Michigan Meetup Feedback and Planning

Our meetup last week­end was at the down­town Ann Ar­bor Public Library. There were sev­eral com­ments, re­quests, and dis­cus­sion items. This dis­cus­sion topic goes out to at­ten­dees, peo­ple who might have wanted to at­tend but didn’t, and mem­bers of other meetup groups who have sug­ges­tions.

1. Sev­eral peo­ple men­tioned hav­ing trou­ble com­ment­ing here on the Less Wrong fo­rums. Some func­tions are re­stricted by karma, and if you can­not com­ment, you can­not ac­cum­mu­late karma.

  • Have you ver­ified your e-mail ad­dress? This is a com­mon stum­bling point.

  • Please try to com­ment on this post. Restric­tions on com­ments are (mod­er­ate cer­tainty) looser than com­ments on start­ing posts.

  • If that does not work, please try to com­ment on a com­ment on this post. I will add one speci­fi­cally for this pur­pose. Restric­tions on com­ments on com­ments may be (low cer­tainty) looser than start­ing new com­ment threads.

  • If some­one has already trou­bleshot new users’ prob­lems with com­ment­ing, please link.

2. Some peo­ple felt in­timi­dated about at­tend­ing. Promi­nent com­mu­nity mem­bers in­clude pro­gram­mers, physi­cists, psy­chi­a­trists, philos­o­phy pro­fes­sors, Ph.D.s, and other im­pres­sive folks who do not start with P like fan­fic­tion writ­ers. Will I be laughed out of the room if I have not read all the Se­quences?

No. Not only is there no min­i­mum re­quire­ment to at­tend, as a group, we are *very ex­cited* about ex­plain­ing things to peo­ple. Our writ­ing can be in­for­ma­tion­ally dense, but our habit of link­ing to long es­says is (of­ten) meant to provide con­text, not to say, “You must read all the de­pen­den­cies be­fore you are al­lowed to talk.”

And frankly, we are not that in­timi­dat­ing. Be­ing re­ally im­pres­sive makes it easy to be­come promi­nent, which via availa­bil­ity bias makes us all look im­pres­sive, but our av­er­age is way lower than that. And the re­ally im­pres­sive peo­ple will wel­come you to the dis­cus­sion.

So how can we ex­press this in meetup an­nounce­ments? I promised to draft a phras­ing. Please cri­tique and edit in com­ments.

Every­one is wel­come. There is no min­i­mum in terms of age, ed­u­ca­tion, or read­ing his­tory. There is no min­i­mum con­tri­bu­tion to the com­mu­nity nor re­quire­ment to speak. You need not be this tall to ride. If you can read this and are in­ter­ested in the meetup, we want you to come to the meetup.

3. As part of sig­nal­ling “be com­fortable, you are wel­come here,” I bought some stim toys from Stim­tas­tic and put them out for who­ever might need them. They seemed pop­u­lar. Com­fort­ing, dis­tract­ing, how did that go for folks? They seemed good for some folks who wanted to do some­thing with their hands, but I was wor­ried that we had a bit much “play” at some points.

Your recom­men­da­tions on ac­com­mo­dat­ing ac­cess needs are wel­come. (But I’m not buy­ing chew­able stim toys to share; you get to bring your own on those.)

4. The lo­ca­tion was sub-op­ti­mal. It is a fine meet­ing space, but the library is un­der con­struc­tion, has poor park­ing op­tions, and does not al­low food or drink. At­ten­dees re­quested some­where more com­fortable, with snack­ing op­tions. Our pre­vi­ous meet­ing was at a restau­rant, which offers much of that but has more back­ground noise and seemed less so­cially op­ti­mal in terms of co­or­di­nat­ing dis­cus­sion. Prior to that, Michi­gan mee­tups had been at Yvain’s home.

We moved to Ann Ar­bor from Livo­nia be­cause (1) Yvain had been host­ing and moved to Ann Ar­bor, (2) half the Livo­nia at­ten­dees seemed to be Ann Ar­bor-area folks, and (3) I knew the library had a free meet­ing room.

Recom­men­da­tions and vol­un­teers for a meet­ing site in the area are wel­come. I’m in Lans­ing and not well set up for a group of our size.

5. We had 17 peo­ple, al­though not all at once. It was sug­gested that we break up into two or more groups for part of the dis­cus­sion. This is prob­a­bly a good idea, and it would give more peo­ple a chance to par­ti­ci­pate.

6. Many groups have pre-defined top­ics or pro­jects. No one leaped at that idea, but we can dis­cuss on here.

7. Ra­tion­al­ist game night game night was an­other sug­ges­tion. I like it. Again, vol­un­teers for hosts are wel­come. Many pub­lic lo­ca­tions like restau­rants are prob­le­matic for game nights.