DPiepgrass

300Joined Feb 2017

Bio

I'm a senior software developer in Canada (earning ~US$70K in a good year) who, being late to the EA party, earns to give. Historically I've have a chronic lack of interest in making money; instead I've developed an unhealthy interest in foundational software that free markets don't build because their effects would consist almost entirely of positive externalities.

I dream of making the world better by improving programming languages and developer tools, but AFAIK no funding is available for this kind of work outside academia. My open-source projects can be seen at loyc.net, core.loyc.net, ungglish.loyc.net and ecsharp.net (among others).

Comments
79

How soon will ALLFED be able to actually deploy emergency nutrition?

I don't know how many additional people died from a lack of nutrition following the invasion of Ukraine, but I'd be a little surprised if it were fewer than direct combat deaths which are probably over 100,000 this year.

Aside from the direct value of saving lives, it's important to demonstrate that emergency food supplies can be deployed at a substantial scale before a global catastrophe actually happens.

Maybe it's that I'm 42. Maybe it's that I read lots and lots of SSC essays before discovering EA. But to me it always seemed like the EA community (as expressed on EA forum and 80000 Hours) wasn't as hardcore as Tyler describes. So I signed up for the GWWC pledge and never thought that I should give more than 10%. I understood pretty early that to seriously cut down on one's quality of life for the sake of effective giving would be bad for the movement as a whole (as I recall, there were essays specifically explaining this), because other potential EAs wouldn't want to go down that same path. Not only would your excessive self-sacrifice make the movement as a whole suffer due to people saying "I'm not hardcore enough to be an EA", but it would harm your own mental health which, in turn, could impair your ability to help others.

I do currently live modestly impoverished though; the 10% GWWC pledge can be a bit tough at low incomes, especially for someone like me. For one thing, I'm really insecure about the possibility of financial ruin, so I tend to save money aggressively (net worth now $200K CAD, which doesn't feel that high when I have a family to take care of). So each year I put 10-30% of after-tax income into retirement savings and then over 10% in GWWC.

But this year the inflation on food and fuel has been really high, I'm currently earning minimum wage (not bad, it's $15 CAD/hr here), I was scammed into buying a lemon car (albeit it was only $1550 CAD), and I was just sued for $100,000 because I rear-ended someone on an icy road at 3 km/h (2 mph, and maybe the insurance will take care of it, we'll see), I'm struggling to get work done while helping take care of our newborn baby, struggling to use Twitter less, I don't have any EA or rationalist friends IRL, and... 

...and I just wish the GWWC pledge was a bit more flexible. Because while technically I'm doing fine, and technically I have lots of savings so I'm not forced to eat this much Ramen... still, I prefer not to deplete my savings (especially as it's so heavily invested in equities and bonds that are way down this year) and not to break my pledge, rather than to have nice food, have a car that isn't likely to die permanently in the next year, and occasionally have some fun activity to please my family... though they're not really happy having a belt this tight.

So it would've been nice if the GWWC pledge had a relief valve for low-income-earners, e.g. it could say "10% of my income after subtracting the cost of basic needs for myself and my dependents." No doubt it was designed to be as simple as possible, but that simplicity will be a bit burdensome for us in 2022-23.

(Also, kind of a stupid technicality... since long before signing the pledge, I have always preferred to give a percent from my post-retirement-savings income rather than before-tax or after-tax income. This way, I will still be able to give money during retirement by giving 10% of my retirement savings. I look forward to that. But the GWWC pledge says to give 10% of "income" which I guess may be pre-tax or post-tax but not post-retirement-savings, and there's no provision for delaying the giving, so... rather than reconfigure my spreadsheet, I normally just give 15% post-retirement-savings to make sure I'm above 10% post-tax (and usually above 10% pre-tax). Maybe I'll tweak the spreadsheet this year to cut my giving down to the minimum.)

Buyer's guide

Dosimeters (accidently posted early, still editing)

I spent many, many hours looking at affordable Geiger counters / dosimeters and had difficulty finding a verifiably good one at a reasonable price.

