July 2023 BenGoldhaber.com Newsletter
Precision engineering, superior studying, and excellent parties.
Ben’s interior design tips and tricks for summer:
Remote controlled electrical outlets. There’s a lot of electronics that are nice, but I’m not going to get out of bed to switch them on/off when I’m ready for sleep (looking at you humidifier). I can use this handy remote to do it, and I don’t have to feel ridiculous like I would with a clapper.
Get a bunch of floor lights, or desk lights you put on the floor. There’s a soothing effect that comes from having light emitted below eye line. It feels like a campfire. Make sure to get the right, warm bulbs. Pair them with the remote control. (h/t John Salvatier for letting me stay in his room and whose style I’m now biting).
Home Depot Plants: Home depot will sell you plants. The plants they will sell you are not normal plants - they’ve been trained through a martial regimen to thrive in conditions of neglect and darkness. I have gotten several plants from them that serve, like a bodyguard, for my one normal fern.
If you have a bunch of cardboard from buying furniture and amazon purchases, consider not leaving it in a corner for months; instead, pay someone from the internet to pick it up and take it away.
That’s it for this edition of interior design tips and tricks. I am hoping to not have to decorate a new place again for, say, at least six months. But! Man plans and the god laughs, as they say, and they say that in particular when you’re trying to decide for the third time in 18 months what IKEA desk to get. Which reminds me, treat yourself and get a solid wood Karlby countertop.
I’ve been aware of Warhammer 40k for a while - it’s up there with Twilight Imperium as a real nerds nerd kind of activity, in addition to being insanely quotable (blood for the blood god). It wasn’t until I saw this twitter thread though that I appreciated just how much of a grassroots phenomenon it has become:
The growth has been an almost entirely viral phenomenon, driven by passionate fans creating online content. I’ve watched the Attenborough Lore series on YouTube, where someone does the best deepfakes of David Attenborough narrating Warhammer 40k storylines - it’s compelling.
We are as gods - how precision engineers created the modern world: An ode to the breathtaking levels of control and mastery of physics and materials that humanity has achieved.
Initially, the story of precision and mechanisation is indistinguishable from an ode to Britain… some time in the early 20th century (and in some respects much earlier) the Americans pick up the baton in manufacturing and technology. Where the Rolls-Royce was the epitome of precision manufacturing no expenses spared, Henry Ford brought the assembly line and mass manufacturing to the world.
‘This it does, first, at the cool end of the pigtail, but because the mold here is so twisted, only the fastest-growing crystals and those with their molecules distributed with what is called a face-centered cubic arrangement, for complex reasons known only to students of the arcana of metallurgy, manage to get through. And through this magic of metallurgy, the entire blade then assembles itself from the one crystal that makes it along the pigtail, and ends up with all its molecules lined up evenly. It has become, in other words, a single crystal of metal.’ Alchemists weren’t nearly ambitious enough! They merely sought to turn lead into gold, never to grow uber-strong mechanical components whole.
Pair the review with the news of an ambient pressure, room temperature superconductor. Metaculus is skeptical, but I confess I want to believe.
As you’ve no doubt picked up by now I’m a big fan of Dwarkesh Patel and Andy Matuschak, and I was excited to listen to Dwarkesh’s interview of Andy on learning systems. They paired it with a video showing Andy using his techniques and tools to study Quantum Mechanics. You can see how he approaches learning - methodically, slowly, and with intense attention to his *actual* level of understanding. Watch like five minutes of it - for instance 5:30 to 10:30 - to understand how he actively relates to the text.
He is constantly asking question and answering them through inquiry and additional research, checking if every sentence in the book makes sense with his existing models, and when it doesn’t, he stops and tries to learn more. It’s the instantiation of this advice from How to Read a Book:
A good book deserves an active reading. The activity of reading does not stop with the work of understanding what a book says. It must be completed by the work of criticism, the work of judging. The undemanding reader fails to satisfy this requirement, probably even more than he fails to analyze and interpret. He not only makes no effort to understand; he also dismisses a book simply by putting it aside and forgetting it. Worse than faintly praising it, he damns it by giving it no critical consideration whatever.
Conversely though, there’s also a freeing effect to seeing someone go above and beyond in this way. There’s no one forcing you to turn the page in the book, you can take your time until you truly get it.
