# gjm

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• LW ad­mins—Is there a good rea­son why half my browser win­dow when view­ing the LW home page needs to be taken up with an enor­mous map? It’s pretty hor­rible (and some­how pushes the same men­tal but­tons as those whole-screen “why not sign up for our mailing list?” pop­ups some sites give you, though ob­vi­ously it’s not ac­tu­ally very similar to those). I guess the idea is to en­courage more peo­ple to go to mee­tups or some­thing, but I promise it does not make me the least bit more in­clined to do so.

• 15 Aug 2019 18:50 UTC
5 points

Dunno. I don’t think the way it is does any ac­tual harm. Maybe some­thing with “meet­ings” in it, as per Teerth Aloke’s sug­ges­tion.

• Some­how the word “pre­dicted” in the ti­tle (as op­posed to, say, “fu­ture” or “planned”) led me to ex­pect en­tries for things like “OpenAI re­leases ex­plicit model of hu­man util­ity func­tion” and “En­tire mass of planet earth con­verted to pa­per­clips”...

• The Lip­s­chitz con­stant of a func­tion gives an in­di­ca­tion of how hori­zon­tal it is rather than how lo­cally lin­ear it is. Naively I’d ex­pect that the sec­ond of those things mat­ters more than the first. Has any­one looked at what batch nor­mal­iza­tion does to that?

More speci­fi­cally: Define the 2-Lip­s­chitz con­stant of func­tion at to be some­thing like and its over­all 2-Lip­s­chitz con­stant to be the sup of these. This mea­sures how well is lo­cally ap­prox­imable by lin­ear func­tions. (I ex­pect some­one’s already defined a bet­ter ver­sion of this, prob­a­bly with a differ­ent name, but I think this’ll do.) Does batch nor­mal­iza­tion tend to re­duce the 2-Lip­s­chitz con­stant of the loss func­tion?

[EDITED to add:] I think hav­ing a 2-Lip­s­chitz con­stant in this sense may be equiv­a­lent to hav­ing a deriva­tive which is a Lip­s­chitz func­tion (and the con­stant may be its Lip­s­chitz con­stant, or some­thing like that). So maybe a sim­pler ques­tion is: For net­works with ac­ti­va­tion func­tions mak­ing the loss func­tion differ­en­tiable, does batch­norm tend to re­duce the Lip­s­chitz con­stant of its deriva­tive? But given how well rec­tified lin­ear units work, and that they have a non-differ­en­tiable ac­ti­va­tion func­tion (which will surely make the loss func­tions fail to be 2-Lip­s­chitz in the sense above) I’m now think­ing that if any­thing like this works it will need to be more so­phis­ti­cated...

• Con­sider a pizza-eat­ing agent with the fol­low­ing “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” prefer­ence: it has no “ini­tial” prefer­ence be­tween top­pings but as soon as it has one it re­al­ises it doesn’t like it and then prefers all other not-yet-tried top­pings to the one it’s got (and to oth­ers it’s tried).

There aren’t any prefer­ence cy­cles here—if you give it mush­room it then prefers pep­per­oni, but hav­ing switched to pep­per­oni it then doesn’t want to switch back to mush­room. If our agent has no opinion about com­par­i­sons be­tween all top­pings it’s tried, and be­tween all top­pings it hasn’t tried, then there are no out­right in­con­sis­ten­cies ei­ther.

Can you model this situ­a­tion in terms of com­mit­tees of sub­agents? Can you do it with­out re­quiring an un­rea­son­ably large num­ber of sub­agents?

• The MVP de­scribed here doesn’t seem func­tion­ally any differ­ent from an open thread.

The fu­ture fea­tures clearly go be­yond that, and the cur­rent MVP seems a rea­son­able step­ping stone to­wards those. But … is it worth con­sid­er­ing just adding those fea­tures to com­ments gen­er­ally, or com­ments in threads with some spe­cial flag set (which would then need to be set on the open threads), rather than in­tro­duc­ing a whole new thing?

