black_son_of_gray's Journal

Where are you and where are you going?
Jason
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by Jason » Mon Nov 06, 2017 8:09 am

black_son_of_gray wrote:
Sun Nov 05, 2017 4:19 pm
(Do you extend a metaphor to its breaking point?)

Using sea/water as a metaphor, you have a few options besides dropping anchor:

(1) Slay the consumer whale/shark ie. Moby Dick or Jaws;
(2) Jump off the consumer ship before you hit the iceberg/drown and hope you get rescued i.e. Titanic or Poseidon Adventure;
(3) Take control by overthrowing the existing order i.e. Caine Mutiny;
(4) Travel up the river, colonize and be a God to a small community (my dream ERE) - Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now;
(5) Crash and get a stranded on an Island i.e. Gilligan (my second choice), Lost, Island of Dr. Moreau, Cast Away;
(7) Just keep on sailing - guy with raincoat on box of fish sticks (not a choice as the only thing I hate more than sailing is fish sticks);

I personally don't like the dropping anchor one just because I don't think you should limit yourself to one fishing spot.

All metaphors and analogies break down. They have a pedagogical function but they will ultimately imprison you if you chose to constantly operate from within one. They cannot extend to the depth and breadth of reality.

In any event, I greatly enjoy your blog.

black_son_of_gray
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by black_son_of_gray » Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:48 pm

MDFIRE2024 wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 1:29 am
How often and intense do you use your digital devices? Do you use digital restriction, such as "not reading blogs" or "avoiding news"? I am interested if you have any "digital best practices" to share?
Other than work, which involves an unfortunately large amount of screen time, I use my laptop typically for a few hours a day. The monitor for our desktop serves as our TV/movie-watching device. The desktop is occasionally used for actual computing, but mainly used for streaming/playing movies, so when it eventually become unusable I don't know if it is worth replacing. I use my cellphone approximately 2 hours a month, as a phone. I don't take it to work. I text less in a year than the average teen texts in 5 minutes. Honestly, I could probably cut the time I use my laptop in half with no sacrifice to my happiness or actually important information. That is almost the entirety of my 'tech' usage.

I don't have any real restrictions or tips to share, mostly because I just haven't had most of the iExperience. Seinfeld had a joke about flying in First Class - with the punchline (?) being that it's better to have never flown in First Class because then you never know what you are missing (and you can never go back to not knowing!). Well, consider me someone who has only flown in the cargo hold of the digital device realm. If I can be happy down in the unheated, non-pressurized belly of the plane, sandwiched between other people's stuff...why tease myself with a glimpse of the cabin??
MDFIRE2024 wrote: Is there more you "opt-out"? How do you proceed from the insight about a trait/bias/fallacy to your real world, e.g. changing a habit or "opt-out" something. Is it from theory to praxis or the other way around? Do you study yourself or do you study society?
I'm not exactly sure what you mean, but simply put: I haven't been methodical in figuring this out, nor have I developed a strategy. I honestly just don't know. It gets complicated when the rubber meets the road so to speak, and you are trying to maintain from level of lifestyle practicality. If I felt like I was going to be seriously hampered in dealing with people or accessing things I needed, then I probably would go get the iDevice I need to make that work. On the other hand, I am struck by how easy it has been so far to do without. For example, there hasn't been any stigma with not having kids. Most people don't care I don't drive much or drink non-water or don't have a credit card. Most people don't know - I'm not a crusader. The smartphone thing comes up occasionally, but I've never actually needed one.

black_son_of_gray
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by black_son_of_gray » Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:57 pm

Jason wrote:
Mon Nov 06, 2017 8:09 am
(4) Travel up the river, colonize and be a God to a small community (my dream ERE) - Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now;
I'm a fan of this one! I was thinking more along the lines of Martin Sheen's perspective though - like I'm motoring upstream into uncharted waters, into a world where everyone seems possessed by a certain craziness, a twisted way of thinking. "I wanted a mission and for my sins, they gave me one."

black_son_of_gray
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by black_son_of_gray » Tue Nov 14, 2017 12:18 am

Jogging and ERE: to the finish line and beyond

In praise of the jogger
In a chapter of Running&Philosophy:a marathon for the mind titled "In praise of the jogger", Raymond J. VanArragon makes a distinction that I've run across (excuse my puns) before: a "runner" is someone who competes and strives for improvement (citius, altius, fortius!), a "jogger" is just interested in recreation or fitness. Runners often have a certain self-righteous disdain for the jogger, but why? A big challenge for runners is that their motivations for running, while providing an intensity and zeal, often leave a runner burned out or disappointed. For example, the older one becomes, the less chance one has of winning a race (or achieving a personal best performance). The likelihood of overtraining into injury also scales with the fervor for one-upmanship. Many don't last long past their glory days and quit running altogether once just beyond their age-bounded peak. In contrast, a jogger has a longer time horizon for goals (e.g. staying healthy) and a more flexible approach (e.g. I'm feeling sore, so I'll take the day off) which ultimately manifests in a powerful combination of consistency and longevity.

Runners are often viewing the world through the lens of optimization. Through that lens, the "chop wood, carry water" attitude of the jogger looks boring, pointless and unimpressive. The jogger knows better.