  • The biggest problem was finding a meter that could get a reading above 99.99µSv/hr, (especially verifiably—someone showing it properly registers high-rad sources). If your city is nuked, it's worthwhile to know if you're getting 300µSv/hr, 3,000 µSv/hr or 30,000 µSv/hr (30 mSv/hr), but if your meter stops at 99 you're out of luck—except that some meters limited to 99uSv/hr do understand doses above that, e.g. this meter registers 0.005 mSv in 59 seconds which is 305µSv/hr, and it can go higher. Here's the thing: at 300µSv/hr, you are getting 7.2mSv/day—which is bad, but not your biggest problem if half of your city is on fire. But at 30 mSv/hr you'll have radiation poisoning in a matter of hours, so leave right now.
  • Another major problem is battery life—good luck recharging without electricity.
  • Amazon has many false listings of "Geiger counters" or "dosimeters" that are actually EM meters. If it measures V/m or teslas, the listing is a lie. Lying is crazy popular on Amazon.
  • There are other features to look for such as data logging, but I had my hands full just looking for the essentials. See also: Geiger counters 101 video.

Many meters 

  1. can't detect all types of radiation (look for gamma + beta detection at least), so your actual dose may be higher than the meter shows (radioactive fallout will have all kinds of radiation, except maybe muon; gammas are notable because they can pass through walls; alpha radiation is easy to block, and often, detectors are too shielded for alphas to reach it),
  2. are not accurate because they are just "counters" that don't measure the energy of each detected particle*. This video is notable because one Ecotest product shows 13 uSv/hr and another Ecotest product shows 61 uSv/hr for the same radioactive plate (Ecotest has a good reputation, and both products are expensive). Not sure why the readings are so different, but in general, Geiger counters are calibrated against a specific radiation source which will have a different average energy level per particle than radioactive fallout (whose composition varies over time, in fact).
  3. may underestimate at very large dose rates, and
  4. even a perfect meter can underestimate, in case of particulates that stick to your lungs/skin/food/water more than to the Geiger counter.

Radiation doses to know about:

  • About 4000 mSv is lethal if untreated (and maybe even with treatment)
  • You start getting radiation sickness at about 400 mSv (if received in a matter of days)
  • 100mSv gives you a roughly 0.4% absolute lifetime risk of getting cancer (higher risk for young women, less for old men)
  • I recently got a cardiac function test that gives 10-30mSv of radiation depending on equipment sensitivity (which determines the dose the doctor gives you)
  • Fukushima residents are not allowed to return home unless the dose is below 20 mSv/year
  • Natural background radiation is 1-2 mSv/year (0.11-0.23 µSv/hr)

Affordable recommendations:

  • Smartphone Geiger counters are the cheapest and smallest options. This video shows that the "FTLAB" meter ($45 CAD) can register at least 300µSv/hr, but if it overloads, the reading will be near zero. Don't forget to download the app!
  • NR-750 is $79 CAD on Amazon. The Amazon listing for NR-750 seems to contradict itself, saying "Dose equivalent rate: 0.01~1000μSv/h (maximum 10mSv/h)" Make up your mind, is the maximum 1mSv/h or 10? Other listings say the same thing. But 1mSv/h should suffice. Only problem is, I've seen no one verify it can handle large radiation measurements.
  • The Chinese "MUFASHA" (or "CHNADKS"?) HFS-P3 ($90 on Amazon, $42 CAD on AliExpress) can be seen here registering over 400µSv/hr.
  • GQ GMC-300E ($178 CAD) or GMC-500 ($220 CAD) are popular; I've seen both reading over 100uSv/hr, and the 500 can read over 1mSv/hr if it's not faulty, though it seems to undermeasure when radiation is high.
  • Bosean FS-600: prices vary and I've found no comprehensive reviews. Some people like it, but it seemed not very sensitive in this review.
  • There are supposed to be various low-precision, low-cost geiger counters and passive dosimeters (such as cumulative exposure 'credit cards') for emergencies, but I just haven't been able to find much information about them. For example, this page tells me that a "pocket ionization chamber" can operate without batteries, but another page tells me they are battery-operated, and neither page discusses actual models, prices, where to buy, or how hard it would be to read a no-battery device in the dark.

