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Be advised; this thread is not for serious in depth discussion of weighty topics, this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

We have somehow survived another move.

I feel like a broken record here, but, seriously, good job everyone, and thanks. While the moderators of a community are important, the community simply doesn't exist without its members. Y'all came over here and kept on posting, and that's exactly what we needed.

With luck, this is going to be the last move we ever need to make; we have our own domain and servers, we're no longer really existing with any specific other person's permission.

We are, however, not out of the woods.

I mentioned during some of the original Reddit-exodus posts that I had a serious medium-term worry about userbase. We've cut ourselves off from the Reddit pipeline and that means we're in danger of slowly eroding away; people will always leave the community and right now we don't have a good way of getting new users. We wouldn't be the first community to do so! Every community needs an influx of people, and now we need to figure out the right way to manage that.

So I now have a few requests, ordered roughly by how comfortable I am asking it.

First: Send links to people that you think will be interested. If you know someone looking for political discussion, send them a link to the site as a whole; if there's a specific post you think they'll be interested in, link that. Remember that we have The Vault, which has unfortunately gone a bit neglected while I worked on this changeover. Please don't spam anyone - I don't want anyone just posting links to our front page on a hundred subreddits - but if you have a good opportunity, either regarding friends or communities that you're an established member of, take it.

Second: Propose places that might be willing to do a link trade. I'm planning to reach out to a bunch of subreddits shortly and see if they're willing to crosslink, especially places that are serious-political-discussion-adjacent in the hopes that we can draw off that section of their population and both be better off for it. If you have personal connections you can bring it up to them yourself, otherwise just let me know and I'll see what I can do. I expect a low success rate but even a low success rate might be pretty dang valuable.

(And don't limit this to subreddits! There's a number of good communities out there that aren't on the big social sites.)

Third: If you have time, help out. We have a dev server that you can join if you want to work on a huge number of pending issues, and it's thanks to the people on this server that we've had such a constant flow of updates, fixes, and tweaks. If you're less programmery but more editorial, we do have a lot of Vault-related editing that we'd like to get done; this goes faster than you might think. If there's some other skill you have that you think might be valuable, hop on the dev server and send me a message.

And finally, fourth, which is the one that I really hate to ask, but I'm doin' it anyway.

I've set up a Patreon to take donations. If you have spare cash and think this is a worthy destination for it, please chip in.

I'm not sure what this whole "money" thing is going to end up looking like. At the very least this will pay for server costs; any income above that will go into making the site better, in whatever way seems most valuable. I've been thinking about taking out ads in an attempt to pull more users here, for example, and that isn't cheap.

This is going to be very experimental and will probably involve false starts. I'd love to hear suggestions on good ways to spend money on the site - if you have any, let me know - but note that in order to hire programmers we would need a lot of money.

For those who are more crypto-minded, I'm also taking donations via Ethereum (0xa97e126DCEcC7Ea3AF05d252B49c03ae35547dD9) and Bitcoin (bc1qnj0mvg90dfawjq3kxq4wdvcq0ejksgyf2m0xnq). All of these links are on the new (and very primitive) Support page.

I know there's going to be people who think that we left Reddit just so I could cash out. I frankly suspect that even if I just pile all of the results into a giant sack with a dollar sign on it and walk off while cackling evilly, I still won't be making minimum wage, so this would be a terrible plan :V No, I do actually like this community a ton, and want it to keep going, but I can't fund an indefinite amount of stuff on my own. And part of this push is to figure out just how useful this site is to all of you, in order to see what can be justified and what can't be justified.

So there's the ask! If you have connections, use them; if you have time, contribute it; if you have money and want to put it towards this, please provide financial support so I can figure out how to keep the new-user pipeline going.

If you don't, that's cool! Keep on posting and I hope you enjoy your time here.


Finally, this is the new Bugs/Suggestions/Small Comments thread. If you have feedback, post it here! A lot of the stuff in that Pending Issues link up above was submitted by users, and we're getting through it slowly.

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

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This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

Posted because I didn't see Zorba post one today. Feel free to delete if that's an issue.

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

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  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

For various reasons, I follow Brian Leiter's blog--if you're not familiar, Leiter is perhaps most famous as the originator of a law school ranking website (not updated in some time), and a philosophy graduate school ranking website (since handed off to others). He is an outspoken, sometimes abrasive Marxist, but also decidedly anti-woke. He occasionally cites mostly-approvingly to Freddie deBoer, but is much older and better educated, so it is helpful to read Leiter if you want a sense of what very old school, very leftist academic thinking looks like today.

Anyway a recent entry on Leiter's blog piqued my interest, because I am a word nerd, but not an academic linguist. In it, Leiter appears to be airing his annoyance at the way the word "reification" gets used in its literal sense (making the abstract concrete)--he's praising NYT for using the word "correctly," in its Marxist sense, while also offering further correction:

"Some social scientists have a term--'reification.'" Actually, the terms [sic] comes from Lukacs, one of the few useful concepts from his History and Class Consciousness...

Now, it is true that contemporary Marxists using the term as a term of art are indeed channeling Lukacs. However, the term itself most assuredly does not originate with Lukacs. Etymonline traces it to 1846 (the relevant Lukacs' text arrived in 1923). Wiktionary provides some further context, suggesting that the word is "a macaronic calque of German Verdinglichung." The only other source I've found suggests that the term "emerged in the English language in the 1860s" but no supporting evidence is provided for the claim, and the rest of that blog sticks to Marxist exposition.

