en-us Tue, 24 Jan 2017 21:35:06 +0000 Sett RSS Generator Video: Max's First Year Since Max turned one last week, I made a poignant video of poignancy showing him growing up over the past year. ]]> Max

Since Max turned one last week, I made a poignant video of poignancy showing him growing up over the past year.

>> Comment on this Post · Like this Post

Mon, 16 May 2016 15:58:04 +0000
MealSquares, the Ultimate Lifehacker Food I used to eat food. I still do, but I used to, too. You have probably heard of Soylent, the liquid meal replacement where you can conveniently get all your balanced nutrients by just drinking liquid Silicon Valley. I mean, you've already outsourced all your other chores ]]>

I used to eat food. I still do, but I used to, too.

You have probably heard of Soylent, the liquid meal replacement where you can conveniently get all your balanced nutrients by just drinking liquid Silicon Valley. I mean, you've already outsourced all your other chores to my fellow startups–don't you want to save another two hours per day and eliminate all superfluities?

No? Yes? Well, it's not for everyone, but I sure would like more time for my important stuff, and I've already eaten food tons of times. Plus, if I can have my default meal be a healthy one, I'll sacrifice extra tastiness (which is why I don't eat dessert). I'm in. Forget eating! Yet...

I like Soylent, but it takes a lot of trust in nutrition science to say, "Let's just combine a bunch of individual micronutrients that match the recommended daily allowances, since those are exactly what all humans need, right?" Never mind that some of the RDAs were established by a handful of weak studies–you still have to believe that not only did we get the nutrient levels right, but that those nutrients are all you need, and that they work in isolation, in the specific forms that are included in your Science Drink (which may not be bioavailable or bioequivalent).

Enter MealSquares. Real foods, not micronutrients. Solid, not liquid. Baked, not pasteurized. They're still a complete meal replacement made by a Bay Area startup, but they're designed by the best nutrition geek I know out of foods you would buy at Whole Foods instead of micronutrients you would buy from a lab. And they're delicious!

... Well, to me, anyway. I'm crazy and don't eat sweet things much (although I love them), so my sugar adaptation level is very low, making the occasional dark chocolate chip found in a MealSquare like a sweet explosion for my mouth. Most people who tried them thought they were too dense and too dry.

But wait! Now they have individual packaging, and so they're able to include a lot more water, leading to moister, fluffier MealSquares. (I still wouldn't call them either moist or fluffy, absolutely, but you shoulda tried the old version.) You still have to drink water while eating them, but they are a lot better than before. An informal poll of six victims showed a 1-10 tastiness increase of 2.25 points, to 5.2 (not even counting my superfan 9 rating). I'm eating them even more now and just switched to four boxes per month instead of two.

Why does individual packaging help? It turns out that if you are aiming for a long shelf life, there's a variety of things you can do, but mostly you don't want air or water for bad things to grow in, so you vacuum-seal things and don't let air in. Soylent is pasteurized, so there are no bacteria in there until you open it. Clif bars have insane amounts of sugar, which suppresses bacteria somehow (weird, right?). Some foods are irradiated. Others are dried. I'm sure there are many more tricks processed foods use. To increase the moisture further while increasing shelf life, the MealSquares guys are hoping to do do some science magic and someday lead us to the glorious muffin-like MealSquare promised us in our early days.

I've been eating MealSquares for about half my food for 16 months now. I'm not sick of them at all, and my biomarkers have been fine. Mostly I save time, energy, and money compared to how I used to eat. Knowing you can always just sup on a square lets you avoid overeating or undereating (especially while traveling), and the 400 calorie portion sizes are great for maintaining focus throughout the day. When I wanted to cut down to low bodyfat and only eat 1200-1500 calories a day, the MealSquares were the easiest food to do it with. Now that I'm adding mass again, I just eat more of them.

I still have social lunches with friends and home-cooked dinners with Chloe (although we often cheat and use Gobble–thanks, chore-obviating startup!), and I don't care as much what I eat then because my overall nutrition is much better than before. If I were super concerned about the nutrients, I would just try to eat organ meats more often, 'cause those have a ton of everything.

So if you have tried MealSquares before and found them just a little too dry, try the new ones with individual packaging. If you haven't tried them yet, order a sample box. If you are comparing them in your mind to that delicious dinner you cooked, don't. Instead compare a MealSquare plus a bunch of extra minutes to your last convenience breakfast/snack/lunch that you had to make or go out and buy. Even a foodie isn't going gourmet three meals a day. I'm not saying you will definitely like MealSquares–tastes vary a lot with these. But if you do like them, the possible benefits are large. They've been a huge quality of life improvement for me, so it's worth finding that out.