*  The coolest product I saw: the RadiaCode-101 gamma radiation spectrometer (355€)

Potassium Iodide (KI) pills

According to this video:

  • Their purpose is to load up your thyroid with iodine, so that it does not absorb radioactive iodine-131 during nuclear disaster. Note: iodine-131's half-life is 8 days, so most of it is gone after a few weeks.
  • Adult dose: 130 mg, 1x per day when exposed. Whereas the FDA document says to soak the tablet and then crush it, this video says to swallow whole without chewing or breaking. I think I'll just follow the directions on the bottle. Safe to eat with food. Pregnant/breastfeeding women are advised to avoid (but I'd say just use smaller doses).
  • Side effects: "allergic reactions including angioedema, hemorrhage, fever, rash and lymph node swelling"
  • Do not overuse. Prolonged use causes "iodism","characterized by a burning sensation in the mouth or throad, stomach irritation, colds, sneezing, metallic taste, evere headache, raw teeth and gums, decreased/increased thyroid function", or "potassium toxicity, characterized by muscle weakness and irregular heartbeat".

It seems potassium iodate is cheaper than iodide, and iodate (dose: 170 mg) is more stable in hot/humid climates, but iodate is a "stronger intestinal irritant". 

I also picked

Other products:

I bought a couple of other products not on OP's list:

  • Portable medkit
  • Multipurpose unit with hand crank, solar panel, USB output for phone charging, battery, flashlight and radio (here's another and another and another.) Does this product category have a name? I bought two of them and a simple solar phone charger, assuming that at least one of these cheap Chinese models will break right away, and if not, it's still nice to have three things.
  • Portable butane stove and 12x227g fuel canisters (how long will that last 4 people? a month?). The propane equivalent cost a lot more; didn't seem worth it.
  • Electric generator (hmm, where can I put this gasoline so the blast won't ignite it? Storing it in my house doesn't seem ideal in non-emergency scenarios... on second thought, maybe a solar array+battery+inverter setup would have been better... I wonder if a nuclear blast would fry an outdoor solar system, though, so that one would have to keep the system offline and wrapped in foil so that it would still be usable after a blast. Better yet, I have my eye on the EB3A power station, which provides enough power to be useful, is light enough to be hand-portable, and cheap enough that it's no tragedy for it to gather dust in peacetime. The only problem is that I can't find an electric stove or microwave that uses more than 200 and less than 600 watts. I realize it would take several hours of solar power to cook a small meal with this, but what if there's no way to buy fuel?)

I'd also like to find a rainbarrel that isn't too expensive, and an extra supply of convenience items, e.g. lip balm, toilet paper. You're making a prepper out of me, Fin!

With the chance of Putin nuking Ukraine being ~7% in the next 3 months, perhaps a campaign to share ALLFED's ideas would be wise right now. Related: most recent post about ALLFED.

I'd be a bit surprised if EAs were even good at surviving post-apocalypse. We've spent all this time learning how best to live in a civilization... we're not preppers, we're not experts in agriculture or building water wells or keeping raiders away from food stashes, I'm not sure how we'll communicate without the internet (but Starlink may well survive), and does ALLFED have any solutions to offer within the next year?

I hope successful rich people show up to the failure party to help provide a path forward.

When I think of my failures in life (and I've had many) what really irks me the most is that ... I failed. I wanted to improve the world, and didn't. (in my case: thousands of hours over 15 years, no impact, and a strong sense of wasted potential). The support I want most, then, is a path toward improving the world. But I guess emotional support would've helped too, in order to prevent me from losing faith that I could ever succeed (I did lose faith to some extent; I tend to act more like someone who expects to fail, now). In my case, I don't know any other EAs in my city, so virtual meetings/therapy might have been helpful. I briefly purchased discount therapy while unemployed in 2018; it was better than nothing.

I like hits-based giving, but if somebody ends up working on misses for many years in a row... we need a community that can support that person.

Yup, I saw somebody on Medium speaking favorably about a Phil Torres piece as a footnote of his article on Ukraine (I responded here). And earlier I responded to Alice Crary's piece. Right now the anti-EAs are often self-styled intellectual elites, but a chorus of bad faith could go mainstream at some point. (And then I hope you guys will see why I'm proposing an evidence clearinghouse, to help build a new and more efficient culture of good epistemics and better information... whether or not you think my idea would work as intended.)

