Sunday Writing Club

@sundaywritingclub

One piece of writing, every Sunday.

2,110 words

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Where to donate?

This year my donations have been inspired by the Effective Altruism movement and the utilitarian philosophies of Peter Singer and Derek Parfit. Very simply, I want to give in ways that minimize suffering in the world.

I want to donate to organizations that work on global poverty and health because I believe a marginal dollar will do more in Africa than in the US (potentially 100x more). For Global Health I will donate to Givewell which does charity research and passes donations on to the organization they believe can do the most good. I will also donate to the Effective Altruism Global Health and Development Fund which makes grants to smaller global health projects around the world.

http://givewell.org/
https://app.effectivealtruism.org/funds/global-development

I want to donate to organizations that reduce animal suffering. While I don't believe that animal suffering is equivalent to human suffering I think it exists on a continuum and with 1 trillion farmed animals alive right now there is unquestionable suffering. I will donate to Animal Charity Evaluators which does research and passes donations on to the organizations that do the most good. I will also donate to the Effective Altruism Animal Welfare fund which makes grants to smaller projects around the world.

https://animalcharityevaluators.org/
https://app.effectivealtruism.org/funds/animal-welfare

I want to donate to organizations that reduce future suffering. Most of the people that will ever live on this earth haven't been born yet and we should work to minimize their suffering as well. I will donate to the Clean Air Task Force which is a US-based NGO that reduces climate change through public policy work. I will also donate to the Effective Altruism long-term future funds which makes smaller grants mostly toward academic researchers.

https://www.catf.us/
https://app.effectivealtruism.org/funds/far-future

My open source and non-AWS backup solution

Recently I started looking for a new backup system. I wanted a system that was:

  • Cloud based
  • Cross-platform
  • Open Source
  • Didn't use Amazon AWS

The best system I discovered was the open source tool Borg coupled with an account on Rsync.net (which has been around since 2001).

This system is somewhat tricky to get set up so what follows are the steps I took to get everything working:

First you need to get a borg specific account from Rsync.net which is currently at this link: https://rsync.net/products/attic.html

After signing up the first thing you need to do is change your password:

ssh -t user@host.rsync.net passwd

Next you'll generate SSH keys and upload them to the Rsync.net server

ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 

# hit enter to not save a passphrase

scp ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub user@host.rsync.net:.ssh/authorized_keys 

You can now check to make sure you don't get prompted for a password when you check how much disk space you've used:

ssh user@host.rsync.net quota

Next in your local shell you'll set a remote path to use borg1 at Rsync.net. By default Rsync uses an older version of borg.

export BORG_REMOTE_PATH=/usr/local/bin/borg1/borg1

Then we will create the repo in your rsync account

borg init -e repokey-blake2 user@host.rsync.net:backups

You will now want to export your Borg key and put it somewhere safe (I put it in my password manager):

borg key export user@host.rsync.net:backups borg.key

You now can create your first backup with Borg. Borg maintains an index of all the files it seems so even if you change archive names, schedules in the future you won't have to reupload files you backup with this command:

borg create --progress --stats user@host.rsync.net.rsync.net:backups::first_backup /Users/username/

You can always check the integrity of your remote backup with this command:

borg check user@host.rsync.net.rsync.net:backups

So far Borg has been a great tool and the I'm liking this new setup.

1 year without any social media

I remember the exact moment I decided to deactivate all my social media accounts. I was at the bookstore with my daughter. I was scrolling through Instagram while she was flipping through a book. Suddenly I realized that social media was taking me out of the present moment with her. I was going to miss key moments by liking the posts of people I hardly knew. I decided to make a change. I deactivated all my accounts: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Strava.

Today is my 1 year anniversary of being completely social media free.

So what are some observations about being 1 year social media free?

News and long-form articles replaced my social media consumption

I expected that cutting down social media would allow me to spend more time reading books but that's not what happened. Instead I simply replaced my social media time with mindlessly clicking through news headlines or reading some great long-form articles. Essentially I went back to the way I used the Internet pre-2006. Overall I would say this is a positive change but it wasn't what I expected.

I lost touch with many people

There's a group of people on social media who I went to high school/college with or was friends with in other cities that I would typically stay loosely connected to on social media by leaving comments on each other's posts. I have completely lost touch with this group and have not had an interaction with them since I left social media. I have mixed feelings about this as the size of my social circle seems much smaller.

I spend more time with my closest friends and family

I spend more time texting/emailing/calling some of my closest friends and family and I think I'm better connected to them than I have been in years. This has been the most positive change. I think essentially cutting out social media has been about minimizing time with acquaintances in order to spend more time with the people I’m closest to.

I was late hearing about big events in the lives of my closest friends

Even with my closest friends I would be late to hear major news like a new job or even a pet dying. Many people will announce the biggest news in their lives first on social media. I still heard about these through a text/phone call but it might be a few days after the people on social media knew about it.

