Raymond's Weblog^

March Roundup

I’m a sucker for careful descriptions of the messy incentives that lead to current equilibria, unpicking why the current world actually makes a lot of sense, and this month I enjoyed Byrne Hobart’s explanation of why airlines end up charging fees for everything as well as Patrick McKenzie’s discussion of how financial systems accommodate various holidays across the world.

Speaking of the hidden complexities of the world, here’s a deep dive including x ray scans on how Heinz makes ketchup lids.

This reddit post asking ‘What is currently in it’s “Golden age”, but not enough people know about it?’ was a nice glimpse into the complexity of the world. The most persuasive answers were knitting, keyboards, and astronomy.

Three random clumps of high-density advice, from Patrick McKenzie again, Ben Kuhn, and Dynomight. I find lists like these are an easy way to waste time, but very helpful for snapping me out of a malaise by surfacing specific things I could be doing better.


I spent a lot of last month thinking about leadership, and how to do it well. By far the best resource I encountered was the Gitlab Handbook, which they very kindly made open-source, and which contains actual battle-tested guidelines on how they want employees to behave: everything from how to run meetings to how to create space for feedback. Not all of it transfers, but there’s a lot to learn. I also enjoyed this piece on regular check-ins with direct reports and this piece on how bad management relationships can spiral. ht/ Daniel for all of these.


I finally read Three Worlds Collide: the start was a bit choppy and the use of rationalists as a kind of secret magic cult was a little jarring, but the core question was fantastic and as ever the ending was wonderfully executed.

Relatedly, here’s Scott Alexander writing what I believe to be the first great EA poem. I continue to find his advocacy of EA to be the one that resonates with my soul the most (see also Unsong, the greatest EA novel).

Finally, I have at last started reading Hyperbole and a Half, which gives the most faithful description I’ve ever seen of what depression is like.

Difficult things to chew on

tw abortion and suffering: I found this piece on the use of anaesthetics in abortion very thought-provoking. It’s not something I can neatly slot into my worldview, which is always a good sign.

On a similar note, I’ve been trying to make sense of what it actually means that lots of people are not very smart, which is a very delicate topic. I enjoyed Gwern’s discussion of McNamara’s Folly: the General prosecuting the Vietnam war tried to increase numbers by lowering the standards of admission for the army.

And on a different note, here is The Case for Marrying an Older Man.

Wikipedia Pages

The Braitenberg Vehicle is a nice example of something where it’s hard to say how much of an agent it is. It seems to exhibit complex behaviour despite having a really simple internal structure (ht/ Daniel Polani).

Iroha is a japanese poem which uses every character once. The ordering of the characters is now used for “subsection ordering in documents, seat numbering in theaters, and showing go moves in diagrams” (ht/ Maria).

In the old days, people had special Mourning Stationery with black borders.

Ansatz, the mathematical term for “an educated guess or an additional assumption made to help solve a problem, and which may later be verified to be part of the solution by its results”.