Ghost Knowledge

For a single person, knowledge is usually binary: either you know something, or you don’t. If you know it, you can easily remember it, and then use it to make decisions. For example, if I know that Alice is a thief, I won’t invite her over to dinner. People can forget something, but they probably won’t if it’s really important, and what qualifies as “important” is pretty straightforward: your family, your house, your job, your health, your puppy. If I tell Bob that his house burned down, now that he knows that, I can easily predict his actions: call his family, drive there, take some time off work, file an insurance claim.

Knowledge in groups – companies, institutions, societies – is much more complex, because the ways people can share information (writing, speaking, body language) are really, really slow, compared to either thoughts or computers. For a group to “know” something the way a person does, there are five separate steps:

  1. First, someone within the group has to discover the knowledge; say, that Alice is a thief.
  2. Usually, this person won’t be the group’s leader; they can’t act by themselves. Therefore, they have to figure out who else in the group they should share it with.
  3. If the group is large enough, this might have to be repeated several times (up a chain of command, say).
  4. Once the information reaches, eg., event security, they have to decide what to do based on what they learned.
  5. Finally, they have to implement the plan, and not let Alice into the building.

To add extra complexity, it’s a lot harder to know which facts are important, and which aren’t. If a Wal-Mart greeter finds that Wal-Mart’s TV supplier has gone bankrupt, they might not care very much; they have the same job either way. Conversely, if the CEO of Wal-Mart desperately wants to know something, the greeter probably never hears about that. Maybe the CEO would even give the greeter a big bonus if they found out, but it doesn’t matter, because there’s no straightforward way to tell them.

Hence, “ghost knowledge” is one possible term for something a group “knows” – in the sense that someone in it knows – but where it might as well not, because the group can’t meaningfully act on that knowledge. One famous example is the Nigerian “underwear bomber”, who smuggled explosives onto a US-bound flight on Christmas 2009, but then failed to detonate them. ( His own father had, a month before, traveled to the US embassy and told the CIA about his son’s extremism, but this information never made it to airport security. For a contemporary intelligence agency, simple math demands that almost all knowledge is “ghost knowledge” – a computer can tap undersea cables and read off terabytes every second, but the ability to orient, decide, and act is still limited to the speed of a small number of human managers.

Kindergarten in NYC: Much More than You Wanted to Know

This is an essay published privately by my friend Laura, a mother in her early thirties living in Manhattan. Re-posted with permission.

My son is turning five next year, which means one of the most important transitions in his childhood and potentially his life: starting Kindergarten. I always thought New York City moms who obsessed over this were clearly crazy.

Now I am one of those moms.

Why do we do this to ourselves? It’s not the one year of kindergarten. It’s securing that spot in the school where you want them to stay until middle school and potentially high school, and probably send your other kids to as well. It’s all of the social and class insecurities that come with choosing a school and its associated peer group. It’s the fear that if you choose poorly, your child will age 100 years and his face will melt off in front of you.

Not quite that severe. Still, you worry you’ll mess up their life and they’ll become drug addled sociopaths living on your couch, until you kick them out when they bring back that prostitute.

Maybe going overboard again. They’ll go to State College, move to the suburbs, and work in retail.

Still going hyperbolic. Your kid will be horribly miserable for the next 14 years, go through depressive episodes, and blame you for all of it. That’s what I’m actually worried about. Both my husband and I had horrible elementary school experiences. We still carry scars. We don’t want that for our sons.

So why not home school? All the cool kids are doing it. We have personal reasons why this would not work for our family. Our son has some social deficits, but is extremely bright. Literally everyone we’ve spoken to who knows our son agrees that he would do better in a structured environment with peers. We have observed his profound social-emotional growth upon starting the school year. We saw back-sliding over the summer when he lacked structure or regular peer interactions. He will not listen to us when we teach him. He is a different child in the school setting, soaking up knowledge.

People can rant all they like about how horrible school is philosophically, but that does not negate what we’ve personally witnessed in our own child. Philosophy aside, home-schooling is a lot of work and coordination. We both work full-time. While we would pick home-school over the horrid elementary school experiences we had, we hope we can do better and find a school where he will be happy.

That is much easier said than done. Especially for unique children. Our son has done well in a private preschool with 15 children and 3 teachers. A public kindergarten in NYC has a class of 26 children and one teacher. This goes up to as high as 32 in first grade. That is a lot of kids in a small space. It presents two options. Either you get a very noisy and unruly class, or a strictly controlled group which conforms precisely with everyone sitting quietly and doing the same thing at the same time. We have seen both. Neither is pretty. Our son has sensory issues, and will not tolerate a very noisy classroom. We expect he also would not tolerate a conformist one. Him tolerating it would scare us even more.

If he went to public school, we might well be pressured to put him into a resource room, with children much worse off than himself. Children with emotional disturbance, severe autism, retardation and other severe problems. My mother has worked in such classrooms, and what she describes is unacceptable. Those are her stories to tell, but I would not put him there. Ever.

So what can we do? Sue the city! That’s what everyone told us to do. Say the public schools can’t meet your kid’s needs, since they clearly cannot do so. Find a nice, private special needs school, and sue for tuition.

So we saw some special needs schools. Like public schools, they varied a fair bit and we liked some more than others. What they all had in common was a severely impaired peer group. He would be one of the most functional students in the class. We don’t want that for him. We want him to be challenged and learn from peers who can be models for him.

