)

      The first part is probably partially true, the second part not so much. I can only think of one wedding where I didn’t think the food at the reception was excellent. I can’t speak to how much any specific reception I’ve attended cost. If you have anyone in your family who can cook (like my friend who had his dad smoke like 60 lbs of pork to be served at the reception) that can save a great deal of time AND improve quality.

      results in no one getting meaningful time with the bride & groom

      True, but is that one of the points? It is a party celebrating the bride and groom, that doesn’t mean everyone is spending quality time with them. Just that everyone is gathering there in their honor. I’m not sure this counts as a negative.

      And now, I just got invited to a wedding (between 2 people I don’t know), in freaking Australia.

      I’m assuming this is a slight exaggeration, and you just don’t know them well (co-worker, neighbor, acquaintance you have some connection to via some family member that does know them, etc.)?

      • Clutzy says:

        First, your weeding food experiences are not in line with mine, and I’ve been to a ton over the last 4 years varying from fancy, to literally in a barn. The food is always bad because people choose the wrong type of food. Like your example. I said pulled pork, but any slow-cooked item that can be kept warm works. Guess what no one serves? That. They always have things like chicken breast. Its hopeless.

        Second, yes, I literally don’t know these people, my girlfriend knows the bride. From law school. I’ve never met them. How do we even get on the list?

        • Cliff says:

          Your claim is that it is impossible to serve a normal dinner to a large group of people? Have you ever been to a restaurant?

          • Aapje says:

            There is a big difference between serving many people concurrently or consecutively. The former is catering, the latter is restauranting.

          • Clutzy says:

            Most weddings I’ve been to serve more than most good restaurants seat, and they propose to serve all the courses basically at once. Of course, its often at a place without stellar facilities as well.

          • I don’t have much experience with wedding receptions, but I have been involved in doing SCA feasts over the years. I count anything under sixty people as small, and large feasts can run up to several hundred.

            Typically, that involves feeding people with a staff of amateurs, some of them experienced in that sort of cooking, some not. I would guess that many SCA feasts are more elaborate than the average wedding reception, not less. The result can be, often is, tasty food, and the cost is not all that high. Some years back we did one where it came out, at least as pre-calculated, at under five dollars a person. That isn’t including the site fee, and the labor was all volunteer.

            I could imagine a family several of whose members were experienced cooks, helped by friends and relatives, doing something similar for a wedding reception—somewhat easier with modern than medieval recipes.

          • Lambert says:

            What kind of food were you serving?
            There’s plenty of tasty (and even elaborate) food that scales well.
            Stuff that’s fairly homogenous in 2 dimensions e.g. lasagne, {cottage, haggis, mystery meat} pie etc. Or 3: Stews, curries, soups, bolognese. That can be cooked in giant pots/cauldrons/trays.

            Wedding receptions etc. seem to have the common bourgeoise problem of getting caught in the trappings of the (Edwardian and earlier) upper crust without having enough money to pull off all the wealth signalling.

        • Deiseach says:

          Second, yes, I literally don’t know these people, my girlfriend knows the bride. From law school. I’ve never met them. How do we even get on the list?

          You’re included as the “plus one” as your girlfriend is the main invitee. Depends how close your girlfriend and the bride are/were; are they good friends, were they good friends at law school, or is it simply an obligation on the bride’s part (“I have to invite all my graduating class but I’m not expecting half of them to come”).

          If they weren’t close, then responding with “Thanks for the invitation but I regret I can’t make it” should be fine.

          • kalimac says:

            Being invited to weddings of people I don’t really know is not a problem I’ve had. Instead, I find that friends I love whose weddings I would emphatically like to attend are getting married privately without any sort of reception at all. But I have a fairly low-key social group that doesn’t go in for big parties, so I guess that’s what happens.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Similarly, it’s been a while since I remember having bad food at a wedding. The last few receptions I went to have been at:

        A Scottish country house hotel that specialises in weddings and similar events. Main course was roast beef.

        A Cambridge college, so the kitchens are used to preparing identical (modulo dietary requirements) 3-course formal dinners for 100+ people. Main course was IIRC salmon.

        A marquee on the lawn of the father of the bride’s palace (he is a bishop so his official residence is technically a palace, although it’s much closer to large farmhouse than to Hampton Court). The couple are both vegetarian and didn’t like the vegetarian options offered by traditional wedding caterers, so they ended up hiring a catering company who specialise in paella. This was probably the best food of the 3.

        • kalimac says:

          I can believe that last. I attended a food-market pop-up event, one of those things with multiple booths in a fairway, and one of the most popular entries had paella bubbling slowly in these huge pans about 5 feet across. There were several of them, and offered different ingredients.

    • zzzzort says:

      If you’re going to invite people from out of town, the least you can do is throw them a mediocre party with an open bar. I personally wouldn’t fly anywhere just to watch a wedding ceremony, but throw in a reception and possibly a bachelor party and at least there’s enough to do to justify a weekend trip.

    • eremetic says:

      It’s not impossible to cater a good party, people just never do it. I can think of one family wedding I went to that was good.

      • onyomi says:

        The key is actually to have a buffet, not a sit-down dinner.

        At the more expensive weddings where there’s both a buffet and a sit-down dinner you might as well fill up on the buffet because it’s going to be better than the sit-down dinner. It’s just near impossible for your local hotel kitchen to get say, 100 perfectly cooked steaks and 100 portions of warm, juicy roast chicken with sides all out at the same time. It’s going to be cold, dry, congealed.

    • hnau says:

      Big, involved, expensive(ish) weddings aren’t a modern innovation. They’re common across many cultures and time periods. I’ve never looked into why, but my pet theory is costly signaling. Spending lots of money and involving a large number of community / family members sounds like an effective way to discourage people from getting married (or un-married) at the drop of a hat.

      • onyomi says:

        Having recently attended one, I realized that Indian weddings, in addition to being a (very) costly social signal, also seem to double as giant family reunions (this is why they last for days).

        • Majuscule says:

          Yes- we were unsure if we wanted a wedding, but then my now-husband’s grandmother died and left money in her will for a family reunion. His family is spread out all over the country and it was the first time they had all been together in 20 years. When we got engaged, we had the thought “When will everyone get on a plane and get together if none of us have weddings?” No, really- there are only so many occasions that motivate people to take time off and fly 3000 miles. Actually, I can only think of two: weddings and funerals. I suppose we could have saved the money and, uh, left it in our wills so everyone could get together after we were dead, too, but we wanted to be there. So we threw a big party. We had a great time, too. I got to meet extended family I’m not sure I would have ever met. I got to introduce friends from different phases of my life. The love and support was astonishing and life-affirming in ways I never expected. Five years later we’re still saying it was one of the best days of our lives. And the food was delicious.

    • theroomgotheavy says:

      Funny I’ve had the complete opposite experience. Been to many great receptions where I got to spend lots of time with bride and groom and get to know theeir family and friends, had great food, listened (and danced to good music), even did psychedelics! But never been to an actual ceremony that I didn’t find painfully boring – including my own.

      • AG says:

        Yep. I’d rather skip the ceremony and skip to the reception.

        My guess is that people’s enjoyment of receptions is proportional to their enjoyment of regular ol’ dancing. Talking is wholly unnecessary if you’ve got a good DJ and people willing to follow each others’ leads on the dance floor, so the social aspects melt away.

    • johan_larson says:

      What happens after other major social events, such as christenings and funerals? You don’t have dinner and dancing after a funeral, of course, but do people serve coffee and cookies and stuff?

      For weddings, my theory is that wedding receptions are for the bride and groom. It’s a grand party with them as the centre of attention, to mark their (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime big event.

      • Clutzy says:

        Yea, usually I’ve had parties after those events as well, and they are much better. People just like drive to a pizza place and order a lot of pizza.

      • Deiseach says:

        Traditionally there was a wake before/after the funeral. Nowadays, some people will still have the body lying at home before removal, but mostly it’s been moved to the funeral parlour.

        After the burial, it’s customary to have a gathering either in the family home, or at a local hotel. Depending how many people you want there (whether it’s family members only or everyone can come), people will announce it that “after the burial, you are all welcome to come back to house/go to local hotel for refreshments”.

      • Randy M says:

        We had a nice meal after my grandmother died (both, now that I think about it). It was a somber sort of party, but a nice time considering.
        I suspect it’s different when someone dies and it wasn’t their time; more acute grief, less celebration of a long life.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      That’s a weird thing to note about the food. In my very limited experience with weddings, the food has been anywhere from decent to legitimately good.

      We opted for a reception for two reasons.
      1. I had a lot of relatives fly in from out of state. I hadn’t seen some of these people in 10+ years, and I wanted to spend some time talking to them.
      2. It was a childhood dream of mine to have the most delicious wedding cake. I spent almost two months tasting as many cakes as I could find and ranked them with detailed notes. You’d better believe the winner was served at the reception!

      Was it objectively a waste of money? Yeah, kind of. But I can’t say I regret it. I have a lot of fun photos and good memories from the reception, and I completed my childhood dream of eating the best cake in my state!

      Note: We only invited close friends and family to the wedding. Inviting people you don’t know, or inviting people who live halfway across the world, seems extremely pointless.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Tell me about the wedding cake.

        • Lord Nelson says:

          We had three different cake flavors, and I was even charitable enough to let husband have a say in the grooms cake. I am such a caring wife.

          Anyway, the grooms cake was chocolate with alternating layers of chocolate ganache and cherry. It was good, even if I would have personally gone for the strawberry filling. (Husband has good taste in many things, but fruit is not one of them.)

          The main wedding cake was two layers. The top layer was spice cake with apple filling and vanilla icing. I make a great apple spice cake myself, so one of my requirements for the wedding was “find someone who can make a better apple cake than I can; I’m not baking for my own wedding”. Only two or three of the 15 bakers I contacted had an apple spice flavor.

          The bottom layer was supposed to be white cake with two alternating layers of icing: one salted caramel and one chocolate ganache. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding with the cake baker, so it mostly ended up being salted caramel icing. Still delicious, just not chocolatey enough for me.

          Some strange things I learned on my months-long cake search:
          1. Wedding cake bakers lose their minds when you tell them that you don’t care what the cake looks like. The number of cake bakers who insisted on getting my decorative vision before a tasting was far too high. I started off saying “I’m sure it will look fine; I’m deciding based on taste.” After that got too annoying, I downloaded the most basic wedding cake photo I could find and said “fine, make it look like this”.
          2. The cake baker I chose was very insistent on not using salted caramel icing on the outside of the cake. “But it won’t be white,” she kept saying. Yes, I know it won’t be white! What part of “I care about the taste, not the looks” do you not understand?! I finally convinced her, but it was a very stressful conversation.
          3. A non-trivial number of bakeries will feed you days-old cake at the tasting. One of them bragged about it to me, using it as some kind of bizarre selling point. “Can you imagine how much better it will taste on the day of, when we bake it fresh the night before?” she said. Yeah, lady, I can imagine. If your stale cake tastes worse than a box mix, your non-stale cake will probably taste about the same as a box mix. And if I’m going to get a box mix cake, I’ll buy one at Walmart and save $200.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Your wedding cake vision sounds wonderful. I’m trying to imagine the taste, and I can only think it was wonderful! And I agree, what was @bean thinking choosing cherry filling over delicious strawberries!?

            Did you also freeze some leftovers for your first anniversary?

            And can you tell us more about your apple spice cake recipe?

          • Majuscule says:

            2nd- would you share the recipe?

            We also went with flavor over appearance. We had a great carrot cake for the main cake, and the groom’s cake was a white chocolate one from Viking Pastries in Philadelphia, my husband’s perennial favorite birthday cake growing up. It was great to finally taste it after he’d been telling me about it for years.

          • Lambert says:

            Strawberry>cherry but
            Chocolate and strawberry < chocolate and cherry

            I'm no expert on horticulture, but I'm fairly sure that strawberries have been bred for sweetness and size (comparing domestic varieties to the wild strawberries that pop up in the garden), not strength of flavour. Chocolate just overpowers it.

          • Lord Nelson says:

            @Evan Þ and @Majuscule
            The plan was to freeze some leftovers for the first anniversary. There was a bit of a mix-up and they saved part of the wrong cake. I don’t remember if we ended up freezing a piece or if we ate it all during the first month. (It was very good cake.)

            As for the recipe, I don’t have it on hand right now so I don’t remember all the details, but it’s pretty simple. You take a yellow cake box mix and modify it a bit. Add cut up apples and cinnamon. I believe there was another substitution too, just can’t remember what from memory.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      You were invited to Australia by people you don’t know? Sounds like people are fishing for wedding gifts. It’s quite typical to send a polite decline and then send along a check or gift to the happy couple. But why for someone you don’t know?

      I usually have a fun time at weddings because I usually know some guests, at least a little bit. Plus I am sociable and there is an open bar.

      The only wedding I legitimately did not enjoy was for someone I hardly knew. It was a massive, 500-600 person affair, and I knew no one. There was also no bar. The guys at my table got bored and accidentally lit the table on fire after they started playing with candles.

      I think we stayed for about 2 hours and then left.

      • Clutzy says:

        I don’t know them, my girlfriend knew one of them 5+ years ago in law school.

        I’ve been to so many weddings recently that I know its a mixed bag, but I’ve had so many bad ones. One was outdoors and dry in the summer (I was the only male in a suit, my GF the only woman in a dress because communication), almost always places try to serve chicken breast. The music is fine, but I don’t really enjoy music for dancing.

        I see a justification for a wedding that involves like 50 people. That is the largest funeral I’ve ever been to. It also is smaller than the smallest wedding reception I’ve been to.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Obligatory: “American Wedding” (Gogol Bordello).

      bad food (impossible to serve that many people anything other than pulled pork and salad)

      What? Of course it’s possible. Most of the wedding receptions I’ve been to have had great food!

      • Clutzy says:

        List the dishes.

        In American weddings I see so much bad chicken it horrifies me.

        • Cliff says:

          American weddings almost always have a choice of entrees, to start with. Chicken breast in general is just a bad food so I would never pick it if it was an option.

    • Etoile says:

      I think if you don’t know anyone, or aren’t there as someone’s date, then there’s no point in going. I don’t think the food at weddings I’ve been to has been awful, or even bad, so I’d beg to differ on that.
      At my own wedding, I made the rounds and talked to most people and took pictures with them, and I enjoyed myself (though I didn’t get to eat much).

      Anyway, I’ve always liked weddings, since I was little, for the following reasons:
      -I love dancing and being danced with. There’s pretty much no other occasion where you can have coupled dancing without it being a niche scene (swing, contra, ballroom) or club dancing, and where other people besides your date might ask you to dance too (even if those people are your relatives). Prom didn’t even have that.
      -They’re de facto family/friend reunions. Those, and perhaps major celebrations like centennial celebrations, and funerals are the only other times when this happens: you meet far-flung family, catch up, learn how they’re doing. I’ve always liked that.
      -I hoped I’d meet a guy at a friend’s wedding. :p I never did, and nobody I know ever did, but a girl can dream.
      -It’s nice have an occasion to dress up and wear nice jewelry and look nice. There are fewer and fewer places where you’re expected to dress above business casual these days, even the theater and opera; and dressing up more formally once in a while feels good.

    • John Schilling says:

      A wedding is a ceremony and a commitment. A wedding reception is a party. Two entirely different things, and who doesn’t like a good party?

      Well, OK, maybe not the right question to ask in a gathering as nerdish as this one, but most people like good parties, and a wedding reception is at least a semi-professional attempt at hosting a party that will be memorably enjoyable for all concerned. Beyond that,

      A: If I like someone well enough to consider going to their wedding, I probably like them well enough to sit through a couple hours’ worth of even dull partying to make them feel like the center of attention on one of the most important days of their life, and

      B: Just about everyone at a wedding reception is at least a friend-of-a-friend of everybody else at the reception, so unless you’re on the very fringes of that social network it probably constitutes a reunion with friends and family that you haven’t seen much lately, and

      C: The food at almost every reception I have been to has been way better than pulled pork and salad, and

      D: The music and dancing can be pretty good as well; as Etoile notes it’s one of the few places left where both casual dancing and casual conversation with multiple partners are still a thing, and

      E: If you’re going to fly to Australia for someone’s wedding, are you then going to turn around and leave as soon as the ceremony is done and not stick around for the party? Conversely, if you’re not going to go for the wedding, why do you care if they’re throwing a party afterwards?

      If you don’t want to go, don’t. If it’s too expensive for you, that’s a valid reason not to go. But I’m going to hazard a guess that there’s going to be a lot of people at that reception actually having fun, and not so many eating pulled pork while staring at a wall and not talking to strangers,

      • Clutzy says:

        Regarding C: Please list dishes .

        Also, I used pulled pork as an example of one of the few things you can serve at a wedding and actually do correcting, because its slow cooked and can be left at serving temp for hours without going bad. Every wedding I’ve been at serves chicken breast instead. Or fish, god forbid serving cooked fish at weddings (no, please god actually).

        • John Schilling says:

          Regarding C: Please list dishes

          The last wedding I was at, I had a pretty good steak – filet mignon, IIRC – and mashed potatoes. There was a chicken option, I didn’t try that.

          And what’s with “left at serving temp for hours”? The venue or caterer knows when everyone is scheduled to sit down for dinner, and they are staggering the table service so that they have at least a few minutes between each dozen or so guests, they aren’t trying to serve up 40 or 400 steaks (or whatever) at exactly the same time. This is a solved logistics problem, though possibly the solution hasn’t reached the circles in which your friends are getting married.

    • Xammer says:

      In my country (Romania) it is the custom to give money as a wedding gift, and this usually finances the wedding party (before you go to the party, you look at the venue to estimate how much it cost). To me, it seems mind-boggling how it could be otherwise (as you say, it would bankrupt someone).

      • ana53294 says:

        Same for Spain, but they tell you the cost of the dinner (rounding it up to a nice even number).

      • Dacyn says:

        Since most people get married, that system doesn’t make any obvious difference to average lifetime cost of weddings per person. Though it may have beneficial second-order effects like that rich people may give more and therefore take a larger share of the burden, and that the expenditure is no longer concentrated into a single sudden shock. I can imagine that the difference between US and Romanian standards of living could be enough that the suddenness might not matter as much to US people.

      • sidereal says:

        FWIW I am under the impression this is an unspoken rule in america as well. You are supposed to cover the approximate cost of your presence with a gift, probably more if you can afford it.

        • Matt M says:

          Right.

          I read an article a while back from some economist about the idea of couples basically “selling tickets” for their wedding (but obviously, waiving the gift expectation).

          Obviously this is much more economically efficient than the current process, but nobody wants to do it because it seems so cheesy and weird…

          • Gifts other than money are in general an interesting puzzle for an economist.

            My favorite explanation, for elegance more than plausibility, is that an appropriate gift signals that the giver is an altruist relative to the recipient. Why? Because an altruist has to pay attention to the recipient’s utility function in order to know how to maximize his own utility, and that information lowers the cost of choosing an appropriate gift, making the gift (but not the cash alternative) a signal of altruism more expensive if false than true.

            This is using Becker’s version of altruism, where the utility of the beneficiary is an argument in the altruist’s utility function. The reason to want to signal altruism is the effect of the information on the incentives of the beneficiary, as per the argument that leads to Becker’s Rotten Kid Theorem.

          • Matt M says:

            David,

            This is off-topic and possibly in poor form, but since I have your attention, I’ll take my shot anyway.

            Do you ever appear on podcasts?

            If so, are you familiar with Bob Murphy?

            If so, would you consider appearing on his podcast?

            I think the two of you could have some very interesting conversations about anarcho-capitalism in general, and about climate change economics in particular.

          • @Matt:
            I had a debate (supposed to be a discussion, but …) with Bob Murphy at Porcfest some time back. He seems to be a pleasant fellow, and I would have no objection to being on his podcast.

    • Deiseach says:

      Weddings have really gone hugely elaborate and rather crazy. If you read descriptions of wedding ceremonies in British 19th century novels, they tend to be “we had the ceremony in the morning, then a quiet breakfast reception, then we went to our new home and I went back to work” for most of the couples. Big ceremonies and honeymoons are the province of the wealthy and/or titled.

      It’s supposed to be The Big Event of a woman’s life, the fairytale experience, and you put all your dreams into it. In practice, I think it’s like everything else: once it became commercialised and an entire support industry grew up around it (hotels, I would venture, make a good chunk of their operating profit from catering to weddings) then more and more extras were shovelled in and expectations raised (you want that perfect day, don’t you? So you need a professional photographer! and flowers everywhere! and chairs draped in fabric! and more more more more!)

      It is a big occasion, but there’s a lot of excess that has accumulated that could be easily trimmed (and has been, I think, since the boom days when money was flowing like water and all this excess was in vogue). It should be for the couple, their families, and friends. Just make sure to have a nice ceremony, a good venue for the reception, and reasonable food/drink/band so people can enjoy themselves. No need to go over the top and into debt about it.

    • Alkatyn says:

      I would guess that the average person enjoys socializing with strangers more than you (or indeed all of us who read SSC, given the selection effects). For a lot of adults with full time jobs and/or children there aren’t that many opportunities to meet new people, so thats a plus, as you likely have friends/interests in common. Single people stereotypically often hook up at weddings, as its people you don’t already know, but have gone through some degree of screening by being approved by the couple.

      Re inviting strangers, that often seems to be in order to placate someone close to them involved in the wedding (e.g. one of the parents). You’re not obliged to actually attend and bring a present, but send a polite refusal with best wishes.

    • Randy M says:

      I’m of two minds about wedding receptions. I think the industry has exaggerated the reasonable expense and the event often provides the bride with both undue stress and an unhealthy flattering of the ego.
      But on the other hand, it’s a great reason for a party. Lots of people there to wish you good will on your new life together, a chance to catch up with old friends and family. It’s a great tradition that could probably stand to have the expectations lowered but should by no means go away.

      • Statismagician says:

        If I ever write my Grand Unified Theory of Everything Wrong With Society, wedding extravagance will probably be tied to the terrible architectural fashions of (all times after about 1940). A severe bottleneck on pleasant indoor spaces to have a large party lets vendors do whatever they want to prices – at which point, why not spend a little more for the nice chairs, or whatever? And yes, the industry is 100% conspiring to inflate and, especially, obscure costs.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          When I got married, we withheld “this is for a wedding” from everyone we were paying except the venue, the officiant and a local Christian bakery. There’s no reason to let, eg, a salon know that a woman, her mom, sister, and two random friends are getting their hair and makeup done for a wedding so they can triple or more the price. They could be there for anything. >_>

          • Lord Nelson says:

            The wedding tax is real and I hate it. The lady who was going to do my hair charged me extra for the trial (which she didn’t tell me until the end of said trial) and then changed her day-of rate from “total cost for the day” to “hourly rate” on very short notice. Screw it, I said, the in-laws can probably figure out a way to make my hair look reasonably fancy. And they did.

            And even that was less of a headache than finding flowers. Most of the local florists are now vetoed due to their terrible customer service.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, I don’t think the main culprit here is weddings specifically. It just so happens that a wedding happens to be the biggest party most people choose to throw in their lives.

          Throwing big parties isn’t cheap. The biggest expenses as it relates to a wedding are the venue and the catering. And finding a place to entertain, and providing meals and drinks to 100+ people is simply not that cheap.

          I guess you could say “No one should ever throw big parties” but that makes you sound like much more of a curmudgeon than criticizing “overly extravagant weddings” does…

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I guess you could say “No one should ever throw big parties” but that makes you sound like much more of a curmudgeon than criticizing “overly extravagant weddings” does…

            Being able to throw a formal dinner with dancing for a group of any size is a rare privilege in the Year of Our Lord 2019. Their wedding day is, unfortunately, the only chance a woman may get to indulge those Jane Austen fantasies.

          • Matt M says:

            Right. And it seems to me that “everyone should be able to get to do that at least once in their lives” is a reasonable position. You shouldn’t spend beyond your means in doing it, but it’s virtually never going to be “cheap” if you’re providing those basic services and not asking the guests contribute themselves.

          • johan_larson says:

            Yes, marriage is one of the biggest milestones of most lives. And if you want to mark it with an elaborate celebration, that’s just fine. My concern is more that some people get carried away in the moment and spend sums they will later regret, particularly since the entire wedding industry seems to be geared for upsell.

          • Dacyn says:

            Everyone should be able to get to do that, sure. But having it be the default seems more problematic.

          • Statismagician says:

            @Dacyn and johan_larson – yes, exactly. Jay Gatsby throws excellent parties and you should go to them if invited, throw them if you are in fact Jay Gatsby. But that shouldn’t be the default setting.

          • sidereal says:

            There seems to be a wide range between “curmudgeonly” and “sensible”.

            Of course having a big party where you get everyone fed and drunk isn’t going to be cheap, but why does it need to cost anywhere near $200 per person?

    • Aftagley says:

      The modern wedding reception: What is the point, and who the hell is it actually for?

      Single male friends of the Groom (maybe also bride). Meeting people at wedding receptions is one of the easiest, target-rich environments around.

    • S_J says:

      Caveat: I don’t know much about wedding receptions.

      When I got married, my wife and I went for a small ceremony. We staged a big reception after the honeymoon. (So she got to wear The Dress twice, and show some of the Wedding Photos on the big screen at the reception…but I digress.)

      My bride had been part of many weddings, and had done more than a little event coordination. So when she took the lead on the planning, I was very happy. I was also happy that she wanted to discuss most details with me, rather than simply tell me what we had to do. (Thus, the decision of venue/catering/etc was a joint decision.)

      Afterwards, several people told us it was one of the better receptions that they had ever attended. One said that they’d been to three weddings-plus-receptions that summer, and ours was the best reception.

      I don’t know how we did it. But we did the following:
      1. We visited the catering company when they hosted an open-house, so we got to try some of their food and talk to the catering folks at length about options.
      2. We worked out a plan in which the ceremony would flow. We checked timing, tried to keep things tight-but-not-rushed, and wanted everyone to enjoy the event. (We also made use of the layout. The ceremonial cake-cutting was on the far side of the room from the platform where the wedding party sat. So we crossed the room to do the ceremonial cake-cutting, and then meandered through the tables on the way back. That let us greet many guests while they ate dessert.)
      3. We drafted lots of volunteer labor, but paid professionals where we knew it would improve the results. (This is likely dependent on the circle of family/friends who are providing volunteer labor.)

      I think the secret, if there is one, was to treat it as an event about the marriage, but planned for the guests. We were the center of attention, but our plan was that everyone present would find something to enjoy in the event.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I’ve photographed about 400 weddings, and I’ve seen lots of receptions in which it certainly appeared everyone had a great time (and some where they didn’t).

      I would say the most important thing with regards to the food is budgeting. You can have a great party with great food for 150 people…if your budget is $30,000+. And there are people who have that kind of money. I’ve been to $100,000 weddings. The food is very, very good.

      But if your budget is $10,000 (or less), you can still have a very good wedding, but you need to pare the guest list down to 40 or so people. Just close friends and immediate family.

      The problem you encounter with the vulcanized chicken is couples trying to do the $30,000 wedding on the $10,000 budget.

    • TJ2001 says:

      In my mind – the wedding reception is your party to thank your guests and to have a good time with them.

      How you do that is up to you. I personally think the goal should be to have a good time that’s an expression of you and your spouse.

