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Spending Update

I haven't posted a spending update in a while, and we've had several big changes in our life: we bought a house, and we have two young children. Our lives are getting more complex financially, but I think it's still useful to describe where our money is going. more...

Conversation with Gleb of Intentional Insights

Gleb Tsipursky has been raising money for his organization, Intentional Insights, which he describes as an EA-aligned organization aimed at growing the EA community. At EA Global someone asked me what I thought of them, and I said Gleb had asked me for funding but I wasn't willing to. After I declined his request, we had a discussion in the comments on LessWrong which did not resolve my concerns and, actually, added more. The discussion is a little hard to read in that format, so here's a condensed version that highlights the main line of the discussion. more...

Open-Plan Offices

It's common to hate on the open-plan office as a shortsighted way for employers to save money, on paper, by packing more people in the same amount of space, but that actually ends up making employees distracted, interrupted, and miserable. Everyone hates open offices, they're a terrible fit for anyone who needs to focus on their work, and their spread is just another indication that our society is horribly broken. Except I actually like them. more...

Earning to Give Transcript

I gave a talk on Earning to Give at the main 2016 effective altruism conference. It wasn't recorded, but here's a transcript.

Eight years ago I was working for my first full year after graduating. I was still spending money at student rates, but I now had a programmer's income. This disparity made it clear I was earning more than I needed for myself, and easier to accept the argument that I should be helping others. In December 2008 I committed to giving half of what I earned to charity, and mailed my first donation.

When I first started, I thought the main challenge was frugality: how can I spend as little as possible so I have more to give? And in the first year this did turn out to be a major challenge—in setting a target of 50% I'd budgeted based on nominal pay, neglecting taxes. But as I learned more about effective altruism I realized frugality was not as good a place to focus as earning more. more...

Air Conditioning: Harmful?

Air conditioning is wrongfully maligned. People who make do without AC while living in parts of the country where it only rarely gets above 90F like to write and share pieces like this one:

Air conditioning has become a necessity but not a solution. It's like an ice bath for a patient suffering an extreme fever, treating the symptom while leaving untouched the underlying cause—in this case, the one-two punch of climate change and the distorted physical and social structure of our cities. And by making our world temporarily cooler, air conditioning is making it permanently hotter, thanks to the increases in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, vehicle fuel consumption and refrigerant production that keep the cool air flowing.

As someone who has never lived with AC and is excited about whole house fans, it's easy for me to read things like this and feel virtuously smug. I'm so much better than those selfish people who keep themselves cool at the expense of the planet, go me! But my carbon footprint isn't actually lower than someone's in Orlando, because of heating. Heating emits less CO2 per degree than cooling, but in places where people live it typically requires many fewer degrees of cooling to get into the comfortable range.

There's a large ongoing migration from cold places to warm ones, facilitated by air conditioning, mostly in the form of having the vast majority of new housing construction being in the warm parts of the country. This is very beneficial from a climate perspective, and an anti-AC attitude, where AC is a luxury but heating is an unavoidable necessity, isn't helpful. more...

Curb Cut Effect?

A while ago Ozy wrote a post on the curb cut effect. They claim that when people without disabilities use things intended to benefit people with disabilities it's generally positive. For example, curb cuts and closed captioning were initially created for people in wheelchairs and people with hearing disabilities, but there's no harm in other people using them and having more people that benefit from them makes them politically sturdier. For example, they argue that:

Nondisabled people using wheelchairs does nothing but create a larger pro-wheelchair demographic, which benefits disabled wheelchair users.

But consider how buses handle wheelchairs. The driver positions the bus next to the curb and folds down a ramp. The passenger rides up the ramp, either they or the driver fold up a set of seats, the passenger positions their chair where the seats were, and again either they or the driver set the straps to hold the chair still. There are two spots for wheelchairs on each bus, and when a spot is in use three standard seats are unavailable. If lots of people who didn't need wheelchairs started using them, at first we would have a dramatically larger incidence of problems where buses already have their two spots occupied and don't have room for a third wheelchair-using passenger. Additionally, each bus could seat four fewer non-wheelchair-using passengers. Then maybe we redesign and replace the buses to allow for more wheelchairs, but this is expensive and capacity goes down even more which means we need more buses and more drivers. more...

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