Overall I'm really happy with the change and plan to continue staying social media free in 2019!

How many trips with my daughter are left?

I am currently on a solo weekend trip with my daughter who is 5 years old. We've been doing about 3 solo weekend trips per year since she was 2 years old. 12 trips so far. I wonder how many more solo trips we have left in her lifetime?

Let's assume we're able to keep having one trip a year until she's 13. That doesn't seem like a lot but with school activities, vacation time, visiting family that is a flight away that seems like a reasonable average.

What about after she's 13? It seems like once every 5 years is a more reasonable bet. One of my friends just spent a weekend with her mom for the first time in 30 years! As she grows up, moves away, and has a family of her own it seems that the ability to truly be away with just the two of us will be difficult.

12 trips so far. 8 trips between now and when she's 13. 9 trips between 13 and 46 which is how old she will be when the life expectancy tables tell me I will be dead. That's 29 trips total with 12 already taken.

Here's what that looks like visually:

Total solo weekend trips with my daughter:

o o o o o 
o o o o o 
o o o o o 
o o o o o 
o o o o o
o o o o

Already completed solo weekend trips with my daughter:

x x x x x  
x x x x x  
x x o o o 
o o o o o 
o o o o o
o o o o

40% of the trips in her life with me have already been completed. 40% of the minutes are already gone. People say kids grow up fast but it hits home when you see it visually.

Human Compatible by Stuart Russell book notes

Inventing super-intelligent AI will be the biggest event in the future of humanity. It's unclear when super-intelligent AI will appear. Many experts say super-intelligent AI will arrive in 2050 but a more conservative estimate is 2100.

AI is already having a big impact on human activity. One example is Facebook's content selection algorithms in the 2016 elections. Facebook makes money when someone clicks on content, people with extreme views are more likely to click on extreme forms of content. Therefore, Facebook's algorithm incentivizes the spread of extreme links and videos since people don't click on moderate content. These algorithms could lead to the resurgence of fascism. Would Trump have been elected without these social media platforms?

AI could have a positive benefit on humans. The industrial revolution delivered a 10x improvement in living standards between 1820-2000 and it's reasonable to think that the world of AI could bring about a similar increase in our standard of living.

AI could be a "Gorilla problem". This problem describes the reluctance Gorilla's must have felt by being the source of the genetic material that created humans which led to their downfall. AI also has a "King Midas problem" which is a cautionary tale about it's unpredictability. Kind Midas got everything he wanted -- mainly items he touched to turn to gold. This included his family and his food and he died in misery and alone. How can we prevent AI from taking over from humans and how can we control it?

Currently AI is programmed according to the "Standard Model" which are algorithms that are designed to achieve human objectives like the Facebook content algorithm described above. The standard model could lead to the King Midas problem where AI's pursue their objectives without regard to what humans want.

The way to avoid the Gorilla and King Midas problems is to design AI that is provably beneficial to humans.

The rules of how to create this AI are as follow:

  • The machine's only objective is to maximize the realization of human preferences.
  • The machine is initially uncertain about what those preferences are.
  • The ultimate source of information about human preferences is human behavior.

The rest of the book goes into how to deign and prove that these systems work.

Thoughts on Peter Singer and Utilitarianism

A few years ago I read Peter Singer's essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality. The basic premise is:

  • Suffering in the world is bad
  • We have a moral imperative to prevent suffering in the world
  • Therefore, we should give all of our money to effective charities until the next dollar we donate would cause us more suffering than it would prevent for someone else.

Peter Singer is a proponent of utilitarianism which is an ethical system that bases the rightness and wrongness of an action on the net benefit of that action to society. Additionally, an action that provides more net benefit to society is better than an action that provides less net benefit.

When thinking about suffering you can expand that to include not just humans but animals as well. In Singer's book Animal Libration he makes the point that animals suffer at a greater rate than humans. There are over 25 billion animals living in factory farms in the US. That is a lot of suffering that could be eliminated.

We can think about suffering not just in terms of the humans and animals currently living but those that will live in the future as well. According to Nick Botrom there will be over a million billion people that inhabit the earth over the next billion years. This suggest that it might be more important to do work that reduces future suffering (such as funding climate change efforts) than the suffering of people who are currently alive.

So putting this all together to live the most ethical life possible I want to focus on ways to:

  • Reduce human suffering
  • Reduce animal suffering
  • Reduce future generations of human and animal suffering

Sunday Writing Club

There are many things you can do on a Sunday morning. I am going to write. I am writing to hold myself accountable for learning something every week. I am writing to ensure there's a specific time and place for me to reflect. I am writing to understand who I am.

We are formed through our moments of quiet introspection.

The rules I've set for Sunday Writing Club are simple and no fuss.

1) Write every Sunday
2) For 1 hour
3) Post anonymously (no ego)

That's it! Join me for #sundaywritingclub