In AI Alignment news, there are two contenders for the biggest stories of the past month:
The launch of the OpenAI Superalignment team. OA has pledged 20% of their compute budget to AI Alignment experiments. I think this is great, even if I’m not confident their approach to alignment will work. I expect more investment and attention to alignment will cause them to update away from doomed RLHF only agendas.
Senate hearings featuring testimony from the CEO of Anthropic, Dario Amodei. Sen. Blumenthal two months ago was taking existential risk to mean a reference to job loss, and now he is talking more about the potential general dangers of superintelligence.
There have been reports of AI chatbots becoming a common feature in RuneScape; keeping track of realistic AI bots in MMORPGs seems like a leading indicator of weirdness in the real world.
What the humans like is responsiveness. Sasha Chapin highlights how charisma and likability are tied to a core human need of responsiveness, that sense of affecting the world and others. The essay really resonated with me; we want to actually impact and be impacted, both in our person-person connection and in our work.2
Talking with her is like dancing lead with a really good follow. And dancing with a really good follow is fantastic. They make you feel like their endless marvelousness is a product of your actions.
Mosquito bites will stop itching if you apply heat, which breaks down the proteins that cause the swelling and itching. I’ve done this with a heated metal spoon and it works - I wish this had been common knowledge when I was a kid enduring NC summers full of mosquitos.
Higher Education is Shockingly Rightwing: Look at how institutions are actually structured to understand their underlying worldview.
If "left" and "right" have any meaning at all, "right" describes a worldview under which civilized society depends upon legitimate hierarchy, and a key object of politics is properly defining and protecting that hierarchy.
Whatever else colleges and universities do in the United States, they define and police our most consequential social hierarchy, the dividing line between a prosperous if precarious professional class and a larger, often immiserated, working class. The credentials universities provide are no guarantee of escape from paycheck-to-paycheck living, but statistically they are a near prerequisite.
The proximal origins paper, which in March and April 2020 was used to shut down discussion of COVID lab leak theories, turned out to be a conscious effort by career motivated scientists to mislead the media and the public. Nate Silver righteously bashes the scientists who, and I don’t say this lightly, should be driven out of polite society for throwing up chaff on one of the most important scientific investigations of all time.
The Unconference Toolbox: A collection of tips for hosting or attending participant driven conferences. I like, and think there should be more, living documents like this for all aspects of life.
Unconferences are choose-your-own-adventure. At any moment there will be multiple talks happening in parallel, and you can attend whichever one piques your interest. At a typical unconference, a majority of participants will facilitate at least one session.
The Art of Gathering: I love parties, but I rarely throw them. I’m resolved to be less of a free rider and start contributing to the commons, and so have dedicated myself to studying the craft of good parties. I found this book by Priya Parker to be surprisingly thoughtful and useful for engaging in… conscious, ambitious party planning. There’s an interview by Brene Brown with the author that is also good.
To gather in the way I was guiding her toward was to commit to some big something… this modesty is related to a desire not to seem like you care too much—a desire to project the appearance of being chill, cool, and relaxed about your gathering. Gathering well isn’t a chill activity.
Gatherings need perimeters. A space for a gathering works best when it is contained. Photographers and choreographers often close all the doors to a room to, as Platon explained to me, “make sure the energy isn’t leaking out”.
Lebron argues that we need stories here. Edge is expressed in stories: an edge does not exist without a clear mental representation of that edge. Pure linear algebra does not suffice.
Beyond the philosophy, while reading this book I was struck by the fact that trading is one of the few true apprenticeship systems that remains for white-collar work.
Autodidacts in trading are like jailhouse lawyers: for every person who’s truly discovered and developed a successful strategy sui generis, there is an army of people who either significantly undervalued the teaching that others provided, or they are deluding themselves about the profitability of their trading.
Yumi and the Nightmare Painter: The newest book in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere universe. I enjoyed it, though I must say it has a certain workmanlike quality, where what I enjoy is the continuation of this fictional reality, as opposed to necessarily the specific storyline. But yes, a fun read.
Invincible: Amazon has released a prequel episode, teasing the second season that will come out in November. It was good and the teasing has worked, I’m excited.
I’m not sure that my default is wrong; many things I read don’t deserve this level of depth! And if I did it for everything this newsletter would have maybe one and a half links in it. But there are timeless texts, and principles about the world, that do seem worthy of this level of effort, and it would be good to be able to switch towards that deeper level of engagement.