All of jefftk's Comments + Replies

Testing the FLEDGE Prototype

No, that's quite different. You're talking about contextual advertising: showing ads to people based on information about the page they are currently visiting. FLEDGE is intended for remarketing: showing ads to people based on the pages they have previously visited.

Testing the FLEDGE Prototype

The prototypical use case is something like:

  1. You visit Amazon and add a blender to your shopping cart

  2. You visit the NYT, Amazon shows a blender ad to see if you want to come back and complete the purchase

Today this happens via third-party cookies, but with FLEDGE this would look like:

  1. On the Amazon page, when you put the blender in your shopping cart Amazon would call joinAdInterestGroup to add you to some sort of interest group.

  2. On the NYT page, their ad network calls runAdAuction and includes Amazon a

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Massachusetts Tick-Borne Disease Distribution

Right. I initially thought that this explained the difference, but when they count a case towards Nantucket they're only counting it if the person is a resident of Nantucket.

Massachusetts Lyme Reporting

This makes it sound like TickCheck is a neutral party here. TickCheck doesn't make money by providing the data to users but makes money by selling tests. It would be easy for them to give their visitors better data but reporting the data like this is a way to put pressure on MA to buy more tests.

Saying "there's not much Lyme in MA" doesn't help TickCheck, though?

Additionally, MA is still doing lots of testing. It is the statistics on clinical diagnoses they're not doing.

2ChristianKl1dIt seems that the tests are worthless for patients and potentially a net harm given the amount of false negatives they produce. If you are a company it's hard to control what 50 different states are doing. It's easier to lobby for a centralized definition of lyme disease cases that includes lab tests. Then your PR department that controls a website like TickCheck rules that the state that opts out of the centralized definition and starts a more independent health policy should face negative consequences for doing so. Then your lobbyists can go to the law-makers there and say: "Look because your burocrats don't report proper numbers, your citizens get bad data when they go to TickCheck, can you please put a bit of pressure on your burocrats? In a completely unrelated matter, how is your fundraising for your next race going?" The meeting notes are interesting. They first start with a stakeholder perspective by Dr. Catherine M. Brown is the Deputy State Epidemiologist and State Public Health Veterinarian for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. She argues among others: After she speaks the second stakeholder perspective is by Dr. Sarah Vetter a lobbyst from the Association of Public Health Laboratories. A bit later it gets more spicy: I don't want to spoil the rest but it's a much more interesting read then I would have expected given it being a committee meeting.
Massachusetts Lyme Reporting

Yes, this should be possible, and MA does it internally:

Tick-borne Disease Visit: International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision (ICD-10) query of the first three diagnostic codes assigned to the ED visit for: Lyme disease (A69.2), babesiosis (B60.0), anaplasmosis (A77.49), and other tick-borne diseases (A68.1, A68.9, A77.40, and A93.8).

See reports at

Peekskill Lyme Incidence

Similarly, they have: "Each year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to CDC by state health departments and the District of Columbia. However, this number does not reflect every case of Lyme disease that is diagnosed in the United States every year. Standard national surveillance is only one way that public health officials can track where a disease is occurring and with what frequency. Recent estimates using other methods suggest that approximately 476,000 people may get Lyme disease each year in the United States."

MIRI location optimization (and related topics) discussion

A potentially serious disadvantage of the Peekskill area, especially for outdoorsy or rural-life-enjoying rationalists, is that it’s tick country.

I looked into this more: Peekskill Lyme Incidence

Thoughts on Ad Blocking

> To resolve this, it seems that one entity needs to own each "channel that distributes the ads", so all the damage is experienced by them

Where "channel" here is the internet? This sounds illegal, since the whole idea is removing competition

