The Uncertainty Principle

Here is a brief explanation of why the "Heisenberg uncertainty principle" is implied by quantum theory. It's not nearly as mysterious as people think. Yes, if you don't have any matrix math background you won't be able to follow this. But you still might see it's just a little bit of math, there isn't a lot of stuff to it. The Uncertainty Principle is not a Principle, it's not a law of physics, it's just one of many results you can work out about quantum theory with a small amount of math:

-- In quantum theory observables can be represented by Hermitian matrices.

-- If an observable of a system can be represented by a particular matrix at a particular instant, then all matrices of the same dimension represent observables of that system.

-- In a state specified by the vector |psi>, an observable X is sharp if and only if X|psi> = x|psi> for some real number x. In which case x is an eigenvalue of X and |psi> is an eigenvector of X.

Now let Y be any matrix that does not have |psi> among its eigenvectors. (For any vector, there exists an infinity of such matrices.)

If the actual state is |psi>, the observable Y cannot be sharp. (Because of the 'if and only if' above.)

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Philosophy Consulting

Need help with a philosophy problem? I can solve your problem. Hire me.

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Letter to SENS

I sent the below letter to SENS, which is a medical research non-profit seeking to solve human aging. I like them because they have a good plan for how to do this which makes sense. Aubrey de Grey is their leader, I had a long discussion with him which you can read here.

SENS claims to be basically the most important thing in the world. SENS' web presence is inconsistent with this claim. SENS' web presence communicates low-prestige, low-intellectual-seriousness amateur hour. I offer criticism for several issues, partly on Aubrey's direct invitation, in hopes of helping.

Concrete Examples:

The SENS website LOOKS like a very standard generic format that doesn't stand out at all or get attention.

The SENS website has many basic web design errors such as:

- requires giving your country and even US State to sign up for newsletter. email should be the ONLY required field, period. and don't even ask for stuff like people's zip code. it's not OK to add friction to newsletter signups.

- SENS front page should be aimed at the public. that means you don't put things like "jobs" and "terms of use" there. you put all the stuff the public doesn't care about on an About page or other internal page.

- the February newsletter webpage does not link to the previous newsletter, or the archives, at the bottom.

- SENS has 3 blogs instead of 1 blog with categories. this splits up viewer attention. and since all 3 are very inactive, it just makes them look even more inactive – even with triple content in one place it'd still look bad and like SENS is inactive.

- It just plain looks like a cheap generic site in terms of layout and design. It's hard to explicitly explain why it does, but lots of people can tell because they've seen many other websites that look similar. The look of the site doesn't stand out and doesn't DIFFERENTIATE SENS. It doesn't communicate that this is something special or important.

- The images used look generic and unimpressive too. They don't stand out.

- It's not a .com site. That's bad because lots of people don't understand other TLDs besides com. (People given the website URL in person will literally do things like try to go to or just forget and go to This especially applies to older people who I'm guessing are a larger part of the SENS audience. This issue is well known and makes a substantial difference.)

- The site doesn't have a bunch of awesome impressive essays (or other content) with amazing ideas. Or if it does they aren't prominent and I managed to miss them.

The SENS newsletter isn't even consistently once per month (which would be the bare minimum frequency to not look bad and have people forget about you).

The SENS newsletter looks like a normal newsletter, it doesn't stand out, it doesn't communicate SENS is SUPER FUCKING IMPORTANT.

The SENS contact form looks like a generic "we have to put up a contact form to pretend we listen to feedback" black hole. I don't know whether it is or not, but it looks that way. It looks generic and boring, and like you won't get a reply just like you don't from many other organizations. And it even adds annoying friction like making you categorize your inquiry – which is asking people, if they want to contact SENS at all, to do extra work which they aren't good at and don't want to do.

The SENS website homepage links to the SENS subreddit. This is not OK because that subreddit is very inactive (the 15th highest submission is 3 months old!). Do not send homepage visitors to a dead site, only link them places they should actually go and will be glad they went.

When you claim SENS is super duper important, but lots of the stuff you do implicitly contradicts, you destroy your own credibility and drive away most people.

Here's an example of acting inconsistently with your claims from Facebook:

Jonathan Weaver That's $10,000 in 2-3 days. Nice booster.
Like · Reply · December 5, 2014 at 6:45am

SENS Foundation Jonathan Weaver That's right! We're very thankful.
Like · Reply · December 5, 2014 at 8:31am

SENS claims to need something like $100,000,000/yr for the RMR project to go full speed and save everyone's lives. 10k/2.5 days would be too little by a factor of 68 if you got it constantly all year. 10k fundraising also just looks bad for being a small amount of money, all kinds of unimportant projects get more than 10k on kickstarter in 2-3 days. By being happy with a small amount, you accept it as appropriate to SENS, and accept a status below all sorts of stuff that can raise more.

If you really think you need 100mil/yr or MILLIONS OF PEOPLE DIE (which is what even a few year delay for SENS means), then sound the alarm instead of saying you're happy with an amount of fundraising that kills millions. When you act happy with pennies, you are telling people SENS isn't really that big a deal.

You may doubt the importance of these things. Keep in mind the cultural context. People don't expect to be listened to. If SENS is any different (which I'm unclear on), you have to shout it from the rooftops before anyone will notice. You have to make the difference extremely clear.

When Joe Random has what he thinks is a good idea, he knows he'll have a hell of a time getting anyone to listen, be it a big company, a small company, a scientist, a politician, etc. It's true that the majority of Joe Randoms have bad ideas, but some have good ideas and some others could learn to have good ideas with some pointers in the right directions. If you want Joe to communicate with SENS, you have to get his attention, not blend in with every other organization that he expects to ignore him.

I posted at the subreddit per Aubrey's recommendation and got replies which said, basically:

1) Leave and email Aubrey personally (or Michael Rae or SENS) instead.

2) Leave and go to the longevity subreddit which is more active. [Note: the longevity subreddit isn't really active either.]

3) I like SENS but got discouraged from the SENS subreddit because my posts kept getting downvoted.

4) You could try posting here and hope that somehow things will work out, contrary to your reasonable expectation.

I was not impressed. And the subreddit does nothing to stand out and communicate SENS IS IMPORTANT.

I think the talk to Aubrey/Michael personally plan is problematic because they are busy. For SENS to succeed on a big scale, there needs to be division of labor rather than expecting Aubrey/Michael to do most stuff personally. It also communicates that SENS is small time and un-prestigious if it doesn't have anyone below the top people to answer questions and have discussions with the public – there should be tiers with only a few things being escalated to the top people.

I checked the SENS Facebook page that Aubrey mentioned. It, again, does nothing to stand out and communicate that SENS is something different that's really important. It's more active than the subreddit. I dislike Facebook so I'm not familiar enough with Facebook pages to say if the activity level is OK or not, but it's definitely not GREAT.

I'd like to differentiate between three different styles of promoting SENS. Three categories of how to approach this. SENS is not doing well for any of them.

Style 1) Prestige

Impress people and say how SENS is smarter than you, and works with prestigious people and has a fancy reputation, etc, etc

This is irrational and will alienate the best and smartest people, but will impress the second tier people. It could work I guess (I'm not a fan of this style and don't recommend it).

SENS does some stuff clearly in this direction, but overall isn't good at this. An example in this style is writing, "Extramural research at PRESTIGIOUS universities and other state-of-the-art laboratory facilities throughout the world". Which isn't even well done, it's crude and blatant. Achieving prestige works better with more subtlety.

Style 2) Generic

You can just be yet another charity organization for yet another undifferentiated cause and try to get somewhere anyway. Some organizations have success with this. They aren't super important, they aren't super prestigious, but they put in the work and get somewhere.

SENS does some stuff in this direction (e.g. runs yet another small stakes matching fundraising), but isn't by any means great at it. For example the website isn't very well done, nor the subreddit, blog or newsletter.

Note, btw, that matching donation drives are bad and should not be done. See:

I tried explaining the problems with matching donations to "Reason" (the Fight Aging guy) at more length at the GRG email group but he was unwilling to address/discuss the problem.