That is where my Google-fu caps out. I know that the term today gets used in programming contexts (e.g. LISP) so certainly the word has been genericized whether Leiter likes it or not. And of course Marx himself was writing in 1846, so I can't dismiss the possibility that Marxists did coin the term (either in German, or by being the ones to calque it from German), in which case it might even be a mistake to credit Lukacs for the concept. But neither can I dismiss the possibility that the term itself had no Marxist implications for several decades before Lukacs came along, in which case the term has been co-opted by Marxists to the extent that they (like Leiter) assert the "correct" use as a Marxist one.

Either way I suspect Leiter's annoyance re: "incorrect" use is not justified by linguistic history, except to the extent he is complaining about people talking about reification in Marxist contexts without using the term in Lukacs' sense (which doesn't appear to be the case, from this blog entry, but I am doing a lot of reading between the lines). Some of you speak German and some of you read Marx and some of you have access to fancy corpus databases... any chance one of you knows, or can find, the first English or German print instance of "reification?"

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

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Have you found a problem in the site? Do you want to make a suggestion on improvement? Do you just want to say "hi everyone"? Post it here!

If you'd like to help with development, check out the Github and the dev Discord. We have a practically infinite list of small things that need to be fixed or changed.

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

53

I'm not a regular poster on /r/TheMotte. I've done a bit of work getting this website up and running and I plan to stick around and try to help a little more, but I don't know that I will contribute much to the discussion. I just wanted to say that I appreciate that there exists a place where people can discuss the sorts of things that get you banned everywhere else, while setting aside their partisan, political, religious motivations (for the most part) and demanding effort and evidence. That's valuable to me, even if I'm not participating. It's important that someone, somewhere, can do that.

So I appreciate everything you guys do. Thanks for being here.

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Internet addiction is something that I've struggled with for well over a decade now. Innumerable days, weeks, probably years, lost to aimless scrolling with no goal in particular. My interests are more "intellectual" than the average social media addict who only looks at TikTok and Instagram, so perhaps my habits are more defensible in that regard, but I think it's still had a significant negative impact on my life and has prevented me from spending more time on things that I actually care about.

I wanted to see if anyone struggles with the same issues, and also share some of my recent thoughts on the nature of internet addiction.

  • First, it has to be recognized that the internet can be both a force for great good and a force for great evil. Unlike hard drugs, total abstinence is neither possible nor desirable. The internet made me the person I am today, and gave me so many wonderful, unforgettable experiences. I can't just repudiate it entirely - rather I have to learn to live with it, and take better control of my relationship with it.

  • I don't support the use of strategies like apps that automatically cut off your access during certain times of the day. Nietzsche once said something to the effect of, "only the weak man wants to pluck out his eyes to avoid looking at lustful things". It's a sentiment I agree with. Any solution that "forces" you to reduce browsing time is just putting a band-aid over the problem. The goal is to fundamentally reconfigure your desires and dispositions so they're more naturally aligned with your actual goals.

  • A key factor in understanding internet addiction is understanding the need to accept boredom. Before smartphones, people used to get bored way more often. Sometimes you'd just have to sit there with literally nothing to do, not even anything to think - you won't always want to read a book, or entertain yourself with your own thoughts. Smartphones permanently cured boredom - scrolling the web is infinitely entertaining, and takes zero effort. It's like a liquid that seeps in through the cracks furnished by boredom and gradually fills up all available space, taking over every second of time that you have. I think that one of the biggest keys to reconfiguring my relationship with the internet, for me anyway, is accepting and embracing that there will simply be times where I am bored and I just sit there doing literally, absolutely nothing. But that's not an excuse to resort to web browsing in those cases.

  • I'm currently trying to take an organic approach where I accept that the internet is extremely fun and beneficial, and I will browse it multiple times a day, but I try to consciously remind myself to limit it and make time for other things as well. For example, making short-term plans like "I won't look at my phone until I'm back from my morning walk, at which points I will check websites X Y and Z, and then I won't look at my phone again until after lunch". We'll see how it goes. The unfortunate thing about addiction isn't that any one mitigation strategy is difficult to implement and stick to, but rather that I seem to have little control over exactly what person I'm going to be next week. I always seem to wind up back in a place where, on a meta-level, I simply no longer have a desire to control my web browsing at all and I no longer see it as a problem, so I ditch any prevention strategy and I just go back to unrestricted scrolling. I'd really like to fundamentally reconfigure myself so that doesn't happen anymore. But I don't know how to do that.

I view this as a societal problem, not just an individual problem with me. I saw a family of three at a restaurant the other day, mom and dad and a young boy, and all three of them were glued to their phones, ignoring each other. That made me very sad. I hope that more will be done in the future to raise consciousness of internet addiction, and smartphone addiction in particular.

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I think anyone who's been watching this switchover has noted it hasn't been the smoothest. I'm still kinda decompressing from that and I figured I'd write up why, just so you could all marvel at the ridiculous chain of catastrophes.

So.

We get the site up. People register their accounts. People start almost immediately reporting 429 errors when registering.