So what next? Private school! Private schools also vary a lot, but have one thing in common. They are expensive.

I’m not sure you understand how bad this situation is. I spent time looking around. The average private elementary school charges about $45,000 per year.

Yup. You saw that right, $45,000. That’s more than most students’ college tuition. Before aid or loans. And it’s post-tax income. And we have more than one child.

With two (and perhaps more) children, that would be most if not all of my post-tax income as a psychiatrist.

People have the audacity to say “But you can afford it.” Don’t get my husband started on that phrase.

Even if you want to send your kid to private school, you have to apply and be accepted. Most good private schools are selective. Most do not want to deal with a child with special needs.

We have been lucky to find one nearby private school that charges considerably less (though still far from cheap) and happens to have an educational philosophy we think would suit our son. It’s a Waldorf school. It emphasizes practical skills such as cooking, gardening, carpentry, foreign language, and trade. Since we believe our son is gifted academically, being less academic does not concern us. He will learn that stuff at home whether we want him to or not. Thus, we wait with bated breath for his trial period there to see if they’ll accept him. We don’t have a back-up option that comes close at present.

What’s been really interesting to me through this process is how vastly schools differ from each other. Often people speak about ‘school’ as if it is one thing. Either you agree with sending kids to ‘school’ or you don’t. This is not the case. One reason New York City moms go berserk over this is that there are vast differences between schools even a few blocks away from each other. [Editor’s note: This is much less true outside of New York City.]

Within the public schools, class is everything. Most children go to their ‘zoned’ school, and so people will pay higher rents near the ‘good’ schools to get their kids in. One of the public schools we saw looked and felt like a prison, had no music or art program, and only let the kids outside for 20 minutes a day. Another, 10 blocks north in the neighboring district, collected $500K/yr from the PTA [parent-teacher association] and had full music and art programs, book fairs, a large library, and extra in-classroom assistants.

We live in a district which has weird rules about admissions. Instead of having a zoned school, you make a rank-list of schools in the district, and apply to all of them. In an attempt to integrate the schools more, the city has imposed rules about who can be admitted by class. The schools are required to accept 67% of ‘diversity’ applicants who qualify either for low income, English as second language, or living in shelters (i.e. homeless). There is a lot of evidence supporting that peer group is a major factor in child development and life outcome. Political incorrectness aside, this is not a wonderful peer group. It also far reduces the chances that your child will get into the particular school you want them to go to.

Since priority is first given to siblings, the ‘nice’ school in this district (that we would have previously been zoned for) now only has four ‘non-diversity’ spots open for admission this year. Even if we were willing to send him there, he probably wouldn’t get in. Because of this, many better-off families are moving out of the district entirely. This is reflected in the rents within our community – rent jumps considerably right at the district line. People respond to incentives. If we sent our kids to public school we would be forced to do the same. If you have any money at all, you go to the district where the PTA funds the nice art program, not the one with the metal detector in the lobby.

Going private for education hopefully means you avoid true disaster, and the peer group is relatively wealthy and educated. But even private schools differ vastly in their philosophy towards education. Some are super academic, drilling kids to get high SAT scores and become doctors and lawyers. Some are more laid back. Some hardly seem to teach anything at all. There are small schools with one class per grade, others that are much larger. Religious and secular schools. Science schools and arts schools. If you’re willing to pay for it odds are there is some school that you would like. That’s a big if, though.

My practical advice: If your only option is public school, move to an area that has a nice school, at least one full school year before you intend to apply. You can tour schools just by saying you have a kid in the district, and they don’t force you to prove it. Once you find a school you like, you can move to that school’s zone, and you will have a high chance of admission. To be safe, you should make sure there are 1-2 back up schools you find acceptable in the district. If you cannot afford to live any places with reasonable public schools, you should seriously consider leaving [New York City]. I am told of reasonable schools in New Jersey…

If you can’t stand public school, because at the end of the day they all follow common core, take those tests, and have 32 kids in a class, then you have to consider what you can afford. Home school has no tuition, but will require all-day child care, any educational materials/classes you want to use, and a large coordination effort on your part. If you’re a stay-at-home parent this might appeal to you anyway. For the most part the people who choose to do it are happy with it.

Private school is expensive, but requires less advance planning, since they don’t care what district you’re in as long as you can pay. You might still need to consider moving for private school if you don’t want your child to have an infinitely long commute. [New York City] will pay for busing to private schools for bus routes which are 0.25 – 2.0 miles. Keep in mind that they are measuring distance along bus routes and not geographically. Even if you are physically within 2 miles of the school, the bus route might be over 2 miles and you will be out of luck. To be fair, if you’re willing to spend $50,000/year on a school, then what’s another $40/day to hire someone to take them to school?

I am now going to write some school reviews. I will leave out specific names, but if you are interested you can message me privately, and I will let you know which is which. My husband saw some schools I did not, which I haven’t written about, and we still have some tours planned at local public schools.