>> Comment on this Post · Like this Post

Mon, 30 Nov 2015 16:31:00 +0000
Surprises From Max's First Four Months Baby Max is four months old today. I posted when he was one month, talking about what a difficult little demon he was, but after eight weeks he magically changed overnight into the sweetest baby ever! We were so surprised the first time he slept 7.5 hours straight instead of waking up every 3 hours, we kept waking up anyway just to go stare at him. "Maybe there's something wrong with him!" But he kept doing it, and now he sleeps from around 8pm to 4:30am every night, wakes up to feed, then goes back to sleep until around 7:30am. It is amazing. And where before he cried a lot, always seemed unhappy, and didn't even know how to smile, now he generally loves everything and will smile his head off if you just look at him.

Here are some more surprises from the first four months of Max.

1. He loves "reading" books.

I had thought that before he could read or understand words, or even be able to visually recognize cartoons of things, he would get bored when I read to him. But even from the beginning, books held his attention and excited him. Thanks for all the books, everyone (but especially Mom)!

2. Breastfeeding can be super hard.

There's a lot of arguments, a ton of bad science, and one or two pieces of good science on the effects of breastfeeding on child development. As far as I can tell, breastfeeding doesn't do a lot of the things people think it does: it doesn't affect allergies, asthma, obesity, tooth cavities, height, blood pressure, or respiratory infections. (Interesting: unlike in most mammals, the antibodies that human babies get from breastmilk don't go into their bloodstream, just their GI tract.)

But what it does do is give the baby slightly lower incidence of GI tract infections (diarrhea) and atopic eczema (rashes), plus several IQ points. (It's unclear exactly how many and it likely depends on how long and how exclusively the baby breastfeeds, but it's probably somewhere between 3 and 6 points.)

IQ is interesting not only because intelligence is important, but because it's a decent generalized measure for the way that the environment has affected the brain. If breastfeeding gave you more IQ, it probably also made you less impulsive, less violent, less prone to psychiatric disease, more socially skilled, etc. Each point of IQ gives roughly +2% lifetime earnings and +2% productivity.

Given how obsessed I am with intelligence, I was all like, "Heeey Chloe, wanna, like, breastfeed him until he's two?" (She did not.) But then when he actually gets born and she goes to breastfeed him, they ran into nearly every problem in the book: late start, bad latch, tongue tie, too much early weight loss, low supply, lactation consultant, nipple confusion, nursing strikes, plugged ducts, tongue tie again, flat nipple, another lactation consultant, nipple shields, milk blisters, two different supplemental nutrition systems, three different breast pumps... it was not supposed to be this hard. It still kind of sucks, because low milk supply hasn't gone away despite Chloe breastfeeding for hours and pumping seven times a day for months. We still have to supplement with formula at every feeding, so we have all the downsides of both feeding methods at the same time.

At least he is still getting some breastmilk, and he and Chloe get to bond while feeding, and I still get to feed him sometimes when he takes a bottle.

3. He's not already a perfect swimmer.

The Diving Reflex - Infant Babies Swimming Underwater

Max swimming

Until six months, babies have this cool reflex which prevents them from breathing in water and also lets them kind of swim a little bit. You can use this to jumpstart swimming lessons, since you can quickly work your way up to dunking infants in the water without them choking.

We tried putting Max in infant swimming lessons at two months, but he was clearly not ready to do anything except float and brief submersions (he couldn't even really consciously move his limbs yet), so we paused that for a bit and have just been practicing in the bathtub. Now that he's great at holding his head up and can grab things and use his legs, maybe he'll be ready to learn the next steps. I thought you started by just kind of throwing the baby in the water and then pulling him out after he swims for a bit, but apparently you have to take it super slow.

4. He is obsessed with standing.

A few weeks ago, Chloe told me she read somewhere that once they get basic head control, babies like it when you pull them up by the arms to help them sit. I tried it with Max, and he immediately extended his legs to stand up and started grinning madly. He then stood up for two minutes straight with me just helping him balance before he sat down again. Now he can't get enough of it and can stand for up to four minutes! Old wives tales say that too much early standing makes babies bowlegged, but this seems false if the baby is initiating it.

He drools torrentially while doing this.

