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2016-09-22 - Tracking thesis progress

I’m currently writing my master’s thesis. I’d like to have some idea of how to answer questions like: How well am I doing this week? Have I been stalled for some time? How fast can I write when I’m in the zone? How long until I’m finished?

To help me answer those, I’m gathering data about it using a cron script that logs the number of pages of my the PDF of my thesis and the number of lines of code I’ve written every hour.

This is a technique I copied from a video the excellent screencast series Destroy All Software. The author uses it in several videos. One variant of this data collection idea he uses is going over the Git history of a project and collecting data ex post by checking out every historic revision and running a data collection script over it.

My use of this technique lets me produce a pretty graph that looks like this:

Other really nice uses of this technique include asking:

  • How many tests were failing in each revision?
  • Which authors commited how many lines of code, over time?
  • How has the speed of a POST request to /clients/create evolved over time? Which changes affected it positively and negatively?
  • How has the speed of my website’s rendering evolved over time?

My crontab line looks like this:

0 * * * * log-pagecount

The log-pagecount script in question is dead simple:

#!/bin/bash
set -e

cd /home/prvak/master/text
make >/dev/null
COUNT=`pdfinfo /home/prvak/master/text/thesis.pdf | grep Pages: | cut -d\  -f11`
DATE=`date +%Y%m%d%H%M`
echo $DATE $COUNT >> /home/prvak/misc/master-pagecount-log.log

SLOC_LOGFILE=/home/prvak/misc/master-sloc-log.log
echo "---- CUT ----" >> $SLOC_LOGFILE
echo $DATE >> $SLOC_LOGFILE
cloc /home/prvak/master/code >> $SLOC_LOGFILE

The lines-of-code counting is done by the cloc tool (AlDanial/cloc on GitHub). In Arch Linux, you can install it by running pacman -S cloc.

Then, in ~/misc/sloc-count-to-log.py, I have a simple script that changes the format of the lines-of-count logfile:

#!/usr/bin/python
with open('master-sloc.tsv', 'w') as f:
    for line in open('master-sloc-log.log'):
        line = line.strip()
        if line.startswith('SUM'):
            f.write("%s %s\n" % (date, line.split(' ')[-1]))
        if line.startswith('2016'):
            date = line

Then, I have this Gnuplot script in ~/misc/plot-thesis-stats.gnuplot:

set datafile separator ' '
set xdata time
set y2tics
set timefmt "%Y%m%d%H%M"
set key right bottom
plot \
	"master-pagecount-log.log" u 1:2 w lines axes x1y1 title "Pages", \
	"master-sloc.tsv" u 1:2 w lines axes x1y2 title "SLOC"

To see the pretty graph, I do this:

~ $ cd ~/misc
~/misc $ gnuplot
(...)
gnuplot> load 'plot-thesis-stats.gnuplot'

I have enjoyed procrastinating by writing this post more than looking at my script munching away training samples for my classifiers.

Enjoy!

2016-09-19 - Trip to Chernobyl

I went to visit Ukraine and the Chernobyl exclusion zone in particular with some old and some new friends. It was awesome and I can wholeheartedly recommend the folks from Expedition Club, who kindly arranged the trip for us. I’ve wanted to do this way back since I first played S.T.A.L.K.E.R., probably about 9 or so years ago.

I have a bunch of photos on my Facebook.

Aside from Chernobyl, we also spent 2 days in Kiev. I didn’t enjoy the atmosphere and architecture too much - it’s full of socialist high-rises. Not saying Prague isn’t, but Kiev looks like 90% of it was built in the 80’s. The Statue of Mother Ukraine, which is slightly larger than the Statue of Liberty, has a pretty good museum of WWII inside. They also show off army vehicles (mostly tanks, and at least one helicopter) nearby. The statue and its surroundings are a pinnacle of socialist realism.

Then, we spent 2 days in the exclusion zone, and after that, we went to Neptun, which is a boat-turned-fishing base/hostel/restaurant in the delta of the Dnepr. The way there was really adventurous: let me tell you, you don’t know bad roads until you see the villages of Ukraine. When we finally arrived to the riverbank, a speedboat from Neptun took us and our things for the night and we sped towards Neptun. The ride there around all the tiny islands of the Dnepr delta under the moonlight was amazing. The next day, we said goodbye to Neptun and all its fuzzy kitties, doggies and puppies and headed back to Kiev.

On the way back to Kiev, our gearbox decided to kick the bucket - shifting gears was an ordeal for Ondra. Accidentally, we made a wrong turn at one point and headed toward a military facility and got stopped at a checkpoint. All right, let’s turn around and head back. Only the gearbox decided to not let us shift into reverse. So, we stood in front of the gate for like 20 minutes, Ondra frantically trying to shift to reverse and the guard getting more and more amused. Slowly, more and more soldiers from the checkpoint looked at the spectacle, until one hero went and helped us shift the gears, letting us leave a full squad of ~15 laughing servicemen. Fun times!

On our second day in Kiev (after Chernobyl and Neptun), we ziplined from one end of Dnepr to the other one, which was fun, if somewhat shorter than expected. We also saw some old churches, the Majdan and so forth.

More experiences: Ukraine is crazy cheap, which I’m saying having spent most of my life in Czech Republic, already a pretty cheap country. Once you figure out the alphabet, the language is very easy to read. Speaking in Czecho-Slovako-Polish is also a good supplement for English.

Radiation exposure

We couldn’t agree about how large the dose you get in Chernobyl actually is, so I decided to do a little bit of research. The second day of our visit in the Zone, I wrote down the value of the dosimeter roughly every 10 minutes plus every now and then.

