Links from Last Week

Nobody Cares How Hard You Work

Thank god someone said it! Because seriously. The American obsession with effort is crazy to me. I think this is exactly the mentality that leads to the Peter principle - we value effort and exahustion rather than outcomes. "Obvious he is better at his job than she is - look how hard he worked!" I was super happy the author made the connection to Weber's theory on Calvinism because this theory explains a lot of funny quirks in our culture, and doesn't get enough credit.

To reach creativity heaven, though, you’ll need a different approach—one that prioritizes doing the right things, not just lots of things.
— Oliver Burkeman

I forget where I found this. Somewhere in the depths of the interwebs. But it is great.

The single Best Interview Question You Can Ask

I like this question a lot. I've been doing a lot of interviewing (on both sides of the table) lately and more and more I've affirmed my belief that interviews are about finding out if you can work with a person more than about assessing their competence. I mean ability is important but really you are screening for things like internal motivation, attention to detail, work style etc. Particularly if you have a specific company culture you are very interested in maintaining or creating.

Aside from interviews I like it for talking to people! I am (was) terrible and anxious about small talk (click on the next link to find out more). So I collect interesting questions like this one. The usual "how old are you?" "where are you from?" "what do you do?" are 1. boooooring! and 2. frequently problematic. Beside questions like this quickly start conversations and get people engaged and interested. Perhaps later I will share a list of some of these gems.

19 Small Awards Anyone with Anxiety Deserves

In effective altruism meetings a lot of us talk about "doing the thing" as in needing to actively work on a problem or follow through with ideas and turn them into actions. There is also usually a lot of discussion about self-care as well as staying aware of mental states. As someone with anxiety I loved these graphics, because sometimes not over-thinking that vague moment takes a LOT of effort dang nab it! But this one in particular struck home for particularly good for the EA crowd.

The 7 Best Ways to Help with the Syrian Refugee Crisis

The refugee crisis in the EU and the Middle East has pulled in an extensive amount of media coverage recently, and like natural disasters, the horrific situation has motivated many to try and help. There are loads and loads of international organizations, government petitions and small fundraisers floating around to help Syrian refugees in various countries.

In 2014 there were 59.5 million displaced people around the world, and 4 million of them are from Syria. That means that 1 in every 122 people in the world are either a refugee, displaced person, or seeking asylum.



Before we donate, like any good investor (when we donate we are investing in a better world) we have to do a little homework to understand how to approach this particular market. Thankfully there is loads of information out there about why there is currently a refugee crisis unlike anything seen since WWII.

Vox published a great piece called The refugee crisis: 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask. As well as the shorter: The Syrian refugee crisis, in 4 maps and charts. Skim it, or even just read the big bold numbered bits. I trust you'll get the gist of it; you're a smart cookie.

no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
— Warsan Shire

OK so we've established that the situation is bad. How do we best help?

There has been a massive push to let in more refugees to many countries. Immigration is a hotly contested issue, with most governments leaning towards the conservative perspective of keeping people out. Though as Will MacAskill points out "The question of how many refugees to accept is purely a political one, not an economic one." There has been lots of research on how immigration, and even open borders are actually economically beneficial for the accepting country. Frequently the fear associated with allowing immigrants and refugees isn't actually about economics, but of shifting cultural demographics and a changing sense of national identity.

When comparing to the massive amount of human suffering vs the uncomfortable feeling of a changing community the option to allow in more refugees seems to be the obvious better choice. So perhaps the most impactful way to make make progress on the refugee crisis is actually little grassroots lobbying. There has been an impressive show of support in the EU to accept more refugees. In the US there are lots of petitions out there to sign asking the US to allow in more refugees, and end the Syrian conflict:


Those are the fastest, probably most effective ways to create a long term solution to the refugee crisis. However policy change is slow and hard won. Obama recently increased the number of refugees the US will accept overt the next year to 10,000. This number pales in comparison the the tens of thousands the US used to accept, and those allowed in still face an uphill battle of paperwork.

So how do we help those trying to seek refuge now and make sure we are doing the most good we can? Well the first answer is simple. Send cash. Cash donations are always more useful than sending goods directly.

  • UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR): 5min & $20
    My best recommendation for your donations. This organization is taxed with supporting all refugees world wide, is supported by the UN, but is still constrained in it's ability to function by lack of funds. Building the international community relies on supporting organizations like this one, and showing your support shows countries that humanitarian aid is valued. The other reason I strongly recommend this organization is because they work on all levels of refugee needs, from emergency shelter and water to legal needs and boat rescues.
  • Oxfam America: 2min & $35
    Oxfam is working in the refugee camps to establish and maintain sanitation, clean water and to provide essential supplies.
  • UNICEF: 2min & $50
    Providing food clothes and most importantly immunizations for refugees. Displaced people are hard to track, move constantly and are susceptible to many diseases. Immunizations are important!

There are loads of other organizations out there and lots of other lists that can point you in more donation directions, but after doing some digging these three were the ones that stood out to me as being knowledgeable, transparent, on the ground, and providing necessary services.

I would also be interested in learning about any effective organizations working to help refugees navigate the complex legal systems in place. The US in particular has a rigorous process that includes collecting biometric information and a plethora of bureaucratic hoops. I imagine that finding a way to allow many people to navigate this system quickly would be highly beneficial.

But then again, with more open borders that would be a moot point.

Zaatari Camp in northern Jordan Photo: Will Wintercross via the Telegraph

Zaatari Camp in northern Jordan Photo: Will Wintercross via the Telegraph


GiveWell has also endorsed giving to Doctors Without Borders. 2min and $50
As always please make your donations unrestricted!

