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For folks who like philosophy, I’m writing a new feature every two weeks on a thinker I think matters today. https://mobile.twitter.com/ZoharAtkins/status/1372675033336778755

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Also curious what folks make of my hypothesis that experts vs. populists is an investiture conflict 2.0 https://whatiscalledthinking.substack.com/p/investiture-conflict-20-experts-vs?r=8nz8&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&utm_source=twitter

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As the unofficial unofficial associate (maybe) podcast of Astral Codex Ten I'd like to mention the latest episode with this blog's readers' favourite Bret Devereaux (of This Isn't Sparta! fame) in conversation with Professor David Abulafia about the ancient Mediterranean. They talked about Alexandria, exactly how may rowers these insanely huge galleys had and much much more. (I see from Zohar Atkins who just beat me to being first that I am not the only one pushing my own stuff . . .)


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I'm going on vacation for a week and could use book recommendations. I'd prefer some lighter non-fiction; I've been doing dense mathematical reading for the past while, and would like to get away from that for a bit. Ideally I'd like something entertaining, well written, and about a non-mainstream topic (one such book I enjoyed was The Deadliest Enemy by epidemiologist Osterholm and writer Olshaker).

Thanks in advance!

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What is the fastest you ever learned 80% a topic? What was the topic? How long did it take you?

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Years ago someone in an SSC open thread asked me for the best paper on educational fadeout effects, and in particular the (false imo) claim that they are a measurement artifact. I wasn't really satisfied with the papers that I could point them to at the time, but here's something new and better: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7787577/

Fair warning it's over 40 pages but lots of great stuff; I like the consideration of methods and measurement effects best. (reposted)

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My cryptocurrency hedge fund is looking to hire an engineer. PM me if you're interested. Small team + very high potential upside.


* Fully quantitative price prediction and trading (we don't do MM or exchange arbitrage)

* Our returns are uncorrelated to crypto market (pure alpha)

* One of the few funds to offer a BTC share product (we make people more BTC)

* We have been raising additional capital crazy fast this year due to our stellar performance.

Two of the co-founders (me + Satvik Beri) are long term EAs. I've personally donated $$ to MIRI + CFAR way back in 2012-2014. I was also a co-founder of Arbital, in case you heard of it. ;)

We have two fully remote positions: one is for 5+ years of experience, another for 7+ years.

I'm a bit hesitant to add any other requirements, since we mostly just look for smart engineers who get shit done and who would be excited to work with us.

Tech stack: Python + Julia, AWS

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Does anyone have a theory as to why thinking about philosophy or other high level concepts can actually feel physically heady? Why does galaxy braining feel this way?

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China has been quietly building roads, military bases and villages in Bhutan's territory. The area itself is of no real value (which is probably why it wasn't noticed). But is thought to be motivated by trading for other territory that's more valuable near disputed Indian border,where there have been shows of force from both sides recently.

This is partly interesting for geopolitical implications, but also because the whole idea of stealthily taking over parts of another country by building there is bizarre.

Tweet thread outlining main points: https://twitter.com/BeijingPalmer/status/1390759269696421897?s=19

I link that as main article https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/05/07/china-bhutan-border-villages-security-forces/ is semi paywalled.

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Why don't Western governments simply make paying ransomware illegal? This seems like a classic collective action problem- it may certainly be rational for an individual actor to pay a ransom, but it feeds more & more cybercrime by creating a huge market. While ransomware will probably never go away entirely, taking revenue away from large criminal organizations is generally considered a good thing. Realistically the government probably can't stop individuals from paying a ransom, but large corporations tend to be fairly conservative and 'hey Mr. Executive, federal prison is not a nice place' is a fairly convincing argument. This law doesn't have to deter 100% of ransom payments to just make the practice overall much less profitable.

Not even sure you'd need to pass a new law- for the US, anyways, I am very confident that somewhere in our massive list of federal laws 'making cryptocurrency payments to organized crime' could be covered by something already in there. The entire finance/payments industry is already very highly regulated.

So- why aren't ransom payments illegal already?

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I’ve been feeling stuck in a solipsistic frame of mind for a year or two - constantly wondering how I can have any belief that anything is real outside of my own mind. Has anyone here found a satisfying/permanent way out of that? I used to rely on a kind of soft religion, but it wore off. Would appreciate any pointers.

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Why is wildlife in Australia unusually venomous and dangerous? Everyplace is subject to the evolution.

