Wednesday, June 20, 2018


I joke that I spend half my time worrying about where to live, and half my time worrying about having kids. Hah! It's really more like 90% about kids. (I can worry about multiple things at once.)

Blogging tends to help me organize my thoughts, so here we go.

Should one have kids?

Well... from the perspective of the world at large, I don't see many reasons for/against. I guess overpopulation is a thing, but the US is below replacement. Like, it's imperialist and paternalistic and etc, but the way to stop overpopulation is not for you or I to have zero kids instead of two; it's to make sure that, throughout poor countries, people have contraception and personal security and stuff. Yeah, your kids will eat food and cause greenhouse gas emissions, but you've got to think that the world's better for you being in it, and therefore it hopefully will be for your kids too.

From the perspective of the not-yet-existing kids, I don't see many reasons for/against either. I tried to see the point against it! But it doesn't ring very true, if you read that post. Even though I may rather never have existed, I think most people are pretty happy to exist. Therefore, I don't think you're doing a bad thing by having kids.

So it seems like whether you should have kids is all about you.

Points in favor of having kids

  1. Maybe you just want to. If this is the case, there you go! That's easy, and you can stop reading here. I'm going to write the rest of this assuming you, like me, don't have this inherent drive that some people seem to be born with.
  2. It's new and unique. I'm not being glib; this is a very good reason. Same reason I like traveling. Spending a month wandering around India is not more pleasant than being at home, but it's new, and it's worth it to try new things. Expands your world.
  3. Old age insurance. You can't necessarily count on your kids take care of you, but I imagine it's nice to grow old with kids.
  4. Potential grandkids! This sounds great.
  5. It's a chance to perpetuate your values at least one more generation. I mean, if you think your values are pretty good (and I do), you might want to do that.
  6. See the world through kids' eyes. If you're feeling old and jaded (yep!) maybe having a kid around will make you want to finger paint or play with legos or something again.
  7. Unknown upsides. Like, people say things like "you can't imagine what it's like to have kids." One friend said of her daughter: "I didn't know what it was like to love someone so much I want to eat her." I would like to know what that's like!
  8. I think most people who have kids are pretty happy to have them. Even big nerds like me!
  9. Even if the truth is "kids suck, but parents don't admit it"... I'm generally a fan of placebos.

Points against having kids

  1. I mean, the usuals: sleepless nights, diapers, angsty teens, etc.
  2. But seriously; take a step back and look at #1 harder. Your life satisfaction will go down. Life satisfaction isn't just your day-to-day happiness. It makes life harder in a way that isn't necessarily "beautiful struggle." This cartoon. (warning: creepy, not funny.)
  3. Loss of freedom to travel or take whatever job or join the Peace Corps or whatever. Having kids expands your life in one way, but cuts off opportunities for you in other ways. Also constrains where you live a bit.
  4. Relatedly, costs a lot of money.
  5. You can't really go back and un-have kids.
  6. Opens yourself up to more risk: I understand your child dying is basically the worst thing that can happen to anyone. Right now, I can't know that level of grief, but if I have a kid, I could. (This is not a huge point because "better to have loved and lost", but it is a point.)
  7. What if your kid has severe autism or something? You have to at least listen to this podcast before you hype up kids to me.

What am I thinking?

The "in favor" point #2 is the most convincing to me. In the same way that I'll travel around the world for no real benefit, or try meditating or whatever to expand my human experience, I might as well expand my experience by trying having kids. Plus point #7 (unknown benefits) - maybe they're the same thing. #8 helps; if I'm an average SSC reader, something like a 96% chance of being at least neutral on the decision (and over 50% chance of 5/5) feels pretty good.

Having kids does cut off certain possibilities in life - but I wasn't doing them anyway! Seriously, the path I'm on is "white collar corporate job and traditional marriage." Not saying this is bad or good; I have very many feelings about this (best served in another post or series of posts)... but it is about the easiest path to have kids on, so might as well.

The rest of the upsides and downsides kind of even out. You make your next five years worse in order to make your future years better. Maybe it's the biggest challenge you have left in life - and in that case, how exciting to get to the top of the hill!
(maybe "over the hill" means not that your life is over, but that you get to bike downhill from here and it's pretty great.)

I don't know what to do about the severe autism or the possibility your kid might die. I guess you just hope it won't happen - and it probably won't. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and be paralyzed - what happens if I increase my odds of "life-altering terribleness" from 0.00001% to 0.00002%? Meh.

