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Chris Morrow

Chris Morrow's Public Library

  • Yet this book contains some of her loopiest writing as well. “You have to admire rocks,” she writes, in a not atypical passage, “holding out as best they can against all the forces of dissolution, the wind and sea spray, and I was determined to establish some sort of intimacy with this one.”

    Kingsley Amis once said that religion and masturbation were alike in one regard. Feel free to practice them, that is, but no one really wants to hear you go on about it.

  • I always wanted to live in a zip code which was a prime number. I grew up in one that was a perfect square though, which is nearly as cool.


    Well, that's disappointing - I have lived under 25 different U.S. zip codes, all neither prime nor perfect square.

  • James Maher won the mayorship of Baxter Estates, New York on March 15, 2005 as a write-in candidate with 29 votes. Being the only one on the ballot, the incumbent mayor, James Neville, did not campaign, as he did not realize that there was a write-in campaign going on. Neville received only 13 votes.

  • If you asked 10,000 tech mangers, "Let's say you paid Danica Patrick $100,000,000. Do you think she could win the Indianapolis 500 by riding a bicycle?", I'm sure not one of them would say, "Yes."


    And yet a good percentage of these same managers seem to think that highly-paid software developers ought to be just as productive with crappy tools and working conditions as they are with good ones - because, of course, those lazy, feckless programmers are getting paid lots of money and ought to be able to pedal that bicycle faster.

  • We were asked one time to suggest ways to improve productivity; I presented the same kind of cost-benefit analysis the OP did. It was rejected because management said, "This must be wrong - we can't possibly be that stupid", but the numbers didn't lie.
  • Now, even if you are writing highly maintainable and really good code, sometimes there are moments where you juggle like five or six information packages in your brain, and you must put those down again atomically. If a call comes in in such moments 3 hours before leaving home, it can really destroy your rest of the day. Not specifically because of the guy on the other side, but because of the state-destruction.

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  • They could invent a new alphabet to spite the Romans (and the Church, but they already did that!)
  • When cosmologists say that there was no time before the big bang, they mean that (according to modern models) the same old concept of time that we've always used ceases to make sense beyond that time.

    It's like cardinal directions (north, south, etc). Before the round earth model, it would make sense to ask what lied to the north of the northernmost edge of the world, because that edge was just the northerly boundary of a thing in that ccordinate system; there was a sensible meaning to be read into the phrase "north of the northern edge of the world". But once we knew the world was round, and the nature of the cardinal directions thus had to be different then we thought they were on a global scale (although locally they continued to work just the same), suddenly "north of the north pole" became a nonsensical concept. It's not so much that there is nothing north of the north pole; it's that 'northness' as a concept ceases to make any sense from the north pole, and so can't rightly be predicated of anything in any meaningful way. Likewise with time. At the big bang, the concept of 'before' makes no sense, for very similar reasons to why 'north' makes no sense from the north pole, so 'before the big bang' is just a nonsense concept; it's not that there was nothing before it, it's that there is no 'before' relative to it for anything to be.

  • I see what's happened: she's confused a tire swing with a tyre swing. A tire swing is one that keeps on swinging faster and faster; if your kids have too much energy, you put them on one to tire them out. Not to be confused with a tyre swing, which is made out of one of those pneumatic wheel softeners.
  • Now I want some kind of fancy wine or cheese or something, identified by its place of origin, to come out of the Appalachians, just so the product in question can have an Appalachian appellation (d'origine).

  • By "the latest version of Python to this date" you mean 3.3? That's usually more helpful to say, especially since there are some old fogies out there who still consider 2.7 "the latest Python" because it's the latest 2.x… But, more importantly, if someone reads this question in 2015, he's not going to want to go look up the history of Python releases to figure out whether the answer is up to date…

  • I'm kind of shortchanging myself; I'm being too frugal. For example, I could've spent money to get glass arrows which would've killed enemies in one hit instead of wasting my time using iron arrows which takes 2-3 hits to kill.

  • "Hey, they're lighting our troops on fire! Maybe we should light there troops on fire!"
     "Hey, they're burning our village, let's burn them".
     "Hey, pull up along the port side and light them on fire before they can light us on fire!"
     Fire has been a weapon at the end of arrows, torches, hruled by catapult, by creative flame throwers devies on sailing ships and so on. Fighting fire with fire was good battle smarts, because it was one of the most lethal weapons prior to modern warfare. Heck, firebombing was effective in the 20th century as well.

    • BB: Plato left because even the best Army-issued glasses can’t see through a hat brim.


  • BB: Am I missing an obvious joke here? Maybe this is some obscure reference to Plato’s, Ring of Gyges? If so, I’m a bit lost on how you get there from the Pluggers-worthy “pets and their owners look alike” chestnut. Or is this the start of a rare multi-day Beetle, where, struck by this revelation, Plato runs off to get a pet that embodies his desired appearance? Oh, wait, no, geez, I get it … Plato’s afraid he’ll start looking like Beetle. Man, I was really overthinking that. Sigh.
  • BB: Plato’s pet is a chameleon, you see, so he’s gained the ability to vanish at will.


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  • The process goes like this: someone acknowledged as an Authority makes a fairly informal claim, like "defects cost exponentially more to fix over time." Later authors, looking to borrow the Authority's authority, refer to the claim as "research." A further generation counts these indirect citations as if they were themselves original research: the claim now looks very strong, as it appears to be backed by multiple replications. Later "studies" of the same topic may take the result so much for granted that they dispense with actually collecting the relevant data, but will still be counted as additional confirmation.