5. I put him in daycare.

I had anticipated that in order to give Max the best opportunities, I would take care of him at home and play with him all day long and do various things to enhance his development. Then I started researching things and haven't come across any good counterarguments to The Nurture Assumption, which, by pointing out that pretty much all parenting and child development research is crap due to not taking into account the lessons we have learned with behavioral genetics, convincingly argues that almost nothing parents do will have any lasting effect on a child's behavior or personality. The corollary is that you can pretty much parent in whichever ways are fun for you and the kid without having to worry about trying to shape the child's personality–you can only affect your relationship with the kid.

And surprisingly, even though playing with a baby is fun, it's pretty boring to play with a baby for more than an hour at a time, let alone all day.

So instead of making big sacrifices to eke out illusory improvements in Max's future awesomeness, we decided to just put him in this great family childcare across the street during the day, where he gets loving attention and Chinese immersion and we get our productivity back.

It's hard to find good research on the effects of daycare and preschool and child development, so if you know of any, let me know. Unschooling still looks like the thing to do when he gets older if I have time.

While it felt like he was developing super slowly before, now that he's in daycare, it feels like he's going really fast: every day there's something new. I'm trying to be careful to be present and not miss things.

6. Talking to babies in Chinese is hard.

It wasn't natural for me to talk to Max at first, but I practiced it and now I can babble at him no problem, mostly by rambling about absurd topics. Now that he's getting closer to the age where we should really be careful about consistently speaking in one language or the other, though, I've been trying more and more to just speak in Chinese to him, and my crazy logorrhea approach isn't possible without crazy vocabulary. My baby-specific vocabulary needs work.

English: "Wow, look at that drool bubble! It's so big, I bet it could drown one seventh of the population of a miniature bacteria planet. Did you know that some bacteria are only like 500 nanometers wide? ... Little Bunny Foo Foo went hopping through the forest, scooping up the field mice and bopping them on the head. Then he looted their corpses and got seventeen silver pieces and a crude wooden club. Down came the Good Fairy, and Little Bunny Foo Foo attacked her on sight, catching her by surprise and dealing triple damage. She counterattacked and did five damage, but then Little Bunny Foo Foo bopped her on the head and she went down and he reached level two and got the Mighty Leap ability." [... and so on for many years of LBFF's adventuring career.]

Chinese: "哇,看看你的口水滔滔不绝!口水太多了,哎哟!... 你很可爱。你站起来了。你的头大的不得了。要不要睡觉?... 很多口水 ..."

("Wow, look at your unceasing torrent of drool! Your drool is too much, ouch! ... You are very cute. You are standing up. Your head is exceedingly big. Do you want to sleep? ... lots of drool...")

So far it's probably not too important–he's in the pre-six-months stage where he just needs to hear enough of the phonemes of each language to learn to differentiate them, and he's doing that fine (although if anyone wants to come and speak any other languages besides English and Chinese to him to help him retain phonemic flexibility, please come over!). But soon we might need to do one-parent-one-language to keep him from getting confused, and it looks like that parent might be me.

7. Grandparents have incredible patience with their grandkids.

"Want to hold the baby for an hour while he just sleeps?" "Sure!" How convenient.

8. 4:00am is no longer my least likely time to be awake.

Max goes to sleep around 8, give or take half an hour, then wakes up for the first time around 4:30, give or take an hour. So now that's when I sleep. Max and Chloe go back to sleep after that first night feeding, but it's a great time to get work done, so that's when I start hacking. I like it. It's nice to get stuff done before anyone else is awake to distract me.

9. Minimalism doesn't exactly mesh with mad science

Max on his robot prototype

My mad science project has been to get Max riding around on a mind-controlled robot using an EEG cap to let him turn it with his brainwaves. But it's taken me this long to get the robot base working, because every time I think I have what I need for the electronics, I just need one more piece, and then I have to wait for it to come from the internet. (Wish I was working out of a hackerspace.) So I end up with more and more electronics stuff–a soldering iron here, some heat-shrink tubing there–and it is not good for my 99 things list. I haven't updated it yet, but I'll have to update it soon, and I'll be over on my possessions and have to get rid of some stuff soon.

But I finally got my Raspberry-Pi-controlled modified Roomba driving around with Max riding on it, and it's hilarious. I started to work with the EEG stuff last weekend, and it looks like I'm going to need a really solid baby-sized cap with some new type of electrode in order to get useful signal out of it while he's moving his head around this much. We'll see if I can get it working. This should have been the hard part, not the basic circuitry for the robot, but I resisted getting the right tools for too long because I didn't want extra stuff. This isn't how most mad scientists operate–they have whole lairs full of random gear. Sometimes I just wish I had my own secret volcano base filled with tesla coils, okay?

