Mistakes I’ve made, part 1: greedy altruism

Originally posted on Meteuphoric:

I have made many mistakes. Unfortunately, for some of my older, larger mistakes, it becomes hard to remember or imagine why I would have made them. The alternative position comes to seem literally inconceivable. At the same time, I forget that I ever conceived of it. This is tragic, because for anything realized some way into my life, there are surely many people who don’t (yet?) share my view. Also because any insight into why I might have believed inconceivable things in the past might prevent me from believing such in the future.

So it seems a valuable exercise to recall and dissect some of my errors before they evaporate from my memory. Here’s one:

For almost all of my teenage years, I believed that small amounts of money could be used to save lives in the developing world (an error, but one for another time), but consequently collected small amounts of money where possible, rather than optimizing for long-run ability to earn money (which would also…

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Zendo as a tool for teaching the scientific method

Originally posted on Nick Bentley Games:

Frankenstein Doing Science

Though I have a near-psychotic obsession with games and game design, I’m also dimly aware games are mostly idle pastimes. I wish it weren’t so, because it’s uncomfortable to be so possessed by something so frivolous.

Thank goodness then that once in a while a game appears with real-life value beyond diversion. This essay is about one such game, called Zendo. In fact Zendo has more real-life value than any other game I know, because it is, bar none, the best method I’ve ever come across for teaching science and scientific thinking. I want more people to understand what an important learning tool this game is.

When a kid first learns about science in school, she usually doesn’t actually learn science. Instead her teacher makes her memorize a collection of trivia and calls it science. Then the kid gets bored and stops caring. That’s how it was for me anyway.

This guy's pretty much the embodiment of science education as I experienced it Anyone? Anyone?

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Dynamic Languages are Static Languages

Originally posted on Existential Type:

While reviewing some of the comments on my post about parallelism and concurrency, I noticed that the great fallacy about dynamic and static languages continues to hold people in its thrall.  So, in the same “everything you know is wrong” spirit, let me try to set this straight: a dynamic language is a straightjacketed static language that affords less rather than more expressiveness.   If you’re one of the lucky ones who already understands this, congratulations, you probably went to Carnegie Mellon!  For those who don’t, or think that I’m wrong, well let’s have at it.  I’m not going to very technical in this post; the full technical details are available in my forthcoming book, Practical Foundations for Programming Languages, which is available in draft form on the web.

So-called dynamic languages (“so-called” because I’m going to argue that they don’t exist as a separate class of languages) are perennially…

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Pact Sealed

Originally posted on Pig's Pen:

Well.  That was a learning experience.  I think that’s the best way to put it.

It’s impossible to say anything about Pact without inevitable comparisons to Worm, so I’ll bite that bullet right here and right now.  I suppose what I can say is that where Worm was a triumph, in many respects, Pact was a means for me to grow as a writer.

I should start off by saying that I’m immensely grateful to my readers for reading through Pact and offering their feedback and support.  Pact came to 948,800 words.  We can round that up to 950k words, for the sake of brevity.  It took almost half the time to write that Worm did, and came to about half the word count.  You guys stuck it out with me, you shared your comments, and I was able to make a living as a writer in the meantime.  I…

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Teaching Haskell to a 10 year old: Day 1

Originally posted on SuperGinBaby:

My older son, who is in fourth grade (homeschool) and just turned 10, has been nagging me for ages to teach him Haskell. The desire originates from me learning Haskell and writing a book with Chris Allen. I have told him a little bit about Haskell as I’ve been learning it, and he thought it sounded cool. Today I finally gave in and started teaching him.

Now, he’s 10. He hasn’t really had any formal algebra instruction. He does have more previous programming experience than I had because he’s taken some JavaScript classes from Khan Academy and he’s taking the Minecraft Mod class from YouthDigital, and that uses Java.

We started today with running simple arithmetic expressions in GHCi and then also entering them into a text editor and loading them that way. We’re using the book that I’m writing as a guide, but because he’s 10 (and…

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Postrationality, Table of Contents

Software Mechanic:

Looks like I fall somewhere on the postrationality camp.. Not sure what relevance it has to my activities.

Originally posted on Yearly Cider:

A couple of weeks ago, Scott Alexander posted a map of the rationalist community, and much to my delight, I’m on it! Specifically, I’ve been placed in the country of Postrationality, alongside Meaningness, Melting Asphalt, Ribbonfarm, and A Wizard’s Word. This is truly an illustrious country, and I’m honored to be a member of it.

But anyway, as a result of this map, a lot of people have been asking: what is postrationality? I think Will Newsome or Steve Rayhawk invented the term, but I sort of redefined it, and it’s probably my fault that it’s come to refer to this cluster in blogspace. So I figured I would do a series of posts explaining my definition.

As you might imagine, postrationality has a lot in common with rationality. For instance, they share an epistemological core: both agree that the map is not the territory, and…

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Life Lessons from Machine Learning

Originally posted on Outlook Zen:

What comes to mind when you hear the term “Machine Learning”? A bunch of programmers hunched over their computers in a dark room, working on something completely virtual & divorced from reality? A group of scientists creating a Frankenstein monster that has no resemblance to us whatsoever?

It may certainly seem that way, but you’d be wrong. The accomplishments of Machine Learning (Self-driving cars, human handwriting parsing, IBM Watson) are certainly very technological in nature. But in truth, Machine Learning is equal parts Art and Philosophy, incorporating deep Epistemological insights in order to better make sense of the world. Machine Learning is in essence, a simplified & structured version of what goes on in our minds every single day, in our quest for knowledge.

If this “quest for knowledge” sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo and you’re wondering how it’s actually relevant to us…

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Lint For Math

Originally posted on Gödel's Lost Letter and P=NP:


Stephen Johnson is one of the world’s top programmers. Top programmers are inherently lazy: they prefer to build tools rather than write code. This led Steve to create some of great software tools that made UNIX so powerful, especially in the “early days.” These included the parser generator named for “Yet Another Compiler Compiler.”

Today I (Dick) want to talk about another of his tools, called . Not an acronym, it really means lint.

Steve was also famous for this saying about an operating system environment for IBM mainframes named TSO which some of us were unlucky enough to need to use:

Using TSO is like kicking a dead whale down the beach.

Hector Garcia-Molina told me a story about using TSO at Princeton years before I arrived there. One day he wrote a program that was submitted to the mainframe. While Hector was waiting for it to run he…

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Marital Egalitarianism Is Bad For Your Sex Life

Originally posted on Chateau Heartiste:

From an American Sociological Review research paper, 💋SCIENTISTS💋 (as opposed to feminist “””scientists”””) discover that egalitarian marriages — ones where in practice husbands shoulder a significant amount of the household chores traditionally the province of wives — are arid, sexless wastelands.

This article began by noting that American marriages are more egalitarian today than they were in the past, but scholars have found it difficult to offer a clear interpretation of how egalitarianism has changed the nature of marriage itself. One broad interpretation of egalitarianism is that couples exchange resources across various domains. Moves toward more equality in one area, such as earnings, might thus induce more equal distributions in other areas, like housework, a suggestion that has certainly received extensive investigation. In this article, we asked whether men and women use housework and sex as resources for exchange, or whether other logics govern sexual frequency within marriage.


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