(I’ll haz­ard a guess that that’s ac­tu­ally roughly how the cur­rent im­ple­men­ta­tion works.)

I’m think­ing, e.g., that “con­vert a com­ment into a full post” might be some­thing peo­ple some­times want to do to com­ments any­where, not just ones they called short­form posts. And that it’s not en­tirely im­pos­si­ble that some­one might want to be able to sub­scribe to a feed of all of some other user’s com­ments, though that seems a bit ex­treme.

• 25 Jul 2019 18:16 UTC
11 points

Ap­par­ently “slip box” is roughly equiv­a­lent to “card in­dex” and Luh­mann’s sys­tem is as fol­lows:

• Make notes on small cards /​ pieces of pa­per.

• Don’t at­tempt to cat­e­go­rize them with things like alpha­bet­i­cal or­der of sub­ject or Dewey dec­i­mal no­tion.

• Give them all unique iden­ti­fiers, and al­low these to have a “nested” struc­ture when one note leads to oth­ers which lead to oth­ers.

• Cross-link them by adding to each note refer­ences (via those unique IDs) to other notes that you know are re­lated to it.

Ob­vi­ously some­thing very similar could be done on a com­puter, with many prac­ti­cal ad­van­tages over the ver­sion made out of pieces of pa­per.

I have a sus­pi­cion that Luh­mann’s alleged great pro­duc­tivity (“alleged” only be­cause I haven’t ver­ified for my­self) is best as­cribed ei­ther (1) to things other than his use of a card-in­dex sys­tem or (2) to idiosyn­cratic things about _how_ he used it that are not cap­tured by what I wrote above or by the con­tents of the post here...

• Un­less I am miss­ing some­thing, this post never ac­tu­ally says what a slip-box is or how to make and use one. What then am I sup­posed to do with the ad­vice that “to start the habit of us­ing slip-boxes” I should “start by mak­ing liter­a­ture notes”? I can make some liter­a­ture notes … and what then? What do I do with them for them to be slip-box notes?

It seems like the sin­gle most im­por­tant piece of in­for­ma­tion here is be­ing wilfully with­held...

• I’m sure you took into ac­count things like house price ap­pre­ci­a­tion. But what you said about in­vest­ing the differ­ence be­tween what renters pay and what own­ers pay was mis­lead­ing and wrong. You can do as care­ful and ac­cu­rate and in­sight­ful a simu­la­tion as you please, but if what you say is “peo­ple pay more in mort­gage + fees + taxes than in rent, which is bad be­cause they could have in­vested the differ­ence in the mar­ket and then they’d have got some ac­tual re­turns” or “rent is bad be­cause it’s just throw­ing money away” then you are mak­ing a bro­ken ar­gu­ment and I think you shouldn’t do that. Not even if the con­clu­sion of the bro­ken ar­gu­ment hap­pens to be the same as the con­clu­sion of the care­ful ac­cu­rate in­sight­ful simu­la­tion.

The ques­tion isn’t whether back-test­ing is hard, it’s how well you did it and whether what­ever as­sump­tions you made seem rea­son­able to any given reader. Again, my com­plaint isn’t that your fi­nal re­sults are bad, it’s that we have no way of tel­ling whether your fi­nal re­sults are good or bad be­cause you didn’t show us any of the in­for­ma­tion we’d need to de­cide.

[EDITED to add:] This is all com­ing out more ag­gres­sive-sound­ing than I would like, and I hope I’m not giv­ing the im­pres­sion that I think the OP is ter­rible or that you’re a bad per­son or any such thing. It just seems as if your re­sponses to my com­ments aren’t en­gag­ing with the ac­tual points those com­ments are try­ing to make. That may be wholly or partly be­cause of lack of clar­ity in what I’ve writ­ten, in which case please ac­cept my apolo­gies.