Time μSv/hour Notes
08:47 0.15
09:05 0.21
09:26 0.21
09:47 0.48
09:57 0.30
10:08 0.18
10:29 0.32
10:38 0.18
10:48 0.30
10:53 1.00 Entering campground
10:57 1.24
11:14 1.53 Couldn’t find Petra, who had the dozimeter :)
11:18 0.95
11:22 0.95
11:28 0.27
11:35 0.44
11:39 0.32
11:42 21.7 Measured in hot spot around school by the village Kopachi.
11:43 2.65
11:49 0.91
11:51 6.79 Driving through Red Forest
11:52 12.6
12:00 0.30 Hospital
12:04 118 Measurement of highly radioactive glove in hospital (77 μSv/h a bit further by) - some idiots went to the basement where they kept and buried the first-response firemen and used the glove to hold one boot of the firemen. And then left the glove upstairs. And the glove is itself dangerously radioactive. Didn’t go nearby.
12:10 0.20
12:20 0.20
12:25 1.10
12:26 3.06 Small hot pocket by Pripyat river shipyard
12:26 3.06 Small hot pocket by Pripyat river shipyard
12:28 0.96
12:28 ~15 Random radioactive piece of wood our guide pointed out. (“Don’t step on this.”) Didn’t go nearby.
12:39 1.40
12:50 0.14
12:59 0.70
13:09 0.31
13:16 0.87
13:17 1.06
13:20 0.84
13:25 0.74
13:30 0.22
13:42 0.35
13:45 0.47 ~2 minute drive through Red Forest; next few entries show range of fluctuations.
2.4
2.8
2.98
3
2
3.15
13:46 2.68
1.3
1.35
13:47 1.58
1.41
13:49 0.27 Out of Red Forest
14:00 0.15 Lunch
14:24 0.27
14:33 0.35
14:35 58.8 Random piece of graphite from the cooling rods, laying in grass by unfinished cooling tower.
14:41 2.5 Radiation in unfinished cooling tower. It wasn’t yet sanitated, so the background radiation level is much higher than elsewhere.
14:43 3.40
14:54 0.39 Out of cooling tower
15:04 0.95
15:15 0.31
15:27 0.21 Coming back to Chernobyl town
15:40 0.15 Chernobyl town
15:51 0.15

The background radiation level in normal cities is (ballparking it) about 0.12 μSv/h. My idea was I would just look at the dosimeter every 10 minutes and then approximate the dose we received by representing each 10 minute interval by the value I measured by its end.

After seeing what the dozimeter did during the short ride through the Red Forest, I think that might be the wrong approach to go about it – the dose you receive in Chernobyl might not be dominated by the elevated level of background radiation (which is only 2×-4× higher than in uncontaminated areas, from my data) - the more important factor might be very short intervals spent in radiation hot pockets, which would be hard to pick up by 10-minute measurements. Look at the Red Forest ride: during it, the radiation levels were 20-30× the normal levels.

Next time, I’ll just bring my own dosimeter. With logging, and blackjack and hookers.

2016-07-14 - Summer

So, what have I been doing since last time?

Effective altruism in Czech Republic

I decided I want more effective altruism in general, and also in Czech Republic in particular. Me, Jirka Nádvorník, Radim Lacina and Dan Hnyk started working on organizing a conference on effective altruism in Prague, probably some time in fall. The work is fulfilling and interesting: I’ve never done anything similar and I think I’ll learn a lot from this. Our current idea is a weekend with 1 day of events aimed at educating the broader public about EA and related crucial issues, then 1 day of an “unconference” mostly aimed at community building.

Unfortunately, progress has been pretty slow so far.

Our main priority is securing a venue, then fixing a date. We quickly agreed on a sweet venue in Prague we’d really like to have (Paralelní polis), but unfortunately communication with them has been sluggish. I think we didn’t dedicate enough attention to this - we should have contacted potential venues sooner and more broadly. We’ll fix that.

We’d like to talk with the organizers of EA Global to see if we could make our conference an official EAGx event, but communication has been slow. We’re (so far unsuccessfully) trying to reach anyone from LEAN (Local Effective Altruism Network), which is the org behind Effective Altruism Hub. It seems they tried to start a small Czech online EA community, but it didn’t take off and it seems inactive now, so we’d like to see what could we do about that.

We’d like to use the conference to bootstrap the Czech EA community: have EAs know each other and talk to each other, regular meetups, materials in Czech, talking to Czech influencers and media. We are working on establishing a small non-profit. We currently just have a bare-bones site at efektivni-altruismus.cz.

Psych

I talked with my psychologist a few days after publishing Recent icky personal stuff. The session was basically just my huge mind-dump, maybe just a bit more verbose than that public post. There was relatively little back-and-forth - I mostly gave a long, prepared spiel and got just a few questions. I was a bit surprised by what in particular interested my psychologist: my ideas about polyamory and my experiences with recreational drugs. Discussing both made me a bit anxious. It’s probably nothing to analyze, just something to expect when dumping personal stuff on strangers.

The next step is a personality test, which I’m taking a few days from now. It should take about 4 hours. I was wondering what’s taking so long to test, and there’s an interesting reason the test is so long: it’s supposed to be tedious, because when you’re tired, your answers are less biased (e.g., you put up less effort to look like a nice person).

I was mostly well the last month. I felt sad a few days and cried a few times, because of my own anxieties, because I worry about everything, because sometimes I feel I have no idea what I’m doing. Mostly around personal relationships. Working on it.

Actual work

I apologized to my thesis advisor for not doing any work yet, explained I have been depressed, and promised to send him a draft text for my thesis assignment the next day. I still didn’t do that, and it was some weeks ago. That was all I did about finishing my degree. I sometimes feel a bit bad about not making any progress. Last year, I had hoped I would be finished by now.

I didn’t get the H-1B visa, so I’m not moving to Mountain View this year. I’ll probably have the option of working in some office in Europe. I’m currently optimistic about the prospect. If I want to finish my master’s, employment would probably have to wait until February 2017.

Many questions I need to answer, many things I want to do, many tradeoffs I’d rather not have to decide.

