Covid 9/17: It’s Worse

Last week we learned there is plausibly a simple, cheap and easy way out of this entire mess. All we have to do is take our Vitamin D. In case it needed to be said, no. We are not taking our Vitamin D. There’s definitely some voices out there pushing it, including the nation’s top podcaster Joe Rogan, but I don’t see any signs of progress.

Instead, as school restarts, the outside gets colder and pandemic fatigue sets in, people’s precautions are proving insufficient to the task. This week showed that we have taken a clear step backwards across the country. 

I see three ways for things not to get steadily worse for a while. Either a vaccine arrives, which is unlikely, something else new (that we see little sign of) arrives to change behavior for the better, or this week was a blip. It’s only one week of data, it follows labor day, and it is wise not to move too quickly to extrapolation. The effect size seems too large, though, and too distributed among outcomes, to be coincidence.

In terms of news, it was a quiet week. There was some bluster, but little substance.

Let’s run the numbers. They’re not good.

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Spoiler-Free Review: Orwell

Orwell is another game in the discrete-choices-over-time genre. In this case, you are an investigator, and choose which ‘datachunks’ to upload into the system. From there, others will take action.

Like other games in the genre, if you are going to play, play it blind.

I’d rank the game as lower Tier 3 – it’s good at its job, but not essential. It mostly does what it sets out to do, creating an experience and an atmosphere. It has some big frustrations along the way.

Orwell has three problems that prevent it from doing better. It’s also short.

You should play Orwell if and only if the concept of Orwell seems like something you want to experience.

Problem one, which is not in any way a spoiler, is that a lot of the game effectively involves finding the datachunks, or links on pages that lead to new pages that in turn contain datachunks. Several times I got frustratingly stuck trying to figure out where the game wanted me to click. Similarly, there is a star by things that are new, which leads to furious “make the star go away” actions to allow for better searching.

Problem two, which is a minor spoiler, is that the game often gives you less choices than it looks like it can, or than it easily could. Events mostly seem to proceed in order, so you don’t really have the option to withhold most datachunks. Several times I wanted to not upload something, but the game would simply not proceed if I didn’t do it. This leads to the problem of, if I don’t upload this, I could spend a long time not knowing if that’s the only way to advance the game while looking for some other way to advance it that might or might not exist. I would have appreciated a lot more flexibility. Mostly all the system gives you are some binary choices where two chunks conflict and you have to decide which one to go with.

Problem three requires spoiling the experience to talk about, so that would be a distinct post.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Free Money at PredictIt: 2020 General Election

Previously: Free Money at PredictIt?

It’s time for another look at PredictIt. Is there free money? What are our best options for free money? 

The short answer is that there is free money if and only if you have available capital at PredictIt. 

There is no free money if your plan is to deposit to make the wager and then withdraw. That hits you with a 5% withdrawal fee, wiping out your profits. 

Let’s look at the major markets first, then scour for minor ones.

As with the last such post, despite the fact that we can’t discuss these prices without discussing the potential for a stolen election, let’s be clear: No advocacy for or against any candidate or party in the comments. Any such comments will be deleted reign-of-terror style. That’s not what this is about.

General Election 

Prices are where you would sell if you traded right away by hitting the bid.

Joe Biden 58

Donald Trump 44

Kamala Harris 3

Hillary Clinton 2

Mike Pence 1

That adds up to 108. You pay 10% on winnings. If you take the relative prices here at face value, you’d pay roughly 5.9 cents in fees, leaving a profit of 2.1 cents without need to tie up capital. 

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Covid 9/10: Vitamin D

Last week: Covid 9/3: Meet the New CDC

Imagine there is a simple, cheap, safe and effective solution for Covid-19. 

The solution is something known to be safe. It is widely available for reasonable prices. Any patents have long expired. It is something that people need and benefit from anyway. It’s probably worth doing without the pandemic. It just happens to also have a dramatic effect on Covid-19. 

You might think that once the solution was discovered, everyone would shout it from the rooftops. There would rapidly be studies to confirm the solution if it was even considered ethical to not give the solution to everyone. Production would kick into high gear. The pandemic would soon be over. 

Or, if you’ve been paying attention, you might think that our civilization is so dysfunctional, so inadequate, that none of that would happen. That for no particular reason, or for reasons we’ll get into later, the whole thing would end up mostly being ignored. We’d carry on with all the same arguments, all the same deaths, all the same economic devastation, putting all of our lives on hold. 

That the world you would see would not look much different from our own.

That cynical view looks right. 

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments

The Four Children of the Seder as the Simulacra Levels

Previously: Unifying the Simulacra Definitions, Simulacra Levels and their Interactions, On Negative Feedback and Simulacra

Simulacra levels are complex, counter-intuitive and difficult to understand.

Thus, it is good and right to continue exploring them partly via story and metaphor.

The metaphor here will be that of the four children from Jewish Passover Seder.