Still, it feels like everything adds up to about a -1 on a scale of -10 to 10, with a standard deviation of about 20. It feels hard to imagine how good or bad it'll be. Or, let's be honest, on the basis of feelings it feels like about a -5, because I viscerally feel all the downsides. But on the basis of thoughts, it's +4. I think it's maybe a tiny bit unwise to have kids, but I'm pretty much completely uncertain about it.

(When I mention this to people, they're like "what??? but... you're still planning to have kids?" 


Talk with me about it? It's about the biggest thing left in my life I will ever need advice on, probably, so I would love to talk with as many people as possible. If you're interested, I will find time to phone with you.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was

Magic cards!

(background: I loved Magic cards (wiki) when I was a kid. In college, I stopped because I didn't want people to think I was a big nerd. About 10 years later, a lot of my friends who were also big nerds, but less afraid than me to say so, got back into it, so eventually I did too.)

I have a love/hate relationship with it. I really like playing the game - it's like a drug; it's got the deepest strategy of any game I've ever really gotten into. I really like my friends who play the game. I don't like the average person who plays the game, or the average situation in which you play the game - usually it's a large, loud room with a bunch of 30 year old nerdy white guys. So like, on the one hand, ugh.

On the other hand, one thing I've learned growing older is that it's okay, and even Good, to be a huge nerd. (for some definitions of the word "nerd.") Follow your bliss, and all that.

So there's a big tournament coming up (Grand Prix Las Vegas) and I'm going there mostly to hang out with my friends, and I decided, screw it, I'm gonna actually practice this time. So I put in an embarrassing number of hours on uneventful nights and weekends playing 95 matches of Magic Cards on the computer.

(yeah I went 60-35, ending up with a rating of 1791, and didn't even have to buy any cards - though pulling two Karns and a Teferi helped with that. anyway, yes I'm kind of proud, thanks for asking)

What did I learn?

1. I do like it. It's very fun.
2. It gives me something to talk about with these few friends. Unfortunately, most of them live out of town. But the tournament next weekend should be fun.
3. I like winning, and I dislike losing, more than seems healthy. When I quit after a 3-0 draft, I'm just constantly replaying in my head all the great decisions and sweet cards I got. When I quit after a 1-2 (or worse: 0-1 in the comp league), I'm really frazzled and frustrated. It makes me want to get back and get that next hit.
4. Relatedly, I tilt sometimes. Hopefully this immersion has gotten me a little better at seeing that and dealing with it.
5. Magic Online's not a great human-relationship-bang-for-buck, at least not where I am now. There's only so much talking online about the cards you can do. I imagine if you had a lot of friends who all played, near you, and you saw them in person it might be more fun.
6. I do feel like the time's wasted. I want to de-weight this, because 32-year-old Dan knows that your life doesn't have to be one big college resume anymore, and doing something you love doing is kind of one of the things that life's about.

So, would I do it again? Meh. Like a drug, I found it sapped my will to get out and do other things. That seems like a bad direction to go further. And I think if I'd been winning 40% instead of 60% (and blowing through a couple hundred dollars) I'd feel much worse about the whole thing.

EDIT, after the tournament: that was fun! I went 9-6 at the tournament; 6-3 on day 1 (sealed) and 3-3 on day 2 (draft). I was a little bummed especially about my second draft, where I drafted bad wizards and went 1-2. But overall semi-proud of my performance. One win away from a pro point, three wins away from money. More importantly, had a great time with my friends.

Does this change how I'd think about it? Yes, especially because this is exactly how well I've done at a previous GP where I didn't practice at all, and because my friends who are better than me at Magic did about the same. 30 drafts in one season isn't gonna make me better, or give me a richer experience. Given that I'm never gonna do 300 drafts, I'm just "doomed" to be a "decent" Magic player. That's fine; enjoy the game.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

politics sucks

Whenever I try to debate most anything, if I'm being honest, I haven't a dang clue. It requires learning details of how a law works, what its probable effects would be, a lot of history, and/or what a candidate stands for. Best I can usually do is proclaim my group allegiance, state a vague version of what my side usually believes and what the other side usually believes, and why I think my side's better.

It seems to me that a sane thing to do would be to research a few issues, and take a stand, and then be able to debate them confidently. Then shrug on most anything else and just try to learn from anyone stating any opinion, the best I can.

However, that sounds like a lot of work, and after my day job, I have no energy to.

Some things I'm thinking about doing:

- just skip the "research some issues" and only learn from people. Just like, every political conversation is a chance to open my mind. The downside: I think most people's opinions are about as informed as mine, which is to say, not very.

- listen to more podcasts. The ones that I feel like I sometimes learn something about The World from: Econtalk, Conversations with Tyler, the Sam Harris one, On the Media, and sometimes Decrypted. I would like more like this; please recommend me some.