Overcorrection and the Spaghetti Method
A few years ago (and yes, before it was cool #TooHipsterToBeHipster #WasItEverActuallyCool?), I delved into the barefoot running craze*. I tried out Vibram FiveFingers, and eventually settled into some very minimal, no padding running shoes. Things were going pretty great. I had been considering various elements of my running stride for some years, and was enjoying the nuances afforded by these shoes. There was just one problem… after 3 or 4 miles on pavement, my feet would just start to hurt. It wasn't because my stride was off. It wasn't because my feet needed to be stronger. Best I can tell, it was because it just isn't so great to run on pavement with very little cushioning. So I compromised and found some lightly cushioned, but still scant shoes without a raised heel. This is definitely the sweet spot for me - ever since, my feet have felt fantastic for as many miles as I want to run.

*I still wore respectable shoes when not running. I wasn't one of those guys. :ugeek:

Similar story arcs exist for my relationship with religion, diet, money management etc. - the list goes on and on. Over the next year or so after implementing a major change, I slowly drift back to a thought/belief/lifestyle that is maybe halfway back to my original position.

I recently became aware of this pattern of overcorrection that I've apparently been repeating for my whole adult life: when I make changes in my thoughts/beliefs/lifestyle, I go a little overboard and take things too far. Indeed, it strikes me that my default mode seems to be some version of the Crowbar Maneuver. It's just how things naturally tend to happen with me. The way it is described, however, places the focus of the Crowbar Maneuver on the starting of something grand, something preposterously challenging. "Do or do not. There is no try!" So allow me to describe my experiences with the Third Act of that play, the dénouement if you are feeling sophisticated - those experiences after the implementation, with:

The Spaghetti Method
  1. Throw questionably-cooked spaghetti noodle at the wall
  2. Observe its adherence, or lack thereof
Simple enough, but let's really, really overextend this metaphor. First, it's difficult to know if the noodle will stick - we must acknowledge and accept the possibility of unequivocal failure. Second, the relationship between throwing force and adherence is not always intuitive - trying to make it stick by throwing harder isn't always going to work, and sometimes backfires. Third, have you actually thrown pasta against a wall? (I have...a lot, actually) It can be really interesting to observe the noodle over time. Some stick and stay stuck. Some stick and slide, or ratchet down the wall like an unholy cross between an inchworm and a slinky. Some look stuck then all of a sudden jump ship. Some look like goners early on, but manage to cling for an unexpectedly long time.

Mostly, I'd say I'm "Stick, slide, stop", although a fair number of bounce right off the wall and hit the floor. Perhaps an Italian can tell me if that is al dente.

ERE and staying stuck
Most people probably get into running with the competitive, goal-oriented mindset of a runner. Most ERE-minded people have probably enthusiastically thrown a pot of pasta at the wall, so to speak, at some point in their journey. My experiences down the road to FI thus far have started to waken an interest and appreciation in figuring out how to be an ERE jogger, how to keep the noodles stuck to the wall. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop testing noodles, although I might not test as many going forward (or throw so hard), but rather I'm going to start placing an extra emphasis on observing the noodles after I've launched them.

The day after the race is over, will you still lace up your shoes?

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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by black_son_of_gray » Thu Nov 16, 2017 9:37 pm

Sophistication is a byproduct (a note to myself)

What is the difference between a painting of a blob by a master artist and a complete novice picking up a paintbrush and painting a very similar blob? It's arguable, but one thing that isn't in doubt is that the artist has probably spent years painting blobs of some sort, and that probably means something.

I feel like I need to keep reminding myself that sophistication comes from doing - not "doing something particularly fancy with the goal of becoming more sophisticated", but rather from doing a lot of basic groundwork, from working the fundamentals and all their permutations over and over until little differences in minutiae become distinct and meaningful. There are no shortcuts, and that's OK. It's OK to take your time. Better to take longer than you'd like than to fall into the trap of thinking you are more sophisticated than you are...
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
- Bruce Lee
Want to be a more sophisticated stock investor? Read a lot of prospectuses, annual and quarterly filings. Read the notes. Become friends with Edgar. Understand the Notes. Do the due diligence. Make sure that you understand the notes. Follow rabbit holes.

We've gotten to a point where competence and decent execution of business fundamentals is so lacking that it has become an edge. Avoid what others are chasing, and hone in on the basics.

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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by black_son_of_gray » Sun Dec 31, 2017 8:37 pm

ERE as Chess

(This post is inspired by and derivative to the money is a solved problem thread and recent related discussions)

Preamble
Confession time. I "got into" Chess when I was in high school. Incredibly enough, my high school actually had a Chess Club, which I enthusiastically joined. I devoured books about Chess strategy in my free time, and I eventually competed at a couple of tournaments. Here's the thing: I wasn't any good. I know this because I was been beaten at said tournaments. Badly. At least once by a bored-looking elementary school kid who knocked me out in about 4 moves.

That being said, I do know a little something about Chess, and as it is my habit for unnecessarily extending metaphors, I'm going to attempt to frame ERE through the lens of Chess to see if anything interesting can be gleaned. If you know more than I do about Chess, which is highly likely, and I make a mistake, which is also highly likely, please correct me in the most strategic way possible.