I don't know any other EAs in my area so I haven't witnessed this phenomenon. On the one hand, I like the self-deprecating style because it is the exact opposite style to my arch-nemeses, the anti-science/dark-epistemology people (you know them by many names: climate dismissives, anti-vaxxers, anti-nuclear-power zealots, math deniers...).

On the other hand, there is a reason my nemeses act this way: it works well for them. Certain anti-vaxxers probably earn over $1 million annually on Substack from $5/mo. subscriptions. Clearly, a great many people are attracted to a confident "I'm always right" style of speaking and acting. Are there people who would like EA more if it were more like that? No doubt. Are there enough people who reject "weirdness" that EA would grow more if it worked harder to look cool? Plausible. Can we look cool without risking the soul of EA? Maybe.

But golly, I wouldn't want to take a position without collecting empirical data on all this!

Yeah, but who is speaking here? Beckstead? I don't know any "Beckstead"s. Phil Torres is claiming that The Longtermist Stance is "we should prioritise the lives of people in rich countries over those in poor countries", even though I've never heard EAs  say that. At most Beckstead thinks so, though that's not what Beckstead said. What Beckstead said was provisional ("now seems more plausible to me") and not a call to action. Torres is trying to drag down discourse by killing nuance and saying misleading things.

Torres' article is filled with misleading statements, and I have made longer and stronger remarks about it here. (Even so I'm upvoting you, because -6 is too harsh IMO)

Summary of the talk:

  • "Looking forward to having a conversation today with people about...how we can make the world a better place in the years and decades and centuries ahead. ... I thought it would be valuable where I ... go through some thoughts I have for ... why I think it's so important to be pushing the frontiers of technology in certain ways, both in a for-profit and non-profit context"
  • "My claim is there are only four possible charts you can come up with" for how technological development will proceed over time [I'm not sure what he means exactly; I certainly think the real-life outcome may well look more messy than the ones he presented, but at least I agree that the cyclic one is incorrect. Says he likes exponential growth.]
  • He suggests globalization has been overemphasized over technological development. "The question I always like to pose is, how can we go about developing the developed world."
  • "maybe we can no longer have globalization continue without technological progress at this point"
  • "[by 2030 we may be] losing a consensus even in a place like China for globalization, and we're close to a breakpoint in places like Brazil, Turkey [...] probably a very different paradigm is going to be needed in the decade ahead"
  • "with the founders fund and with some of the nonprofit things that we've done" he's been trying to reverse recent trends via increasing technological progress.
  • "we can think about shaping a future in which there's more technological progress"
  • he presents a dichotomy between "technology" meaning "going from 0 to 1", i.e. making something new, and "globalization" meaning "1 to N", i.e. spreading existing technology around the world. Says almost all nonprofits today (i.e. 2013) are focused on globalization in this sense, not technology.
  • "we have an educational system where we believe that all truth is collective and that the true answers are the answers that everybody knows to be true, whereas if you're going from 0 to 1, you kind of come up with a truth that nobody else knows at that point yet, and [there's] always this question about how do you explain this and [...] pull people in when you're trying to do something that's very, very new... I think there are... a number of features in our society that have made it unusually hostile to this idea of going from 0 to 1"
  • What should we do to go back to an optimistic, definite future? We should ask what things are valuable, that we can actually do, that others are not doing. He uses this as an interview question and finds that most people find it very hard to answer. Says nonprofits should be looking for answers to this question.
  • "good education...probably looks like something where everybody gets educated in a different way that's unique to them as a person"
  • aging/dying is a topic on which "there's more psychological denial than any other topic"; there are many bad arguments against life extension; "every myth on this planet teaches us that the meaning of life is death... [this area] strikes me as grossly underfunded"
  • AI "seems plausible in the next few decades" ... "probably the biggest 0 to 1 thing would be to get something like generalized artificial intelligence. It would change the world in ways that are more radical than we could imagine." [This is kind of an odd comment: he doesn't say that this immense change would be good thing or a dangerous thing, just that it would be radical.]
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