3localdeity5dEach individual website's advertising space is its own channel. Upon reflection, individual management of each website's channel kind of works: I can imagine knowing and trusting some websites and their ad systems, and having bad behavior on other websites not sour me against the first set. However, it doesn't work for the undifferentiated mass of websites I've rarely or never seen before. The no-name websites would have an incentive to defect, because the negative impact is spread among the many others (also, a no-name website likely has a shorter expected lifetime, and therefore a shorter planning horizon). Now, if those websites mostly outsource their advertisement to one big long-lived monopolistic company—say, if 90% of the market farms it out to Google—then that company does absorb most of the damage from bad ads, and thus has a decent incentive to have policies against bad ads (and to maintain a good "fuck you" button). (Well, due to corporate dysfunction, the actual planning horizon of the decisionmakers in the company may be disappointingly short. Perhaps betting markets—who knows.) It's possible that economies of scale and network effects will mean that, even if bad ads are more effective (in the short term), the other advantages of using Google outweigh those of the bad ads. Still, if we figure Google has a few competitors (in the "farm out your ads" space) that are nearly as effective and that allow worse ads, it's possible the competitors would start gaining ground. If they gain enough ground, they might end up in a similar position as Google and start finding it in their interest to cut out more bad ads, but that could take a while. And if you end up with an oligopoly of, say, four companies, the smallest of which has 10% of the market, it's possible that the difference between "absorbs all the damage from bad ads" and "absorbs 1/10 the damage from bad ads" is significant. Perhaps the oligopolies would be able to make deals of some kind? Each one a
5Viliam5dI believe it refers to e.g. YouTube. Advertisers play a zero-sum game against each other. If company X makes a more invasive ad than their competitor company Y, it will result in more sales for X and less sales for Y. Therefore it makes sense for them to make their ads as invasive as possible. But if both companies advertise on YouTube, then Google can specify rules about what is allowed and what is not, and both companies X and Y would have to follow the rules. A good example was Slate Star Codex, where you either advertised in the specified unobtrusive way, or not at all. Imagine that Google would make rules such as "ads are not allowed to be louder than X" or "each ad can be skipped after one second of playing". Do you believe it would result in companies taking their ads away from YouTube (to where exactly)? Because it would be definitely more pleasant for the user. Problem is, Google allows users to pay for removing the ads, therefore it is their incentive to make the experience unpleasant for the unpaying user. The goal is to find the optimal level of unpleasantness -- not too low, because the users would not pay for reducing it, but not high enough to make the non-paying users leave YouTube en masse.
Thoughts on Ad Blocking

> I am also disappointed with all the stupid things that Brave is doing instead of fully focusing on being the most safe, the most private, the least fingerprintable web browser.

If they did that, how would they fund their engineers?

Thoughts on Ad Blocking

> not adding a "I dislike" button and a little survey on their ads

Have you tried clicking the little "ad choices" button in the upper right hand corner?

Why I Work on Ads

The current system makes the advertiser the judge

You mean the publisher, right?

2Dentin6dPublisher, advertiser, the distinction does not matter. The point is that the target does not get to decide.
Why I Work on Ads

I'm still confused about what you consider to be pulled. If I click on a link within the model railroading site to their page about locomotives, would locomotive ads in the response be push or pull?

2Dentin6dThese extremely short responses discarding the bulk of my content feel less like you're attempting to understand, and more like you're attempting to get me to draw bright lines on a space I have repeatedly indicated is many different shades of grey. Disconnecting from the discussion for now.
Thoughts on Ad Blocking

I agree that consumers and publishers (not advertisers) are opposed here, but there are also many participants who are not: browsers, regulators, industry groups. Having some people who are opposed doesn't make solving a coordination problem impossible.

6Viliam5dAs a consumer, I'd prefer the browser to be fully on my side. As a general rule, any software that runs on my computer should be fully on my side. Which is why I avoid using Chrome (obviously, it's going to be on Google's side). But I am also disappointed with all the stupid things that Brave is doing instead of fully focusing on being the most safe, the most private, the least fingerprintable web browser. Let's go even further: I wish I had a web browser that recognizes articles with paywalls, and does not allow me to click on links to them; there should be a "lock" icon displayed above the hyperlink. I like this, but I would go further: I want to precommit to never see an ad or a paywalled article, and to make this precommitment known to the website. So the website can only choose to show me the article, or show me a standard error message "this content is not free". (That is, my browser would either show me the article without ads, or the error message. The website would know that these are ultimately the only possible outcomes.) Best case, I'd like to know which one of these outcomes it is even before clicking the link. If the link would result in the error message, I want to see the hyperlink as unclickable.
Why I Work on Ads

The primary cost of websites like lesswrong is not hosting fees, but developer time. By a huge margin. Are the aliens paying for that too?