10. His favorite thing to look at is Chloe's camera.

Faces are pretty good, but a camera is the best! He can't look away. We end up with lots of what look like baby selfies.

>> Comment on this Post · Like this Post

Sat, 05 Sep 2015 21:16:00 +0000
Bantling: Name Your Baby With Algorithms When Chloe and I were trying to come up with baby names, every conversation would go something like this:

Chloe: "New baby name idea: Katana."

Nick: "How do you spell that?"

Chloe: "Like a katana, duh!"

Nick: "People don't know how to spell that."

Chloe: "What about Celeste?"

Nick: "Even if they know how to spell it, they're still going to ask."

Chloe: "Onyx!"

Nick: "That is impractical, because it will not be recognized at first as a name."

Chloe: "Sage?"

Nick: "Is that a boy's name or a girl's name? It's better if it's not gender-ambiguous."

Chloe: "How about Sophia?"

Me: "I like it! Except... is that with an F or a P-H? Plus, isn't it really trendy? Never mind, I hate it."

Chloe: "Let's look at lists of every color, animal, flower, and mineral and find ones that would make good names!"

Me: "Let's embody our preferences in algorithmic form so that I don't have to continue personally shooting down names that you like."

So I did this. I downloaded the entire Social Security name database, which has all 93,600 names that have been used at least 5 times in one year since 1880–everything from John and Mary to Aaqil and Zyree. I then wrote a web app which ranks all the names according to 12 algorithmic ranking criteria:

  1. Spellability: penalizes names which sound similar to other common names, since people will not know how to spell them.
  2. Pronounceability: penalizes names which we think could be pronounced two different ways, or which have Rs in them. (This is not a well-implemented metric.)
  3. Timelessness: penalizes anything that's extra old-fashioned, is extra trendy now, or was a fad name in the past.
  4. Relevancy: penalizes very rare names (which often look like crazy typo gibberish).
  5. Rarity: penalizes names that are very common.
  6. Secularity: penalizes names which are clearly Biblical. (Should also include other religions, but doesn't yet.)
  7. Shortness: penalizes names with many letters or many syllables.
  8. Recitability: penalizes names that aren't easy to spell aloud (due to having W's or slightly unclearly pronounced letters).
  9. Nicklessness: penalizes names that have shorter nickname versions (like 'Nicholas').
  10. Nickedness: penalizes names that are nicknames of longer names (like 'Nick').
  11. Chineseness: penalizes names that would be hard to pronounce for native Chinese speakers due to unfamiliar consonant clusters and other sound patterns.
  12. Genderedness: penalizes names that are ambiguously gendered.

I then put it online as a web app. You drag the twelve sliders (which is a user experience debacle guaranteed to make Chloe vomit in a spiral every time she sees it) to control the weights of each scorer based on how much you care about it. It puts all the names in order from best to worst, and then you start at the top and indicate your actual personal preference with like or hate buttons. So you are still choosing the names, but the app presents them in an efficient order. Partners in baby-naming can then also rank names according to their preferences, and you can see which names you both like.

For me, this was the obvious way to do it. I quickly went through about 3600 of the 93,600 names, liking 76 and hating the rest. Chloe did about 3700 names (different ones, for her different preferences) and liked 81 of them. We then reviewed each other's, often using the phone test, where you pretend to answer the phone with your name ("Kent Winter–err, no."). This left an overlap of about 15 names (mostly girls' names).

Then it was time for the fridge test: we put all the common names on sticky notes on the fridge. Each day we would look up at the fridge, exclaim, "What the hell? "Delta"? NO!" and take one down until only four remained, and then eventually only two: Hazel and Max.

Baby spawned male, so Max it was.

Try it out at It's also open source on GitHub. Of course I basically stopped making any improvements to it the instant it became good enough as an internal use tool to name this one baby, so it's pretty gimp, but it's kind of fun to hate on all the hilarious names that parents be picking.

>> Comment on this Post · Like this Post

Thu, 11 Jun 2015 23:35:18 +0000
Meet Max Apart from when he's asleep, this is what he looks like most of the time, though: I am proud to have spawned a baby]]> We have reproduced! Max is one month old now. Here's his birth announcement photo, where he looks adorable:

Apart from when he's asleep, this is what he looks like most of the time, though:

I am proud to have spawned a baby infant:

So far, he is a little demon out to make sure we never sleep. I love him, but at some point he'd better grow out of the helpless newborn blob phase. At least there's plenty of time to read books, papers, and contrarian blog posts about child development, the (non)-effects of parenting on eventual personality and behavior, and how to maximize a baby's IQ.