429 Too Many Requests is an error that means a user has done too much stuff lately, commonly known as "rate limiting". A lot of the site is rate limited, but it should be rate limited well above what an actual human will do. For example, the account creation is rate-limited at 10 per day per person; if you need more than ten accounts every day then uh maybe you're not behaving quite like we want.

Of course, people weren't making ten accounts per person; rate limiting was broken.

We looked into the rate limiting code. Rdrama runs on a service called Cloudflare, which relays connections and does a bunch of fancy caching and performance optimization and also doesn't provide service if you're farming kiwis. An annoying thing about this kind of a service is that it makes it a little trickier to figure out "who" someone is; Cloudflare includes that information on requests, but it's not in the normal place. The rate limiting code was using the Cloudflare-specific IP info. Problem: We're not on Cloudflare. So that info was just wrong. I took out the Cloudflare-specific stuff and the problem did not get fixed in any way.

Well, Cloudflare does all this fancy optimization (it's called "reverse proxying", please don't ask why), but actually, so do we. The Motte runs on the same server setup as The Vault, and The Vault is specifically designed to be extremely cacheable. We've got our own little similar frontend server doing something identical, and all connections, including Motte connections, go through it. This means we needed to get the IP from our own reverse proxy, using a different technique, which we did, and which also entirely failed to fix the issue.

At this point I tried to disable the rate limiter entirely. The rate limiter refused to disable. We'll get back to this one.

The reason, I guessed, the reverse-proxy IP didn't work is that our reverse proxy is actually behind another reverse proxy. It's reverse proxies all the way down. You may not like it, but this is what peak web development looks like. Anyway, we were getting one layer further up, but we needed to be another layer further up. The hosting service I use does in fact have a switch for enabling this; it's called Proxy Protocol. I turned Proxy Protocol on and the entire site instantly went down. So I flipped it back and the site came back up. Then I did this a few more times just to be sure it wasn't a coincidence. It wasn't.

It turns out that the reverse proxy run by me requires some very specific configuration settings to be compatible with the Proxy Protocol setting. The problem is that I'm running this proxy in sort of a weird way. Most people using this server architecture have, like, an entire devops team. I don't! It's just me. And I don't really know what I'm doing. So cue half an hour of occasional outages as I try something new. It is worth noting that some of the changes I made also broke the site, but I was suspicious that the two changes had to be made together to work at all, so sometimes I'd break the site, then I'd break the site in another way, then I'd sit there for a minute hoping it worked, and it wouldn't, and then I'd revert both changes.

Finally I figured out the magic incantation! The site worked, we got IPs, the rate limiting was functional. The 429 error was forever vanquished! I looked at the site, and checked the perf charts, and noted that we were capping the CPU on the absolute-bottom-barrel server I'd chosen, so I figured, hey, I tried moving servers before as part of a test, this should be fine, let's just fork over an extra $12/mo and boost the server a bunch, and I did this, and the site broke entirely.

I spent another thirty minutes trying to fix it; if anyone noticed the site being entirely down for a while, well, that was me trying to untangle what was wrong. I tried connecting directly to the site from its own computer; it didn't work. I spent twenty minutes analyzing this and eventually realized I was just doing it wrong. Worked fine once I did it wrong. I eventually decided this was a routing issue and had a deep suspicion.

See, Proxy Protocol was set using a switch on the hosting provider's GUI. But that's sketchy as hell - why is it a manual switch? I went back and checked and sure enough it had gotten turned off. So I turned it back on.

Site back up and running.

As near as I can tell, there is a switch on the GUI. But this switch is also overridden by some settings in my configuration. Importantly, it's overridden irregularly; sometimes you'll do something, and it'll say "oh shucks, gotta go check that switch!" Because I hadn't realized this, it went and checked it and dutifully turned it off again.

I think I've fixed that now.

So, what was the deal with rate limiting not turning off?

If you use Kubernetes to run a process, and you tell it you want the latest version of a Docker image, it will download that latest version every time you restart the process.

If you tell it you want a specific labeled version, then it won't. It'll just use whatever it has, even if the label has changed.

So if you changed from "latest" to "dev" and "main" . . . then things just don't update when you think they will, and this change happens silently unless you're aware of what Kubernetes is about to do.

I think I've fixed that now too.

I bet this new server makes things faster, doesn't it?

Nope.

Turned out the CPU usage wasn't even coming from The Motte. It was an Archive Warrior I was running on that just to soak up some extra bandwidth. Apparently it's just stupidly CPU-hungry?

I think I've fixed that also.

And that was my day, more or less.

How's your day going?

(Extra thanks to the various people who were helping out on Discord, incidentally, especially Snakes who fixed a whole bunch of not-quite-as-critical-but-still-pretty-dang-important stuff while I was fighting with the servers.)

(Edit: I forgot to mention that I also spent a few hours trying to unclog an HVAC drain line so it wouldn't flood the house. That doesn't even feel like the same day anymore.)

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

Be advised; this thread is not for serious in depth discussion of weighty topics, this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

18

So the move has been made. Potential shut down by Reddit has been avoided. Huzzah!

But people are still worrying about where new members are going to come from. And things are still being organized in the same terrible way as /r/ssc when they were trying to quarantine the culture war from the rest of the sub. And sprinkles around you have a few small threads for other weekly topics or talking about the new site.