A decent Chess game has three distinct temporal divisions: the first handful of moves are considered the Opening, the meat of the battle is the Middlegame, and the final cornering of the opponent's King is the Endgame. I'll consider them each in turn, slightly out of order.

The Opening
There are many, many possible games of Chess, but there are only so many ways to start a game of Chess. So it is with the pursuit of financial freedom and building your own personal economy. Indeed, of the possible ways to start a game of Chess, only a relatively few make much sense at all. This is because the Opening revolves around the following conundrum: you have a bunch of fancy pieces (neat!) stuck behind a bunch of laggard, clunky cannon fodder (ugh!). So the challenge is to develop a position where you can open up your ranks to make use of those fancy pieces without taking too much damage or getting stuck behind blocked, impotent peons. There are some efficient ways to do this (less moves is better), and they have all been extensively studied and given fun names (e.g. "Giuoco Piano","Accelerated Dragon").

In ERE, the Opening comprises the initial moves that give your fancy job income room to breathe. Again, there are some efficient ways to do this, including the basic, fairly obvious stuff like reducing unnecessary expenses, eliminating debt, matching contributions in 401k's, etc. At the end of a successful Opening (e.g. 21 day makeover, couple years emergency fund, "FU" money), the player is poised to take full advantage of the fancy pieces in his or her possession.

One aspect of gameplay that can show up an any time, but is a particularly spicy addition to the Opening are moves called "gambits". The idea behind a gambit is the intentional sacrifice of a piece for some advantage down the line. In Chess, an example might be to sacrifice a pawn so that you have a particularly favorable positioning of your pieces which you hope to capitalize on later in the game. In ERE terms, I would liken a gambit to using very aggressive crowbar maneuvers (or, as I call it in a previous post, the spaghetti method) or levering up on an income-generating portfolio.

The Endgame
If the Opening represents a rapid expansion of possibilities (divergence), then the Endgame is where possibilities rapidly contract (convergence). To have gotten to the Endgame in good position is to have already won. The real challenge here is to avoid drawing a stalemate and darker shades of waterfowl (see below). Beginners are drawn initially to studying Openings and Endgames because the possibility space is smaller, making it is easier to identify and wrap their heads around the principles of good gameplay, and the moves are relatively linear and transactional.

The ERE equivalent here is the 35X+ expenses, covered-by-multiple sources, runaway mode. Having many solid, diverse income streams that can each cover your expenses is like having several fancy pieces and your queen against the opponents king and a few pawns. You still have to play the game, but you're playing with your food at that point.

Chess has an interesting, if not rarely encountered, rule about pawns called "promotion". If a lowly pawn somehow trudges all the way across the board and lands on the opponent's back row, then the controlling player gets to "promote" this pawn to a higher ranking piece (typically a queen). Because this typically happens in the Endgame, when the board is cleared of many pieces, this represents either a white swan (if you get the goods), or a black swan (if your opponent is now considerably more powerful). In ERE terms, these would be events such as windfalls/inheritances (white swans) or uninsured disaster/unexpectedly large medical expenses (black swans).

The Middlegame
This is the real heart of Chess and ERE. In some ways, the Opening and the Endgame are formulaic and have a vague sense of "just going through the motions" because they are diverging from and converging to known states (the starting positions and "checkmate" respectively). But the Middlegame is where there is an explosion of possibility, and why it is so enjoyable to read people's ERE journals - there are just so many unique paths from Opening to Endgame. Let's explore this from the mindset of a beginner and a more advanced player...

The beginner:
For starters, the beginner often lacks a contextual awareness and may not understand that the Opening, Middlegame, and Endgame have different goals and priorities. As such, they often play in a purely transactional ("I take your piece - you take my piece") style. To this extent, their understanding of good gameplay is to know and identify as many tricks/tactics (e.g. a skewer, et al.) as possible, and try to develop a deeper search depth for possible moves ahead. Which isn't to say they are wrong - there are just more hierarchical levels to the game. They play locally smart, but globally unaware.

The advanced player:
The advanced player knows what the beginner knows, but adds broader perspective. In the Middlegame, a typical priority is having a general control over the center of the board. The logic is fairly simple: fancy pieces in the center of the board can move to (or attack) more squares. So if you control this space, not only can you attack more squares easier (and therefore provide more opportunities for clever tactics), but it also means that your opponent will have a difficult time opening up successful lines of attack if they have to crawl around the edges. What's that two-birds-with-one-stone idea again? Oh right - web of goals. This positional priority may not manifest as any singular move (which is why it is easy to miss as a beginner), but informs general decision making that shapes the course of the game.

The clear ERE analogues here are the lower Wheaton level tactics employed by beginners, and the more holistic, systems-level approach of the advanced. As Jacob mentioned in one of his posts, there is a nesting of facts>knowledge>wisdom. It's worth point out here that because I'm not extremely good at Chess, I can only wonder about what the extra tiers of gameplay are for the Grandmasters out there (to adjust your style of gameplay to match your opponent?? I have no clue).

Time
The last point I want to emphasize about ERE and Chess generally has to do with relevant time windows. Let's start with Chess.