1Sigurd7dPerhaps true in lesswrong's case (is it still under active development then?). You'll have to suffer me moving the goalposts again, because what I was getting at was websites that serve fairly static content. If lesswrong is actively developed and has taken a lot of effort to build, then take a random wordpress page instead. No the aliens don't pay for developer time, for the same reason they don't pay the journalists.
Why I Work on Ads

If I place ads for torture and snuff videos and some people decide to click on them while other people don't, is that a problem?

In that case I expect users to find viewing these ads incredibly unpleasant, on average, much more so than either the example I gave, or advertising in general?

(And almost all publishers would not be willing to work with an ad network that placed this kind of ad on their page)

4Dentin7dYou might find it unpleasant, but it's it the job of Simurgh Followers to spread the Truth Of The Endbringers to everyone! Surely if people just watch enough of it, they will be converted. The point is that the target gets to decide what's acceptable and what isn't, not the advertiser. The current system makes the advertiser the judge, and that's not ok, even if we have managed to construct a sorta functional system that mostly takes care of the worst abuses.
Why I Work on Ads

banning 'push mode' advertising, and strictly only allowing pull modes

I'm not convinced I fully understand your distinction, let alone that we could codify it sufficiently to make it into law.

If you visit a model railroading site, are ads for model locomotives push or pull?

2Dentin7dRegarding 'codify into law', that's not an excuse, and it disregards how the US legal system works. If we can codify slander, if we can codify "harm", if current advertising companies can codify "unacceptable ad", we can codify this. Firm push, but only because of the physical realities of the current system. The fact of the matter is that by default, visiting a site isn't a directed action. Clicking on links may take you anywhere, and links may be obfuscated. My preference would be that any/all landing pages should be clean, and ads only shown for explicit searches requesting explicit content. As a second best, I'd take 'only show ads on explicit navigation after page landing'.
Why I Work on Ads

ARPU for ads grows which is the point I am making. It grew from 0 to whereever it is now in 20 years

You're talking about how much one company was able to grow ad revenue, which not surprisingly went up a lot as the company learned how to do ads. At the same time, other companies saw a large decreases revenue per user: famously, newspapers used to make a huge amount of money from classified advertising. Instead, I would look at the growth pattern of total advertising spend per American.

Since average mortgage is only about $10k/year, I find it plausible

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Why I Work on Ads

consider the very webpage you are on currently: no ads, no paywall

Less wrong is funded by donations. So is Wikipedia. I touch on this in the post, but I think a model where donations fund the operations of most sites, let alone most journalism, is far from practical?

if advertising was not an option (eg banned and enforceably so), what would the internet look like?

I had a crack at answering this from the perspective of what this would do to products a couple years ago: Effect of Advertising.

From the perspective of users, I think the internet would b... (read more)

2Kaj_Sotala7dI wonder about that: before third-party services started popping up, internet service providers and nonprofits used to offer more services that are now offered by third parties. E.g. your ISP used to give you an e-mail account and website space, and services such as Usenet and IRC functioned in a decentralized fashion, with servers being hosted by universities, ISPs and others. That model won't work for everything, but it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to imagine services such as social media and search shifting to a more decentralized model if advertising was banned. (Decentralized social media networks such as Diaspora [] already exist; I'm under the impression that the main reason they're not used more is that network effects create too much lock-in to existing, more centralized services.)
-1Sigurd7dThanks for the link to your earlier post, it makes your position a little more clear. I think we make different predictions, probably because (A) we are biased and (B) ads and the internet are so entangled by now that it is hard to make a predication like that. Any prediction will need to take into account a multitude of factors. The line on aliens paying your salary was added because I wanted to preempt the response 'well if ads are no longer the payment model I'd need to find another job'. But you're right to ask that question you did, it is still a weird hypothetical. What I meant to do with it is have all the external costs covered, i.e. hosting fees. What if ads only 'had' to cover the costs of hiring those journalists? Ads could be constrained to a more commercial domain, and websites such as [] wouldn't have to exist by grace of donations only. I think one thing I do not like about ads is how any webpage that gets big enough will add ads out of necessity just to cover their sudden spike in costs. Take that factor away and perhaps ads can be added as a precision tool rather than a blunt instrument: allow them only where they make sense / add value (if you believe in that) ?
Why I Work on Ads

Trading a house for ads may seem expensive today but it is only one order of magnitude difference taking median home price, fact that most people get it on 30 year mortgage and average ARPU for ads.