Rome

I was in Rome for a week. I’m not usually one to highly value museums and historical buildings, but I really enjoyed Rome’s antiquities. People in Rome have been building the city since ~900 BC to the modern day. Everywhere you dig, you’ll eventually find something Etruscan or Roman or at least medieval. After you make it through all the Renaissance built on top of that. The remains are aesthetically nice, but what I enjoyed more was a feeling of frisson I got from the inscriptions.

Take a look at this one. (Quoted from the Colloseum website.)

Decius Marius Venantius Basilius v(ir) c(larissimus) et inl(ustris) praef(ectus) urb(i) patricius consul ordinarius arenam et podium quae abominandi terrae motus ruina prostravit sum(p)tu proprio restituit.
Decius Marius Venantius Basilius, very famous and well known prefect of the city, patrician, regular consul, repaired the arena and the podium which a dreaded movement of the earth had cast into ruin, at his own expense.

What gives me frisson is this thought:

Once upon a time, there lived a man called Decius Marius Venantius Basilius. He was an actual human being, like you and me. There were probably people he hated, and people he loved. He had friends, he had hobbies, sometimes he felt good and sometimes he felt bad. And, 1500 years later, we know he was there. There was a horrible earthquake. And Decius Marius Venantius Basilius went and had it repaired at his own expense.

History is not finished. We’re writing it every day with our actions.

Various

I’m slacking off a bit with running and jiu-jitsu. Win: I’ll be running my first 10k in September. Fail: I mostly stopped going to jiu-jitsu the last 2-or-so weeks. I’ll try to pick up the slack.

I’m visiting Vienna next weekend to see their local rationality meetups, talk to a few people who might be interested in our EA conference, and to generally hang out.

In September, I’m going with a group of friends (mostly from high school) for a trip around Ukraine, mostly to see the Chernobyl exclusion zone. They’re putting a new sarcophagus on the NPP this year, so this is my last opportunity to see it the way I remember it from STALKER :)

2016-06-18 - Recent icky personal stuff

So far, 2016 has been a pretty interesting year of me. I discovered a lot about myself and I had both the happiest and saddest time in years. I hope you like icky personal stuff, because this post will be unusually full of it.

The first time in my life, I had a crush on someone and I told them about it. My previous method of dealing with love was mostly hoping that maybe senpai will notice me. That, of course, didn’t ever work. I don’t claim rationality.

I was lucky and a relationship followed for a few months. I felt very much in love. But there were problems that weren’t properly dealt with and I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to. And so, suddenly, poof, no relationship no more.

I had depression for the following ~4 weeks. (I concluded this was actual depression from my results on the Beck Depression Inventory.) At first, I mourned losing someone I loved. After I first successfully applied CBT on myself (with the help of talking it over with others), I wrote Updating. You can read that with X set to something like He loves me.

I noticed that the bad thoughts I have been thinking were familiar - I have thought some variations of them many times in the past. A hard one to verbalize feels like a searing mental pain from being unloved, or from being rejected. Some were variations on Nobody likes me and I have no real friends. These bring back painful memories of the times people have been mean to me, mostly in my childhood.

Then, I looked very hard for answers, probably thinking maybe there was some way I could fix whatever broke the relationship, or at least have it not happen again.

I realized that this was probably a textbook dependent relationship on my part. I sincerely felt that this totally best person was the center of my world. I derived my feeling of satisfaction with my life from the relationship.

I came to the conclusion that a spiral of my dysfunctions played a large role in the breakdown of the relationship. It starts with one tiny problem that makes me feel a little bit insecure, because it looks like a threat to a relationship that’s the center of my world. One way I deal with insecurities is emotionally detaching, which creates communication problems. Communication problems lead to more problems, which make me feel more insecure. And more detached. And when I’m detached, I can completely miss emotional clues. Or the fact that things are not going well and that the current trajectory leads downwards. Which might be why the breakup surprised me so.

I turned my attention inward.

Two young fish are swimming in a fish tank. An older fish comes by and asks: “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then one looks at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

On proper reflection, I have a lot of issues. When your issues have been with you long enough, you don’t see them floating in the corner of your vision. The way I saw them was looking backward. Once I knew what to look for in my personal history, I saw them at work undoing my happiness all over the place. Noticing the way you think is harder than it sounds. I’m working on spotting my issues at work more readily so I can course-correct faster.

Why am I writing this? The true reason is just because I want to, it feels good to talk about myself. I also have a few rationalizations.

A: I did well for myself in school and in work and some people look up to me, admiring my abilities in CS and math. And yet, I, the guy who can program his way out of anywhere and who never got a C on an exam at uni, have problems. This sends a message: nobody’s perfect, everyone has problems and it’s OK to talk about them.

B: Maybe you’ll recognize someone you know or maybe even yourself. Maybe me talking about things I’m working on will help you see opportunities for your own personal development.

Yay, issues!

Social anxiety

One symptom I call (for now) social anxiety. It doesn’t usually manifest as actually feeling anxious when dealing with strangers. I just avoid doing anything that means dealing with strangers. Say, even something as stupid as buying new pants. I never actually think OK, I need to avoid buying new pants because I don’t want to deal with people. I just never go buy new pants. Ask me why? I’ll probably whip up a rationalization.

Detachment

Another one is the detachment I mentioned earlier. I think I developed that in middle school. I had a crush on a girl and I couldn’t for the love of god bring myself to do anything about it. Then, by a coincidence of my stupidity and my classmates’ nosiness, my entire class found out I liked boy parts. I haven’t been very well-educated about sexuality by then, so my thought process was mostly OK, now everyone thinks/knows I’m gay. That’s a bad thing. People think badly about me because of that. Nobody can find out, especially not my parents. If people found out, I could never be happy again. Also, now since everyone thinks I’m gay, any chance I ever had of being with the girl I love is ruined beyond repair. (Of course, probably not a single one of these statements was actually true.) So, I felt I couldn’t be helped by anyone, so I didn’t talk to anyone. And, maybe to prevent my parents from finding out how sad and vulnerable I felt (because that would only harm me further), I started acting like a tough, emotionless, hostile robot. If you see me spitting venom with an empty expression on my face, it probably means I feel threatened on some level. (It just so happens Spitting Venom by Modest Mouse is one of my favorite songs. Synchronicity.)