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I recently bought a new house. The disclosure mentioned that subterranean termites had been found in some wood in the basement when they looked for them, but that the seller hadn't done anything about it and I needed to decide how to react. My options seem to be to do nothing, or to pay a very large amount of money to an exterminator and wait for them to do stuff before I move in.

When I Googled termites, I found many exterminator company websites saying you needed to exterminate them right away, but also some articles saying that about 50%-60% of houses in California have the kind of termites my house has. If my house has a completely average number of termites, this sounds like less of an emergency.

Does anyone know more about how I should think about this?

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What fairly well-known pc/console game would be the toughest to train an AI to master? My guess would be EU4.

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> showing that a common pattern is good growth until ~1980, poor growth until ~2002, then good growth until ~2012, then poor growth again.

I'm not convinced it's that common, from the graphs. It fits Sub-Saharan Africa. In LATAM and ME/NA there's a blip in ~1980, but it's not obvious that growth after is slower than growth before. And in South Asia, neither ~1980 nor ~2012 seem like anything happens.

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Does anybody knows good books with a lot presented and solved analytics cases. Examples of good cases:

1. estimate average cookie lifetime for your site userbase

2. for offline store chains test impact of new interior design

3. extrapolate results of survey for all population (in survey there is x1% people from cities, y1% liberals, ... while in population there is x2% people from cities, y2% liberals, ...)

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I'm not sure I see that pattern in the GDP graphs - S Asia does not show a dip in 1980, and LA/Caribbean growth restarts in about 1986 after about a 5-year dip -- but more importantly, the numbers are in US dollars (and current dollars - not adjusted for inflation). Wouldn't the numbers be affected by the value of the US dollar? I might be wrong, but would think we would want to see the numbers in purchasing power parity to see if there is an actual pattern. PS: Eg: See World Bank GNI data here https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD. From 1990-2019, China's per capita GDP has gone from 729 to 8242 (11x) in constant PPP int't dollars, but from 982 to 168040 (17x) in constant US dollars (and from 317 to 10216 in current US dollars, which the posted graphs use).

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Does any genetics expert want to volunteer to be my genetics post proofreader and make sure I'm not messing anything up?

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I just read a presumed-Eliezer story called "Kindness to Kin" and it was quite great. https://www.reddit.com/r/HFY/comments/lom9cb/kindness_to_kin/

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For people who read more fantasy then me:

I get the impression that there've been three main style of mainstream fantasy over the last thirty years or so, though I'm not sure if it's really a culture trend or just what I've ended up reading.

In the early nineties, you get unironic adventure fantasy set in a huge fantasy world (Think classic D&D, Dragon Lance or Wheel of Time). the focus is more on the generic gist of the world than on specific mechanics. Lots of magic and adventures, not too much time sitting around contemplating.

late 90s-2000s seems more the "gritty fantasy" era (think Game of Thrones). Lots of random brutality, occasional graphic sex, more "historical" sense in that there's less old-timey fantasy adventure values (less honour, more realpolitik and murders). Some magic, but usually more as a tool than the main story focus.

2010s-now seems more historical fiction and hard mechanics style (think Brandon Sanderson or Naomi Novik). Feels like the authors have done a lot of historical research to make their worlds historically realistic and have spent a lot of time designing formal magic systems with strict rules (not that earlier authors didn't spend a lot of time on worldbuilding, but earlier worldbuilding tends to feel more brainstormy and less processed - which one I prefer changes by mood, TBH).

Curious how accurate this feels to people and, if accurate, what you'd guess the next trend will be (seems like we're just about due for one).

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We've had some great recent guests on the futurati podcast.

Episode 29 with Jason 'the progress guy' Crawford was really illuminating. He did a good job of pushing back on my criticisms of progress, talked about how he came around to the stagnation hypothesis, and sang the glories of concrete:


Episode 30 had us interviewing one of the world's foremost experts on innovation in education policy, Andreas Schleicher, and how we can apply those lessons to the U.S.


In Episode 31 we spoke with the unexpectedly funny Brad Templeton, a renowned futurist who told us why we're completely wrong about autonomous vehicles:


Episode 32 had us branching out a little bit by talking to non-futurist Elaine Pofeldt, author of a book on businesses with one employee worth at least $1 million:


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I've been running data-analysis/decisionmaking challenges on LW for the last few months, to a small but intensely positive response. I'm posting here in case any SSC readers with a Data Science/Analysis background want to try their hands.

The first one is https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/HsxT2cpPWYzTg9tpY/d-and-d-sci; the answers are at https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/pux6NYtaFdqTwyz94/d-and-d-sci-evaluation-and-ruleset; others can be found from my lesswrong profile.