My totally benign mad dad science experiments thus begin. First up: I need to get a sweet EEG cap with active electrodes that can be comfortably worn by baby Max for hours per day so that he can start learning to control robots, lights, sounds, and more with his plastic baby brain while he's learning to control his limbs anyway. I don't know what kind of robots yet, but how cool (and not creepy) would it be to have a two-month-old riding a robot spider around with his head lighting up red whenever he cackles maniacally, emitting discordant mood-related noises based on his brain's electrical activity?

Totally cool. Let me know if you have any tips, expertise, or cautions about such EEG-controlled baby infant robot hackery. Better yet, if you want to team up, since I am no pro at either EEG or hardware. Yet.

I also want to get a solution for lifelogging everything (audio, hopefully video) from the baby's perspective, even better if we can stream speech recognition and start counting words and doing spaced repetition learning on his nascent vocabulary. Anyone seen any cool tech that could be hacked together for this and perhaps placed either on a baby or on his robot steed?

>> Comment on this Post · Like this Post

Fri, 05 Jun 2015 21:08:33 +0000
Second Year Book Sales I always love it when people share revenue data for their apps / games / books / works, and it's been two years since The Motivation Hacker came out, so here's another updated graph of ebook sales by platform including the second year. (See also First Year Book Sales and Aftermath: The Motivation Hacker)

Sales again have fallen off more slowly than I expected, although it's finally getting quiet now, down to about two sales a day in March. In total, it's up to 4102 copies, or around 60x how many I was expecting. Cool!

Total reviews climbed from 124 to 275, and sentiment ebbed from 4.5 stars on Amazon to 4.4, and from 3.90 to 3.85 on Goodreads.

At $2.99, I've kept the book as cheap as possible while still in Amazon's 70% royalty split bucket, and I did similarly with the new CreateSpace paperback ($7.99). The total royalties are around $9065.42, bringing my effective hourly rate up to $43.31.

>> Comment on this Post · Like this Post

Sat, 11 Apr 2015 22:11:29 +0000
Calibrating Spending When I was a kid, I didn't work. I got a tiny allowance ($5 per week, or maybe per month), and every now and then I'd age or undergo a holiday, so friendly relatives would send me money. But the only things I wanted to buy were desktop computer parts and video games, and I easily saved enough money for those. Parents took care of everything else–thanks parents!

Later, I was a college student. Sometimes I wanted to buy Chinese food, but that's about it; I still had roughly no spending. (Apart from how expensive school was, but again, I mooched from parents and scholarships–thanks parents!). Still, I felt like I should earn money, so first I worked as a dishwasher for around $8 an hour, and then as an inept ResEd student web developer for maybe $9.50 an hour. Suddenly the savings I had slowly built from that $5 per week allowance seemed meaningless.

Still feeling like I should be doing something career-related, I nepotised into a co-op preprofessional software engineer summer job at IBM. (Thanks Dad!) That was $20 an hour, full-time, with overtime even! After a few months of that, I came back to that student web developer job and realized I didn't care about it at all–I'd written more than my share of abominable Perl forms, and with $13,000 in my bank account, why would I want to get paid $9.50 an hour to write more of them when I had better things to do? I helped them hire a younger minion and lounged around on my coins. The money I had made from the web developer job also never mattered.

After college, George, Scott, and I started Skritter, and apart from rent ($300/mo) and food ($6/day), I had a few other small expenses (lasers, bowie knives, whips, etc.), but really, life was cheap. Skritter survived at first off of the entrepreneurship grant our school gave us (more mooching). I was finally glad I had made some money at IBM, because those savings kept me out of debt until Skritter could slowly become profitable. I could also calculate utility and buy a few things, like a sick office chair and some large computer monitors–they were like like three cents per hour of use!

Across several years of working on Skritter and moves to Costa Rica, Pittsburgh, and Sunnyvale, revenues grew, but my spending habits didn't change–I was still living like a kid who occasionally needed to eat something or upgrade his computer. If I had to buy something, I'd buy the cheap thing—I mean, you gotta save money, right?

Except I now knew third-hand from George's economics classes that there's this thing called consumption smoothing. If you can predict your future income, and if you aren't liquidity constrained, then you might adjust your current spending so that you can have a constant standard of living. (I have no idea why you'd want a constant standard of living, but you could also target a gradually rising standard of living and maximize your enjoyment despite hedonic adaptation.)