Fig. 1a: Me, uncertain about the future and detached:

Fig. 1b: Compare to happy me a few weeks later:

I think the most common reason I go detached is that I feel I’m being left out or ignored for some reason.

Aside: In the end, I think the aforementioned thought process is what eventually led me to believe I was gay, which I still believed in 2015. But, on proper reflection, while I seem to prefer man parts, the fact of the matter is that there are men I like and there are women I like. Would I say I’m bisexual? Maybe it’s the right word to describe my experience. But I no longer think a label on my sexuality is an important part of my identity. (Yet I still exclaim that in a public post. I like showing off. Shoot me.)

Workaholism

I think I placed too much value on my work even before high school. Even on my first small side-gigs I did for random people, I put in very long hours for peanuts and I tried to make everything perfect. I also always liked learning scientific stuff. In high school, I took a lot of electives and worked more side jobs.

By the end of high school, I think I got the idea of becoming a Successful Software Engineer, which I worked towards up until now.

In my university, you basically get a free reign over your schedule. I got to work and optimized my first-year and second-year schedules. To the extent that my schedule looked like a huge rectangle all over every day of the entire workweek. (I even wrote a schedule optimizer to optimize my schedule for me. Hello, Twilight Sparkle.)

A 3-year bachelor’s costs you 180 credits. After 2 years, I had 211.

On top of that, I kept on taking side jobs, and in my second year, I started my internship at Prizeo. My schedule slipped and I ended up going to work as one of the first people and leaving very late. I worked on useful features, yes. But I actually spent huge chunks of my time doing useless busywork I created for myself in retrospect. Like fixing bugs nobody cared about, refactoring the packing optimizer the 8th time, changing spaces for tabs. Embarassingly enough, I also looked a lot at GitHub’s contribution charts. I was almost always first in number of commits and pull requests. I know, right? If I remember correctly, I probably had a vague expectation of recognition. Did I realize there was anything pathological about what I was doing? Nope.

I also started tracking my net worth in a graph, which I looked at several times per day. It’s nice to see your score go up, isn’t it?

At Google in Paris, it got even more out of control. I almost never got around to doing anything I liked outside of work, so I spent my time at work morning to night. I got a slight twinge of satisfaction when I got a peer bonus for working so well.

In general, I think most of the work I did I didn’t do for money to do things with. That was just a side-effect. It was probably just so I could have less free time alone to fill with feelings of sadness and loneliness.

Overeating

That might have been my first unhealthy (unhealthiest, too) coping mechanism. I’ve had problems with overeating since the first years of primary school. Food, especially sugar, is satisfying and numbing, and it feels better to eat than to think about how everyone hates you for being fat (and a smart-ass).

And so on

Very low impulsivity: I often am just about to do something or say something, but stop myself before I do. Probably something about fear of criticism or rejection. I also think I often act not the way I want to or the way I am, but the way I think other people expect me to act. There’s an interesting concept called true self and false self on Wiki.

Scarcely having fun on purpose: Before 2016, I almost never did anything fun myself because I wanted to. Lunch in a nice restaurant? A walk in a park on a sunny day? This easy fun thing I had on my bucket list for ages? Nope, let’s just browse Reddit all day. I seem to act as if I were incapable of having any fun on my own, so I end up having no fun on my own, which undermines my self-esteem.

“I am unacceptable”: I act as if I can’t open myself up to other people, because then they would hate me or reject me. Before I came out as gay, I thought something like “if people knew I’m gay, they’d hate me, so I must be careful so that nobody can tell”. After that, there’s always a ton of irrelevant bullshit my brain can substitute. “Hey, remember stupid embarassing thing #71? I bet everyone would shun you if they knew.” The consequence is problems opening up to other people, which sucks. I even do that with close friends, family, and romantic interests or partners.

“Other people don’t like me”: thinking that is an easy way to get people not to like you. Sample intermediate steps: “Huh, this random sentence she just said could be possibly interpreted as criticism/teasing/… . She doesn’t like me, so it indeed is, and that’s a purposeful attack on me.” A: “Let’s fight back.”, B: “Let’s be passive-agressive to her now.”, … “I have no real friends” is another thought that can ruin my enjoyment of any activity, especially one I’m enjoying with my friends.

Bad self-image: I think my idea of my looks and fitness developed in high school at the height of obesity, and I didn’t yet properly update after fixing that.

Abuse of recreational drugs: I have used marihuana, and I think at least some of it was for the numbing effect.

“I need a relationship to be happy”: This one undermines happiness and self-worth when you think it while single.

I read that “I have wasted my life” is also frequent and destructive. The Near Future is practically dripping with it.

I like helping people. In high school, I got a ton of satisfaction when I wrote exercises on complex numbers for Khan Academy, which helped a lot of people learn, and I dreamt of working there one day. I might have a tendency to attach myself to people I can help. I have strong feelings about effective altruism. “Helper’s syndrome” might be part of my mix.

Finally, I easily get jealous when I perceive someone as being more successful than me, when it comes to relationships, friendships and doing fun things.

What now

Save a day or two here and there, I have been mostly OK for the last few weeks. I’m seeing a psychologist in a few days to get some professional advice and possibly treatment. (Since I have been reading Feeling Good just before I became full-blown depressed and reading more psych stuff afterwards, there’s some possibility I’m just imagining most of it and being a hypochondriac with confirmation bias. We shall see.) There’s some serious self-improvement I’m working on.

