The Death of Semantics

Words decay as soon as they are invented. That’s because words and language are a distributed protocol to tie semantics (meanings) to representation (words). With so many people trying to communicate with each other, the distribution of these protocol are subject to chinese whispers and decay. This essay traces how words might change for the worse.

Stage 1: Neologism

The birth of words begins when there is a semantic (meaning) without a representation (word), so people invent a new word to “point” at the semantics. “Google” was a favorite modern word officially added into the English dictionary in 2006. It was a new verb that was used to describe the searching of information on the internet because no previous word existed to describe what the word “google” described. Words are saved because no one ever has to say “Why don’t you search it on the internet?” ever again. We say “Why don’t you google it?”. All is good. Read More

My Favorite Book on Friendships is a Book About Polyamory

I recently read a book called “More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory” by Franklin Veaux and Eve Ricket. I didn’t know about polyamory before, and always lumped “poly” people with the rest of the sexually deviant groups of society. Because polyamory is a relatively new concept for most of the monogamous world, the authors spend a great deal of time outlining a guide for navigating in the world of polyamory. The upside of being so detailed in helping neophytes navigate complex relationships involving more than two people is that I learned a lot about relationships in general. “More Than Two” is probably my favorite book for navigating my friendships. Read More

Set Strategy

Set is not a board game that leaves much room for luck. When an experience Set player plays with you, you’re almost certainly going to be destroyed.

Back in college, I had a friend who was really into this game. She would always invite me to play with her in our free time and I would get crushed every time. One day, I got sick of getting beaten, so I decided to intensely train and study Set for a week. After a week, I played a rematch with her, and won.

This guide presents some strategies for the game that I discovered. After guiding you through these incremental strategies, I will evaluate how much of an improvement each strategy makes the game. Read More

Experience

Being smart by itself doesn’t get you very far in life. After all, when companies hire for senior or executive positions, they often care more about how much relevant experience people have over how smart candidates are. If I’m a company looking to hire someone to build a payments platform, I’m going to choose someone who has successfully done it before rather than a new grad who’s smart and eager to learn.

At the end of the day, companies care about results. Skills and experience that can deliver results are the currency of the intelligence economy. Skills to acquire more skills (metaskills) doesn’t do squat until you gain those value-delivering skills, which requires a lot of relevant experience that isn’t just sitting around like shoe boxes in a clearance aisle. Companies don’t like waiting 3 – 4 years with the hope that someday you’ll be in that position to contribute. Read More

You Don’t Earn Points By Not Playing The Game

Intuitively, a game is some form of social interaction among players, guided by rules, motivated by points, and solved through strategies. However, unlike board games or video games, real life games come with arbitrary rules you didn’t make, bad players you didn’t choose, and strategies that you may not like. Real life games can be confusing, unwinnable, or plain unfair. We don’t like playing these games, but we don’t earn any points (i.e. things we value) by not playing them. I decided to codify some of the games I’ve observe in which players willfully resign into non-participation, resulting in losing points they could have earned. Read More

Primary Keys

A primary key is a database terminology used to uniquely identify a row. For example, you might want to identify each student by their student ID. Problems can arise when you pick a primary key that turns out not to uniquely identify things. If you keep track of your students by their first names, you might find yourself confusing two students who share the same name!

In the same spirit, we have mental primary keys for identifying uniqueness between objects. I might say “the sushi in this michelin star restaurant tastes just like the one down the corner” or “isn’t what makes one cyclist better than another just how well they can pedal?” In the first example, I see the primary key of sushi as the freshness of the fish and the quality of rice. In the cycling example, I have a primary key that is the athleticism of the cyclist. Read More

Moral Character vs Moral Hygiene

I recently watched a series of videos on feminism called “Why are you so Angry?”. Spoiler alert, a big crux of the answer involves the question of moral character versus moral hygiene. Morality is often defined as talking about the reason for action. So as everyday observers of other people’s actions, we take the action to infer the reason for action. A well studied psychological bias, called Fundamental Attribution Error, illustrates human’s strong preference for explaining behavior through character rather than context and environment. “Oh, he’s a bad person.” “She’s a racist.”  “John always does that.” Read More

Surprise-o-Meter

Source: Poorly Drawn Lines http://www.poorlydrawnlines.com/

Your surprise-o-meter is an internal light bulb that lights up when you encounter new evidence or experiences contrary to your beliefs or assumptions. Epistemic surprises are conveniently valuable for learning because 1. They tend to indicate large shifts in your understanding of the world and 2. They tend to evoke emotional responses, which alerts us to pay attention to what’s causing the surprise. Cashing in on surprising experiences through self reflection can have major positive impact on your ability to learn from experiences. Read More

Long-Lasting Insecticide-Treated Nets

Many friends I’ve talked to about effective charities don’t know about long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLIN) and how using LLINs is most of the most cost-effective ways to save lives. I didn’t know much about it either, and part of that ignorance had given me enough confusion to procrastinate on donating to effective charities.

This short post brings together a series of facts that tipped me over the decision boundary from not donating any of my income to pledging 2% of my gross income this year to effective charities, 50% of that money which is towards the Against Malaria Foundation, which uses its money to purchase and distribute LLINs in endemic areas devastated by malaria. Read More

Mental Cycles

A mental cycle is an arbitrary unit of “mental computing power” that is used to measure the mental costs of performing certain tasks. You can say finding the square root of 81 requires fewer cycles than finding the square root of 5329.  You can say a smart person has a lot of mental cycles, which means that they can think a lot. You can also say that a smart person uses their mental cycles very effectively, meaning that even if they’re slow, they have good heuristics around how to solve problems efficiently. Students who spend 10 minutes on a test that should have taken 60 are either geniuses or cheating. Teachers intuit possible explanations to quick test turnaround times with the implicit concept of mental cycles. Read More