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March 2021 Updates

Hello! It's spring in Southern California and I feel markedly more optimistic about the world. My parents were vaccinated, I'm optimistic I'll get one in 1-2 months, and I'm starting to feel like there's a consensus growing that all of our public institutions are terrible and we need to metaphorically burn them down and start anew. That last part doesn't sound optimistic, but admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

Events: March 31st is St. Benjamin's day in the Catholic liturgy, and that makes it a good day to celebrate Bens. I once worked at a company where 4 of the 6 people were named Ben. Consider taking March 31st to give thanks for the Bens in your life.

#projects

Over the past month I worked with researchers at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center to create a simulation of vaccine distribution to help hospitals, pharmacies, and other injection centers prioritize vaccine shipments. I'm excited to have been able to work with them in modeling the problem, and excited to see HASH used in such an important way.

I'm also experimenting with more actively using bounties. As you may know, I'm a market enthusiast and also someone who likes weird productivity experiments, so I'm listing things that if you help me out with, I'll pay you.

It's likely this format and approach will evolve over time. I'm worried about a replacement effect where by offering money for some things I reduce people's willingness to just be friendly and human to me without economic incentives (that last sentence is the least capitalist thing I've ever written). But, I'll experiment over the next couple of months and see what comes out of it.

The Great CEO Within: A book/collection of posts on the fundamentals of growing and leading a startup. Maybe the best all-in-one-place resource of its kind I've found.

Evidence of vaccines reducing long Covid symptoms: Good news! Related: A tree of tweets about curing chronic fatigue syndrome through cocktails of mRNA vaccines. An unsubstantiated belief I have is that many people have fatigue from prior viral exposure, and that removing reservoirs of viruses in the body could benefit a lot of people (outside of the obvious benefits of not getting sick!).

Good advice on the value of organizing social activities. I haven't been the best at this during quarantine and it's something I want to get better at.

Silly Rules Increase Norm Enforcement: In RL simulations where agents could find blocks that increased or decreased their score, researchers found that establishing 'taboos' against negative actions, such that other agents would punish an agent if they saw them violating the taboo, was useful for teaching the agents good policies that maximized their score in the simulation. Akin to a taboo in the real world like "it's wrong to eat these types of berries". Interestingly, they found that adding taboos against harmless actions improved the rate of learning and following of taboos in general, which overall increased the fitness of the agents.

#good-content

Disco Elysium: I love this game, it's so good. It's an RPG style point and click mystery where you play as an amnesiatic detective investigating a murder in a coastal town. You're made up of psychological and physical parts that have their own perspectives. The full dialogue of the game is millions of words long - the creators made an incredibly detailed and compelling world. Strong recommend.

Better Call Saul: Amazing. It's making a strong run at its predecessor Breaking Bad for title of best television show ever. Warning: the final season isn't coming out for a year so you might want to wait to binge it until then.

Blown Away: A glass blowing show on Netflix. A fun and low-stress reality TV show.

Lady Bird: This movie was excellent; very 'honest', beautiful, and funny.

#things-I'm-pondering

Is the FDA immortal? Government agencies rarely die, and it's hard for me to think of examples of cases where a federal agency relinquished its powers (Homebrewing and the Airline industry are the only examples I can name off the cuff). I think the FDA through inaction and bad diet advice has probably killed more Americans than any other institution (ironically maybe neck and neck with Big Tobacco), so this bothers me, and I'd like to figure out if there's any real chance of change.

What does functional decision theory imply about how I should make my choices? A very successful CEO and all around agenty guy I kind-of know posted that one of the biggest positive changes in his life over the past decade was trying to apply FDT to all of his choices (brief notes on FDT here). I know a few other people who attribute some of their best habits to taking seriously and internalizing this decision theory framework. I don't understand it well enough to know what I'd be doing different if I 'got' FDT, but I'd like to find out!

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