Now those are usually two too-big ifs, but in my case, it was easy to see that I was going to make more money later (even if I didn't work–yay recurring revenue), and I had more savings than I knew what to do with. I also realized that if I'd been thinking like this when I was younger, I could have enjoyed some of the money I'd worked so inefficiently to stockpile before my increased income devalued my efforts.

So I said, hey, I know what to do–I'll spend more money! If there's a cheap thing and an expensive thing, I'll buy the expensive thing, because I don't want to spend time comparison shopping, and the expensive thing is probably better (healthier, lasts longer, faster, weighs more, whatever). Free app? No thanks, I'll take the paid app on principle. If there's an opportunity to trade money for time, I'll do it! I'll just establish an hourly rate for myself and quickly calculate whether I should take the bus or an Uber, clean my place or get a Homejoy, go grocery shopping or get, do my taxes or hire an accountant, live far away or in the heart of things, and so on.

At first, it didn't work, because most of my decisions I made by habit, not by calculation, and thus I fell back into the habit of not spending money (even though I was desperate for more time to spend on startups and relationships and personal growth). I would have to really think about it to justify spending, and the point isn't to spend time thinking about it, but to just do it and save my time.

Then I went to a CFAR workshop and got the idea to perform a ritual to help me recalibrate my spending. Rituals can often tap into something a little deeper to help one change one's habits and thought patterns. So I came up with one to solve this problem.

I may or may not have gone into the yard, made a fire, and slowly fed $100 into the flames while concentrating on how money is useless if you don't use it.

This worked. I immediately got much better at trading money for time, at consumption-smoothing when it makes sense, and about not irrationally overvaluing money. I shot up to new levels of productivity, bought better possessions which I have been much appreciating, and worried less than ever about money–while still increasing my savings, since for me, it's not these little things that affect my wealth, but the efficiency of my startups. Not that my current savings really matter, either, beyond having a buffer–I can still predict that my future income will dwarf any current optimizations of my savings.

Of course, a lot of the consumption smoothing behaviors and specific examples of recalibrated spending are situation-specific, so don't take any of that as general advice. But you might want to come up with your own hourly rate and think about whether it really ever makes sense for you to prefer free apps, not buy books, comparison shop on small purchases, and things like this. I can guarantee that if you haven't consciously calibrated all your spending, then some of it is miscalibrated. (Worst example I've heard: immigrant graduate student still cleaning dishes with own spit to save water, to horror of American roommates.)

>> Comment on this Post · Like this Post

Wed, 31 Dec 2014 16:30:00 +0000
Anonymously Admonish Me, Please It's that time again where I become a better person. Help me out, would ya? Follow this link to give me anonymous admonishments: Tell me what I suck at, or if I treated you poorly, or if noticed me not being awesome when I could have been. ]]>

It's that time again where I become a better person. Help me out, would ya? Follow this link to give me anonymous admonishments:

Tell me what I suck at, or if I treated you poorly, or if noticed me not being awesome when I could have been. But don't include personally identifying details, so I don't know it's you! (Well, you can if you really want–I promise I will appreciate instead of resenting anything you tell me.)

Even if you don't have any admonishments because of my stunning perfection, you can still troll me; that'd be fun, right?

>> Comment on this Post · Like this Post

Sun, 21 Dec 2014 18:23:58 +0000
Just What's Up Here are some of the posts I want to write: experiential sampling tools, the butter eating competition story, experiments with Chinese reading rates, cognitive testing to measure aging, infant taste hacking, hiring a fashion consultant, algorithmically ranking baby names, that time my goblin killed an elder blue dragon, writing audience stats, and why pigs with dogs for feet are the greatest animals.

But instead of writing those, I'm just working really hard (alongside Scott, George, Matt, Michael, our artists and designers, and our open source contributors) on CodeCombat, which is getting really good as we get close to December's Hour of Code and the completion of our new beginner learn-to-code offering and iPad app. This is fun, but it doesn't leave much time for cool, effortful blog posts. So here's a quick one saying what's up, since a friend mentioned that it is hard to tell what I'm doing when I don't say what I'm doing.

Besides hacking, Chloe and I (and CodeCombat) moved into a sweet new apartment/office which is actually big enough for both purposes instead of too small for either. It's still in San Francisco, in SoMa, right next to the ball park. It was surreal and amusing to watch the riots going on outside our window when the local baseball team won the global baseball tournament.

Skritter is continuing to do well in the hands of its team, whereas George, Scott, and I are happily obsolete. The guys released an Android app last month.

I'm eating a lot of MealSquares, and they are still great, saving me a ton of time. Try a box.

I reflected on the past year during my yearly personal inventory tradition last month, discovering that the main theme was crazy productivity combined with surprising stasis on most other areas. Well, that will change soon!

