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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).

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

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.

Because it isn't obvious

6

You know it's really me because who else would care about RSS. Although Reddit was originally built with explicit RSS support the nested nature of the weekly culture war thread required a slight bit of jury-rigging to show only top-level comments. So the RSS URL for the last thread looked like this: https://old.reddit.com/r/TheMotte/comments/wulqxp.rss?depth=1

I tried adding the culture war thread from here into Feedly but it doesn't seem to recognize the format, and instead prompts me to use a paywalled feature to build custom RSS feeds. Can the rdrama code base support RSS?

An essay I wrote a while back arguing that dialectical naturalism offers a solid footing for ethics. Since it's pretty core to my moral philosophy, I figured what better to toss to the hounds. Enjoy!

25

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.

11

Share your CSS, discuss themes/styles/the site's default look/whatever.

I just picked random elements and edited them until it worked, because I couldn't take this GNOMEd infinite whitespace new reddit look even for 30 minutes. My CSS is garbage, relies on a 1080p desktop browser, is probably full of code that does nothing or doesn't need to be as specific, might actually break one or two site functions, etc. but at least it doesn't violate my eyes anymore.

There is a list of defined colors (like --primary-dark1) that comes from the theme, but I don't see how to change them manually except one by one using more CSS. I use the default ("TheMotte") one.

Keep in mind, de gustibus non est disputandum. I'm mostly posting this so others can iterate faster and make proper good-looking themes. If you want to have slim text without the cringe inconsistent layout/color changes and are in a hurry, reading the comments and deleting the sections you don't want should most likely work.


/*unbold buttons*/

.btn {

  font-weight: 400 !important;

}


/*hide "is a reply to comment by" link on every single subcomment*/

div > .ml-2 {

  display: none !important;

}


/*reorder upvote buttons / userinfo / contents*/

.comment-anchor {

  display: flex;

  flex-direction: row;

  flex-wrap: wrap;

  gap: 0px 8px;

  padding: 1px;

}


.comment-anchor div:nth-child(1) {

  order: 1;

}


.comment-anchor div:nth-child(2) {

  order: 3;

  flex: 1 100%;

}


.comment-anchor div:nth-child(3) {

  order: 2;

}


/*colors*/

body > .container {

  background-color: #C0C0C8 !important;

}


#thread, #userpage {

  background-color: #C0C0C8;

}


.comment-section {

  background-color: #F0F0F8;

}


/*add borders, make slim*/

.comment {

  margin-top: 0.1rem !important;

  border: 1px solid var(--primary-dark1);

  margin-bottom: 1px;

}


.comment .comment-collapse-desktop {

  padding-right: 8px !important;

  border-left: 1px solid var(--primary-dark1) !important;

}


/*small gap between comments for readability*/

.comment-section > .comment {

  margin-bottom: 5px;

}


/*smaller font, spacing, limit post width*/

p {

  font-size: 12px;

  margin-top: 0.4rem;

  margin-bottom: 0.4rem;

  max-width: 900px;

}


/*misc whitespace removal*/

body > .container {

  max-width: 1850px;

}


.comment-collapse-icon {

  margin-left: -2px;

}


.upvote-button, .downvote-button {

  padding-left: 1px !important;

  padding-right: 1px !important;

}


.user-info {

  margin-bottom: 0 !important;

}


.comment .comment-body .comment-text {

  margin-bottom: 0.1rem;

  padding-right: 1px !important;

  padding-top: 1px !important;

}


blockquote {

  padding-top: 0;

  padding-bottom: 0;

  padding-left: 0.3rem;

}


blockquote > p {

  padding-top: 0;

  padding-bottom: 0;

  margin-top: 0;

  margin-bottom: 0;

}


.comment-body > .comment-anchor {

  padding: 1px;

}


.comment-actions {

  padding: 1px;

  margin: -3px;

}

19

When I use new.reddit I feel like content is being hidden from me on purpose.

It is not quite as bad here. But compare the previous site with here when I collapse threads

https://imgur.com/a/r7a8dCv

Someone wrote some CSS for the Astral Codex Ten when it first launched to make it not suck so much. Can anyone do something so that

  1. if there is content I get to see it on my screen?

  2. make following threads easier than counting the number of bars on the left hand side while remembering to distinguish bars-from-threading from bars-from-blockquoting?

Right now, only about 30 comments show in the megathread without users clicking "show more" button. This unfortunately has the effect of burying a lot of cultural war discussion, aside from the top few posts, at a time when we're trying to encourage more users to jump over to this site with more comment. For reference, the topic has about 180 comments right now, so by default, 5/6ths of the comments are hidden.

