• Survey advice

    Things I believe about making surveys, after making some surveys:

    1. If you write a question that seems clear, there’s an unbelievably high chance that any given reader will misunderstand it. (Possibly this applies to things that aren’t survey questions also, but that’s a problem for another time.)
    2. A better way to find out if your questions are clear is to repeatedly take a single individual person, and sit down with them, and ask them to take your survey while narrating the process: reading the questions aloud, telling you what they think the question is asking, explaining their thought process in answering it. If you do this repeatedly with different people until some are not confused at all, the questions are probably clear.
    3. If you ask people very similar questions in different sounding ways, you can get very different answers (possibly related to the above, though that’s not obviously the main thing going on).
  • What do ML researchers think about AI in 2022?

    Crossposted from AI Impacts

    AI Impacts just finished collecting data from a new survey of ML researchers, as similar to the 2016 one as practical, aside from a couple of new questions that seemed too interesting not to add.

  • Book review: The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

    Spoiler warning: spoilers for The Passenger by Lisa Lutz, and In the Cart, by Anton Chekhov.

    I took up this book looking for a page-turner. It was, but hours before the end I thought its main contribution to my mental life would be the visceral knowledge that page-turners can be undelicious. It felt cold, and getting into its world felt bad. The protagonist slunk around dark and uncomfortable places, killing people, scheming harshly, perceiving low beams as dangers to the heads of tall men, and that sort of thing. With some amount of fretting about what she was becoming. I wanted to turn the pages, but I also kind of wanted it to end, and for me to read something more squarely enjoyable next time.

  • An inquiry into the thoughts of twenty-five people in India

    Sometimes I get excited about running surveys. Here is a Positly one from November 2020 in which I asked the following questions, to participants from India:

    1. What are you looking forward to this week?
    2. What do you think of as the most important thing going on in the world right now?
    3. If you had a spare half hour right now, what would you do with it?
    4. What is something you changed your mind about recently?
    5. What in life is more important than other people realize?
    6. If someone gave you $5 right now, what would you do with it?
    7. Who is someone you think of as a hero?
    8. Are you paying attention to the US election?
    9. What was the biggest news story this year?

    I don’t recall any notable constraints other than the location requirement, but I barely remember doing this.

  • Podcast: with Spencer Greenberg on groupstruckness and boundedness

    I talked to Spencer Greenberg a little while ago for his podcast Clearer Thinking. The recording is out today. According to his website we discussed:

    What does it mean to be “groupstruck”? How does groupstruck-ness differ from the bystander effect, normalcy bias, and other related cognitive biases? How do we break people out of being groupstruck? What does it mean to be a “bounded” person? How can we build up better decision-making heuristics? What sorts of decisions do people usually not quantify but should (and vice versa)? How can we make rational relationship decisions without coming across as “calculating” or cold? How does anthropic reasoning affect our hypotheses about the nature of the universe and life within it (i.e., the Fermi paradox, the simulation hypothesis, etc.)?

    You can listen or read the transcript here.

  • Proposal: Twitter dislike button

    The popular story of Twitter’s role in the ruin of civilization is that it is a runaway trash fire of reciprocal anger and offense, where otherwise nice people are possessed by overwhelming outrages, and drawn into throwing their own energy behind creating the vilest and most vindictive responses to what they see, turning away from reason and hurting others in turn, and so the place continues.

  • Fighting in various places for a really long time

    The first time someone raved to me about seeing Everything Everywhere All at Once, I thought they were actually suggesting I see everything everywhere all at once, and I was briefly excited by the implication that this exhilarating possibility was somehow on the table.

    After that disappointment I heard about it several times more, and warmed to the idea of seeing the movie anyway, especially on account of it being the most roundly recommended one I remember. The third time someone invited me to see it with them, I went.

  • Stuff I might do if I had covid

    In case anyone wants a rough and likely inaccurate guide to what I might do if I had covid to mitigate it, I looked into this a bit recently and wrote notes. It’s probably better than if one’s plan was to do less than a few hours of research, but is likely flawed all over the place and wasn’t written with public sharing in mind, and um, isn’t medical advice [ETA May 11: also safety-relevant improvements are being made in the doc version, so I recommend looking at that.]:


  • Why do people avoid vaccination?

    I’ve been fairly confused by the popularity in the US of remaining unvaccinated, in the face of seemingly a non-negligible, relatively immediate personal chance of death or intense illness. And due to the bubbliness of society, I don’t actually seem to know unvaccinated people to ask about it. So in the recent covid survey I ran, I asked people who hadn’t had covid (and thus for whom I didn’t have more pressing questions) whether they were vaccinated, and if not why not. (Note though that these people are 20-40 years old, so not at huge risk of death.)

  • Bernal Heights: acquisition of a bicycle

    The measure of a good bicycle, according to me, is that you can’t ride it without opening your mouth in joy and occasionally exclaiming things like ‘fuck yeah bicycle’. This is an idiosyncratic spec, and I had no reason to think that it might be fulfilled by any electric bicycle—a genre I was new to—so while I intended to maybe search through every electric bicycle in The New Wheel for one that produced irrepressible, physically manifest joy, I also expected this to likely fail, and to be meanwhile embarrassingly inexplicable and irritating to bike shop employees—people who often expect one’s regard for bikes to map fairly well to facts about their price, frame shape, and whether the gears are Shimano. But several bikes in, when I uncomfortably explained to a guy there that, while the ones I had tried so far were nice, bicycles had been known to make me, like, very happy, he said of course we should find the bicycle that I loved. So I at least felt somewhat supported in my ongoing disruption of his colleague’s afternoon, with requests that bicycle after bicycle be brought out for me to pedal around the streets of Bernal Heights.

    The guy would maneuver each bike out of the crowded shop and to the sidewalk, and adjust it to fit me, and we would chat, often about his suggestion that I maybe ride up to the hill on the other side of the main road. Which I would agree might be a good idea, before riding off, deciding that turning left was too hard, and heading in the other direction, through back streets and around a swooping circle park with a big ring road, where I would loop a few times if the mood took me.

    Some bicycles were heavy, and rode like refrigerators. Most bicycles were unsteady, and urged even my cycling-seasoned bottom to the seat while pedaling. Most bicycles added considerable assistance to going up hills. Many bicycles seemed fine.