Public Schools:
District 1 (our district – the one with the integration)

Public School A:
I was pleasantly surprised by this school’s philosophy of education. They were laid back and progressive. Kids sit at tables instead of desks. Group conversations and creative expression was encouraged. No mandatory homework. Starting in 1st grade, kids learn chess and have the opportunity in 3rd and 4th grade to compete in tournaments. In 3rd grade the kids learn basic computer programming. There is a year of free music lessons. They have a theater and a roof-top garden. Gym is non-competitive until 4th grade. 45 minutes of daily outdoor time. I really liked everything they said and the principal was super cool. However, the actual classrooms were tiny and crammed full of students. It was loud. I felt claustrophobic there, and I don’t have sensory issues in general. Plus, the district just implemented the diversity criteria this year, so the students I was seeing are not the peer group my son is going to have if he went. And, of course, they only have four non-sibling, non-diversity spots available.

Public School B:
This place is a prison. There is an angry security guard at the entrance to the grime-encrusted orange walls. Multiple signs above the guard state ‘theft is a crime.’ The slit-like windows at the top of the rooms let in thin beams of daylight to an otherwise flickering-fluorescent landscape. This is hell. There is no music or art program – no room in the budget. So ‘we do that within our lessons’. 20 minutes of yard time a day. Everything is centered around standardized tests. The only white faces were part of a special program. No one with any choice would ever let their kid set foot in this place unless they were in the special program. Not worth it. It’s social control of minorities. Straight up. If SJWs [social justice warriors] want a cause, here’s one for you. And no, forcing white or wealthy children to go there is not going to work. They won’t.

District 2 (the nice one)
Public School C:
The platonic ideal of school. When you think school, you think this school. The people who designed it thought ‘what is school?’, and then based the design off of every trope and meme about school, ever. Charts of everything on the walls. ‘Task leaders.’ Bulletin boards. Window decals. Those weird cartoon people you only see in school ever. Worksheets, worksheets, worksheets. Chalk boards. White boards. This place has it all! The place felt nice. Larger rooms, more light. Nice enrichment activities. A music and art program. A nice library and computer lab. Several outdoor spaces and playground equipment. The place gets $500k/yr from the PTA to keep the place great. Mostly white faces sitting quietly in circles while the teacher spoke to them in exaggerated tones with big faces while pointing to a white board.

Looked like the children of the corn. Completely conformist. But conformists at least a year ahead academically. It is disturbing to see kindergarteners completing reading worksheets and pushing papers around, but they were able to do it. This is the place for upper-middle class white people who move into the ‘good’ part of the neighborhood.

Private Schools:

Private School A: Preparatory School
EXPENSIVE. Beautiful school and facility. It is a ‘Quaker’ school, but mostly secular. Has a beautiful chapel where kids have ‘community assembly and quiet time’ once a week. Other parents were very well dressed – a lot of suits and jewelry. Academically rigorous without being oppressively conformist. Perhaps because the class size is 20 instead of 30, so there is more room to maneuver. A fine school as schools go, but not that much of an upgrade from Public School C given the price. Also difficult to get into and unwilling to accommodate special needs.

Private School B: Jewish School
I loved this school! I really did. It’s a progressive, laid-back atmosphere that is still academically oriented. It is very Jewish. The boys wear keepas, and the curriculum is fully bilingual with one teacher speaking English and the other speaking Hebrew. They have all the usual stuff such as music and art. They go outside for 1 hr/day. They are willing to work with special needs. They know how to work with gifted and talented kids and make special assignments for children who are ahead. LOVE IT. Problem was, it is about 1 hour away by bus and it’s a 7.5 hr day. Not doing that to my kid. Not willing to move close enough to make it work. At least not this coming year.

Private School C: Waldorf School
This is a very unique nearby school that happens to be less expensive than the others. It has a unique education philosophy (a Waldorf school) which emphasizes embodiment and practical skills over academic ones. The curriculum includes foreign languages, cooking, washing, gardening, carpentry, and trade. The kindergarten is entirely non-academic and includes copious time for free play and an hour of outdoor activity. The later grades teach traditional academics, but do so in somewhat unusual ways, which I don’t have a strong opinion on at present. Since the main reason we are sending our son to school is for socialization, and since he’s already brilliant, I’m less worried about academics, especially in the younger grades. The school requested a drastic reduction in our child’s screen time, which at first freaked me out (who are they to tell me what to do in my own home), but I kind of understand. It’s a very small school (only 1 class per grade) and they are currently considering whether or not they can accommodate his needs. This is our top choice at present.

Special Needs Schools [SNS]:

SNS A: Social Justice Away!
This school is an ‘integrated’ private school – meaning it’s a private school for regular kids which also accepts children with learning disabilities and has services for them. This means you can get the tuition paid by the city, unlike regular private schools, with a relatively normal peer group. It’s a great idea. The school itself is beautiful and has All The Things.

However there is a catch. The school has an agenda. It’s a social justice school. In the sense that other schools are reading and math schools. They call themselves ‘Advocates for Social Justice’ in their opening lines. I wouldn’t have thought this mattered for elementary age children. Sure, loving each other is wonderful! Accepting your neighbors is wonderful! But this is not where they draw the line. Social Justice is taught in every aspect of the curriculum. There are 7 year olds discussing their ‘identities’, an 8 year old talking about how his hero is Colin Kaepernick, that guy who keeled for the national anthem. The teachers then praise his ‘activism’ for writing about it. The other sample lesson is on how Christopher Columbus was a white colonialist oppressor. And the children absorb this. The school is accepts all kinds – unless you happen to be a gasp Republican. No diversity of thinking. If you don’t fully swallow the SJW philosophy in all its forms, or don’t want them forced down your child’s throat, this is not the place for you.