A dedicated site deserves a nu start. Rather than purposely making quality writing harder to find, it should be highlighted. (I know the quality contributions roundup exists, but it certainly isn't exhaustive.) Seriously, have you ever gone back and tried to read an old weekly culture war thread with its thousands, potentially tens of thousands of comments? It is an unnecessary slog if you are looking for something and don't have a link. And sometimes you 'continue reading' and go back only to find that you've lost your place. It just makes you say, "I blue myself."

I do have some suggestions on some of the changes I'd like to see more that there is a dedicated website. First, I'd like to see a webpage highlighting quality contributions and other content from the forum. Something that I can easily link a friend to rather than a nested comment in response to some insane person ranting "There's a man inside me!" Or whatever.

Secondly, I think some editorial prompts for content for the sure would be good. Adversarial collaborations and whatever else. Just easier ways to find good writing from the site.

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Mottizens sometimes use terms with obscure origins that can be confusing to newcomers. This is an attempt to provide a brief explanation of what these terms mean and where they came from to help anyone new to the community.

50 Stalins: A style of commentary which pretends to criticize something while actually praising it, e.g. “critiquing” Stalinist Russia by suggesting that it is not Stalinist enough and it should have even more Stalins. The term was coined by Scott Alexander in Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-sized Nutshell (2013).

Chinese Robber Fallacy: A dishonest argument that uses a generic problem to attack a specific person or group, even when the other groups have the problem just as much, e.g. complaining about the problem of Chinese robbers without providing evidence that Chinese people are more likely to be robbers than other groups. It was first described by blogger Alyssa Vance in 2015.

CultureWarRoundup / CWR: A splinter community of the Motte that lives at the subreddit /r/CultureWarRoundup, founded primarily by users who felt that the Motte's moderation policies were too strict. It has very little moderation.

Effective Altruism / EA : A philosophical and social movement that aims to use evidence and reason to do the most good possible. It has a lot of overlap with the rationalist community and LessWrong and experienced much of its early growth on LessWrong.

Human Biodiversity / HBD: A viewpoint that holds that there are socially relevant differences between groups of people that are genetic in origin. Most controversially, HBD advocates generally maintain that the observed differences between the average intelligence of people of different races originate in genetics.

Ideological Turing Test / ITT: An exercise where you try to pretend to hold an opposing ideology convincingly enough that outside observers can't reliably distinguish you from a true believer. It was first described by economist Bryan Caplan in 2011.

LessWrong: A discussion forum founded by AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky in 2009. The forum focuses on cognitive biases, rationality, artificial intelligence, and other topics. It is the primary nexus for the so-called “rationalist community.” LessWrong could be considered an ancestor forum to the Motte, since Scott Alexander blogged there before founding Slate Star Codex and this community originated in the subreddit for Slate Star Codex.

Lizardman's Constant: The share of the population (around 4%) who gives absurd responses in opinion polls (such as saying that lizardmen run the world); perhaps a combination of trolls, people who don't understand the question, people who just want to agree with the pollster, and people who are completely apathetic to the poll. It was coined by Scott Alexander in Lizardman's Constant is 4% (2013).

Motte and Bailey fallacy: A dishonest form of argument where one conflates two positions, one easy to defend but with limited implications (the motte) and another hard to defend but with far-reaching implications (the bailey). The fallacy was named after a kind of castle. It was coined by the philosopher Nicholas Shakel in 2005 and popularized by Scott Alexander via Social Justice and Words, Words, Words (2014) and All in All, Another Brick in the Motte (2014). The motte-and-bailey fallacy is the namesake of the Motte; in this community, we would like people to only hold positions that they can defend.

Neoreaction / NRx: A right-wing political philosophy whose signature viewpoint is that monarchy is a better form of government than democracy. Its most famous advocate is the blogger Curtis Yarvin, aka Mencius Moldbug. The neoreactionary movement first grew on LessWrong, although they were always a very small faction there.

Prior: A term from Bayesian Statistics that essentially means one's belief about something before they take new evidence into account. To say that one's prior is X is essentially to say that one's belief is X. To say that one has "adjusted their priors" is essentially to say that one has changed one's mind to some degree about the topic at hand based on the evidence presented; in theory this is done by applying Bayes' theorem.

Quokka: A kind of Australian macropod. They have no natural predators and are therefore not particularly fearful. Some people, beginning with a 2020 Twitter thread by “Zero HP Lovecraft”, who believe rationalists are too trusting or naive compare rationalists to Quokkas.

Rationalist: An online community of people originally formed around the blog Overcoming Bias, founded in 2006 by economist Robin Hanson and AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky; the discussion forum LessWrong, founded in 2009 by Yudkowsky; and the blog Slate Star Codex, founded in 2013 by Scott Alexander. The rationalist community is generally focused on cognitive bias and reason. Because the Motte originated in the subreddit for Slate Star Codex, it could be considered part of a rationalist “diaspora.”

rDrama: A humorous forum about Internet drama. Originally the subreddit /r/drama, the community now lives at rdrama.net. The Motte forked the code they use to run their site when we moved from Reddit to this website in 2022 because it was a proven example of a Reddit community successfully moving offsite and had many of the features we wanted.