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One thing that changed after 1980 is that current-dollar growth rates started having a low US inflation rate tacked onto them instead of a high US inflation rate. Switch to a constant-dollar view and things look a little different.

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Talking of solipsism, as somebody is below, reminds me of the story about the professor of solipsism in Cambridge university. I forget the name. He lived to a fine old age, 95 or so, and never married so he had an apartment to himself on campus. The students and faculty took really good care of him, visiting him every day in his retirement, keeping him company and making sure that any illness was promptly treated.

“After all”, they surmised, “ when he dies it’s curtains for the rest of us”.

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I wonder if someone can shed some light on why physicist Richard Feynman relied on older mathematical techniques and didn't trust the newer techniques. My question is prompted by this quote from Stephen Wolfram (who was a physics grad student at Caltech while Feynman was a professor there): "It’s kind of interesting to look at [Feynman's handwritten note with calculations related to a Feynman diagram]. His style was always very much the same. He always just used regular calculus and things. Essentially nineteenth-century mathematics. He never trusted much else. But wherever one could go with that, Feynman could go. Like no one else." I assume that Feynman understood how to use techniques like complex analysis and tensor calculus. Anybody know why Feynman didn't trust them? Wolfram's article is here: https://www.wired.com/2016/07/my-time-with-richard-feynman/

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What are the best resources for a balanced, thoughtful perspective on whether an undecided person should have kids? I've seen arguments for both sides - I can make arguments for both sides - but I've never seen a rigorous, evidence-based approach.

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I’m considering quitting my job and going to a bootcamp to learn data analysis/ML/AI. Anyone know of a good program in the NYC area? Preferably with an I person option.

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Would love to read a deep dive into the prospects for GLP-1 receptor agonists as weight loss medications. Semaglutide 2.4 mg generated some buzz recently, and now apparently there is Tirzepatide. Has anyone tried semaglutide or liraglutide, or prescribed them to a patient? Lots of questions about side effects, long-term use, cost/insurance coverage, etc. But these trial results seem remarkable. Are we on the verge of having obesity treatments-other than bariatric surgery-that actually work?

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Good pillow recommendations?

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Can you comment on whether you think that your Survive vs Thrive theory of Right vs Left politics works for covid responses?

I can come up with several ways that you might respond, but it seems better to ask you yourself.

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Has anyone had any experience playing a digital piano keyboard (one of the 88 key models with a weighted key action such as Yamaha, Casio, Roland, Kawai etc make) on top of a regular office desktop with the height adjusted down to 24 inches or so, rather than on a dedicated stand? I'm debating whether to try and refactor my sit/stand desk setup to include my piano-- I compose with piano and computer frequently and it'd be nice to do it with both of them at the same adjustable height. And it seems like the key height should be OK in "sit mode" if I adjust it all the way down to a 24 inch desktop height, but I don't know whether I need to worry about instability of the keyboard on top of the desk, or resonances with the desktop, or some other such complication.

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The tax code was much more favorable to you if you started a company in the Postwar Era, versus getting rich off regular income. Same time that the top tax bracket was 91%, the capital gains tax rate was 25% AFTER excluding 50% of the gains from taxation altogether. You'd see Hollywood types try to turn their income into that to reduce taxation, by using stuff like setting yourself up as a corporation selling shares of stock (with said company "leasing" your services) or the Oil Depletion Allowance (IE you exclude something like 28% of the income from investing in Texas oil wells from taxation).

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re 3, big oof

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Regarding the growth slowdown, a book that I think does a good job of painting the big picture is 'Fully Grown' by Dietrich Vollrath. According to him: mostly demographics as well as the shift to services where productivity growth is inherently slower. His biggest takeaway is that none of this is inherently a bad thing.

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Anyone looking for a 'Priest' to the Rationalist 'Wizard' are encouraged to check out Mr. Tom Murphy at https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/ An Astrophysics professor come.... neomalthusian (?), he is back to blogging in support of his new textbook on economics and the physical world which can be found here. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/9js5291m#article_main

Longtime rationalists will enjoy spotting the motte and bailey arguments, the strawmen, assuming the conclusion, and a host of other illogical and sometimes bizarre reasoning.

On the plus side, his blog does allow comments and he frequently engages his readers, so if you are interested in trying to argue the Wizard side, you might get some traction there.