I enjoy continuing to hear from readers of The Motivation Hacker. I suppose if I checked my book sales, I can figure out whether they are continuing to grow or finally starting to slow down, but I'll probably do that in five more months, once it has been out for two years and has become too ancient to possibly apply to modern humans.

Recently, I've met a lot of friendly, vigorous people with whom I don't have time to hang out. I'm looking forward to getting a chance to reverse that.

>> Comment on this Post · Like this Post

Thu, 06 Nov 2014 06:28:10 +0000
What If You Could Copy Yourself? There's a thought experiment people use when they think about possible future technologies like teleportation and cryonics and brain uploading, about going into a teleportation machine that copies you and deletes the original. Is it still you? What if the original isn't ]]>

There's a thought experiment people use when they think about possible future technologies like teleportation and cryonics and brain uploading, about going into a teleportation machine that copies you and deletes the original. Is it still you? What if the original isn't deleted–are both you? Or if you get your brain reconstructed in two hundreds years after you die–still you? Or if you transition your brain from decaying organic matter to a machine that reproduces it exactly?

Turns out that yes, duh, it's still you (except maybe in that last case; creepy story!). Even if there is a time delay in the teleportation, or even if the copy isn't deleted. Which one is the original? They both are.

So sure, use the teleporter or become a computer, whatever. What I actually want to write about is what you would do if you could actually make a copy of yourself, right now. In this hypothetical scenario, no one else can do it, and it doesn't cost anything, just five minutes. I'll call them clones, but they're not babies–they have all of your experiences up until the moment of copying. And I'll call you the original, but you might as well think of it as becoming the copy yourself, because there is no original/copy–there are just two of you now (and let's say the cloning machine spins, so you can't even tell which one "was" the original). You can make as many as you want, and your clones can make clones.

Would you do it, and if so, how would you deal with becoming multiple?

Really? Keep in mind that you currently have only one "life": one set of relationships and belongings. You could try to find some way to divide that existence such that both of you can share it–your significant other being okay with two of you, your friends not minding which of you they're hanging out with, your parents, your kids, your job, your bank account, etc. For me, it would be unlikely to work, especially as the two of me would start to diverge and no longer share new memories, and the relationships just wouldn't work (people would justifiably freak out). If you are like me, then one of you will have to give up all claim to the current life.

I was floating in a sensory deprivation tank and imagined that I had been left in too long and that Chloe and another me had gotten out of their tanks and left fifteen minutes ago, and that I would never see her or any of my other people again. I'd have to discard my current life and make a new one. It would be hard to say how sad I would be without actually having gone through it, but it seemed that it would be bearable–better to be alive with no relationships than not alive at all. I then naturally started scheming for how to take over / save the world.

There would be many benefits to having more than one of yourself. You could understand your clones better than you can understand anyone else. For me this means I could trust my clones more than anyone else. Since I'd also start with the same values, I would be able to collaborate with my clones on a very deep level to achieve goals much bigger than myself, but not bigger than myselves. I could figure out how to cure aging, stop death, build friendly artificial intelligence or figure out intelligence augmentation, and kick off space flight, or at least build an awesome Matrix for everyone to live in if I turn out to be unable to take care of the really hard problems myselves. I'm pretty sure I'd also want to become a trillionaire, because that sounds useful.

Outside of the crazy clone conspiracy, it'd also be awesome to be able to sample more experiences than I'd otherwise be able to. I could try every hobby and report back to the group which ones I actually like so that the rest of me could take up the best ones. If by myself I can pick a five-star book to read ten percent of the time, then if I had forty of me, I'd get to read five-star books eighty percent of the time. The same for movies and music. I already know that listening to music makes up ~22% of my positive happiness, and it used to be 14% before I spent some time curating my music collection. If I could amplify my music discovery efficiency forty times over, I'd unlock a new realm of glorious tunes!

It would be really important to be able to keep all of myselves happy. Apart from the one clone who gets to stay in the original life, all the other clones already have to get over the bitterness at having to give up nearly everything for the good of the group. If any of me grew disillusioned with the mission over time, especially if I thought I was getting an especially unfair deal, then the vital trust could break, and I could betray the rest of me. This would be disastrous.

See, no one could know about my multiplicity. If my secret got out, I can only imagine that I'd not only be a gigantic news story, but I'd be an even bigger target. I don't know if there are actually evil government and corporate scientists out there to abduct my clones to experiment on them, or if that's just from movies. But I do know that racism and other us-vs-them mentalities can get ugly, and to some people, I wouldn't even be human any more. It's hard to predict how everyone would react, but it's easy to predict that some people would react murderously, and I'd have no privacy.