As a general framework, you might consider three time windows:
  • a single move (you move, opponent responds) = "near term"
  • a series of moves chunked together as a group = "middle term"
  • the whole arc of the Middlegame = "long term"
The middle term here is difficult to define. Maybe something like an "offensive" as used in a military campaign. It is the space between a single battle and the war. In the context of a Chess game it might be something like "I was pushed into a bad position so I took 3 or 4 moves and reasserted control over the center" or "my fancy pieces were trapped behind a cluster of pawns, so I took a few turns to maneuver into open spaces".

I would argue that the "middle term" is the most interesting and influential aspect of Chess gameplay, but also ERE. This middle term is: the full business cycle, the time it takes to master a new skill (or e.g. earn a Ph.D.), the time it takes for nature to start paying recurrent dividends (e.g. a fruit tree to begin bearing fruit), the time it takes for a hobby business/side hustle to start taking off, etc. From what I can tell, people spend a lot of time thinking about their financial life in "near term" chunks (e.g. hand to mouth/ gotta make it to payday) or "long term" chunks (e.g. traditional retirement at 65+ or... never), but relatively few emphasize the "middle term" (with the exception of maybe "saving for a house down payment/kid's college", which I think fits at middle term). One of the neat perks of ERE seems to be that it frees up and permits more "middle term" options, thus making for a more interesting Middlegame possibility space. When people study Chess games, which I can understand but not personally enjoy, I imagine that they are trying to identify and dissect these middle term moves in the Middlegame to get a flavor of the "why" and "how" a Grandmaster accomplished their goal. Similarly, in the ERE realm, it makes sense to pay keen attention specifically to the middle term Middlegame moves that people are making. That's where the juicy bits are. There are just as many ways to ERE as paths to win at Chess, and both wins and loses can be instructive. ;)

Note: I neglected to incorporate en passant and castling, which play minor and major strategic roles, respectively. Any ideas?

suomalainen
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by suomalainen » Sun Dec 31, 2017 10:14 pm

Great post. Like the analogy. En passant may be a reach too far, but castling is typically seen as a necessary part of an opening (or the last move of an opening) and necessary/desirable for the protection of the king. Hence, I propose castling = paying off debt. That’s when the real fun begins (middle game).

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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by Fish » Mon Jan 01, 2018 2:40 am

That was a fantastic post @black_son_of_gray! Jacob has some chess-thoughts in the blog post "Alternative Histories" but it's nowhere as satisfying as what you have just written. Here are some thoughts to continue the chess analogy (for reference, I'm a terrible chess player and didn't develop an interest in the game until I was 28).

Playing Strength
Chess is a game of skill. Even before a single piece has been moved, the outcome of the game is heavily influenced by the relative strength of the two players. For example, outcomes are virtually pre-determined where there is a large disparity in playing strength. Among people who play chess competitively, an Elo rating of 1200 roughly corresponds to a median (50th percentile) player. Based on probabilities, this person only has a 0.05% chance of winning when pitted against a grandmaster (2500 Elo).

What makes a player strong in the personal finance (PF) game? Self-discipline, frugal skills, patience, knowledge of basic strategy (saving aggressively, avoiding debt), advanced strategy (systems thinking, web-of-goals), etc. This is not a complete list but you get the idea. Your strength is determined by who you are as a person.

The opponent's strength is determined by your life situation. Holding a high-paying job makes things very easy. By contrast, it's also possible to accumulate time-liabilities like children, or money-liabilities like student loans which increase the difficulty. If you have a strong opponent (i.e. you have a lot of liabilities) then you will need some "personal strengths" to balance it out to make it a fair game, or better yet, a lopsided game in your own favor. (For a discussion of strengths and liabilities, see this ERE blog post: Angry people, online insults, frugal lifestyles and the poor) Thanks to the strategies of the ERE book, most here are playing the FI-chess game on easy mode and eventually win given enough time. By contrast, the general public is more like the 1200-elo player facing off against the grandmaster.

The Opening
I prefer to think of the opening as your early life decisions. Unless you and your opponent are both playing "by the book" usually after 10 moves you will arrive at some unique board position. What subjects did you study in school? Where do you live? Where do you work? Did you get married? Have kids? Own or rent? Etc. There is a possibility of quick wins such as Fool's mate (winning the lottery?) or Scholar's mate (cashing out a startup?) but they happen too rarely to be of interest.

The Middlegame
This is where the struggle to reduce debt and build wealth occurs. Most journal writers are in this phase, and it is interesting. Material advantage can be thought of as a kind of net worth. Your pieces are financial assets and the opponent's pieces are financial liabilities. You want to knock out the liabilities without having to give up assets. If you want to end the game (reach FI) quicker, good strategy is essential. There is also the concept of initiative where one side can issue threats that cannot be ignored. Examples of initiative working against you might include a car breaking down, or a temporary job loss. When board position is favorable, this is a minor annoyance; when you are losing the game it could be catastrophic.

The Endgame
I agree with @black_son_of_gray's characterization, let me give a few examples of different levels of financial independence using the material advantage as net worth metaphor. With less material, more skill is needed to achieve mate/FI (and there is a real chance of blundering your victory away).
  • King and pawn vs. king = ERE (200k)
  • King and rook vs. king = MMM (600k and paid off house)
  • King and queen vs. king = "The proverbial million"
  • King and 2 rooks vs. king = Multi-millionaire (it's really hard to mess this up)
  • All 16 pieces intact vs. king = Buffett
I'm not sure this contributes any insight but it sure was interesting to think about.

