without loss of generality
In 2010, I decided to start matching everything I spend on a non-essential purchase with an equal donation to an effective charity. It's worked for me; even though mechanisms like this are arbitrary, it feels more logical than choosing a percentage of income. It feels nice that spending money on nice things for myself and my friends is aligned with giving money to charity.
I went to the memorial service for Aaron at the Internet Archive last night. This is what I said.
Aaron was 26. Jon Brilliant was also 26.1 comment | post a comment
If you would like to help me get it unsuspended, please post a note here to help provide evidence that "Ping" is the "name [my] friends, family or co-workers usually call [me]" (as it says in the User Conduct and Content Policy). If you are comfortable identifying yourself and your relationship to me, that would help too. Thanks!
Edited to add: Thanks everyone! I'm sure we'll get this sorted out right quick.45 comments | post a comment
I went to a memorial service today. It was for Jon Brilliant, son of Larry Brilliant, whom I'd known during my first year at Google.org. The service was beautiful and moving. It was also powerfully inspiring, and I had not expected that. We were dressed in bright colours, to suit Jon's style; and there were words and rituals from a mix of spiritual traditions, also as he would have wanted.
Every time that I get confused and see a person who works for me or with me as a customer, a competitor, a colleague, I fail. And every time that I am unable to see that person as a human being—and instead only see what's useful to me—I fail. In those moments, I fall victim to my ambition. But in those moments when I see people as human beings, as real people, I inspire them.I'm going to be thinking about this one for a while. 1 comment | post a comment
Thinking about charities to support? Perhaps you have opinions? I think it's good to talk about this stuff openly, so we can learn from and encourage each other.
If you're curious or looking for ideas, these were my top picks in 2010:
A lot of it is international aid, because the effectiveness per dollar seems pretty high there. Second Harvest and Project Respite are due to fundraising efforts by Google coworkers. Berkeley Free Clinic was a shot at doing something local.
It was not very disciplined, though. When I looked back to make this list, I was a little surprised that it was spread out among so many different organizations. I think it might be more efficient to focus on the highest-impact ones, if such a thing can be determined.
It wasn't until after the new year that I found out about Giving What We Can and Give Well. So these are now contenders for ones I missed that I'm considering in 2011:
Which charities do you like, and why? Any important ones that you think are missing?
(Interesting: I just saw that Chris and his wife Madeleine posted their lists too.)14 comments | post a comment
Last year around this time, I decided to begin an experiment: to match everything I spend on a non-essential purchase with an equal donation to an effective charity.
At the Clinton Global Initiative meeting, Bill Clinton thanked Eric Schmidt for Google's efforts in crisis response, calling out Google Person Finder in particular.
"I'm particularly grateful, as I said, because of this Person Search effort that Google did in Haiti. There's no telling how many people's lives were actually saved and how many people's misery was actually lessened, because of the information that Google could give to a country that otherwise had no sophisticated identification system, and could not have had a sophisticated disaster recovery system because of its level of income and development." —President Clinton, September 21, 2010
His expression of gratitude was a bit of a jumbled mix of Google's contributions in Haiti (of which I consider the satellite imagery to have been by far the most valuable), but it's still a thrill to hear him talk about "Person Search".5 comments | post a comment
The Google Buzz team launched the Google Buzz API today. Using the Google Buzz API browser, you can find out what information it publishes.6 comments | post a comment
There are roughly two positions being expressed in the debate about privacy online: "Websites are violating user trust and that's wrong" and "Get over it, there's no such thing as privacy anyway".
The problem is that the pundits in the latter camp tend to be affluent, powerful, male, straight, white, or all of the above. To them, users should just "get over" being violated. I disagree. These pundits have probably never personally feared rape, an abusive partner, or a corrupt authority. Living in public is a solution they think they can afford, but many people can't.
The idea that personal information should be public by default is deeply flawed. "Those who care about privacy should check the privacy settings often, or just opt out", they say. What they are describing is a space that imposes the highest maintenance costs and the heaviest burden of technical understanding on the users who are the most vulnerable. That's not a safe space.
If your users do not understand your privacy UI, it is not they who have failed; it is you.18 comments | post a comment
Here are answers to some common questions about the Facebook API Browser. For details on the exposure of users' event lists, which appears to now have been fixed, see a previous post.75 comments | post a comment
To protect your privacy, mark your events "Not Attending".
Update (06:00 PDT): So far, some people have reported that their events are exposed, and some have reported that they aren't. I don't have an explanation. I've sent a note to Facebook asking them not to expose events this way.
Update (13:00 PDT): theharmonyguy commented that event lists were already exposed in the old API, as he reported in December.
Note: This post is based on my observations as an individual Facebook user, curious to know what is revealed about me through the new API. I wrote this article to help others protect their privacy, and I am also in touch with Facebook's team, who is working to fix this. Although I work for Google, this blog represents my personal views and not Google's. Thanks to everyone for your interest.
Update (23:00 PDT): The Facebook API is no longer revealing event lists for the users mentioned in this article, or any other users I've tried. Thanks to the Facebook folks for improving their stuff!
Update (May 12): Please see the new FAQ about the Facebook API Browser.
Yesterday, I discovered something strange while playing with Facebook's new Graph API: the API was showing a list of my events, and it seemed that anyone could get this list. Today, I spent a while checking to make sure I wasn't crazy.
I didn't opt in for this. I even tried setting all my Privacy Settings for maximum privacy. But Facebook is still exposing the list of events I've attended, and maybe your events too.