Style 3) Reason

The third style is to focus on ideas and the intellect. Really seriously, not in the token way that's common. Here is one way to do this to give you the flavor:

Have high quality public discussions and challenge the entire public to offer any criticism of SENS, and answer every single criticism so you can honestly say there are literally no unanswered criticisms of SENS.

Saying that properly requires not just answering all the criticisms you know of, but also making a serious effort to seek them out in the first place, which involves, for example, having discussion forum of some kind for people to post criticisms at where they expect to be heard and taken seriously. For criticism to be fully possible, you also have to answer questions so people can get you to take stances on every issue and potentially criticize your answers to the questions. They have to be able to draw out more claims from you and get things clarified.

This approach isn't just about telling people SENS is super important and intellectually correct, and acting the part. It also means SENS will get all kinds of ideas, suggestions, comments, feedback and criticism from the public. And some of it will be correct and SENS will learn something too. And it also means one member of the public can answer the question of another member of the public – there can be an interested group of people being helpful.

Broadly, I would say if people are too damn stupid and irrational and have no interest in thinking, SENS is pretty screwed anyway. But I don't think they all are, and I think you ought to try and give people the benefit of the doubt and stop treating them like they are beneath you. I think SENS ought to take the position that people really do have minds, and they matter – if they don't there honestly isn't much point in saving their lives anyway. Don't just ask for monetary donations, show you care about ideas by seeking them out too.

Note these 3 styles are incompatible. The prestige approach appeals to the irrational side of people. Focusing on reason isn't generic, it would stand out. Being generic isn't prestigious. So it's important to pick something and focus, rather than do a little of everything badly.

I recommend the Reason style because it's the only one where SENS is at an advantage. SENS does not have the most expertise at impressing fools with prestige, or at grassroots hard work and community building and running charities. And SENS has no inherent advantage at those activities. That SENS could save millions of lives, and has some good arguments for its importance, is only a major advantage intellectually. In the prestige and generic games, people with much worse causes will say they are important too or whatever else, and since there isn't an intellectual atmosphere they can get away with those claims.

I think SENS should focus on where it has a large advantage over almost all rivals. (I am not personally convinced SENS is the most important cause in the world. But I agree it's a top cause, much better than the vast majority of causes.)

As a separate topic, consider that SENS would like a LOT of money. Like $100,000,000/yr for a decade. SENS, therefore, could use knowledge about money and economics. This kind of knowledge is necessary to use the money well. Consider that you wouldn't want an economically illiterate person deciding how to spend a million dollars. Well, at the billion dollar level, you wouldn't want a person with, say, "above average" economics knowledge either, you'd want world class knowledge to be involved. And it really helps to know how to deal with this money before asking for it, instead of telling people to trust that you'll figure it out correctly after getting it. And understanding these things is important for speaking intelligently to potential donors about these subjects.

This means, for example, familiarity with economics books such as _Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics_ and _Human Action_ (the best two major economics books). Preferably much more.

This does NOT mean that Aubrey should read those books. Understanding economics (not just reading a few books but studying it enough to really understand the material) is HARD and TIME CONSUMING. Therefore, it is an appropriate area for specialization and division of labor. SENS should have access to SOMEONE who knows this stuff, and who can relay important points to Aubrey and others when they are relevant.

Economics is not something everyone should learn, but it is important to basically everyone, and certainly to SENS which wants to deal with huge quantities of wealth. This is just like science: not everyone should be a scientist, division of labor is good, but science is important to everyone (and many organizations ought to have science advisors of some sort).

Similar lines of reasoning apply to quite a few other areas besides economics, such as epistemology (an understanding of the best methods of reasoning, and of philosophy of science, are two things that could aid SENS), moral philosophy (some of the objections to SENS involve moral issues), political philosophy (some actual and potential SENS projects involve the government), and computer science (maybe instead of preserving our bodies, we should upload our minds into computers. if we could accomplish that faster and cheaper than SENS, it could be the better option).

For each area, there are ongoing debates about which ideas in the field are right, which specialist experts are actually fools in disguise, which books are good, and so on. How is SENS to deal with this?

There is no way other than open rational public discussion. It leads back into the issue of discussion. Get a SENS economics expert who will address all public criticism, address all questions and issues about his economics claims, and so on. Open-ended rational discussion addressing all the issues is the only way to sort out the messes in all the various fields full of disagreement. I know this is hard and not SENS' expertise, but there is no way around it. This is what reason, truth-seeking and getting stuff right requires. The truth isn't easy to come by, too bad, suck it up and deal with it; there are no shortcuts.

SENS should not BET ITS FUTURE on the proposition that economics is irrelevant and ignorance of it won't lead to any major mistakes. Nor should SENS bet its future on siding with any particular side in the economics debates and not have that stance fully open to criticism and revision in case it's mistaken. And the same goes for other fields besides economics too.

SENS is struggling. It's badly underfunded. This stuff is URGENT and LIFE OR DEATH. SAY SO. CLEARLY. EVERYWHERE. Don't tell people everything is fine, tell the truth, it's NOT. Most current SENS communications act like these ideas about SENS' urgency are FALSE and actually everything is fine and not too urgent.

I think the most important thing is consistency. Have a consistent message and act commensurate with it. Have a consistent plan instead of a little from several styles.

I have more to say (lots), and more details for these points, but I think this is enough to get started. Please do not say "good points, you're very smart" and then proceed to do your (inevitable) initial misunderstandings of what I meant, without further discussion, in private (as is typical with this kind of thing).

PS Why didn't I write this sooner? Partly because of the contact form, as addressed above, and also the lack of any good SENS discussion place. Another major reason is b/c even now I don't really expect much to change, I don't expect this to have much effect. One reason is because I don't expect you guys to agree with everything I say INITIALLY (which is completely fine and reasonable). And I don't expect you to discuss all this to resolution (which is problematic, it blocks Paths Forward, which is irrational). One reason for these low expectations is SENS does little to differentiate itself from all the other non-profits out there, and I certainly wouldn't expect most orgs to really listen to comments like these and make big changes.

But Aubrey asked me to write (some of) this, and anyway I think it's interesting. And SENS is important – as far as medical science, it impresses me more than anything else I've seen – so I hope this helps.

Update: I receieved a bad reply and wrote some comments.

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Don't Talk To The Cops

I watched episodes 1 and 2 of the Secrets and Lies tv show.

so, this guy finds a (very recently) dead body on his morning run in the woods and then starts answering questions from a detective – where was he last night, did he move the body, why did he go for a run that morning, etc

the detective even starts tripping him up on the details. did he get home at 2am or 3am – which was it? did he have a couple drinks like he said he wanted to run off, or more?

he goes along with all this, is helpful and tells her stuff, and then is taken off guard that he’s a suspect. he needs a lawyer to advise him to stop volunteering help and instead tread carefully.

people are very naive about this stuff. DON’T TALK TO THE COPS, YOU WILL NOT BENEFIT. and if you find a body or were near a crime, YOU ARE A SUSPECT.

and lots of people are bad at their jobs, incompetent, stupid, etc. which includes cops. i am not saying cops are especially bad. but if they are just the normal amount of bad you find everywhere, TREAD CAREFULLY. they might think you did it for no reason or a stupid reason, or just because of your body language or tone of voice or they don't like your subculture's linguistic style.

and it’s so easy to accidentally contradict yourself in minor ways when you answer questions about the same thing multiple times. especially if you say anything before going over it carefully in your head for hopefully a few days and talking about it with a lawyer. people are not in the habit of being 100% precise and never contradicting themselves, it isn’t required in most social situations.

hollywood, by presenting talking to the cops as just what normal innocent non-weird people do is sending a really bad and dangerous message. they don’t preach like “you should talk to the cops, do your civic duty”. instead they just frame it as completely normal and something to take for granted. instead of trying to debate the issue, they send a message without raising it as an issue to debate. be wary!!

don't try to be polite. if a crime happened, stay out of it. don't talk to cops without a lawyer. don't try to be helpful. you're putting yourself at risk. if you have important info, call in an anonymous tip.

even if you think you're completely safe, e.g. you were home with your family and saw something out the window or heard something, and you successfully keep your story 100% straight with no contradictions, you are not safe talking to the cops. if anyone else says something contradictory (by accident, or because they are guilty and lying, or because they suspect their friend might be guilty and want to cover for him, or whatever else), you become a suspect. anything you say can be used against you. the only way to avoid someone else contradicting you, and raising doubts about you, is to say nothing.

oh and, of course, don't let the cops into your home if they don't have a warrant. seriously. your life is at stake. yes the risk of getting randomly involved in a crime you didn't commit is low in general. it doesn't happen every day. but by the time the cops are trying to talk to you, the odds aren't so low anymore, so take it seriously.

later in the episode, the detective says she wants to ask him some more questions but is actually just trying to get him out of the house. then while he's gone, his wife gives the cops permission to come in and search the house, without a warrant. sigh :(

then because he's being harassed by aggressive reporters who make his child cry, instead of calling the cops of them (which is what I'd suggest, especially considering they went on his property, but even if they hadn't), he gives the detective a DNA sample to try to prove he didn't do it in order to be left alone. very bad strategy.

then he asks his wife about letting the cops in. she says 1 police officer came by and next thing she knows there are 10 of them. he asks how come she didn't say no. she says, "how could i do that? they were investigating the murder of a child". BAD REASONING. DO NOT LET COPS SEARCH YOUR HOUSE WITHOUT A WARRANT. EVER. PERIOD.