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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by daylen » Mon Jan 01, 2018 2:01 pm

I really like this analogy. I don't know a whole lot about chess, but I am curious as to how many mathematical concepts can be tied to chess concepts? How much math do grandmasters actually use? I imagine many use mathematical tools to develop heuristics for in-game play. Is there an accurate way to estimate how many moves are left?

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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by Astra » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:19 pm

Nice metaphor. Go is very similar in this respect.
black_son_of_gray wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 8:37 pm
In some ways, the Opening and the Endgame are formulaic and have a vague sense of "just going through the motions" because they are diverging from and converging to known states (the starting positions and "checkmate" respectively).
When watching a chess game, the opening moves fall very quickly, then as the middlegame begins the players start to take their time thinking - trying to gauge the other's abilities and mold your strategy to the opponent's moves - making the middlegame both hard yet infinitely creative. I think similarly the path to FI can be very fast at first, jumping into action with a makeover or a specific goal. Budgets still have a lot of fat so they are easily trimmed to yield fast, big savings. It is later, during the middle game, when the going gets tougher: one might take greater efforts to shave a few dollars here and there, and more importantly, there is no pre-fabricated solution anymore. While most starting challenges/openings are easily adaptable to anyone, there are no predetermined moves for the middle game. Just like a chess game, your life is unique, and you must find your unique strategies, moves and solutions. While this may seem frustrating at times, it is also important to remember that this part is where one can unfold creatively and choose one's own path, just as it is the most exciting part of a chess game.

Also, while every chess game inevidably ends in the same way, there are many differnet lives ERE people have carved out for themselves: some travel the world, some homestead, some write books, some live in tiny houses or run buisnesses for fun. This individual endgame (and win!) can be a direct product of the middlegame, but sometimes not (pulling a 180).

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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by jacob » Fri Jan 05, 2018 2:06 pm

Ha! The working title of the book I've been writing/working on is actually "The Middle Game", but it has very few chess references. Only 1 so far. I'm probably gonna change it eventually lest the book drown in a bunch of chess-related search results, but it's an interesting coincidence nonetheless.

For those who are interested in how players at different ELO ratings think (and what mistakes they tend to make at each level), this is a great book:
https://www.amazon.com/Amateurs-Mind-Tu ... 890085022/

And for those who are really interested, Alpha Zero (google's Go computer) recently spent 4 hours playing against itself and figuring out the game---then proceeded to beat the best computer player in the world over 100 games with zero losses. Some of the moves make no sense at all from a traditional "point-counting" perspective and some of them not even from a balance/position sense as far as I can tell (I'm only around 1350-1400 or so, so I don't know much, and it's been a few years since I last picked up a chess piece). Many of the released games show qualities of the Immortal Game. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immortal_Game ...

As far as AI developments go, watching those games is some of the most scary AI stuff I've seen yet. Not only is it winning, but it's winning in ways that often don't make sense or are hard to explain. Imagine if something like this was put in charge of military/nuclear strategy :shock: Also crazy how Alpha Zero apparently managed to come up with many of the standard openings (French, Italian, etc.) on its own. More here: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1712.01815.pdf

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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by black_son_of_gray » Tue Apr 17, 2018 11:01 pm

2018 Spring Update:

Last fall I detailed how life might soon be changing. The recent developments are:
  • I'm still in a weird spot professionally. My current position has a non-negotiable must-leave-before end of 2019 timeline, and I do not have anything lined up for that time… nor am I very enthusiastic to "move up" in the academic world. I have been medium successful at being a bench scientist (in terms of publications, citations, presentations, etc.), so I could probably obtain another low-paying but enjoyable science job by moving laterally at the same level. I'm a little ambivalent about that option - it has pros and cons.
  • My SO has some personal projects she wants to do on the West Coast. [Little background on my SO: she stayed with me so I could play scientist for 6 years in a location that wasn't particularly compelling for what she prefers to do or where she prefers to live. She is already FI, so she has had many options - but stuck around with me nonetheless. I find that to be remarkably kind, and I am more than willing to make her personal preferences a priority going forward.]
  • The timing is looking really good on leaving my current job in the summer. A project at work is nearly wrapped up, which makes it a convenient time. Our apartment lease is coming to an end then. My SO's mother (whom we would move in with) is really excited about the idea. In addition to wanting us around, she is planning an extended international trip in late summer and we could house sit. There is an opportunity to potentially join in for part of the trip and travel around the world for a few weeks, which is exciting. I haven't been to these countries, and we would have extended family to stay with!
None of this is set in stone yet, and I have a few more weeks before I need to start making more serious commitments to this path - but here are my current thoughts:
Financials: We aren't necessarily thinking about living with her mother permanently. More like "we'll see how we feel about this after 6 months to a year". We often talk about various places we might want to live with respect to various lifestyles we might want to try. In any case, the lack of a rent payment while staying with her mother immediately puts my financial situation in a very good place. I started thoroughly documenting all of my expenditures at the beginning of the year, and it looks like my monthly expenses (everything but rent) are $600. This currently puts me in the neighborhood of "living off of investments", but 1) I don't trust investments to perform well for the next few years, and 2) I don't trust my expenses to stay that low (future travel and health insurance being difficult to predict, but probably not lower than now). Even in worst-case scenarios for both (e.g. gold, bonds, stocks, and cash all do poorly at the same time + expenses are much higher than expected), I still have 10+ years to figure things out.
Income Sources: So it looks like I'll need to bring in some moolah, which is fine. Actually, I was planning on it anyway. If I make a couple hundred dollars a month, my SWR should be <2%. My current thought here is to create my own "coasting-to-FI" three-legged stool of diversified income. First is investments (primarily stocks and bonds), second is a part-time job 2-3 days a week (ideally where someone pays me to learn a skill I want), third is some self-directed activity (e.g. freelancing, writing, consulting, market gardening, etc.). So: 1) others working for me, 2) me working for others, and 3) me working for myself. Well diversified in a sense. Bonus diversification: non-overlapping with SO's income sources. Ideally after a few years I get to the point where in any given year at least two of these sources can independently cover my expenses (i.e. ERE Indicator > 2), with a best-case scenario being all three.