SNS B: Soothing Gardens…
Beautiful place. Therapeutic environment. Has the things. Didn’t want us to see the children – which was strange. When we peaked in at them, they were, well, very special. Seems like a great place for very special kids. If I have one that needed all that, I’d consider sending him there.

SNS C: Jews with learning problems
While not specifically a Jewish school, there were clearly a lot of Jewish children and teachers. I actually liked this place a lot. It was very laid back and gave the kids a lot of lee-way to be who they are. It didn’t feel at all oppressive. They group kids into separate reading and math groups not by age, but by reading and math level, which I liked. The kids seemed less special than at SNS B, but still clearly special. The school didn’t have its own outdoor space and so kids only go outside twice week with a bunch of parent-volunteers, since they want one adult per kid when crossing the streets. What was particularly disappointing was that they were clearly quite academically behind. The classes were so laid back that there didn’t seem to be a challenge, and the teachers were fine with whatever they produced. I can imagine certain children this would be very good for. I have vastly higher hopes for our son.

Meritocracy and Doublethink

When I was in college, I depended on financial aid to afford America’s astronomical tuition bills. Every summer break, I had a long fight with the administration, because they worked very, very hard to stop me from getting any. They demanded hundreds of pages of financial documents, from me and both of my parents, which was quite hard as my parents are divorced and did not get along. Once they received the documents, they would take weeks to process them, then reject them for the slightest mistake. Even rounding errors. At one point, they convinced a rich donor to award me a “scholarship”, then used that to cut my financial aid, because I was “already funded” (for all of $500). They then told me to write the donor a letter, asking that he give the college more money. I politely declined.

I found this very frustrating, so I wrote about how absurd and unfair it all was. And many people defended the college. They told me: it’s their money. It legally belongs to them. You’re not entitled to any of it. It’s their right to give any amount they want, to whoever they want, for any reason or no reason at all. Who are you to complain? You have no more right to their money than a street hobo has to any of yours.

I believe strongly in private property rights, so this argument must be addressed. My college was a private institution. They were privately run and organized. There are lots of other colleges to choose from. Why shouldn’t they be able to set whatever financial aid policies they want? Or charge whatever tuition they want? If the local Toyota dealer started charging $10,000,000 for a Corolla, nobody would complain. They’d laugh, and then take their business elsewhere. What’s the problem?

One answer is that colleges don’t disclose their policies until after enrollment, which is arguably fraudulent. (The Toyota dealer can’t sell you a car, then suddenly double your monthly payment two years later.) But more importantly, if you really believed the above – colleges are private organizations, they can set whatever terms they want – you wouldn’t think a degree mattered. If colleges charged $10,000,000 and offered no aid, then getting in would mean absolutely nothing, except that your parents were rich. Likewise, if colleges said on their websites that they chose based on height, or eye color, or whether the admissions person had a tasty lunch, degrees would become worthless. What good is a selection process if the selection is totally arbitrary?

The problem is that colleges want everyone to “doublethink”, to borrow a term from Orwell’s 1984. To “doublethink” is to hold two contradictory ideas in your head, and believe both of them, simultaneously. Colleges want people to believe that, as private institutions, they have the unfettered ability to admit any person or group, for any reason (such as legacy students, or athletes). But they also want to believe that their degree is a fair and rigorous test of students’ abilities, and that people have degrees because they earned them. In reality, you can have one or the other, but not both. If you give trophies to whoever you please, then having a trophy doesn’t mean anything. Having one doesn’t make you different from everyone else. But if you claim that trophies are important, that having a trophy makes you the best (for some meaning of “best”), you now have a responsibility to actually do that. You can’t, ethically, just hand out trophies to all your cousins anymore. That’s hoodwinking people. If you promise fairness, you have to deliver.

College is behind me, but I now see a very similar phenomenon in Silicon Valley. When a new founder starts a company, and asks for advice, one of the first things mentioned is to not give up when investors reject you. Investors, people say, are arbitrary, and will judge based on silly things; rejection means very little. “Startups always have to adapt to the whims of investors. Ask any founder in any economy if they’d describe investors as fickle, and watch the face they make”, to quote Paul Graham. And there’s plenty of evidence of this. Elizabeth Holmes, as a 19-year-old dropout with no experience, raised eight hundred million dollars for a fraudulent company whose technology had never worked. (Largely on family influence.) Her investors certainly weren’t good judges; they lost everything. And while that’s an extreme case, any experienced founder has seen dumb companies get huge investments, or good companies get rejected for the most trivial reasons.

While that’s annoying, the real problem comes when fundraising is then simultaneously seen as the main metric of success, status, and ability. Before her indictment and arrest, and before her company had made any significant revenue, Holmes was lauded internationally because of her massive investment round and $9 billion valuation. Time included her in “Most Influential People in the World”; Forbes named her one of the “Most Powerful Women”; Fortune named her “Businessperson of the Year”; she was awarded “Woman of the Year” by Glamour, of all people.