To counter that, I'd shoot for total privacy. I know it's supposed to be roughly impossible to disguise one's identity in the information age, but maybe it's merely very difficult if no one is looking. Every clone would have to go to ground somewhere distinct in the world where no one would recognize me. I'd have different names. I might try to alter each of my appearances. I don't think I'm in any fingerprint databases yet, but I'd regret those 23andMe and BGI genetic assays. I wouldn't use the same web services–I might not even use any web services, except for as the original me. I'd have to write my own, super-secret clone-cryptography-secured software for everything.

At the core of it would be my secret clone forum, where all of me would communicate. I probably couldn't even start copying myself until I had built the first version of that. I'd also have to be ready to spirit each clone somewhere easy to hide–probably not in the US. I'd start out each time with enough money and forged documents to get started.

What else would I do before starting my conspiracy? There's a tradeoff involved: every copy that I make before I've gained some critical shared knowledge will have to spend time also gaining that shared knowledge. But the longer I wait, the older (and dumber) I'll be. So if I thought it'd be important to learn Arabic, elliptical curve cryptography, and wilderness survival skills, I could either pick those up first, or I could make a clone that learns each of those skills and then clones himself to make other clones which will need those skills in their environments.

The more I specialize each clone branch, though, the less similar the group will be. Similarity is good for morale, communication, and trust. But diversification is good for, uh, saving over the world. If I want to figure out space flight, only a few of me should become awesome aerospace engineers. The rest of me should probably figure out how to make that first trillion bucks, starting with some basic money laundering.

Regarding making sick riches, some people I talked to said that this would be impossible, but it doesn't seem like the hard part. I haven't yet figured out a good way to make money via speculation, but it seems like I could do a lot of low-profile tech startups until I found one that made all the money, especially since I could act on new market opportunities faster than anyone else–my maximally-productive team size is much higher when the whole team codes and communicates the same way. In any case, making money is easier than defeating death–one's a game, and the other is serious. Actually becoming the richest "person" ever would strain anonymity, but hopefully by the time I'm unmasked, I've done enough good for the world (and made a defensible volcano/island/mountain/space fortress) that I could go public and have a chance of surviving effectively, with most people on my side. Haters gonna hate, but as long as they can't get me, I can keep questing.

Apart from some experiments in sending out "twin" clones, I know I would be lonely if I kept completely to myself, so each of me would have to form some new relationships. But I couldn't jeopardize the mission by revealing the secret to any of them, since even 98% trust in someone else, times forty clones, equals a 55% probable leak, advertent or not. The original, having to fulfill an unusual public-persona-secret-conduit role, would have to tell Chloe, just because it would be impossible to hide it from her, and all the clones already know and love her. But none of those clones could have a Chloe.

I asked Chloe about this hypothetical scenario. She found it hard to understand how I would be okay with having to discard the current life. I'm not saying that I'd be okay, but if I were in that situation, I would rather be alive than not. So if I had the opportunity to give another one of me the opportunity to be alive and to have conscious experience equivalent to my own, I'd view it as my duty to do so, since I value my conscious experience highly. (The limit to how many clones I would make would be a practical one given the secrecy requirements, not a moral one. I'm guessing a few dozen would be as many as I could hope to get away with.)

Other people I talked to about the scenario expressed philosophical disagreements as to the how they would view the clones. I view them as myself, and I think there is a strong case that they would be me, at least at the moment of copying, and I'd hope to feel that they are still me even afterwards. Some friends said that the clones would be other people, one even going so far as to express violent mistrust of this other-him. I don't think this is philosophically correct, but one's personal feelings are probably more important in this case. If you feel that the clone is someone else, then the clone feels the same way about you, and you can't trust each other.

One suggested that if you could somehow clone yourself while unconscious, such that a clone was created who wouldn't have any subjective experience, that another one of you could then ethically harvest its organs before it ever became conscious. Extra organs are useful in general, but they're particularly useful to sick clones of yourself. I can't say I see a problem with this argument, but I would hope it would not be necessary. I'm not sure I could avoid the irrational terror that I'd feel knowing that either the clone or I would be about to get his organs harvested, even if on a higher level, I understand that this differentiation of identity is an illusion.


So yeah, that's the thought experiment. Would you do it, and if so, how would you deal with becoming multiple?

>> Comment on this Post · Like this Post

Sat, 04 Oct 2014 16:04:19 +0000