      For example – my Wife and I are “backyard bbq” people.. So we had a big bbq with a lot of good food. It was fun and laid back. I grilled a lot of the food for the guests myself. My wife and her family cooked most of the sides and desserts. Everybody had a good time there. It was lots of fun and there was no nasty, pasty, dried out, chalky tasting “catered” food. It *also* cost way way less like this.

      But do whatever makes you happy.

  10. Atlas says:

    What are your Best Of The Year picks? Books, movies, video games, music, memes, whatever.

    • Freddie deBoer says:

      The Beach Bum for movie if High Life doesn’t count for 2019. High Life if it does.

    • Malarious says:

      Disco Elysium easily wins my “game of the year” pick. It’s so good I’d suggest it to *anyone* with a Windows PC and, like, the slightest interest in a very well-written detective story. Funniest game of the decade (maybe the funniest I’ve ever played?), interesting mechanics, and absolutely no combat. It’s like someone ripped out of all the boring, tedious bits that comprise every other RPG and just focused purely on the parts that are actually entertaining.

      • Deiseach says:

        I second the choice, it’s one of the few games I’ve managed to play all the way through.

        The politics are hilarious (if you’re anyway traditionally-inclined); they do give all sides a bashing, but some get bashed more than others. And yep, you can go for full-on Fascism, which they tend to describe as “want to put women in their place/never had sex with a real live woman”.

        Le gasp! I never had sex with a real live woman and I’m traditionally-inclined, it’s all true! I am Le Fascist! (The fact that I’m neither lesbian nor bi and so don’t care that I’ve never had sex with a real live woman and that is not what is turning me to traditionalism – I mean Fascism – is neither here nor there, apparently. Only men can be fascists?)

        Apart from that, which made me laugh more than anything else (it’s not really possible to be offended by that), the game is great. It’s not your usual kind of game – it’s entirely possible to kill yourself in the opening minutes trying to put on your tie – but it’s worth a look.

        I had no idea some of the Chapo Trap House lot were involved with this (doing voice-acting), so I was quite surprised to learn that. Whatever your opinion of them, it won’t affect your enjoyment (or not) of the game.

        • Aapje says:

          Apparently, you are a much better fascist than Mussolini

        • Matt M says:

          I was quickly scrolling through Twitter and saw some headline that was like “Disco Elysium creators praise Marx and Engels in award acceptance speech.”

          Cause for concern? Or am I being overly paranoid here.

          • Malarious says:

            Basically what Aftagley said. The game is absolutely brutal toward communism. I think if the devs pattern-matched as right-wingers the games press would be apoplectic, but they don’t, so they get a pass.

          • Deiseach says:

            Matt M., they do have a Marx expy in the backstory as the theoretician who inspires that world’s version of Communism and the revolution, but on the other hand they do acknowledge the mountain of skulls the failed revolution caused.

            Every side gets a bashing, as I said. They definitely lean slightly nostagically towards the lost yearning dreams of the glorious revolution that might have been, but the thrust of the plot line (such as it is) is that you have to leave the yearning dreams behind and move on (both personally and for the city and nation).

            Aftagley, I did ignore that side of it because they definitely do disapprove of the kind of Eurotechnocratic angle represented by the MoralIntern, and so the game does seem to have a bias against attempts to act ‘morally’ (since that’s taken as the kind of wishy-washy liberalism that placates the masses with ‘let’s take things slowly, change them by degrees, do it small increments’ and the people of the MoralIntern who are all bureaucrats and financiers profiteering off of the deliberate mess created and maintained in the city who represent themselves as ordinary good people). But I disagree that X means Y in that matter, so I was happy enough to be a filthy centrist who tried to do the right thing, no matter what the game text said 🙂

            Anyway, the crowning moment of glory was when I got to be A GOD OF DANCE in the church and even persuaded Kim to throw a few shapes with me, what more could anyone want? 😀

        • Aftagley says:

          @ Deiseach

          I ended up as a Sorry Cop. I loved the game, but walked away kind of bummed that my attempts to improve behavior and make right those I had wronged was taken by the game as a sign of weakness.

          @Matt M
          If they’re pro-communist in real life, it really doesn’t come through in the game. The setting is the aftermath of a communist revolution that failed miserably, communism itself is described as basically a license to kill people. I wouldn’t worry about it.

    • johan_larson says:

      Best TV? Chernobyl.
      Best movie? Gees, I’m really behind these days, since I rarely see films in theatres any more. Looks like Triple Frontier is the best 2019 movie I’ve actually seen. Honorable mentions to Terminator: Dark Fate and Avengers: Endgame.
      Best book I read? Sea People:The Puzzle of Polynesia.

      • Matt M says:

        Sea People is actually good? I got it for free as part of my Wall Street Journal membership. I always just sort of assumed any recent book that’s being given away for free as a perk to some wholly unrelated thing was probably mediocre…

        • johan_larson says:

          It’s a good take on how the Polynesians got to Polynesia, the cultures they built there, how they managed to get around all those far-flung islands, and their interactions with Europeans, once they showed up. It’s well worth reading if popular history/anthropology is your thing and you haven’t read any other books about Polynesia.

        • Tenacious D says:

          I also read it and thought it was good. One aspect I appreciated is that it’s kind of a history of the history of Polynesia: rather than just laying out the current understanding, the author retraces the centuries-long process of new evidence becoming available and how theories changed over time as a result (e.g. the Kon-tiki raft expedition).

          • Evan Þ says:

            I read it and enjoyed it too. I agree; it isn’t a history of Polynesia. Nor is it an ethnographic investigation of Polynesia. Rather, it tells the story of the people who have explored that question, from Magellan and Captain Cook down to the present day, as it dances around the central question of how the Polynesians came to be where they are.

            I can’t fault the story the book tells, except to wish it were twice as long. Also, I’m now sort of wanting to read a book that somehow synthesizes Polynesian mythology and oral tradition with a Jared Diamond-esque definitive tale of “this is what happened.”

    • broblawsky says:

      Best Fiction Book of the Year: Black Leopard, Red Wolf.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Best Meme: Angry lady yelling at cat, with the American Chopper throwing chair in a close second.
      Best Song: Old Town Road. You know it’s true.

      I really don’t have strong opinions on anything else. I do know Alita and The Umbrella Academy were unexpectedly good, if that counts for anything.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      My nomination for best video game goes to the Trails of Cold Steel series (1 & 2 were remastered and rereleased this year in preparation for 3, which also made it into this calendar year).

    • MorningGaul says:

      Best Game: Disco Elysium, even best of the decade.

      Best Movie: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but there may be some gems I haven’t seen yet because I pirate most of my movies.

      No best book because most of my year was spent reading Dumas’s Mousquetaire Trilogy. Which is quite long.

      Most TV shows I saw this year were pretty bad, but I guess The Boys will do.

    • Tarpitz says:

      My movie of the year is Only You. I haven’t read/played/seen/listened to enough new things in the other categories to have a useful opinion.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Best movie of the year for me was Ad Astra, though only the third best movie I discovered this year (behing Apocalypse Now Redux and Mandy).

    • Aftagley says:

      Best Game: Outer Wilds

      One of my earliest gaming memories is Majora’s Mask and I absolutely fell in love with the time-loop conceit, where you have a set amount of time to exist in the world after which you’re sent back to the “beginning.” This idea is such a natural fit for video games that I’m frankly shocked more games haven’t tried to use it as a framing device in their games. As far as I’m aware the only other game I’ve seen use it is “The Sexy Brutale” (another under-appreciated gem). Outer Wilds takes this framework and runs with it into one of the best science fiction games I’ve ever played. It’s curious, interesting and just fundamentally cool. Highly recommended.

      Best Music: 1000 Gecs by 100 Gecs

      This album just drips with creativity. In a year of music that seemed pretty dour, this album was a loud explosion of… something. It’s not for everyone, but you’ll know in around 20 seconds if you’ll end up loving this band.

      Best Movie: Not Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

      I don’t have a favorite movie, but I absolutely hated this one. Waste of too much time.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      movie: They All Laughed
      music: I haven’t been listening to music much this year, so, uh, maybe actually They All Laughed

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Best game I played that came out in 2019: Fire Emblem Three Houses.

      Best game I played in 2019: BattleTech. Not because it’s necessarily the greatest game but because I love BattleTech so much.

      Disco Elysium is definitely on my wish list, but I’m waiting for a sale. I have so many games in the backlog that there’s almost no point buying something for full price.

      • aristides says:

        I second 3 Houses for GoTY, though Disco Elysium probably has broader appeal and is the more technically polished game. As a long time FE fan 3 Houses is actually my favorite game of all time. Every time I think about buying a new game I ask myself if I’d rather just replay 3H for the 6th time, and Disco Elysium is the only game that’s went over that hurdle. Any fan of Tactical JRPGs or Anime storytelling should buy the game.

    • bean says:

      Books: Hmm… I didn’t have anything that had a huge impact this year. Lots of good stuff, but nothing earth-shattering.
      Video Games: Rule the Waves 2. This is a very specific one, but it manages to scratch my itches like nothing else. Shipbuilding, strategy, and (occasionally irritating) naval combat.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Best game: Celeste (the Farewell update came out this year so it’s fair game for a 2019 GOTY in my book!) Incredibly hard, incredibly fair, incredibly satisfying when you finally beat a level. And a great story to boot!

      Best meme: Baby Yoda. He’s so pure and wholesome and cute and haha he just ate a frog!

      Relatedly, best ‘TV’ show: The Mandalorian. Though to be fair, it’s the only new series I’ve watched this year.

    • Tenacious D says:

      A movie that I found unexpectedly compelling this year was a gritty Bollywood movie called Article 15. Three teenage girls from a scheduled caste go missing. The only one who seriously tries to find out what happened to them is a police captain fresh out of the academy, whose privileged upbringing in Delhi seems like another world from rural Uttar Pradesh.

  11. Lord Nelson says:

    I’m looking to replace my purse with a messenger bag or something similar. Unfortunately, Google and Amazon have not been very helpful. I was hoping someone here might have suggestions.

    Qualifications:
    – Must have an over-the-shoulder strap. The more comfortable the better because I have recurring back and neck pain.
    – Must have multiple zipper pockets, including one that is large enough to carry my cell phone.
    – Would highly prefer something with a zipper for the main storage area. I don’t want to risk things falling out if the bag gets flipped upside down.
    – Would prefer canvas to leather, if given a choice.

    I am planning to carry the current contents of my purse, plus maybe a book and my Nintendo Switch while traveling. So the bag doesn’t need to be very large.

    If I could find something for $100 or less that would be great, but I don’t mind paying a bit more if the bag will last for at least 3-4 years.

    Sincerely,
    Someone who is forever jealous of men’s clothing and its giant pockets

    • DragonMilk says:

      What is making them useless? Do you already use fakespot and camelcamelcamel as online shopping tools?

      • Lord Nelson says:

        Most of the bags I’m finding on Google/Amazon don’t fit my requirements. Specifically, many only have snaps instead of something more secure. I tried a bag that snapped shut, and my wallet fell out within the first few hours.

        The other big problem I’m running into is the lack of pictures. Many websites only have pictures of the outside. Does it have pockets or zipper compartments inside? Who knows!

        • TJ2001 says:

          Have you tried going to a clothing or bag store in real life and putting your hands on the available options?

          The purse universe is very much a “Go do it in real life” rather than online…

          • Lord Nelson says:

            For purses, I’ve spent many hours searching in person. There are few shopping experiences I hate more. Rinse and repeat every 3 years.

            For messenger bags, I haven’t been able to find what I want in person, but it’s possible I’m searching in the wrong stores or the wrong sections of stores.

    • johan_larson says:

      Try a luggage store. I’m a man, and when I needed a shoulder bag I found a nice one sturdy one in a luggage store.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      If an otherwise satisfactory purse has rings, you could add a shoulder strap. Also, there are pads you can add to shoulder straps to make them more comfortable.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        I haven’t found an “otherwise satisfactory” purse in about 15 years, sadly. I’m really picky with purses and dislike how 99% of them look. Right now I’m stuck with a hideous one because it’s the only purse I could find that fit my storage requirements and my (at the time) tiny budget.

        Messenger bags, on the other hand… I love the look, just can’t seem to find one with enough zipper pockets and compartments.

    • salvorhardin says:

      Tom Bihn makes extremely rugged stuff– not cheap and a little more nerdy than chic but build quality is top notch and they have enough variants on the basic shoulder bag that you can probably find something that fits your requirements.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll look into it. The prices don’t seem too bad at first glance.

    • Wolpertinger says:

      Have you looked into laptop bags? They come in all sizes, materials and number of compartments. And they generally have zippers.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        Laptop bags tend to be a bit too rigid for what I need, and the shoulder straps are never very comfortable, but I’m considering one if I can’t find a proper messenger bag.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      I’d recommend looking at laptop bags at an office supply store. There are a lot of canvas options, multiple pockets and shoulder straps are basically universal, almost all of them have zippers. And they work just fine without a laptop in them (or you can just use the padded pocket for your Switch).

      If that doesn’t work for you, you might try looking at flexible briefcases. Duluth trading company has one that’s a bit pricey but might meet your needs.

      Edit – Sorry I missed your response to Wolpertinger suggesting laptop bags. Flexible briefcases may still be what you’re looking for, though.

    • Fractalotl says:

      If you’re open to other shapes of (non-backpack) zippered canvas item-holders, perhaps a pocket belt or “holster” style?

      The pocket belts hold less, but would be unlikely to bother your back & neck. And the vest / holster ones have very many pockets (12-16!), plus the weight would be symmetrical on each shoulder.

      https://thefairiespyjamas.com/collections/holsters-fanny-packs

      (I use a pocket belt instead of a purse, a fairy cheap one — silly yogi brand. On my second one; tends to hold up for 2-3 years of heavy use – Burning Man, Peru – and probably lasts longer for general use.)

    • Majuscule says:

      Have you looked up Baggalini? It’s a brand founded by flight attendants. Mostly canvas, lots of sizes, mostly with lots of compartments and the kinds of security features you want on a travel purse (zippers, cross-body straps). Nice stuff, though not my style- l prefer a big bucket purse. I’m with you 100% on the zippers, though.

    • mk says:

      I can highly recommend https://www.crumpler.com/au/messenger-bags/ . They may be at the top of your budget but are high quality, have a zipper inside and clasps+velcro on the outside (so stuff should be secure). I’ve been using my current one daily for over 12 years now, and besides an occasional wash it is still it tip-top shape.

    • Rachael says:

      There’s an online shop called Pierrebuy. I’m hesitant to recommend them because they seem to be pretty flaky at actually fulfilling orders and there’s a whole Facebook group called Victims of Pierrebuy where people rant about their missing orders. But I wanted a backpack with lots of separate zip pockets, and I got it from them, and it’s got very comfy padded straps and a very robust padded handle at the top. And I’m pretty sure I’ve seen zipped multi-pocket messenger bags on there too.

    • Aapje says:

      @Lord Nelson

      A person who appears to have similar requirements as you seems to really like this.

      Direct link to the Amazon.

    • La Russe says:

      In my family we swear by Kipling bags. Zippers galore! Sturdy shoulder straps! Caveat : I’m in Europe so potentailly the offering isn’t quite the same as in the States.

      • TheOtherDavid says:

        My partner also preaches Kipling’s name from the rooftops, specifically the sturdiness of the zippers. She seems to find them easily enough in the US to have like seven of their bags, between three backpacks and a few differently-sized purses.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          My partner also preaches Kipling’s name from the rooftops,

          blink
          Well, that was confusing in light of DavidFriedman’s love of Kipling.

          • Lambert says:

            How many people here are Kipling fans?

            Reminds me of that Tumblr post about how the grey tribe have a lot of similarities to British officers in Aftrica and the Raj.
            Notable among whom are the likes of Kipling and Orwell.

          • Anonymous McPseudonym says:

            @ Lambert

            Very interesting post! I’m definitely a Kipling fan (and largely supportive of British colonialism), and the post describes me (and possibly a lot of Greys) quite well.

          • Nornagest says:

            Chalk me up as another Kipling fan.

            Article’s interesting, and I think there’s something to it. The big miss for me is the line item about paying others rather than attempting amateur work — that doesn’t describe me well at all, nor my military relatives. My grandfather, who was a high-level Army officer as well as an early nerd, was one of the handiest men I’ve ever met. My cousin, another officer, isn’t far behind him.

            In fact, I think an unwillingness for Gray Tribe folks to do amateur work would resist both the competent-man ideal (remember, Heinlein’s the guy that wrote “specialization is for insects”) and the Anglophone military’s tendency to train officers as generalists but enlisted as specialists.

          • salvorhardin says:

            Very much a Kipling fan, despite many differences of worldview, and disproportionately so because of his poetics of engineering– on the list of things I have DavidFriedman to thank for introducing me to, “Hymn of Breaking Strain” and “The Sons of Martha” rank pretty high.

          • bean says:

            @Lambert

            I’m not sure I buy that. Leaving aside that my general read of kontextmaschine is basically contrarianism unmitigated by reality, this looks a lot like kabbalistic analysis. More specifically, a lot of what he’s describing doesn’t strike me as particularly general to military officers, but more describing a specific type of staff officer. Those are essentially the nerds of the military, and they do have an outsize impact on the history books, but I strongly suspect that there’s at most a common root.

          • SamChevre says:

            Very much a Kipling (the author) fan–but unusually, prefer his later work. “On the Gate” and “Song of the Waiting Seraphs” are particular favorites.

          • My single favorite is probably “The Mary Gloster.” I still find it hard to recite it without tears.

            But Kipling wrote a lot of very good poems of a considerable variety.

    • Zephalinda says:

      I have an Ameribag that I really love– it is kind of like a hybrid of a purse and a messenger bag, and I find it more comfortable/convenient to wear than a purse. It has many pockets but not ALL THE POCKETS, so ymmv.

    • sami says:

      You could try a large fanny pack. They make the belts on them adjustable so you can wear it around your waist, or as a snug fitting crossbody bag, either on your back or in front. I find wearing one on my waist way more comfortable than carrying a shoulder bag, and even worn crossbody it’s an improvement over a traditional purse because it’s not swinging around loose. Something like this: Herschel Eighteen Fanny Pack, Black Crosshatch, One Size https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DYKFZFQ/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_WI39Db39XM830

    • AM says:

      Tough Traveler has a bunch of options that fit your description. I love my Wayfarer, which I’ve used since 2012. They can also add extra custom pockets to existing bags if you ask.

    • SamChevre says:

      The bike messengers I knew all used either Chrome or Timbuk2 bags. I’d look at a small Timbuk2 classic–they are very tough and well under $100.

      • Vermillion says:

        Not a messenger but I’ve been biking with an older model of this bag that I got at REI 5ish years ago. It’s served me well, very comfy for longish rides (5+ hours). Bonus, it helped me look cool (when I wasn’t in lycra anyway).

        The clasp on mine is weirdly heavy but looks like they switched to aluminum which seems a bit more humane.

      • urm0m says:

        Hey FishFinger – I’m new here so I don’t know much about you or your situation, but I went through something similar this year, and I’ve been through it at other points in my life as well. I think it’s important to recognize that these periods of stagnation are actually important for us to “germinate” and determine the next phase of our lives/careers/relationships. The fact that it’s uncomfortable is actually a good thing, and if we can embrace it, some good can come of it. If you spend all your time fighting the malaise, you’ll end up exhausted and even more frustrated because it takes time for us to work out (consciously and subconsciously) what we want/need to do next.

        All that said, there are things that have helped me with my own process – aside from trusting the process itself:

        1. Travel if at all possible. Even if it’s just a road trip inside your own state. Try to get yourself physically out of the routine that you’re in so you can see and experience new things in new ways.

        2. Write, daily, by hand if at all possible. Preferably in the morning when your brain is fresh. Do it in a stream-of-consciousness way, and don’t worry about making it interesting or useful. Just do it for at least 6-8 weeks and see how your thinking starts to clarify.

        3. Spend some time alone. Get bored, and see what happens. You may be surprised by lightening striking when you are in state of creative neutrality.

        I’m sorry you’re struggling right now. I’m coming out of my rut but it’s been a hell of year for me, and I have all the empathy for you.

    • gleamingecho says:

      Try Tom Bihn.

    • peterispaikens says:

      If you have recurring back and neck pain, it may be made worse by asymmetric load (or even just asymmetric posture when carrying a light purse) as such, not by comfortableness of the strap; at least I needed a *lot* of work to undo the consequences of multiple years of carrying a laptop in a messenger bag. So while all the not-single-shoulder options (backpacks/belts/vests) may be less convenient in some aspects, perhaps your relationship with that pain necessitates doing something like that.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Someone who is forever jealous of men’s clothing and its giant pockets

      Not a great solution (and utterly fashion-deaf) but tossing it out there since it hasn’t been mentioned yet: could always pick up some men’s clothing if the problem proves sufficiently intractable. There are reasonably androgynous pants out there and one of my regular rotation hoodies has zipper pockets. Wouldn’t work for a book or Switch, unless you jump in the deep end with cargo pockets, but could work for day to day.

      Alternatively, if you’re handy with a needle, is it possible to retrofit better pockets into existing clothes?

      Fashion industry won’t provide pockets if they don’t get punished in the wallet for failing to do so 🙂

      • ana53294 says:

        I’ve tried doing that (buying men’s trousers), and I must say, it doesn’t work. I’ve bought men’s shoes (and in the case of running shoes especially, they’re much cheaper; no “pink tax”), men’s t-shirts and sweaters.

        Women have wider hips and bigger asses in proportion to thigh size than men. They also don’t have protruding genitalia. Men’s trousers, whenever I’ve tried them, would have an awkward bulk in the crotch area. It’s not really comfortable.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I keep seeing ads for custom tailored jeans for men, available using a phone app that uses the camera (I think) to take a much larger number of measurements than a tailor would make.

          They don’t seem to be cheap compared to buying the jeans at Target, but that might be worth it to you.

          Alas, I don’t know what company I saw offering this (and google isn’t immediately helpful).

          • Lambert says:

            > much larger number of measurements

            I don’t think the bottleneck is at that point. It’s not like it takes a long time to use a tape measure.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t think the bottleneck is at that point. It’s not like it takes a long time to use a tape measure.

            It was more that the ad was indication that you could get a bespoke fitting with automated prices. I’m sort of assuming that using an actual tailor for custom tailored jeans is in fact truly cost prohibitive, but I don’t actually know that.

          • LHN says:

            I’ve been seeing similar ideas coming and going for more than twenty years. Earliest I recall was a booth in the Levi’s store that was supposed to do body scans, most recent was an app that sent me a free bodysuit with plastic position-marking discs all over it to work with their scanning app, shortly before exiting the market.

            I assume that eventually it will work, since the idea seems plausible. But after so many false starts that quickly disappear, my skepticism re any particular instance is pretty high.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        I’ve considered men’s clothing, but doubt I could find something in my size unless I looked in the boys section, and I’d still have to worry about the problems others have mentioned. Also, that would mean I have to go shopping for clothes, which I like even less than shopping for purses/bags. Right now I go shopping for clothes about every 2-3 years, and that’s still far too often for my tastes.

        As for retrofitting: I’ve heard it’s possible, but I am not handy enough with a needle. Homemade pockets also tend to be less sturdy than pre-made pockets.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Right now I go shopping for clothes about every 2-3 years, and that’s still far too often for my tastes.

          What do you buy when you have to do this?

          • Lord Nelson says:

            Sorry, I forgot to check this thread again.

            It varies. The last time I had to go clothes shopping, I needed business professional clothing for my new job. The time before that, I think it was new bras and new pants (lost too much weight, so my old ones no longer fit).

            I’m super picky about fabric due to sensory issues, so I usually find a brand/style I like and buy all the colors I can find.

        • At a considerable tangent, do you happen to be in the Boston area?

          I ask because there is a very good second hand clothing shop in Cambridge, called The Garment District, that my wife and daughter visit when we are in the area for our annual New Year’s trip. The ground floor has an enormous pile of clothing, sold by the pound at a ridiculously low price–you wade into it looking for things. The second floor is more organized and more expensive, but I think still less than new clothing usually costs.

          Aside from saving money, it gives you a choice among a much wider range of clothing than whatever happens to be in the store this year.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Finally! A woman who shares my preferred clothes shopping schedule!

          FWIW, I found one good place which generally fits me – Land’s End – and online-order just about everything from there when a gap in my wardrobe looms large enough to make me resort to clothes-buying. No idea about their womens’ selection, though, except my sister generally likes it too?

    • AG says:

      Search for “sling bag” or “sling backpack” at sports stores or online. Most of them are definitely less than $100.

    • Aftagley says:

      The absolute best for messenger bags in the world is Mission Workshop. Tough, durable, waterproof, stylish and super great carrying capacity. The one of theirs I previously owned I used almost every day for 5 years until it got stolen. It carried my stuff across 5 continents and suffered practically 0 damage despite some rough treatment. I have no doubt it would have lasted another 5 years at minimum, and if it didn’t, well, it comes with a lifetime warranty.

      They’ll set you back between $175-$300 but they are undoubtedly worth it.

    • Reasoner says:

      The more comfortable the better because I have recurring back and neck pain.

      Off topic but I find sleeping on something like this (doesn’t have to be for the entire night, just the first 10 mins will help you relax & drift off in my experience, and you can wear a shirt so it’s less intense) can be helpful for turning “recurring” pain into “non-recurring” pain

      http://www.amazon.com/ProSource-Acupressure-Pillow-Relief-Relaxation/dp/B00N24PK6A/

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      There’s someone who comes to the local art fairs who has very nearly exactly what you’re describing, in IIRC around the price range you’re describing. (Not canvas – cloth, in an astounding variety of patterns both subtle and otherwise, but it seems to hold up well.) Unfortunately, while I’m pretty sure she has an internet presence, I haven’t yet been able to find it, and I strongly suspect you want this before next summer. I’ll um, let you know if I find it? Meanwhile, is this the kind of thing that Etsy would be good for? It tends to have some overlap with art fairs.

      Good luck!

    • profgerm says:

      This advice is next to useless, but check the backpack sections at a large thrift store, if you have one of decent quality in your area.

      I was on the lookout for a decent messenger bag, nothing oversized but with several pockets. I lucked into a lovely dark green (I’m a big fan of green) bag with every feature I wanted except a water bottle pocket (several zippered pockets, slimmer design than the office store bags, shoulder strap AND briefcase handles), not a stain on it, hardly looked used, for the extravagant price of… 3 dollars US. Day in and out it carries phone, wallet, notebook, couple fancy pens and index cards in their own organizer, Kindle, and sometimes a Switch, with a lightly clanging water bottle carabinered to the strap.

      “But wait, Germ! Why not tell me the brand of this bag from the heavens, if it’s so good?”

      Because there’s not a tag on the damn thing. No maker’s tag inside, outside, on the strap. Not even a “Made in China/Indonesia/Babylon” snippet. As I do not know who made it, I cannot recommend a maker, nor can I buy myself a spare should this one wear out (two years in and it’s fine, but I’m paranoid).

      So give the thrift shop a shot and perhaps you too can luck into the nameless bag of perfection.

  12. DragonMilk says:

    Thanks to all who helped with answering my tournament question (red/green ball 6% probability thingy).

