Chosen Tidbits 6

Part of the Chosen Tidbits series.

100 Ways to Live Better

Any life advice that isn’t given to you personally is not designed to be followed to the letter. Try to resonate with the philosophy that generates it instead. Remember that directional advice (e.g., “be more …”) may need to be reversed before consumption.

If you're not having fun then just leave.

"I know we were just introduced, but I forgot your name." "I saw the email you sent me last month, I just procrastinated and forgot." "This is the best effort I was realistically going to make." Try it, it's liberating.

If your spouse, friend, or family member is doing something dumb but not strictly harmful, try thinking of it as their artistic expression instead of using facts and logic to fail to talk them out of it.

When you're home alone, blast some music and dance. Don't think about your body, just focus on the music. Then do the exact same thing when you're at a dance party.

Get massages, give massages. You don't have to know what you're doing to make someone feel great. Use scentless baby oil, or moisturizer if the recipient is not going to shower afterward.

Don't nitpick tweets, that's the opposite of good improv. - "But what you wrote doesn't always apply because..." Congrats, you got someone annoyed and now you'll just sit there getting frustrated because you expect a response and aren't going to get one.

Stop lurking; write that comment. You know the saying about letting people suspect you're dumb rather than opening your mouth and removing all doubt? Fuck that. We know you're dumb, and you get less dumb by saying things and getting feedback.

Are you really going to give up on expressing yourself, learning from mistakes, attracting like-minded people, building a reputation, and changing the world because someone may someday try to cancel you? They can smell the fear, you know.

If you're moving chargers and cables around, you need to buy more chargers and cables. A girl in every port, a USB-C in every room.

Doctors are human, they have biases and make mistakes. It's your job to be educated about your conditions and the drugs you are prescribed. If you're confused, ask for details or a second opinion.

The Luck Factor (PDF)

Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prohesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

Some Useful Probability Facts for Systems Programming

If an outcome has probability 1/N for each "attempt", and it is attempted N times, the probability it will occur at least once stabilizes at 0.62 as N increases.

Suppose you throw N balls randomly (independently and one at a time) into N buckets. On average, a bit over a third (1/e) of the buckets will stay empty, a bit over a third (1/e again) will have exactly one ball, and the remaining quarter or so (1 − 2/e) will contain multiple balls.

If a group of things are randomly shuffled, a bit of over a third (1/e) of the time there’ll be no fixed points (something that lands in the same position), a bit of over a third (1/e) of the time there’ll be just one fixed point, and the remaining quarter or so of the time there’ll be two or more.

Let’s look at the common “loot box” mechanism. Specifically, suppose there are 10 collector items (say, one for each hero in a franchise) that are sold in blind boxes. Let’s take the fairest case in which there are no rare items and each item has an equal 1/10 chance of being in a given box. How many boxes will a collector buy on average before getting a complete set? This is the called the coupon collector’s problem, and for 10 items the answer is about 29.

The answer to the coupon collector’s problem is a bit more than N * ln(N) (add N/2 for some more accuracy).

The coupon collector’s problem hints at why the loot box mechanism is so powerful. The N balls in N buckets rule tells us that the collector will have about two thirds of the items after buying 10 boxes. It feels like the collector is most of the way there, and it would be a shame to give up and let so much progress go to waste, but actually 10 boxes is only about a third of the expected number of boxes needed.

40 powerful concepts for understanding the world

Ergodicity: A die rolled 100 times has equal probabilities to 100 dice rolled once; rolling a die is “ergodic”. But if the die gets chipped after 10 throws so it’s likelier to roll 4, then 1 die 100 times =/= 100 dice once (non-ergodic). Many treat non-ergodic systems as ergodic.

See another good explanation.

Simpson’s Paradox: A trend can appear in groups of data but disappear when these groups are combined. This effect can easily be exploited by limiting a dataset so that it shows exactly what one wants it to show. Thus: beware of even the strongest correlations. (illustration)

Condorcet Paradox: a special instance of Simpson’s paradox applied to elections, in which a populace prefers candidate A to candidate B, candidate B to C, and yet candidate C to A. This occurs because the majority that favors C is misleadingly divided among different groups.

Concept Creep: As a social issue such as racism or sexual harassment becomes rarer, people react by expanding their definition of it, creating the illusion that the issue is actually getting worse.

Streetlight Effect: People tend to get their information from where it’s easiest to look.

Woozle Effect: An article makes a claim without evidence, is then cited by another, which is cited by another, and so on, until the range of citations creates the impression that the claim has evidence, when really all articles are citing the same uncorroborated source.

Tocqueville Paradox: As the living standards in a society rise, the people’s expectations of the society rise with it. The rise in expectations eventually surpasses the rise in living standards, inevitably resulting in disaffection (and sometimes populist uprisings).

Nirvana Fallacy: When people reject a thing because it compares unfavorably to an ideal that in reality is unattainable. E.g. condemning capitalism due to the superiority of imagined socialism, condemning ruthlessness in war due to imagining humane (but unrealistic) ways to win.