Red Tribe / Blue Tribe / Gray Tribe: Terms used to describe different cultural groups in America. The terms were coined by Scott Alexander in I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup (2014). They are sometimes used interchangeably with the concepts of Republicans (Red Tribe) and Democrats (Blue Tribe), but in their original conception, Red Tribe (or Blue Tribe) meant something more precisely stated as “the sorts of people likely to be Republicans (or Democrats), regardless of their actual political views.” For example, a vegan Harvard graduate who lives in Manhattan and loves musical theater is part of the Blue Tribe even if he is actually politically conservative. The Gray Tribe is a sub-tribe of the Blue Tribe characterized by things like working in STEM fields and often having libertarian-ish politics.

Scissor Statement: A highly controversial statement that reliably provokes arguments. Coined by Scott Alexander in Sort By Controversial (2018), a work of fiction in which scissor statements are generated by a machine learning system trained on Reddit comments.

Slate Star Codex / SSC / Astral Codex Ten / Scott Alexander: Scott Alexander is a psychiatrist who lives in the Bay

Area. He blogged from 2013-2020 at Slate Star Codex and since 2021 at Astral Codex Ten. The Motte was created as a subreddit in 2019 as the home for a weekly "culture war roundup" thread that was hosted on the subreddit for SSC until then. The culture war roundup threads were removed from /r/slatestarcodex at Scott Alexander’s request. Scott Alexander’s writings are a major influence on the norms of this community. His blog and the community around it are generally considered part of the rationalist community. Scott Alexander was a popular writer at LessWrong before founding SSC and the community around SSC has a lot of overlap with LessWrong.

SneerClub: A community of people critical of the rationalist community, including the Motte, that lives at the subreddit /r/SneerClub.

Steelman: The strongest possible form of an opposing argument; the opposite of a strawman.

TheSchism: A splinter community of the Motte founded in 2020 that lives at the subreddit /r/TheSchism.

Weakman: A weak argument that someone has actually made (so it’s not a strawman). A poor form of argument is to choose the weakest argument that someone has actually made in favor of a position and argue against that while ignoring stronger arguments for that position.

33

I'm going to talk about what the Boring Company is doing and why I think it is not only not a terrible idea, but actively a good idea!

Preamble:

This is a complicated idea with a lot of moving parts, both metaphorically and literally. You will have totally reasonable questions! Hopefully they will be answered by the time I reach the end, but keep reading until you get to the end; in written format I can only answer questions one at a time, and your specific question might take longer to get to.

In addition, this is describing the system that I think Elon Musk is working on. He hasn't announced that this is what he's working on - it's guesswork and theorycrafting by me - but there is some evidence to it.

A summary: Elon Musk is attempting to redesign urban and suburban transportation on a grand scale, so thoroughly that the majority of commuters choose to use this system because it's better. This is not a thing you accomplish by building a few tunnels under Las Vegas. The Loop is a prototype of a prototype of a prototype; the beginnings can be seen there, but claiming his plans are invalid because of Loop's problems is like criticizing the concept of trains based on Locomotion #1's terrible speed.


Elon Musk has a unique goal: to make a fast inexpensive public transportation system.

Uber and Lyft have a similar goal! They want to make a fast public transportation system, and they have succeeded! They don't care about inexpensive, and in fact they can't accomplish inexpensive, because drivers are expensive. They're working on self-driving vehicles, and this will help, but it won't solve the issue because Uber and Lyft need lots of roads, roads take up land, and land is also expensive. Note that land isn't just financially expensive, it's valuable - we only have so many square meters of sunlight surface on this planet, and it's a shame we're using it on transportation. This is opportunity-cost even if we don't normally count it as a cost of roads; it's kinda factored in right now because we don't have an alternative, but we could have an alternative and we should consider land usage as part of cost.

Car manufacturers also have a similar goal! They want to make a fast inexpensive transportation system, and they have succeeded! They've abandoned "public" by requiring people to buy into the system with a large upfront expenditure (specifically, "buying a car".) This allows them to get rid of that whole "pay for a driver" thing - the passenger is the driver. It's not as inexpensive as it could be, though, because cars need lots of roads, thus land, thus expense.

Public transport systems also have a similar goal! They want to make an inexpensive public transportation system, and they have succeeded! But it's not fast. In fact, it cannot be fast. Group transportation is intrinsically slow; putting more people on a vehicle either requires frequent stops which slows down everyone else on board, or it requires stops at junction nodes which implies transfers which also take a lot of time. Short-to-mid-distance buses, trains, and subways cannot match uncongested cars, and you can test this on Google Maps by going to a city of your choice, picking two positions, and twiddling with the "Start At" option until you find the fastest times for cars and the fastest times for public transportation; in almost all cases, cars are significantly faster, and I've never found a case where cars are more than a minute slower.

(Airplanes have the same problem, but they're fast enough that people put up with it; nevertheless, an airplane trip still involves an hour or two of bureaucracy and waiting on either side, and chances are good you're not landing at the exact time you'd prefer to. Long-distance trains also have the same problem and the same solution, specifically, "we put up with it because the speed makes it worth it". In both cases, avoiding all that added complexity would make them significantly better. If you can think of a way to accomplish that without a drastic price increase you will become extremely rich.)

tl;dr: Transportation has traditionally been "fast, inexpensive, public; pick two", and Elon Musk is trying to pick all three at the same time.