The Jewish Seder tells us of four generations of children: The wise child, the wicked child, the simple child, and the one who does not know how to ask.

The story is profoundly weird and does not, on its face, make much sense. Yet every year it is told anyway. What is going on here?

Many attempts have been made to interpret it.

A while back I wrote the first rationalist seder (later versions can be found here). At the time, the story of the four children did not make sense to me. Why this narrative of decline and fall, of wisdom as something that can only decay? 

To make sense of the story of the children and to tie it to the themes I wanted to focus on, I told a reversed story and substituted in generations of rationalists and truth seekers. 

In this story, we first learn how to ask, then we are simple, then we are instrumental, then we seek to fully understand, and then finally in a fifth stage we can transcend. We can be great because we stand on the shoulders of giants. 

Reversing the order of development is reasonably common, as is an implied fifth child. When I was googling for details of what the sons say, the first hit was a reversed-order story of the children as stages of psychological development, with a fifth stage beyond the four listed.

These are fine tales, worthy of telling. Today, I bring a different story.

I bring the story that I now believe was originally intended.

The four children are the four simulacra levels. 

Continue reading

Posted in Rationality, Simulacra | 10 Comments

Covid 9/3: Meet the New CDC

This week’s news all centers around policy decisions. The new data contains few important surprises, so attention shifts to what actions will be taken and how that will affect the path we follow going forward. The CDC’s fall and transformation into an arm of the White House reelection campaign is now complete. Others continue to come up with, suggest and criticize various policies. 

Before we get to all that, let’s run the numbers.

Continue reading

Posted in Coronavirus | 19 Comments

Spoiler-Free Review: Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes is a short Tier 3 game, meaning it is a Good game but not universally Worth It or a Must Play. It is a series of discrete choices and has some interesting questions to ask, and I likely will use it as a reference point in the future once I’ve given people a chance to play. People who don’t generally play games should still be good to go here.

This is one of those experiences that is best when you know as little information as possible going in, so that’s all I am going to say at this time. Enjoy!


Posted in Games Other Than Magic, Reviews | 4 Comments

Covid 8/27: The Fall of the CDC

Most weeks, the disaster that was the head of the FDA not having any understanding of statistics and not making any attempt to think about the world would have been the headline. Then the CDC decided to revise its guidelines on testing from being for it to largely being against it, under pressure from the White House, and suddenly it’s the B-story.

It seems that every day there is a new thing surfacing to enrage me. The difference is that early in the pandemic, every day something would terrify me. I’m still periodically scared in an existential or civilization-is-collapsing-in-general kind of way, but not in a ‘the economy is about to collapse’ or ‘millions of Americans are about to die’ kind of way. 

I’m not sure whether this is progress.

Either way, a reminder that I’ve started a sports, sports gambling and sports modeling substack to avoid cluttering up this blog, so check it out here if you have yet to do so and that is relevant to your interests.

That’s out of the way. Let’s run the numbers.

Continue reading
Posted in Coronavirus | 17 Comments

I Started a Sports and Gambling Substack

The substack is here.

The latest post is here and contains predictions for tomorrow’s baseball games. I also posted predictions for yesterday’s games here, and here you can find my offensive team ratings. Pitcher ratings will be posted soon.

I wanted to try out the substack system and software as a potential landing point, and as per my discussion regarding the forced switch to the new WordPress editor. I also wanted to avoid conflating the sports modeling and gambling talk with my rationality blog, as I expect them to be relevant to the interests of different groups of people.

If you have meaningful feedback for what the model has to say, or are finding these posts interesting or useful, let me know and also hopefully subscribe to the substack. If not, I’ll likely periodically mention it is there, but will do my best to keep the two efforts distinct.

Posted in Economics, Impractical Optimization, Sports | Leave a comment

Covid 8/20: A Little Progress

(Writer’s note: Due to the utter trainwreck that is WordPress’ new editor, this week’s post was written in Google Docs and then cut and pasted into WordPress. This is an excellent example of the principle that any given thing is likely getting worse even as things in general improve. As an experiment, I’m opening the draft document to public comments – I think commenting on the side as the post goes is actually a better method, and I encourage you to read it and comment on it there.)

The Covid news is not as excellent as it looks at first, but it is still good. 

The positive test percentages, and the number of people testing positive, are dropping fast. The number of people hospitalized is dropping as well. The number of reported deaths mostly continues on its plateau, but that almost certainly reflects a dropping number of actual deaths by this point. 

Those positive test percentages look less impressive when broken out by region, which we do this week for the first time, but improvement is still improvement.

There’s even a rapid test freshly approved by the FDA, thanks to the NBA. More on that in its section, but don’t say sports never did anything for you. 

There’s also a lot of noise out there. There’s some new official lying for our own good I need to complain about. 

It’s still important to celebrate the good times, when the times are good. Even if those times aren’t as good as we would like or hope.

Continue reading

Posted in Coronavirus | 11 Comments