The next step

The Economist lays out what Britain would look like as an EEA member. This seems the most likely option to me, but has some interesting caveats: all other EEA members are part of the Schengen area (which Britain isn’t currently) and make significant contributions to the EU’s budget. We presumably would have to do the same.

I hope we do. Freedom of movement between member states is one of the most beautiful parts of the EU, and an inspiring piece of supranational engineering. Friends of mine are already talking about relocating to Barcelona or Berlin to make the most of it. Maybe I should do the same. 

I’m obviously bitterly disappointed at our nation’s choice to leave. Of the hate-filled and deceitful campaigning, my father said: “the liars won.”

Of course, the result reveals a country riven in two, and a disenfranchised electorate looking to stick up two fingers at Westminster. And rarely does a catastrophe have a single root cause: here it was not just the misinformation fed to the public, but worsening prospects for the working class, a totally ineffectual Labour campaign for a remain vote, torrential flooding on polling day. 

A commenter in the FT summed up my sadness on Friday best:

[The] younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors.

I’m finding it hard to see a silver lining. 

Links #2

Examining the Accidental Life:

I remember saving aggressively to fund a summer backpacking trip to Europe in 1998, on a shoestring budget (which I bragged about for years after). Then there were the years and years of road trips, short and long, criss-crossing the US multiple times.

Those were good times. Peacefully lost wandering times. As close as you can get in the real human world to hitchhiking the galaxy, armed only with a towel.

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist:

If I convince you that I’m a channel for important information, messages, friendships, or potential sexual opportunities — it will be hard for you to turn me off, unsubscribe, or remove your account — because … you might miss something important[.]

How To Be Attractive (a very strange piece which I don’t endorse, but is beautifully crafted):

People rarely change: practice makes you better at being who you already are. “I spend hours refreshing the same three websites and I don’t enjoy any of them.” Seems reasonable. You’re playing to your strengths.

Americans want to know who’s winning. Sex, money, and violence just happen to be the games in which everyone has a score.

Going Veggie Would Save Trillions of Lives, Not Millions:

Each year, around 70 billion land animals are killed for food.

What Happens Next Will Amaze You:

Ad blockers help us safeguard an important principle—that the browser is fundamentally our user agent. It’s supposed to be on our side. It sticks up for us. We get to control its behavior. No amount of moralizing about our duty to view unwanted advertisements can change that.

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.

Brain Pickings

State of the Union: programming professionally in 2016

Stack Overflow released their latest annual developer survey last month.

(For any non-programmers reading: Stack Overflow is a website where you can ask questions about programming. For many programming problems, the answer will already be up there. It’s an amazing resource that almost everyone in the industry uses.)

A few key points stood out for me.

Education: 43% of programmers have a BA or BS in Computer Science or a related field. This is a much smaller number than I would have guessed. It’s amazing to think that most programmers don’t have a CS degree. The survey methodology has changed from last year, when respondents could only pick one option for their education,

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. During a recent retrospective at Pivotal, I noted that of the handful of people in the room, most either had a degree in a non-CS subject or didn’t have a degree at all.

Bootcamp graduates: 6.5% of developers with over five years’ experience have taken a full-time intensive programming course – that’s over 1 in 20, more than I expected. It suggests that bootcamp alumni are finding their feet as professional developers, and shouldn’t have problems getting jobs as long as their skills stay relevant. Bootcamp graduates’ salaries are 20% above average – a similar uplift to having a CS PhD.

Salary by gender: there’s no gender pay gap for young developers in the US – but there’s a significant pay gap for those above 30. The effect is smaller, but still significant, when comparing by years of experience instead of age.

Gender balance by age: women make up much more of the youngest and oldest age groups than those in the middle. The peak in the over-60 age group certainly corresponds to the 1980s peak – and subsequent collapse – in the number of women taking CS degrees, and when those women would have entered the workforce. Perhaps we’re seeing an uptick in the number of women entering the industry.

The stack: JavaScript is the most used technology by front-end, back-end and full-stack developers. Wat.