Randy
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by Randy » Wed Apr 18, 2018 8:44 am

I read through your journal after reading the thread about coasting to FI, and I want to say it's been a pleasure to read. I think your extended metaphors are getting better with time :) I can say without a doubt that reading your thoughts about chess and ERE has been the only time I've enjoyed thinking about chess, and I can already tell that this will be a framework (opening, middlegame, endgame) I revisit.
Third, have you actually thrown pasta against a wall? (I have...a lot, actually)
I wouldn't mind a some elaboration on this part of the story.

Also, good luck on your tripod of income for coasting to FI. I'm interested especially in legs two and three with the part time and self directed work. I spend some time daydreaming about these possibilities at work right now. Do you think you will stay in a highly technical realm? I wonder if you will miss the scientific environment when you leave. Also a general question: what field are you in? Maybe I missed this detail in the journal or you were deliberately vague to keep some privacy.

black_son_of_gray
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by black_son_of_gray » Thu Apr 19, 2018 11:58 pm

@Randy

Pasta: The story isn't too exciting, I'm afraid. After a childhood of not cooking, I started dipping my toes in during college - thinking I was 'fancy' because I could add vegetables and some meat to a jar of store-bought sauce and boil some dried pasta. Naturally, as any budding gourmet knows, you gotta test the doneness of the noodles, and -rather than just bite into it like a civilized human being - I thoroughly tested the 'sticks to wall' method. (I stopped doing that when it was my wall to clean)

Science: Will I stay highly technical? Hmm... well the technical aspects of my job are a weird mix between well-developed skills and "stupid human tricks". Let's just say that outside of certain computer skills and a deep knowledge of my specific subfield, anyone with above-average fine tactile skills could perform the day-to-day experiments I routinely do. Most of the more challenging aspects of the job arise when something breaks or stops working correctly and you have to figure out which one of your 15 connected pieces of equipment is the source of the problem. It is this type of problem solving that is simultaneous the most interesting to me (because it is new, unpredictable, and challenging), and the most frustrating (because it is preventing me from moving forward with my work). I think diving into new hobbies and learning something from the ground up fulfills this role just as well. I'm open to exploring new technical fields... we'll see what pops up.
Will I miss the scientific environment when I leave? Probably not. Now that I think about it, I've probably attended ~1000 scientific lectures/presentations. The vast majority of them are completely forgotten (including at least 2 Nobel laureates), maybe 10% live on in my brain as a single-sentence (or less) nugget of information, and maybe 10 (about one per year) were really fantastic. Pretty much every environment I've been in has had the same mix of interesting/boring people as the scientific environment. The people I've enjoyed interacting with the most at my current job are not only excellent scientific thinkers, but are also well-read, very creative, and lead interesting lives. But I've found people like that in every environment I've been in... I don't think that scientists are more likely to be well-read, creative, or interesting - they might even be less likely (e.g. this rings true to me). As far as the physical surroundings, labs aren't particularly cozy places, and it would be wonderful to not have to sit and/or stare at a screen for hours on end. Large chunks of my typical day are essentially solitary (I'm fine with this). The one thing I can think of off the top of my head that I might miss, is that logic, evidence, and questioning are the major currency of conversation in academic science settings. People generally respect and defer to others' expertise. This isn't always true or always desirable, but it does make discussion/interactions easy to navigate because most people are "playing by the same rules" so to speak.

I am deliberately vague about my field for privacy reasons. In the real world, when I meet new people and the "what do you do?" question comes up, I've found it is easier for both parties if I either stay very vague or jump immediately to my very specific research topics. If I just give the field, an awkward series of questions ensues.

black_son_of_gray
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by black_son_of_gray » Sun May 27, 2018 3:30 pm

2018 Beginning of Summer Update

I have a date - I will be leaving my current job at the end of July, two months from now. The people who need to know have been told, and others will find out soon enough. Can't say that I am looking forward to that awkwardness… but I am excited generally.

Knowing the date instantly creates a nice long "to do" list, but thankfully this is something I have already been thinking about, and I have a decent amount of time to complete it in a less stressful way.