The Basic Idea

If you haven't heard of the Boring company or the Las Vegas Loop, here's the concept:

Elon Musk thinks tunnels can be built for much cheaper than they previously could be. He is building a large underground network under Las Vegas, with something like 45 stops (this number keeps increasing as they add more to the plan). You will walk up to a stop, request a car, and travel to any other stop in the network. You can do this today, although right now they only have 3 stops, but construction continues.

This is literally the basis of the plan; "let's make tunnels and drive cars through them". I acknowledge this sounds dumb, but it may actually be the best way to accomplish Fast, Inexpensive, and Public.


Let's tackle the easy ones first.

Boring Company tunnels are public because you don't need to buy in with a large investment to use them. You can just show up at a stop, pay a fare, and ride a vehicle to wherever you want to go.

Boring Company tunnels are fast . . . sort of . . . because it's point-to-point transportation. The vehicle is ideally already at the stop, or close by, when you request it, and it takes you directly to your destination, as long as your destination is on the system. This "on the system" limitation is a flaw! We'll get back to that, though.

Boring Company cars currently require drivers, which is expensive. They've said multiple times that this is a stopgap until they have self-driving working. I see no reason to doubt them and the rest of this post is going to take on faith that they'll get self-driving working. Again, prototype of a prototype of a prototype. If you're skeptical about self-driving in general, note that as of this writing there are multiple companies running public services in multiple cities; if you're skeptical about Tesla self-driving, well, me too, but they can always license it. I'm going to just accept this part as solved-in-the-next-decade-one-way-or-another.

Boring Company tunnels are inexpensive because oh god this is where the complicated part starts


Price

Tunnels are, traditionally, very expensive.

There's a lot of reasons for this. Cost disease, in general, is one of the big ones, and if Boring Company gets hit by cost disease then this entire thing might be doomed. I think they're more resistant to this because they are not having cities come to them asking for services, they are going to cities to propose services, and if they're expensive, they won't get any contracts. Note that Boring Company has already turned down a contract because the company was going to waste a lot of money on things that weren't the tunnel, and they just didn't want to be a part of that. I'm going to just cross my fingers that this doesn't happen.

Tunnel size is another big one. Tunnels get much more expensive as they get larger. Train tunnels need to be surprisingly large; they need to hold a train that's big enough for people to stand up in and walk around in. They also need to hold some kind of emergency exit system. With trains, this traditionally hasn't been compatible with the train rails themselves; the cross-ties are a tripping hazard. If you have to run a second extra walkway next to your train then that makes your tunnels even larger. Finally, you need a lot of emergency equipment. The reason this is required is that stations are rather far apart; if stations were closer, the safety regulations let you basically say "look, there's an exit right there, just walk to the exit". Far-apart stations cause significant added tunnel expenses.

The biggest issue, surprisingly, is the underground stations. The most common way of making an underground station is as simple as it is costly:

  • Knock down all the buildings above the station

  • Dig a giant rectangular hole

  • Reinforce the top of the hole

  • Fill the top of the hole back in

  • Build new buildings on top

This isn't a lack of foresight on the part of the builders, this is actually how it tends to be done. Underground stations are horribly expensive, and this has consequences for the rest of the system. Remember how I kind of skimmed past "far-apart stations cause significant tunnel expenses"? Well, they do, but this is still cheaper than building more underground stations!

This is how the Boring Company is going to solve tunnel price:

  • Cars are much smaller than trains [citation needed] and don't require as much sheer size.

  • Cars travel on concrete, not rail, and this surface is perfectly suited for passenger exit, meaning that you don't need an extra passenger lane as long as there's enough room to get past the cars. (Note: in the current Loop tunnels, there is, even though it's not obvious in a lot of the videos that have been posted. It's not comfortable, but it's enough for emergency evac.)

  • We can reduce the necessary emergency equipment by having frequent stations. Trust me on this for now! I'll get back to this one very quickly.

All of this put together makes Boring Company tunnels a whole lot cheaper than train tunnels.


Stations

Twice, now, I've glossed past issues with stations. The Las Vegas Loop requires stations at every stop so people can get on and off; our emergency system also requires frequent stations. These can both be solved by having lots of stations.

but wait, I thought stations were expensive Nope! Stations are cheap. Underground stations are expensive. The solution is that you just put your stations above-ground. Any parking lot can become a station terminal, as can underground floors of already-constructed buildings.

This works for Boring Company cars because car station positioning is far more flexible than train station positioning is. Train stations have to be long because trains are long; cars are short and so car stations can have basically any layout. Trains run on rails, which have extremely low friction - this is good from an efficiency perspective, but means that trains cannot handle significant slopes without expensive equipment like cable cars. If trains can't handle slopes then above-ground stations for underground rails simply aren't possible. Meanwhile, the minimum footprint of a full-fledged aboveground car station connecting to an underground network is the same footprint as a small house; a tunnel up, a tunnel down, and a few parking spaces, done.

Now we have cheap stations! We can toss a station at every casino on the Las Vegas Loop and not think twice about it. Our tunnels become smaller because we don't need as much emergency equipment, and our trips are faster because you can enter and exit from the cars in more places.