• Re­pay­ment ver­sus in­ter­est etc.: Look­ing at to­tal money in and to­tal money out is fine so long as you do it care­fully; in this case “care­fully” means you can’t just say “If that money were in­vested in the mar­ket it would be earn­ing you a re­turn” as if those mort­gage pay­ments aren’t earn­ing any re­turn. I don’t know how a typ­i­cal home­owner’s pay­ments di­vide be­tween re­pay­ment, in­ter­est, and other things, but it seems quite pos­si­ble to me that more than the differ­ence you’re talk­ing about is re­pay­ment, in which case it could even be that the higher re­turns you (might hope to) get from in­vest­ing the money in in­dex funds rather than hous­ing are more than coun­ter­bal­anced by the fact that more of the money is be­ing in­vested.

Of course the right way to an­swer this is to do the ac­tual calcu­la­tions, and you very rea­son­ably sug­gest that your read­ers go and find a rent-ver­sus-buy calcu­la­tor and try to do them. Noth­ing wrong with that. But I think the way you de­scribe the situ­a­tion is no more ac­cu­rate than the “if you rent you’re throw­ing the money away” line one hears from peo­ple ar­gu­ing on the op­po­site side.

Stock mar­ket in­vestors: If those num­bers for hy­po­thet­i­cal in­vestors A,B,C come from a simu­la­tion you did then I think the ar­ti­cle should say so, and should say some­thing about what as­sump­tions you made. As it stands, you’re just ask­ing us to take them on faith. I don’t find them ter­ribly im­plau­si­ble, and your simu­la­tions may be ex­cel­lent, but we can’t tell that.

Anec­do­tal non­sense: Yup, the forced sav­ings thing is a good point (and pre­sum­ably not very ap­pli­ca­ble to any­one who’s both­er­ing to read a lengthy ar­ti­cle about the fi­nan­cial mer­its of rent­ing ver­sus buy­ing). My sus­pi­cion is that the “poorer peo­ple rent, richer peo­ple buy” dy­namic is an even big­ger rea­son why my ob­ser­va­tions aren’t much ev­i­dence about what any given per­son here should do. But I don’t think the coun­ter­fac­tual is rele­vant here, be­cause the ob­ser­va­tion I was draw­ing at­ten­tion to wasn’t “buy­ers are do­ing OK” but “buy­ers are do­ing bet­ter than renters”.

• 7 Jul 2019 1:20 UTC
2 points

I’m not feel­ing any glar­ing lacks. Of course it’s pos­si­ble that there are pos­si­ble changes that once made would be ob­vi­ous im­prove­ments :-).

I do use the “re­cent dis­cus­sion” sec­tion. I ac­tu­ally don’t mind the col­laps­ing there—it’s not try­ing to pre­sent the whole of any dis­cus­sion, and clearly space is at a big pre­mium there, so col­laps­ing might not be a bad trade­off.

• There is a lot of good sense in this ar­ti­cle, but I have some prob­lems with it. Per­haps the biggest: It ap­pears to be writ­ten as if a house is only an in­vest­ment; as if the buy-or-rent de­ci­sion is made en­tirely on the ba­sis of what will max­i­mize your fu­ture over­all wealth. I’m all in favour of max­i­miz­ing wealth (all else be­ing equal, at any rate) but a house is not only an in­vest­ment; it is, as you point out, also a place where you are likely to be spend­ing ~87k hours of your life, and you may rea­son­ably choose to do some­thing that makes you poorer over­all if those 87k hours are sub­stan­tially more pleas­ant for it.

Those non-fi­nan­cial fac­tors aren’t all in favour of buy­ing over rent­ing. The ar­ti­cle men­tions one that goes the other way, though of course only in the con­text of what it means for your fi­nan­cial welfare: if you rent and don’t own, then it’s of­ten eas­ier to move. Here are some oth­ers:

• Buy, be­cause if you rent there are likely to be a ton of oner­ous re­stric­tions on what you’re al­lowed to do. No pets! No chil­dren! No re­plac­ing the crappy kitchen ap­pli­ances! No chang­ing the hor­rible car­pets!