(and keep in mind there are so many things that could go wrong with cops doing searches that aren't even related to the case. like maybe your kid has some drugs hidden in his room that the cops find. in the show, letting the cops in to search visibly upset the family's children – the mother failed to protect her kids and let harm come to them.)

as the show continues, the guy's life is getting screwed overly merely for being investigated from the crime (not charged with any crime, certainly not found guilty). the community starts shunning him. he does work like painting houses but no one wants to hire him anymore. being innocent does not protect him from this. and if the detective was being biased and unfair, or incompetent, he'll never be paid back for the harm done.

and even at this point, he agrees to answer questions from the detective without having a lawyer present.

near the beginning of episode 2, he's asked to go answer police questions at the station again. he asks don't they need to go through his lawyer? they cop says they don't because he isn't under arrest.

don't be fooled by crap like this. you don't have to answer police questions without a lawyer.

then the main character offers to take a polygraph to try to prove he's innocent. this is the worst idea yet. NEVER TAKE A POLYGRAPH. they work badly and are unreliable. (you can google info on this, and on talking to the cops. if it ever comes up, at least don't talk to them until you have time to google more info on these topics for a few hours. i don't expect to 100% persuade you, but i hope i get you to think twice enough to not answer initial questions and then look for more info to decide how to handle it.)

people think by being polite and obeying social norms, it will ensure the cops treat them decent in return. it won't. issues like crimes should be handled objectively, with standard procedures, not by social convention, and to a reasonable extent, they are. stick to standard procedure yourself – cooperate in ways you are legally obligated to and that's it. you get no official bonus points for being extra helpful, and you won't get you out of any legal obligation.

cops are not on your side. they are not there to help you. they do not work for you. you aren't their boss. you don't pay their salary. don't be naive.

There are rare exceptions if you know what you're doing, for example if you see someone discard a weapon that was used against you into a trash can, you might want to point the cops to that trash can so they can find it before the trash gets taken out. see even this kind of thing can be dangerous, e.g. if you say "i thought i saw him throw a knife on that roof, it was dark though" and the cops check and don't find it, now you look like a liar (even though you hedged). and if you say anything you can easily make mistakes. life gets dangerous and scary and risky once cops are involved like this no matter what you do. be careful, be slow and thoughtful. maybe write stuff down and read from that if you want to say anything at all, so you have an exact record, or print it out and give it to them. but, really, read about these topics, and "don't talk to the cops" is basically the main thing to know. i kind of don't want to mention any exception whatsoever because 99% of mistakes people make are in the "talk too much" direction.

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SSBM Training 2: Reverse Dolphin Slash

Marth's reverse Dolphin Slash (up-B) is an important technique which people tell you to learn how to do. They're right. But I tried to do it, and I couldn't. There are a couple key things I figured out that really helped. I want to share them.

The inputs are simple. You do up-B, and then during the startup frames (a very small time window), you press left (if you were facing to the right). This press to the left has to be done very fast. I won't discuss why this technique is useful, other people have done that. I just want to talk about how to do it.

Also, just to be clear, you can face right and hold up-left, and then hit B, and you will do the Dolphin Slash behind you and turn around. None of the information I've read is really clear about this, but I'm pretty sure reverse Dolphin Slash is different and requires doing it the hard way of up-B first and then press behind you second, separately.

At first I thought the problem is that my hands are slow. I'll just try it more and try to do it super fast, and then hopefully I'll get it. Well, I didn't get it. I went in Training Mode and tried in slow motion to make sure I was doing the inputs right. It worked. But at regular speed I was hopeless.

Then one day, I had a thought. You know what would save time? Don't push the dstick all the way up.

So I tried doing up-B, all by itself, without pressing the dstick all the way. And I found you only have to press it a tiny bit further than for up-tilt, but really not very far. Only a fraction of the way up is far enough.

The main reason I couldn't do it is because I was pressing the dstick all the way up, then pressing it to the side. And that takes too long. Maybe if you play in tournaments and you're really good, you could press it all the way up and still be fast enough. But I sure can't.

Well, once I had this insight, I was able to do reverse Dolphin Slash successfully about half the time in only 10 minutes of practice.

But I didn't just start doing it. I practiced an intermediate step that I think was a really good idea. If any guide had told me to practice it this way, it would have really helped me.

Press the dstick up half way. Hold it there. Now if you hit B, you will Dolphin Slash. Try it. So now instead of pressing up-B for dolphin slash, you start with half the work done, you just have to press B. Now do this: press B then, almost at the same time, press left (if facing right. press behind you).

When I just tried to hit up-B then left, it was so hard, I couldn't do it. But when I held up and then tried to hit B and left, it was so much easier, I could do it pretty much right away. It's not that hard to do one thing with your right thumb and one with your jump thumb, and do them very close together. Doing two things with your left thumb and something with your right, and coordinating the timing, that's hard. But only one thing with each thumb isn't too hard.

So practice that a bunch and you can learn the timing of when to hit left relative to when to hit B. Without a bunch of stress and failure. You can learn part of the technique by itself without having to be able to do the whole thing.

Once you're good at that, then practice the dstick motion without B. Press it up only a little of the way, definitely not all the way up, and then jam it left hard and quick. And practice it to the right also.

When that feels OK, then try another small step. Press up a little ways, pause for a split second, then press B and left. So it's like doing it with up already pressed, but instead of just holding up and not thinking about it, you do the up press only a moment early, so it isn't totally separate.

Once you can do that, then try to do the whole thing. And because of all the little steps you did, I bet you'll be able to do it sometimes. Not all the time, but sometimes. And once you can do something 5% of the time, then you have a good start and you just practice more and increase that percent. Whereas if you can't do it at all, it's hard to get started and you'll need some easier steps.

So you press up a little ways and B, and then hard left. It won't work every time. You'll get some neutral B (Shield Breaker) and some side B (Sword Dance) at first. But now you should have a good enough idea of how to do it that you can practice until you get it consistent. These little steps to work up to it will get your foot in the door and make the technique approachable.

Again, I'd like you to learn not just how to reverse Dolphin Slash, but also how to approach learning anything that's hard to get started with. This is both a specific example that will help Marth players, but also it's about the method of how to learn.

For part 1 at my blog, click here.

For all parts, and some people's helpful replies, see my thread at Smashboards.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

SSBM Training 1: Marth's SH Double Fair

Super Smash Brothers Melee (SSBM) is hard. And it's hard to get started. I've read a lot of guides and tips. A lot of the info is very helpful. But I think most of it is way too advanced for most players.

I'm not very good at SSBM, but I think most people are probably a lot worse. No offense. I've played games from a young age, I've played a lot of games, I've played a large amount, and I've been very very good at some games. And I started playing Smash before SSBM came out. Not very well, but I've been familiar with Smash for a long time, and followed it much more closely than most fans.

I've been practicing SSBM. Mostly tech skill, alone. I like the game, I like understanding how it works, I like seeing how hard it is and facing a challenge, and I like having a better understanding of what the pros I watch in tournaments are doing, what it's like for them.

