花花花 SuperLaserNino 花花花

LessWrong Community Weekend 2015

29 Jun 2015

[Kinda sappy and emotional in parts. Being posted sort of a long time after the event. Not totally happy with the way this post turned out, but, you know, better finished and mediocre than perfect and imaginary, or something. Epistemic state: I deleted a lot of “as far as I can tell”s. Just pretend like every sentence ends with those words, and please do tell me if I’m wrong about anything.]

I attended this year’s European LessWrong Community Weekend. The initial draft of this post began thus:

This is the event report I did not want to write and you do not want to read.

I decided I didn’t like this approach. During the Weekend, people always said, “make it your own.” So let’s do that instead.

This is a collection of things I learned while I was in Berlin.

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Created: 02 Jun 2015

Modified: 13 Mar 2016

I have helped typeset three theses and many shorter documents in LaTeX and I realized that I find myself googling the same things over and over again. Therefore I decided to collect all the problems I have solved so far on this page. At the bottom there is a list of unsolved problems. The reader is invited to give me advice in the comments.

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27 May 2015


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How not to design a watch

17 May 2015

[This gets kinda rant-y. Don’t worry though, it’s not about the Watch.]

I found it irritating that I had to adjust the time on my wristwatch twice every year because of DST, so I bought a radio controlled watch that would do this automatically, and it’s working fantastically: Now I don’t even notice when DST starts or ends. Except when I stop and ask myself why I’m feeling so tired all of a sudden – but that’s beside the point. Here’s the thing:

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Experience Poverty

19 Apr 2015

Reaching the goal is not an action

29 Mar 2015

[This was difficult to write in a way that makes sense to someone who doesn’t live inside my brain and I don’t know if I succeeded. I’d be curious to know if this makes any sense at all to anyone who is not me.]

Nate Soares writes

When I have a big problem that I want solved, I have found that there is one simple process which tends to work. It goes like this:

  1. Move towards the goal.

What I’m about to write is kind of part of what his post is about, but it adds a layer of framing that has allowed me to feel virtually no anxiety about the future for almost a week now, which is extremely unusual for me. I wanted to share my thoughts in case anyone finds them useful.

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I have an excellent awkwardness memory

22 Mar 2015

People always tell me not to worry so much about seeming awkward in social situations. Like, “oh, nobody is ever going to remember you being weird or stuttery or that time where you didn’t know what to say, or said something wrong, or mispronounced something. They’re all just as caught up with thinking about their own awkwardness that they don’t even notice you’re being weird as well.”

And then I think, that makes sense, because I do spend a lot of time worrying about how I myself come across. And it’s good to keep in mind that other people probably do the same, because I tend to forget that other people are human as well and have emotions and issues themselves. (I think this is like a reverse typical mind fallacy. Does that already exist? If it doesn’t, we could call it the atypical mind fallacy.)

But when I think about it more, I realize that I am exceedingly good at detecting when other people might feel awkward – or, rather, when other people are in situations where I would feel awkward. And I always remember that. You know, that time when you were asked something by the teacher and you didn’t know the answer and looked really shameful and started blushing furiously and tried to force some words out, but you just didn’t know which ones and you were probably thinking, “Fuck, I should know this!” Or that time you were talking to a person at a party and you heard something wrong and replied something weird; chances are, I’ll obsess about your situations just as much as I would if it’d been me in the situation. And I’ll spend hours thinking what could you have done differently to avoid this?

So now I’m wondering: Is this whole “nobody notices/remembers how awkward you are”-thing all a big lie that therapists tell to calm me down, or do I just have an especially good awkwardness memory?


06 Mar 2015

Quotation marks were first cut in the middle of the sixteenth century, and by the seventeenth, some printers liked to use them profusely. In books from the Baroque and Romantic periods, quotation marks are sometimes repeated at the beginning of every line of a long quotation. When these distractions were finally omitted, the space they had occupied was frequently retained. This is the origin of the indented block quotation.

(From The Elements of Typographic Style)


Created: 05 Feb 2015

Modified: 13 Jul 2015

Last Friday I received my first batch of Joylent, which is like Soylent, only the J stands for “Europe.” I’d ordered the “variety pack” with 15 meals, which means 5 bags with differently flavored powder: vanilla, banana, chocolate, and strawberry.