This is a reasonable solution. But it's not a great solution. We still have to drop people off at stations and pick people up at stations; what if someone doesn't have a station nearby? What if someone wants a car from their house off in a suburb or true rural area? Do we need to build tunnels to every single neighborhood, and then require that people walk across half their neighborhood to get home? It's 108 degrees out right now, I'm not walking in that weather. Screw that. And worst, we still need significant land dedicated to this system for the parking-lot terminuses, and land, as I've mentioned, is expensive.

We can do better.


Stationless Point-To-Point

This is where I move into speculation territory. But I really do think this is the plan.

We have an underground network of self-driving vehicles. We have cheap entry and exit tunnels. This is all we need to finish the entire system.

We keep our entry and exit tunnels, and we put them everywhere (which also solves our emergency exit requirements.) However, we get rid of the stations. The tunnels are simply a way of transiting from the underground network to the aboveground road network. "The aboveground road network", you ask? Sure; we're going to co-opt the aboveground road network for part of this. We're not using it for long-distance travel, so we can get rid of the giant tangles of freeways and onramps. But we are using it for last-mile travel, because it's there.

When you request a vehicle, one shows up at your doorway. You get inside and it heads to the nearest convenient tunnel entrance. Most of your trip is spent underground, and then it pops back up into the sunlight to bring you straight to your destination.

No stations, low land usage, point-to-point congestionless travel.

That's the actual goal.


Common Objections

Moved to its own comment due to character count limitations.


Conclusion

The goal of the Boring Company is to make the first fast inexpensive public transportation system. Cars are fast and kinda inexpensive, but not public; Uber/Lyft are fast and public, but expensive; trains and buses are inexpensive and public, but not fast. Elon Musk is trying to get all three at once, and the decisions being made are in service to that. The thing being designed really could not exist before self-driving vehicles; it is a truly 21st-century transportation system and hopes to redesign the urban landscape on a level that we haven't seen in a century.

I have no idea if it will succeed.

21

The move from Reddit to a dedicated forum is a huge opportunity to mix things up. We should take advantage. Never let a crisis go to waste, etc.

One thing I would suggest (if technical limitations allow) would be the addition of a two-tiered voting system, somewhat like what LessWrong has implemented, where users can vote both on the quality of a post, and separately on whether or not they agree with it. I think this could have really positive effects for the kind of community and discussion the Motte was created to promote. The Motte's raison d'etre is to promote discussion and debate with people you disagree with. Separating voting on quality from voting on agreement would promote that goal in a couple different ways. Fundamentally, there is a tension between upvoting a post you think is well-done, and downvoting that same post because you disagree with its content. I think the Motte wants to be a place that encourages outsider or minority views, and separating the "quality" vote from the "agreement" vote would help promote this. From what I have noticed in this community, despite our commitments to encouraging debate and discussion with people you disagree with, posts coming from a more liberal/left-wing/social justice/woke viewpoint tend to get downvoted, even when their quality is equivalent or superior to other posts.

I'll also quote from the reasons given on the above LessWrong post about this feature, because I think the reasons given are good ones.:

I personally feel much more comfortable upvoting good comments that I disagree with or whose truth value I am highly uncertain about, because I don’t feel that my vote will be mistaken as setting the social reality of what is true.

I also feel very comfortable strong-agreeing with things while not up/downvoting on them, so as to indicate which side of an argument seems true to me without my voting being read as “this person gets to keep accruing more and more social status for just repeating a common position at length”.

Similarly to the first bullet, I think that many writers have interesting and valuable ideas but whose truth-value I am quite unsure about or even disagree with. This split allows voters to repeatedly signal that a given writer's comments are of high value, without building a false-consensus that LessWrong has high confidence that the ideas are true. (For example, many people have incompatible but valuable ideas about how AGI development will go, and I want authors to get lots of karma and visibility for excellent contributions without this ambiguity.)

There are many comments I think are bad but am averse to downvoting, because I feel that it is ambiguous whether the person is being downvoted because everyone thinks their take is unfashionable or whether it's because the person is wasting the commons with their behavior (e.g. belittling, starting bravery debates, not doing basic reading comprehension, etc). With this split I feel more comfortable downvoting bad comments without worrying that everyone else who states the position will worry if they'll also be downvoted.

I have seen some comments that previously would have been "downvoted to hell" are now on positive karma, and are instead "disagreed to hell". I won't point them out to avoid focusing on individuals, but this seems like an obvious improvement in communication ability.

Would this be a doable change? And would it be a good one? I am strongly in favor, but open to reasons why I'm wrong.

28

As the academic system is slowly imploding, my career followed suit and I recently found myself licking my wounds in a cushy industry job (read: adult daycare) and dreaming of startups. This was one of my brainstorms, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out a way that it could ever be profitable, so I’m releasing it into the wild.

You’ve probably heard of the hygiene hypothesis; in a nutshell, our immune systems ‘evolved’ to deal with lives that were, immunologically speaking, nasty, brutish and short. Consequently, the dial on the thermostat got turned up a bit too high for our fully [immunologically] automated gay space communism with pesky luxuries like vaccines, soap and plumbing. The incidences of immune conditions like asthma, allergies, MS, Crohn’s, T1D have gone up three to four fold in the last 70 odd years in developed nations which is too rapid for dysgenics as an explanation. Some interesting pieces of evidence hinting at a deeper truth;

  1. Adult immigrants from developing nations to the first world are by and large unaffected, but their children do have increases. This suggests an environmental rather than genetic etiology, and furthermore, that the environmental influences have to happen while the immune system is developing (though the evidence for this latter point is not particularly strong in my opinion). 1 2 3 4 5

  2. Abiotic mice (no bacteria or fungi in their gut, skin, esophagus, etc) have very defective immune systems. Whole compartments of the immune system fail to develop properly, suggesting that interplay between pathogens, benign commensals and the immune system is required.

