Monday, July 11, 2022

Review of The Engines of Cognition: Essays From the LessWrong Forum/Meta question about posts

 A while back I reviewed A Map that Reflects the Territory which is a collection of essays posted on the lesswrong forum. My review is here. I posted it to both this blog and to the lesswrong forum. In both cases I posted a link to it. My post to lesswrong is here

On the lesswrong post many of the comments, plus some private emails, told me NO BILL- don't post a link, post it directly as text. It was not clear how to do that, but I got it done with help.

On complexity blog nobody commented that this was a problem. Then again, nobody commented at all, so its not clear what to make of that. 


Meta Question: Is posting a link worse than posting direct text? Note that the book review was 12 pages long and looked great in LaTeX. 

Meta Question: Why did lesswrong care about the format but complexityblog did not (Probably answer: omplexityblog readers did not care at all, whereas Lesswrong cared about what I though about Lesswrong)

Another Question, not Meta. One of the comments was (I paraphrase)

When I open a pdf file I expected to see something in the style of an academic paper. This is written in very much chatty, free-flowing blog post style with jokes like calling neologisms ``newords'', so the whole think felt more off-kilter than was intended. The style of writing would prob work better as an HTML blog post (which could then be posted directly as a Lesswrong post here instead of hosted elsewhere and linked.)

I think its interesting that the format of an article telegraphs (in this case incorrectly) what type of article it will be. Is this a common problem?  I have had the experience of reading a real academic paper and being surprised that some joke or cultural-reference is in it, though I do not object to this. 

Another comment and question

I was surprised the post only had 11 karma when I saw it (William had send me an advance copy and I'd really liked reading it) but when I saw that it was a link post, I understood why.

I find this hilarious- they have some way the posts are rated!  For one, Lance told me very early on to never worry about comments, and I don't. Second, it reminds me of the Black Mirror episode Nosedive.

ANYWAY, I have reviewed another collection of essays for less wrong, this one called The Engines of Cognition. I am posting it here as a link: here  and I will post it on lesswrong as full text (with help) in a few days. 

I am posting it so I can get comments before I submit it to the SIGACT News book review column. But this is odd since I think this blog has more readers than SIGACT news has subscribers, so perhaps THIS is its real debut, not that. And of course the lesswrong forum is a place where more will read it since its about them. 

So- I appreciate comments to make it a better review!


  1. One challenge is that reading a pdf post is a lot harder if I'm on my phone. (e.g. in the train on the way to work)

    1. AH- good pont. I have still not adjusted to the `everything is on your phone' mentality. I am stuck in 2015.

  2. > Meta: Is posting a link worse than posting direct text?

    Only in that the link can go dead or the linked-to thing can change. I've seen people on SE correct their post in response to comments (which are a kind of implicit link) in a way that makes the comment then seem lost.

    You control the blog so I would think this possibility is less of an issue for you. You perhaps could revector a link that has changed. But for me, it gives me pause to leave links on sites that I don't control in material that I think of as permanent. (I think of posts on SE or LW as permanent in a way that, say, posts on Reddit are not.)

    1. I have a web directory where all or most of my links go to, so that's not a problem. But lesswrong doesn't know that- so maybe they are worried that my words of praise for them (uh- if ou read the review you'll see its NOT all praise) will be lost forever!

  3. Since the review has virtually no formulas, you could have written it in Google Docs or Word and it would have been much easier to convert to a blog post. Or you could have written it as a blog post or covert that to latex or PDF.

    If you do it in latex, you should use the hyperref package so you can put links in the document directly.

  4. AH- since the final SIGACT News article needs to be in LaTeX it did not dawn on me to do it in another format. And the commenter who said people read things on their phone- YES, in the future I will try to have posts that are mostly English on the blog directly. Not sure how often I have posts that are mostly English that I used a pointer for- the two reviews of lesswrong are the only ones that come to mind.

  5. LessWrong has a search box. If you don't put the content on their site, the search box won't find it. Even if the PDF is on their site, their search may not look into PDFs. And even if it finds it, it won't find it in context. Google (and presumably other major seach engines) read PDFs, but Google will show the article as being on your site, not LessWrong.

    Another other issue is how well the site serves file. When I go to, the browser times out. LessWrong may be using a better hosting company or a service like CloudFlare.

    And, as another commenter noted, lots of people use phones these days. If a site isn't mobile friendly, Google is less likely to show it in search results. Although, I don't think it penalizes you for having a few PDFs. They are more concerned with how wide the page is and whether the links are far enough apart to use your finger.

  6. Hi Bill, thanks for the reviews!

    I want to note that both review PDFs are timing out for me as well today.
    Regardless of that, I would also prefer to have content published in full rather as a link - even though I admit it is mostly an aesthetics / convenience preference of having any discussion right next to the text.

    While I also like the freedom of the formatting in LaTeX/PDFs (especially when there is a lot of math!), I have the association with PDFs on the internet being cumbersome to copy&paste from, use links in them, and sometimes you need to download them and they open in external app ... (again, all of it is relatively minor, but I wanted to point out why someone may disprefer PDFs for non-scientific texts)

    All the best,

    1. As (bad) luck would have it there was a power outage at the Univ of MD yesterday so yes, links are slow or time out entirely. That should be fixed soon, though it is another reason to post directly.