If one really believes that investment decisions are mostly arbitrary, and that investors can’t judge companies well, then a $9 billion valuation is meaningless. It doesn’t imply that the company will be successful, and it doesn’t mean that Holmes is smart, a capable CEO, or anything else. On the other hand, if one believes that VCs are wise and have good reasons for what they do (Theranos, presumably, being an anomaly), then any investor who consistently makes bad decisions is responsible, and should be called out. They aren’t just losing their own money, in this framing; they’re dragging down the reputation of investors as a class. Either investors are responsible for making good decisions, or else they (and the press, and many others) are responsible for not treating arbitrary decisions as significant. “In doublethink, you forget, and then forget you have forgotten. In singlethink, you notice you are forgetting, and then you remember. You hold only a single non-contradictory thought in your mind at once.”

Cryonics: A Quick Overview

I have arrangements to be cryopreserved in the event of my clinical death, and I encourage everyone reading this to make similar arrangements. How cryopreservation works, and why people should sign up, is covered in great detail in the Alcor FAQ (linked below). However, for those who don’t have time to read the whole thing (it’s rather long), I’ve put together a very simplified summary here.

– Cryonics freezes terminally ill people who are clinically “dead” (no heartbeat or breathing) in liquid nitrogen, so they can be warmed up and revived with future medical technology. At liquid nitrogen temperatures, all metabolism stops, so the body is preserved intact and does not decay further. Cryonics is the only way to avoid eventual death from old age with current technology.

– Just because someone is at room temperature, and has no heartbeat (clinical death), does not mean they are permanently “dead”. People in this condition are revived routinely in hospitals. In fact, surgeons will deliberately cool a patient’s body and stop the heart for certain types of brain surgery (deep hypothermic circulatory arrest).

– For a person under 40 with no serious illness, being signed up for cryonics costs around $30-$150 per month, depending on various options. It is only expensive if you, or a family member, procrastinate and delay signing up until shortly before death. Please don’t do that.

– All major cryonics organizations are non-profit. No one has ever made money off cryonics except modest below-market salaries, and frequently not even that.

– At a best guess, a “clinically dead” person can last a few hours without cooling, or a few days with only water-ice cooling, before the cells self-destruct and they are truly and irrevocably dead. However, this is just a guess, and the odds are better the sooner cryonics is performed.

– Cryonics, if properly done, does not cause ice to form. Ice crystals, of course, would damage the cells. Instead, cryoprotectants are used so that tissue forms a glass-like solid at low temperatures.

– As of now, the largest tissue to have been fully cryopreserved (below dry ice temperature) and successfully revived is a rabbit kidney. (Human embryos, of course, are routinely cryopreserved.) Research is ongoing into how to revive larger tissues and entire animals.

– While the early days of cryonics saw many mistakes, and some patients were thawed out due to negligence or funding issues, this has not happened in almost forty years. Cryonics organizations are now Properly Paranoid about ensuring indefinite freezing and permanent maintenance income. Fortunately, cryonics patients require minimal maintenance (just a liquid nitrogen top-off every month).

– In addition to general patient care funds, one can set aside assets to be used for revival, or for life after revival. This is done through a special type of trust.

The Full Alcor FAQ

A tour of Alcor and cryonics procedures

Recommendations for Making Virtual Reality Videos

I decided to buy a Daydream virtual reality headset, as I already have a phone that supports that. It’s basically a face mask with a slot for your phone, and when you put it on, an app uses the phone’s display to generate a virtual world for you. The Daydream hardware is very well-built, especially for something that costs $100. A good phone display is actually higher resolution than the Oculus or Vive VR headsets, although the phone can’t power super-detailed game graphics like those can, as they’re hooked up to beefy desktop GPUs.

The YouTube VR app is well-done, and unlike some skeptics, I think immersive VR videos have a lot of potential to be better than normal videos. However, I was disappointed with the lack of good content so far. Given the hundreds of millions recently spent on VR hardware, I’d have naively expected more attention to be given to VR movies. Most of the content that does exist is of terrible quality, which is a shame, since it’s vastly easier to improve content than to improve screens or lenses or compression algorithms. In case anyone wants to fill this market hole, I figured I’d write up some tips on how to do it well, at least from my perspective:

1) Don’t think like a conventional film or video editor – minimize the number of cuts, especially abrupt cuts. The best Hollywood movies look like this clip from Lord of the Rings:

This seven-minute video is really made up of a hundred and sixty independent shots, none longer than fifteen seconds or so, which are stitched together during editing to create a fun overall experience. In theaters, this works great, but it would be very jarring in VR because of the constant perspective switches. In real life, unless you’re trapped in some kind of cosmic horror story, people don’t walk around being uncontrollably teleported from place to place to place every ten seconds. When cuts are needed, it’s much less disruptive if people and objects and the background at least roughly stay in place before and after the cut. When scene changes are needed, it’s easier to handle if there are fades or transition periods to smooth it out.

2) Likewise, don’t mix in clips of regular video with the VR/immersive video. This includes intro sequences, commercials, screenshots, and so on. With some software magic, they can be stretched to cover a full sphere, but the experience probably won’t be good because of the rapid cuts that such videos use. Many of these shots also aren’t physically realistic, eg., there is no real way to make a 2D cartoon drawing “feel” like a virtual world. Luckily, there is a trick one can use when it’s really needed: project the conventional video or image onto a flat screen, embedded within a larger 3D virtual environment. This is what Netflix does for their VR app, and it works much better than just stretching out the video file.