    A more practical question – what methodology would you use to determine the time of an online tournament where participants may be international?

    The little mini-game tourney occurred at 3am pacific, 6am eastern in order to cater to the Korean crowd (is my best guess). As a result 4 of the top 16 did not show.

  13. blacktrance says:

    The redesign seems a little better, though not enough to make me stop doing this when I want to read a post.

    • FormerRanger says:

      The redesign seems to a casual glance to consist of a larger and different font. Is that accurate? I prefer the current font size and don’t care much about the font itself.

      • zaphodbeebblebrox says:

        The font is still Verdana, and the font size went of 12pt to 16pt.
        Other notable changes include the removal of the background image and the top banner stretching across the whole page.

      • Reasoner says:

        The redesign also got rid of some sidebar info right? I like the blogroll myself, and don’t find the current font size to be a problem.

        I guess maybe it would be reasonable to ditch the blogroll if few people are clicking on it.

  14. Plumber says:

    After my latest failure I’m asking the SSC commetariat:

    I have a stove, an oven, and a cast iron pan, so…

    …how do I get a good steak with those tools?

    I’ve seen disperate “Cook’s llustrated” methods such as “heat pan in 500 degree oven, then put on stove, flip steaks every two minutes on high heat”, and “put in oven for 10 minutes at 250 degrees, then sear on pan”, and it’s not working for me.

    What cut?

    What size?

    How long?

    What temperature?

    • myers2357 says:

      I have decided to stop wasting money on trying-to-do-steaks-another-way-than-this:

      Buy a New York Strip.

      Put it on the counter (Out of the fridge) for at least 2 hours.

      Pat dry with a paper towel. Generous salt and pepper.

      Heat the cast iron on the stove to get as hot is it can. I use a laser thermometer with my cast iron on the outdoor grill, it hits 700F.

      Highest possible heat, 2 minutes per side.

      Take it off of the pan, place on a plate, cover loosely with a single piece of aluminum foil.

      Leave it alone for at least 10 minutes before cutting it, you want it to cool off so that the fat doesn’t pour out when you cut into it.

      So, start from room temp, put it in the hottest possible pan, let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

      • Plumber says:

        Thanks!

      • broblawsky says:

        Seconding this approach. Using a thermometer to monitor the steak temperature so you can get your preferred level of doneness helps a lot too. Also, consider putting a second pan (weighed down with a couple of cans of food) on top of the steak while the first side is cooking. That helps you get that perfect sear on one side of the steak.

      • Lambert says:

        Laser thermometers might overstate the temperature, mind, because of the low albedo (therefore high blackbody emissivity) of black cast iron.

      • Well... says:

        Does that get you…rare? medium? well-done?

        I like my steaks somewhere between medium and well-done, although I know purists think that’s crazy. But eff the purists: how if at all do these instructions need to be altered to get the steak so it’s ever so slightly light-pink-bordering-on-beige in the middle but otherwise cooked through?

        Also, what’s the cheapest cut of steak I can get away with that won’t virtually always be tough?

        • famous oprah quotes says:

          There are no general cooking times, since it all depends a lot on the thickness of the steak (and honestly on a bunch of random factors as well). For a 1.5 inch steak that method will most likely get you a rare steak.

          The only surefire way is to use a stick meat thermometer.

          For a a medium to well done steak 160F in the very middle is a good temperature. I would recommend a lower pan temperature (closer to 400-500F) to avoid too much burning, and I think it will take something closer to 4 or 5 mins on each side.

          And if you don’t mind messing with the appearance of the final product, there is not much wrong with cutting it open to check it out before you take it off the pan (which is easiest to do without damage to the pan in a cast iron). The color will change a bit after some rest, but this is an ok first approximation.

          • Randy M says:

            Seconded on the thickness. I’ve been burned (… yeah, intended) by not adjusting my usual method for thickness and needing to re-sear some too red pieces. Fortunately my clientele is not terribly demanding.

      • sami says:

        I agree with this method. The most important and invariant part is that the steaks need to be room temperature before you cook them. I vary the time per side depending on how thick they are and have never actually measured the temperature of the pan, just cook til it’s well seared then flip and repeat. Always good. Sometimes in the summer I chop up lavender leaves and garlic and rub them with that as well as salt and pepper while they are sitting to come to room temperature, because I like the crispy burned bits, but it’s not necessary.

      • famous oprah quotes says:

        This is a good method, but a heads up that if you try this inside your fire alarm is 100% going off.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Your fire alarm is definitely going to go off when cooking steaks. Might as well turn it off, open a window and direct a fan to blow out the smoke. Not even my oven hood can keep up with delicious steak smoke.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I generated a lot of smoke just last night searing some steaks on the cast iron skillet.

          And I thought I was clever by pulling out the coconut oil, one of the highest smoke point oils. Nope. Smoke city.

    • Business Analyst says:

      I’ve never used the oven to preheat, but with a cast iron pan, for all but the thickest steaks (say up to 1.5″ thick) get the pan hot on the stove (I judge the temp by splashing a bit of water into the hot pan, when it dances it’s hot enough). I set my gas stove to a moderately high flame, and an electric stove was set to 10 or High.

      I prefer to oil the steak, rather than the pan, but both work. You can add spices to the steak with the oil if that’s your thing, pepper is good here too.

      Then put the steak into the pan for 3-7 minutes on each side for rare to medium rare. I’m color blind so judge this by feel more than look. Vary the time based on thickness. Your goal is to flip once, or perhaps 3 times if it’s quite thick.

      If you want the steak to be more done than medium rare, flip more often and cook for a longer time.

      On your last flip, add salt (or use the America’s Test Kitchen brine/salting well in advance) and garlic and a pat of butter.

      I’ve cooked rib steaks, t bones, sirloin using that method. Onion rubbed on a the beginning will give you more of a blackened crust.

    • cassander says:

      A .75 to 1 lb ribeye. Spread a teaspoon of oil on one side, pepper it, then flip and repeat. Pre heat the oven to 300 and put the steak in for 30 minutes. Take it out and sear each side for about a minute in a pan that’s as hot as possible.

      You’ll get perfect medium rare steaks every time. For bonus points, make this sauce: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/grilled-ribeye-steak-with-onion-blue-cheese-sauce/

    • TJ2001 says:

      The first questions are:
      1. What are you trying to achieve? Level of done-ness, seasoning, etc. You have to be more specific than “I want a good tasting steak”… A medium well or well done steak starts cut differently and is cooked differently than a medium rare or rare steak. A NY strip cooks completely differently than a Ribeye.. Etc.

      2. What are the specific complaints you have about what you got when you tried it vs what you thought you would get? Too tough? Burnt? Too raw? Too salty? Etc.

      3. Are restaurants able to cook steaks that taste good to you?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Depends on your oven and the style of steaks. The best steak is a 1+ inch thick ribeye.

      1. Pull steaks out, pat dry, rub in salt/pepper or Montreal Steak Seasoning. Let sit for 1-2 hours.
      2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with cast iron inside.
      3. Pull cast iron out and throw it on the stove, on your highest burner, until that thing is pretty good and smoking.
      4. Slap your steaks on the cast iron. 90-120 seconds per side. Flip once.
      5. Your steaks will likely not be done at this point. Ideally, remove from cast iron, place a rack on the cast iron, then put the cast iron in the oven, with leave-in thermometers in them. I rarely use a rack at this point because I am lazy as sin.
      6. Leave them cook to temperature. I pull them out at 120 and let them rest for 15 minutes.

      I do this with Costco steaks and other thick-cut steaks. When I get thin steaks from jewel, I do all the above steps, but I don’t transfer back to the oven, because they are done after 2 minutes on each side. Unless you are a heathen like my in-laws or my Polish friends and prefer your steaks medium-well to hockey-puck.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Since I haven’t seen it mentioned here yet I’ll add that a good strategy with any piece of meat is to salt it a full day before you want to eat it (maybe slips some sneaky msg on there too), and leave it uncovered in the fridge. Preferably elevated on a wire rack so they have air circulation all around. The name of the game here is dehydration. You want the surface of the meat to be bone dry when it hits the hot oil. A wet steak will steam itself at the comparatively tepid 211 F of boiling water for too long and the crust will suffer for it. Salting early also thoroughly seasons the steak while driving off water weight thus concentrating flavor.

      How far you cook a piece of meat should also be dictated at least partially by its fat content. I’ve had beautifully marbled ribeye cooked so rare that the cold fat was like chewing on an earlobe (unsatisfying when not a precursor to sexual deviancy). Lean tenderloin can get dental floss dry much quicker than other steaks. Leaner Old World beef should be cooked rarer than fattier New World beef. These are all relative and to be modulated by one’s tastes which are of course the only thing that really matters.

      These are broad strokes, lest I ramble.

      • gleamingecho says:

        a good strategy with any piece of meat is to salt it a full day before you want to eat it (maybe slips some sneaky msg on there too), and leave it uncovered in the fridge. Preferably elevated on a wire rack so they have air circulation all around.

        +1

    • gdepasamonte says:

      The Alain Ducasse method. In which the key points are: your steak is 1.5 inches thick or more, and you use moderate heat for about 10 minutes a side (the other details are optional).

      I continue to cook the beef on the flat sides, salting first, about 10 minutes on each side. I do not use very high heat, because you get good caramelization in that amount of time. I’m not interested in carbonizing the surface of the meat. To me that ruins the flavor.

      (And pay through the nose for your beef, of course.)

    • DragonMilk says:

      Cut: Sirloin for starters, but any other cut except round works

      Size: Slightly over 1lb slab

      Long: Depends on thickness, but typically 3-5 minutes per side for medium rare.

      Temp: medium-high

      Prep and Precautions: I consider myself proficient at making steaks now. While most people claim salt and pepper is all that’s needed, I like the following marinade: 1 part Worcestershire sauce, 1 part soy sauce, 2 parts olive oil, all in a ziploc bag. (Part = tablespoon for 1lb). Let is sit for an hour, flip the bag and sit for another hour. Not too much science to this, I actually will let it sit all afternoon fridge overnight too.

      Precaution: Smoke alarm will definitely go off. We have an actual vent that sucks along with open window, and it still goes off. Steak will look done on the outside but may still be raw in the middle depending.

    • Statismagician says:

      I do the following:

      Buy a thick strip steak, say 1.5”, as close to the time you’re going to cook it as is convenient. Season generously on all sides with pepper and (less generously) with salt and let it come to room temperature. Heat a large knob of butter in a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Have an oven mitt, tongs, and a decently long spoon handy. When the butter is sizzling, put the steak on. Flip after five to six minutes – you should have a nice brown crust; if not you can flip it back for thirty seconds or so at the end. At this point, tilt the pan slightly towards you so that the butter and steak juices pool. Spoon them over the steak continuously for another four to five minutes. Using the tongs, sear the sides of the steak briefly, thirty seconds or so per. Let rest under foil for five to ten minutes – ideally in a warm oven, but I have yet to actually remember to do this and it’s always been fine.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Lots of people have given advice on cooking. I can’t add to the specifics since I haven’t done cast-iron steak cooking, but when I do pan-fry a steak it’s usually au poivre, and I haven’t seen anyone mention that yet. Get a bunch of cracked (not ground) peppercorns — I usually get them whole, put them in a bag, and smash them against a concrete floor with flat piece of granite, but there are no doubt better ways. Coat both sides of the steak with the cracked peppercorns before the frying part.

      I find this works best with strip and tenderloin, and is not as good with ribeye (the strong flavors clash, IMO)

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’m putting in a good word for skirt steak. A good one is a little chewy (which I think adds interest) and very flavorful.

      • Statismagician says:

        I support this. Skirt steak is delicious – I do it in garlic butter whenever I come across some (which is rare in my area for some reason).

      • Anonymous McPseudonym says:

        Seconded. Skirt steak is unusually savory and works particularly well when heavily spiced/paired with a variety of sides.

    • ProfessorQuirrell says:

      You have a number of replies already, but I wanted to write up a more detailed guide to the general idea behind steak. Much of it is stolen from this incredibly good article.

      The basic problem with steak is that of competing temperature requirements. You want the outside of the steak to have a nice crust, but the reactions that go into making that crust do not occur until 300 F or thereabouts. You want the inside of the steak to be a nice medium rare or so, which is about 130 F.

      So how do you get the crust without overcooking the center? How do you get that perfect interior while still getting a crust?

      There are a few basic strategies that seek to achieve this. Complicating matters, the steak will cook differently depending on its thickness and fat content. A thick steak takes longer to cook and temperature changes move gradually towards the interior — a thin steak cooks quickly and you can rapidly over-cook the center if you aren’t careful. Fat insulates; so a steak with plenty of fat is more forgiving whereas a cut without much fat (think of a filet mignon or something) will change temperature very quickly.

      I would recommend the following. You will need a thermometer.

      Purchase a good (Choice or better) cut of ribeye or NY Strip, both of which are reasonably high in fat content and reasonably inexpensive. Get a steak that is at least one inch thick — 1.5 inches will behave better, but will be more expensive.

      Season your steak generously with salt and pepper. This will help dry out the exterior while adding a ton of flavor. Then, throw your steak open to air in the fridge overnight. This dries out the exterior even more. The advantage to this is that a wet steak will, when cooked, first eat up a lot of energy in water evaporation — this takes some time, during which the interior is increasing in temperature and you risk overcooking your steak. When your steak starts out very, very dry you have much greater control over the exact temperatures.

      The next day, rub your steak with various seasonings as you desire. Throw it in a low temperature oven (250 F or so) for about a half hour. The goal here is to gradually bring the whole cut of meat, interior and exterior, to a few degrees below the final desired temperature. The Serious Eats link above has a good table, but if you’re shooting for 130 F at the end you should be stopping around 115 F (hence the thermometer).

      Then, finish the steak off on a screaming hot cast iron with oil / butter. You only need about 30 seconds for each side — enough to get the crust and raise the interior temperature a bit, but not enough to overcook the center.

      It takes a little practice to get the timings right, but this method is very straightforward and results in absolutely wonderful steaks.

      • SamChevre says:

        Mostly second this advice. One note–the warmer your steak is when it goes in the oven, and the lower the oven temperature, the better. Leave the steak on the counter for an hour or two, and use as cool an oven as possible, to get the most even cooking.

        My one caveat–I would use a bit of tallow from the steak, not butter–butter burns at too low a temperature for searing steak.

  15. johan_larson says:

    So it looks like there’s quite a disconnect between the games played by people with board games as an adult hobby, and the games I remember playing as a child and seeing in the homes of my friends. I remember seeing lots of Monopoly, The Game of Life, Scattergories, Boggle, Scrabble, Battleship, Clue, Uno, and Axis&Allies. None of those seem to be popular with board game geeks, except maybe Scrabble, but that’s sort of a hobby of its own.

    But if we were to go looking for points of overlap between gamer geeks and the mass market, where might we find it? Can we do better than Diplomacy?

    • kupe says:

      Settlers of Catan perhaps?

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, I think Catan is definitely the answer, depending on whether something like Apples to Apples/Cards Against Humanity counts as a “board game” or not (but those are certainly enjoyed both by geeks and mass market alike)

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I haven’t played any of those “children’s” board games in a long time (some of them, never), but I do have a few friends who are into the “adult hobby” board games, and I’ve occasionally tried to play such games with them.

      One thing that most such “adult hobby” board games (and all so-called “Eurogames”) have in common is that they are stupendously boring. (The appeal, as near as I can make out, is that certain people enjoy a certain sort of “abstract optimization puzzle”, if you like… there’s very little “action” or “excitement”.)

      This would explain the lack of overlap between the categories you allude to.

      • John Schilling says:

        One thing that most such “adult hobby” board games (and all so-called “Eurogames”) have in common is that they are stupendously boring. (The appeal, as near as I can make out, is that certain people enjoy a certain sort of “abstract optimization puzzle”, if you like… there’s very little “action” or “excitement”.)

        I wouldn’t consider Settlers of Catan to be an “abstract optimization puzzle”, at least not by any standard that wouldn’t also scoop up e.g. Monopoly. And it’s at least moderately active and exciting for most of the game, unlike the horrible endgame (i.e. >50% of the game) slog of Monopoly as usually played.

        And I recall there was some discussion about this a few OTs ago, trying to attribute the difference to “Eurogames” vs “American hobby games”, which I don’t think really works because too many counterexamples in both categories.

        But I do think you are on to something, in that to be a family game that gets buy-in from children the game needs A: an immersive theme that it takes reasonably seriously, and B: frequent and necessary interaction with the other players. Monopoly, for its many sins, never lets the players forget that they are trying to corner the Atlantic City real estate market. And it never lets them forget that there are other players who aren’t just scoring points on a parallel track, but are e.g. paying them rent.

        There are definitely Eurogames that don’t do that, and as such turn into abstract optimization puzzles that you happen to be trying to solve at the same table as some other people, and the one who does so first is the “winner”. Splendor has been fairly well reviewed, and it gets regular play at our club, but it only gives lip service to the “you are a renaissance-era gem merchant” theme; you’re just collecting red, white, blue, green, and black cards and tokens of various costs and values. And, while there is an element of competing for the same resources, it is possible to win while completely ignoring the existence of other players.

        Settlers of Catan, though, is at least as firmly grounded in Settling Catan as that other game is in Monopolizing Atlantic City. And the trade mechanic effectively forces regular interaction among all the other players. It isn’t alone in these virtues, either. So I think the older games, most of which are fatally flawed in their own ways, are best left for A: dead or B: families with very young children.

        • Randy M says:

          So I think the older games, most of which are fatally flawed in their own ways, are best left for A: dead or B: families with very young children.

          If you’re old enough for Monopoly, you’re old enough for, say, Kitchen Rush, or Fabled Fruit, or Sushi Go, or Tsuro, or Carcasonne, etc.
          But kids do seem to honestly enjoy monopoly, even after experiencing more stimulating alternatives, or at least mine will drag out Cat- Puppy- or Horse- opoly when given the chance. I think part of it is that children like collecting things, and like an opportunity to screw over their peers without punishment.

          Speaking of screwing over peers, Lifeboats is a great game if you want the Monopoly experience of breaking up couples and ruining family parties, in a good way. It’s a game that relies on public voting to move survivors towards an island, and resorted in my mother voting her own pawns be eaten by sharks rather than have to choose between her children last time we all played.

        • Civilis says:

          Settlers of Catan, though, is at least as firmly grounded in Settling Catan as that other game is in Monopolizing Atlantic City. And the trade mechanic effectively forces regular interaction among all the other players.

          To add to this, if you want more player interaction than just trading, there are a number of games that feature player conflict without the enjoyment killer that is player elimination.

          Small World, mentioned below, is a fairly quick comic fantasy territory control game.

          Our group recently found and enjoyed Tyrants of the Underdark, which is a bit longer and more serious and adds light deck building mechanics to the territory control.

          The Downfall of Pompeii is an older card and tile management game, which can get surprisingly competitive. Make sure you provide the appropriate sound effects when the volcano consumes your opponent’s pieces!

      • Randy M says:

        all so-called “Eurogames”) have in common is that they are stupendously boring

        I don’t find this to be the case, but perhaps by stupendously boring you mean lack suspense and/or fail to emulate an engaging theme, in which case the criticism is often merited.

        On second thought, I’m trying to think of a pure Euro game that I really enjoy and failing. It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing Settlers or Ticket to Ride but that they don’t excite me or cause me to care about them when not playing.
        But many good and exciting modern board games incorporate many Eurogame elements.

      • mendax says:

        (The appeal, as near as I can make out, is that certain people enjoy a certain sort of “abstract optimization puzzle”, if you like… there’s very little “action” or “excitement”.)

        I recommend this article as a means of classifying boardgames by the goal of each school of design.

        As an overview of where this post is going, here are the design schools and associated core priorities that will be discussed:

        Ameritrash School ~ Drama

        German Family School ~ Engagement

        Eurogame School ~ Challenge

        Wargame School ~ Realism

        Abstract School ~ Minimalism

        • Vermillion says:

          That’s a really interesting article, thank you!

          For my own list of games (95% just between my wife and I) I’d like to recommend Lost Cities, a really excellent 2 player set collecting game.

          I’m also a big fan of Power Grid, which is a lot of fun and incidentally has one of the best catch up mechanics I’ve seen. It can get a little math heavy for turn planning but it’s possibly to still do well without paying too much attention to that.

          My favorite party game has always been Mafia, but I recently played Secret Hitler (not CW, that’s just the game name!) and that’s got a lot of potential for hijinks, should be a fun family holiday game (I have a weird family)

          I’ll also second Tyrants of the Underdark, as a really excellent area control deck builder hybrid, maybe my favorite all around game if I think about. Mmm I really want to get that expansion now…

          • Civilis says:

            Much as I like Power Grid, and the auctions and territory mechanics do mean it doesn’t fall into ‘multi-player solitaire’, it’s not one I recommend too much for groups with mixed veteran players and relative new players.

            It has the problem that unless you really know what you’re doing, it’s readily possible to fall into one of several states where it’s impossible for you to catch up, and it’s hard to tell because the very visible in-game catch up mechanisms only deal with a certain type of falling behind. The catch-up mechanic doesn’t help less experienced players in the endgame, it helps the players with experience manipulating the catch-up mechanic. If you don’t have enough power plants that power enough cities (as opposed to merely expensive power plants) or you’re competing for fuel or all your possible build sites are too expensive you may be locked out of victory a couple of turns before the end and never know it.

          • sharper13 says:

            If you like Mafia/Secret Hitler, try The Resistance: Avalon. The game play ends up similar, but because everyone keeps participating until the end of the game, we tend to like it more.

    • Plumber says:

      Risk is the best board game I know of.

      DUNGEON! was okay.

      Castle Risk was excellent.

      Invasion Earth, Car Wars, OGRE and GEV were fun but too complex.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Yay, another fan of Castle Risk! My favorite part was the European theme, but I thought the “castle” mechanic let games often end far too fast when another player takes an Admiral to attack your castle or a territory right next to it. In the end, though, I still liked it better than normal Risk.

      • Randy M says:

        I still remember the first time we played Castle Risk, Probably on New Years or something, around twenty five years ago. My dad was the master of Risk in the household, and would regale us with the stories of playing when he was little, and the fabled incident of someone knocking the board flying in excitement when he was young. Anyway, the lessons of the old version had stuck with him, and his borders were well fortified… but his seaside castle was not, and I took him out of the game very early with one well timed admiral card. He was flabbergasted. Intergenerational memories like that are probably one of the best reasons for keeping out of date classics around in this time of cardboard churn.

        Risk 2210 is another excellent version you in particular might like. Who wouldn’t like to invade the moon and build sea colonies?

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      Mass market games that can have real appeal for board-game geeks:
      – Chess / Go / Checkers
      – Axis & Allies
      – Clue (the Master Detective version is the best one for this purpose and has recently been reprinted)
      – Risk (I prefer almost any variant to the base game. Risk 2210 and Godstorm both add more flavor along with rules to keep the game from running too long).

      More “serious” games that are still approachable for kids or new board gamers:
      – Small World
      – Dominion
      – Downforce
      – Any Mayfair railroad game (Iron Dragon is my favorite and Martain Rails plays fastest, but any of them can work)
      – Settlers of Catan
      – Ticket to Ride (I’m not personally a fan of this one, but I now a lot of groups use it for this purpose)

      Cooperative games that let the hardcore gamers help everyone else out so that the whole group has fun:
      – Sentinels of the Multiverse
      – Pandemic
      – Mysterium
      – Shadows over Camelot (works fine with or without the traitor, without is usually best for a newer group)
      – BattleStar Gallactica (if your group enjoyed the show)

      Lightweight games that engage kids and newbies with gameplay and appeal to geeks with theme and humor:
      – Smash Up
      – Munchkin
      – Red Dragon Inn
      – Illuminati

      Games I just love too much to not mention here:
      – Revolution
      – Aeon’s End

    • Bugmaster says:

      Dominion (sans the expansions) is a good gateway drug.

      • C_B says:

        I love Dominion, it’s probably my favorite tabletop game, but my experience playing it with less experienced players is that it makes a uniquely bad gateway drug compared to other popular Euro-style games like Catan.

        The crux of the issue is that the outcome of a game of Dominion involves very little random chance except in mirror matches. Thus, if a stronger player plays a bunch of games against a weaker player, the stronger player will win nearly every time, often by a landslide, often in such a way that the weaker player has to spend several turns just going through the motions even though it’s clear there’s no way they’re going to win (or else they might just choose to concede instead). This is extremely unfun for the weaker player.

        Games like Catan that involve significant randomness and dice-rolling can be more fun for weaker players because even a significant skill differential will only result in maybe a 60%-70% winrate for the stronger player, and Catan’s endgame is swingy enough that it’s not usually clear who’s going to win until the last turn or two.

        If you want a deckbuilding game that’s friendlier to new players, I recommend Ascension or Star Realms, both of which introduce randomness by having the cards available for purchase (the equivalent of Dominion’s “Kingdom”) come up one at a time from a shuffled deck, rather than being a consistent, shared pool of options that largely doesn’t change over the course of the game. This allows you to get “lucky topdeck” situations where you can purchase a strong card and deny it to your opponents just because it happened to come up for you.

        • Civilis says:

          Machi Koro (the original) isn’t a deck building game, but it has a card market with all the cards available from the start. It uses a dice mechanic to randomize which buildings pay off, which has a similar effect. It also avoids the ‘single-player multiplayer’ trap by having cards that pay off based on other players dice rolls (or steal from other players), so noticing what other players are doing becomes more important. Some of this is an artificial sense of conflict, but it at least feels when someone takes from you.

        • d20diceman says:

          I’m a massive Dominion fan, have 8 expansions at this point, but I agree that Star Realms is the better introduction to deckbuilding. It’s great that Star Realms (with an expansion) has a “co-op vs a boss” option, which reduces the “hey, want to lose to me a bunch of times in a game I know and love that you’ve never played?” factor.

    • Matthias says:

      Well, Diplomacy is the pinnacle of gaming, so we can’t do better.

      But snark aside, just look at anything that won Spiel des Jahres.

      German mainstream games are one of the big historic influences to the modern resurgence or cardboard based entertainment. The Settlers of Catan was one of them. (But it’s not a game you should be playing today. We have better.)

      I also quite like Acquisition. It’s an American game.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        AIUI the Spiel des Jahres is supposed to be the game that a family who buy one new board game per year should buy.

        The most recent winner is Just One, which is a word-guessing party game somewhat in the vein of Taboo or Articulate. That certainly could have mass-market popularity. Codenames (2016 winner) and Concept (2014 top 3) fill a similar niche and have been extremely popular with non-“gamer” members of my family.

        If we go back a bit more, Catan, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride have all been winners and had a reasonable amount of mass-market success, particularly Catan (which won in 1995).

        If we go back even further, the second Spiel winner ever, in 1979, was Rummikub!

        (The award is given to a game released in Germany in the last year- Rummikub had been sold elsewhere for a while first).