Ad funded houses really can't work, unless we figure out how to make housing much cheaper. An upper bound on the amount it can be worth to advertise to someone is the amount of money they spend, and in practice it's much lower.

what most your team collegues have as some sort of OKR

There isn't much I can say publicly on this, except that this is a huge mis... (read more)

1Vladimir Prelovac7d... Or ARPU for ads grows which is the point I am making. It grew from 0 to whereever it is now in 20 years and in another 20 it may match the average mortgage cost of a USA household. This is without taking into account that a lot of people would settle for less than average home, and that ad-homes would probably monetize better. Since average mortgage is only about $10k/year, I find it plausible to think of such ad-driven annual spend. But lets say it takes 100 years to reach that point. My question that you still elluded to answer stands: is this the world you want your children to grow in? Secrecy is understandable just not an argument. I provided evidence of first hand experience of growing and aggressive monetization and it should be obvious to anyone reading from their own experience that it is indeed the case. And since you did not produce any evidence to the contrry, I will not dig more into it and let the reader decide. Can we agree that ads-per search are certainly higher than 20 years ago when there were no ads? And not only that number of ads is growing, their presentation is increasingly aggressive : [] Ads per video have definetely gone up to the intelligence insulting levels. Try watching any cartoon with your kids without an ad blocker. [] I do commend you on standing for your employer and having the courage to write about a what has to be a difficult subject, for a good reason. ps. Are you using an adblocker in your browser?
Why I Work on Ads

Cars and houses aren't good examples: they're so expensive that the only way to plausibly fund them with ads (and it's not actually economically plausible) would be incessant ads.

-3Vladimir Prelovac8dTrading a house for ads may seem expensive today but it is only one order of magnitude difference taking median home price, fact that most people get it on 30 year mortgage and average ARPU for ads. Let's also notice that ad monetization is increasingly aggressive which I assume is what most your team collegues have as some sort of OKR - given how we came from the world of 'ads are bad' to a world where nowadays we have entire Google search results beings ads [] and Youtube plays a commercial every 30 seconds. With this pace of growth ARPU will probably match average yearly mortgage payments in 5-10 years. Even if my math is off by some we are talking about ad-homes in our lifetime. Or forget even that, you can just extend payoff period and get there today. Google could just "gift" ad-enabled homes to 20 year olds today to have contractual ~70 year payoff period (with increased ARPU as well as adhomes would monetize better). So the question for you is - is this the world you want your children to grow in?
Why I Work on Ads

I think journalism is a good example here? Very few people can afford to self-fund that kind of research

1Tao Lin8dYes journalism does some useful research, but on the average newspaper frontpage you see 0 remotely useful research. The amount of money spent by newspapers isn't at all in proportion to the amount of research being done
Why I Work on Ads

a corporation is reading my letters to my wife (she uses Gmail)

Gmail announced they would no longer use the contents of email to target ads in 2017:

tracks my every movement (I use Android)

You can choose whether to have location tracking enabled, though? I have it on, because I like having a record of where I've been and I trust Google to handle this informati... (read more)

Why I Work on Ads

Sorry, what I was trying to find out was whether Dentin was opposed to even this maximally sympathetic case. Like, is their view idea that commercial persuasion is fundamentally unethical, or that it is typically unethical in practice?

Why I Work on Ads

It sounds like you're talking about ads on search results? I work on display ads and don't know very much about the search side of things.

I don't have any internal information, but some thoughts on the examples you're listing:

  • Scammers placing ads is harmful, though not unique to advertising. The article you link describes a similar issue happening in the phonebook era. It's very hard to tell from this sort of investigation how well a service is doing at avoiding abuse.