  3. A number of studies have shown that even within developed nations, individuals raised on farms or exposed to animals at very young ages have lower incidences of atopy and autoimmunity.

  4. Your immune system develops in ‘waves’ and is ‘educated’ throughout your development (and almost certainly beyond!). Furthermore, there is substantial variation in our immune systems due to infectious history/environment. (Note that some competing papers took similar approaches with significantly different conclusions). These all point towards significant environmental influences* on these complex immunological diseases.

You’ve probably also heard of Alex Jones claiming that the US government is turning the frogs gay. With this audience, you probably also know that, uh, ‘turning the frogs gay’ isn’t a very honest description, but it is a real problem. Indeed, the process for dumping a new chemical into the environment is labyrinthine, but it probably isn’t particularly effective at screening substances that might influence the immune system. They seem largely focused on chemicals that mimic hormones (see: declining sperm counts and the aforementioned gay frogs).

The crux of this post: Why isn’t more effort expended towards identifying environmental factors, preferably added in the last 70 odd years in the developed world, that modify the immune system?

The hypothesis: Increased exposure to certain chemicals in our environment (food, makeup, air pollution, water contamination), when intersecting with susceptible genotypes, has led to an increase in allergy and autoimmune disease in the developed world.

So, to test it, you’d want to screen large numbers of chemicals in some kind of high-throughput immune assays. Good news: The dataset exists, and you can download it yourself! Bad news: It’s crap! Half-good-half-bad news: Nobody (as far as I know) talks about it or uses it for anything.

About 10 years ago the EPA decided to modernize environmental toxicology and generate The Dataset to end all datasets. They spent (wasted?) tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars building the data architecture, contracting an army of adult daycare inmates like myself to carry out the assays all to generate a half-dozen low-impact publications nobody has ever read (don’t trust their publications page, it’s padded with anyone who uses the data for any purpose) and this monstrous dataset. Here’s a 728 page pdf some poor soul generated to describe the in vitro assays.

I fiddled around with the data about a year ago at this point, and generated this list of compounds if anyone is interested. I mostly focused on assays relevant to T cells (due to personal biases - B cells are Boring, T cells are Terrific) that came up with a Ka < 10uM, although keep in mind that the majority of these things will be false positives*. Tldr; pesticides are really, really bad and you shouldn’t eat them; they light up every assay like a roman candle. Triclosan was an interesting hit as it’s been (weakly) shown to influence autoimmunity in some mouse models as well as an association with allergy development. Here it came up as a potentiator of lck activity, which is one of the major stimulatory proteins in T cells.

So…who cares? I suppose one might imagine mining some of these molecules as precursors to new drugs after the medicinal chemists have their way with them, although that kind of ‘pharma 1.0’ thinking never really appealed to me. Then again, everyone tells me to just try to make something work, and then your second company can be your vanity project/moonshot. Alternatively, I’ve got to assume that such a large database is amenable to machine learning, maybe along the lines of this paper? I think the largest problem is that the majority of the data here is without a doubt crap. Less relevant to the startup perspective is what the EPA actually wants to do, which is regulate some of these compounds. This would probably be prosocial, but then, if you wanted me to do prosocial stuff you should have given me my academic lab, ja?

*Note that, as complex traits, there are obviously genetic influences on the development of atopy and autoimmunity. The intersection of susceptible genetics and environment leads to disease.

**Cons: - Tons of false positives as many of these compounds won’t be bioavailable or aren’t present in quantities large enough to be relevant

Dataset sucks and others have claimed it to be unreliable

Unclear that people suddenly started being exposed to these things in the last 70 years

Assays poorly optimized and either cell-free (very prone to false positives) or done artificial overexpression systems

There was a culture war post several years ago where users contributed their favourite books, including many out of print. I have looked for it in vain, can we maintain a Motte book thread?

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

Hi guys, I'm @idio3 from rdrama, one of the main jannies there. I like the idea of you running an offsite, but I'm absolutely floored by the implementation.

Now I get that there are features of the main site that wouldn't be appropriate for you guys, since you're looking for a different sort of discussion and atmosphere than we are. Longpostbot, annoying graphical and user-nerfing awards, bardbot, etc - it makes perfect sense to remove those. But other decisions I just don't understand. Most notably - what the hell is your beef with Marseys? Why don't image uploads work? It's like you guys intentionally wanted to preclude people from attempting to have fun :marseyshrug:, with the changes being essentially limited to cutting out as many of our features as you could get your hands on...

Anyway, if you could illuminate the rationale for these things, I'd greatly appreciate it! :marseyblowkiss:

be mottizens

set up own website

fork dramacode

remove 90% of features

manage to break the other 10% of features somehow

True story

12
post thumbnail

I come in peace, just want to see whats around here

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).