I have figured out some ways to practice that are more basic than are usually taught, and I think they could really help people. For example, people say to practice Marth's SH (short hop) double fair (forward air attack). But I can't do that. It's really hard. To some people, it's just the basics. But to me, it's an advanced skill that's going to take a lot of work. My hands have sped up a lot from practice, but I still have a long way to go to SH double fair.

So how do you work your way up? What's in between nothing and SH double fair? My main point in this post is to show you how to break down a technique, like SH double fair, into a bunch of intermediate steps you can practice one by one. Even something pretty simple can be divided into a lot of different things to practice, instead of just being all-or-nothing.

(And for my regular philosophy audience, take note: you can apply similar methods to many other topics outside of gaming. Treat this as a detailed concrete example which illustrates an important philosophical method, and see what you can learn about philosophy.)

- SH

Start with SH alone. To SH, just hit jump and let go fast (before you're in the air). Don't feel bad if you suck at it. I would stand there and hit jump and do nothing else, and Marth would full hop. It took me a ton of practice just to SH. Actually, first I learned to SH Peach, who has an easier one than Marth. Marth is 3 frames, Peach is 4, Fox is 2. Almost all the characters are in one of those three categories. If you have trouble, practice with a 4 frame SH character first. Here's the list of how many frames each character has for short hopping (smaller numbers are harder, meaning you have to let go of jump faster).

One of the cool things I found is, after I practiced Marth's SH a lot, even when I still wasn't very good at it, then when I went back to Peach she became easy. And then once I practiced Sheik's 2 frame SH, and went back to Marth, then Marth felt easier. But you can't move up too early, just starting with Sheik wouldn't have done me any good if I can never get it at all.

- SH While Distracted

As an aside, let me say that being able to stand still and do a SH, and being able to do it while playing the game against an opponent, are different things. As one example, once you can SH ok, try to run forward and SH. You'll miss some because of the distraction. Once you get better at that, try shield stop SHs. That means you dash forward, then very quickly hit shield, then very quickly after that, short hop. Even once I was good at SHing in place, I couldn't do shield stop SHs without some practice. Learning to link together the things you practice makes them harder.

The point is, don't get frustrated if you thought you could SH, but then you try to do SH and something else, and suddenly you can't SH. It's going to happen. It's no big deal, you just need more practice until your ability to SH is less barely and more solid.

- SH Nair

Once you can SH, try to SH Nair (neutral air attack, meaning A with no direction). Hit jump then A. You'll probably miss some SHs from trying to hit A also. Don't worry, practice, you can learn this.

Now to the main point: if you jump and then hit A fast enough, you will land without going into a recovery animation from the nair. The best way to see this is get the 20xx Hack Pack and turn on the flashing red and white for failed and successful L cancels. If you SH nair and you hit A slowly, you will see Marth flash red. If you do it fast enough, Marth will not flash any color.

When I started, I couldn't do this. Marth would flash red. Maybe I could get it 10% of the time. But, again, you practice and you get better. This is a hell of a lot easier than SH double fair. It's a smaller step forward. This will get your hands faster while being a smaller and more achievable goal.

- SH Fair

Next, try to SH fair. If you do this quickly, Marth won't flash red. You have to be a little faster than with SH nair. (If you don't have 20xx hack pack, you'll have to try to watch Marth and visibly see the difference between whether he does his recovery animation from landing during fair, or not. Which is a skill that takes practice. You can learn it early if you have to, but I'd really recommend getting the 20xx pack.)

- SH Uair

Next, try to SH uair (up air attack). Again, you'll have to be a little faster. You'll also have to learn to press the dstick (directional stick, the joystick used for moving) lightly so you don't double jump.

- SH Bair

If you can go even faster, you can do a SH bair (back air) with Marth and land without flashing red. If you do it successfully, Marth will turn around (so this one is easy to tell if you succeeded even without the 20xx Hack Pack).

- C Stick

Then go back through and practice all of these using the cstick (the little yellow joystick) instead of A. (Except not nair, you can't nair with cstick). Again this makes it harder. But it's possible, and with practice your hands will get faster. (As I write this, I can just barely bair with c-stick on a small percentage of attempts. And one really interesting thing I noticed is I can do it a lot easier to the left than the right. After hitting jump, I can press cstick left faster than right. The only reason I can tell the difference is because when doing the SH bairs, that tiny difference actually affected my results because I was so borderline on being able to do it at all. I think that's pretty cool to find that out, and gives me useful information, and potentially something to practice. For example, once I can start to do some SH double fairs with cstick, I'll have to practice to the left first which will be easier so I can have success sooner. And once I can do that a little, I'll have to practice to the right also. Doing it to the left first will be a little easier, another step I can practice before doing it to the right.)

- SH, Fair, Double Jump

Next, try to short hop fair, then as soon as you start the fair, start mashing jump. If you're fast enough, you'll double jump instead of landing. You can also try to learn to press jump at the right timing instead of mashing.

Once you can do that (I can only do it 10% of the time as I write this), try to SH fair with cstick and then get the double jump (I can't do that yet).

- FH Double Fair

Practice doing full hops and then doing fair twice. The point here is to learn the timing for how soon you can do the second fair after the first one. It's not something that's hard, but you do need to practice and learn that timing. Practicing it separately will be helpful. You should also practice other aerials this way just to learn really accurately when you can do a second one. Learning how long your moves last is important and worth practicing for each move individually.

- SH Double Fair

Then, finally, after you progress through all those steps, you can work on SH double fair. That means you do a SH, then you do fair twice before you land. To succeed at this, you need to do the first fair extremely fast after jumping, even faster than any of the things you practiced above. Then you have to do the second fair with good timing as soon as it's possible.

To do a SH double fair correctly, you need to be 6 frames faster than SH, fair, double jump. Fair can hit the opponent on the 4th frame through the 7th frame. Double jump comes out in 1 frame (I think). So suppose you SH, fair, and then you double jump on your last frame in the air. To do a second fair instead, you'd need to be 6 frames faster so you'd have 7 frames of airtime left instead of 1. Then you'd be able to replace the double jump with the second fair and have enough time for it to fully complete the part of the move that can hit the opponent.

The point here isn't just to teach you to SH double fair with Marth. The bigger point is to show you how to practice things step by step and work your way up, a little at a time. Instead of failing to SH double fair over and over, it's better to gradually start with something a lot easier and then keep progressing to slightly harder things. It's a lot more fun to practice when you're learning new things, successfully, as you go along.

Whatever you want to learn, for whatever character, try to figure out a series of small steps that can help you build up to it. Commonly people recommend pressing the buttons slowly at first and then speeding up. That is great advice but there's other ways to practice too.

All the information in this post, I basically had to figure out myself (except the frame data). No one told me to try practicing bairs fast enough I would turn around. But I find it really helpful as an intermediate step. I hope some Marths find this helpful, and also everyone understands the method of creating a gradual progression of small steps to practice. Most melee training information doesn't cover little things this basic, like I never ever heard anyone say "practice doing SH fair fast enough you land without going into recovery from attacking", but I think it's a really useful idea. So hopefully this will encourage a lot of really new players who are struggling. By breaking things down into smaller steps like this, you'll be able to see your progress and succeed one step at a time.

For part 2 at my blog, click here. It provides another example with the same philosophical point.

For all parts beyond 2, and some people's helpful replies, see my thread at Smashboards.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Israel and Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:
Today the Cabinet will be briefed on the security challenges developing around us, first and foremost Iran's attempt to increase its foothold on Israel's borders even as it works to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Alongside Iran's direct guidance of Hezbollah's actions in the north and Hamas' in the south, Iran is trying to also to develop a third front on the Golan Heights via the thousands of Hezbollah fighters who are in southern Syria and over which Iran holds direct command. The fact that Iran is continuing its murderous terrorism that knows no borders and which embraces the region and the world has, to our regret, not prevented the international community from continuing to talk with Iran about a nuclear agreement that will allow it to build the industrial capacity to develop nuclear weapons.

... The agreement that is being formulated between Iran and the major powers is dangerous for Israel and therefore I will go to the US next week in order to explain to the American Congress, which could influence the fate of the agreement, why this agreement is dangerous for Israel, the region and the entire world.
This is very important. Obama wants Israel to be destroyed, and is actively pursuing that agenda, and most Americans don't recognize it. And Obama is far from alone in this matter.