YouGov released poll data for US support of taking in more refugees. Given these numbers I am inclined to think that it may also be a good use of time to start talking with friends about the overall benefits more open border laws. A shift in public opinion is challenging but potentially highly impactful.

Infographic: How Do Americans Feel About Taking In Refugees?  | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

Links from Last Week

Not Yet Gods - Nate writes very beautifully. Perhaps I am always surprised by this because I think of him as an intensely mathy person, and I often struggle to explain the beauty I find in words to mathy people. Conversely I struggle to see the beauty if formula and numbers and logic. I grasp it on a very existential, ephemeral, fractal pattern, golden ratio sort of *ooh ahh* sort of way. But the true beauty of the thing is probably lost on me. 

I digress.

I often fall prey to this feeling of broken coulds. I could've written that in a more timely manner. I could've been less anxious, less depressed. I could've not had that third beer, I could've gotten out of bed earlier, I could've gone to the gym instead of sleeping. I could also learn to hold by breath for 17 minutes and be the next David Blane. But that takes work. So, so, soo much work you guys! It takes training, and patience, and drive, and ambition, and kindness. To do this without breaking you have to be kind to your monkey. My monkey probably won't try holding her breath for that long (or really any amount of time) but she is trying to make herself, and the world a little better. And that takes training, and patience, and drive, and kindness too.

A Wonderfully Simple Heuristic to Recognize Charlatans - Really this is just good advice on thinking better by using subtractive epistemology. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

Avoiding stupidity is often easier than seeking brilliance

History of Philanthropy Case Study: The Impact of Philanthropy on the Passage of the Affordable Care Act - The Open Philanthropy Project summarizes a 91 page write up by Benjamin Soskis in the attempt to explore effective policy change using the passage of ACA (colloquially known as Obamacare) as a case study. Concision: *shrug*

OK they say a lot more than that but basically the main point is that it is very difficult to detangle how much one intervention or one donation has in terms of impact when there are millions of dollars, thousands of donors, and lots of charities all doing multiple interventions. Personally I see this as part of the problem with a lot of traditional charity work. You aren't asked to measure, or if you are it is frequently not in a meaningful way. Saying 'we distributed 10,000 leaflets doesn't really say anything if you don't have a reasonably good idea what would have happened without those leaflets. Worse still is often the measurement is just "we printed 10,000 leaflets" without a nod to distribution, let alone impact.

Links from Last Week

Why the Rich Love Burning Man

I have a love hate relationship with this article. Or rather I have a love hate relationship with Burning Man and with this traditional sort of socialist thought. Yes I agree, this nonsense is elitism. I also think that the idea of radical self expression is intensely appealing and a part of me desperately wants to cling to the dream.

When “freedom” and “inclusion” are disconnected from democracy, they often lead to elitism and reinforcement of the status quo.

Remittances are a driving force in the world economy.  Yea I know it is more a picture than a link. You'll get over it.

Remittances are a driving force in the world economy.

Yea I know it is more a picture than a link. You'll get over it.

Trust the World

After reading this, as well as her article on Effective Altruism I think Leila Janah is becoming one of my favorite people. I know, I know the title is "Why Effective Altruism Isn't Enough" but honestly, I think what she doesn't realize is that the points she is arguing lie very closely inline with EA. In fact I think they are EA ideas.

I Quit My Development Job and Ate Some Humble Pie

Combining this with Janah's article, as well as my growing hesitation with traditional socialists, I am beginning to think the way forward is somewhere, unsurprisingly, in the middle ground. Something like democratized socially conscious venture capitalism. Was that buzz-wordy enough for you?

No, I am No Crowdfunding This Baby

Her prayer to the holy trinity may be my evening prayer for the coming months. More than that this article reminded me how much I love Amanda Fucking Palmer and all the fiesty, artsy, kick-ass ladies who came before. Because who, in her adolescence, didn't feel like the Girl Anachronism?

Patti…Ani...Björki…hear my prayer. May I not get fucking boring.

Links From Last Week

My new desk inspiration

My new desk inspiration

Excited Altruism

A great write up on how optimization, particularly for a good cause, is actually really exciting! Sometimes people seem to think being interested in effective altruism means giving up your passion. I've found the opposite to be true. My passion is helping people, optimizing for it feels more successful. The comparison to athletic mantras seems to fit well: "Athletes sometimes talk about “giving 110%” or “leaving it all on the field” – they can’t be satisfied with their effort if they feel they held anything back." This is what effective altruism feels like; it feels like not holding back.

Half-Assing it With Everything You've Got

Words cannot express how much I love this article. I particularly loved his analogy of homework. This theory and way of approaching school work is what got me through college. Most people looked at me like I was crazy when I explained it, so eventually I just stopped trying to explain.

"I personally find that shooting for the minimum acceptable quality is usually fun. Doing the homework assignment is boring, but finding a way to get the homework assignment up to an acceptable level with as little total effort as possible is an interesting optimization problem that actually engages my wits, an optimization problem which both my inner perfectionist and my inner rebel can get behind."

Robots & Basic Income

If you've never heard of basic income it is the idea that everyone is given certain basic amount of money so that they can exist happily in modern society. No job necessary. This seems pretty awesome to me, for a number of reasons, and I'm looking forward to talking with more people about the idea. This author talks about how technology is moving this closer to a reality, or even maybe an imperative.

Silicon Valley Philosophy

For those of you out there where philosophy and coding collide. Very funny.

Progress for Children

A photo story book from UNICEF. Beautiful photography paired with stats and achievements in helping children. A good reminder of why to give, and why giving makes a difference.

The number of children out of school has fallen from 106 million in 1999 to 58 million in 2012. But with population growth considered, if our rate of progress remains the same, roughly as many children will be out of school in 2030 as there are today.