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When publishing predictions, Scott always mentions that some people consider 50% predictions meaningless as they indicate lack of information. Could someone please explain the reasoning behind assuming it is meaningless? Because, suppose I have a playing die, and believe it is biased so I expect it to roll up the number 6 with 50% chance (and have no idea about relative chances for the numbers from 1 to 5). But this clearly means I have some information, and if it is true, I could benefit from betting on it against someone who e.g. thinks the die is fair. So what's the reasoning behind the opposite view?

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Minor complaint, when I post I'll sometimes not be able to continue on ACX, and I'll have to reload it. (Which means I lose my place in the thread stream.) I think this is related to my keeping my mouse over the post button after posting. A little slashed red circle appears. And if I leave it there, it stops working. Does this happen to others? I've got laggy satellite internet.

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I'm reading the latest Michael Lewis book, *The Premonition*; it's a post-mortem of the US covid response. I've only just started, but so far it's great.

His last book, *The Fifth Risk*, was published in 2018, which among other things was about how the Trump administration had crippled the United States' ability to deal with catastrophic risks. Turns out he was right.

But, as he says in the introduction of this book, it turns out that the rot spreads much deeper; "Trump was a comorbidity".

Right now it's just introducing some of the characters and what they were doing before the pandemic. One of them is a public health official in Santa Barbara, Dr. Dean, and the book goes into some detail about what that is like — and what the CDC is like. One example of many: Once there was a patient, a college student, who had symptoms of meningitis B and was in a state of shock (they had to amputate both his legs to save his life). Dr Dean set out to control the outbreak — and it's astounding just how useless the CDC was throughout all of it. I don't think blockquotes markup works on Substack, sadly, but here:

> She got on the phone with the main guy at the CDC and his silent crowd. The guy strongly disagreed with her doing anything. "What he actually said," recalled Charity, "was, 'That decision is not supported by the data.' I said, "Oh really — there is no data." She outlined a plan she'd created: thin out the dorms by moving some of the students into hotel rooms; shut down the intramural sports teams; and administer a vaccine that had been approved in Europe but that the FDA had not yet signed off on. "The CDC guy said, 'We're not going to do any of that, and if you do that, we're going to put it in writing that it was your decision and we disagreed with it,'" Charity recalled.

> [...] But in the end the campus ignored the CDC and did everything Dr. Dean recommended. From start to finish, [...] "the CDC wasn't pleased with her. The CDC kept saying 'There is no evidence to back it up.' They didn't have any evidence, because there is only one case every four years."

> The root of the CDC's behavior was simple: fear. They didn't want to take any action for which they might later be blamed. "The message they send is, We're better than you and smarter than you, but we're letting you stick your neck out to take the risk," said Charity.

> Charity never would know which of the measures she took had controlled the disease; she knew only that all of them together had. [...]

> Two years after the UCSB meningitis outbreak, the CDC finally published a report on how to deal with a meningitis outbreak on a college campus. On its list of best practices were most of the things Charity had done at UCSB. [...]

> Charity had washed her hands of the CDC. "I banned their officers from my investigations," she said. The CDC did many things. It published learned papers on health crises, after the fact. It managed, very carefully, public perception of itself. But when the shooting started, it leapt into the nearest hole, while others took the fire. "In the end I was like, 'Fuck you,'" said Charity. "I was mad they were such pansies. I was mad that the man behind the curtain ended up being so disappointing."

Seeing as "listen to the experts" is a common refrain, it's important to remember that *credentialed, educated, powerful, and authoritatively titled* is not the same thing as *expertise*. Those men at the CDC were credentialed and titled. Dr. Dean is an expert.

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In the recent book review "The Wizard and the Prophet" I noticed almost no pushback in the comments from people with a more radical environmental perspective, i.e. people who take a non-human centered view of the environment.

Is this a perspective that is just not common in the rationalist community? Because it seems like a very important addition to the conversation. The 'Wizard' community has many successes if you take a human-centered approach, but if you expand your scope to the natural world as a whole I think it is clear we are not innovating our way out of environmental damage.


1. Deforestation continues on a massive scale to this day. The rate has declined some in the past couple decades, but rainforests and other habitats are still being destroyed daily at an astounding pace.

2. Evidence of population drops for insects appeared last year. The data was likewise astounding, claiming upward of 1-2% population drops per year, or 30-40% declines since the mid 20th century. There is not enough data to be confident about how this is taking place, whether it is concentrated in certain areas/ecosystems or more widespread, but that a problem exists seems fairly undeniable.