I look forward to Netanyahu's speech and seeing the reactions. Maybe he can talk some sense into America. I really hope so.

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Anti-Deviance Strategy

Most statements which are sufficiently deviant (from cultural norms) are assumed to be jokes by default. This is a way of protecting everyone from admitting that serious disagreements exist.

For example, if you say, "Thank you so much, you've persuaded me and I've learned a lot. I will completely rethink all my values and take on board the moral values you've shared with me." that reads as likely sarcasm because it would be much more rational than typical people in our culture.

And if you sound significantly less rational than the typical person, it again doesn't read as serious. For example, "I hate you for trying to use logic to share ideas with me that you think would help me. I'm very mad that you could be so arrogant as to think you could know anything useful to me. Did it ever occur to you that I don't want to think?" People will assume someone doesn't really mean that and is just making a joke, perhaps an exaggerated parody to imply the other guy is wrongly treating him like the person in the parody.

Statements which are reasonably normal are taken at face value, but statements which are deviant are frequently not treated as real statements in the usual way. This is a way of denying the existence of deviance and generally suppressing disagreement and pretending it doesn't exist. It's a strategy which helps people irrationally refuse to consider many disagreements and criticism.

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Comments on Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics by George Reisman. Part 1

Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is free at this link.
The theory of marginal utility resolved the paradox of value which had been propounded by Adam Smith and which had prevented the classical economists from grounding exchange value in utility. “The things which have the greatest value in use,” Smith observed, “have frequently little or no value in exchange; and on the contrary, those which have the greatest value in exchange have frequently little or no value in use. Nothing is more useful than water: but it will purchase scarce any thing; scarce any thing can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any value in use; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it.”

The only explanation, the classical economists concluded, is that while things must have utility in order to possess exchange value, the actual determinant of exchange value is cost of production. In contrast, the theory of marginal utility made it possible to ground exchange value in utility after all—by showing that the exchange value of goods such as water and diamonds is determined by their respective marginal utilities. The marginal utility of a good is the utility of the particular quantity of it under consideration, taking into account the quantity of the good one already possesses or has access to. Thus, if all the water one has available in a day is a single quart, so that one’s very life depends on that water, the value of water will be greater than that of diamonds. A traveler carrying a bag of diamonds, who is lost in the middle of the desert, will be willing to exchange his diamonds for a quart of water to save his life. But if, as is usually the case, a person already has access to a thousand or ten thousand gallons of water a day, and it is a question of an additional quart more or less—that is, of a marginal quart—then both the utility and the exchange value of a quart of water will be virtually nothing. Diamonds can be more valuable than water, consistent with utility, whenever, in effect, it is a question of the utility of the first diamond versus that of the ten-thousandth quart of water.
I don't think this is a very good explanation, because it doesn't explain why people don't pay a lot more for their first gallon of water. People do value their first gallon of water per day highly, and would pay a lot for it if they couldn't buy it cheaper.

For context, let me say that the book is packed full of great explanations. This part stood out for comment due to being an exception.

I think the actual reason water is cheap is high supply (relative to demand). (Or it would be if there was a free market for water. I don't know how the actual water market works. In real life there may be government controls. But the point here is abstract discussion of how markets work, not about the real US situation.)

In a free market for water, if someone tried to charge me a lot for my first gallon of water per day – say, 75% of the value to me, so we'd both benefit – the reason I wouldn't buy that water is because his competitor would sell it to me cheaper (and still make plenty of profit), because water is sufficiently plentiful and cheap to bring to market. Not because the marginal value of my 1000th gallon of water per day is only a tiny amount of money and I'd go without more water before paying a lot for that 1000th gallon.

I think a lot of other readers would have a similar objection, which is a problem even if for some reason Reisman's completely right here. At this point, I don't particularly suspect I have a substantial disagreement about economics with Reisman, I think he just did a bad job of explaining this topic in this small, early part of the book, but I'm expecting (or hoping for) some better explanations of this later.
Very soon thereafter, the whole Circle Bastiat, myself included, met again with Ayn Rand. We were all tremendously enthusiastic over Atlas. Rothbard wrote Ayn Rand a letter, in which, I believe, he compared her to the sun, which one cannot approach too closely. I truly thought that Atlas Shrugged would convert the country—in about six weeks; I could not understand how anyone could read it without being either convinced by what it had to say or else hospitalized by a mental breakdown.

The following winter, Rothbard, Raico, and I, and, I think, Bob Hessen, all enrolled in the very first lecture course ever delivered on Objectivism. This was before Objectivism even had the name “Objectivism” and was still described simply as “the philosophy of Ayn Rand.” Nevertheless, by the summer of that same year, 1958, tensions had begun to develop between Rothbard and Ayn Rand, which led to a shattering of relationships, including my friendship with him.
That Rothbard letter can be found here. I think it may be Rothbard's most interesting writing.

I agree with Reisman that Atlas Shrugged should have persuaded the whole country in about six weeks. That it didn't is one of the largest and most important unsolved philosophical problems. (Note I'm thinking of this problem broadly. Why didn't Popper's work persuade much of his audience? Szasz? Deutsch? I consider those the same issue. Atlas Shrugged is the best, but there's a lot of good work which should have persuaded a lot of people but has only had limited success.)
13. Cf. Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty (New York: Macmillan, 1973). In that book, Rothbard wrote: “Empirically, the most warlike, most interventionist, most imperial government throughout the twentieth century has been the United States” (p. 287; italics in original). In sharpest contrast to the United States, which has supposedly been more warlike even than Nazi Germany, Rothbard described the Soviets in the following terms: “Before World War II, so devoted was Stalin to peace that he failed to make adequate provision against the Nazi attack. . . . Not only was there no Russian expansion whatever apart from the exigencies of defeating Germany, but the Soviet Union time and again leaned over backward to avoid any cold or hot war with the West” (p. 294).
I already had a very low opinion of Rothbard. He has a lot of really awful views, such as anti-semitism and children-as-property. I didn't know this specific thing. (Some of his writing about economics is actually pretty decent.)
It is the division of labor which introduces a degree of complexity into economic life that makes necessary the existence of a special science of economics. For the division of labor entails economic phenomena existing on a scale in space and time that makes it impossible to comprehend them by means of personal observation and experience alone. Economic life under a system of division of labor can be comprehended only by means of an organized body of knowledge that proceeds by deductive reasoning from elementary principles. This, of course, is the work of the science of economics. [emphasis mine]
I strongly disagree with this epistemology, which thinks you have some foundations and deduce the rest. See Karl Popper or my other writing for details.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Twitter Threading is Terrible

Here is a conversation I had on Twitter, in order. This is fine:

And here's my main Twitter feed. Notice how Twitter has taken the same conversation, shown it as four separate parts, which are out of order and incomplete. And Twitter put things together which don't go together (my reply to @Spiff is linked to @asymco's tweet). It's extremely confusing and terrible.

I've noticed other major problems with Twitter threading too. (Threading is how it puts together multiple tweets into one conversation. An example of an OK method is chronological order, like my first screenshot. Split into parts, out of order, with some messages omitted, is an example of a very bad method.)

No Context

Often I view a tweet which replies to something, but when I click through to details I cannot see what it replies to. Ugh... Twitter please get your act together. (Or better yet, someone make a better website and replace Twitter. Thanks in advance.)

Here is an example. Ann Coulter replies to someone talking about a school censoring "this word", and suggests "raghead" instead. But what word was it? I don't know and there's no reasonable way to find out because Twitter's threading is broken: it doesn't show me the prior tweets in the conversation.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Proposal to Alter Graph Misleadingly

The graph @asymco tweeted is normal enough. Focus your attention on the reply from @Spiff.

The reason some of the revenue data looks compressed on the current revenue scale is because it is. Trying to change that is trying to mislead viewers.

What @Spiff proposes is an example of How To Lie With Statistics. He's intentionally trying to make the graph look different than it normally would to meet an agenda of his and give the viewer a different impression.