I’m purposefully organizing my free time to maximize fun. I’m using a Pleasure-predicting Sheet, which is a technique from Feeling Good by David Burns. (It’s intended to build confidence that you don’t need other people to have fun, but I also use it to force myself to have fun on purpose.) I push against my social anxiety by doing more people things and seeing that people bite way less than my stupid lizard brain thinks. I took on running and jiu-jitsu - sports are supposed to help with depression. My self-esteem is particularly low when it comes to my looks and my fitness and running a 5k in 26:30 helps with that. I use Zombies, Run. Talking also helps.

My original plan for this year was finishing a thesis before October, grabbing my master’s, and then working for Google as a software engineer (I got an offer).

Stupidly (and workaholically), I spent the winter semester working on Factorify instead of on my thesis. In the summer semester, I had my failed enmeshed romance, and then my depression. Now, I mostly don’t work on it. I usually procrastinate or start getting bad feelings after an hour or two. I make a very small step every week or two. If I pushed myself, I might be able to finish it this year, but it’s not very likely. I’m also no longer so sure I want the degree enough.

I’m ~99% certain I didn’t get the H-1b visa for Google Mountain View, so it’ll probably come down to deciding whether would I want to work for them in Europe, and if so, where and when. When I’m in a good mood, I think Zurich or London would be nice. But I worry that might be just a cached dream of the career-obsessed past-me and that moving would just put me under more stress than I can safely handle. On the other hand, making software used to make me happy before. Would I be happier on a year-long vacation without any programming? One question I’ll have to reconsider as well is: Do I actually want to work in software?

I think “Yes”. I have at least one other idea. Do I want to work in AI safety? The question of the importance of AGI has been lingering in my mind for months. It’s confusing to my intuition, which is, of course, not a LessWrong-rational argument. And I don’t (yet?) defer to LessWrong-rationality when confused. I applied to MIRI’s 2016 Summer Fellowship, mostly hoping it would convince me either way, but I didn’t make the cut. (My impression is that I didn’t have enough research and math credentials, which means there’s probably someone who has more of those than me working on AI safety now, which is good news.) Before my depression, I was slowly reading up on MIRI material and I was hoping of getting more information and meeting AGI researchers once I got to Bay Area. Alas, no Bay Area for me, and since my depressed brain is vulnerable to the issue, I’m putting it on hold.

For now, I’m leaving the question of my future open until it comes knocking. I don’t like to think about it too hard. Wherever I go (or not go) next, I want to feel comfortable in my skin.

Thank you for reading. I thrive on your attention.

2016-05-05 - JVM Tool Interface

At school, I gave a short, roughly 15-minute talk on JVM Tool Interface. It’s a part of the JVM that people use to build debuggers, profilers, and similar tools that affect or observe the running JVM. I focused mostly on the interesting technical parts: the architecture, how do they make the JVM run fast while being instrumented, how they deal with native code, and such.

2016-05-01 - Updating

When I first read Yudkowsky’s other magnum opus Rationality - AI to Zombies, I didn’t really understand why was he so obsessed with looking for the truth, attacking false beliefs with huge flaming swords and why he made such a huge deal out of letting go.

I think I understand now.

What is it like to have a precious false belief?

There are no huge neon signs saying “YOU’RE WRONG AND YOU SHOULD STOP BEING WRONG”.

When nothing you see goes against your precious belief, you may take pleasure in thinking about your cherished belief about and how beautiful the world, as seen by you, is.

Holding a belief does not feel like thinking “I believe X”. Holding a belief feels like X is actually the case and acting upon that assumption.

When you see things that go against your cherished belief X, you don’t go “I’m confused. Let’s do some rationality. If X, I want to believe X. If not X, I want to believe not X. Let’s collect evidence and figure out what’s going on here.”

When you see evidence against your cherished belief X, it hurts to look at. You try not to confront it for what it is. You close your eyes and think it will go away. You think you can’t even stand to think that maybe not X. You cry and scream and beg for help, because it feels like X is what the whole world depends on. You grasp for straws, look into every corner, because you want X so much, because you hope you will find evidence for X if you want it enough.

“Hell is not other people. Hell is yourself.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Indeed. What hurts is not the way the world outside your skull is. What hurts is your thoughts that X just must be the case, that X is so good, I want X so much, why can’t I have it, everything depends on it, please let me have X! States of the world are not sad. Emotion comes from your cognitions. When you think thoughts that hurt, you can torture yourself very efficiently. Quite possibly, most of the pain in my life actually came from within.

It’s quite likely the world will refuse to bend itself to your will, even if you think X is the most important thing in your world.

I think there are, broadly, two ways to approach this.

One way is to just refuse to think not X and to keep torturing yourself, because every time you think about anything that reminds you in any way of your cherished belief X, you will only be reminded about all the clues that not X, and through you can try all you want to cover up all the huge billboards saying “NOT X” because they’re too painful to look at, they will stay there.

The first approach will only bring you more pain.

The second approach is to look the truth in its eyes. Think “not X”. Not “but I want X so so much, it’s the most important thing in the world, please, let X be the case, let me wake up and see that I imagined all the evidence, it’s so painful, please help me”.

Don’t flinch or look away.

Not X.

And not X is not sad.

Sadness is an emotion. Not X is an objective proposition about the world.

Now, why would you feel sad about not X? Maybe you want X. But is feeling sad helping you bring X about?

Is refusing to accept not X helping anything you care about in any way? Or is it only causing you more pain than the fact that not-X itself? Do you want to be miserable, or do you want to be serene and happy? If X were not the case, would you want to be miserable, or would you want to be serene and happy, so maybe you could do something about not X?

Is your belief I want X so much and I can’t be happy unless X so important that if not X were the case, you would rather keep believing you can’t be happy unless X and be miserable every time you thought about it?

So I updated. It felt like the hardest thing in the world, but it was well worth the effort. I now accept that not X. Not X. Not X is not the end of the world. Being sad about not X would not help anything I care about, so I’m not sad. I think this has something to do with the rationalist meme of letting go.