I was one of the people who fell in love with Soylent when it was still a Kickstarter and you couldn’t order it yet, not even in America. I can enjoy food in a social setting, and there are some things that taste pleasant, but generally, I’m not a big fan of food. Some people find cooking relaxing — I find it emotionally draining. There are too many things going on, you have to be careful not to touch anything or you’ll burn your fingers, and the food will get horribly burned, too, if you stop stirring for half a second. Hence I just end up eating toast with cheese or Nutella or something, 99% of the time, and then I keep biting the inside of my mouth instead of the food, so everything tastes like blood anyway.

If drinking three glasses of gray liquid every day could make all that go away and the only price was that it didn’t taste as exciting? That would be fantastic.

So I opened the first package, vanilla, and took in the kind of un-vanilla-y smell of the enormously large quantity of powder. If you’re used to two spoons of protein powder in ≈450ml of milk or water, this will be a bit of a shock. And it doesn’t just look like a lot of powder, you can tell while you’re drinking it, too, because there’s not enough water to dissolve it all. I’m not going to lie: the first mouthful of that stuff was really disgusting. But I didn’t let that stop me.

While I continued to drink and did my best not to throw up all over the kitchen table, my hunger did start to fade, though I did eat other stuff as well because let’s be serious, 2100 calories for a full day? I haven’t tracked this with great accuracy, but I’m pretty sure I can eat at least 2500 calories and still lose weight.

Trying the next flavor, banana, on the second day, I realized my initial disgust may have been due, in part, to the fact that vanilla flavored Joylent tastes infinitely worse than any of the other kinds. Banana is better, chocolate is better still, and strawberry is about the same as chocolate. Of course it still feels like mud, but I got used to that surprisingly quickly.

My digestion wasn’t super excited about this whole experiment, but as long as I ate some solid food at some point during the day (which I was doing anyway, lest I starve) it seemed to work out fine. Also, it’s not like my digestion is super excited about anything. Maybe I should see a doctor about that. Okay, before everyone starts shouting “TMI, TMI!”, let’s move on to something more fun.

Things you can do to put more joy in Joylent

  • Mix it with orange juice. Seriously, this is amazing. (I tried this with vanilla or banana, if I remember correctly.)
  • Put the protein powder you still have lying around in so you get more protein, better taste, and more calories at the same time. This way, after the gym, instead of drinking a protein shake and eating dinner, you can combine both into one!
  • Put the Joylent in the fridge for an hour before you drink it. I feel like this helps dissolve the powder better, or masks the powdery texture more, but this may be a placebo. In any case, it’s much more pleasant to drink it cold than lukewarm.
  • Mix in some flavored soy milk. I like to put chocolate soy milk into chocolate Joylent.

These were just the things I tried in the short time where this experiment went on. I’m sure there are a million other things you can do.

So, am I going to buy more?

At first it looked very much like I wasn’t even going to finish the 5 bags I had bought, but as soon as I went back to normal food, I started craving Joylent because the whole process just sucks so much less. First of all it’s faster to make and consume, and second of all, you know how after lunch you just want to sleep for an hour? That doesn’t seem to happen with Joylent.1 The hunger just goes away quietly after some time, while I’m still able to stay awake and think.

In conclusion, nutrition is not a solved problem, but at least I don’t have to use the toaster so often anymore.

  1. Update: After further experimentation, I have to report that, actually, it does. 

The Power of Dimensions

27 Jan 2015

I suspect the majority of people who have any use for this already know about it and use it daily, but I have only recently realized how cool this is.

You know how you always forget what the relationship between c, λ, and ν is? Like, they give you the energy of a photon and you’re supposed to calculate the wavelength? You know E = h ν, but now you have to figure out how to convert the frequency to a wavelength. Now, instead of looking the formula up on Wikipedia, how about using dimensional analysis? You write down the unit of λ, which is m, and then you only need to figure out how to construct that unit with a speed and a frequency. Speed is m s–1 and frequency is s–1, so to cancel the seconds out, you divide the speed by the frequency and get m s–1 s = m, from which you can easily see that λ must be c / ν. And you’re done.

Another good example is when you have an exponential function or a sine or cosine. You know the argument for these functions must be dimensionless, so if you’re not sure what factors you have to put into the argument, you can just keep throwing stuff in there until all the units cancel and it’ll probably be right.

Or if you want to sanity check your calculations you need only look at your dimensions. When you see a sum of, say, a length and an area, you know you’ve done something wrong.

The same applies of course to the other kind of dimension — the one in vectors. When you try to put a three dimensional vector in an exponential function, you have a problem. You’re probably missing another vector to form a dot product with. Or if you’re trying to add a vector and a scalar, again, you know you’re missing something.

It seems pretty simple, but I was surprised how useful this is once you get the hang of it.