It's surprisingly difficult to spot someone drowning

Socratic Grilling

In a dialog with a lot of questions from a student, it might sound as though the student is nitpicking and/or challenging the teacher, when he's really just trying to understand.

Tweet by Mason

I've noticed that many of the most persistent childhood traumas related to being made to feel unwanted, a burden, the "bad" one. I think they may persist as "chronic mental illness" because being sick doesn't heal the wound of being a burden — being the healer does

I sincerely believe that many western communities are now suffering not for lack of services to be received by hurting people, but for lack of services to be provided by hurting people.

Counterintuitive as it is, next time someone around you is struggling with living in their own head, don't ask how you can help; ask them to help you. If they don't, or they flake, just keep asking for small things. Don't pressure or punish for lack of follow-through, just ask

"You're not so broken that we don't need you" is something that has to be lived to be believed

This Extended Mind Again: We Don’t Know What a Human Being Is via Omar Rizwan

If it is true that… many of our beliefs are actually external to our internal world, off-loaded on to the internet, books, authorities we identify with, etc… then it might be that the project of 'debunking' is of limited value.

It seems that identification with many institutions… is every bit as much a mechanism that binds people to oppressive systems as conscious belief… a major strategy for undermining certain social formations would consist in the question of how to produce disidentification.

Tweet by Rival Voices

Lock-and-key approach to life: each thing it either a perfect fit or not. What is a perfect fit changes with each past fit. TRY a lot of things and ITERATE through trying them really fast (quit early, quit often). Don’t do anything hard, do what effortlessly clicks.

Concept: Kayfabe

Because professional wrestling is a simulated sport, all competitors who face each other in the ring are actually close collaborators who must form a closed system (called "a promotion") sealed against outsiders. With external competitors generally excluded, antagonists are chosen from within the promotion and their ritualized battles are largely negotiated, choreographed, and rehearsed at a significantly decreased risk of injury or death. With outcomes predetermined under Kayfabe, betrayal in wrestling comes not from engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct, but by the surprise appearance of actual sporting behavior. Such unwelcome sportsmanship which "breaks Kayfabe" is called "shooting" to distinguish it from the expected scripted deception called "working".

[Wrestling evolved out of "catch".] Typical matches could last hours with no satisfying action, or end suddenly with crippling injuries to a promising athlete in whom much had been invested. This highlighted the close relationship between two paradoxical risks which define the category of activity which wrestling shares with other human spheres:

A) Occasional but Extreme Peril for the participants. B) General: Monotony for both audience and participants.

Kayfabrication (the process of transition from reality towards Kayfabe) arises out of attempts to deliver a dependably engaging product for a mass audience while removing the unpredictable upheavals that imperil participants. As such Kayfabrication is a dependable feature of many of our most important systems which share the above two characteristics such as war, finance, love, politics and science.

At the point Kayfabe was forced to own up to the fact that professional wrestling contained no sport whatsoever, it did more than avoid being regulated and taxed into oblivion. Wrestling discovered the unthinkable: its audience did not seem to require even a thin veneer of realism. Professional wrestling had come full circle to its honest origins by at last moving the responsibility for deception off of the shoulders of the performers and into the willing minds of the audience.

Kayfabe, it appears, is a dish best served client-side.

Concept: Russell Conjugation

As the theory goes, it is not that we don’t have our own opinions so much as that we have too many contradictory ones, and it is generally our emotional state alone which determines on which ones we will predicate action or inaction.

Russell Conjugation (or “emotive conjugation”) is a presently obscure construction from linguistics, psychology and rhetoric which demonstrates how our rational minds are shielded from understanding the junior role factual information generally plays relative to empathy in our formation of opinions.

Where words can be considered “synonyms” if they carry the same factual content (I) regardless of the emotional content (II). This however leads to the peculiar effect that the synonyms for a positive word like “whistle-blower” cannot be used in its place as they are almost universally negative (with “snitch,” “fink,” “tattletale” being representative examples). This is our first clue that something is wrong, or at least incomplete with our concept of synonym requiring an upgrade to distinguish words that may be content synonyms but emotional antonyms.

Other examples:

You're a Slave to Money, Then You Die

Like the student and other forms of personal debt that prepare undergraduates to say two words — "Yes, boss" — the ideal of the entrepreneurial self serves a fundamentally disciplinary function: reinforcing the precarious nature of work in today’s digitalized, low-wage, precariously employed, and increasingly automated capitalism, one in which you are casually expendable and which places a premium on everlasting metamorphosis: upgrade your skills, your profile, your resume. But don’t worry, complain, or God help you, call a union: losing your job or seeing your skill set rendered obsolescent is an opportunity for "growth," creativity, empowerment. When your own exploitation can be recast as a project rather than a problem—a source of fulfillment rather than an instance of injustice—then solidarity with others can be vilified as conformism, the herd instinct of normies, the last refuge of losers and mediocrities.