3) For similar reasons, during a cut, be careful to not abruptly reset the viewing angle. Part of the experience of VR is that the viewer can turn their head to look at something; don’t suddenly rotate the video perspective back to the “front”, as this kills immersion.

4) Always film everything in 4K resolution. For normal videos, 4K has a reputation as a frippery, both because 4K screens are expensive and because the extra resolution doesn’t buy you much quality. However, in a VR video, each pixel has to cover a much wider area at any given resolution. Right now, my laptop screen is about 50 cm from my eyes, and it has an area of 540 cm^2. The sphere around my head at that distance has an area of 30,000 cm^2, or about sixty times the screen size. Therefore, a 720p video looks fine on YouTube, but in VR each pixel will get stretched out to be sixty times as large, making the image extremely blurry despite being “high definition”. 1080p or “Full HD” still looks blurry, and even 4K will look like standard video, rather than “HD crisp”. Fortunately, 4K 360-degree cameras have gotten much cheaper, with many models now available for a few hundred dollars.

5) When practical, make videos longer than standard YouTube clips. A typical YouTube viewer is surrounded by distraction, from the other browser tabs on the screen, to any other people in the room, to any noises or alerts that might pop up on their monitor or phone. Therefore, viewers start dropping out from distraction if videos get longer than a few minutes or so. (And this goes double for Facebook, Lord have mercy.) In VR, of course, all distractions are blocked out, and the only thing you see and hear is the video itself. Hence, it’s good to give the viewer time to get immersed in the scene, rather than yanking them out after a minute or two.

6) For similar reasons, it’s usually good to err on the side of a smaller number of longer scenes, rather than lots of short scenes interspersed with each other.

7) Viewers will experience the scene as if their virtual “body” was attached to the camera, with their head near where the camera lenses are. It’s good to make sure the position of their “body” would make sense for someone in that situation. For example, people don’t go on amusement park rides strapped to the front of a roller coaster. They don’t go on cruises on top of a pole floating twenty feet above the boat deck. They don’t hang off the underbelly when they take a helicopter ride, and so on.

The good news is that because current standards are so low, it’s super easy to do better. Honestly, in my opinion, putting a good VR camera in Ohlone Park, pressing On, and recording the dogs playing for ten minutes would be better than 90% of existing content. If anyone reading this wants to make a VR video, I will volunteer to watch it, regardless of why or what it’s about.

George Papadopoulos Complete Timeline + Email Archive

George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump, was the first person to be indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He pled guilty to one count of lying to federal investigators. The below is all public knowledge, but I haven’t seen it collected anywhere, so I’m posting it here for reference.

Early March: George Papadopoulos agrees to come on board as a member of the Trump campaign. At this time, he is living in London, England.

March 6th: Sam Clovis, the national co-chair of the Trump campaign and current nominee for Under Secretary of Agriculture, tells Papadopoulos that a primary focus of the campaign is improving American relations with Russia.

March 14th: While traveling in Italy, Papadopoulos meets Professor Joseph Mifsud, the head of the London Aacademy of Diplomacy. Mifsud has previously claimed to have had private meetings with Vladimir Putin, although this has not been confirmed. It has been confirmed that he does know Alexander Yakovenko, Russian ambassador in London. Mifsud was interested in Papadopoulos because of his Trump relationship; Papadopoulos is interested in Mifsud because of his Russia connections.

March 21st: Washington Post interviews Trump, who describes his team. Trump includes Papadopoulos: “George Papadopoulos, he’s an oil and energy consultant. Excellent guy.”

March 24th: Papadopoulos has lunch with Mifsud in London, along with a woman falsely claiming to be ‘Putin’s niece’. He sends an email to Trump campaign “officials”, with the subject line “Meeting with Russian Leadership – Including Putin”:

“I just finished a very productive lunch with a good friend of mine, Professor Joseph Mifsud. — who introduced me to both Putin’s niece and the Russian Ambassador in London [Alexander Yakovenko] — who also acts as the Deputy Foreign Minister. The topic of the lunch was to arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump. They are keen to host us in a ‘neutral’ city, or directly in Moscow. They said the leadership, including Putin, is ready to meet with us and Mr. Trump, should there be interest. Waiting for everyone’s thoughts on moving forward with this very important issue.”  (The woman in question was not actually Putin’s niece.)

At this time, Sam Clovis writes an email saying, “We thought we probably should not go forward with any meeting with the Russians until we have had occasion to sit with our NATO allies.” However, this may have been selectively quoted. Sam Clovis replies that he would “work it through the campaign”, but that no commitments should be made right now. He adds, “Great work”.

March 31st: There is a meeting of the Trump national security team, including Trump, Papadopoulos, J.D. Gordon, Jeff Sessions, and numerous other campaign staff. Trump posts a photo of the meeting to Twitter. Papadopoulos says to the entire meeting, including Trump and Sessions, that he has connections to arrange a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin.

At this meeting, Trump says that the US should not support arming Ukraine against Russian-backed rebels. Based on this statement by Trump, J.D. Gordon later successfully pushes for pro-Ukraine language to be removed from the GOP platform at the Republican National Convention.

Early April: Papadopoulos sends more emails to the Trump foreign policy team, regarding his contacts with “the Russians” and his “outreach to Russia”.