What can your event list say about you? Quite a bit. It might reveal your home address, your friends' home addresses, the names and groups of people you associate with, your hobbies, or your political or religious activities, for example.
Here's what the Facebook API publishes about Mark Zuckerberg's events:81 comments | post a comment
A lot of people are concerned about Facebook's recent announcements of new information sharing policies and mechanisms. For those that are curious what Facebook actually exposes about you through its new API, I wrote a little tool that browses the API using the access permissions of a new user with no friends.
One: Bear McCreary, composer of the incredible music for Battlestar Galactica and now for several other television series. (Another member of the audience got to sit at the piano and play with Bear, an experience for which I would have given my left arm. (I would have needed to keep the right arm to play.)) Hearing him talk about his art made me spend some time thinking about doing music more seriously.
I went to Berlin over the winter break with various and sundry Noisebridgers to experience my first Chaos Communication Congress. While there I discovered c-base, a combination hacker club, nightclub, and crashed alien spaceship. Closest thing I've seen to the set of a Doctor Who episode, ever.
c-base has a multitouch table they built (with a projector inside, mirror, infra-red illumination, and a diffusing surface), and they had a little hackfest to write things for it. With lots of help and inspiration from two graphics hackers I met there, Martin and Ulli, I wrote multitetris.
Dan Kaminsky calls it the "Minority Report of Tetris". Good times. Man, I miss programming for fun.10 comments | post a comment
I spent the last couple of days working with other people at Google to build a person finder site for the Haiti earthquake. It's now available at Google's earthquake page and the U. S. State Department website. I had lots of help — many people across the company pitched in to help write code, do translations, test, report bugs, and get our launch approved.
Peter Singer has blogged about my proposal. He points out that keeping my pledge pretty much guarantees that I will keep his pledge, so I should take his pledge as well. He's right, so I have.post a comment
Imagine you were confronted with a person in great suffering, and you were capable of helping to alleviate their suffering. If this person were right in front of you, it would probably feel unkind to ignore them.
Yet, rationally, there is no difference between the suffering of a person you can see in front of you, and the same suffering experienced by a person you've never met, thousands of miles away. Is it not equally as necessary to help any fellow human being in great need? Surely geographical location is not relevant to the worth of a life.
This has been my way of thinking for some time. Peter Singer explains it more eloquently in his 1971 essay, Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Yes, charities are less than 100% efficient, and choosing worthy ones can be complicated. And keeping ourselves in love with life is a necessary prerequisite for giving to others. But these are minor caveats in comparison to the main, inescapable point: most people give less than they should. I say this not to criticize any deficiency in their principles, but as an observation that their actions are logically inconsistent with the principles they choose for themselves.
Setting aside a fixed fraction of your income for charitable donations is a pretty common concept. Christians call it tithing, and Singer himself makes a similar suggestion, even proposing specific percentages for income brackets. The problem with the income-fraction approach is that not everyone can afford to give the same fraction of their income. Those barely able to make rent might only be able to afford a little, but billionaires can easily afford to give away most of their income. Singer wrote:
Given a society in which a wealthy man who gives 5 percent of his income to famine relief is regarded as most generous, it is not surprising that a proposal that we all ought to give away half our incomes will be thought to be absurdly unrealistic.
I've never set aside a fraction of my income to donate, even when I've had a regular income. I occasionally donate here and there, at random to a charity that strikes me as a good one, but certainly far less than 10% of my income, probably less than 2%. Having a real job has made me think about what I should do about this.
I have an idea for a different approach that I'm going to try as an experiment. It's pretty simple:
In 2010, I'll match everything I spend on a non-essential purchase with an equal donation to an effective charity.
What's essential? Rent, groceries, furniture, expenses incurred in order to do my job.
What's non-essential? Eating out, movies, gadgets, toys, travel for fun. Gifts for myself, basically.
What's an effective charity? IRC, MSF, PSI, and EFF are my current favourites, though I'm sure there are many other excellent possibilities.
There are a few things I like about this scheme, both practical and psychological:
My plan is to use Mint to tag my expenses as non-essential. At the beginning of each month, I'll do a round of tagging and make a donation.
Thoughts, ideas, or suggestions?
Thanks to Mitch and Slim for reviewing this post.
2010-01-09 14:00 PST: Welcome, @PeterSinger followers! — PeterSinger tweets: Nice idea on giving here: http://wolog.net/254527.html Thanks Ka-Ping Yee. And you can pledge as well at www.thelifeyoucansave.com21 comments | post a comment
Back at the beginning of the year, I made a list of resolutions. Now that 2009 is drawing to a close, I suppose I should evaluate how I did.
For 2009, I resolved:
What for 2010? I'm considering a few things. I guess the main thing I learned this year is what happens when I try to focus singlemindedly on saving-the-world goals to the exclusion of all else, including myself. It seems rational, but it's turned out to be pretty bad for me. I reached my limit and went beyond. I'm not sure exactly what to do next, but I'm thinking that I need more music in my life, and a commitment to enjoying life. Believe it or not, the latter is a very strange concept to me right now, and it's hard to accept.14 comments | post a comment
After visits to clinics, hospitals and dispensaries across Tanzania, IBM, Novartis and Vodafone initiated a five-month pilot of the SMS for Life solution, covering 135 villages and over a million people in different geographic locations across Tanzania.This project is a collaboration among many people; I'm glad to be a small part of it, and it looks like we're helping the Tanzanian Ministry of Health achieve some significant reductions in stockouts. 1 comment | post a comment
I will be in Berlin from December 24 to January 7! If you're in the area or have ideas about what to check out, I'm all ears.3 comments | post a comment
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