"Essayer is the French verb meaning "to try" and an essai is an attempt. An essay is something you write to try to figure something out... In a real essay, you don't take a position and defend it. You notice a door that's ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what's inside." -- Paul Graham


Meetup Writeups


Spend Money on Ergonomics

Since commenting on old posts is now, like, officially encouraged, I'll share my experiences here.

First, Aeron chairs ARE NOT FOR EVERYONE. I worked in an office where every chair was an Aeron for more than a year, and it was a source of deep physical misery. Yes, I know that they're highly adjustable; I'm pretty sure I messed with every single flap, knob, and lever on them. But none of those doo-dahs fix my fundamental problems with the Aeron.

The Aeron's design forces you into an 'ergonomic' sitting position. This is terrible, because I hate sitting and am apt to change my position every couple minutes (I particularly like pulling my knees up on the chair next to me; I know some other people who work with their feet on their desk), but the Aeron won't let you do this, because its curved seat means that you basically just fall off if you're doing anything other than sitting directly on your butt.

It is doubly terrible because, even if I conceded the point and tried to sit on my butt, I still wouldn't be able to sit ergonomically, because my feet could never reach the ground. I am about 5'3" (~160cm), which is a fairly normal height for an adult female, and the only way I could sit with my back against the Aeron's backrest and my feet on the ground, was to lower the chair so much that I was comically far below the level of the desk. I would again partially blame this on the design of the seat - I think it's relatively deep, and I think the curve at the edge encourages my legs to point forward rather than down.

tl;dr if you're fidgety, are shorter than the average male adult (maybe shorter than 5'6"? but I'd guess the comfort on the chair depends more on the length of your legs than on your overall height), have chronic pain, and/or can't stand sitting on your butt all day, don't spend your hard-earned money on this torture chair of misery. God I hate these things so freaking much.

Is Wirecutter still good?

Huh, I think the towel is pretty great, but I'm more sensitive to physical stimuli than you are. It did lose a certain amount of plushness in the first few washes, but even still, when I use towels other than that one now, I definitely notice that they're much rougher.

Also (and I'm not putting this in a top-level answer because it doesn't contain any info about pre- vs post-2016), their recommendation for large microwave has served us well, but the small microwave recommendation (as of when we were buying a microwave) had 3 Amazon reviews saying it literally caught on fire. This seems like a flaw of Wirecutter's methodology - i.e., for a lot of products, they don't actually test out long-term use.

MikkW's Shortform

Well, money, for one?

Why haven't we celebrated any major achievements lately?

Related: I wish people still wrote poems about major achievements. Everyone knows the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, but it seems like that wasn't an isolated thing. For example, the man who designed the Golden Gate Bridge wrote:

As harps for the winds of heaven,
My web-like cables are spun;
I offer my span for the traffic of man,
At the gate of the setting sun.

(Apologies because I know this comment isn't really engaging with the post itself.)

What posts on finance would your find helpful or interesting?

Yes, this would be very helpful!! I am just a layperson and get lost very easily in discussions of finance.

What are your greatest one-shot life improvements?

+1 to this, although I just use bookmarks or OneTab. And it turns out I only go through my bookmarks once every like five years, so by the time I get to the articles 90% of the time they are completely irrelevant to the present day or my interests have changed enough that I just don't care anymore :P

mingyuan's Shortform

Oh, part of this is that I posted this anecdote as a supplement to the main one; it illustrates the same point but less starkly. I think the thing I was pointing at here was: people come to you stating that their problem is "I don't feel like doing my dishes" or "I'm bad at grocery shopping", and it turns out that there's a more fundamental thing in the way that on some level they know is the actual blocker, but they don't realize that that's where they need to intervene on their problem. Knowing Guy 2, I think he would have been able to come up with all of the solutions that you did within 5 minutes of brainstorming, but he was focused on {sink full of dishes} rather than looking at the problem as a whole.

mingyuan's Shortform

Another exchange from the same session, with a different guy. Less legendary but still instructive:


Him: My sink is always full of dirty dishes.

Me: Okay, do you know what the blocker is?

Him: I just never feel like doing my dishes.

Me: Why?

Him: Well, I only want to wash my dishes with hot water, but the water in my sink doesn't get hot enough, so every time I do the dishes I have to boil water for that purpose, but my stove isn't very powerful and I only have one pot, but it's not big enough to fill the sink so I have to boil three pots full of water before I can do the dishes, and that takes like half an hour.

Me: o.0

mingyuan's Shortform

Once upon a time I ran a pair debugging session for my local rationality meetup group. A guy showed up who I'd never seen there before and as far as I know never showed up again. Below is the gist of our debugging session, which was... rather eye-opening for me:


Me: Hi there, what bug do you want help with?

Him: I need help buying groceries.

Me: Okay, what goes wrong when you're buying groceries?

Him: Every time I buy groceries, lots of them end up going bad in the fridge.

Me: Okay, that's pretty common. Do you make a list before you go grocery shopping?

Him: Yes.

Me: So is it that you're buying too much of things? Or are you buying things you don't actually like to eat?

Him: No, I'm buying the right amount of things. The problem is that sometimes I have to leave town, and then the groceries spoil.

Me: Oh, okay. Do you know in advance when you'll need to leave town?

Him: No, I have to leave town for unknown amounts of time on short notice. My parents and sister all have severe depression and I have to drive to their city to help when they're having mental health emergencies.

Me: Oh gosh, I'm sorry! Are they receiving any type of care?

Him: No.

Me: Do you want help with getting them care?

Him: No, the problem is that they don't have health insurance.

Me: Okay, can we help them get health insurance?

Him: I'm in charge of getting them health insurance, and I've tried, but the ObamaCare website doesn't work for me.

Me: ..............................................................

[[Me: Dear god please see a therapist good luck bye]]

What are your greatest one-shot life improvements?

Data point: After reading this comment I tried this for like two months - initially intentionally, but also the pillows I had at the time were not right for me and so I kept doing it because getting the right pillow can take a fair amount of time and money. It actually significantly increased back and neck pain for me, I think because my tendency to sleep on my side is just very very strong.

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