I’m not certain that my way of dealing with evidence that not X fully generalizes to any problems you might face. I just know I really really thought, I believed I could not accept that not X and that not X would hurt. But when I stopped fighting the truth, it ended up being not as painful to accept as I thought it would be. Coming to terms with it was certainly much better than the alternative for me.

And the next time I think I can’t bear to look at Y because Y would be so painful and because Y is more important to me than anything, I will remember the last time I thought I depended on something. I will remember how absolutely central to everything X seemed, and how fighting against not X made me cry for hours. I will remember how empowering it was to stop fighting, and how stupid it was in retrospect to try to hide the truth from myself. I will remember that I thought I could never be happy about anything in the world again if not X, and that the actual enemy of my happiness was not not X, but my sadness about not X.

Not X and it’s OK. The world is still a pretty neat place.

Interesting. When I decided to start writing every now and then last January, I thought I’d mostly have things to say about technology.

2016-04-07 - EA pledge for 2017

The universe does not love us.

If it did, it probably would not have us suffering and dying all the time.

Okay. Do we have a problem with this?

I guess we don’t. It’s just a fact of life that you will be hurt. And of course, you have to die. Your family and friends and everyone you care about? Yes, they have to be in pain. If you’re lucky, it will be just every now and then. Do they also have to die? Oh, yes, they do. Possibly, painfully so. And let me tell you about, say, neurodegenerative diseases. When your best friend gets one, she will spend several last years of her life with her personality and memories wasting away, and frightened to death. And at the end, she will, of course, die. And when she does, you will never see her again.

But that’s OK. It’s a fact of life, so it’s OK. It’s not like you can really do anything about it, so it would be useless to try. Hey, look at this new shiny widget! Isn’t it really shiny? Come on, you already feel like everything is OK, right?

Wrong.

I will no longer allow this.

I can’t protect everyone. I am just a human and I don’t have the ability. But I promise that if I could protect everyone, I would not allow a single person to die or suffer. I want everyone to live as happily as possible and as long as they want to, and I want nothing to prevent people from enjoying life.

I can’t protect everyone, but I can try my best.

I promise to give at least 10% of my pre-tax income between October 1, 2016 and October 1, 2017 to fighting the Arch-Enemy.

I am sorry I am not yet strong enough to commit more. I hope to become stronger one day.

We will fight. If you’d like to join us, we would be honored to fight by your side. We are called effective altruists. Some of us fight diseases that kill in the developing world. Some of us fight to save animals. Some us fight to end death itself. All of us fight to remove suffering from the world.

The philosopher Peter Singer did an excellent TED talk on the effective altruism and you should watch it:

Ben Kuhn has a good list of effective altruism reading material. I also personally recommend Nick Bostrom’s Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant (Czech translation).

If you think there’s any chance it might a good idea to try to do good, please don’t dismiss it easily. If you’d like to learn more or if you’d like to talk with me about this, I would be happy to talk.

2016-02-02 - HackCambridge 2016

Last weekend, I went to HackCambridge with Petr to hack on things. Some things could be organized a bit better (like the WiFi at the main venue being hilariously broken), but we ended up having a lot of fun. Luckily, a bunch of my homies from Dropbox also happen to study in Cambridge and it was great to catch up with them.

We built a cool game. It’s called The Deadlock Empire and it lets you slay dragons and learn concurrency - what could me more awesome?!?!

Just look at this presentation!

It’s at https://deadlockempire.github.io. You can laugh at our poor coding practices on GitHub (deadlockempire/deadlockempire.github.io).

The Deadlock Empire has a sequence of challenges for practicing concurrent thinking. Each challenge gives you several threads, each running their own source code in C#, and your objective is to play the mischievous Scheduler: take seemingly-innocent parallel code and run it so that it breaks.

You can step each thread line-by-line (and undo your steps), and some non-atomic instructions can be expanded into atomic parts (i.e., i = i + 1 translates to a separate load and store). Sometimes, you have to do this to properly crack the challenges, like in Tutorial 2: Non-Atomic Instructions.

If you feel bored by how simple the first challenges are, scroll down a bit. The Deadlock Empire quest at the bottom should keep you busy for a while :)

I think it took us around 18 hours of actual work to write The Deadlock Empire: both of us had a bit of shut-eye early morning and we didn’t have enough time by the end to start working on the really ambitious features, so the last few hours were just a commit here and there, fixing up a font or an obscure bug.

There aren’t many shiny technologies: it’s plain HTML5 and JavaScript with jQuery, Bootstrap, and a few other things. The game has a simple “internal virtual machine” that executes simple instructions, like “increment this global variable”, “lock this lock and block this thread”, and so on. We used pseudo-C# as the challenge language mostly because of our familiarity with its ideas about concurrency, but it would be straightforward to write in pseudo-Java instead.

In the upcoming days, we’ll add more synchronization primitives and polish the experience. We want this game to be more fun, educational and useful.

I now have a favorite bookstore. Next door from their regular store, Cambridge University Press sells their damaged books. (Even through the only damage I found on them was the red ‘DAMAGED’ stamp at the front page.) Awesome books on advanced mathematics and CS, philosophy, sociology, biology. For 3 pounds a paperback or 7 pounds a hardcover. People grab them by the stack. Note to self: bring big suitcase next time.

Also:

WE WON THE HACKATHON!!! HOOORAY!!!!1111

We also won the Best Hack in Gaming/VR award (judged by Improbable) and Bloomberg’s Favorite Hack.

2016-01-10 - Stock correlation calculator

I have some stocks and I try to keep my portfolio reasonably balanced. One thing you may want to know about is how much do your assets correlate. The correlation of stocks A and B is just the correlation of the daily returns of A with the daily returns of B, or, in other words, how much do the two stocks tend to move in the same daily direction.

Usually, high correlation means that the two stocks are affected by the same type of news. For example, you could reasonably expect AAPL (Apple) and GOOG (Google) to be highly correlated, because both are technology mamooths.