- read more blogs. Slate Star Codex is worthwhile. I would like more of these too. The Weekly Sift is a pretty well-researched news blog, but it does just make me mad about everything that's going on.

- take Twitter app off my phone. Tweetdeck is actually a somewhat sane desktop Twitter UI: just shows you all the posts in chronological order. Twitter Android mostly does that, but also has ads, and also shows you things your friends liked. (That's terrible. If I wanted my friends to see it, I'd retweet.) As a result, I can get sucked into the clickbaitiest culture-warsiest post any of my friends liked.

- move off Twitter too and onto Mastodon? This solves a different problem (that Twitter Inc's interests are not aligned with ours) but it's one that's worth solving.

One worry I have:

- do these proposals just entail retreating? Does this just mean that even less informed people will talk more than me? Is this irresponsible? (maybe it's good though! retreating from useless noise is probably healthy.)

Monday, May 28, 2018

some links

Predictive drawing with neural networks
This is one of these things that I saw once and can't seem to find the exact same gif. It was like, you'd be drawing, and it'd be showing you the most likely continuations of the current line you're drawing.
Anyway, this predictive-drawing is a really useful idea I've had reason to reference; I wish it had a simple name.
One application: sometimes in conversations, when people are not very direct, you have to do this kind of "predictive drawing" in your mind to fill in what they're saying. Like if you're in a work meeting and someone says "I don't know if this is the best thing to do here," it becomes all of the following:
- I don't want to do this
- I would like to do it, but I honestly don't know if it's the best thing to do
- I kinda want to do this, but I'm expressing hesitation because I don't want responsibility for decision making
- I actually can't do this because of some secret political thing that would be impolite to bring up

The 9.9 Percent is the New American Aristocracy - Yes! Remember: inequality is because of the 0.1%, and you, you fellow 9.9%er, you are not them. You are not going to become them. You will not get ahead by sucking up to them. The 90% are your people.
Also this thread. Especially: "(So if you want my take on living up to democracy, it does require acting as if ordinary people are not dumb. They are not. They are constrained. There is a difference. It matters.)"
Again, Fox News is at least one big part of the problem; if there's an industry (created by the 0.1%) telling the 90% how much the 9.9% looks down on them... well, it's not going to help anything.

How to have meetings well, in lots of detail. I mostly agree with this - there's bits I'd quibble on, but it does seem a lot more mature than the strategy I learned at Google, which was "basically you should never have meetings."
(this is hyperbole; google was somewhat smarter than this and continues to get smarter probably, but that's how I compressed this into my mind)

I started using Duckduckgo ("The search engine that doesn't track you") a couple years ago, kinda on a whim. It's totally great; I probably get bad results and then try google, like, 1 in 100 times. (and google fails sometimes then too!) You might as well use Duckduckgo too. An easy way to do so, it seems, is to get their new browser extension.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

CA voting, part 2

(here's part 1)

Hard to find guides for CA-wide races! Here's the Chronicle. Here's one from Planned Parenthood. Here's the SF League of Pissed-off Voters for the "progressive" vote; useful because when even they endorse moderate candidates, like Padilla and Yee, that seems good.

Governor: I think Villaraigosa here, because it's a top-2 primary. Newsom is going to win first (and I'm planning to vote for him in the real election), but Villaraigosa and republican Cox are in a close race for second, and I'd rather have Villaraigosa than Cox.
Lieutenant Governor: doesn't matter much. Ed Hernandez seems fine.
Secretary of State: Padilla
Controller: Yee
Treasurer: Ma
Attorney General: Becerra

Insurance commissioner: (shrug) Lara I guess
Board of Equalization member: Not voting
US Senate: De Leon, as he's farther left than Feinstein. Hate to be ageist, but... Feinstein's policies were built in an age of Reagan and Bush 1. This feels about right.
US Rep, District 12: Shahid Buttar. Again, top-2, so obv Pelosi will win #1 but who do we want to win #2? I've seen ads for Jaffe, but... construction moratorium and no congestion pricing -> nope. Similarly with Khojasteh: "the US is in the midst of a housing crisis driven not by lack of supply but by surplus of greed" - no! that is exactly the opposite of what is true! Buttar is at least not as wrong.
State Assembly Member, District 17: Chiu's been good, let's keep him.
Judge, office 4: Cheng (background for these 4 judge races)
Judge, office 7: Karnow
Judge, office 9: Lee
Judge, office 11: Ross
Superintendent: Thurmond

Mayor: see also part 1; in short: Breed.
District 8: I'm kinda undecided now. (Chronicle editorial.) When a "moderate" organization endorses a "progressive" candidate, that sounds good. And Mandelman's really putting in the effort, while Sheehy's kinda not. But ... Mandelman's "solution" to the housing crisis is "more rent control"? Well, plus "more affordable housing", which we all want of course, but his policies might make harder to build. Ehh. Doesn't really matter; we're going to rehash this one in November anyway.