Sleeping better with melatonin

I’ve suffered from insomnia for as long as I can remember – certainly since I was a teenager. Melatonin has provided some relief, putting me to sleep more quickly and deeply. It’s safe to use daily for up to three months; more research is needed on long-term use.1

Melatonin is a tricky to obtain: it’s not available in the UK, though you can buy it over-the-counter in the US (and can import it into the UK).

My summary:

  • the most effective dose is 0.3mg2
  • taken 1–2 hours before bedtime3

Melatonin sold over-the-counter tends to come in very large doses. Buy the lowest dose you can find, likely 1mg, and use a pill cutter to get to the required dose (I take 0.25mg).

Gwern has written a very comprehensive article on melatonin for those interested.

A huge opportunity to do good

From Will MacAskill’s Doing Good Better:

What the conclusions from the economic studies suggest is that the benefit you would get from having your salary doubled is the same as the benefit an extremely poor Indian farmer earning $220 a year would get from an additional $220. As noted earlier, the typical US wage is $28,000 (£18,200), so there is good theoretical reason for thinking that the same amount of money can be of at least one hundred times as much benefit to the very poorest people in the world as it can be to typical citizens of the West. Anyone earning this much is one hundred times as rich as the very poorest people in the world, which means one additional unit of income can do a hundred times as much to benefit the extreme poor as it can to benefit you or I. …

The 100x Multiplier should surprise us. We shouldn’t expect to be able to do so much to benefit others at such little cost to ourselves. But we live in an unusual place during an unusual time. It’s an unusual place because, if you’re reading this book then, like me, you’re probably lucky enough to be earning $16,000 (£10,500) per year or more, putting you in the richest 10% of the world’s population. That’s a remarkable situation to be in. It’s an unusual time because it comes after a period of extraordinary economic progress that has led to some of the world experiencing what is, historically, fabulous wealth. …

In a mere 200 years, we’ve become thirty times richer. But it is a time following remarkably unequal economic progress. Despite the riches of people like us, there are still billions living in abject poverty. … few people who have ever existed have had so much power to help others as we have today.

Sometimes we look at the size of the problems in the world and think, ‘Anything I do would be just a drop in the bucket. So why bother?’ But, … that reasoning doesn’t make any sense. It’s the size of the drop that matters, not the size of the bucket, and, if we choose, we can create an enormous splash.

TIL about Ruby bindings

(I’m writing more about programming things I’ve learned.)

In Ruby, the pry gem lets you call binding.pry in your code, so that when it runs, you get dropped into a breakpoint. From there, you can play around with variables and methods, just like you would in a REPL.

Today I learned what binding actually is — it’s an object containing the current execution context at the point it’s called. Effectively, it’s a snapshot of the state of your program.

And now, courtesy of @harxy:

Why was the meek programmer bad at debugging?
Because he didn’t like to pry!

Giving what we can

I’ve finally taken the Giving What We Can​ pledge – a commitment to give away (at least) 10% of my income to the most effective charities in the world.

Amounts of money that are relatively small to us in the developed world can make an enormous difference if applied well. An insecticide-treated mosquito net costs around $5. Giving a child a deworming pill to treat schistosomiasis costs a little over a dollar. Online animal welfare outreach, per dollar, can spare the lives of 37 farmed animals. These are highly effective interventions that are outstanding opportunities to do good.

On a ‘cost per extra year of life’ basis, some charities are hundreds of times more effective than others. That’s why I’m convinced that ‘effective altruism’ – spending your money on the right kind of charity – is one of the best ways you can change the world.

If the average US citizen gave 10% of their income to The Against Malaria Foundation​, then each year it could distribute 700 mosquito nets, preventing 190 cases of malaria and 2.2 deaths. Over a lifetime, that would amount to saving 90 lives.

Real change is possible. You can make a difference.


To mistakes

As 2015 comes to an end, I’m reminded of Neil Gaiman’s paean to failure. It seems a fitting end to a year – to be reminded of how to go about the next.

For this year, my wish for each of us is small and very simple.

And it’s this.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. …

As they say: if you’ve never missed a flight, you’re spending too much time in airports.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

(On a more practical note: I’m Beeminding mistakes made.)