One reason why you might want to keep the correlation of the stocks in your portfolio as low as possible is safety against bad news. If China bans computers, everything related to computers goes out of the window, but e.g. manufacturers of chemicals might remain more or less unaffected.

There are some online tools that can calculate the correlation of stocks, but I didn’t like any of these enough. Some of them only let you compare two stocks at a time, but I actually want to see the whole correlation matrix of everything I have. Some only let you make N queries and then they tell you to go give them your money. So, I wrote my own. It’s at https://stockton-prvak.rhcloud.com.

It prints correlation matrices. I also played around with visualizing the stocks as “planets” that are attracted or repulsed based on their correlation. The visualization is still pretty buggy, but fun to look at. If you’d like to see how I did this, have a look at https://github.com/MichalPokorny/stockton.

2015-12-29 - 2015

Time to reflect.

2015 abridged

I started this year celebrating a very cloudy New Year’s Eve home with my parents. That was vacation for me: I took a few weeks off my internship at Google Paris to fly back home for the holidays. I was very happy to be back for a few weeks - it was lonely in Paris.

When the time to return to work came, my thoughts were “oh well, we signed up for this, let’s just get this over with” and I counted weeks. The project I worked on was probably the most interesting thing I did so far, but I was pretty bad at making friends outside work: I’m shy and didn’t learn nearly enough French to socialize with random French. (I decided that’s a mistake I never want to make again in my life.) I read books, worked on my bachelor’s thesis and I played the old Starcraft. (I still didn’t quite manage to finish the Zerg campaign in Brood War - man, games used to be really hard…) I met a lot of interesting people at Google. My supervisor and team leader, Rich, was great, and today he is the exact image I have in my head when I hear “senior software engineer” - a highly experienced and competent leader by example with an impressive knowledge of the wider context of the project. From my team, I most fondly remember chatting with Clement, Julien, Aurélien, Wiktor, Amaury, Philo, Nohemi and James. In dilligent code reviews, Mathias taught me how little I know about C++ and what it means to be deeply ashamed of your code :)

My manager at Google kindly let me explore Google’s offices in Bay Area for a week at the company’s expense. That was one of the final weeks of my internship. I flew with Aurélien, the PM on my team. I stayed in San Francisco near Civic Centre. I spent two days shadowing Aurélien on meetings with our allied teams at YouTube’s HQ in San Bruno, two days hanging out with the research side of my team at the Googleplex in Mountain View and a day just walking around SF.

After I returned home, I moved to Prague again. I rented a random free spot at the Charles uni dorm with a random guy. We didn’t have much in common or talk much, but he wasn’t the worst roommate I ever had. I spent most of my days working on my bachelor’s thesis next to my advisor, MJ, at the Faculty of Applied Mathematics. It was fun and I learned a lot of interesting things about data structures. I was elated not only because I managed to finish the thesis at all, but also because both MJ and my opponent were impressed by the quality.

Between March and July, I intentionally didn’t take any work on the side. I attended some lectures, but mostly for the fun of it. I went to a lot of Charlie (my uni’s LGBT club) meetups. This part of the year was very relaxing. At one point (after I finished my thesis and my bachelor’s exam), I actually finished my near-time TODO list, which was an amazing feeling. My only worry was not to get arrested before my summer internship.

I also studied a lot for my bachelor’s final exam, mostly with Petr Hudeček, Verča Slívová and Filip Šedivý. We spent several days just procrastinating in the park over 5 kilos of paper, mocking our own imminent death at the exam, and it was glorious. Once D-day came, we finished with straight A’s. The exam was soooo eaaasyyy!

I spent the summer in San Francisco working at Dropbox on the iOS team. I had a good time with a lot of great people. Among interns, there was Ian, Gellert the crazy Hungarian, Karel (whom I knew a little bit from before), of course Marin and the other Croatians. Zrinka, who understood me the most. The Eastern-European gang. Tianlin. Brian. The Americans. Others. Dropbox is full of inspiring heroes. Yufei. Michael. Rich the Chanimal. Haoyi, the patron saint of Scala. Jukka. James. Jack. And lots of heroes I didn’t get to know nearly as well as I’d like to. There was also a ton of fun events: rafting, cycling, and everything else we thought of.

Work was interesting, but I think working on iOS was not a very good fit for me. I mostly did a data-science kind of thing, and I felt some tension between what I worked on and what was important for the company to do. I’m also kind of a perfectionist, and that clashed with the need to get things moving fast. I’m glad I know today that perfectionism can be a flaw, and not in the humblebrag sense. And computer science is about humans.

On the Google and Dropbox internships, I wanted to figure out a few important questions. First, do I like working more than studying? Would I want to study for a PhD? Second, if I decide to start working, do I want to stay home in Czech Republic? Would I want to live in Silicon Valley?

I like both work and studying new things. I would like to study more and to get a PhD, but I don’t think I have enough commitment for it and it carries a high opportunity cost. Regarding home/abroad: I want both.

I didn’t get many new answers. Even worse, I gained a much bigger sense of urgency.

In San Francisco, I also interviewed at a few companies, which was a learning, if exhausting experience. I discovered not only my unknown strengths, but also my unknown weaknesses. For example, I sometimes come off as arrogant and dismissive. By the way, if you’re looking for a job at a startup, you should totally try Triplebyte.

I have been continuing my sluggish ascent towards financial independence, and thanks to very competitive compensation in Silicon Valley (and, to a lesser extent, in Paris), I crossed several financial milestones this year. In my current conservative model, I’m at most 7 years of software engineering away from financial independence. It’s a very comfortable feeling to know it would take several major mishaps for me to get in financial trouble today. I also feel much less guilty with spending money when it makes sense; after all, it’s just money.

I came back in October. I enrolled in a ton of subjects, but slightly fewer than was usual in my first and second year. If I execute this right, I should be done with all I need for my degree (aside from the thesis and final exam) by the end of February.