    • Rachael says:

      Board gaming as a hobby has only really taken off in the last 20 years or so, so most of the games adult gamers play now didn’t exist when we were kids.
      The recent games that are popular among adult gamers have evolved to be well-balanced and reward skill, which isn’t the case for most of the mainstream old family games you list.
      These days there are kid-approachable games that are better quality and more enjoyable for adults too, but because there are so many of them, it’s hard for any of them to become as ubiquitous as Monopoly or Game of Life.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Catan and Ticket to Ride have already been cited as “hobby games” (as opposed to the mass market games you listed) that you might find in a non-gamer’s house. I’ll add Carcasonne, Hanabi, For Sale, No Thanks, and party games like Apples to Apples, Balderdash, Time’s Up (and the whole subgenre of “edgy card games” like Cards Against Humanity or Exploding Kittens, though gamers tend to not be as keen on those).

      And don’t listen to people who tell you eurogames are boring. Some people find them boring, some do not, and some find some of them but not all of them boring (and they’re certainly less boring that spending 8 hours finishing a game of Monopoly because you play the rules wrong like most people). Try them and decide for yourself. Eurogames do have player interaction, most of the time, but it tends to be indirect interaction of a non-destructive nature — which doesn’t mean that these games are necessarily peaceful; anyone who has played Carcasonne, Ticket to Ride or Puerto Rico with players who truly know what they’re doing and are playing to win know how cutthroat these colorful and unassuming games can be.

    • Well... says:

      Does chess count? That’s probably the only board game I could say I was ever “into”.

      • johan_larson says:

        My impression is that people play chess either rather seriously or not at all. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who played many different tabletop games regularly, and one of them was chess.

        • Well... says:

          I must be one of those rare in-between people then. I played correspondence chess a lot in my early 20s and basically always had a game going, would check in on my games whenever I was in front of a computer, but I was never serious enough to do exercises or play in tournaments, etc. Although I could consistently beat most of my friends, whenever I met a truly serious player there was no contest, and I never aspired to get to that level. When playing chess all the time became slightly inconvenient I stopped.

          I haven’t played now in a few years but have thought about setting a chess board on my desk at work.

          I’ve never been interested in the “board game hobby” thing your OP is about though.

        • EchoChaos says:

          This pretty much guarantees people pouring out of the woodwork to tell you this exact thing, but yeah, I do this.

          Chess is a great game especially for two players, but when more than two are needed, modern tabletop games fill that nicely.

        • Chalid says:

          I do like chess a lot, but playing against your phone is a pretty close substitute for playing against a human. In many ways, it’s better. That’s not true of most good board games.

        • I don’t think I’ve met anyone who played many different tabletop games regularly, and one of them was chess.

          There was a household I spent a week with once (long story). They played, at least, Stratego and Avalon Hill board games.

          At the time, the older son was the under 21 chess champion of the U.S. and the younger the under 14 chess champion (by memory–I don’t swear that 14 and 21 are exactly the right categories).

        • Wency says:

          When board gamers get together to play board games, they never want to play chess, in my experience.

          But if I’m at a bar with my wife or a non-gamer friend/relative, and they have a chessboard, I’ll pull it out and they’ll often play with me. I’ll try to go easy on them, playing in “social mode”. I guess a lot of gamers don’t enjoy chess in “social mode”, but I’d still much rather do this than play Uno or something.

          Non-gamers often hate learning the rules to games. If I pull out a super-light game like Exploding Kittens, they’ll say “I don’t know this” and not really want to learn. But because every educated person knows the rules to chess, you can pull it out and start playing immediately.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But because every educated person knows the rules to chess, you can pull it out and start playing immediately.

            Eh, not really.

            It’s a little like saying we can play 1v1 basketball because we both know the rules.

            If you know how to actually play chess, and I just know the rules to chess, we won’t be playing chess. You’ll doing the dad vs. 4 year old version of boxing.

          • Well... says:

            +1. That’s a good point, HBC.

          • johan_larson says:

            But because every educated person knows the rules to chess…

            Do they? In my experience the typical person knows how the pieces move, but even pretty nerdy fellows sometimes miss some of the finer points like castling and en-passant captures if they never played the game seriously.

          • Wency says:

            @HBC: Fair criticisms here. Though I’m not great at chess, just good enough to always beat the sort of person who plays the game now and then but has never thought hard about strategy or tactics (which is ordinarily the sort of person I’m playing). So maybe I only need to reduce my effort by 50% to make the game fairish, more like dad sparring with his 13-year-old.

            This might just mean playing my moves quicker or focusing more on the conversation with someone else at the table. Maybe drink my beer faster than my opponent and pay more attention to the football game on the screen. I can do this and have a good time. Perhaps a more skilled player would have to reduce his effort by 90-95%, which is likely more annoying. I’m also not too concerned with the purity of the game; chess was made for man, not man for chess.

            But again, the game “social chess” is competing against in this scenario is likely something like Uno, so it’s not a high bar.

            @johann:
            The point about castling is fair, as it would ordinarily happen in a large percentage of games, but how often is en passant relevant? In my experience, playing people roughly at my skill level, maybe 1 game in 10. At a casual level, chess plays fine without these rules.

          • Nick says:

            Perhaps a more skilled player would have to reduce his effort by 90-95%, which is likely more annoying. I’m also not too concerned with the purity of the game; chess was made for man, not man for chess.

            A common approach is to introduce a handicap. Take one of your own pawns away, or a minor piece, something of that sort.

          • Aftagley says:

            Chess is one of those games where I’m instantly suspicious if anyone offers to play it with me. I treat people offering to play chess with me like people who want to start “friendly” games of poker or pool or something else where skill differential is an unknown but almost-certainly extant variable.

          • sharper13 says:

            @HeelBearCub,

            Go is much easier to handicap and actually get a fairly even game than Chess is, and the rules for Go are pretty simple, but the depth of strategy is also very high.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I remember seeing lots of Monopoly, The Game of Life, Scattergories, Boggle, Scrabble, Battleship, Clue, Uno, and Axis&Allies. None of those seem to be popular with board game geeks, except maybe Scrabble, but that’s sort of a hobby of its own.

      Axis & Allies is not considered an obsolete game by adult board gamers, the way Monopoly is. It’s considered “Ameritrash” (not pejorative, oddly enough!), a genre of games that focus on conflict, theme and plastic miniatures rather than abstract mechanics with a bias against conflict between players (and wooden components) like Eurogames.
      Ultimately this is a false dichotomy, but there’s a kernel of truth to it: Catan is not a Eurogame by this definition, but European designers do produce lots of game derided as “multiplayer solitaire.”
      Wargames are another niche, closer to Ameritrash than Euros, but more “adult”/realistic with cheaper components. If you’re old and male enough to be thinking of Avalon Hill wargames played on paper hex maps, there’s more to it than that: IMO the pinnacle of the genre is Here I Stand, which educates you about the relations between European states (England, France, Spain/HRE, and the Ottomans) and Christianity* during the late Renaissance/Age of Exploration. This is a game some teachers have used in lieu of a textbook on the first half of the 16th century and gotten feedback like “I had no idea all these famous people were alive at the same time.” (eg the Reformers, the conquistadors, Michelangelo, Henry VIII…)

      *It’s a six-player game where one player controls the Papacy and another the Protestants while the other four are playing a wargame with exploration and other elements).

      • Machine Interface says:

        For modern wargames, I’ll add that not all these are heavy and complex games. Academy Games has published several light wargames (1754: Conquest, 1775: Rebellion, 1812: The Invasion of Canada, 878 Vikings: Invasions of England), which not only are easy to handle and have a relatively short playing time, but also are a rare case of design that works well with a variable number of players (typically 2 to 4).

        Another very well liked light wargame is Memoir 44. Sekigahara is bit more front heavy but also really smooth once you’ve played one or two games.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Here I Stand is technically impressive but not actually fun.

        (Twilight Struggle is much more interesting, as it has about the same educational qualities with different topics–and a very similar but improved core mechanic–but is actually an entertaining game.)

    • DragonMilk says:

      Plug whenever board games come up; I find it odd how little overlap there are in the games people typically play and what’s on Board Game Arena:

      7 Wonders, 6 Nimmt, Stone Age, Dice Forge, Puerto Rico, Carcassone, etc.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        7 Wonders is a well-designed game. It can in principle be expanded to much more than 7 players with the expansions, yet a turn takes the same amount of time whether there are 3 players or >7. Since downtime is the enemy of board games with variable player counts, this is not an accomplishment to take lightly.
        There are also massively multiplayer Catan games that modified the rules to achieve the same thing. Everyone plays the phases simultaneously and can trade with the player to their right, their left, and the 3 across from them during the trade phase. The only constraint is the these rules can only be played at a large rectangular or multiple rectangular tables in a snaking pattern.

        • Matt M says:

          I’ve never played the “real” Seven Wonders, but I do play Seven Wonders Duel with my fiancé pretty frequently. I find it to be decent, but a bit unbalanced. Both the science and military win-modes seem quite rarely achieved, and in general I feel like the best strategy is simply to be maximally reactive to the available cards in play (which is to say, to have no real long-term strategy whatsoever)

          • DragonMilk says:

            Duel is a totally different game imo, and much harder.

            Is your fiancee (btw, 2 ees for girls, 1 for guys is my understanding) much of a gamer? I created an issue where my wife does not game and I introduced her to Takenoko because i figured it’s a cute panda thing, and she says she only wants to master it…which I consider to be a pretty dumb game.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes and no. It’s an interesting topic for me. She expressed a lot of interest in board games but it’s pretty different from what I’d expect given her personality, so I inquired more.

            It turns out what she really wants is to sit me down and have me for a captive audience for some time, and she knows I’m not willing to do that without some sort of entertaining intellectual stimulation.

            So board games have become something of a middle ground compromise. I’d rather be playing video games alone. She’d rather have us sitting there looking into each others eyes and talking about our hopes, dreams, and feelings. But this gives both of us a little bit of what we want.

          • Dacyn says:

            I’ve seen a few science victories, possibly because people were too pessimistic about science and so only one person was getting any science cards. It seems like part of the game is just “in the first age, see how many people randomly decide to go for science” and if its 1, they’ll win unless someone wants to take the fall by hatedrafting, and if it’s 2 or more, probably none of them will win but the other players can compete reasonably. Not an aspect of the game I particularly like, but at least it has other good qualities.

          • Matt M says:

            Well in Duel, you only have one opponent to worry about, so it becomes keenly obvious if they’re going for military or science, and relatively easy to block them from actually getting it once they’re close.

          • DragonMilk says:

            @ Matt M, In that case, I’d shamelessly plug BGA again if nothing else than to at least survey games out there available for two players.

            I’d definitely look into them yourself, though, so you don’t face a Takenoko of your own. Frickin pandas.

          • sidereal says:

            > I feel like the best strategy is simply to be maximally reactive to the available cards in play (which is to say, to have no real long-term strategy whatsoever)

            This is a desirable feature of board games, as it creates more room for choice and rewards skill. Games where monotonic strategies dominate become stale much more quickly.

          • Matt M says:

            IMO, the best scenario in games (either board or video) is one where a variety of strategies are viable, and it’s possible to reactively change strategies, but wherein a strategy is still likely to result in a superior outcome against a player who is employing no strategy at all.

            A game where you can frequently win without ever having to consider much of anything past your current turn is not optimally designed, IMO.

          • DragonMilk says:

            @Matt M,

            Have you tried Stone Age or Dice Forge with your fiancee?

        • DragonMilk says:

          Small quibble – a turn takes slightly longer (due to it taking as long as the slowest player) with more people, as newer players tend to not be able to immediately assess the best card in a hand you’re given.

          Also, the wonders are quite imbalances in my opinion. Alexandria, for instance, is seriously OP for 3 player, and still pretty imbalanced for 4, which is the best (maybe 5) number of players for the game.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Also, the wonders are quite imbalances in my opinion.

            This is true. It’s hard for a designer to make every player board different in abilities without making at least one just better or worse.

      • Machine Interface says:

        Board Game Arena and similar sites operate with whatever game publishers give them an agreement for, which tends to be older titles (though there are exceptions, Dice Forge is relatively recent). For most recent titles, the publishers prefer to either keep them “exclusive”, or make proprietary apps.

        • DragonMilk says:

          Yes, this works really well for me, but may be why I can find so few people in this niche – I like playing “classic” nerdy games while the nerdy gamers seem to like the newest games.

    • Dacyn says:

      My dad is a big fan of board games, but when we host parties with people who aren’t too interested in board games, the games we end up playing from my dad’s collection tend to be word games: Codenames and Just One are favorites.

    • Loris says:

      I may not be a typical adult board-gamer, but if the gaming group I go to is anything, it’s eclectic in its tastes.
      So the main thing is, some of those games you remember just arn’t any good as games.
      I mean, Uno is fine as a quick simple game, and I’ve played it with gamers who enjoyed it (as a ‘filler’). I still play Boggle. Cluedo/Clue is a bit slow and I wouldn’t play it now better games are available.
      Monopoly in particular is kind of notorious among most adult board-gamers as a bad game. And the reason isn’t really a secret. It’s not actually a fun game – it’s an object lesson in the perils of private land ownership. The design decisions – the lack of agency, the protracted end-game; suddenly all those family arguments make sense. Sure, there’s a kernel of strategy around trading which may be enjoyable in high-level play, but honestly I think that it’s still a pretty poor trade-off vs. the opportunity cost of playing something else. The main driver of sales is apparently non-gamers trying to introduce their children (or grand-children) to board-games, which is a bit unfortunate.

      As others have said, boardgames have really taken off in the last few years – there are lots of interesting new mechanics, and at least some game developers work to avoid the undesirable traits (extended down-times, protracted end-games, early player elimination etc) of the initial mass-produced cohort.

      In terms of success in the mass-market obviously there are new games enjoying spikes of popularity, but if we look a bit further back there are games which enjoy continued success. Talisman was pretty big some time ago (first released in 1983), now my children like it and I recently learned that other adult members of my group do too – even though it definitely has many of the flaws I mention above.
      Given the mention of Uno, cardgames are within scope, and there have been some huge mass-market examples – collectible card-games like Pokemon and Magic:The Gathering. Aside from those, Dominion spawned a new genre a few years back.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        As others have said, boardgames have really taken off in the last few years – there are lots of interesting new mechanics, and at least some game developers work to avoid the undesirable traits (extended down-times, protracted end-games, early player elimination etc) of the initial mass-produced cohort.

        Since I was talking downtime in another comment, I’d like to say a few words about player elimination.
        Monopoly and older Ameritrash games like Risk are rightly condemned for making it unpredictable when a player will be left out of the group for the remainder of a long game. Euros have eliminated this problem by eliminating direct conflict… but what if you want a game with a strong theme involving conflict?
        The Ameritrash genre has made a couple of innovations here. The most superficial is to make the first player elimination an end-game condition: when one is out, everyone counts their victory points. My favorite game with this rule is Clash of Cultures (basically a shorter, better take on the Sid Meier’s Civilization board games).
        The more integral way I’ve seen of eliminating player elimination is the “add a new faction to the board at any time” mechanic best-known from Small World.

        • Machine Interface says:

          There’s also the whole “area control” genre which is very much about direct conflict, but avoid player elimination by having factions be undestructable — even if all your troups are wiped out of the board on one turn, they can come back on the next. This is at least as old as Dune but many more modern games use similar mechanisms.

          Though that can run into another problem that also exists with Eurogames: the runaway leader, where technically no one is eliminated, but in practice you can see who’s going to win a good number of turns before the end.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            What are some designs you’ve seen that keep the winner uncertain on the penultimate turn?

          • bean says:

            Though that can run into another problem that also exists with Eurogames: the runaway leader, where technically no one is eliminated, but in practice you can see who’s going to win a good number of turns before the end.

            Counterpoint: Monopoly is terrible about runaway leaders, to the point that there’s no way for it not to happen. I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate someone gaining an advantage and keeping it as a mechanism, nor is it desirable. If being ahead isn’t better, all else equal, then it’s not really a game, or you’ve defined “ahead” very badly. But some games offer a way to have several players in contention to the end (Catan springs to mind as a good example of this) and other games don’t.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @bean:

            If being ahead isn’t better, all else equal, then it’s not really a game, or you’ve defined “ahead” very badly. But some games offer a way to have several players in contention to the end (Catan springs to mind as a good example of this) and other games don’t.

            Catan has an endgame where there’s a visible leader, who everyone stops trading with and will try to harm with the Robber if they roll 7. However, due to hidden victory points on cards and the 2-point Longest Road and Largest Army, a player with 7 VP can suddenly win the game by revealing a card or two/spending only 2 resource cards. The endgame is well-designed in that I can scarcely remember seeing the leader close in on 10 VP without 1+ other players having 7 to keep upsets possible.
            A bad example of runaway leader mechanics, from the video game world, would be the Civilization series. Civs never collapse (at least since they eliminated Civil Disorder), meaning optimal decisions as early as the first turn snowball for the rest of the game. If IRL worked like that, the Copts or Sumerians would still be winning!

          • Matt M says:

            Well, from a game design perspective, trying to balance “reward the best players” and “make it seem that everyone has a chance until the end” is one of the trickiest possible things you can do.

            In this case, the opposite of Civ is probably the none-too-respected “blue shell” of Mario Kart fame… Nobody wants *that* either…

          • Machine Interface says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            The trick I’ve usually seen is to have a game with victory points where some of these points are won during the game, but a good amount is won at the end conditional on having reached certain objectives, which can be public or hidden.

            A good Euro example is Terraforming Mars, and a good ameritrash example is Rising Sun.

          • John Schilling says:

            Adding to those already mentioned, Carcassone has the feature that the endgame will usually see every player with an almost-completed project (usually a city, maybe a megafield) where one lucky tile draw can give them enough points to perhaps overtake the leader. And the scoring mechanics don’t lend themselves to precise real-time scoring before the end, so while there may be a vague sense as to who the leader is there usually won’t be a player whose lead is clearly insurmountable.

          • Nick says:

            one lucky tile draw can give them enough points to perhaps overtake the leader.

            Or, alternately, to screw over the leader. Which you might be able to do even if you can’t win.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The main design mechanic I’ve seen for hiding the true winner is, as was mentioned, hidden victory points or winning cards. I’ve seen this in Ticket To Ride, Terraforming Mars (somewhat), Catan, and Arboretum. A variation is hard-to-calculate VPs, such as in Scythe, Five Tribes, and Seven Wonders.

            Closely related to hidden VPs is hidden identity. Hidden identity games (Werewolf, Shadow Hunters, Secret Hitler, Battlestar Galactica) are intrinsically going to make players feel like someone is winning, without knowing who it is, and feel especially invested if teams can win.

            Another popular mechanic is “take down the leader”. The more someone emerges as winning, the more incentive everyone else has to team up, and the game provides options for doing so. I see this in The New Science, free-for-all M:tG, and Avalon Hill’s Civilization.

            A third mechanic I see is to make the win skill abstract enough that anyone could pull it out, no matter how far behind, by depending on odd skills, such as dexterity (crokinole, Tumbling Dice, Ice Cool), trivia (Taboo, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Cranium), or ability to read your team or opponents (Codenames, Mysterium, Decrypto, Dixit).

            A fourth is to simply make it not matter as much. For instance, by making the game co-op (Pandemic, Flash Point, Rise of Thanos, et al.), everyone feels pretty equally like they’re winning. Another is by making the game fast (Coup). If it’s fast, you don’t care; game will end soon and you’re back in the action.

            One mechanic I found unique was in a war game, and fit the theme: Churchill. Three players play the US, the UK, and the Soviets. VPs are constantly accrued for all sorts of things, and are tracked and open knowledge. If the ending VPs are within 15 of each other, high score wins. If first place is more than second and third combined, first wins (complete postwar domination). If in between these, top player is strong, but the other two ally to overcome, and second place is the winner (leading the new postwar coalition).

    • sidereal says:

      A big issue being the high buy-in that comes with new rules and complexity. Whereas board games nerds want complexity (and even crunch/fiddliness), the mass market doesn’t. Probably the best solution is games that are easy enough to learn but deceptively strategically deep. Catan is the obvious answer, I’ve found drafting games (dominion/7 wonders) to be pretty good as well. (Shout out to blockus, which I can play with my 5 year old niece but is actually pretty deep)

      As a board gamer I find card games to be an interesting bridge. I’m never getting my grandma to play catan but a game of spades or bridge gives me a rare chance to engage with her strategically. And it goes the other way too, people who take cards seriously are self-selecting for enjoying strategy, so more likely to be amenable to board games.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Probably the best solution is games that are easy enough to learn but deceptively strategically deep.

        Chess, go.
        The problem then becomes the teacher knowing the simple rules at much greater strategic depth than the frustrated recruit.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I suppose you could consider conventional board games falling into three or four major categories:

      One is “family games”, which are characterized by having rules that are easy to teach to young children, and which either have heavily randomness-driven outcomes (such that a child has a decent chance of fairly beating a casually-skilled adult) or which adults can easily let their children win without being obvious about it. “Candyland” is probably the purest example (the game is 100% chance and the ruleset is incredibly simple). “Game of Life” and “Chutes [or Snakes] and Ladders” are also strongly in this category. Monopoly, Clue, and Sorry/Parcheesi are mixed examples: the games are complex enough to allow a fair amount of strategy, but most adult players either haven’t studied the strategy or aren’t trying that hard to beat their kids at a friendly game.

      The opposite extreme is deep strategy games of the kind that getting really, really good at it can be an engaging long-term hobby for an adult. Chess and Go are the strongest examples I can think of off the top of my head. A lot of classic card games have similar characteristics (Bridge, Pinochle, Poker, etc). Backgammon, Scrabble, and Diplomacy are probably also in this cluster.

      In between, you’ve got children’s games (games for children to play with peers, as opposed to family games which children and parents play together) and party games (games for adults to play amongst themselves, but more as an excuse for socializing than as a focused activity). Children’s games tend some major strategy elements, but are simpler to learn and easier to analyze than the adult strategy games (e.g. Checkers/Draughts, Stratego, Risk, Battleship). Party games tend to be characterized by gameplay mechanics that don’t require a lot of heavy thinking (there is skill, but it’s more creative or recall-based than strategic) but do involve a fair amount of social interaction with other players (e.g. Pictionary, Charades, Scattergories, Trivial Pursuit).

      The newer “board games as an adult hobby” games tend to offer an appeal as a hybrid between party games and deep strategy games. My friends who are serious into this kind of board games enjoy the kind of strategic thinking you get from a peer-level deep strategy game, but prefer the novelty of switching between a bunch of different games to long-term dedicated study of one or two games. They’re also looking for a more social experience, of getting a group of friends together for a shared activity (including people like me who play and enjoy these kinds of game, but go to the get-togethers more for the company than for the game) rather than purely focusing on the activity. These style of games also tend to be a lot more flexible about the number of players than deep strategy games (most of which seem to be 1:1).

      A generation or two ago, less-complex trick-taking card games (Hearts and Spades especially) were probably the main games people used for similar purposes, but they seem to have not made the transition to Gen X and younger for some reason.

    • albatross11 says:

      In my house, Monopoly, Catan, Ticket to Ride, Illuminati, and Ctrl-Alt-Hack are all favorites, played by my youngest child when she was (I think) 6 or so, and on to the present.

    • abystander says:

      I’ll put in a word for Hey That’s My Fish. Children can play with the simple heuristic of heading to the biggest pile they can get to the current turn. Competitive plays who know the potential to cut off the majority of the ice floe for one player can study the board like go players.

  16. Majuscule says:

    At a recent meetup two of us realized we’d independently watched the same random video about recreating historic oil paints.

    Kind of chirpy, intense YouTuber, but her research is solid:
    Recreating Historic Paint Colors

    Interesting because there are a number of 19th c. colors that can never truly be duplicated because we now know they’re toxic, unstable, unsustainable, etc. Or because they contained actual Egyptian mummies.

    Also I’m wondering if anyone else reading SSC randomly watched this, in which case I will wonder what the algorithms are up to.

  17. zardoz says:

    [Post 4 reviewing Business Adventures]

    Previously: Post 1, Post 2, Post 3

    Chapter 4 is about insider trading. Prior to the twentieth century, insider trading was not a crime, and many respectable figures made a lot of money on it.

    Public opinion in the US started to turn against the practice in the twentieth century. However, it took a long time to get actual regulations on the books against it. The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 prohibited fraud in connection with the purchase or sale of a security, which was a start. By 1942, the Securities Exchange Commission had the “10B-5 rule,” which stated that no stock trader may use any scheme to defraud or “make any untrue statement of a material fact or… omit to state a material fact.”

    When the 10B-5 rule was created in the 1940s, nobody seemed to think that it applied to insider trading. However, judges later ruled that it did, in a series of cases. This chapter is about the first such case, the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company case.

    Texas Gulf had been conducting aerial surveys in the Canadian Shield, “a vast, barren, forbidding area of easten Canada.” Apparently their airplanes had discovered some “geophysical anomalies” indicating the presence of electrically conductive material in Canada. It sounds kind of like Star Trek when I write it out like that, but it was very real. The company called the site Kidd-55.

    They did some exploratory drilling on the site, and found promising results. Like with a lot of the technology described in the book, the mechanical technology seems very familiar, but the communications technology seems impossibly primitive. In order to communicate their progress back to headquarters, people had to keep travelling back and forth between the drill sites and telephones in nearby towns– even when that required travelling miles through seven foot snowdrifts.

    As the company did more exploratory drilling in the Kidd-55 area, they became more and more convinced that there was a huge ore deposit at Kid-55. Excited Texas Gulf executives started visiting the drill sites personally. Various people began to furtively buy shares in the company, and give out tips to others as well. Despite the excitement, the company issued a press release that was subdued. Then, a few days later, right after a meeting of the board of directors, it issued another press release that described the find in much more optimistic terms.

    In the subsequent trial, a lot of complicated points were discussed: whether the first press release was misleading, the exact behavior of various people who bought stock at various times, and so forth. One of the more interesting points to me was the question about whether company employees who had bought stock right after the second press release had done anything wrong. Because of how slow the communications technology of the day was, a director who bought shares right after the news had been revealed would still be buying before most Americans could possibly become aware of it. Therefore, the SEC took the position that even several hours was not enough time. Although the original trial exonerated most of the defendants, this was reversed on appeal. In the end, the courts basically ended up taking the SEC’s position.

    Overall, I thought this chapter was somewhat weaker than the previous ones. While it seems clear that Brooks approves of the SEC’s position, he doesn’t really justify it very well. Instead, he chooses to focus on the actions of individual people– a more journalistic and less analytical style. I don’t think it works well here, because the individual characters just aren’t very memorable or interesting. The approach he used in the chapter about the income tax, where he builds a case for his position, would have been more appropriate.

    Insider trading is still a somewhat unsettled area of the law. Jon Eisenburg writes, and I agree, that “insider trading law is one of many examples of Congress providing no meaningful guidance and the courts largely inventing the law.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that the courts got it all wrong, but it does mean that interpretations have tended to shift over time.

    There is a bill which the House passed recently that would provide more written guidance about what the law should be. The bill may or may not become law, of course.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Not my personal experience, but it may be possible to learn interesting things about companies if you work a suicide hotline.

      • Incurian says:

        You might also have the opportunity to influence those companies rather significantly.

      • Reasoner says:

        Was feeling depressed about my company’s prospects, called a suicide hotline, now I’m feeling depressed about the stock price as well. Thanks Nancy Lebovitz 😛

      • zardoz says:

        Wow, this one went to a dark place. The stock market isn’t that depressing, is it?