• Buy, if the prop­er­ties available to buy (where you are) are more to your taste than the ones available for rent. Or: Rent, if the prop­er­ties available to rent are more to your taste than the ones available to buy.

• Buy, be­cause if you rent then your land­lord can kick you out on a whim. (Ex­actly how read­ily they can do that varies from place to place, but they always have some abil­ity to do it and it’s a risk that ba­si­cally doesn’t ex­ist if you buy.)

• Buy, if you get a sense of satis­fac­tion or se­cu­rity from own­ing the place you live in. Or: Rent, if you find that be­ing re­spon­si­ble for the main­te­nance of the place feels op­pres­sive.

Some other quib­bles.

Peo­ple spend on av­er­age 50% more money on mort­gages, taxes, and fees than they spend on rent. If that money were in­vested in the mar­ket it would be earn­ing you a re­turn.

Does that in­clude mor­gage re­pay­ment as well as mort­gage in­ter­est? Mort­gage in­ter­est, taxes, and fees are straight­for­wardly “lost” in the same sort of way as rent is; mort­gage re­pay­ment, though, is just buy­ing a house slowly. That money is in­vested, in real es­tate rather than in equities, and it is earn­ing you a re­turn. (Pos­si­bly a smaller, more volatile, and/​or less di­ver­sified re­turn, for sure; I’m not dis­agree­ing with that bit.)

let’s look at three ex­am­ples of peo­ple try­ing to time the mar­ket. All three peo­ple in­vest at a rate of $200/​mo. [...] OK, let’s look. Where are the ac­tual num­bers? All I see is vague de­scrip­tions (e.g., A in­vests im­me­di­ately be­fore each crash, but how much do they in­vest on each oc­ca­sion? An amount de­rived some­how from that$200/​mo, but how? E.g., is the idea that the money sits there un­til a crash is about to hap­pen and then how­ever much is available gets in­vested, or what?) and fi­nal num­bers with no ex­pla­na­tion or jus­tifi­ca­tion or any­thing. For all I can tell, romeosteven­sit might just have made those num­bers up. I bet he didn’t, but with­out see­ing the de­tails no one can tell any­thing.

Also: $200/​mo 40 years ago is a very differ­ent figure from$200/​mo now. Does any­one do any­thing at all like in­vest­ing at a con­stant nom­i­nal rate over 40 years? It seems un­likely. If in­stead of “$200/​month” you make it “what­ever cor­re­sponds to$200/​month now, ac­cord­ing to some stan­dard mea­sure of in­fla­tion” then the num­bers will look quite differ­ent. (For the avoidance of doubt, I ex­pect that A,B,C would still come out in the same or­der.)

[EDITED to add:] Anec­do­tally, the peo­ple I know who have bought houses gen­er­ally seem to have done OK, largely in­de­pen­dent of when they’ve bought; the peo­ple I know who have rented seem to have had no end of prob­lems. But (1) this is a small and doubtless un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple, and (2) I think richer peo­ple are more likely to buy and poorer peo­ple more likely to rent (es­pe­cially as I live some­where where buy­ing is gen­er­ally as­sumed to be some­thing you want to do), so I don’t think this is very strong ev­i­dence of any­thing.

• 6 Jul 2019 20:21 UTC
2 points

Sure. But the thing I was say­ing might be use­ful (which, I un­der­stand, has noth­ing to speak of in com­mon with what’s on offer right now) is auto-col­laps­ing all com­ments I can be pre­sumed to have read or de­cided not to bother read­ing on the grounds that they were already there the last time I vis­ited the dis­cus­sion. That would be use­ful even on posts with <=50 com­ments. (At least, it would be use­ful there if use­ful at all; it might be that I’m wrong in think­ing it would be use­ful.)

