The Comet King

(If you read one post from my blog, it shouldn’t be this one. Also, serious Unsong spoilers.) Unsong’s Comet King is something of an indulgent caricature, implausibly determined and noble and capable. But if I put aside the desire to be respectable, I can enjoy indulgent caricatures. This post presents some Unsong excerpts that touch on the Comet King’s character and fate, in … More The Comet King

Crowdsourcing moderation without sacrificing quality

(Previously: optimizing the news feed) Online discussions consist mostly of uninteresting filler, with a sprinkling of thoughtful and valuable content that I’d like to engage with. The net result is that I usually avoid them. This is a shame, because in principle the internet offers a really great opportunity to increase access to and participation in useful discussions. It’s easy to focus on … More Crowdsourcing moderation without sacrificing quality

Optimizing the news feed

Humans publish trillions of words each year, yet any given human is going to read only a few of them. How should they choose which ones? This has long been a tricky and interesting question. But it’s much more fun now that society is basically forced to write an algorithm to answer it. I like this topic because it is a relatable allegory for value alignment. Conveniently, it’s also an issue du jour on … More Optimizing the news feed

If we can’t lie to others, we will lie to ourselves

Many apparent cognitive biases can be explained by a strong desire to look good and a limited ability to lie; in general, our conscious beliefs don’t seem to be exclusively or even mostly optimized to track reality. If we take this view seriously, I think it has significant implications for how we ought to reason and behave. (See … More If we can’t lie to others, we will lie to ourselves

Less costly signaling

As far as I can tell: The largest component of a Rolex’s price is its elaborate time-keeping mechanism, which may cost around $1000. This mechanism has no effect on the aesthetics of the watch (since you can’t see it). This mechanism is not a useful way to tell time. A quartz watch will keep time more accurately with less trouble. … More Less costly signaling

On Trump

(Warnings: this is a serious post about a serious topic on which I am underinformed. It was written largely in response to a sea of scared and angry rhetoric—not the best conditions for rational discourse. It is in the same spirit as my previous posts, rather than an attempt to be maximally useful. Also I just saw … More On Trump


Political spending is a classical example of a zero-sum conflict. If Dustin gives $1M to Clinton and Peter gives $1M to Trump, they might both be happier if all the money went to charity. This suggests the following scheme: rather than having people contribute directly to Hillary or Trump, they give the money to me and choose a charity. If I receive $1 for Hillary … More Repledge++

Initiative 732

(Reposted from Facebook,  I would prefer put it here than have it lost to the sands of time.) The state of Washington will soon vote on on a large revenue-neutral carbon tax, and will probably reject it. As relayed by Vox, I found the story one of the most compelling political tragedies of the season, … More Initiative 732