This was a rough year that sometimes felt like a trial by fire – sick relatives, caring for a baby, and the pandemic making these things more difficult to deal with. My father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away later in the year, and my sister had a sudden serious health issue but is thankfully recovering. One theme for the year was that work is a break from parenting, parenting is a break from work, and both of those things are a break from loved ones being unwell. I found it hard to cope with all the uncertainty and stress, and this was probably my worst year in terms of mental health. There were some bright spots as well – watching my son learn many new skills, and lots of time with family and in nature. Overall, I look forward to a better year ahead purely based on regression to the mean.
My father, Anatolij Krakovny, was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in January with a grim prognosis of a few months to a year of life. This came out of nowhere because he’s always been healthy and didn’t have any obvious risk factors. We researched alternative treatments to the standard chemotherapy and arranged additional tests for him but didn’t find anything promising.
We went to Ukraine to visit him in February and he was happy to meet his grandson. We were worried about the covid risks of traveling with little Daniel but concluded that they were low enough, and thankfully we were allowed to leave the UK though international travel was not generally permitted.
My dad seemed to have a remission in the summer, and we considered visiting him in June, but he told us not to come because of the covid situation in Ukraine. Unfortunately we listened to him and didn’t go (this would have been a good opportunity to spend time with him while he was still doing well).
We spent most of the summer in Canada, with grandparents taking care of Daniel. This was a relaxing time with family and nature, until my sister had a sudden life-threatening health problem and was in and out of hospital with a lot of uncertainty around recovery. This also came out of the blue with no obvious risk factors present. She is feeling better now and doctors expect a full recovery, which we are very grateful for.
In November, my dad had a sudden relapse, and we went to Ukraine again. Once there we realized that the public health system wasn’t taking good care of him (they were mostly swamped with covid) and we had to find a private hospital to take him in. He was already in pretty bad shape and died two weeks later, but I’m glad we managed to see him and help him in some way.
AI alignment research
Didn’t do much this year given the family situation and parental leave:
- Coauthored a blog post on formalizing different properties of optimizing systems with examples in the Game of Life
- Talked about side effects on the AXRP podcast
- Gave a talk on the future tasks approach to side effects at the CHAI seminar
Lights. I started using a Lights spreadsheet in May for daily habits. I previously used Complice for this, which was less effective, so I ended up replacing it with Lights plus a Workflowy todo list for other tasks.
Lights helped me do most of these habits more often than before I was tracking them this way (especially stretches). Some of the habits were consistently difficult, namely meditation (hard to do unless I had a designated place, like the office meditation room), avoiding processed sugar (hard to do when under stress), noticing when I’m picking my nose (a very ingrained habit) and deep work (varying work environment).
Some of the goals were easy enough but didn’t make much progress towards their intended purpose, For example, appreciating one thing I did that day wasn’t enough to develop a self-rewarding mindset, and filling out a form about the state of my internal “dashboard” didn’t propagate into checking this mentally at other times, and at some point became too boring and repetitive so I dropped it.
I often forgot to fill in the Lights during the day and ended up filling them in the next day, which was error-prone. I recently fixed this by realizing that I can fill in the Google sheet on my phone pretty easily so I don’t have to wait until I’m on my laptop to do it.
Work environments. I had various work environments this year (in increasing order of preference): home, Toronto libraries, the office with a few people allowed to come in, and the office under close to normal conditions. The library became a better workspace once I figured out how to get lunch nearby so that I could work there all day. It was really great to be able to go to the office for a couple of months before it was restricted again for the Omicron wave and actually chat with my colleagues over lunch. I look forward to more of that next year.
Deep work. I did 311 hours of deep work over 174 work days (1.79 hours per work day), compared to 366 hours (1.95 hours per work day) in 2020. This is disappointing but not very surprising, since 2021 was a more disrupted and stressful year for me than 2020.
Physical health. This has been pretty good this year, apart from 3 colds (mostly caught from Daniel) and a mysterious lingering sore throat that lasted for weeks. I managed to avoid covid so far, but it might be harder to avoid in the coming year (fingers crossed for 3 vaccine doses doing their job).
Sleep. This year I consistently slept for 7 hours at night on average, with a standard deviation of 1 hour. I would like to have a more consistent sleep pattern, but this is difficult to achieve, since we are currently alternating who takes care of Daniel in the morning.
Mental health. This has been a rough ride, with a lot of uncertainty about sick relatives and the pandemic situation taking its toll. The pandemic, family illnesses and having a small kid often interacted in complicated ways, e.g. I had to consider questions like “is it worth the covid risk to put my kid on a plane to see his terminally ill grandfather?”.
I often gravitated to a more self-critical frame of mind under stress, and failed to notice when I was overstretching myself and accumulating too much stress until it was too late. Sometimes I had a hard time feeling joy or felt like it’s not ok to be happy while all these bad things are happening. One thing that I hoped to learn from being a parent was to be more patient with myself because I would inevitably make a lot of mistakes. Sadly, this didn’t happen automatically, and instead I just disliked myself more for making a lot of mistakes.
