Four years of consumption offsets and going strong.

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 posted here with the results after the first year, and continued in subsequent years. Last year, someone asked if I was still doing it. I am, and it's working out great. The rate of giving is steadily increasing; in 2013, donations reached 1.5 times nonessential spending and 30% of income.

I have a lot of privileges that make it easy to give, but nonetheless, it's still a good thing to do, and I encourage you to consider a scheme like this if you are thinking about how you'll give to charity. With this method, you get to decide what is essential and what is non-essential, so (a) this motivates thinking about what is essential, which I find useful; and (b) it works for any income level, since spending money on things that are truly essential doesn't affect your charitable donations.

It also matters a lot which charities you give to; some charities can be massively effective and others not at all. This year my largest donations went to Deworm the World, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, charity:water, Planned Parenthood, Partners in Health, Innovations for Poverty Action, and Village Reach. Check them out.

Do you have plans or processes that you use for giving to charity, deciding how much to give, and choosing the organizations you support?

Aaron Swartz.

I went to the memorial service for Aaron at the Internet Archive last night. This is what I said.

I've been thinking about Aaron every day since I heard the news. When I think about Aaron, I remember the conversations we used to have about how we wanted to change the world. We sat in the dining room in my co-op, over plain white bread. He would tell me his ideas; I would tell him mine.

It's been amazing to see this outpouring from all over the world—so many people writing about Aaron, inspired by him. Danny wrote, "Every page I open has his name on it"—it's been like that. It surprised me to see so many people who are so moved by him who didn't know him personally, or even hadn't heard of him until now. And I think that's a testament to the power of the causes he stood for and the depth of his commitment to them. Aaron's causes are causes that touch all of us.

For a long time, I've admired his intellect and his work, but right now, what I feel most strongly—and I think a lot of other people do too—is: I wish I had his conviction. And maybe some of us are asking ourselves, as I've been asking myself: What could I do if I had his conviction?

Aaron was pragmatic. He wouldn't be satisfied with us just standing here and talking about him. He would want us to act.

So: find a way to act. None of us can be Aaron, but each one of us has skills, resources, relationships, strengths that are special to us. Take a minute to think about what capabilities you have, what privileges you have, what you're able to risk, and how you can bring those things to bear on the injustices that surround us. When we fight injustice, we're taking care of each other. And we have to take of each other. We have to take care of each other.

Pick something that needs doing, and use this moment, when injustice is staring you in the face: use it to make a promise to yourself to follow through. Because not everyone is able to fight, but we can. Not everyone knows they have to fight, but we know. And so many more people know now, because of Aaron.

If you're listening to this, you're not a spectator. You're in this fight, with Aaron, and with all of us. There's so much that we have to do.

Aaron was 26. Jon Brilliant was also 26.

My Google+ profile has just been suspended for having an unusual name.

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.

On living a good life.

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 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.

I hadn't known Jon very well. I met him once when visiting his father's house. They invited me to swim in their pool and I hadn't brought swimming trunks, so Jon offered to let me borrow his, and I did. He was cheerful and gentle, and shone with excitement as he told me about his trip to China. When I heard that he had cancer, I felt compelled to convey comfort but I wasn't sure how. I picked up a book on Chinese calligraphy, a brush, and a bottle of ink, and practiced until I could adequately draw the characters for "health" and "courage" on cards for him and his parents. I thought he had gotten better. I had no idea that the cancer had become so serious since then. The news was a terrible shock; it felt so wrong, so unfair to him, so unfair to Larry and his family. Here is a man whose work saved countless lives, and yet he has lost his son to a cruel disease.

Jon was twenty-six.

Jon's friends from high school and college were there. They really loved him. I could see it in the way they stood when they went up to speak, and hear it in the way they told stories about him. There was joy and laughter in the things they celebrated about him, and parts they could not get through without tears. They spoke with deep love as they described all they had learned from him, the ways he had connected and inspired them, the wisdom and insight he had shown them. They mentioned the many things he had accomplished, the many places he had travelled, always trying to understand the world and make it better, and the many people whose lives he had touched in his short life.

We were reminded: the measure of a life is how well it is lived, not how long.

I suppose it is part of the natural experience of a memorial service to reflect on one's own life—on what one is grateful for, perhaps on what one regrets, and on how it might be lived more fully. And today I did reflect. I noticed that the intensity of my ambition—first to win prizes, and later to engineer help for the suffering, and occasionally to create nifty things—has so often crowded out the building of truly deep relationships with other people. Romantic interests have been the significant exception, and when relationships ended, the depth faded away. The kinds of things Jon's friends described—the way he inspired them, the way he taught them about love, the way he showed them how to love themselves—these are the actions of someone who has the simple and easy confidence of knowing they will always have love, not someone who is focused on chasing love as if to fill in something missing.

It is a startling concept to think of living one's entire life in terms of questions like
    "Who is close to me and how can I change their life for the better?"
    "How can I become a wiser person and share that wisdom?"
    "What could I do to inspire the people around me?"
I'm just not used to thinking that way. Mostly, it's
    "How can I accomplish this task?"

I understand why I do it. Deep down, I think it scales better—part of me feels morally compelled to choose to work on a lonely project that I hope or believe might help many people I'll never know, instead of building connections with people one at a time. If I spent all my time trying to be well-connected and popular and loved, I think I wouldn't be as productive. But wouldn't it be wonderful to have truly changed someone's life by bringing into it a new kind of wisdom or love or insight?

This is an interesting quotation from Larry Brilliant:
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.

What's an effective charity?

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.)

Continuing the pledge.

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.

The experiment was successful! It succeeded in every way I had hoped it would: I donated much more to charity than I ever had before; I feel great about it; I learned something about my spending patterns; and I had fun in 2010. A lot of fun. (Certain others can attest.)

It also had a further benefit I had not predicted: I learned more about charities and effective philanthropy.

I find that I like this method of determining the amount to donate. It seems less arbitrary than choosing a percentage of income, which would leave me wondering whether I picked the right percentage. For the past year, every gift for myself was also a gift for someone else. That feels right, and I'm going to keep doing it.

(In case you're curious: the list of charities.)

(Not wrong, but a little odd to see my real name getting tweeted everywhere. I'm @zestyping on Twitter.)

Bill Clinton thanks Google.

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".

This is what's wrong with the privacy debate.

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.