  • "Google Ads are regularly hijacked, such that they present or h

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1FireStormOOO8dAlso an IT professional here. Google is among the less unsavory players in the ad space, but it's a cesspool overall. Malicious ads seem to be one of the easiest ways to get that crap in front of a huge number of users. In practice I don't see "reputable" providers directly serving malware: rather it's generally a chain of redirects either implemented by the site they land on (that presumably behaves itself under indexing/due diligence), or by exploiting the ads on the landing site to cause a redirect. Ultimately lands either on an attacker-controlled site or just a site running an ad network that gives zero fucks or outright caters to cybercrime. That said I made up my mind on this a while ago and I've been blocking substantially all ads and analytics for 5+ years. The game of cat and mouse may well have moved on. I havedefinitely caught AdSense serving those super dishonest software download ads that pretend to be the download button on file sharing and software sites… As far as you core concern, are you actually causing significant harm with your work, I really doubt it. Google has a decent incentive to crush bad actors lest govt. step in and kill their cash cow, and just getting the industry at large to match the mediocere level of ethical standads Google is upholding would still be a huge win. Ads suck as a solution and cause a fair amount of preventable harm, but harm reduction is a legitimate thing to work on. Bonus points when you can pressure competitors to shape up and not be too evil.
Why I Work on Ads

There's no way the ads I would have seen in a site over a period of one month would have generated $20 for the site, so trying to charge me $20/month is a no start.

When you switch to a paywall model, you have to accept that you're going to lose a large portion of your readers, which means you need to charge the remaining ones a lot more, no?

3alexgieg8dYes, but no. Technically there's no direct derivation from costs to price charged. The costs involved in you providing a good or service let's call it Vmin, determine a lower boundary, so that if you cannot charge below that you're operating at a loss and won't provide that service, instead opting to do something else. On the other extreme, your potentials customers' maximum ability to pay (in aggregate), let's call it Vmax, which in turn is bounded by their income, determine how much you can charge them. The price, V, that you're effectively going to charge, is between Vmin and Vmax. Customers will do what they can to push V towards Vmin. You, on the contrary, will do what you can to push V towards Vmax. In the end, V ends up somewhere in the middle, so that Vmin < V < Vmax. Therefore, my prior is that a charge of $20/month for such a service is much closer to Vmax than it is to Vmin, for the sole reason this is the incentive playing on the provider's side. Be as it may, I neither accept lying, biased, and dark-pattern exploiting ads, nor do I have a high enough income to justify paying more than a few dollars per month, in aggregate, for the sites I read. Solving this equation is something site owners, together, should work into. If there's no solution and the end result is less of those specific contents, well, I derive marginal utility from having access to that content, so if it goes missing, shrugs.
Why I Work on Ads

You pay with contributed labor value

A small amount of non-expert labor is just not worth very much? Like, Amazon Turk pays famously poorly.

What if instead, occasional contributions to updating the map was the price for using it?

I could imagine a world in which that was part of using the map, but it's hard to imagine one in which it is a substantial portion. There are so many monetary costs to running a mapping site that you need some form of money coming in.

What if more online resources worked on a torrent-ish model where those accessing it contri

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Why I Work on Ads

I'm not working on adding constraints, I'm working on adapting advertising to constraints proposed by browsers (primarily Chrome). Perhaps this is the same, since if advertising could not be adapted to the constraints you might end up with weaker constraints, but I do want to clarify that I'm on the ads side not the browser side.

Why I Work on Ads

creates more good in the world and pays about the same

I think it's pretty unlikely that I could be paid more working for another company given my preferences (I want to stay in Boston, I want to work a reasonable number of hours, I don't like working remotely). I think my pay would be about the same if I switched within Google Cambridge, so that's possible, though I like my team a lot and there's a replaceability argument.

Did you have something specific in mind?

6Alexei8dWell, I already tried recruiting you for our hedge fund, so not really. :D Although it's possible with covid there's a larger pool of remote jobs available. But yeah, given all those constraints, it's quite possible you're in a relatively optimal position.
Why I Work on Ads

The way online ads are currently monetized relies on personalization. This means that online ads create a strong incentive to track people, and to harm people's ability to have privacy online.

You might be interested in the second half of the post, starting with "But the biggest issue I see people raising is the privacy impact of targeted ads..."?

Why I Work on Ads

its entire purpose is to alter people's mental state without their permission

I think that's the core of our disagreement? Here's an example I think is about maximally sympathetic: in non-pandemic times I help organize a contra dance. There are people who would like our dance, but don't know contra dancing exists, don't know that they would like it, or don't know about our dance in particular.