April 7th: During a visit to Israel, Papadopoulos gives a foreign policy speech. He discusses Trump’s friendliness with Russia, saying that Trump sees Putin as a “responsible actor” and “potential partner”. In the speech, he says that Trump believes that the US should ally with Russia against China, and should work together to fight Islamic extremism.

April 10th: Papadopoulos emails ‘Putin’s niece’, saying he is “Donald Trump’s advisor”. He says, “we met with Professor Mifsud in London. The reason for my message is because Professor Mifsud sent an email that you tried contacting me. It would be a pleasure to meet again. If not, we should have a call and discuss some things.”

April 11th: ‘Putin’s niece’ replies that she was “now back in St. Petersburg”, but would be “very pleased to support your initiatives between our two countries and of course I would be very pleased to meet you again.”. Papadopoulos replies to her and Mifsud that “I think a good step would be for me to meet with the Russian Ambassador in London [Yakovenko] sometime this month. I’d like to discuss with him, or anyone else you recommend, about a potential foreign policy trip to Russia.” Mifsud replies, “This is already been agreed. I am flying to Moscow on the 18th for a Valdai meeting, plus meetings at the Duma.”

April 12th: A reply from ‘Putin’s niece’ says: “I have already alerted my personal links to our conversation and your request. The Embassy in London is very much aware of this. As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian Federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced.”

April 13th: Steele dossier source, businessman, and former Russian government translator Sergei Millian tells Russian media that he actively communicates with Trump and “his assistants”, most recently a few days before. Millian says that Trump “will be able to agree on how to resolve political conflicts, agree on Syria and Ukraine”. Millian was confirmed to be in touch with Papadopoulos, and was one of his 240 Facebook friends.

April 18th: Professor Mifsud emails Papadopoulos and Ivan Timofeev, director at the Russian International Affairs Council. Timofeev previously worked for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“I had a long conversation in Moscow with my dear friend about a possible meeting between the two of you. Ivan Timofeev is ready to meet with you in London (or USA or Moscow). I am putting the two of you in touch to discuss when and where this potential meeting can actually take place.”

Papadopoulos replies that he will “try and come to Moscow”, and sets up a Skype call with Timofeev. Timofeev tells Papadopoulos about his Russian government connections.

April 19th: Mifsud speaks at the Valdai Club in Moscow, a Russian think tank with close ties to Putin. Mifsud reportedly attended the Valdai Club every year since 2014, an event which Putin “usually visits”.

April 22nd: Timofeev thanks Papadopoulos “for an extensive talk”, and proposes “to meet in London or Moscow”. Papadopoulos suggests that “we set one up here in London with the Ambassador [Yakovenko] as well to discuss a process moving forward.”

April 25th: Papadopoulos emails an unidentified “Senior Policy Advisor” for the Trump campaign, saying: “The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready. The advantage of being in London is that these governments tend to speak a bit more openly in ‘neutral’ cities.”

Late April: Unpublished emails and Skype conversations between Timofeev and Papadopoulos. They discuss setting “the groundwork” for a “potential” meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

April 26th: Papadopoulos and Mifsud have breakfast at a London hotel, where Mifsud describes his trip to Moscow and his connections to Russian officials. Mifsud tells Papadopoulos that, on his trip on the 18th, he learned that Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails”.

April 27th: Another email from Papadopoulos to the “Senior Policy Advisor” says, “I have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.” He also emails campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, asking “to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right.”

April 27th: Trump holds an event at the Mayflower hotel, meeting Russian Ambassador Kislyak giving a foreign policy speech. He says in his speech, “We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia…we are not bound to be adversaries. We should seek common ground based on shared interests…an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia is possible..[I hope to] make a deal under my administration that’s great for America but also good for Russia.”

April 29th: Papadopoulos emails ‘Putin’s niece’. He says, “I am now in the process of seeing if we will come to Russia. Do you recommend I get in touch with a minister or embassy person in Washington or London to begin organizing the trip?” She replies, “I think it would be better to discuss this question with Professor Mifsud.” He responds, “Ok. I called him.”

April 30th: Papadopoulos thanks Mifsud for his “critical help” in arranging Russian meetings, saying “it’s history making if it happens”.

May 4th: Timofeev emails Papadopoulos, saying he had “just talked to my colleagues from the [Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs]. [They are] open for cooperation. One of the options is to make a meeting for you at the North America Desk, if you are in Moscow.” Papadopoulos replies that he is “glad the [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] is interested”.

Papadopoulos forwards these emails to Corey Lewandowski. He asks Lewandowski, “What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?” To another campaign official, he writes: “Regarding the forwarded message, Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”

May 5th: Clovis has a phone call with Papadopoulos, who forwards him the Timofeev email from May 4th.

May 8th: Timofeev emails Papadopoulos and Mifsud, about putting him in touch with the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs head of the US desk”.

May 13th: Professor Mifsud emails Papadopoulous with “an update” on “their recent conversations”. He says “We will continue to liaise through you with the Russian counterparts in terms of what is needed for a high level meeting of Mr. Trump with the Russian Federation.”

May 14th: Papadopoulos emails Lewandowski, saying “the Russian government has also relayed to me that they are interested in hosting Mr. Trump.”

May 21st: Papadopoulos emails Paul Manafort, shortly to become Trump’s campaign manager, with the subject “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” He includes the May 4th email from Timofeev, and adds “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.” Manafort forwards the Papadopoulos email to his deputy Rick Gates, adding: “Let’s discuss. We need someone to communicate that [Donald Trump] is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

Late May: Further emails and Skype calls between Timofeev and Papadopoulos.