Two questions for the ERE community:
1. If you were to take (or have taken) a road trip from sea to shining sea across the USA, where would you go (or avoid), and why?

In August, we need to get from the Baltimore-Washington DC corridor to the Bay Area in California. We considered a couple of ways to do this, but have settled on a road trip where we take our time and see what the broad expanse of the country really looks like. I have a little experience with this, as my family did road trip summer vacations during my childhood, but we mostly just powered through the country on interstates, hell-bent on getting to the destination as soon as possible (i.e. 12-14hr driving binges). Having lived entirely on the coasts, my SO has almost no experience with the middle of the country.

We have about two weeks of time budgeted to go the ~3000 miles (direct route). Right now we are thinking about following Route 50, with some detours here or there for various points of interest. We would like to avoid interstates as much as is reasonably possible. I find interstates to be the great cultural homogenizer of US road travel: everything looks the same, tastes the same, and the driving itself is the same monotonous ball of stress where entitled speeders endlessly jockey for position by weaving between semis and tailgating the elderly so that they can complete their 500 mile drive to the beach 30 minutes faster. I realize there are some serious "efficiency" tradeoffs in avoiding interstates - they really are faster many times- and that Route 50 certainly will be a lot like the interstates a good chunk of the time.

In any case, I spent the better part of yesterday planning out details of our route. Currently, we'll be passing through:
Morgantown, WV
Parkersburg, WV
Chillicothe, OH
Cincinnati, OH
Bloomington, IN
St. Louis, MO
Jefferson City, MO
Kansas City, MO
Wichita, KS
Pueblo, CO
Grand Junction, CO
Moab, UT (or at least very close by… we want to spend extra time in Utah to explore)
Nevada will be along Route 50 (aka "The Loneliest Road in America")
Lake Tahoe, CA
Sacramento, CA

My car is a manual transmission and SO can't drive that, so I'll be doing the grunt work, so to speak. Neither of us want to spend all day just sitting in a car, so we plan on taking breaks every 1-3 hours to explore the smaller towns or parks/forests along the way. We'll have our camping gear to do some overnights when that makes sense.

I get the feeling that most of my opinions about places come from stereotypes that I wouldn't otherwise challenge if I didn't have an actual need to go through the place to get from point A to point B. Like most people, I'm lazy at wanting to correct my ignorance. But because we actually have a need to cross the country, one of our big goals with this trip is to see America as it really is - if a place really is boring and ugly or "backwards", I want to see that. If it is unexpectedly beautiful or quirky or enjoyable or inviting, I want to see that too…

I'm also going to use this trip to informally test my current, poorly-supported opinion that mid-size cities (~100k-1M) are the "best" sized cities. Too small lacks cultural amenities and diversity, too big and it is unmanageable at a human scale (e.g. can you bike across town?; do you have access to nature?).

Any thoughts, tips, experiences or advice greatly appreciated!

2. How do you deal with cheaply moving boxed items across the country?

I've been whittling down my possessions for a while now, and I thankfully don't have much stuff to deal with. I doubt it makes any sense financially for us to hire movers to truck our stuff across the country, and I plan on getting rid of all my furniture (not attached to any of it, and some big items are already gone). That being said, I do have maybe a half-dozen large boxes worth of things I do actually want to move (e.g. some books, BIFL pots/pans, tools, clothing, documents). Anyone have any experience with this? I'm trying to figure out if FedExing vs. PODS vs. "shipping" (by rail?) is most prudent. We won't need any of these things immediately so slow is fine.

trailblazer
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by trailblazer » Sun May 27, 2018 6:25 pm

I have done almost the exact same Route 50 trip, going East to West. Highly recommend it! A few highly subjective opinions:

1 - www.roadtripusa.com and the guidebook they publish are indispensable for thinking through possible itineraries - they represent what you are going for - getting off the interstate, slowing down, seeing the real America. They have several similar road trips as well (I’ve also done their “Oregon Trail Trip” and parts of “The Great Northern”) - always interesting to see their suggestions on food, lodging and sites - it is 100% authentic Americana from sea to sea.

2 - Take your time in West Virginia - the driving is very slow on the first part through the mountains - it is beautiful. I had a flat tire adventure in the middle of nowhere which brought me into contact with a number of friendly West Virginians over a couple days and added actual names and faces to my head full of stereotypes.

3 - Frankly I’d start speeding up a bit in Ohio and maintain a relaxed but consistent pace through Kansas. Nothing wrong with those in between states but I found I got the idea after a while. Somewhere in Missouri I started to understand why Interstates were invented. Slowing down every 15 minutes to wait at a stoplight in a small town (or sprawling suburb) is fun until suddenly it isn’t. You don’t want to get burned out before you reach . . .

4 - Colorado! So beautiful, so many scenic detours - it is exciting when you first glimpse the rockies after crossing Kansas. Utah and Nevada are worlds of their own and then the Sierra. Have fun planning!

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Kriegsspiel
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by Kriegsspiel » Mon May 28, 2018 8:43 am

When you get to Parkersburg, you can take 77 north from 50 to Marietta, OH, and walk around their downtown, check out Campus Martius, rent a kayak, and grab something to eat if you want to stay for a bit. It's a nice little town.

black_son_of_gray
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by black_son_of_gray » Thu Jul 05, 2018 11:01 pm

@trailblazer, Kriegsspiel
Thanks for the suggestions! I've spent a good amount of time in W Virginia/ SE Ohio. I've been through Parkersburg a few times, but not Marietta… we'll see what the schedule looks like when we are in the area.