For better or worse, over this year, I became acutely aware of the limited duration of my life and of the need to take action to use it well.

I decided to contribute to KSP a bit more once again. (That’s a thing my uni does for high-schoolers interested in CS.) In December, we had a nice weekend retreat with lectures to be had for everyone interested. It was a great success: my voice box was sore for days. I’m trying to get us organizers to hang out a bit more: it’s kind of stupid that all these great people mostly argue through the medium of the mailing list.

I took a little bit of work on the side. I’m hacking for Factorify, which is a very small and early company working on smart enterprise systems for factories. So far, my work was interesting (I’m applying my knowledge of planning and scheduling and I’m finally trying Java in prod), but realities of enterprise work are somewhat disappointing. Luckily, I work whenever I want and as much or little as I want, which is unusually nice.

I started playing DnD with a few folks from my school. It’s something I wanted to try for many years, but I never did, probably due to a mix of not knowing other players and due to the air of hard-core nerdiness around it. Turns out it’s pretty fun, and there’s no reason to care about what anyone thinks about nerdiness.

Speaking about guilty pleasures, I also installed Windows the first time in several years (borking my hard drive twice in the process…) and bought about as many games as I bought in the preceding 10 years.

I gradually learned about transhumanism. It’s not just a bunch of sci-fi-crazy fat people who want to be really smart robots. It’s a bunch of sci-fi-crazy people who believe we can enhance the human condition, as we already have before. I haven’t yet internalized all the related ideas (especially cryonics, and I’m not quite convinced we will have strong AI in our lifetimes), but even without all the crazy ideas, there is a simple core truth: We are in control of our actions. Through our actions, we can change the universe to our preference.

Books I read in 2015

  • The first two books of the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons: Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. I highly recommend both.
  • Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. My brother gave me a copy of this book for my birthday about 7 +- 2 years ago when I was an unappreciative youth full of myself. Unfortunately, it sat on my shelves collecting dust until 2015.
  • Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse. My friend Jarda Bican recommended this one to me after I enjoyed Steppenwolf.
  • Snow Crash and Anathem by Neal Stephenson.
  • The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross. I liked his book Accelerando, which is a collection of tales before, during and after the Singularity. Atrocity Archives, his earlier piece, is a slightly different genre: it’s about summoning Cthulhu’s minions by running a weird program. It’s a “haha-funny” kind of sci-fi with a lot of running around and shooting death rays. It’s entertaining, but I liked it less than other “deep sci-fi” books - I mostly got tired of all the action followed by more action.
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. It’s pretty good light reading about today’s world gone slightly worse than it is. Adventure, fighting the Big Bad Man, and hacking current tech for good and bad. I also read Homeland, but I didn’t find it nearly as good.
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky, independently recommended to me by Petr Hudeček and Ondra Vadinský. This is the most epic fan-fiction I ever read. Eliezer Yudkowsky is a researcher working on artificial intelligence and rationality and he runs a rationalist community called LessWrong (look out, it’s a really deep rabbit-hole). HPMOR retells the story of Harry Potter in a universe where Harry is a child prodigy of science.
  • Software and Mind: The Mechanistic Myth and Its Consequences by Andrei Sorin. I highly recommend this book. The subject is the relationship between complex systems, like the human mind or the real world, and their models in software. I don’t agree with the author on all the details (e.g., eschewing higher-level database languages), but he has a very valid point: you can’t fit the world in a box. If you try to shape everything according to your favorite paradigm (like OOP), either you will have to weaken your paradigm so much it will lose its original purpose, or your model of the world under this paradigm will be practically useless. The craft of good software is not about models pretending to be universal (UML, structured programming or relational databases): to make good software, you must simply develop skills through years of practice, and these skills cannot be reduced to a simple description. Unfortunately, the book is about twice as thrice as long as it needs to be, due to long exposition and lots of detailed examples.
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein. About two years ago, reading her book The Shock Doctrine highly influenced my political ideas - most importantly, my belief that our current system protects the interests of the wealthy a tad too much and that we should apply more global optimization. I wanted to understand humanity’s impact on the environment a bit better and I hoped to hear some arguments of the environmentalist side from this book. I learned some depressing things about Big Oil and other actors profiting from climate change and about the interesting times we can expect if we stay on our current course for another 50 years. However, the author rambled in ~the last third about how we can save our Mother Earth through the power of spiritual healing, which was disappointing.
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Be interested. Appreciate people. Don’t use people as instruments, instead align your wants with their wants. Be friendly and sympathetic. People usually rate it very high, but I didn’t find many new things in there.

Some music I found in 2015

  • Arvo Pärt is the first composer of classical music I now listen to regularly. Listen to this.
  • Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men
  • Counting Stars reminds me of how I felt at Google. Striving to be better and boldly facing challenges. Everything that kills me makes me feel alive.
  • Katy Perry. I expected her to be just another shitty pop-artist for me to ignore, but turns out her tunes are pretty catchy. (Yeah, I know, 2014 called or whatever.)
  • Lights Out Asia is good music for programming.

Thanks to Víťa Slíva, who shares a similar taste in music with me but spends much more time procrastinating over music, I had a neverending supply of hipster artists to explore.

Other stuff

  • Rick and Morty is a glorious show, especially when high; it also has an unusual rewatch value. I think S02E02 Mortynight Run is the best. “The worlds can be one together, cosmos without hatred…”
  • South Park season 19 was pretty good. I laughed out loud while watching The City Part of Town from our intern apartment just south of China Basin - SoDoSoPa really hit home.
  • I learned a bunch about software they don’t teach in schools, especially “soft stuff” like releases, dependencies, code quality, building big systems. I became competent in Python and Go.
  • I pruned down the complexity of my “personal infrastructure”. My mail is now Google Inbox and my calendar is Google Calendar.
  • Silicon Valley is a crazy and great place.
  • The Fable of the Dragon Tyrant

You can find more in the archive.