The Value is In The Tails

When I asked him why he bet on Trump, he said he didn't really understand American politics, but that it seemed extremely complicated, with random things like whether it rains in certain parts of Pennsylvania potentially being important. If it's extremely complicated and arbitrary, then it's probably also hard to model. The projections he saw had the most likely outcome being a moderate win by Hilary, but since he didn't trust the models, he figured the value was in the tails: the models are likely off, which likely affects the tails more than the mean. So a landslide win by Hilary or a Trump victory seemed undervalued by gambling markets. He wished he could hedge his bets by betting on both outcomes (as opposed to a moderate Hilary win), but the only option he had was to bet on Trump to win.

This logic has stuck with me ever since: in the face of large uncertainty, we're probably getting the tails wrong more than the mean. The value is in the tails.

Choosing The Zero Point

You can decide what state of affairs counts as neutral, and what counts as positive or negative.

e.g. animal suffering: you can define the zero point as "animal shouldn't suffer more than if humans were there" and if you accept it, that makes you a monster. You could frame the zero point as the current situation, and every improvement you make as a net gain.

People Hate Non-Shockers

A society has the following rules:

— Everyone must publicly electro-shock themselves 8 hours per day.

— If you see someone not shocking themselves then you must kill them

— Anyone who violates the second rule must also be killed. The same is true for all meta levels. Non-killers of non-killers of ... of non-shockers must be killed.

This equilibrium can get locked in even if every single person dislikes it. I think similar but weaker dynamics apply all the time in normal life. Why is there so much hyperbolic hate direct against furries?

Most are people are very repressed. Society has a norm that you need to keep ‘low status’ or ‘cringey’ aspects of yourself private. Furries often violate these norms. People feel the urge to punish them. And people often feel uncomfortable even being seen as being tolerant. Afterall tolerators are at risk too!

I don’t claim this is the only dynamic at play. People also like to look down on official low-status groups to feel better about themselves. Notably, even if people don’t intrinsically want to punish non-shockers may still hate them. If you let me see you not shocking yourself now you have put me at risk unless I punish you!


I’ve had several conversations with friends who’ve been incapacitated by the burdensome bullshit obligation to Have A Meaningful Life / Be Remembered / Do Important Work.

It strikes me as socially inherited bloatware that causes tedious lag, which ironically prevents you from being awesome. When people say things like “just be yourself”, I think often what they mean is “be less laggy” – ie, uninstall the bloatware.

Wonderfully, it seems to me that lots of people who end up Doing Important Work often got there by being playful and curious. Richard Feynman, for example, got his Nobel prize from piddling around with spinning plates. And the point isn’t to get the Nobel prize, the point is to enjoy the piddling.

Paul Graham:

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again; you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

5 Jokes That Make People Instantly Like You

Tweet by Ava

“radical honesty” is actually pretty hard because we’re so used to language being gamified that even if you say exactly what you feel people will generally presume you must be implying something else

Comment by Visa

This was the insight that blew my mind around age 20 when I read 48 Laws of Power. The realisation that my social relations were suffering because people weren’t interpreting my words as honest, likely because they simply weren’t used to dealing with someone like me

Creationism Unchallenged

Creationism was cancer and the most dangerous thing in the early 2000s. Yet still as many people believe it. Yet we don't talk about anymore, and it's not been an apocalypse. Talking about it hasn't hindered or helped.

Maybe it's the same with the issue of the day.

I see people using rivers of ink to fight the modern equivalents of creationists. Pizzagaters, flat-earthers, moon-hoaxers, QAnon, deep-staters, people who say the coronavirus is a bioweapon, Alex Jones. Are they sure it’s not equally useless? Equally counterproductive?

Long Term Valuable Output

It's important to realize that what you create when you are at your best will be many times more valuable than what you create at average or worse. Sometimes work created can even be a net negative.

Sleep is one of the biggest factors.

It's also important to optimize your workspace as much as possible. Get a huge monitor, a comfy chair, and a nice desk. Get some plants. Spend the time customizing your computer to make it easy and efficient to use. These are basic things but they really matter a lot.

When you sit down to work, your task must be connected to a goal that matters to you and it must be an effective lever.

When you are at your best and are working on something that matters, that's when it's time to step on the gas and work hard. The amount of valuable output you can create in even 4-6 hours of peak performance can be better than days or even weeks of mediocre output.

Visa's talking points

Earnestness will make you edgier than trying to be edgy.

Persistence: geniuses are mostly just people who are uncommonly persistent in pursuing their curiosities and interests.

Prolificacy is a superpower: if you want to get good at something, do it 1,000 times.

Doing anything for a long period of time (do it 100 times, do it for 10 years) will reveal interesting things, and make you an interesting person.

Sex: lots of people want to be fuckable more than they want to fuck. fucking is labor, fuckability is capital.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are... I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done...

— Steve Jobs