3. Overfishing is still occurring worldwide. Some specific commercial populations have recovered when managed, and some countries are practicing generally responsible fishing, but overall it is still a large issue.

4. Climate Change, which was cited as perhaps the 'Prophet' side's best issue, will likely continue to exacerbate all the issues which we are already creating throughout this century.

5. Plastic and other pollutants in the ocean are having other large effects on marine ecosystems.

I suppose a 'Wizard' point of view could point out that many of these problems do have technical solutions in theory and even in practice in some locations, but I think the 'Prophet' would counter that just because solutions exist does not mean they will be applied, and that they in fact will not be until a large amount of damage is done. An irreversible amount of damage.

I just really didn't like that book review, or it's lens for approaching our interactions with the planet. We are having a profoundly negative effect if you look beyond the human view.

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For people who like looking at art on Instagram, here's mine: https://www.instagram.com/willa.applegate/ Thanks for checking it out :)

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Both the reading and writing experience are remarkably bad for such an apparently well funded website as Substack.

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No joke--I've been wanting to visit India and Brazil. Based on the likeliest trends, when will COVID-19 levels decline enough in those countries for me to be able to visit them and not find half of the tourist attractions and restaurants closed?

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Had mild success with posting job ads in an open thread before. I know back then this was accepted, not sure if it is anymore (if not, please delete, and my bad). Anyway:

I'm curios if anyone here would like to lead an infrastructure/ops/devops team (starting as 1 man job, will hopefully soon grow into a 2-3 people team if all goes well).

The product is something called mindsdb, fully open source "generic" machine learning. The thing you'd be working on is our cloud offering (so not open source, but running 98% the same code as the open source version)... which is rather important, since it's how we can actually afford to develop a fully open source product long-term.

Fully remote, offers start 80k/year but the cap is much higher (basically low pay for the US and insanely high pay for literally anywhere else in the world except for the trade-eco hubs), work contract is whatever (employee via local company branch, contractor, working via a 3rd party company... we don't care really, unless you're US or UK based, in which case I think it has to be a standard employment contract). 3-5 meetings a week (total 2-4 hours) + slack for other communication, people aren't sticklers for immediate answers but ideally you an be kind-of online around EU and/or US friendly working timezones.

Please ping me if it sounds interesting, it's honestly much harder to find people that can to devops tham I thought :)

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Here's a challenge to the "Dark Forest Theory" (https://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/the-dark-forest-theory-a-terrifying-explanation-of-why-we-havent-heard-from-aliens-yet)

If the Theory is right, then there is still a way for one alien species to take over the galaxy without attracting attention. It would involve a "two-phased attack" with self-replicating nanomachines. An alien species could, over a long time and with great secrecy, seed every solar system in the galaxy with its own Von Neumann probe, which would contain self-replicating macro- and nano-machines. Once every solar system had a probe, the aliens would send out a signal, and all of the probes would start self-replicating. They wouldn't just make "Gray Goo" copies of themselves--they might make soldiers, weapons, and other advanced technology. Any enemy aliens would be overwhelmed, or at least forced to reveal themselves to fight back.

This could be done without revealing the planet the probes trace their origins to. One day, it would seem like the whole galaxy suddenly came alive at once.

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Cryptocurrency/DeFi/etc has been on my metaphorical radar for quite some time, but I feel hesitant about investing/working in it. Here are some of my worries, in (very roughly) descending order:

1. Coinbase/Binance/etc doesn't allow people under 18 to join and trade (which is think is for legal reasons), and I'm one of them. (And, more generally, the legality of using cryptocurrencies/DeFi/etc.)

2. Even if I don't use a company like that, I might need to install special software in order to do this properly, and I'm afraid of messing up my computer beyond repair in the process.

3. Not everyone accepts cryptocurrency as payment for commerce.

4. I'll have to pay taxes on it, which I don't know how to do properly.

5. There are a lot of criminals involved in this area.

6. Someone recommended (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEtj34VMClU) that I use relatively extreme security measures before even beginning (such as writing passwords in a paper notebook, using 2FA everywhere), and I have no sense of calibration on whether this is too much or not enough.

7. Hackers/scammers/ordinary market fluctuations could wipe out any profits that I make.

8. Mining cryptocurrency takes a lot of energy, which produces a lot of environmental damage. Renewable/zero-emissions energy sources could mitigate a lot of it, but it's not exactly straightforward to find or obtain.

9. I don't understand any economics.

Can you clarify whether these issues are as important as I think and recommend ways I could take care of the important ones? Thanks.

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