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        In other news, Morgan Stanley analysts today downgraded XYZ Corp. from “sell” to “jump”.

  18. FishFinger says:

    My life is stuck in a rut. It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want, on and on, I don’t know if I want it.

    Some people say that they got unstuck after they took recreational drug X, went to country Y, read book Z, got slapped really hard in the face, etc. Relatively short experiences that put them back on track.
    Any experience with similar interventions? I can’t really afford travel at the moment.

    • zluria says:

      This will sound trite, but it’s a cheap option that helped me:
      A long talk with my dad. When I was stuck with my MA thesis and felt like a failure, I decided to quit the program, but I wasn’t sure what to do professionally. My dad listened patiently, and then suggested I speak to a different professor and change my thesis topic. I did, and the new topic was a success.

      So to summarize: ask your parents for advice, and listen to what they have to say.

    • Aron Wall says:

      zluria’s recommendation is good.

      As someone who went to St. John’s College and studied Great Books as an undergrad, I can tell you which of the more philosophically-oriented classics seemed most likely to change the lives of my classmates after reading them. In chronological order, they were (books in parentheses are suggested starting points but in each case you could continue with more if you feel led to do so):

      * Plato (Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Symposium, Apology, Crito)
      * Aristotle (Nicomachian Ethics)
      * Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Matthew, John)
      * Kierkegaard (Fear and Trembling)
      * Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil)

      Runners up might include: Homer (Illiad, Odyssey), Augustine (Confessions), Descartes (Meditations), Pascal (Pensees), and Hume (Treatise of Human Nature). I didn’t ever do their Eastern Classics Master’s program, but my best friend did, and he recommended Confucius (Analects) to me, which is also very good. I’ve also read a few of the Hindu and Buddhist classics, but if you want to know which ones are most likely to cause a change of life direction, you’ll have to ask somebody who is more familiar with their use.

      Of course, it’s quite possible you only need to read ONE of these books to have your life-changing experience, but unfortunately I can’t tell you which one it is in advance!

      • FishFinger says:

        I read some of those authors, and I would say they helped me see some things in a different way…
        …it’s just so slow. I feel like I’m accruing wisdom at an extremely slow rate, like I have an xp penalty in some RPG. It always feels like I’m just one step away from some great insight that will turn my life around, but it just keeps escaping me.
        I know it’s naive to wish for an instant cure, a singular life-changing experience…but some people swear that’s what happened to them.

      • Statismagician says:

        Oh, another Johnnie – hi there. I’d add Kant, if you happen to read German or you’re willing to fight the truly unfortunate translations available.

    • Sortale says:

      The school of Life seems to help me and people I know, give it a try?

      https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7IcJI8PUf5Z3zKxnZvTBog

      Unlikely to make you change your behaviors though, just make you more likely to accept what is happening.

      or just sit down for 5 minutes [by the clock ] write down what’s bugging you, then rank them, then just do the top 3 most urgent things?

    • TJ2001 says:

      I would start by taking a serious analysis of yourself and your situation.

      Here is the key question – “Am I stuck because of Me or am I stuck because of Them?”

      If you are stuck because of You – you have to “Fix” you before you can become “unstuck”… Because you always take you with you.

      If you are stuck because of “Them” – you can change jobs or move someplace else and there will be a different “Them”…

      So for example – if you are stuck in a rut because your company hires capable people and then grinds them into nubs – find a new job.

      If you are stuck because you don’t have the right qualifications to promote higher or have a defeatist attitude – then do what you need to do about that.

      But last – be honest. Contentment comes from within. Nobody else can make you content. If you have a spouse that makes a lot more money than you or young kids in school and want them to be involved with sports or dance or whatever – there are going to be professional trade off’s.

      Good luck.

      • PedroS says:

        This sounds a little like some things I have read about Lobsterman*’s “Self-authoring” psychological self-improvement method. From what I have read, that method could be interesting for OP

        * Lobsterman refers to a famous Canadian Psychology professor who is either lionized or reviled depending on one’ s stand in some CW issues. His name may be banned here for CW reasons, but he has been referred around here previously as Lobsterman due to a contentious claim in one of his books comparing the role of serotonin in humans to its role in lobsters. I hope the clues are enough to identify him and obscure enough to prevent yet another discussion about him.

        • TJ2001 says:

          Actually it primarily came out of the Despair Inc’s satirical “Demotivational” calendars….

          I forget exactly what month – but it said something along the lines of:

          “When the only common thread running through all your failures is yourself”

          And I was like “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha That’s Rich! Yourself!!!
          oh wait.
          .
          .
          .
          .
          .
          dammit”

    • Purplehermann says:

      Take a long walk/hike by yourself, no phone, no music, no books, just you, your body, nature, and your thoughts for a day or two or longer.

      • Witness says:

        On this note, I have personally experienced some major positive attitude shifts since I started walking regularly (about a mile and a half per day at the most).

        Probably other kinds of exercise can help as well if your current situation isn’t conducive to nature hikes, but I recommend trying to get outside if you aren’t already.

    • Randy M says:

      There’s some good advice given previously.
      Right now I’m reading A Guide to The Good Life, a short overview of Stoic philosophy, which addresses the question and you might find it helpful. It’s not revolutionary for me, but it is temporarily motivating and I was also feeling a bit out of sorts.

      Also, exercise, sleep, and some sunlight will help if you’re just feeling a bit burnt out and neglecting your biology.

    • Erusian says:

      I’d recommend trying to listen to your emotions. You obviously want something you don’t currently have. People who have everything they want are called content. Figure out what that thing is. The easiest way is to figure out what thinking about makes you feel the most despair/in a rut. If you think about how you’re not really achieving anything and that drives you to despair, then you lack purpose, for example. Good friends or a therapist can help.

      From there, it’s mostly an engineering problem. Figure out how to insert that into your life.

      (PS: What’s that video about?)

    • DragonMilk says:

      Mind sharing age and how long you’ve felt this way?

      • FishFinger says:

        26.
        It’s hard to say. I’d say at least 1.5 years (when I graduated from my MA program), although it’s been getting worse recently.

    • Etoile says:

      Echoing zluria’s advice to talk to a parent, but wanted to give you a chick’s* perspective in case you’re a woman.
      I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed about lots of things, and two big sources of stress for me were connected to my mom:
      1) feeling as though she judged or disapproved of me in how I am approaching some big things in my life, e.g. how I’m raising my kids, and
      2) gaps in what I knew about her history with my dad to gauge whether I could rely on my perceptions of their relationship as a model for my own relationship with my spouse.

      I spent a pretty long time with her recently, and we stayed up many of the nights just talking. I know not everyone can do that with their mom. But after this, I felt like we arrived at a new place of mutual understanding and esteem, and she told me a few personal things about herself that, though not negative or earth-shattering or anything, were new to me and gave me more confidence in some of my own life decisions. It felt like a wall which existed was gone, and made me more confident as both a spouse and a parent.

      So YMMV of course, but that’s a thing that was good for me when I was in a different sort of “rut”.

      *See later thread about Dick.

      (Edit: minor typo/formatting fix for the footnote)

    • Orpheus says:

      Try getting into something new, like learning to draw, learning to play an instrument, or lifting.

    • urm0m says:

      Hey FishFinger – I’m new here so I don’t know much about you or your situation, but I went through something similar this year, and I’ve been through it at other points in my life as well. I think it’s important to recognize that these periods of stagnation are actually important for us to “germinate” and determine the next phase of our lives/careers/relationships. The fact that it’s uncomfortable is actually a good thing, and if we can embrace it, some good can come of it. If you spend all your time fighting the malaise, you’ll end up exhausted and even more frustrated because it takes time for us to work out (consciously and subconsciously) what we want/need to do next.

      All that said, there are things that have helped me with my own process – aside from trusting the process itself:

      1. Travel if at all possible. Even if it’s just a road trip inside your own state. Try to get yourself physically out of the routine that you’re in so you can see and experience new things in new ways.

      2. Write, daily, by hand if at all possible. Preferably in the morning when your brain is fresh. Do it in a stream-of-consciousness way, and don’t worry about making it interesting or useful. Just do it for at least 6-8 weeks and see how your thinking starts to clarify.

      3. Spend some time alone. Get bored, and see what happens. You may be surprised by lightning striking when you are in state of creative neutrality.

      I’m sorry you’re struggling right now. I’m coming out of my rut but it’s been a hell of year for me, and I have all the empathy for you.

    • AliceToBob says:

      @ FishFinger

      It might help if you could elaborate on your situation. What do you mean by “stuck in a rut”? What are examples of things you’ve wanted and then given up on?

      There are many good suggestions here, but it seems unlikely there’s a general solution that would apply to most people. I don’t know if I’ll have anything valuable to add, but your elaboration might help others offer better advice.

      • FishFinger says:

        Basically I am not sure if I am on the right life path right now. I thought I’d know by now, but I am still plagued by doubt. This causes me to stay firmly in the center of my comfort zone and live a repetitive life.

    • FishFinger says:

      I didn’t want to spam this thread, so I’ll just say it here:

      Thanks for everyone who posted advice here – you’ve told me several things I’ve never really considered. I really appreciate it.

  19. outis says:

    Has anyone here seen Richard Jewell? Anyone interested in seeing it? If an acquaintance invited you to see it, what would you think?

    • Randy M says:

      I would like to see it eventually; I’ve seen two positive reviews of it on Youtube. But then, I watch more movie reviews than I do movies these days.

      If an acquaintance invited you to see it, what would you think?

      That they weren’t clear on my stance of the value of a movie ticket, but had good taste.

    • Plumber says:

      @outis >

      “…If an acquaintance invited you to see it, what would you think?…”

      If anyone other than my wife would now ask me to see a movie together with them I would think it very odd, the last time I saw movies with friends and/or co-workers was in the ’90’s, when poets studied their rules of verse while ladies rolled their eyes.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I would like to see it: Eastwood is an outstanding filmmaker. I’m a little confused about the final question – I go to the cinema a lot (it’s more or less a requirement for my job, and I love film anyway, hence having said job) and would never really think it was anything unusual for someone to invite me to see a film, unless it was porn or something.

    • Matt says:

      I definitely want to see it.

    • POGtastic says:

      I just saw it and really liked it, but I appear to like it for very different reasons than the critics.

      Gur cybg vf cerggl fgenvtugsbejneq naq cerqvpgnoyr, zbfgyl orpnhfr rirelbar xabjf gung Evpuneq Wrjryy jnfa’g gur obzore. Gur SOV ntragf ner rlrebyy-jbegul, nf vf Byvivn Jvyqr’f ercbegre punenpgre. Vafgrnq, gur cbjre bs gur zbivr pbzrf sebz cynlvat jvgu bhe rkcrpgngvbaf bs jung n cebgntbavfg vf. Jr’ir orra envfrq gb rkcrpg pbzcrgrapr sebz bhe cebgntbavfgf. Vs gurer’f nalguvat ceriragvat gung cebgntbavfg sebz orvat rssrpgvir be fbyivat uvf ceboyrzf, ur qrnyf jvgu vg va nobhg unys na ubhe bire gur pbhefr bs gur nep naq xvpxf nff. “Jbj, punenpgre tebjgu!” Jr’er nyfb jvyyvat gb flzcnguvmr jvgu njshy crbcyr vs gurl jva n ybg naq ner cbegenlrq nf gur nagntbavfg.

      Evpuneq Wrjryy vf abar bs gur nobir. Ur vf fb hapunevfzngvp naq haflzcngurgvp gung gur qbzvanag rzbgvba V jnf srryvat va gur zbivr jnf “Lbh QRFREIR gb or ybpxrq hc sbe guvf, lbh’er gbb fghcvq naq cnffvir gb rkvfg.” Naq gura V jnf znqr gb srry nfunzrq bs gung rzbgvba. Gurer vf qrprapl naq qvtavgl gurer, naq abobql tvirf n fuvg orpnhfr ur’f sng, fghcvq, naq ernyyl veevgngvat. Naq vg znxrf zr guvax nobhg nobhg ubj znal bgure crbcyr ner gerngrq yvxr gung rireljurer – “Lrnu, lbh’er evtug, naq lbh’er orvat gerngrq ernyyl hasnveyl, ohg lbh’er htyl naq fghcvq, fb lbh qrfreir vg.”

      Gur pevgvpf’ erivrjref frrz gb jnez gb Evpuneq nf flzcngurgvp, naq V qvqa’g. V sbhaq uvz nf ybngufbzr ol gur raq bs gur zbivr nf V qvq ng gur ortvaavat. Gur cbvag bs gur zbivr, gb zr, vf gung gung hasnvearff vf ubeevsvpnyyl uhzna, naq jr arrq gb qb orggre, zlfrys vapyhqrq.

  20. Matt M says:

    I’d like to use my first comment since the end of my temporary ban to petition the Great And Powerful Scott to rescind the indefinite ban of dick (as well as the others who are in “indefinite” status).

    While I have no desire to completely re-litigate the moderation decisions of three months ago, there is one particular anecdote I’d like to share that, as far as I know, was never brought up:

    The very first post Scott cites as evidence of the need to ban dick was essentially a contentless personal attack… against me. What’s notable here is that if you scroll along, you can see that this did not lead to an acrimonious back and forth between he and I, or anyone else. Everyone just let it go and proceeded with the debate at hand.

    But not only did we all “get over it” right then, but a couple weeks later (in OT 135.75 to be precise), I solicited advice from the SSC commentariat in troubleshooting and seeking a solution to my slow Wifi speeds in my house. Of all the people who responded, the one who was the most helpful, repeatedly offering new and updated advice and being very patient with my ignorance of the topic was… dick.

    To me, this is not evidence of a community in dysfunction. This is evidence of a community functioning very well indeed. The fact that even the most spirited participants in the steel-cage CW brawls can get together after the match and help each other with their household problems is really important and good. In the context of a broader society where tribal opponents are increasingly treated as bitter and vindictive enemies, it apparently did not occur to dick to withhold his expertise and assistance to me (or worse, to sabotage me with bad advice), nor did it occur to me to ignore his advice, or suspect he might be deceiving me in some way.

    Had dick been banned immediately after insulting me, he wouldn’t have been around to help me with my WiFi, and I’d be all the worse off for it.

    In conclusion: SSC needs more dick. (sorry, couldn’t help myself on that one).

    • J Mann says:

      Seconded. I’d love to see both dick and Conrad Honcho back – I think they were both trying to follow the guidelines, can improve, and were both interesting voices.

      • Aftagley says:

        I could go either way on Dick, but if put to a vote, I would cast a ballot maintain Conrad Honcho’s indefinite banning.

        I realize this sounds uncharitable, but I did not enjoy reading his discourse.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I am curious if this is biased by where you are coming from left/right bias-wise.

          I found dick far more of a … dick than Conrad was, but I am more similar to Conrad politically, so that may be part of it.

          I would desire that both be unbanned.

          • Aftagley says:

            I am curious if this is biased by where you are coming from left/right bias-wise.

            That’s a real possibility, I admit. That being said, I don’t have a generalized “ban all the people I disagree with” outlook, so it’s not just an ideological thing. Maybe if people cross a line, I’m more willing to forgive/ignore it if they tack closely to my biases?

            I found dick far more of a … dick than Conrad was, but I am more similar to Conrad politically, so that may be part of it.

            I disagree, but can’t think of a good way to explain my reasoning without doing a rehash of their posting history. This seems mean since they can’t defend themselves and would involve rehashing the posts that got them banned, which is likely a bad idea. In short: I found Dick to be too fond of snark but ultimately harmless while Conrad Came across like he harbored extreme dislike or even hatred for me and people I care about.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aftagley

            Maybe if people cross a line, I’m more willing to forgive/ignore it if they tack closely to my biases?

            Yeah, that was my thought. Scott has admitted he has such a bias and is intentionally more lenient on lefties, which might make you examine if that is affecting you as well.

            I disagree, but can’t think of a good way to explain my reasoning without doing a rehash of their posting history.

            I also don’t want to rehash their post history and am not really arguing with you. Just food for thought.

          • Nick says:

            @Aftagley
            I can only speak personally here, but I didn’t find dick’s snarking harmless; I was genuinely bothered by it. (Someone’s surely noticed that I’m in every discussion of these bans, and haven’t once said I want dick back.) If you think dick is ultimately harmless and Conrad hateful while I think the opposite, I’d say our perceptions are getting colored pretty strongly.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah, that was my thought. Scott has admitted he has such a bias and is intentionally more lenient on lefties, which might make you examine if that is affecting you as well.

            Potentially I am misunderstanding you, but I think you don’t understand what Scott meant by this. It has nothing to do with his personal biases.

            Or at least nothing direct.

          • acymetric says:

            @Nick

            I can only speak personally here, but I didn’t find dick’s snarking harmless; I was genuinely bothered by it. (Someone’s surely noticed that I’m in every discussion of these bans, and haven’t once said I want dick back.) If you think dick is ultimately harmless and Conrad hateful while I think the opposite, I’d say our perceptions are getting colored pretty strongly.

            I’m going to be honest, I can’t really see an argument for allowing Deseich’s posting style but banning dick’s that doesn’t begin and end with which one you agree with more.

          • quanta413 says:

            I’m going to be honest, I can’t really see an argument for allowing Deseich’s posting style but banning dick’s that doesn’t begin and end with which one you agree with more.

            I can. Deiseach is a more distinct voice. Her politics are actually distinct from either mainstream in the U.S. or of SSC (although maybe her politics are totally ordinary in Ireland; hell if I know).

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the further away people are from either your views or other views you’ve understood and accepted as “this is a common way to look at the world that makes some sense even if I think it’s wrong,” the more their posts are likely to seem crazy or evil or like trolling.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m going to be honest, I can’t really see an argument for allowing Deseich’s posting style but banning dick’s that doesn’t begin and end with which one you agree with more.

            Deiseach is IMO much better at drawing the line between “this is wrong and I will explain in great and contemptouously entertaining detail what is wrong with it”, and “you are a bad, bad person for saying this, and I will now insult you for it”. Not perfect, and her first banning was for a self-admitted severe violation of that standard, but better than most. That’s an important distinction if you’re going to attempt civil discussion of controversial ideas some of which are wrong.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Deiseach is IMO much better at drawing the line between “this is wrong and I will explain in great and contemptouously entertaining detail what is wrong with it”

            I strongly disagree with this. In my opinion, she is nearly unparalleled here in her contempt for people, rather than just ideas. A few of our full blown nihilists probably have her beat. She is also good with language, so the contempt for people can be obliquely couched, but it is still usually present.

          • John Schilling says:

            A few of our full blown nihilists probably have her beat.

            Are you counting yourself among their number? Because you’d be near the top of my list of posters that I sense holding other posters here in contempt. But the ability to, as you say, “obliquely couch” the language is critical. People who hold each other in contempt can sometimes nonetheless communicate fruitfully, if they steer around direct personal attacks and the like. You can usually do that. So can Deiseach. Some people can’t.

        • broblawsky says:

          I might have agreed with you once, but not after Conrad started spouting off Pizzagater/Sandy Hook truther nonsense.

          • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

            @broblawsky : Question. I’m a huge fan of conspiration theories. If I ever find the will to compile a review of what I consider are interesting takes on a specific one (like pizzagate or Sandy Hook) and do an effort post, will you just deride me as an obvious far-right nutjob or will you report & ask for my lifetime ban?

          • Lambert says:

            I think there’s a difference between things like ‘The Queen, a public figure, is a lizard person’, ‘NASA, as a group staged the Moon landings’, and ‘These particular private individuals impacted by Sandy Hook are making things up.’

            The latter is going around and accusing people of some quite serious things.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think you might be misremembering how that went down. I was talking about the best ways to debunk conspiracy theories. I have never believed Sandy Hook was a hoax: my method of debunking the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory was to look at the underlying facts Alex Jones used (guy behaves weird in video) and explain how it does not support the theory that he’s therefore faking having had a child die.

            We’re on the same page on this one. Sandy Hook: 100% real tragedy, and all I was talking about was better ways of making sure Alex Jones’ audience understands that.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Ms. Morgendorffer

            I go to a couple of meetups where conspiracy theories are a fairly common topic, including the vexed questions of what counts as a conspiracy? A conspiracy theory?

            Anyway, I think a deep dive into a conspiracy theory would be a good topic.

            https://www.meetup.com/Philadelphia-Political-Agnostics/

            https://www.meetup.com/Philly-Skeptics/

          • Lambert says:

            I’m diasappointed that those links didn’t go to meetups for people who believe that there’s insufficient evidence to conclude that the city of Philadelphia exists.

          • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz
            Thanks, well noted.

          • Aftagley says:

            I have to admit, I didn’t expect Conrad Honcho to chime in during a discussion as to whether or not Conrad Honcho should be unbanned. 10/10 twist ending.

            My previous statements nonwithstanding, welcome back!

          • AliceToBob says:

            @ broblawsky

            I’m fairly sure that’s a dishonest description of what Conrad H said.

            And, at the very least, if you’re going to dump on a banned commenter, you should provide a link the content you’re dumping on so that people can verify your claim for themselves.

            Edit: I see above that Conrad replied to set the record straight.

          • Randy M says:

            I have to admit, I didn’t expect Conrad Honcho to chime in during a discussion as to whether or not Conrad Honcho should be unbanned. 10/10 twist ending.

            I’d say 9/10. The real twist would have been if he supported the continued banning.

            (please remind me to do this if I am ever indeterminatedly banned then reinstated without fanfare)

          • LewisT says:

            I’m diasappointed that those links didn’t go to meetups for people who believe that there’s insufficient evidence to conclude that the city of Philadelphia exists.

            Those people are more interested in Bielefeld.

          • broblawsky says:

            I’m extremely disappointed in this turn of events.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I promise to be nice. I’ve turned over a new leaf. Just a big soft cuddly teddy bear over here.

          • broblawsky says:

            I’m not going to get baited into this argument on the CW-free thread.

        • quanta413 says:

          I think both should probably stay banned. At least for another several months.

          Although often interesting, both Dick and Conrad both behaved unacceptably way too often as far as I’m concerned. I didn’t enjoy reading either of them on average (except on threads about wifi or Dungeons and Dragons or whatever; on bread-and-butter culture war stuff here they dragged stuff down way too often).

          And neither was nearly as clever as Deiseach either.

          • albatross11 says:

            That’s the problem–Deiseach is just a really entertaining person to read, which lets her get away with bad behavior that would get others permabanned. It’s like the way the star quarterback gets away with mouthing off to the coach but the third-string offensive lineman who tries the same thing gets kicked off the team.

    • Atlas says:

      Well said/Thirded.

    • Randy M says:

      In conclusion: SSC needs more dick. (sorry, couldn’t help myself on that one).

      If this makes it to the survey, I really hope context is provided, otherwise I can see the vote going against him due to confusion on the question and concerns over the commenters gender balance.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        SSC does need more chicks.
        (This statement becomes confused with the “how ethical is it to eat chicken?” debate.)

        • Statismagician says:

          I believe pet ownership anticorrelates with depression, and chicks are both inexpensive and very cute…

        • urm0m says:

          New chick here! Happy to share my chick-thoughts on all manner of topics.

        • Etoile says:

          Chicks with bricks come; chicks with blocks come; chicks with bricks and blocks and clocks come!

          • SamChevre says:

            Too awesome not to say,

            I would read it on a bus!

          • albatross11 says:

            [Queue posts from all the parents who’ve read Dr Seuss to their kids so many times, we’ve memorized them.]

            (You’d be surprised, the many ways, I change, on different colored days.)

    • Plumber says:

      @Matt M,

      Agreed.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Maybe Scott’s Christmas present to be them will be a 666hr probationary period?

    • Aron Wall says:

      I have no opinion about dick specifically, but I would personally prefer it, if the default ban for a first time offender who has substantively contributed in the past, and whose offense is not completely beyond the pale, were generally of finite duration rather than indefinite.

      I think that people are frequently taken by surprise by bans, and that the ideal system ought to generally offer at least one chance for reformation for commenters who have shown that they also have the ability to contribute positively. There were actually a lot of interestingly edgy commentators who went a little too far a couple times and are now gone forever. IMHO, metaphorical capital punishment should be reserved for repeat offenders, for commenters whose very nature destablizes the forum, and for those who commit truly mortal sins like threatening to doxx people.

      Maybe Scott could also, by popular demand, make it an explicit rule that Deiseach can say whatever she likes and it’s okay, because the pros outweigh the cons. Explicit double-standards are underrated. I would also support David Friedman and suntzuanime (if the latter ever comes back here) being officially registered on the list of immortals.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I think that people are frequently taken by surprise by bans

        It’s called a reign of terror for a reason.

        Maybe Scott could also, by popular demand, make it an explicit rule that Deiseach can say whatever she likes and it’s okay, because the pros outweigh the cons. Explicit double-standards are underrated. I would also support David Friedman and suntzuanime (if the latter ever comes back here) being officially registered on the list of immortals.

        If I allowed myself to honestly respond to this suggestion, this community would get smaller by one in an arbitrary amount of time.

        • Aron Wall says:

          Fair enough. For what it’s worth, that last paragraph was much less seriously meant then my first suggestion.

          Also, if anyone immortal got too uppity, Scott would have a pretty obvious solution—first make them mortal again, then ban away! 😉

    • BBA says:

      I’ve surprised myself with how easily I shift from attacking someone in one thread to cooperating with them in the next. This may or may not be a good thing, in a time when you can lose your job for getting along with the hated enemy… I’m going to say it’s good now, though I reserve the right to turn my controversial opinions up to 11 and leave in a huff at any time.

      • Nick says:

        I try to be nice to people who I’ve been, uh, short with recently; depending on what you mean by attacking and cooperating, I don’t think you’re necessarily unusual there.

      • Matt M says:

        In a realpolitik sense, I think modern society actively encourages something resembling “seize upon opportunities to publicly be nice to the (more acceptable elements of) the enemy tribe in order to prove you aren’t some hyper-partisan extremist.” And I think a place like SSC, that tries to present itself as a largely neutral field wherein the dominant tribe is supposed to be grey, passively or implicitly encourages that even further.

        Which is bad if people are only doing it as a strategy to advance their CW goals, but good if they’re just doing it to not be a jerk. Without telepathy it’s probably impossible to know which is which in any given case, so I try to just assume good intentions here.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Hi Matt, glad you’re back and glad to be back myself. Scott, in his infinite mercy, has unbanned me. I hope that applied to dick to.

      I promise to be good now. I’m a new man! A changed Honcho! Nothing but flowers, sunshine and charity charity charity from here on out!

      To those of you I offended, I sincerely apologize. And Aftagley, I do not hate you or anyone else on this forum. I like you all very much and missed you a lot.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Welcome back.

      • Nick says:

        Welcome back, Conrad.

      • albatross11 says:

        Welcome back!

      • Matt M says:

        I, also, am endeavoring to “clean up my act” a bit to avoid an additional ban.

        I would actively appreciate community assistance in this. If you see me post something that you think might get me banned, please reply and say “Hey, this might get you banned, you should probably delete this comment” and I probably will.

        • Nick says:

          I always tried to push back when I thought you were saying ridiculous things. Was I not doing this enough? Was I not clear? I’ll try to be blunter about it in the future.

