Thursday, December 26, 2013

Donating money: a brain dump for 2013

Why donate anything?
We who earn USD can make a lot of difference for people abroad
We in tech (and non-tech folks too) sometimes have more money than we need
It seems like the best cost-benefit tradeoff to make the world a better place

Your possible objections:
I can't be sure I'm doing any good.
That's definitely valid; here I mostly hand it over to GiveWell, who vets their organizations pretty thoroughly. In the end, it is all a bet, but giving to a well-researched organization seems a good enough bet for me.
I don't have time to research anywhere to donate.
Here again I point to GiveWell, who seems thoughtful enough for me, and I usually just donate to their organizations. They're interested in doing the most total good for your dollar; it's sort of utilitarian. If you're into that sort of thing, I like them; if you're not, I'd argue that maybe you should be. (related: how personal should your giving be?)
I don't have money yet, but I will someday. (this likely applies to many of my HCI student friends.)
That's fair. Especially if you're a student. Anything you donate now will be dwarfed by your future donations. (with corporate matching, maybe.) In that case, view your current donations primarily as a way to build a habit. Donate some percentage of your annual income. (or, donate some percentage of your income minus some basic level of living expenses. keep that level constant as your income grows.) If you start donating 1% now, that is a not-insignificant chunk, which will become a huge chunk in the future.
I don't have money yet, and never will.
That's fine too. Don't donate, then. There's no imperative here. For you, it may not be the easiest way to make the world a better place.
I didn't plan for it in this year's budget.
That's fine. Start next year. Pick your target amount, parcel it out week by week. If you make $25k, and you want to donate 1%, that's $250, which is just $5/week. Put cash in an envelope. (seriously!) Or use whatever money management system works for you; I'm not getting into how you should organize your life.
I don't think it's a good way to help the world.
Fine argument. Perhaps you believe that we'd be better off with a free-market utopia or something. I disagree with you, but let's take that offline. The point is, if you donate money to a well-researched organization, even if you haven't done The Best, you have still probably done some good, given the state of the world right now.
It doesn't fit with my current schema of how I manage my money or my life.
This is actually a great point, because it's really probably the biggest reason not to donate. To which I say, it's a pretty arbitrary decision; you can make it a part of your life whenever you want. Why not start now?

Where I'm donating this year:
20% to Kiva to help their operating costs. This is because I've been lending money through Kiva for years, and don't usually donate to help them. Kiva (and all microfinance) might not actually help alleviate poverty. Might even promote unhealthy capitalism in the long run, in that Kiva's organizations are making money off of their clients, and their clients in turn are setting up businesses. Not sure the world needs to be more based on setting up businesses.
On the other hand, microloans do help people smooth out money issues and repayment rates are high, which implies they're not just setting up a huge cycle of debt.
So I'm kind of ambivalent about this, but like I said, I've been lending money through them for years, so my consistency bias in addition to the pluses outweigh the minuses.
80% to GiveDirectly, GiveWell's top rated charity this year, which is also being matched by Good Ventures.

Side notes:
I was thinking about setting up a "gift matching" thing myself, where I'd match y'all's gifts up to $x, but it struck me as dishonest for a couple reasons:
1. I was prepared to donate $x anyway, so I'm either lying about the matching, or I'm withholding money that I would otherwise donate
2. We both kind of get too much credit. I get to say "I helped raise $2x", and you do too, but we each only raised $x.
More on gift matching.

What are your other questions or objections?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Best albums I heard in 2013, and my #1's not Yeezus

It's only a tinge of iconoclasm, and mostly that I just don't really want to listen to it a lot. Anyway, I'd sooner put MBDTF on my 2013 top 10 list, because that album is good enough to time travel; Yeezus is great but not my favorite.

Overall, I was a little disappointed by 2013 music. A lot of my favorites seemed like evolutions, perfections of an existing thing, rather than a new thing. Still, some favorites:
CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe - like this, this is a really good attempt at making a perfect pop album. I was debating whether this was one of The Greats. I don't quite think so, but it's close.
James Blake - Overgrown - I played Retrograde on the radio and was entranced. Think I looped it pretty continuously for about a week. Someone on the internet wrote "Put Thom Yorke in 2099 and you have James Blake." Not a terrible description.
Mrs. Paintbrush - Duke 2 - This is Jackson from Grand Buffet. You haven't heard it yet? You must be wearing glasses made of bullshit! (also, buy it.)
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City - a million websites will tell you why this is good better than I. It's not light and airy like their debut, but it's pretty deep in that I still want to hear it. A lot of feelings. Standouts include Step and Everlasting Arms.
Grimes - Visions - okay this is 2012 but deserves to be on another Best Of list. Might be one of The Greats.

What was very good but not quite my favorite:
Haim - Days Are Gone - feels like it's from the 80's. Starting off the record with Falling is pretty electric; I was convinced I was going to hear another one of The Greats. The rest of the record didn't quite live up to it, though Forever and the title track came close. And then can we talk about "My Song 5"? More of that please.
Lorde - Pure Heroine - Put this a half step below CHVRCHES as my favorite atmospheric female-fronted pop album with standout singles. It feels like a pop album produced by The xx.
Alt-J - An Awesome Wave - Thanks to these guys for doing something a little different in a pop album! Maybe it's just that the main guy's voice is a little weird.
The Knife - Shaking the Habitual - Look, Kanye followed up his epic genre-defining masterpiece with something abrasive and weird, and everyone loved it! Why has everyone snubbed this one? Whatever, it's got its high points (most of the actual songs) and the rest of it is, well, too weird, but I'd rather have too weird than not weird enough.
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories - Okay you love this too, and Get Lucky is the best all around mainstream pop song since Crazy (or maybe Hey Ya!), let's move on, but play Contact one more time first. Yes!
Julia Holter - Loud City Song - Atmospheric concept album that I ought to listen to again.
Janelle Monae - the Electric Lady - not quite up to her first record, but a pretty fun concept album with some great dancy bits. Especially QUEEN and Dance Apocalyptic. I even liked the interludes, and that's rare. I did not like, well, the slow songs.
Jai Paul - self titled bootlegged/unofficially released album - I take back what I said about 2013 being boring; this is great. It might even go in the "favorites" above, but I haven't had enough time. "Listening to a Jai Paul song sounds like a tuning into a pirate radio station being broadcast directly from someone’s brain." Avalanches meets Yeasayer?

What was apparently way older than 2013 but I liked a lot:
Elsiane - Hybrid - RIYL Bjork
Tune-Yards - WhoKill - exuberant weird vocals. Bizness is so joyful. And the line "So sorry but you only stood half a chance/ now it's over and they're walking all over you" from My Country (at 1:23) is so perfect.
David Bowie - Station to Station - and give Low another listen, while you're at it.
Talking Heads - Naked - maligned last album, actually pretty solid, especially Blind.
Kitsune Maison compilation 14 - dance pop, low on depth but quite sugary. Maybe I should get some of the others. Friends's I'm His Girl (Jake Bullitt Remix) stands out.
Uakti and Philip Glass - Aguas de Amazonia - this year I started tackling my to-listen queue from both directions. A long time ago, my uncle Jim recommended this to me, and I just tracked it down. Nice atmospheric.