His tweet may seem innocuous but it's really bad. He's a bad scholar wannabe. Stuff like this is not OK. Bar graphs for typical quantities should use a linear scale, starting at 0, unless there's a damn good reason to do otherwise. If you do something else, the bars are no longer proportional to each other in the intuitive way, so it misleads viewers.

For example, suppose the graph started with revenue at $50,000,000 instead of 0. Then all the bars would be shorter. This would make the smaller bars shorter by a large percentage, and make them look even shorter compared to the big bars. That'd be really bad! When someone looked at it and thought "this bar is twice as big as this other bar", that would no longer be a valid way of reasoning due to not starting at 0.

Or suppose the graph used a log scale like @Spiff proposed. A log scale mean the revenue would be labelled like $0, $1, $10 $100, $1000, instead of like $0, $10 million, $20 million, $30 million, etc... See how misleading that could be? What it means is, again, when someone compares the sizes of the bars he gets the wrong idea. When he thinks, "This bar is about 20% higher than the bar before it", he's being played for a fool.

Don't play people for a fool. Don't try to trick them. Don't have an agenda for how you want your graph to look and then adjust things to achieve it. Just make a simple graph that makes sense and then leave it alone and let it speak for itself. Tinkering with your graph as @Spiff proposes is dishonest (or clueless and still harmful).

Scholarship, please.

Update: @asymco says:
Share prices are frequently graphed using log scales by default. I don't condone the practice.
I'm sad to hear how common bad scholarship is. That's terrible. But I'm glad @asymco understands this and does a better job. Thumbs up to him! Here's @asymco's blog which I read regularly.

Update 2: @Spiff now agrees with my point about log scales (I think).

Update 3: Here is an example of a very bad article advocating bad use of log charts. It looks mainstream and has a tone of sharing uncontroversial knowledge.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reading Resources

Many people say they are too busy to learn much, or learn well. And don't have time to read books.

These same people typically don't know how to speed read. Why not? If time is the issue, why not learn speed reading and then read more? Because they are lying and the real issue is they don't want to read or learn.

Regardless, I want to discuss some aspects of how speed reading works.

The most powerful form of speed reading is RSVP. It's easier to see what it is than explain – click here. You see 1 to 5 words at a time and the computer updates them quickly.

It's very reasonably achievable to read twice as fast with RSVP compared to regular book reading. So you can read a book in 3 hours instead of 6 hours. You don't have to read many books to pay back the time invested in learning to use RSVP. Actually the time investment is pretty near zero – the best way to learn RSVP is to start using it at speeds only a little faster than your normal reading (and I'd recommend 3-4 words appearing at a time to start with, not 1), and work your way up as you practice. Since you learn while reading, it doesn't cost you any time if you were going to read anyway. It starts saving a little time right away, and a lot more later.

Reading costs resources other than time. For example, if you use RSVP to read twice as many books, and you buy your books from Amazon, you'll have to pay Amazon twice as much money. But books are cheap, I hope you'll forgive this "problem" with RSVP.

Using RSVP software requires e-books. If you have a paper book, you can't read it with RSVP. This is the biggest difficulty with RSVP due to DRM. E-books like Kindle books are easy to get and exist for many, many books. And they are typically cheaper than paper books. The problem is when trying to prevent you from giving copies of the book to your friends (or strangers), they also try to prevent you from reading the book in anything but their official software (which doesn't support RSVP). To read a book with RSVP, you need it without copy protection. So you have to read from a limited pool of free books, or use torrents or book download websites, or use software to remove the DRM. This is not hard, but unfortunately you can't just get started reading any book from Kindle in 5 minutes. It might take you a couple hours to set up DRM removal software, or half an hour to find a book downloading website or get a torrent program.

Buying e-books and removing the DRM so you can read them in your own choice of software is completely reasonable and moral. If you don't distribute the books to others, you aren't doing anything wrong. You pay for the book, and then read your book, that you own, with the software of your choice. That's it. What's wrong with that? Nothing. It also offers the best selection of books available. People should learn how to do this. It isn't very hard.

Mental Energy

So with RSVP you read a book in 3 hours instead of 6 hours. Is that harder or easier, once you know how? Easier. It leaves you less drained, less fatigued, less mentally tired. But how much easier? Since you spend half as much time reading, does that mean it takes half as much mental energy? No. For every hour using RSVP, you get more mentally tired than one hour of regular reading.

With RSVP, you get less mentally tired per page read, but more tired per minute of reading.

A rough estimate is that while you're saving 50% for time, you're only saving 25% for mental energy.

Say regular reading finishes 100 words in 100 units of time and uses up 100 units of mental energy. Then RSVP would read 100 words in 50 units of time and use up 75 units of mental energy. This is a good thing.

Busy People

Let's hypothetically suppose that RSVP used up 125 mental energy units instead of 75. Then you'd be saving time but spending more mental energy per word. Would that be good?

Certainly not for everyone. But for a lot of people, RSVP would still be very useful in that scenario. People who are low on time would still use RSVP to save time. They'd be effectively trading some mental energy for some time. They'd be converting one resource (mental energy) into another (time). If they are low on time, doing a conversion to save time is useful.

Most people, including most "busy" people, only use a fraction of their mental energy each day anyway. They've got a lot to spare. (Many will lie and say otherwise. The issue is not that they are too mentally fatigued to think more, it's really that they don't like thinking, so they say they are mentally fatigued to excuse their choice not to think much.)

But real RSVP saves both time and mental energy. That makes it such an amazing deal. It'd ridiculous that very few people use it. This is a good example of how people make huge mistakes which makes their quality of life dramatically worse.

The only real reason not to use RSVP is if you don't read. Which would be a big mistake, but for different reasons. Thinking and ideas are important! But I won't go into that here. If you want an explanation, you can read Philosophy: Who Needs It or ask at the Fallible Ideas Email Discussion Group.

Different Types of Mental Energy

There's different types of mental energy. If you get tired from reading and are too mentally fatigued to read more, you can usually still do something else, including listen to an audio book. But they aren't totally different: if you can normally comfortably read for 5 hours in a row, but first you get really tired from playing chess for 10 hours, you'll find you run out of reading mental energy faster. All that chess used up the majority of your reading energy. All sorts of different types of mental energy are linked significantly but not entirely – using one uses a lot of the other, but running out of one often doesn't completely run you out of the other.

One consequence is that if you're using mental energy for other parts of your life, and you add in some reading, this is not a zero sum game. Every bit of mental energy going to reading does not mean less mental energy for other tasks. Maybe two thirds of the mental energy for reading has to be subtracted from other tasks, but one third is a bonus.

Audio Books

Audio books make speed reading even more convenient than text books. Lots of audio book software already has an option to turn up the speed. Unfortunately a lot of software only lets you listen at 1.5x or 2x speed, even though a skilled listener can listen at 2.5x or 3x. (A lot of audio books are read very slowly, significantly slower than regular slow text reading.) Please be careful because some software labels 1.5x speed as "2x" and 2x speed as "3x". This mislabelling includes the software from Apple and Amazon (Audible). You can easily test this by playing something at "2x" for 1 minute (using a clock) from the beginning, and then see how far along you are – 90 seconds or 2 minutes in.

Audio book selection is limited, but this can be fixed with text-to-speech software such as Voice Dream Reader. (I use the "Paul" voice.) Text-to-speech software now works extremely well. The only problem is if you buy a book on Kindle with DRM, you can't read it with your own choice of software, like we talked about before. That means no RSVP and also no text-to-speech. Unless you remove the DRM, which isn't that hard.

Some people worry that text-to-speech software is harder to understand than human speech. This may have been true in the past, but it is not true today. Actually, text-to-speech is better and easier to understand at high speeds because it's 100% consistent about pronunciation and pacing. Not every single word is pronounced correctly, but most are, and they are always pronounced the same way, and you can still understand it (and if you're really bothered, you can tinker with it and fix how it pronounces words).

How do audio books compare to RSVP and regular reading? Using the same numbers as before where regular was 100/100/100 and RSVP was 100/50/75, audio book speed reading would be 100 words in 75 time using 40 mental energy (audio books without turning up the speed would be more like 100 words in 150 time using 35 mental energy, there's really no good reason to do that. once you're good at this, if you're tired you can just turn the speed down from 2.5x to 2x or something like that, and it feels very easy, there's no reason to use 1x speed).