        • Plumber says:

          Glad to see you back Matt M,

          In retrospect of some ill thought previous posts of mine I don’t know how I’ve avoided a ban myself, so I doubt I have any good advice on that score, but I do request not using [blockquote] for deeply “nested” subthread ‘ (especially long quotes) ’cause those are too narrow to read.

          Otherwise congratulations on the fiance that plays boardgames with you, that’s a previous gift!

        • HeelBearCub says:

          If you see me post something that you think might get me banned

          Allow me to offer that this is, in my opinion, precisely the wrong way to think about it. For whatever that is worth.

        • quanta413 says:

          I think it could be easier for you in one way but harder in another. If you write something short and snarky, just delete it before posting it. I don’t remember you writing many giant flaming screeds. So on the one hand, there’s not much time for you to realize “wait, there is not much content here”. But on the other hand, you don’t seem to have a burning desire to go on a rant very often.

          • Matt M says:

            Honestly, one of the biggest difficulties for me here is that I have a *really* hard time predicting which sorts of comments will trigger a ban and which won’t. If I were to make a list of my “Top 20 worst comments”, I don’t think any of the ones that Scott has cited as examples of why I needed to be banned would make it, IMO.

            I’m not trying to complain about that. It’s Scott’s site and he can do what he wants. He owes me nothing. Just makes it somewhat tricky when it seems pretty non-intuitive as to what triggers a ban and what doesn’t.

      • J Mann says:

        Welcome!

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Thanks everyone, and thanks for all the supportive comments over the past few months. I didn’t actually go anywhere, I still read everything, I was just unable to tell you all how wrong you are about everything 😉

        • Nick says:

          I hope you enjoyed the Christmas songs thread from last week.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            There was a Christmas songs thread!?

            I no longer have time even to skim every open thread (the days when they were short enough and my time abundant enough to read every open thread are long gone), and I hate that it means I miss out on things like this.

          • Nick says:

            @Chevalier Mal Fet
            Here. You’ll have to just hide the giant IQ thread that spawned inside of it to get to the rest of the discussion.

          • Randy M says:

            You’ll have to just hide the giant IQ thread that spawned inside of it to get to the rest of the discussion.

            Ah, this is the most SSC thing ever.

            Other than, perhaps, the number of people chiming in to the ACC thread to point out that they actually aren’t opposed to extinction.

      • AliceToBob says:

        Wow. Welcome back!

      • Plumber says:

        Glad to see you back Conrad Honcho,

      • quanta413 says:

        Welcome back. I look forward to your flowers.

        Do us a favor and try some trick like writing some of your more strident responses in notepad or word first and then waiting an hour. Then edit them to be nicer before posting.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          This is a very good idea. Thank you. I know you weren’t super thrilled about me coming back but I promise to make it up to you by delivering quality posts in a not unpleasant tone.

        • Nick says:

          Evergreen advice. It’s also worth emphasizing that if you (generic you) regret something you say after saying it, take it back. Use the strikethrough button on it, if you’d rather not pretend you never said it.

    • aristides says:

      I’ll add that I’m against lifetime ban except for obvious spam and trolls (indefinite is fine since it might encourage more reflection). Do make sure to hold Dick, Conrad Honcho, and even my favorite commenter, Deiseach, on a shorter lease, and add 3 more months to the bans if necessary.

    • AliceToBob says:

      Welcome back, Matt M.

      Striking this out, since a lot seems to have changed since the start of this thread.

      Re dick, I think it’s a nice sentiment, but it seems too messy to keep track of whether someone has adequately counterbalanced their crappy behavior/comments with their nice behavior/comments. It almost certainly wouldn’t be a scalable policy.

      I wish there was some way to “resurrect” commenters, something easy to verify, and high-cost for the “petitioner”. Donations to a registered charity, for example. But I suspect such a policy would require more effort in terms of moderation/verification than is available.

  21. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing Links Post:

    NTDS, the Naval Tactical Data System, was the first operational seagoing tactical information system, capable of sharing contacts across a task force.

    Two years ago, I visited the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, and have finally gotten around to putting up a review.

    The saga of Billy Mitchell and his battle with the Navy over airpower in the 1920s continues with a look at the first of the famous bombing tests.

    Lastly, my investigation of modern aerial weapons continues with short-range missiles, mostly Maverick and Hellfire.

  22. TracingWoodgrains says:

    Are there any Bay Area meetups the week of Christmas? I’m going to be spending the week there, and it would be cool to meet some of the rationalist community while I’m around.

  23. urm0m says:

    Howdy!
    First-time posting, long-time reader of SSC, which I originally found through a link on Hacker News to the post I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup.

    Glad to be here.

  24. Emma_B says:

    Hello,
    Would anyone here be interested in an exchange of French-English conversation?

    I am Emma, a 46-year-old French woman who lives near Paris, France. I lived in the USA for two years but it was quite a long time ago. Now my spoken English has deteriorated horribly, and I would like to work on it. I’m looking for someone who would be interested in English/French conversation exchanges. I was thinking for example of Skype discussion sessions where we would alternate the two languages.

    I like SlatestarCodex obviously. More generally, I enjoy science (I am a professor of genetics in one of Paris’Universities). I also love literature, I am specially found of science fiction, and nature.

    If you think that you might be interested, please email me at emmaSlateStarCodex@gmail.com !

    • Murphy says:

      Bot test given the name[websitename]@gmail email address and bio that would fit on almost any community:

      ROT13: grfgvat grfgvat ner lbh n uhzna?

      • Emma_B says:

        Hum, I do realize that my message was quite a bit on the bland side ( I deliberately cited common interests because they seemed to me easier to discuss), but I can promise that I’m not a robot and I am reasonably certain that I would be able to pass the Turing test!

        And yes, this email adress is the one I made to suscribe to SSC a few years ago, not my primary email adress, is that really shocking?

        (Also I clicked Report instead of Reply to your message by mistake -and then I clicked Report for mine when trying to undo the Report, oops).

      • bzium says:

        Eh, should’ve asked about the thing with the turtle.

    • Reasoner says:

      I’m not keen on learning French, but I just wanted to say you sound cool and I hope you stick around 🙂

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Seconding this. What’s it like being a female STEM professor in Parisian academia? We outsiders tend to stereotype French academics as being on the cutting edge of nonsense, and your experiences as a professor of genetics would be a very interesting contrast.

        • Ant says:

          Maybe the outsiders should use a lot less stereotype then. If your reference are about French sociologist, they were active at the same point in time as the separate but equal doctrine. What would you think of someone who bases its view of current USA politics with the politics of the USA in the 60 (in fact, it’s even worse because those sociologist seem to be far more influential in the USA than in France, and their influence in the USA seems very limited).

          Now, there are a lot of nonsense in France (psychoanalyst and homeopathy are still very popular, GMOs are banned), but I wouldn’t look for it in academia, and especially not in STEM academia.

  25. Murphy says:

    re: the mockup, any samples of how comments would be formatted?

    Currently they nested comments get mangled on small screens. If the new version fixes that then it’s got my vote.

    • onodera says:

      Yes. This, please. I don’t read the comments only because they grow frustratingly narrow.

      Nix the avatars and let the boxes keep their full width if you’re on mobile (so they are shifted and not shrunk). Horizontal scrolling is torture on PCs, but great on phones.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        My web UI skills are becoming out-of-date, but there are adaptive layouts that do exactly stuff like that when the screen becomes sufficiently narrow.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Nix the avatars and let the boxes keep their full width if you’re on mobil

        Ideal, if practical, would be for the avatar to live inside the comment box next to the author name and timestamp lines. That way, the avatar’s still there, but it isn’t taking horizontal space away from the comment body text.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          That seems like a good solution, there’s plenty of room on the right for the name and timestamp to be pushed over.

      • Nick says:

        I’m fine with avatars disappearing if the screen width is thin enough, but I like my avatar, dammit, and I want it to stay on wider widths.

    • albatross11 says:

      +1

      Reading the comment threads on a cellphone is pretty-much hopeless. I wish there were a way to toggle between the common indented thread view and some view that just gave you a number for how far into the thread you were, like [ 3] or [14] or something. That would also be nice for comments that go past the nesting limit.

  26. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’m in the middle of Walter Jon Williams’ _The Accidental War_, and there’s a plausible financial crisis which may be of interest. It’s the fifth book in his Praxis series. I’d call it decent rather than spectacular, but it’s interesting enough that I’m still reading it.

    • J Mann says:

      Thanks – I didn’t know there was another one out!

    • HarmlessFrog says:

      He apparently consulted with experts to craft it.

      • Matt M says:

        Given how generally unsuccessful the designated “experts” are at forecasting and diagnosing economic indicators/outcomes, I’d be pretty interested to know which supposed experts he consulted.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          The collapse is the result of bad/fraudulent investments coming to light, followed by bankruptcies, unwillingness to lend, unemployment, and riots.

          So far as I know, the experts in the real world failed to realize how much there was in the way of bad investments.

  27. caryatis says:

    Scott, have you considered listing a geographical area along with the first name of the person banned? Especially with names as common as Michael and Robert…

    • Reasoner says:

      I also wanted to highlight the fact that all of the in-person bans appear to be indefinite? Maybe that was a deliberate and considered choice, but if not… people do change. If it’s been X years since someone did something bad, and they appear to be contrite about the bad thing they did in the past, maybe it’s OK to give them another chance? Same reason prison sentences are not always lifelong.

  28. Dacyn says:

    Since we are talking about redesigning the layout, and since I don’t know if there is a better way to submit a bug report: I use the “Reverse order [of comments]” feature, but whenever I post a comment, the comments get set back to the default order. I have to go to the top, hit “Reverse order” again, and then search for the comment I just posted, in order to continue reading with reversed comments. This seems like undesirable behavior.

    • albatross11 says:

      IMO the most useful feature would be an automatic way to search on peoples’ names, and get back posts in chronological order (last 10, last 25, last 50, etc.). This is really useful for maintaining a consistent reputation on the site, which is a major incentive for lots of people to add value. (That is, I assume that even if, say, John Schilling is in a really bad mood today and feels like doing some shitposting to stir up trouble, he would prefer to maintain his reputation as a consistently smart and interesting poster.)

      • Nick says:

        One thing to keep in mind is that there are tradeoffs to making users’ posts more searchable. It makes it easier to dig up regrettable things people have said, for instance.

    • CatCube says:

      @eigenmoon posted a workaround that I think is superior to the “Reverse Order” link on the page, as you can just hit it wherever you are on the page and it doesn’t mess with the URL (so you can hit enter to go back to your posted comment):

      User side solution for the comment order:

      WordPress doesn’t let me paste this as a link, so here it is as text. Create a new bookmark, paste this as the URL:

      javascript:(function(){t=document.getElementsByClassName(“depth-1”);k=[];n=t.length;r=t[0].parentNode;for(i=0;i<n;i++)k.push(r.removeChild(t[0]));for(i=0;i<n;i++)r.appendChild(k[n-i-1])})()

      Click on the bookmark to flip the order.

      Back to me: I keep saying that I’m going to learn how to use Tampermonkey to run this code automagically when I visit an open thread, but I’ve got other irons in the fire (LS-Dyna, now) and I don’t have time to figure out why “just copy this into a script” doesn’t work.

      • Dacyn says:

        Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be working… it works for the first few comment threads and then the subsequent ones appear to be in a random order (which is different when I reload the page). Thanks anyway,

  29. Alex Zavoluk says:

    Is there a mockup for the redesign that includes comment threads? Those seem like most important thing to me, since they’re currently somewhat hard to follow and suffer more from being in a narrow space.

  30. thevoiceofthevoid says:

    Welcome to anyone who might have come here from the recent installment of Wait But Why’s series on politics! (This will instantly get buried, but maybe if someone does a control-F for “wait but why” or “waitbutwhy” they’ll see it.) Since this is the “culture-war-free” thread (i.e. the publicly visible one where discussion of hot-button political topics is banned), we may want to postpone discussion of that particular article until the next, hidden open thread.

    • Emma_B says:

      What did you think of it? For my part, I found it intersting but seeminly naive (and sometimes just plain wrong) but my understanding of politics is extremely limited.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        I loved Tim’s style as always, but in SSC terms, he goes full-on mistake theory. While I tend to agree that people who are thinking more higher-mindedly about politics do tend to be motivated by a desire for a more perfect nation/community/world, there are unfortunately a good number of two-monkeys-one-banana situations in politics. He touches on this with the “circles of concern” section, but kind of glosses over what happens when there’s truly a zero-sum game. Tim implies that high-minded conservatism reminds us to “not forget about” the community level and high-minded progressivism reminds us to “not forget about” the global level, but unfortunately sometimes you have to make a decision that directly trades off between those. Local autonomy or federal authority on issue X? Raise federal taxes to fund Y project, or leave more money in the hands of individuals? And so on. In Tim’s “what is / what should be / how to get there” division of areas of debate, the nasty disagreements are in the “what should be” category, and by framing things as “climbing the mountain together” he overlooks some fundamental disagreements about which mountain to climb.

        However, the high-minded metaphors aren’t too far off (he acknowledges zero-sum tug of wars), and the core high-rung / low-rung distinction seems to perfectly capture the difference between e.g. political debates here on ssc (the ones that don’t lead to an array of bans, at least) and those on a youtube comment section. Tim’s journey out of “Political Disney World” reminded me of my own transition from “Yay Republicans, Boo Democrats!” to “Huh, I disagree with each party on some major issues, maybe I’m a libertarian or something.” And cartoon weak man machine and motte and baileys were wonderful.

        Which parts did you think were just plain wrong?

        • Plumber says:

          @thevoiceofthevoid >

          “…Which parts did you think were just plain wrong?…”

          Seemed too optimistic about education leading to moderate views, when usually the educated are more partisan than average.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            That’s not quite what he’s arguing. Tim hypothesizes that more higher-minded thinking probably leads to more moderate political views, and that isn’t the same as more education. In “The Some Actual Science Agrees That We Suck at Politics Blue Box”, he explicitly acknowledges that people with greater educational attainment can be more partisan:

            So for controversial science-related issues that were not politically polarized, more education meant less dogmatism—which seems intuitive. But when the science-related controversies were politically (or religiously) polarized, that correlation went away, and their beliefs simply lined up with their tribal alliance. In our terms: well-educated people are likely to be high-rung thinkers…until the topic is politically or religiously polarized, at which point they drop down the ladder and become obedient partisans like anybody else.

            This study from the Pew research center seems to agree: the number of people with mixed political views decreases with higher educational attainment as the number of “consistently liberal” [meaning progressive/Democrat-aligned here] people goes up. (Number of conservatives remains about constant.)

            So, there’s no real proof of Tim’s “St. Louis Arch” theory, but if you think education != higher-mindedness then there’s no real disproof either. I think he simplifies a bit too much; I suspect higher-mindedness leads to more agreement on “what is”, similar distribution of “what should be”, and a more uniform spread on “how to get there” (as well as more zany ideas off the traditional spectrum). Of course I don’t have any evidence of that besides anecdote either.

        • Reasoner says:

          It may be that there are situations which are inescapably zero sum, but lately political rhetoric in the US has been about finding a zero sum framing for every situation. Thinking creatively about the possibility of positive sum solutions is sorely missing in my opinion.

          • Aapje says:

            IMO, lots of this is because the concerns of the other side are simply dismissed. I think that is largely orthogonal to zero sum or positive sum.

            If the desires of the other side are simply dismissed, you see deleterious effects for both zero sum and positive sum thinking. In the former case, you see a desire for silencing and otherwise disempowering people. In the latter case, you see that people try to find positive sum solution for all people whose concerns they see as valid, which then ignores a lot of concerns.

        • Emma_B says:

          “by framing things as “climbing the mountain together” he overlooks some fundamental disagreements about which mountain to climb.”
          I love the way you put it!

          “Which parts did you think were just plain wrong?”
          Like Plumber, I was unconvinced by the idea that higher-minded thinking leads to less partisanship, because I read that higher IQ/education is frequently associated with more polarized opinions. More generally, I’m not convinced that there is really a hierarchy of thinking as described by Tim. For me he is describing difference of personnality, attachment to in group versus attachment to truth, but not a hierarchy. That being said, it is in fact mainly a quibble on semantics. Coming from a leftist background, I was especially interested by the parts on the value of conservative thinking.

          I also love Tim Urban’s writing in general, which I always find very interesting, funny, and engaging. Like Scott, Tim Urban gives the impression of both an extremely intelligent and extremely nice person, which is a wonderful combination! I prefered previous Wait but Why posts to the current serie but it is largely just because I am not very interested in politics.

          My personal political transition is similar to Tim Urban’s but probably less marked, from a leftist/ecologist point that I kind of absorbed and never really examined, to a current position which is still globally leftist/ecologist but with major disagreement of some important issues.

          • Aapje says:

            because I read that higher IQ/education is frequently associated with more polarized opinions.

            My interpretation of the science is that education + intelligence both increase the ability to rationalize, where less educated and/or less intelligent people have a more difficult time to reconcile data that conflicts with their model.

            However, more educated and/or more intelligent people presumably also have more complex models. Then again, complexity is not the same as accuracy.

            If the external or internal incentives are strong to disbelieve the truth*, more educated and/or intelligent people may be more, equally or less likely to believe the truth. This may depend on a lot of variables, including how strong the incentives are, what kind of incentives they are, the quality and quantity of rationalizations that people are presented with, etc, etc.

            * There is also a difference between what people believe and what they say.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            More generally, I’m not convinced that there is really a hierarchy of thinking as described by Tim. For me he is describing difference of personality, attachment to in group versus attachment to truth, but not a hierarchy.

            Hmm, interesting point. Personally I guess the series has the somewhat hidden assumption that you want your beliefs to align with reality (or at least, should want that). This seems blindingly obvious to me–if you care about things that exist in reality, especially if you ever want to attempt to change reality for the better, then you sure as heck oughta have a model of reality that’s actually accurate.

            I can, however, see how “oh, I care more about maintaining my social status and friendships more than lofty ideals of truth” could seem like a reasonable tradeoff to some. But I don’t think it’s a good idea, even if you really don’t care at all about Truth for Truth’s sake. Once you give up on an accurate understanding of the world around you, how do you know that the things you do actually further the interests of yourself and your in-group, that your actions aren’t actually counterproductive towards your goals?

            Of course, there are situations where being fully forthcoming with belief that don’t match your group’s is a bad idea. But as Aapje mentions, there can be a difference between what you believe (or suspect) and what you say. Hopefully not too much of a difference is required!

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      FYI I found this post not by ctrl-f but by scrolling. I didn’t know there was a Wait But Why series on politics and I’m probably going to read it now.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        Haha yeah, after over a year of radio silence (except for occasional tweets and such) Tim Urban has descended from his mountain to continue his time-honored tradition of posting short-to-medium illustrated books as a series of articles on his blog website. As usual, I’m really enjoying them so far.

    • Randy M says:

      I like the bit on censorship and charting thought profiles. Very colorful.

      • Randy M says:

        But dang, people accuse Scott of being long winded? That got long and repetitive by the end. Clearly it’s not meant to be binged.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Yeah, I think that’s probably part of why it’s coming out a chapter at a time. Makes more sense to reiterate for an audience that read Part 1 a month or two ago.

  31. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Random historical fact: Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had a puppy named literally Hitler (pictured on left; the spaniel pup on the right is Rommel).

    • Aapje says:

      Wing Commander Guy Gibson of the Royal Air Force had a male black Labrador retriever called N*gger. The dog liked to drink beer and was the mascot of No. 617 Squadron.

      The dog was hit by a car and died on the day of the ‘Dambusters’ raid on several German dams, a mission headed by Gibson. This famous mission used bombs that skipped over the water surface, to get past the torpedo nets protecting the dams. The success of the mission was confirmed to HQ by sending the Morse code for ‘N*gger’.

      This operation was commemorated in the 1955 movie ‘The Dam Busters,’ in which the dog played a prominent role. This has made the showing of the movie a fraught affair in more recent times, with censorship to remove the offending word. Some versions cut parts of the movie, creating continuity errors. Other, American versions used dubbing to change the name of the dog to ‘Trigger.’

      Peter Jackson has been working on a movie/miniseries remake for over a decade (based on a Stephen Fry script), which may or may not happen and which may or may not change the name of the dog. Jackson has said that Gibson sometimes used to refer to the dog as ‘Nigsy,’ so that might be his solution.

      PS. Apparently, the proper name of the dog is censored here.

      • The Nybbler says:

        If I were him, I’d never refer to the full name of the dog… except in the Morse Code. Never miss a chance to slip shit past the radar.

        • Aapje says:

          I wonder to what extent ‘universal culture’ has spread this meme that the specific word and words similar to it, which ultimately merely mean black, are pejorative.

          Scott himself seemed to struggle with the question whether universal culture is actually good or merely more successful by appealing to people.

  32. theredsheep says:

    This is just a PSA for all you effective-altruism types (and anyone else, really) to consider donating platelets. It’s not something I was familiar with myself until recently, but platelets are in very high demand, and have a very short shelf life (five days, per Wiki) so there’s a constant need. The blood donation center I went to today said they value a platelet donation three times as much as a standard blood donation. When I went in today, they had the option to draw blood from me at the same time they did platelets, but elected not to because the draw technique involved is less effective for extracting platelets than the one for platelets alone. I gather that it’s a question of whether the donor chooses to let them puncture both arms for the standard platelet procedure; if I’d only let them puncture one, they’d have asked to get blood at the same time because they wouldn’t get good-quality platelets out of me and different-size needles are involved, or something. So they wanted more platelets enough to forego a whole bag of blood.

    Platelets can be donated far more frequently than blood–so frequently that, if you do it as often as possible, you’re at risk of getting venous scarring like a junky (or so claims Wiki). Despite this, platelet donations are rare, because the procedure to get them is time-consuming and mildly to moderately unpleasant, depending on your personal tolerances. I’m going to describe my experience today; I gather it’s fairly typical.

    I went in, did the typical interview (no, I don’t have sex with men, have hep, etc.), and lay down in a reclining chair. I got set up with Netflix (which the center provided, on a good-sized screen) and watched the first ten minutes of The Last Jedi–mostly from morbid curiosity–while the tech fussed around with getting the machine set up, cleaning my arms, etc. This was the most nerve-wracking part of it–I kept waiting to feel a needle go into me, but there was always one more thing to do. She put a needle in my left arm, then fiddled around with getting things set up before putting another needle in my right, and starting the draw. The machine sucks blood out of one arm (my right), filters it to extract platelets, and pumps it back into the other arm. After a few minutes, the needles stopped hurting–they just felt like foreign objects lodged in my arms.

    I was effectively immobilized for the duration of the procedure. I could move my left thumb to handle the remote, but my arms had to remain resting on the cushions. My right hand was tied up squeezing a ball at roughly five second intervals, and was tired within half an hour. All told, I was stuck frozen in place for almost exactly two hours. I know this because I checked the time remaining on the craptacular movie. Two hours is slightly longer than average, I think.

    After about an hour I started feeling weird, sort of tingly around the lips, and a bit out of it. This was a sign of calcium deficiency–the machine removes calcium for some reason–so I alerted the rech, and she gave me a pair of Tums. I felt better, though not 100%, within five minutes. As time passed, the sensation returned, along with a bit of hypothermia, which is also normal. They chucked some blankets on me, and gave me more Tums. Shortly after, they removed the needles, and I was allowed to sit in place sipping a Dr. Pepper while I watched the remainder of Rian Johnson’s trainwreck. I got up at the start of the closing credits, roughly twenty minutes after the needles came out, but I think I could have got up sooner. After that I shuffled over to a table, ate some cookies, and rested before driving off to get a proper meal.

    It’s now been two hours since they took out the needles, and I feel a bit weak, but not terrible. I can take the bandages off my arms in another two hours, but shouldn’t exert myself for the next couple of days. All in all, I would summarize the experience as a pain in the ass, but hardly unbearable. I was able to distract myself reasonably well with an absolutely terrible film whose plot had already been spoiled for me. I recommend you research your entertainment options ahead of time, if you donate platelets yourself. You will not be able to do anything beyond stare at a screen. Just bear in mind that this is one kind of charity where individual donations are essential. If Bill Gates decided to tackle America’s platelet supply issues, he personally would be able to donate no more than I did today. Give it a shot.

    • Noah says:

      First, on behalf of a relative who’s needed platelets, thank you.

      > platelets are in very high demand, and have a very short shelf life (five days, per Wiki) so there’s a constant need.

      Has anyone gone through and actually evaluated the demand for various blood products? Does supply exceed it? Does the marginal donation actually give platelets to someone who absolutely needs it, does it increase the probability of someone getting them where they might help, but aren’t essential, or do they get flushed down the drain?

      >If Bill Gates decided to tackle America’s platelet supply issues, he personally would be able to donate no more than I did today.

      Sure, but he could pay people for their platelets. Yes, this is currently illegal, but he could try to lobby for the laws to change or set up a black market platelet operation.

      • theredsheep says:

        I honestly don’t know about the details of use; I took their willingness to forfeit blood for platelets, and the large amount of money dumped into getting blood in general, as a sign that it’s damn important to somebody. But it’s only fair to note that American medicine is full of weird boondoggles and perverse money-sinks.

    • SamChevre says:

      Can verify first-hand that you can end up with needle scars from platelet donation–I have them, and have had to explain them several times. (The fact that they are all in one place makes it easier.)

      Second platelet donations as a good way to do good.

      One warning, though–be attentive to how the return needle arm feels, and insist that something is wrong if it feels funny. The last time I gave platelets (almost 20 years ago), the needle wasn’t quite entirely in the vein–and I ended up with what looked and felt like a severe bruise from elbow to wrist, which took months to resolve fully.

      • theredsheep says:

        Did you get your scars from donating too frequently, and do you know how far you have to space them out to avoid the scarring? I’d love to help again, but I’d like to avoid junkie-arms.

        • SamChevre says:

          I don’t know: I donated most months for several years. I assumed the scarring is from the fact that the needle stay in much longer. It has never really caused any trouble, and isn’t that noticeable–it’s maybe a half-inch of the inside of my elbow (the big vein lines).

      • acymetric says:

        I have zero scars from platelet donation. I’m sure something makes them more likely. That said…

        One warning, though–be attentive to how the return needle arm feels, and insist that something is wrong if it feels funny. The last time I gave platelets (almost 20 years ago), the needle wasn’t quite entirely in the vein–and I ended up with what looked and felt like a severe bruise from elbow to wrist, which took months to resolve fully.

        This is 100% true. Happened to me last time I donated (and after it happens they make you wait long enough that I never bothered again. Was pretty uncomfortable though, and gross looking.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I think, like whole blood donation, I’m permanently banned on grounds of having spent a year in England in 1990. Thanks, parents.

      (Anyone know a way around this other than visiting England? I’d like to give blood for some potential personal health reasons…)

      • johan_larson says:

        My sympathies. I’m banned for life myself for a false-positive test for Hep C back in the nineties. I went to some trouble to try to clear my status, and was told doing so is simply impossible. The rules around blood donation are just incredibly strict.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Since I am type O and I am a sickle cell match, they prefer my whole blood to my platelets (I’ve asked), but I donate every 8 weeks like clockwork.

      It’s an easy and relaxing way to help save someone that takes an hour of your time and means the world to them.