  • Employee #2: “Please forgive me, sir, but I’m going to have to ask that you not speak about her that way. Not only is she a regular customer, but she’s definitely NOT mentally handicapped. She just can’t speak because of—”


    Customer: “Right! Because she’s retarded! I don’t think it’s safe to let her wander around the store. What if she ends up making someone else retarded?!”


    (All three of us are completely dumbfounded. As mentioned before, I’m used to these sorts of assumptions, but this was a new one.)

  • Customer: “No, it’s not that. It’s just that there is no screen. I can’t see if a song that I don’t like is going to come up or not.”


    Me: “Well, if this mp3 player is for your own personal use, then chances are you’re only going to put on songs that you like, right? So, I don’t think the lack of a screen will be a big deal.”


    Customer: “Wow… that is very true, actually. You just totally blew my mind, dude. Whoa, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that!”

      • For that matter, in the "found out as a spy/impostor" cases, there would usually be plenty of other evidence about the person having engaged in espionage/not being who or what they claim to be; the contradiction is simply the first thing to alarm the officials to perform a more thorough investigation, which turns up the actually incriminating evidence. They're not strictly speaking convicted by contradiction, but when their entire plan depended on not having anyone find out what they're up to, getting attention cast on them because of that contradiction is just as bad. 

  • As Feynman said, one of the characteristics of the truth is that, as you look more closely at it, it gets clearer. Most of the parapsych crowd tends to report results that are have a 1% probability of occurring randomly, after having done hundreds of experiments and failing to report the rest. The difference is that the level of confidence in the best experiment in a real effect doesn't scale simply with the number of experiments. A real effect should show millions-to-one odds in a few trials, once solid experimental procedures have been devised.
  • Parapsychology is one of the very few things we can reject intuitively, because we understand the world well enough to know that psychic powers just can't exist. We can reject them even when proper analysis doesn't indicate that they're wrong, which tells us something about the limitations of analysis.


    ETA: Essentially, if the scientific method can't reject parapsychology, that means the scientific method isn't strong enough, not that parapsychology might be legitimate.

  • In the 18th century, everyone knew that real scientific physics only permitted a body to act upon another body through direct contact. When Newton proposed his theory of gravity, many people rejected it as pseudoscientific or magical because it claimed the stars and planets could exert action at a distance, without saying how they did it.


    In the 19th century, everyone knew that life was on a different order than mere matter, because obviously you couldn't produce the self-moving and self-regenerating qualities of life with just stuff like you get in rocks and sand.


    In the 20th century, everyone knew that the mind was more than just the brain, since simple introspection could determine the existence of a consciousness inexplicable in simple material terms.


    The absurdity heuristic is an okay heuristic, but I'd be really really careful before saying something is so absurd we can throw away any contradictory experimental evidence without a glance.

  • Perhaps you think that even though complex behavior is dependent upon other players, there are still some constants, like "Never cooperate with DefectBot". DefectBot always defects against you, so you should never cooperate with it. Cooperating with DefectBot would be insane. Right?


    Wrong. If you find yourself on a playing field where everyone else is a TrollBot (players who cooperate with you if and only if you cooperate with DefectBot) then you should cooperate with DefectBots and defect against TrollBots.

  • Consider, for example, a young woman who wants to be a rockstar. She wants the fame, the money, and the lifestyle: these are her "terminal goals". She lives in some strange world where rockstardom is wholly dependent upon merit (rather than social luck and network effects), and decides that in order to become a rockstar she has to produce really good music.


    But here's the problem: She's a human. Her conscious decisions don't directly affect her motivation.


    In her case, it turns out that she can make better music when "Make Good Music" is a terminal goal as opposed to an instrumental goal.

    • I've largely refrained from goal-hacking, personally. I bring it up for a few reasons:

      1. It's the easiest Dark Side technique to justify. It helps break people out of the mindset where they think optimal actions are the ones that look rational in a vacuum. Remember, optimality is a feature of the playing field. Sometimes cooperating with DefectBot is the best strategy!
      3. Goal hacking segues nicely into the other Dark Side techniques which I use frequently, as you will see shortly.
      5. I have met many people who would benefit from a solid bout of goal-hacking.

      I've crossed paths with many a confused person who (without any explicit thought on their part) had really silly terminal goals. We've all met people who are acting as if "Acquire Money" is a terminal goal, never noticing that money is almost entirely instrumental in nature. When you ask them "but what would you do if money was no issue and you had a lot of time", all you get is a blank stare.


      Even the LessWrong Wiki entry on terminal values describes a college student for which university is instrumental, and getting a job is terminal. This seems like a clear-cut case of a Lost Purpose: a job seems clearly instrumental. And yet, we've all met people who act as if "Have a Job" is a terminal value, and who then seem aimless and undirected after finding employment.

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  • Me: “The stop button only starts it slowing down to stop.”


    Customer: “No, I mean the ball.”


    Me: “Sir, the button does not control the ball.”


    Customer: “What does?”


    Me: “Physics?”

  • Many are probably familiar with the research showing that the polarization between the two parties has increased over time (since 50′s and 60′s). The cursory reading of this is that we are “at each other’s throats” in a way we weren’t in the past. I don’t think this is true, it’s just that the ideological sorting between parties has become more consistent. Social liberals (e.g. Rockafeller Repubs) have flocked to the Dems. Southern conservatives (e.g. Reagan Dems) turned for the Repubs. This makes each party more ideologically cohesive and so the fault lines between Red and Blue are more stark.
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