Audio books are a great way of reading, even though they are slower than RSVP, because they are less mentally draining and still pretty fast. And it's basically free to learn to listen to audio books at higher speeds: just turn it up a little at a time and you'll learn while reading without any separate practice or training or lessons.

The other great thing about audio books is you can easily mulititask. You can easily listen to an audiobook while walking somewhere, while on public transit, while driving, while exercising, while showering (with speakers instead of headphones), or while eating. It works with some other activities too, such as playing video games, though that can require some skill if it's a hard game. Whereas to multitask an audio book with exercise basically requires no skill, anyone can do it right away.

TV and Movies

TV and movies can be watched at higher speeds to save time. Again you can learn this gradually while doing it, so it's basically a free skill that saves a huge amount of time for zero downside. The speed you can watch something depends on factors like how fast they talk and whether they have accents. But once you are good, you can watch most TV and movies using from 2x to 2.5x speed, while being completely comfortable and relaxed. And getting up to being comfortable at 1.5x speed comes pretty quickly and is still fast enough to save a lot of time.


Another advantage of speed reading, speed listening and speed watching is that it increases the amount of interesting stuff you engage with per minute. It makes the book or show effectively have denser content, so it's more interesting. All the good parts are packed closer together. This is especially valuable if you need to read something for a school class but it's kind of boring. It makes stuff less boring, more interesting. It's also great if you're bored and have trouble finding enough interesting stuff, because it will change some books and shows from too boring to worthwhile.


There's other types of speed reading, but I think most of them are inferior to RSVP and there's no reason to use them. Most other methods of speed reading are designed to work with paper books, but the fact is software is more powerful and superior to paper books. And a speed reading method that utilizes software (RSVP) is superior to one that doesn't.

However, there is a notable form of reading, which is sort of speed reading, which is great. It's called skimming. If you don't need to read every word, don't! This can be a lot faster than even RSVP if you can skip over half the text. And there are plenty of reasons to take a look at something but not read all of it. That's really useful. You might want to see what it is and see if you're interested, but instead of just reading the beginning you skip ahead. A great way to get a sense of a book is to go to a chapter that sounds interesting, read a few paragraphs, skip a few pages, read a few paragraphs, skip a few pages, etc. It's better to adjust what to skip, when, depending what you read though, don't just turn pages thoughtlessly.

RSVP turned up to a really high speed has some similarities to skimming. Both are really fast, and in both cases you miss stuff. What are the main differences? With very fast RSVP, you don't miss any sections of text. Say you're trying to find out if the author addresses a particular counter-argument. He might do that in one paragraph somewhere in the middle of the chapter. If you skim, you could easily miss that paragraph. If you use very high speed RSVP, you'll see every paragraph and you won't miss it. If you're reading too fast you might not understand it, but you'll see the topic and stop and then read that paragraph again.

If you ever want to say something like, "the author doesn't cover topic X" you need to read every sentence, even if very quickly so you don't understand every detail perfectly. But most of the time you don't need to say things like that, and it's no big deal if you miss something, so skimming is great.

I think both skimming and very fast RSVP are underrated. People will try too hard to finish the whole book, or something like that. But a lot of books you can just quickly go through the best parts, look for parts of particular interest to you, etc, and miss a bunch, and you get more value for your time/effort than if you read the whole book.

Books don't have a totally consistent level of quality, and not all the material is equally interesting to you. For most books, the less good parts are not as worthwhile to read for you as just reading one of the better parts from another book (even if that second book is, overall, less good or less interesting to you). Since you aren't going to read all the interesting books – you won't run out – don't hesitate to go through a book quickly. If you can get 75% of the value from the book in 50% of the time, that's absolutely wonderful and you should be thrilled and move on to the next book and do the same thing with it too.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fun Bastiat Passage

I started reading the French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850). So far it's enjoyable – he's good at economics and has a fun writing style (even though it's a translation and he wrote a long time ago). This part struck me as particularly fun: The Bastiat Collection, Part 1, "That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen", Chapter 7, "Protectionism" begins:
Mr. Protectionist (it was not I who gave him this name, but Mr. Charles Dupin) devoted his time and capital to converting the ore found on his land into iron. As nature had been more lavish toward the Belgians, they furnished the French with iron cheaper than Mr. Protectionist; which means, that all the French, or France, could obtain a given quantity of iron with less labor by buying it of the honest Flemings. Therefore, guided by their own interest, they did not fail to do so; and every day there might be seen a multitude of nail-smiths, blacksmiths, cartwrights, machinists, farriers, and laborers, going themselves, or sending intermediaries, to supply themselves in Belgium. This displeased Mr. Protectionist exceedingly.

At first, it occurred to him to put an end to this abuse by his own efforts: it was the least he could do, for he was the only sufferer. “I will take my carbine,” said he; “ I will put four pistols into my belt; I will fill my cartridge box; I will gird on my sword, and go thus equipped to the frontier. There, the first blacksmith, nail-smith, farrier, machinist, or locksmith, who presents himself to do his own business and not mine, I will kill, to teach him how to live.” At the moment of starting, Mr. Protectionist made a few reflections which calmed down his warlike ardor a little. He said to himself, “In the first place, it is not absolutely impossible that the purchasers of iron, my countrymen and enemies, should take the thing ill, and, instead of letting me kill them, should kill me instead; and then, even were I to call out all my servants, we should not be able to defend the passages. In short, this proceeding would cost me very dear, much more so than the result would be worth.”

Mr. Protectionist was on the point of resigning himself to his sad fate, that of being only as free as the rest of the world, when a ray of light darted across his brain. He recollected that at Paris there is a great factory of laws. “What is a law?” said he to himself. “It is a measure to which, when once it is decreed, be it good or bad, everybody is bound to conform. For the execution of the same a public force is organized, and to constitute the said public force, men and money are drawn from the whole nation. If, then, I could only get the great Parisian manufactory to pass a little law, ‘Belgian iron is prohibited,’ I should obtain the following results: The Government would replace the few valets that I was going to send to the frontier by 20,000 of the sons of those refractory blacksmiths, farriers, artisans, machinists, locksmiths, nail-smiths, and laborers. Then to keep these 20,000 custom-house officers in health and good humor, it would distribute among them 25,000,000 francs taken from these blacksmiths, nail-smiths, artisans, and laborers. They would guard the frontier much better; would cost me nothing; I should not be exposed to the brutality of the brokers; should sell the iron at my own price, and have the sweet satisfaction of seeing our great people shamefully mystified. That would teach them to proclaim themselves perpetually the harbingers and promoters of progress in Europe. Oh! it would be a capital joke, and deserves to be tried.”

So Mr. Protectionist went to the law factory. Another time, perhaps, I shall relate the story of his underhanded dealings, but now I shall merely mention his visible proceedings. He brought the following consideration before the view of the legislating gentlemen.
And the proposal was a variation of the broken window fallacy. Or as Bastiat usually talks about it, the issue of the seen and the unseen. All the commerce in the French iron industry resulting from protectionism is seen when evaluating the proposal. The lost commerce in other industries, due to people having to pay more for iron – and therefore buying less of other things – is not seen.

If you're interested, read the rest of the chapter, and perhaps more, in the free book.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller Misquote Obama

Jihad Watch has run this headline:
Obama: Iran has “no aspiration to get a nuclear weapon” because “it would be contrary to their faith”
Pamela Geller has a similar headline:
Obama: Iran Won’t Pursue Nuclear Weapons Because It’s ‘Contrary to Their Faith’
I don't like Obama and don't normally defend him. But this is false, and scholarship comes first. Obama says enough bad things, there's no need to misrepresent what he said and take quotes out of context. It isn't helping anything. It hurts our cause to get things wrong.

The truth needs to come first, and attacking the left second. Attack them when they're actually wrong, not just as a universal policy. And pay attention to the truth so you know when they're wrong, instead of just assuming they always are. Please.

What Obama actually said was, paraphrasing: Iran claims to have no nuclear aspirations because it'd be contrary to their faith, and if Iran is telling the truth about this then they'll be happy to accept Obama's political deal.