15

A suggestion: to avoid especially acrimonious discussion and SSC-posting being our only hallmarks as an independent community, let’s discuss things we can generally come together on.

In a Culture Peace thread, I’d expect to see:

  1. An explanation of part of one’s own culture/group identity/tribally specific hobby one feels is misunderstood, without denigrating those who misunderstand

  2. Events or news stories which genuinely sow harmony instead of discord

  3. Suggestions for additional Culture Peace actions we can do on The Motte, elsewhere online, and in real life

7

Top level posts should include:

  • a short description of what you're going for

  • a link to the CSS (on gist.github.com or another pastebin that doesn't randomly delete old pastes)

  • and an image link to a screenshot.

Like this:

I'm trying to sort of imitate the visual style of old Reddit: no icons, limited width, not much margin space.

https://gist.github.com/FeepingCreature/907b05dd498435cb5a193ebbb5f39846

https://i.imgur.com/R2oBUt5_d.webp?maxwidth=9999&fidelity=high

4

For discussing the move away from Reddit.

10

I liked to post in the Friday fun threads what video games I've been playing recently. Sometimes I recommend the games, and sometimes I ask for recommendations.

I've always enjoyed talking about video games. But themotte has made me picky over the years. Its not just talk that I want. It is thinking, understanding, and discussion of video games that interest me. Video games are mostly a mental activity for me, and so diving into a mental discussion about them often enhances my enjoyment.

I didn't post in the Friday fun thread about what I've been playing, so I'll post now. And I'd like to know what others are playing.


The post I would have written:

This week I've been hooked on factorio (again). I've done many playthroughs of this game. A few vanilla playthroughs (some multiplayer and some not). A krastorio 1 mod playthrough. A few different attempts at the bob's, angels, and seablock mods (never could get into them, too much work, and not enough reward). A krastorio II and space exploration playthrough.

This week though I have been playing with just the space exploration mod. There has been some hints in blogposts that factorio might have an expansion, and that the expansion might be related to the space exploration mod. I thought I'd try and wait for that expansion. But my patience has failed me.

Playing space exploration without the krastorio II mod has been surprisingly way more different than I would have expected. The major difference in my mind is that krastorio II makes the starting world gameplay last too long, and gives too many advantages. I never thought this would be a real problem, but I've never managed to truly beat a space exploration game before. And I realized part of the problem is that krastorio II ties you to the homeworld too strongly. While space exploration on its own forces you off planet just for the sake of some quality of life improvements. For example, you have to go to space in order to get the logistics network chests. The tech is not unlockable based on ground items alone. I don't remember if krastorio II mod combination forced me to go to space, but I do remember that the belt inserters made so many logists aspects so much simpler that the need for drone based logistics didn't seem as pressing. There were also special ground based fabricator buildings for Krastorio II that were larger and much faster (matching the space based ones). But with just the space exploration mod I'm realizing there is an intentional difference. Either you can choose land based production to get productivity bonuses. (and usually the first steps in refinement for special resources). Or you can choose space based production for speed bonuses.

43

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 some separate web app? I don't really see what the difference is between this and something with Angular or whatever.

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

6

As the title says. I noticed it while poking at Zorba's profile, and clicked the button thinking it would tell me what it does. All I got was "help message sent". So uh, sorry @ZorbaTHut. But seriously, what does that button do?

3

I noticed that the comment counts don't seem to line up with the total comments on this post, and a couple others. Do we already have shadow bans in place here, or is this just some delay issue?

/images/1662333864401946.webp

5

Gab - hacked. Truth social - hacked. What if they come for us? The rdrama codebase probably isn't perfectly secure! Chrome or firefox has layers of sandboxes, a hundred different gadgets like 'stack protection' or 'W xor X', and still has a new RCE every week. rdrama can probably be trivially owned if someone googles all the dependency versions for a few hours. also, lol commit history, 'sneed'. If that happens - what leaks? i guess just associations between stored ip addresses (if they are) and post histories. And IP can reveal a lot, or nothing, depending on where you live, ISP, etc. Combine that with a post history referencing improvements you made to your house or your occupation ... might be bad.

Practically, seems incredibly unlikely anyone will care enough to do anything, it's a small community and the essay format gets in the way of 'omg these rightwingers grr'. But, always good to ponder potential security issues. Also, you wanted content, so content.

12
post thumbnail

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

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?

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.

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