State ballot propositions: turns out these are easy. (more info)
68: Yes
69: Yes
70: No
71: Yes
72: Yes
Regional prop 3: Yes!
City and county props: see my part 1 (in short: yes on ABDEFG, no on CHI). I changed my mind to vote in favor of E just to spite the tobacco companies who have sent me so many mailers against it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

what are your feelings axioms?

Having feelings is hard. Making decisions is hard because having feelings is hard. Reasoning in ways that will be good to your future feelings seems hard.

But a lot of our feelings are pretty reducible to other feelings. It feels possible (and would be great) if you could reduce all your feelings to a set of axioms or values or something.

Here's my attempt for mine:

1. Universal kindness. I think a good measure of this is: do you act like everyone is exactly as much of a human as you? This is basically the Golden Rule.

2. Logic. I hesitate to include this because it seems like it could be co-opted to just mean "be a weirdo robot Spock who devalues feelings and stuff", but I'm not sure how else to say it. You've got to be committed to seeking truth, avoiding cognitive biases, and being epistemically humble.

3. Curiosity. I think you should keep looking for new things you like, or delving deeper into the things you already do like.

4. Self-motivation. Plus points if you do things that you like! Minus points if you force yourself to do things. Another way to think about this is moving through the world somewhat easily and calmly, not fighting everything all the time.

5. Health. Physical, mental, emotional, social.

If I'm correct, this list encompasses everything I believe pretty well! But I'll be looking for examples of what I believe that is not entailed here.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

San Francisco Voting in June

I mostly follow these, from SF Yimby.
I also try to follow these, from SPUR.
The SF Bike Coalition is mildly important to me.
And if I hear anything Scott Wiener endorses, I'm inclined to vote for that as well.

Ultimately, we're in a housing crisis here, and we have to build a million billion units of housing starting 30 years ago. This is the thing that colors my votes more than anything else. I'd say I'm a single-issue voter, but housing affects almost everything else; the housing debate IS the gentrification debate, the homelessness debate, the transportation debate.

As a result, I fall right in line with the YIMBY faction. SB 35 is great and already making housing work; SB 827 would have been awesome, and the only things I hear against "build more" are of the following forms:
1. "Let's not displace people (esp poor and nonwhite ppl) who are here now." I agree with this! That's an important concern. And seems like we can work that out while also building more. SB 827, for example, added a bunch of tenant protections after discussing with people who might get displaced. If you want to talk about displacement a lot, but not build more, then I have to assume you're "bootlegger and baptist"ing - saying you support X for "good" reason Y, but you actually have self-interested reason Z.
2. "I don't want things to change." This has 2 forms:
2a. "I want SF to still be a cool artsy funky hippie whatever alternative place like it used to be." Well, uh, it's not 1967. And in the words of the wise sage Geddy Lee, "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." By not building more, we ensure that things will continue changing in the way they are now, and SF will be even richer and whiter and more boring.
2b. "I want SF to be precious Victorian houses, not Manhattan." I mean... I get that, but I just think it's way less valuable than the alternative. When it's "I like Victorian houses" vs. "SF is a homelessness war zone that you can only afford if you make over $100k, and barely then", scrap the Victorians.

How I'm voting, as of now, assuming I hear nothing else. Numbers indicate how much I care about each, on a scale of 1-10, where 1 means "I barely care enough to check a box on this or I'm very unsure about it" and 10 means "this is the most important thing ever"
Mayor: Breed, then Leno, 8
Rep: Sheehy 5
Regional Prop 3: Yes 8 (tax bridges, fund transit)
City propositions:
A. Yes 5 (utilities bonds)
B. Yes 3
C. No 1
D. Yes 5 (C and D are kind of a bummer; I'd take $70m for housing before $140k for childcare, but... it's not an easy choice.)
E. No 1 (Did somebody say, grape blunt?)
F. Yes 8 (legal representation if you're getting evicted)
G. Yes 8 (tax for teachers)
H. No 9 (Tasers)
I. No 1 - even though I support it in principle, saying "we shouldn't court sports teams" doesn't actually do anything.

There's still a lot to do, mostly at the state level, so I'll probably post again about those when I figure them out. Anyway... /r/changemyview.