My usual coping strategies like meditation and emotional release practices turned out to be insufficient for coping with these stress levels plus sleep deprivation (also my therapist was on sabbatical for half of the year). I keep a record of “bug reports” for the times when I get into particularly bad mental states. Usually there are around two “episodes” like this per year, and this year there were at least 12. My intention for this year is to come up with some more effective ways to stay sane going forward.
In May we spent a few days in a cottage in north Wales with Janos’s dad. It was great to get out of London into the countryside after the lockdown. We did some nice hiking in Cwm Idwal that Daniel mostly slept through. He got cranky during our ascent from the valley so we turned back.
We spent July-September in Canada with several nice cottage trips in Algonquin, Rideau Lakes, Manitoulin Island and Killarney. We considered camping as well but concluded it would probably be too tricky with the baby at that time. We tried canoeing with Daniel with mixed success: he hated wearing a lifejacket and cried until we took it off, and sitting in the middle of the canoe while holding him in my lap was pretty uncomfortable, but we did manage a bit of nice paddling. He also swam in a lake for the first time (in a baby boat) and seemed to enjoy it. Hiking with Daniel in a front carrier quickly became too sweaty and uncomfortable for him and Janos, so we got a baby carrier backpack that worked pretty well (but was more bulky, of course).
We had a complex journey back home in September, spending a few days in Czechia for the CFAR reunion and in Hungary to see Janos’s family. The reunion was pretty fun – it was great to see old rationalist friends in person, and learn about things like Alexander technique and inner parent figure meditation. We originally thought that we would go to sessions one at a time while the other is with the baby, but we ended up all going together. He was not very disruptive – sometimes sleeping, sometimes babbling, only a few times crying. The venue was a “sport hotel” and offered various fun physical activities, so we tried high ropes (a challenging workout) and aqua zorbing (weird in a good way).
We returned to Canada for the winter holidays and did some winter hiking. Usually Toronto doesn’t have snow at this time of year but the weather gods were kind to us. Hiking in the cold worked surprisingly well when Daniel was well dressed with layers and foot warmers – we could hike for 2-3 hours before he became sad. Daniel also tried sledding and didn’t like it (maybe next year).
Overall, we took 8 plane journeys with Daniel this year, with a total of 24 hours of jetlag. We discovered a trick where we could book our seats with an empty seat in the middle that usually wasn’t taken, and then we could put him there in his car seat instead of holding him in our lap (much more convenient). He probably got the best sleep out of all the passengers on that redeye flight back to Europe.
- I read 5 books this year (usually in the evening after putting Daniel to sleep): The Alignment Problem, Scout Mindset, I Know How She Does It, The Great Divorce, and Brave New World.
- I didn’t officially attend EA Global for covid safety reasons, but I experimented with crashing the event by hanging out in the courtyard and chatting with people there, which worked out very well. We hosted some EAG attendees in our house, just like in the good old pre-pandemic days (someone even stayed in a tent outside).
- We did some rock climbing at the Castle in May and June, sticking to the outdoor bouldering section. I was doing easy climbs but it was still fun. It turned out that Daniel was usually happy to sit in his stroller and watch us climb, which was very convenient.
2021 prediction outcomes
- Avoid catching covid (90%) – yes
Author or coauthor three or more academic papers(70%) – no (coauthored 1 paper on reward tampering).
- At most 7 non-research work commitments (80%) – yes (5 commitments)
Meditate on at least 230 days(70%) – no (196 days) At least 450 deep work hours(70%) – no (311 hours) Do 4 consecutive chinups(70%) – no (1 chinup)
I will write at least 3 blog posts(60%) – no (2 posts)
- Janos and I will get vaccinated for covid by the end of June (60%) – yes (two doses)
- Daniel will get to meet all of his grandparents in person in 2021 (70%) – yes 🙂
- I will return to avoiding processed sugar by the end of the year (60%) – yes, started again in October but lapsed when my dad died
I will finish Hungarian Duolingo (complete checkpoint 5)(70%) – no, haven’t been doing much Duolingo
Overall, my predictions were overconfident and I underestimated the difficulty of doing various things after having a kid. Calibration was not great:
- 60%: 2/3 true
- 70%: 1/6 true 😥
- 80-90%: 2/2
2022 goals and predictions
- Author or coauthor 4 or more AI safety writeups (2 last year) (70%)
- Meditate on at least 230 days (196 last year) (70%)
- At least 450 deep work hours (311 last year) (70%)
- Do 3 consecutive chinups (1 last year) (60%)
- Avoid processed sugar at least 6 months of the year (1 month last year) (60%)
- I will not catch covid this year (60%)
- I will write at least 3 blog posts (2 last year) (60%)
- I will read at least 5 books (4 last year) (70%)
- Daniel will be potty-trained by the end of the year (out of diapers when awake) (70%)
Past new year reviews: 2020-21, 2019-20, 2018-19, 2017-18, 2016-17, 2015-16, 2014-15.
Sorry for your loss and the rough times, wishes for a much better 2022 from Germany! ❤
LikeLiked by 1 person