      • Liam Breathnach says:

        @EchoChaos

        Just want to express my appreciation to you and everyone here who donates blood. I had a number of urgent transfusions when my liver failed twice. I have two young girls and I am so glad to be here for them.

    • JustToSay says:

      I want to add another thank you to everyone who donates blood. Thank you. It was a necessary part of the medical care that saved my child’s life.

      And this reminds me of a question I have.

      I’m AB+ and when I’ve donated, they’ve said, “Hey, thanks a ton, but we’d really rather have your plasma if you can swing that sometime.”

      But one time I read an article citing the NHS that says plasma (directly donated or taken from whole blood) from some AB+ donors can actually increase the risk of complications in the transfusion recipient.

      An important use of AB+ blood is in the production of fresh frozen plasma. Fresh frozen plasma is not produced from donations by women due to antibodies that can be produced during pregnancy that may cause a life-threatening condition in the patient receiving their plasma. This means that we only produce fresh frozen plasma using donations from male donors.

      I can’t find information about this from the American Red Cross or anything, but I don’t think this restriction holds in the US. At least, they know my blood type and keep asking me to donate blood and plasma. I don’t want to give them blood that will hurt rather than help someone. And I’m not inclined to give blood if they’re going to throw it out but don’t like to advertise that fact for fear of reducing other donations.

      Does anyone more knowledgeable than me know what’s up with this? Should I donate or not?

    • Epistemic_Ian says:

      On the subject of blood transfusion, you might want to be aware that there’s evidence that they don’t improve outcomes at all.

      • theredsheep says:

        You article doesn’t go that far; it says they’re not helpful under certain circumstances, and in some cases it’s hard to tell. Its conclusion: This isn’t to say that transfusion is useless—just that it’s not nearly as useful as people used to believe. “I firmly believe that transfusions save lives,” Hébert said. “I transfuse in my practice all the time, just a little less than I used to.”

        If your trauma case has lost massive amounts of blood in a bike wreck, a transfusion is most certainly helpful.

  33. helloo says:

    Non-Euclidean is used as a somewhat non-descript Lovecraftian themed adjective that typically means ominous and vaguely wrong.

    But non-Euclidean can also describe a mathematical concept, very briefly summarized as geometry not on a flat plane(s).
    And if we loosen that to simply appearing to have straight lines that aren’t …well straight, then we can see some examples of this.

    One of the more famous examples is the Parthenon at Athens, though could be described as “super-Euclidean” or reverse optical illusion, where distortions and non-straight architecture were used to make it even “flatter” than it would have been.

    There’s numerous optical illusions that do this to some extent or another, though I’m only really aware of this done on a building level is the Australian Customs Service building
    Another “example” I had thought when writing this, is not in architecture at all, but in a shounen battle manga of all places, where some henchmen wore patterned uniforms that made them hard to discern and focus on for both the reader and presumably the protagonist.

    Assuming that this can be done not just with optical illusions and perspective tricks but through breaking of reality and minds, does it somewhat match/refine or vigorous disagree with what you think of the term Non-Euclidean?
    What are some other examples that come to mind?

    • beleester says:

      When non-Euclidian is used as a Lovecraftian descriptor, I’m typically picturing places that are bigger on the inside than the outside, corridors that loop around in impossible ways, lines where you get a different length every time you measure them, that sort of thing. A building where you can’t draw a map of it because you’d need to draw the map on a torus, or a mobius strip, or something weirder.

      “It hurts to look at” or “the lines look wibbly-wobbly” doesn’t necessarily mean non-Euclidean to me, especially if it’s hurting your eyes for a perfectly ordinary reason like the offset black and white on the Australian building. I would use a different Lovecraftian adjective – twisted, or unsettling, or horrifying, or something like that.

      That said, I can think of a few optical illusions that qualify. The Escher staircase is proper non-Euclidean architecture – if your hidden temple has that, you’re definitely doing something terrible to space-time.

    • Lambert says:

      There’s some noneuclidean games and game engines out there, if you want to see what it’s like.
      Rogelike on the hyperbolic plane
      Piecewise euclidean engine/demo

      • johan_larson says:

        If top wraps around with bottom and left wraps around with right, you’re playing on a torus. People have been doing that since at least Asteroids, and possibly some versions of Spacewar.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yes, the original Spacewar was toroidal space. And Einstein would note that even if it weren’t toroidal, it wasn’t flat because it had gravity.

          • Dacyn says:

            I mean, Newtonian mechanics also has “gravity”, which is at least as similar to real gravity as game mechanics. And Newtonian space is Euclidean.

        • Lambert says:

          Topologically, it’s non-euclidean but it is, at all points (except maybe the corners?) locally euclidean.

          I think a distinction needs to be made between nonsimply connected manifolds (maybe I actually mean noncontractible spaces. IANAT), locally noneuclidean manifolds and spaces with singularities.

          Asteroids is in the first category, the hyperbolic roguelike in the second (ok, it’s discrete so you can argue about how meaningful the term ‘local’ is) and CodeParade’s world and Portal are in the third.
          Note that Portal leaves its singularities ‘naked’, doing nothing more than add a orange or blue colour while CodeParade hides his in archways and especially the pillar in the room with the Stanford Bunny.

          • Kindly says:

            The description “locally noneuclidean manifolds” doesn’t make sense. A manifold is by definition something that is locally Euclidean. Maybe you want to say something about curvature?

          • Lambert says:

            A manifold is locally *homeomorphic* to Euclidean space. It can still be curved or nondifferentiable or whatever.

            What I’m trying to say is that there’s a difference between environments that are only topologically weird and ones that are geometrically weird.

            In terms of gameplay this translates to whether the funkyness of the space changes how you move around or only how you navigate longer distances.

            Like how on an asteroids-esque torus world, you still move around as if you were on the Euclidean plane, but you know the opposite edges of the map are connected.

          • Dacyn says:

            For the record, a sphere is probably the easiest example of a simply connected manifold that isn’t contractible.

    • John Schilling says:

      What are some other examples that come to mind?

      Heinlein’s “And He Built a Crooked House”. And the TARDIS, obviously.

      More generally, I’m with beleester. Lovecraftian “non-Euclidean” architecture means literally non-Euclidean; something that physically can’t exist in three Cartesian dimensions, and can’t exist on a human scale in the weakly-curved space-time we actually live in. Merely unsettling optical illusions need not apply, and there had better be no real-world examples for me to point to.

      • Dacyn says:

        Well, mathematicians would call four-dimensional space Euclidean and a sphere non-Euclidean, despite the fact that the former can’t exist in Euclidean 3-space and the latter can. Though I can see a motivation for your definition as well.

  34. Ouroborobot says:

    I have an office politics / career dilemma. I work on a 4 person data engineering team, within a larger analytics department. I’m both the youngest and newest team member, though I have the most formal education and experience in the field. About a month ago I was promoted to senior over my coworkers after making my case for a promotion and letting my boss know I felt undervalued. While a little awkward, everyone took this in stride since they know I’ve taken the lead on overall architecture, solve the toughest problems, mentor the whole department, and generally do awesome work.

    Flash forward to this week. Our director announces another promotion, and to my shock it’s the team member whose work is by far the worst. He’s a fine coworker, and usually “gets things done” from the customer perspective, but I always have to police his work for antipatterns, cargo cult nonsense, and lack of basic standards. I know this is going to be terrible for morale. I feel insulted, because it makes it seem like all the effort and stress I put in is pointless if someone can earn the same thing yet work at a much lower standard. It totally nuked my motivation. My other teammates will rightly be super upset, as both do better work, and one is also a great leader and organizer himself. I believe this misstep happened because both my boss and his boss are basically “people managers” who aren’t technically skilled and can’t tell good work from bad, and this coworker has been working on a death march project for some time that for political reasons has been pumped up as a success. I want to tell my boss he just made a colossal misstep, and I’m concerned we’re going to lose people over this. Should I say something? Keep my mouth shut? Is my perspective unrealistic? I’m leaning toward just shutting up since the ship has sailed, but I’m weirdly bothered by this.

    • Wency says:

      I don’t know how it helps you to say anything. It sounds like they haven’t solicited your input (or anyone else’s); if they wanted to know what you thought, they’d ask. And there’s no way they can walk back their decision now. So best case, they ignore you, worst case they consider this to be ungrateful insubordination and it also leaks to your co-worker that you’re undermining him.

      If you think your work experience is headed downhill for the foreseeable future, maybe start leveraging your promotion to look for a new job.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Assuming everything you are saying is correct and represents the entirety of the story, then you should probably be putting together your resume. You may not fit the culture and it may not fit you. You may not know how to read the political landscape in that environment, and that can mean long term unhappiness. Plus, the boss can’t read their team (again, if what you say is true).

      Potential mitigating factor, if this is an “up or out” style firm, and the person promoted was long in the tooth at the Jr. Level, it may just represent that they have paid their dues. But then, you shouldn’t be surprised by this, so the first paragraph still applies.

      Second mitigating factor is the possibility that you aren’t nearly as good at being in a position of leadership as you think you are, and actually have no idea what positive factors lead to this person’s promotion.

      What you do not do is go tell your boss, unbidden, that their promotion decision was a bad one. What you do is very much based on how accurately you have a handle on how your boss likes to do things. There are many possibilities here, and what path you take very much depends on who they are, and how good the relationship between you is.

      • Ouroborobot says:

        Thanks, I guess my biggest concern is whether this will ultimately break up the team. I’m more concerned one of the other guys will quit and would probably approach it by mentioning concerns about morale. I will very likely go with the overwhelming concensus to say nothing, however. It does hurt my own motivation to keep going above and beyond, but I do feel like my value is recognized and like my job. I also have no illusions of being a great people person – I would say I’m a leader in a technical sense only.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          It does hurt my own motivation to keep going above and beyond

          1) Welcome to life. Don’t expect your employer to be fair or the world to be just. That isn’t how things work. However, the biggest mistake you could make would be to get too cynical. That will hurt you more in the long run. The way I tend to think of it is “Everyone owns their own business, they just don’t know it.” Once you realize that you own your own corporation, and that you decide every day whether you want to deliver your product based on the agreed terms (or potentially fold the business) it increases your sense of autonomy.

          2) If you really want to improve this situation for your self, try understand the motivations of your boss first. What were their reasons for their decision? How can you use that information to maintain or increase the value of your team’s product? If you can help the boss work to head off a morale problem that impacts productivity, that should be something they appreciate. Again, a realistic assessment of your boss and your relationship to your boss is extremely helpful.

          3) Always remember that ultimately, somewhere, this is a sales problem. If no sale is made, no one gets paid. And usually the best way to make sales is to make happy customers (within limits).

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, I don’t know. To me it sounds like there are two different reasons for the promotions: one is Ouroborobot, who got promoted on the “can make the clickety-boom-bang things go clickety-boom-bang” and the other is the co-worker who got promoted for the “can schmooze the customers” reasons.

        Ouroborotbot can’t schmooze the customers and co-worker can’t make the clickety-boom-bang, but you need both types for different roles. If the roles are the same, and it is important to make the clickety-boom-bang happen in those roles, then it could well be simple incompetence/lack of technical skills.

        But if he’s saying that both his boss and his boss’s boss are “people managers” not engineers, that sounds like people managing is important, and that could be why after a technical promotion there’s a non-technical promotion.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The other possibility is that the person who got promoted is great at making the thing go “clickety-boom-bang”, but our robotic friend doesn’t realize that this is more important than elegant or proper design. I’ve seen both.

        • Ouroborobot says:

          Believe it or not I’m actually good at the clickety-boom-bang and also one of the best at working with and understanding customer needs. The coworker who was promoted isn’t known for being particularly good at either. As best I can figure after another day of reflection, he got promoted purely on tenure. In conjunction with my promotion it sends two different messages about how to get ahead, but I guess that’s fine I suppose.

    • Say nothing. Your bosses know that they can’t judge the technical skill of their employees. They’ve decided to make decisions despite that. They’re not going to change their minds based on anything you say. Let them live with the consequences. If you’re still angry, I would suggest writing an anonymous letter to the higher-ups at the company explaining the situation.

      • brad says:

        > If you’re still angry, I would suggest writing an anonymous letter to the higher-ups at the company explaining the situation.

        Agree with the rest, but this is a bad idea. If you want to go out in a blaze of glory, sign the letter. If you want to stick around, skip the letter. An anonymous letter has no upside and considerable risk.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Agreed, if you must write the letter, write it at home. On paper. Then burn it unsent.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Does being a “senior” actually mean anything? I’ve worked in several roles where “senior” doesn’t mean anything more than “you are somewhat competent and you have been here for awhile.” That you weren’t even asked for input prior to this promotion being handed out indicates, to me, that this more a payscale bump than an actual responsibility boost.

      I also don’t know your work structure, but senior analyst does not mean that management really wants your opinion on these kinds of things. It’s also way too late to do anything about it. There’s basically no value in lodging an objection.

      • Ouroborobot says:

        I guess part of what bothers me about this is that at this company it’s supposed to, in theory. I’ve certainly worked at a few other places where it was purely longevity-based.

    • Eric Rall says:

      If you don’t start looking for a new job as others have suggested, take a good hard look at what you can do to increase your perceived value to your non-technical boss and grandboss. A lot of this will depend on their particular personalities and management styles, so you’ll have to pay attention to what they say and do to pick it out, but here’s some general tips that tend to work most places:

      1. Volunteer for tasks and projects that are perceived to be both difficult and important by the higher-ups, but which you are confident of your ability to handle.

      2. Keep your boss regularly appraised of what you’ve accomplished, what you have still left to do, and what challenges you’re facing or anticipating. When in doubt, err in favor of underpromising and overdelivering. This helps your managers understand what you’re doing, and it helps them do their own jobs better (since they’re now in a position to better explain to their bosses where the project is and what the risks are).

      3. Quantify the business value of what you’re doing as best you can, and present data visually (charts and graphs) whenever practical. “Refactored this piece of code to be more memory efficient” is an explanation only other technical people will appreciate, and is vague to the point of meaninglessness even then. A much better explanation would be something like “Reduced memory usage by 12%, allowing us to handle more customers without buying more hardware”, combined with graphs of memory usage vs number of customers before and after your change.

      4. Pay attention to what your boss and grandboss panic over. If the same kind of problem keeps coming up repeatedly and being treated as urgent, try to think of a technical solution to make it easier to fix or less likely to happen. They’re probably getting heat from the higher-ups for these problems recurring, and if you can hand them a solution they didn’t think to ask for (and it works), they’ll have absolutely no problem understanding the value of your work.

    • blipnickels says:

      Have you considered the possibility that you’re wrong? Could you learn something here?

      Did this guy know the project would be politically important? I mean, the customers like him, the managers need to like him, it seems likely he knew the project would be important. Did you know beforehand? If so, why weren’t you working on that project?

      You seem very confident in your technical skills. Are you sure those are the only, or even most important, skills for your position? I mean, if this is really as bad for morale as you say and could lead to 1-2 people leaving the team, your ability to safely and effectively communicate this to your boss is WAY more important than any technical decision you make this year. But you don’t seem confident in either whether you should communicate this or in your ability to do so effectively.

      Could you just ask your boss the following: “Hey, I know X got promoted recently. It kind of surprised me because his code isn’t the best. I’m not disagreeing, I just figure you’re seeing something that I’m not and I’d like to learn what that is”.

      I’m not saying to do that but I’m not saying not to. Specifics will depend on your relationship with your manager.

    • Ouroborobot says:

      Thanks to everyone who replied! I think I’ll be keeping my mouth shut and seeing what happens and how I feel about this after cooling off for a while.

    • aristides says:

      I work HR, so I’ll tell you what I’ve heard hiring managers look for in promotions. There are 2 main types of promotions, there are to supervisor roles or to retain valuable talent with a raise. If it is to a supervisory role, technical ability is the least important factor. I have seen countless times great technical workers that can’t cut it as a supervisor. Often they endlessly criticize others work, and then do more of it themselves rather than lead others to do better. Is the promotion is to a supervisor, you are evaluating the wrong qualities. If it’s not, than you might be right that it was a bad decision. It’s possible they are grooming him for future leadership, but in general, it sounds like a bad move.

      • acymetric says:

        I have seen countless times great technical workers that can’t cut it as a supervisor.

        I think this is true often enough that it can just be assumed in most cases without strong evidence to the contrary. I think it is especially true for technical people, but is pretty true basically everywhere. The best welder isn’t necessarily the guy you want to be the team leader on the floor, either.

        • EchoChaos says:

          is pretty true basically everywhere.

          The short of it is that leadership is a skill and that skill is weakly correlated with other skills at best.

          It’s also often easier to train a leader in technical skills than it is to train someone with technical skills in leadership.

          • acymetric says:

            You might just file this under “leadership” but ability to communicate with other departments/other managers is a big part of it. We’ve all witnessed technical people (programmers, engineers, probably others) launch into long winded technical explanations in response to a question where a short, simple, very non-technical answer is needed.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      There’s a lot of “your boss is probably right, they’re probably better than you think they are” going on in this thread. I recommend being very skeptical of this perspective. Managers promoting people who are not the best contributors on a team is very common and “because the manager sees something uniquely beneficial that the other people on the team all miss” is a much rarer reason for this than “because politics”. It’s worth double checking your perceptions and making sure they’re still accurate, but “boss knows best” should absolutely not be your prior in situations like these.

      The good news is that teams learn to route around damage like that, particularly in cases like you’ve described where the newly promoted person was already a member of the team. Teams rarely change how they interact with peers just because a job title changed.

      The best thing for you to do right now is support the team members who didn’t get the promotion. Thank them for their contributions in team meetings, tell the boss about good things they’re doing, etc. This does not mean undercutting the newly promoted member – that’s the last thing you should do. The promotion decision has been made and isn’t going to be walked back. You need your boss to see you as the “team player” here, and complaining about another person’s promotion will seriously damage that perception.

      Also, polish up your resume. If this goes badly, there are multiple ways that the team could transform into one you don’t want to be on (by the other people leaving, or by the political conflict escalating). Those transformations tend to self-reinforce, so if things start going seriously in that direction your best choice is to bail out to a better company. Cultivate the team members you like as potential references for this purpose.

  35. bzium says:

    Would it be correct to say that the biblical Eve was ur-mom?

    • Eric Rall says:

      I don’t think so: Eve predated the founding of the city of Ur by several generations. I’m not sure exactly where the dawn of Sumerian civilization lies in the Genesis chronology, but I’d expect it to be after the Great Flood (Noah was 9 generations down from Adam and Eve) but before the Tower of Babel (Nimrod was Noah’s great-grandson).

      • HeelBearCub says:

        whoosh

        Just not sure how many heads it went over.

        ETA:
        If IQ is genetic, I guess ur-mom wasn’t too bright either…

        • Sanchez says:

          It looks like Eric got the joke, as he is responding to bzium with a joke of his own.

        • Randy M says:

          If IQ is genetic, I guess ur-mom wasn’t too bright either…

          Ur-mom’s so dumb she got tricked by a snake.
          Ur-mom’s so gluttonous, she never saw an apple she wouldn’t eat.
          Ur-mom’s so hairy, when Ur-dad saw her, he said “whoa, man!”

          • Aftagley says:

            “Let’s move ur-mom out of the wind,” tom said evenly.

          • Aapje says:

            Ur-mom was so high-maintenance, she cost Ur-dad a rib out of his body*.

            * In Dutch, this is a saying that is equivalent to saying (something cost someone) “an arm and a leg”.

  36. Akrasian says:

    I’m finally going to Read The Sequences. What should I know going in? Are there important critisisms of it I should read as well?

    • Shion Arita says:

      Probably a bit of a controversial take, but a lot of the conclusions reached about A.I. in there are less well-evidenced than the rest of it.

      My relationship with Yudkowsky’s work is kind of odd in that I am almost completely on board with the things that he says, with the exception of things he says about A.I. Which is strange, because that’s his ‘main’ thing.

      • aristides says:

        AI is far from my area of expertise, so take this with a grain of salt, but my impression is that his AI writings just aged poorly. He started sequences in 2006 and was asking questions few had thought of at the time. His answers largely seem to be incorrect now, but when he wrote them, they were plausible. A lot changes in 13 years in the AI world.

        • Reasoner says:

          I agree. The frustrating part is that lots of people in the rationalist community still seem to take his writings as gospel.

          (That’s not to say you shouldn’t read the sequences, just consider Eliezer’s perspective as one probably incorrect perspective instead of the One True Perspective.)

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      Be suspicious of the individual psychology studies cited, and take careful note of whether the overall point being made depends on their validity or not. Many of them have failed to replicate, or so I understand.

      Cultivate a spirit of tolerance. Eliezer has a strong personality that some love (I do) and some hate, but either way some of his quirks can wear on you at such great length. Feel free to take breaks.

      If you read the quantum physics sequence (you don’t absolutely have to), read the original one on LessWrong. The editing job on that particular sequence in the Rationality From AI to Zombies ebook is a disaster. It deletes several chapters of arguments in favor of MWI, while leaving in all the polemics about how non-MWI believers are dumb and irrational, making Eliezer look like more of a crazy ranter than he is.

      If you’re religious, be prepared to have your faith seriously shaken, I’m not kidding about this. (But in my case this was because of the general state of mind it put me in, not because of the explicitly anti-religious arguments, which aren’t particularly interesting.)

      Be aware of the Read the Sequences website, created by Said Achmiz, which is convenient for on-the-go reading and less painful to use than LessWrong itself.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        If you’re religious, be prepared to have your faith seriously shaken, I’m not kidding about this. (But in my case this was because of the general state of mind it put me in, not because of the explicitly anti-religious arguments, which aren’t particularly interesting.)

        Your mileage may vary on this one. I’m quite religious and the Sequences didn’t particularly shake my faith at all. As noted, Yudkowsky’s anti-religion arguments aren’t especially interesting – they’re nothing that you haven’t seen before in, say, Dawkins or Hitchens.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          What Yudkowsky offers that Dawkins and Hitchens don’t, in my experience – and it could be be that I’m very idiosyncratic in this respect – is an extremely rhetorically effective exhortation to question all of your assumptions, to dig all the way down to the roots of your beliefs and ask what rent they’re paying. It’s probably true that I was ready to do this anyway on a barely subconscious level, and reading the Sequences only catalyzed a reaction that would have taken place anyway, one way or another. But still. A sound theist cannot be too careful of the books he reads.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          They were a decently large part of my process of deconversion; partly because I hadn’t seen Dawnins’ or Hitchens’ anti-religion arguments before I started reading the sequences. However, for a religious believer who’s already seriously considered the reasons for and justification or lack thereof of their belief in God and came out still believing, I agree that the sequences probably wouldn’t push you into atheism.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            A perverse metaphor that occurs to me: the Sequences are the Mere Christianity of rationalism.

            To be specific: insofar as you can judge apologetics empirically, by the number of converts made and the number of nominal believers whose faith was strengthened and deepened, Mere Christianity is possibly the greatest work of Christian apologetics of the twentieth century. Any critiques of it by intellectuals are, in a way, irrelevant. Eliezer’s work hasn’t reached quite such a wide audience yet, but it’s amusing to imagine a future where Eliezer is known to all as an equal and opposite C.S. Lewis. Three Worlds Collide could be the anti-Perelandra and HPMOR the anti-Narnia.

          • Skeptical Wolf says:

            But what would be the anti-Screwtape Letters?

          • AG says:

            More importantly, what is CS Lewis’s equivalent to EY’s screed against onions?

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            But what would be the anti-Screwtape Letters?

            Maybe Professor Quirrell trying to teach Harry the Dark Arts (of rationality and otherwise) in HPMOR?

          • Nornagest says:

            Onions?

          • quanta413 says:

            Wait, does he only mean eating onions alone or with or on top of other things?

            I’m not sure he’s serious though.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @quanta413, my read is that he thought he was serious… until his wife showed up in the comments on Facebook saying “Yes you do like onions, when I disguise them!”

            (no link because Facebook is, among other things, a memory hole.)

          • Aapje says:

            I wonder what Eliezer thinks the Dutch are signalling when they eat raw herring with diced raw onions?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Aapje

            “Not tonight, I had a haddock.”

            (Herring is cheaper)

          • AG says:

            To be honest, I don’t like the taste of raw onions, either. I do, however, love cooked onions cut into small pieces. A food documentary also recently alerted me to making raw onions edible via marinating in an acid. (You do need to make sure that it’s just the acid, though. Using a balsamic salad dressing didn’t work that well, because the oil would insulate the onion from the vinegar.)

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            Can confirm, a chopped raw onion marinated in vinegar is one of the core components of a great cucumber salad. The cup of sugar mixed in with the water and vinegar is definitely helping as well, though.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t eat raw onions like an apple; they’re basically a condiment. When I was younger, I couldn’t stand them, but now they can be for me the absolute best part of a taco or nachos.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Seconded on onions as a condiment, primarily on tacos and hot dogs. Red are ideal for this, but I’ll use white or yellow if I have them lying around.

            Also, raw white onions are a core component of the garbage plate, Rochester’s signature food.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Raw onions, thinly sliced, are also absolutely wonderful in a banh mi.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I agree with Chevalier Mal Fet; the Sequences barely shook my faith at all because I’d seen most of their arguments before. Looking back over the past eight years, I think his exhortation to question my assumptions actually strengthened my faith in the long run.

          • Nick says:

            Yeah, I was having these arguments since I was like 13. When religion came up in the Sequences, my reaction was often as not, “Is this all you’ve got, man?”

        • Jaskologist says:

          I wonder how much relies on reading the Sequences all at once (and thus being beaten by sheer force of personality) as opposed to in bits and pieces. I did bits and pieces, and so as I hit the parts on religion (maybe those are linked more often?), what mostly stuck out to me was how often he gets basic facts wrong. For somebody who was supposedly raised a devout Jew, he doesn’t seem to even know Hebrew. After seeing enough of those, it made me skeptical of the rest.

        • aristides says:

          I would say Yudkowski was easier to read than Dawkins or Hitchens, so I’ve read more of his arguments then those two combined. It probably helps that Yudkowski doesn’t specify talk about religion, he attacks all prior beliefs roughly equally. His values are so far removed from my own that even though my faith was shaken, it stood firm in the end. Very good to read to cultivate a little empathy towards atheists.

          • Reasoner says:

            I’m skeptical of anyone who claims to have read a lot of a particular author and can’t spell their last name 🙂

          • Aapje says:

            Technically he didn’t claim to have read a lot by Yudkowsky, merely twice as much as from the other named authors. Two times a little can still be a little.

          • Dacyn says:

            @aristides: I’m not sure what you mean by “Yudkowsk[y] doesn’t specif[icall]y talk about religion”, he often uses religion as a go-to example. It’s true that in these cases he generally doesn’t really attempt to make a strong case against religion, since his focus lies elsewhere.

      • Two McMillion says:

        If you’re religious, be prepared to have your faith seriously shaken, I’m not kidding about this. (But in my case this was because of the general state of mind it put me in, not because of the explicitly anti-religious arguments, which aren’t particularly interesting.)

        The Sequences increased my faith. I found myself reading large chunks of them, nodding in agreement, and then coming to the part where he says, “And therefore Christianity is false” and thinking to myself, “Are you crazy? It’s the exact opposite; it means Christianity is right!”