June 1st: Papadopoulos emails Lewandowski again, asking about Russia. Lewandowski refers him to Clovis, who is “running point”. Papadopoulos then emails Clovis, subject line “Re: Messages from Russia”, saying “I have the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking me if Mr. Trump is interested in visiting Russia at some point. Wanted to pass this info along to you for you to decide what’s best to do with it and what message I should send (or to ignore).”

June 14th: The Washington Post reports that Russian hackers have penetrated Democratic National Committee servers. This is the first public news that Russian hackers are targeting the 2016 US election.

June 19th: After more emails and Skype conversations with Timofeev, Papadopoulos emails Lewandowski, with the subject “New message from Russia”. Papadopoulos says, “The Russian ministry of foreign affairs messaged and said that if Mr. Trump is unable to make it to Russia, if a campaign rep (me or someone else) can make it for meetings? I am willing to make the trip off the record if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.”

July 14th: Email from Papadopoulos to Timofeev proposes “a meeting for August or September in the UK (London) with me and my national chairman [Paul Manafort], and maybe one other foreign policy advisor and you, members of President Putin’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hold a day of consultations and to meet one another. It has been approved from our side.”

July 15th: Facebook message from Papadopoulos to Timofeev says “We can chat on this, this weekend if you can’t tonight.” Timofeev replies with a ‘thumbs up’.

July 21st: Another Facebook message, saying “How are things Ivan [Timofeev]? Keep an eye on the speech tonight. Should be good.”

July 22nd: Another Facebook message to Timofeev, asking whether Timofeev knew an unidentified ‘particular individual’. He said, “if you know any background of him that is noteworthy before I see him, kindly send my way.”

Late July: Trump’s national security team disbands, after having never been paid. However, Papadopoulos stays on with the Trump campaign.

August 15th: After further conversations about “off-the-record” Russian meetings, Clovis emails Papadopoulos, saying “I would encourage you” and another foreign policy advisor (possibly Carter Page?) “to make the trip [to Russia], if it is feasible.” Papadopoulos did not actually visit Russia. Carter Page is confirmed to have met Papadopoulos multiple times, but he may or may not be the “advisor” mentioned here.

October 1st: Papadopoulos sends Professor Mifsud an article from, a Russian news website, via Facebook message.

November 8th: Campaign ends, Trump elected President of the United States.

January 27th, 2017: Papadopoulos is interviewed by the FBI, lies about key facts.

February 16th: Interviewed by the FBI again.

February 17th: Papadopoulos deletes his twelve-year-old Facebook account to hide suspicious communications, immediately opens another one.

July 27th: Federal agents arrest Papadopoulos at Dulles Airport.

July 28th: Indictment filed against Papadopoulos under seal, charging false statements and obstruction.

October 5th: Papadopoulos pleads guilty to one count, admits lies, agrees to be a “proactive cooperator”.

October 25th: On Twitter, Papadopoulos posts a photo of him in London wearing a suit, with the hashtag “#business”.

October 30th: Indictment, arrest, and cooperation revealed publicly.

Blogs by Friends

Here’s a list of blogs that I enjoy written by friends. This doesn’t include blogs by people I haven’t met (eg. Marginal Revolution), or anonymous blogs. Of course, the topics and posting frequency vary a lot, so the categories are rough.

Hard science, physics, biology, etc.:

Andart, Anders Sandberg
Semantic Scribblings, Chelsea Voss
Eukaryote Writes Blog, Georgia Ray
ForeXiv, Jess Riedel
AI Impacts, Katja Grace
AI Alignment, Paul Christiano
Otium, Sarah Constantin
Parenting With Evidence, Sarah Constantin
Shtetl Optimized, Scott Aaronson
Geroscience, Tegan McCaslin
Deep Safety, Victoria Krakovna

Soft science, economics, sociology, etc.:

Reflective Disquilibrium, Carl Shulman
Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson
Slate Star Codex, Scott Alexander
Optimize Everything, Spencer Greenberg
Don’t Worry About the Vase, Zvi Mowshowitz

Politics and morality:

Pedestrian Observations, Alon Levy
Almost No One is Evil, Almost Everything is Broken, Jai Dhyani
Concept Space Cartography, Jim Babcock
Giving Gladly, Julia Wise
The Unit of Caring, Kelsey Piper
The Consequentialist, Matthew Gentzel
Nothing is Mere, Rob Bensinger
Fire and Pulse, Roxanne Heston

General thoughts and philosophy:

Compass Rose, Ben Hoffman
Teal Tensor, Elizabeth Morningstar
Aceso Under Glass, Elizabeth van Nostrand
Unstable Ontology, Jessica Taylor
Meteuphoric, Katja Grace
Minding Our Way, Nate Soares
Minds Aren’t Magic, Paul Crowley
Saner Than Lasagna, Sam Rosen and Eloise Rosen
Apophany, Tegan McCaslin
Becoming Eden, Will Eden and Divia Eden


Ben Kuhn
Buck Shlegeris
Eliezer Yudkowsky
Holly Elmore
Jeff Kaufman
Luke Muehlhauser
Malcolm Ocean
Nancy Hua
Paul Christiano
Satvik Beri