• If some­one’s writ­ing a whole post then for sure they should try to make its struc­ture clear, per­haps with head­ings and ta­bles of con­tents and in­tro­duc­tory para­graphs and bul­let points and what­not.

I don’t think that’s usu­ally ap­pro­pri­ate for com­ments, which are usu­ally rather short.

So, e.g., I don’t think your com­ment to which I’m re­ply­ing right now would have been im­proved by adding such sign­posts. But, even so, I don’t see how I could tell whether I want to read the whole thing from know­ing that it be­gins “I want to ar­gue that this is a huge prob­lem”.

There might be benefit in pro­vid­ing some sort of guidance for read­ers of a whole com­ment thread. But it’s hard to see how, es­pe­cially as com­ment threads are dy­namic: new ma­te­rial could ap­pear any­where at any time, and if or­der of pre­sen­ta­tion is partly de­ter­mined by scores then that too can be re­ar­ranged pretty much ar­bi­trar­ily. (And who’d do it?)

You might hope that a col­lapsed pile of com­ments is it­self a sort of roadmap to the com­ments them­selves, but I think that just doesn’t work, just as you wouldn’t get a use­ful sum­mary of A Tale of Two Cities or A Brief His­tory of Time by just tak­ing the first half-sen­tence of each para­graph.

• 5 Jul 2019 15:11 UTC
4 points

If com­ments took up the whole width of my browser win­dow, I would find them acutely un­pleas­ant to read. I like my text fairly small and I have my win­dow full-screen; text be­comes difficult to read when each line is more than about 15-20 words. (The ex­act figure de­pends on size, per­sonal prefer­ence, how long those words are, line spac­ing, etc.)

• 5 Jul 2019 15:08 UTC
2 points

Yes, I _do_ tend to read ev­ery com­ment on a thread. Or, some­times, none, but usu­ally if I’m both­er­ing even to look at the com­ments on a post then I’m go­ing to look at them all.

I don’t eat at restau­rants with liter­ally no menu. If a restau­rant has a large in­timi­dat­ing menu, I read it all any­way; if I visit it a few times I will get to know what I like. I won’t be helped by a menu that says “Some­thing con­tain­ing chicken. Some­thing con­tain­ing turmeric. Some­thing roughly round in shape.” which is roughly what the col­lapsed com­ments provide. The menu is only use­ful in so far as it (to­gether with my past ex­pe­rience, the over­all look of the place, etc.) gives me a good enough men­tal pic­ture of each dish to have a good idea whether I’ll like it.

(An im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion be­tween vis­it­ing a restau­rant and vis­it­ing Less Wrong: When I go to a restau­rant, typ­i­cally I in­tend to each a roughly fixed, fairly small num­ber of dishes. I don’t gen­er­ally go to LW with the in­ten­tion of read­ing three com­ments and then leav­ing. I don’t so much mind there be­ing no menu if what there is in­stead is a great mul­ti­tude of lit­tle snacks I can try dozens of with­out feel­ing ill.)

Col­lapsed com­ments don’t (for me; I must stress that I’m not claiming to speak for any­one else) give me any use­ful view of what’s available; see­ing the first few words of a com­ment tells me lit­tle, and I try not to pre­judge things too much on the ba­sis of au­thor or score.

Ex­pand­ing com­ments that are new since you last vis­ited is a good idea. If I could get that (on all posts, not just ones with 50+ com­ments; why would I want that re­stric­tion) with­out any col­laps­ing of com­ments I haven’t read yet, that would prob­a­bly be use­ful. I’m in­ter­ested in tools that let me read all the com­ments effi­ciently. I’m in­ter­ested in tools that help me de­cide which com­ments are wor­thy of more at­ten­tion. I am not in­ter­ested in tools that try to de­cide for me which com­ments I will want to read. If I want that then I can go and read Face­book with “top sto­ries” mode turned on in­stead of LW.

• 5 Jul 2019 0:59 UTC
6 points