Obama didn't say it'd be contrary to their faith for Iran to get a nuclear weapon, nor did Obama say Iran won't try to get a nuclear weapon. The Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller headlines make both of those false claims.

Obama saying Iran claims something that may or may not be true, and Obama believing it himself, are completely different.

Obama was actually careful to emphasize that it was just Iran's claim. Obama used the phrases, "And if in fact what they claim is true" and "if that is true" and "But we don’t know if that’s going to happen." Three times in one paragraph, Obama made it clear that he was talking about Iran's claims which may or may not be true. Yet Jihad Watch ignores that and lies about what Obama was saying.

Here is the full paragraph that Jihad Watch is talking about, which Jihad Watch is well aware of (they included this text at the end of their article):
And if in fact what they claim is true, which is they have no aspiration to get a nuclear weapon, that in fact, according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal. They should be able to get to yes. But we don’t know if that’s going to happen.
As you can see, in an epic scholarship fail, Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller grossly misrepresented what Obama said.

Update: I contacted Spencer and Geller by blog comments, twitter, and email. Except Spencer's email button is broken. My blog comment made it through moderation at Jihad Watch, but at Geller's site it isn't showing up and new comments on the post have been approved after mine, so I may have been censored (to make matters more confusing, her blog software is buggy and sometimes reports a post has different numbers of comments in different places, and my comment showed up on the sidebar as a new comment even when it wasn't visible on the post and the link didn't work). Spencer and Geller were at their computers tweeting and it's been hours, and it hasn't been fixed yet. This kind of thing is urgent because most readers see posts when they are new. So after waiting, I just tweeted David Horowitz too, and let them know with the Front Page Mag contact form. Someone better care. I'm going to lose a lot of respect for them if this isn't fixed. I will update again if anything happens.

Update 2: It's the next day and nothing has improved. I think my comment on Geller's cite was censored. My comment on Jihad Watch was flamed by two people. Nothing has been fixed. This is very sad.

Update 3: I've lost hope. No error correction. Very sad. David Horowitz and associates are now on my Scholarship Watchlist. Someone should fact check them with the same format I used for Ann Coulter (and also the regular way of checking things you find suspicious).

Update 4: When reading a new article, I noticed Geller's site says this above the comments:
Comments at Atlas Shrugs are unmoderated. Posts using foul language, as well as abusive, hateful, libelous and genocidal posts, will be deleted if seen. However, if a comment remains on the site, it in no way constitutes an endorsement by Pamela Geller of the sentiments contained therein.
My blocked post did not have foul language, and it wasn't abusive or hateful, and certainly not genocidal. So what happened to it? The site policy is a lie.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

David Deutsch's Anna Story

David Deutsch posted this story in January 2000 to the public Taking Children Seriously email list. The subject line was "academics". I later wrote my own Anna story. One criticism of DD's story is that it overvalues school, formal education and academics.

Eliana WestEmmer asked:
After visiting the "Puzzling Parenting" stuff, I went to the TCS site and read Sarah's wonderful article about math(s).

It got me wondering. I am imagining a kid, no -- a family of three kids. The kids are, um, 10, 12 & 15. The parents have resisted the urge to push academics on them. They have not done any academic math(s). They play video games, chat on the internet, build lego stuff, build tree-houses, etc.

Would somebody write for me a description of life from here on? Tell me a story, that includes the 15 year old becoming a scientist. I am just having trouble picturing them starting math so late... Would somebody help me with this idea?
And later:
The concern is genuine. Without knowledge, how do we come to be who it is we are "meant" to be? And is there not a point, developmentally, where it can be "too late"?
NO. I am sure it can't be "too late."

What I really want is a way to picture life from here for, say, the oldest one (15, was it?). Does she begin with fractions and decimals
Maybe. Probably not.
and work her way up to algebra, then calculus?
Calculus is almost certain to follow, rather than precede, algebra, yes.
Does she start at the local community college
Quite possibly.
in remedial classes?
No, in normal classes.
What does such a life LOOK like?
Well OK, if you really insist on knowing, I'll tell you. I know all the details except her name, so let's call her Anna.

Sometime this year, Anna's previous interest in Lego, treehouse-building, the internet and computer games will all come together and draw her attention to a major TV documentary about how stunts are arranged in movies. She will start building such stunts in the garden, each more ingenious than the last, using all sorts of props and filming them on a video camera. One day, a physics teacher will walk past and see her doing this. Calling to her to give her advice about how to balance a particular arrangement of planks, he will inadvertently cause her to fall fifteen feet onto the grass, fortunately causing only a broken toe.

Anna will have to wait three hours for treatment in the emergency room, which could have been excruciating (because the slightly addled person waiting on her left suffering from chronic whiteboard-marker poisoning will be a mathematics teacher eager to plug the gaps in her home education), but in the event, it will pass quickly because she will get into conversation with the fascinating person waiting on her right, a huge lady called Agnes. Turns out Agnes' ex-husband used to do stunts in Hollywood and she used to help him before she found out about some of the other stunts he pulled -- but that's another story. Anyway, now she owns three successful cafes in town and has just bought two more and wants to go up-market. She's been talking to an advertising agency about making a series of ads for the local TV. She hasn't liked any of their ideas so far, but soon finds that Anna is bubbling with great ideas for how to advertise high-class restaurants using movie-like stunts. Agnes will be surprised and delighted to hear that Anna actually has videos of several stunts she has arranged single-handed (with a little help from her little brothers) and will tell her her to drop by at her office next say.

Next day Anna will hobble along to Agnes' office above one of her restaurants, currently being re-fitted with the new up-market decor. Agnes will love the videos, and will commission Anna to design five stunts for the new series of ads, and execute them for the TV people. Anna will earn three thousand dollars for this, but think no more about it until six months later when the advertising agency will offer her a similar job, albeit for only $500. She will accept, because even though it's a lot of work and the materials alone will cost almost that much, she will enjoy it enormously. The following week, someone will let the agency down and they will phone around in desperation for anyone they know who can do a firework display. Anna will never have done such a thing, and technically it's illegal, but she will agree to step in to help them out. Not only will the display be a great success, but Anna will meet and fall instantly in love with ... the computerised timing device that the agency gave her to time the fireworks. She will ask if she can borrow it, and for the next year it will spend far more time in her garage than at the agency, for she will think of more and more ways to use it to do wonderful stunts, and also special effects. She will also start editing her movies on the agency's professional computerised editing system.

One day in the cutting room, she will meet a pro who is engaged in a science documentary. He will be a mathematics graduate -- who has forgotten all the maths he ever knew and will now be spending all his time filming animals mating. So they won't talk about maths but she will show him how to hide some of the more repulsive aspects of his footage using a difficult timed transition on the editing machine, and in return he will introduce her to his boss, whose next documentary will be about the NASA robots that will one day explore Mars. Anna will be hired as a technical assistant on that documentary, and will dazzle everyone with the exciting stunts she will think of to demonstrate how these robots will behave on Mars. The boss will offer her a permanent job on the team, but she will refuse, because while at NASA, she will also have helped one of the astronomers out with making a promotional movie designed to persuade the government to fund more infra-red satellites. The problem will have been how to display, in an eye-catching and persuasive way, the complex data that demonstrate why such satellites are better than ground-based telescopes. Anna will succeed at this so well that she will have persuaded herself too. She will spend the next two years working for one of NASA'a subcontractors, first in the publicity department, then designing user-interfaces for satellite ground stations, and then even some aspects of the satellites themselves.

All this will involve a lot of interactions between herself and astrophysics graduate students, but slowly the attraction of satellites will wear off, and she will realise that her real love is *theoretical* astronomy. She'll read a book about calculus, do a six-month adult-education course in physics to fill in the gaps in what she's picked up, and then apply to take an undergraduate degree in astronomy, complete it a year ahead of time and then be accepted for a PhD in quasar structure. At that point she will officially become a SCIENTIST.

Meanwhile she will have had two children with the NASA astronomer (who will have left astronomy to become an internet millionaire and failed miserably, but will by that time be blissfully happy again as a home maker), and she will worry that the children won't achieve anything in life unless they have a good grounding in the basics, especially mathematics, but for some unaccountable reason the ungrateful little wretches will be digging their heels in and refusing to listen.

-- David Deutsch

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)