        This is a common experience for me upon reading Atheistic bloggers.

        • woah77 says:

          I relate to this greatly. There have been many times where I read something to the effect of “And we need to be more charitable to our opponents and adversaries. Therefore we should renounce religion and attempt to model more ethical behavior.” And I nod along until renouncing religion and go “Wait what? This is exactly what my faith preaches. If anything this means religion is a better model for ethical behavior.”

          I get that accepting an entity beyond one’s comprehension is hard, but even ol’ lobster man got that there are exceptional pro-social effects from religion.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            I get that accepting an entity beyond one’s comprehension is hard, but even ol’ lobster man got that there are exceptional pro-social effects from religion.

            I dislike the implication that atheists simply find it hard to “accept” God. I accept the validity of relativity and quantum physics* despite the math being fairly “beyond my comprehension” and the interpretations counterintuitive. The issue with God is that the universe just doesn’t look like what I think it would look like if He were real and not just a prosocial fable. As I elaborated on in a previous OT, useful != true.

            ETA: However I’m totally with you on charity toward your opponents being a good thing, whether you’re hearing that advice from a 2000-year-old book or an eccentric dude from Silicon Valley.

            *within the ranges they return sensible values, provisionally until someone develops a Theory of Everything that unifies them and works on black holes

          • quanta413 says:

            I get that accepting an entity beyond one’s comprehension is hard, but even ol’ lobster man got that there are exceptional pro-social effects from religion.

            Faith in God is fundamentally different. Having once believed in God but now not believing, I can tell you that’s really not the issue for me.

            I agree there are obvious pro-social effects though for most religions. Not always a good sort of pro-social (i.e. the ingroup bias can be severe enough that it’s a net loss in some cases), but pro-social nonetheless.

          • woah77 says:

            (i.e. the ingroup bias can be severe enough that it’s a net loss in some cases)

            Ingroup Bias can only be a net loss if your society isn’t homogeneous. As was pointed out in the X-risk thread by An Firinne, diversity for its own sake isn’t actually a good thing. A strong ingroup bias can easily out weigh the loss if the group is sufficiently large.

            I dislike the implication that atheists simply find it hard to “accept” God.

            I meant no disrespect. I just often encounter God portrayed as a caricature “magic man in the clouds”, which not only fails to capture how he is portrayed, but also what the descriptions of him contain.

            I have often found many atheists I have interacted with regard all religions/faiths as detrimental to society, completely ignoring the historical significance of how religion also kept an international society from completely falling apart for most of the last 1000 years. Given, the last 100 years have seen an incredibly unprecedented rise in secularism, the trend of religion being crucial for maintaining society should not be so quickly cast aside.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @woah77

            I just often encounter God portrayed as a caricature “magic man in the clouds”, which not only fails to capture how he is portrayed, but also what the descriptions of him contain.

            I was a practicing Catholic for the first half of my life, so I’m quite familiar with what the descriptions of Him contain. I’ll admit I haven’t read the Bible cover-to-cover, but if prompted I could probably paraphrase most of the main Gospel stories told in the Liturgy of the Word.

            I have often found many atheists I have interacted with regard all religions/faiths as detrimental to society, completely ignoring the historical significance of how religion also kept an international society from completely falling apart for most of the last 1000 years.

            Are you arguing that religion is true, or simply useful? The latter does not imply the former. If you want to argue the utility of religion: I have no evidence as to whether an alternate history without religion would have produced a better or worse society than the one we live in today. Therefore I go with my prior that believing things that aren’t true is usually detrimental. If you’re trying to argue the truth of religion, then bringing up its supposed utility does little to convince me. An analogy from upthread: The Bohr model is useful for teaching some basic concepts of quantum physics to students. For sake of argument, let’s assume it’s the best way to teach it to high school students. That still doesn’t mean that planet-like electrons are actually orbiting the nucleus at fixed distances!

      • Viliam says:

        If you’re religious, be prepared to have your faith seriously shaken, I’m not kidding about this. (But in my case this was because of the general state of mind it put me in, not because of the explicitly anti-religious arguments, which aren’t particularly interesting.)

        Seems to me that the imporant part is the emphasis on Reductionism. Like, instead of debating whether god exist, just tell me what it is made of.

        Now obviously anything composed of smaller particles already feels somewhat un-godlike. I mean, if you assume some kind of “spiritual atoms” making “spiritual molecules” out of which a “spiritual organism” can be composed… well, it seems like the only difference from the usual stuff is adding a weird adjective in front of it. It is basically an alien built from dark matter, not what modern people imagine as a god.

        On the other hand, a vague homogenous mysterious substance, that also magically happens to think and feel and act, without being composed of any internal parts… well, if you have read and understood the “mysterious answers to mysterious questions”, you are already inocculated against this way of thinking.

    • nano says:

      Yes, mainly that the author is an obviously smart guy who should never be used as a style guide, or perhaps be used as an anti-style guide if possible

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      I think A Human’s Guide to Words is one of the best sequences; it majorly refined the way I think about language and doesn’t rely on any outdated psychology studies or niche beliefs about AI. Essentially, it’s an explanation of how people actually use language that all seems obviously correct in hindsight, but still novel and interesting.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I have two of my own, never before published. Here’s the first, which is epistemological.

      Consider our faculty of sight. It works pretty well within the range it’s designed for. But we know it has some edge cases it can’t handle. If you look at a stick in a glass of water, it you will wrongly see it as being broken. You don’t get around that by squinting harder, you get around it by using your other faculties to feel it, manipulate it, and reason about the stick, finally concluding that sight simply doesn’t give accurate information in cases like this.

      The Sequences (correctly) identify our faculty of reason as a flawed, evolved system. They then propose to solve this by squinting harder. They continue to rely on the assumption of Reason as this transcendental insight into Universal Truth which can do everything, but they have no justification for doing so, and considerable reason not to. Your ability to reason is a system which evolved for a specific set of problems, just as your eye evolved for a specific part of the EM frequency, your feelings evolved to help you survive in certain ways, and cultural norms evolved to help the group survive. None of these can be expected to work outside of the original environment.

      You could as easily (and I think more reasonably) take all the Sequences about the bugs in our reasoning module and conclude that we need to balance our use of Reason with the other faculties at our disposal, as we would with the stick in the water. You could adopt other metaphysics that justify Reason as a sensory organ that detects Platonic Truth (note that people like Aquinas could do this in their system, and were probably tempted to, but still didn’t). I don’t think Rationalism justifies the decisions to just throw more Reason at the problem until it’s solved; I think instead that Yudkowsky was a very smart child who was smarter than everybody around them, so that’s the world he’s comfortable playing in.

      • Nick says:

        If you look at a stick in a glass of water, it you will wrongly see it as being broken. You don’t get around that by squinting harder, you get around it by using your other faculties to feel it, manipulate it, and reason about the stick, finally concluding that sight simply doesn’t give accurate information in cases like this.

        I actually had an argument once on SSC about the stick in water example, using the analogy in the same way. Frustrating argument.

      • hls2003 says:

        This also seems somewhat related to Plantinga’s line of argument in Warrant and Proper Function.

      • Dacyn says:

        I think the word “Reason” is being a little sneaky here. I take EY’s answer to the issues you gesture at is best encapsulated in “Where Recursive Justification Hits Bottom“, where he says:

        Here’s how I treat this problem myself: I try to approach questions like “Should I trust my brain?” or “Should I trust Occam’s Razor?” as though they were nothing special—or at least, nothing special as deep questions go.

        So, EY’s epistemology is fundamentally based on reasoning “not in a special way”. Notice that “I should trust my brain” and “I should trust Occam’s Razor” cannot possibly be theorems of logic, for there are no premises to derive them from. Instead he must be saying essentially that they appeal intuitively to him (if he thinks about it “not in a special way”) and that is why he believes them.

        I think for EY “reasoning” basically means “the stuff that goes into an epistemology”. Now you want to talk about “Reason” as some abstract force which would only be part of this stuff. I do not see what distinction you are drawing. The logic/intuition dichotomy is a common one but it seems to be not what you mean here.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        You could as easily (and I think more reasonably) take all the Sequences about the bugs in our reasoning module and conclude that we need to balance our use of Reason with the other faculties at our disposal, as we would with the stick in the water.

        I don’t think I understand this. What do we have besides reason? I mean, obviously we have feelings and intuitions and values and desires – but the Sequences don’t recommend ignoring any of those, and we need reason to guide us in using them.

        • woah77 says:

          We have Reality. Reason has errors (due to predictive models and prescriptive models assigning significance where none should exist). You need to compare your Reason against Reality to validate it.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            Well…yes. But that’s the whole point of the Sequences. Repeating it is hardly a critique of them.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I’m definitely not claiming to have an answer; this is a big, ongoing topic in philosophy. I am however, fond of the Anglicans’ formulation of a three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, which all uphold and critique each other.*

          I agree with Yud that our reasoning faculties are flawed; that’s why I find it so disappointing that his solution is to pile the Reason higher, which I believe just multiplies the errors. This is a problem we encounter in all kinds of areas, and our usual fix is to balance one imperfect system with another, letting the strengths of one fill in where the other is weak. I don’t think Yud succeeds in establishing why his solution succeeds in working around the flaws he describes, or even demonstrates that he really understands the deeper problem.

          * An aside: “Scripture” can be more broadly understood as “Divine Revelation.” The men who “invented” science were using a model very much like this. They saw Scripture as one book written by God, and Creation as another. So they essentially decided to apply the same model to the physical world, using a triad of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. The success of the Scientific model so far is a testament to the robustness of this approach.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            EDIT: It occurs to me that the “culture war-free” open thread might not be the best place for my passionate takedown of Christianity. Relocating my thoughts to a top-level post in the new hidden OT.

          • Dacyn says:

            Sorry I didn’t see this until now. I think my response is not as CW as u/thevoiceofthevoid’s so I will post it here.

            Scripture and tradition are only useful sources of information to the extent that they are trustworthy. But that means they can’t be used to evaluate their own trustworthiness. As I explained above, EY’s solution to analyze such fundamental and potentially circular questions is to proceed as though they are “nothing special” — basically use intuition, together with tools we have developed so far (like Occam’s razor which we already accepted based on intuition).

            I know Mormons advise potential converts to read their scriptures and then see if they feel a “burning in their soul” or something like that (don’t remember exact phrasing). From that perspective, one might be disappointed that EY did not experience such a thing, and therefore does not place scripture on the same fundamental epistemological level as Occam’s razor which intuitively appeals to him.

            But I know most Christians think Mormons are weird, so I’m not exactly sure what else you wanted to happen here. Maybe you want strong social pressures to cause people to treat scripture and tradition as fundamental to their epistemology?

            I do agree that EY appears to have a tendency to distance himself from others in the process of forming his beliefs, which is perhaps not wholly healthy. (I would say that you should only distance yourself from others when the others turn out to be wrong, as in the case of religion 😛 )

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        They continue to rely on the assumption of Reason as this transcendental insight into Universal Truth which can do everything…. You could adopt other metaphysics that justify Reason as a sensory organ that detects Platonic Truth (note that people like Aquinas could do this in their system, and were probably tempted to, but still didn’t). I don’t think Rationalism justifies the decisions to just throw more Reason at the problem until it’s solved…

        I feel like you’re talking about the kind of “Reason” that Yudkowsky explicitly disavows–the “sit in your armchair with the blinds closed and try to think up profound Platonic Truths about the universe” variety. Instead, he very clearly advocates the “Actually go outside and look at the thing you’re trying to reason about, from multiple angles if possible” brand of reasoning. Which…seems like a pretty good way of figuring stuff out to me.

        You could as easily (and I think more reasonably) take all the Sequences about the bugs in our reasoning module and conclude that we need to balance our use of Reason with the other faculties at our disposal, as we would with the stick in the water.

        What particular “other faculties at our disposal” do you think we ought to use, and when and why do you think they’re better than Reason at determining the state of reality?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I feel like you’re talking about the kind of “Reason” that Yudkowsky explicitly disavows–the “sit in your armchair with the blinds closed and try to think up profound Platonic Truths about the universe” variety.

          Huh.

          I’m not sure about blinds closed, but he does an awful lot of “If you just know HOW to think the secrets of the universe will unfold before you” opining. It’s consistent enough that I encountered it very early on in my forays into the sequences. Near future adolescent student old super rationalists who can correctly divine the proper answers to fundamental physics problems just by thinking really hard about them. Immediate guesses about what kind of tree is outside a random persons window (I don’t think that’s actually in the sequences). Stuff like that.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            Near future adolescent student old super rationalists who can correctly divine the proper answers to fundamental physics problems just by thinking really hard about them.

            I remembered that story, I had a similar “yeah right” reaction to it on first read. Just looked it up again, the two posts are The Failures of Eld Science and Class Project. Though I definitely agree that solving quantum gravity in a month is…implausible, it’s somewhat justified. First off, it’s a fictional parable, probably not intended to be taken completely literally. If Eliezer thought quantum gravity could be solved in a month I’m sure he’d have spent a month at some point trying to solve it. (Well, maybe he did but was unsuccessful. Or just decided it was less important than AI alignment and Harry Potter fanfiction.) Specifically, it’s set in a universe where a theory of quantum gravity is implied to have been found based off the experimental results available today. The students were trained in relativity and QM, and presumably had access to that modern experimental data.

            Second, Einstein actually did revolutionize physics over a short time by thinking really hard about it, so it isn’t entirely unprecedented. It’s implied that the students were trained “to bring order out of scientific chaos” by solving open problems rather than just manipulating existing knowledge, whereas the scientists of Eld were not. Whether such training would actually be effective at turning teens into Einsteins…that’s a matter of debate.

            Immediate guesses about what kind of tree is outside a random persons window (I don’t think that’s actually in the sequences).

            I have no idea what you’re talking about, and don’t remember reading anything like it? So I can’t really respond to that.

            I don’t deny the general trend of “Thinking rationally will do everything short of literally giving you superpowers.” Actually, now that I say it I feel like he’s definitely referred to rationality as a “superpower” at some point. But I do think he’s consistently in support of making sure your reasoning is in line with reality.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure about blinds closed, but he does an awful lot of “If you just know HOW to think the secrets of the universe will unfold before you” opining.

            Yeah, this. I don’t recall whether it’s original to Yudkowsky, but I encountered early and often the meme that a superduperintelligent AI would be able to deduce all the laws of physics from three frames of video. Maybe not literally closed blinds, but barely peeking through the corner.

          • Randy M says:

            There’s a little bit of a difference between the notion that a super intelligence can deduce great truths with mere rationality and a couple obvious axioms, and the idea that a properly trained human mind can do something similar.
            Having said that, I believe neither.

          • Dacyn says:

            @HeelBearCub: By “Immediate guesses about what kind of tree is outside a random person[‘]s window” I think you are referring to this. But the point is not that you can solve the problem without looking at the tree, but that your reason does not completely shut down in face of it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this message.

            @John Schilling: It is a Sequences post. Like Randy M, I’m skeptical of the argument in that post, but think that claiming something would be true for an AGI is different from claiming it would be true for a human, since we’ve never seen an AGI. So, like Shion Arita above, my advice would be to read the Sequences but be skeptical of the AI parts.

          • Rowan says:

            You say “I’m not sure about blinds closed, but…”, but it seems to me that that makes all the difference. Zero times anything is zero, 0.01 times anything can be anything; it might be overly ambitious or optimistic, but even at worst it’s a different class of error than a proponent of pure armchair reasoning is making.

        • Dan L says:

          It’s not quite a steelman because I actually believe it, but I’d argue that a sufficiently-reinforced version of the argument Yudkowsky’s CEV is making is basically Reichenbach’s vindication of induction: the “Reason” in question is not guaranteed to be justified, but it is guaranteed to do at least as well as the best possible alternative: and this all call “good enough”.

    • strangepoop says:

      Speaking personally:

      Eliezer has probably thought of the first few counterarguments you come up with even when it seems like he’s obviously missing an important point.

      I’ve wasted a lot of time that way, especially given all the criticism that’s available. For the metaethics sequences especially, I thought it was making very clear errors in several places, but after the fifth reread and lots of interaction (I wish there was a lesswrong stackoverflow) I realized I failed to understand a subtle point because I read out of order or because I missed a few key lines or certain statements were under emphasized or I had a problem with the tone etc.

      I think it might be useful to make a list of common points of tension, where the tendency is not just to be confused by, but reject the argument entirely—every one of which I’ve come around to the LW side eventually (which might sound like a bad sign, but it’s interesting that the arguments are very specific and inside-view), some random examples:

      Allais paradox: I’m very glad the community took forever to get behind this (there are 3 articles and you can see Eliezer a little frustrated at the end, but the exhausted boldface there was very helpful), it certainly took me several tries.

      Torture vs Dust specks: this is one that I swallowed quickly because I was already leaning that way, then I read some very interesting rejoinders in the comments which had some very clean refutals themselves, and while lately I’m slightly skeptical, the claims as made stand.

      Quantum and Many Worlds: since I had some background this one was easier. In some quantum thermodynamics experiments for example, any Maxwell’s demons that are modeled are automatically sneakily assumed to be MWI-ish; I remember students’ confusions where the demon’s brain entangled with a state of the world elicited a “but don’t you have to perform the measurement, cause a collapse, to count as knowledge” objection.

      Newcomb’s paradox: Newcomb caused much emotional thrashing, starting from “obviously two box” to “isn’t even consistent” to “obviously one box” to “depends on how you define it” to “irrelevant magic crap” to “Newcomb will slay Moloch” to “Newcomb might solve ethics” to “Newcomb’s at least provides useful insights in interactions between intelligent things”. Reading Drescher’s Good and Real helped a lot, especially all the variations.

      Functionalism/Zombies/Reductionism: I’ve vacillated a lot because this is close to the Hard Problem, but only between 90% and 99% credence in the major claims. It helped that I’d been exposed to these ideas before.

      Free Will dissolved: didn’t make sense until I read it in order with a fresh mind. Always seemed like it was falling short of its claims even if useful.

      Words: hard to disagree here, and yet like many others (including Scott) this was one of the most useful reads, and in hindsight, especially relevant to metaethics.

      Metaethics: a bunch of separate claims that I’m too lazy to go into but this was the most helpful for me (and hardest to understand, some bits are still confusing), because it addressed common patterns Traditional Rationalists fall into, possibly because of “too much” atheism—some version of nihilism or non-cognitivism. Weirdly, properly studying logic helped to keep levels separate, as Eliezer recommends.

  37. Snickering Citadel says:

    Say there’s an intelligent alien species that lives underwater. They have arms. They have evolved to live under pressure fairly deep in the ocean. They can’t swim all the way to the surface, the lack of pressure destroys some of their organs. What kind of technology would they be able to make?

    Some things that seem like it would be hard for them to make: fire, chemistry (the chemicals would float away. Maybe there are ways around this.) gunpowder, heating up metal in order to make tools, making glass, steam engines, electricity. Also some tools would rust.

    • Well... says:

      Depends what celestial body they’re on. Are there hot vents at the bottom of these oceans? Do any of these vents leak gases as well as heat? This might allow for the development of metal tools, glass, steam engines, and electricity.

      Depending on what other materials are around, they could make a sort of water gun.

      They could also use bubbles to great effect, as dolphins do. Or mud, used similarly.

      Obviously stone and shell tools are within range.

      Other technologies are possible too depending on what nature’s already endowed them with in their bodies. (E.g. bioluminescence, fine motor in dextrous limbs, etc.)

    • bullseye says:

      Their tools wouldn’t rust, because you need fire to make metal. I figure they’d be stuck in the stone age.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Agriculture and writing are two world-changing technologies that most likely would be available. From there, it depends on whether they can find some way to manufacture metal underwater or not. I didn’t think there’s any, but apparently Well… says it can be done under certain conditions. If they can’t do it, they are stuck in the stone age. Even if they can though, power generation still seems like an issue. Going from using domestic animals and tapping hot vents for power all the way to nuclear, without any intermediate sources, doesn’t seem impossible, but rather unlikely.

      Also, I believe there’s some theories that the ability to better extract calories from food via cooking was crucial for us to evolve big brains. If so, without fire they’ll be that much less likely to become very intelligent in the first place.

      One advantage over early humanity they’ll likely have is long-distance communications from the very beginning of civilization – they’ll be able to use sound for it, which can be generated and focused even with the most basic tools.

      • From there, it depends on whether they can find some way to manufacture metal underwater or not.

        Conceivably they could find native copper that was now underwater, or meteorites. That isn’t going to give them much metal, but could give them a little and the idea of trying to find ways of making more.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ve seen the notion floated that they might be able to do 3D printing with their own bodies– this adds some possibilities, though I’m not sure how far it can plausibly be taken.

      Suppose they don’t have to do it all by themselves– there’s a land-dwelling species with tech so they get some metal from sunken ships and garbage. How far can they take that? Could they use scavenged metal to eventually have their own capacity to mine and work metal?

    • James says:

      Not a direct answer to your question, but it may interest you to know that John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes is about such a species invading earth.

  38. hito says:

    Anyone here read Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans by Melanie Mitchell? I was already pretty much totally unconvinced about the probability of an intelligence explosion, but gosh it feels like she just administered a death blow to the idea that AIs current animal-like abilities have anything to do with intelligence. Fantastic book.

    • GearRatio says:

      I would like it if you would summarize it for me so I could think about it without reading it. I’m pretty short on time this yuletide season, but I like to know things!

      • hito says:

        It’s kind of hard for me to summarize quickly, but a rapid best attempt: she starts with the history of AI techniques and explains how stuff like conv. neural nets work today. But the (in my view more interesting) backswing of the book focuses on all of the shortcomings with the powerful techniques today. For example, all of these powerful object recognition algorithms are vulnerable to adversarial attacks (change one pixel and you can make it think whatever you want), do a horrible job generalizing outside the training set, and tend to be way off when they’re off. Natural Language Processing is trying to brute-force Winograd Schemas using Google search result numbers to guess the correct answer, which is clearly going to hit a ceiling far belong any sort of “intelligence”.

        Over and over, we see that AI power is correlated with significant brittleness, and we see that understanding of metaphor and abstraction is critical to human thought. She also raises some interesting hints that the embodiment hypothesis might be broadly correct, and existing with a physical body that has some ability to perform micro-experiments on the world might be a key component to generating intelligence.

        Overall, it seems like a.) we’re very very far away from any sort of general machine intelligence b.) if one is created, the necessary complexity is likely to mean it loses some of the machine-like attributes it has along the way – why should we suppose an AI will still be able to add as fast as a calculator, or be able to recursively self-improve like current animal-like AIs? A pair of brain surgeons can’t take turns doing brain surgery on each other to make one another better at brain surgery, because brains are extremely complex and interconnected in ways that don’t lend themselves to a single numeric quantity of “intelligence” that can be optimized – it seems likely that any sort of machine general intelligence will necessarily acquire these same attributes in the process of becoming intelligent.

        • GearRatio says:

          I wonder how she’d respond to the idea that an AI, if limited by general competency as she thinks it might be, would still be better at talking to other computers. Like, it doesn’t have to be good at math if it can farm the problem out over wifi and get it back real fast, creating the illusion that it’s good at math.

        • broblawsky says:

          I have difficulty believing that an AI would lose the ability to do math efficiently – or perform other mathematical tasks – just because it achieved general intelligence; it could still maintain separate, non-sentient programs for mathematical tasks. I can believe that abstraction might be necessary for general intelligence, though. Do you think the book makes a good argument for that principle?

          • viVI_IViv says:

            I have difficulty believing that an AI would lose the ability to do math efficiently – or perform other mathematical tasks – just because it achieved general intelligence; it could still maintain separate, non-sentient programs for mathematical tasks.

            Indeed. An AGI would still be able to use a calculator, and in fact the calculator would be embedded in it even if it is a separate module than the “core” of the AGI, which means it could probably use it much faster and more precisely than we do. Ditto for things like databases, search engines, symbolic inference engines, and so on.

            The real issue is how to get to an AI that can use such tools.

            I can believe that abstraction might be necessary for general intelligence, though. Do you think the book makes a good argument for that principle?

            If anybody wants more references, you can start from “Deep Learning: A Critical Appraisal” by Gary Marcus, or “Theoretical Impediments to Machine Learning With Seven Sparks from the Causal Revolution” by Judea Pearl.

            If you prefer books intended for non-technical readers, then “Rebooting AI” also by Marcus and “The Book of Why” also by Pearl. I haven’t read either, but I assume they explain the same concepts in a more accessible format.

            Deep learning proponents, while rejecting Marcus’ “deep learning is over” vibe, largely agree that deep learning has indeed the issues that Marcus and Pearl identify, but they are trying to solve these issues within the framework of deep learning itself. Time will tell whether their approach is viable. You can watch this recent talk by Yoshua Bengio about what he’s working on.

        • BlindKungFuMaster says:

          All the weaknesses you describe are ultimately a result of the restricted training data that current systems are trained with. NLP-systems are trained with text, it is obvious that they will lack understanding of the world.

          Will this still hold true, when the systems reach the capacity to leverage multi-modal data including video, text, robotic interaction, etc?

          Human intelligence as measured by IQ is causally connected to brain size. Size seems to be a feature that would be really easy to optimize in a computer system.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            All the weaknesses you describe are ultimately a result of the restricted training data that current systems are trained with.

            I don’t think this is really accurate. Yes, restrictions on training data are an issue but I don’t think it’s anything like the biggest one.

            The existing neural nets have zero understanding of what they are doing. They can identify pictures of dogs, but the word dog has no meaning for them. They are simply very specialized tools.

            Imagine giving a person with a prodigious memory a very large table of numbers. Each number has a corresponding set of characters associated with it in the table. The sets of characters are frequently repeated in the table. The person is given the task of returning the appropriate set of characters when a particular number is given.

            That person could come up with some ruleset of their own devising what they would return. This would allow them to return one of the desired sets of characters even for novel numbers they had never seen before.

            No matter how many numbers they go through, they aren’t going to understand what “adjouryuinyyuibuniybuniubibibnyyin“ means. Not even if you teach them that it is equivalent to “jhboihihbihnihsihniyihttddsssyikklpikjhgsf”.

            Neural nets are like that, except they don’t have a person in them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This is just the problem of Searle’s Chinese Room. We don’t know what “understanding” is in this sense. There’s no person inside your brain either; all it’s doing is taking electrical and chemical signals from the outside, doing something with them, and producing other electrical and chemical signals. Yet you would probably claim you “understand” what a dog is.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Will this still hold true, when the systems reach the capacity to leverage multi-modal data including video, text, robotic interaction, etc?

            Even today you can train on videos, which include audio tracks and subtitles. Google has plenty of compute and Youtube videos to play with.

            Robotic interaction, however, is still an issue, and it’s likely going to remain an issue for a long time: you can’t interact with a physical robot faster than real-time, and you can’t cheaply run experiments with millions of robots to parallelize training. No big data, no deep learning.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            @The Nybbler

            This is just the problem of Searle’s Chinese Room. We don’t know what “understanding” is in this sense.

            We do know, however, that this is not understanding, or if it is, it is something totally alien to human understanding.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Obligatory Wittgenstein bullies nerds about language being usage. It never occurred to me until literally yesterday that “hello” doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a word you use to greet people or draw attention to yourself. Other greetings have a meaning in add