1- My SO already had roadtripusa on the radar before I made my post. Looks like we are looking in the right direction.

3 - Yeah, I've been thinking about this. The good news is that if southern Kansas (Garden City, Dodge City) isn't working out, we can pop up north to I-70 and "get the hell out of Dodge". This might be a better plan anyway due to the wildfires that are going on in southern CO right now… SO and I have both been through Denver and surrounding area recently/a decent amount, so that wouldn't be as interesting though. Still, I love mountains any way I can get them.

Update - Less than a month to go!

As far as my second query goes ("How do you deal with cheaply moving boxed items across the country?"), my SO and I have looked through the bowels of FedEx, UPS, and USPS websites, and wound up at a bunch of poorly described documentation for Less Than Truckload ground freight options. The little blurbs that the websites use to describe these options sounds perfect (often something like: "multiple boxes totaling over 200lbs can be shipped together without a pallet at freight pricing"), but the details -which are not to be found conveniently on these websites- end up disappointing. For example, you need a business account with daily pickup schedule in order to use these services ("ask your account manager"). There are other cheep options, like shipping boxes on Greyhound buses, but I think I'll pass on that. One strategy that I know will reduce my shipping costs is simply to not have as much stuff. Speaking of which…

My foray into the second economy

I've never been too big into consumerism. However, that didn't stop me from accumulating a lot of "stuff". This is largely because I: 1) tend to take good care of my stuff; and 2) I tend to hang on to stuff that is "still good", which it usually is if you take good care of it; and 3) twice a year (B-Day and X-Mas) I kept getting more stuff. This move across the country is forcing me to chose one of four options for everything I own: ship it, sell it, donate it, or trash it. This has so far been a really liberating experience, but thank god I don't have more stuff than I do.

As a result of the four options, we have plunged into reselling, largely on Craigslist and Ebay, which neither of us had ever done. From what I can tell, Craigslist is best for a barbell of goods: big stuff (e.g. furniture) that is too expensive to ship*, and small odds and ends that have little value (e.g. plastic bins, used gardening supplies). We were worried that we would have to pay to get rid of large furniture items if they took too long to sell (donating big furniture here has months-long waiting lists!), so we have been pretty aggressive with our listings, and with around 3 weeks to go, we are down to a futon, a desk, some shelves, an entertainment console, and a small filing cabinet. Easy. Looks like we'll be indoor camping for a couple days.

*The pricing is really interesting here. Really big furniture that requires a truck is well under-priced (or rather, under-bid) because 1) it requires a truck, and most people don't seem to want to go through the time or effort to rent one, and 2) you aren't likely to get someone to pay you $1000+ in cash (they probably have <$400 anyway), and you probably aren't going to take a check from some random person from the Internet. Price points that seem to work best are $50-200. We listed a potted Norfolk Island Pine for $10 and it damn near broke the system with responses. Anyway, I know how to get really cheap furniture now - other than finding it for free at the dumpster, which I have been successful at in the past. (Shh-Just sold that dumpster furniture to someone on the internet too!)

Ebay has been good for high-value items that ship cheaply. I liquidated my original Nintendo and Playstation games, which I had looong ago written off as worthless, and it turns out - I apparently had some rare items. All I had to do was sit on them in near-mint condition for 20-30 years. Ditto with come collectable cards. I now have less to ship and an extra half month of expenses. Once everything is said and done, I hope to have my excess stuff pay for: 1) shipping the stuff I actually want to keep, 2) travel across the country on a multiweek road trip, and 3) a month or more of living expenses.

One lesson learned is that a modicum of effort when it comes to listing stuff for sale pays off. I'm amazed at how poorly people list some things. A single, blurry picture shot with a potato and a caption "Widget - works good" followed by a price way too high is surprisingly common.

A bit of a slapdash post this time - Preparing all your worldly possessions for a move across the continent is a full time job, and exhausting when you already have a full time job. But soon, not so much!

black_son_of_gray
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by black_son_of_gray » Sun Jul 08, 2018 9:53 pm

About 3 large bags into processing the ridiculous amount of documents (nearly all useless) I've kept over the last 10 years, I stumbled across this nugget - an original poem I produced during graduate school (why work when you can procrastinate??) in the style of Frost's "Stopping by woods on a snowy evening". Keep in mind this was circa 2009.
The S and P swings to and fro,
Where it will stop, nobody knows.
Ominous at end of year
Are forecasts of an all-time low.

My broker, I should think, is near
The lowest point in his career.
A smile he simply cannot fake
Despite the shine of his veneers.

He does a mental double-take
Considering his clients' fates -
Old folks now must work for keep,
Retiring at a later date.

But life goes on, on his dear Street -
He still has profits to reap,
And balancing of balance sheets,
And balancing of balance sheets.

Mister Imperceptible
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Re: black_son_of_gray's Journal

Post by Mister Imperceptible » Mon Jul 09, 2018 10:26 am

I like it.

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