If I place ads, and some people see them and decide to come to our dance, do you have a problem with that? Or is it that you think most advertising doesn't work that way?

> its entire purpose is to alter people's mental state without their permission

I think that's the core of our disagreement?

Yes, and I think that would be a better path to attack my position.  There's two attack vectors in that quoted line - "alter peoples mental state without their permission", and "permission".  I would recommend avoiding the first attack vector; that will be an exceedingly difficult sell to me.

Permission on the other hand is already a partially open attack vector, and you're much, much more likely to change my mind by that r... (read more)

4Dentin7dHere's another version of your example: Some people aren't watching nearly enough snuff and torture videos. There are people who would like to watch them, but don't know it exists. If I place ads for torture and snuff videos and some people decide to click on them while other people don't, is that a problem? As I mentioned earlier, advertising is like weaponry. Your example also reads to me like a classic justification for 'everyone having guns': "but what if I'm attacked by a rabid dog? If I have my gun I can protect myself! See, guns are ok to have!" Just because it's possible to point out a positive use case, doesn't mean that the remainder of the field is also positive. And to be clear, I consider your example to be about as likely as the rabid dog example. Sure, in a world with perfect targeting it could be done, but we're not in that perfect world, and consumers have a vested interest in keeping it that way. The new privacy initiatives are a big part of that.
7Viliam8dNot the OP, but this seems obviously true to me, so much that I wonder how could anyone see it otherwise. I can't remember the last time I saw an ad that merely gave me facts about something. This may be a crazy idea, but perhaps an ethical way to do ads would be if the person who wants to advertise something would provide a list of facts, and an independent editor would create the corresponding announcement. Like, you could give a description of contra dance, plus time and place, and an URL to find out more, but you wouldn't be allowed to also add images of half-naked women, flashing lights, or annoyingly loud screams. You wouldn't be able to out-scream the other advertisements, or the content the advertisements are attached to. I imagine that for a reader this would be a more pleasant experience, and the factual information would still be there; I would be even more willing to read it. (But maybe annoying people works better for the advertiser, because the readers may have a less pleasant experience, but they will be more likely to remember. Emotional things are easier remembered, even if the emotion is negative.)
Why I Work on Ads

I don't think this is a very good model for subscription services. Consider Netflix: they don't do ads at all, subscription only. But they still optimize for watch time and other engagement metrics, because they're very good proxies for retention.

Vaccination and House Rules

Fearmongering. There's nothing sensitive on the card.

Vaccination and House Rules

Added a link from the post!

Decision Auctions aka "How to fairly assign chores, or decide who gets the last cookie"

If we yootle for repainting the spare room and I bid $1.2k to your $1.5k, we should probably just hire a painter.

Six-Door Cars

A minivan loses a 2nd-row seat for access to the second row.

1Gerald Monroe2moSo its 2 passengers first and second row, 3 the third? 7 total? Or parents and 4-5 children? That's going to handle most use cases. You know how they say in software and engineering in general to focus your resources on the 90 percent case.
Sharing a Car

They reviewed a draft for this post over email, which seems reasonably close?

1Gerald Monroe2moProbably. Main thing is to not have any agreement backed up by "I thought you said...". It needs to be written, and specific, and make a small claims judge think there is at least a 51% chance it's true.
Sharing a Car

We had previously borrowed their some car some, more informally, and reimbursed them approximately based on what it was worth. The main change here, though, is moving to a system where we can use the car without asking first, which is pretty useful to us.

1Gerald Monroe2moYeah. Thinking about it more, if you assess the probability that they 'defect' with your money as low ('you know them well'), then you're coming out ahead over renting the car from them at 56 cents a mile. I just recommend you at least text or email the details of this agreement and make the payment via a traceable means. Not the same security as notarized with multiple attorneys as witnesses but good enough for this transaction. (or to provide evidence to support your side in small claims)
Sharing a Car

What part do you think we are overthinking? For example, I think it is important for us to be on the car's insurance, and I think it is important for us to figure out a good system for who uses the car when.

2Gunnar_Zarncke2moI agree that you should make sure that the insurance covers your use. But my recommendation is to let the system of use evolve from actual use.
Sharing a Car

I think placing this trust in our housemate is justified, given how well we know them and our level of community overlap.

The Cost of a Sixth Seat

since most bigger cars with a full second row also have a collapsible third row anyway (at least as a premium option)

Not in the US; here that's mostly only fancy European imports.

The Cost of a Sixth Seat

I don't think it would be legal for me to be in the front seat at all at the ages I was sometimes sitting in the middle front seat

At least in Massachusetts, there aren't actually any restrictions on children riding in the front seat. They strongly recommend that children don't until age 13, but it's not the law:

I imagine rear crumple zones also have some sort of increasing minimum requirement.

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The Cost of a Sixth Seat

No, I agree! We shouldn't get a new car.

(I wasn't properly accounting for interest or depreciation; self-financing makes them less obvious)

1Gerald Monroe2moSure. But for self-financing what you can see right away is that a used vehicle in good condition, with under 75k miles, will (depends on the make/model) usually be less than 40% of it's original purchase price. With typical service lifespans of ~250k miles (average car is 12 years old, meaning that vehicles are on average crushed at 24 years, and is driven 13.5k a year) it means you are typically getting a vehicle with just 30% of it's life used up but for ~60% less money. And yeah, you can plunk down less than 10k - I suggest, [,] it's what I used - and get something that will work.
The Cost of a Sixth Seat

I don't think these are allowed in the US, but they do make adapters:

1EKP2moThose are only useful while the kids are in boosters or carseats though. They don't really add an extra seat in a general sense.

We live in a house that has been divided into two units, and we live in the upstairs unit. The (smaller) downstairs unit has a separate kitchen, and the two downstairs housemates are vegan. We do communal food, and I can general use the downstairs oven if I need more open space, but only for vegan things. I think it is partly smell and partly that it's rude to cook things in their oven if they're not going to be able to eat them.

Car Thoughts

I think you're not taking into account that we are not expecting to drive very many miles, and so per mile costs are less important to us than average?

1Gerald Monroe2moIn that case your costs are dominated by depreciation. So you want a used vehicle, one that has low depreciation, that meets your needs. Toyotas have low depreciation but with your set of conditions, all sorts of gas guzzling boats like suburbans and escalades fit as well.
Car Thoughts

If you plan on taking long trips in the car

I don't think we're likely to do much long-distance travel, no

if there is any possibility of a fourth child

While I don't think we are likely to have a fourth child, if we did we could sell this car and buy another one. It's not like moving into a rent controlled apartment!

Car Thoughts

I've put three car seats across the back of many small cars, including the ones we are considering like the Honda Fit. As long as your seats are reasonably narrow, it's quite practical. See

I'm not sure what you're thinking about in terms of "safely" and "legally"?


Sorry, I should've included that!

(Anna is five now, and Lily is about to turn seven.)

Enabling Children

We've done some amount of this, as you reference. I would strongly enjoy having more children around, and I think my kids would like that a lot. On the other hand, there are drawbacks:

  • Parenting styles very enormously. It's very hard to watch someone else's kid if you disagree about how to do it. I think this is much less of an issue in extended families, and especially historically, because there's better agreement on how to do it, but I know a lot of people in houses with multiple adults who have a lot of conflict over this. How closely do you supervise
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2Viliam2moIt's funny how even parents don't have strong evidence about parenting. Suppose you do X and your kids are Y. You might say "I did X, and therefore my kids became Y", but your neighbors might say "your kids were Y (e.g. for genetic reasons), therefore you were able to do X successfully". For example, when either of our kids started hurting the other one in any way, we tried to intervene always and as soon as possible. As a result, now most people say our kids are super nice to each other. But "as a result", that's just my opinion. Maybe our kids just inherited some gene which causes both nice behavior and a desire to prevent other people's conflicts. Or maybe they just copy the behavior of me and my wife. I agree with all you wrote here. As another example of different strong parenting beliefs I would add: what is proper amount of computer use? I know people who insist that the only acceptable value is zero. I only ban youtube, but my kids are allowed to watch movies on the computer (how is that worse than watching TV?) and paint []. Some people are horrified when they hear this. Also, some people believe it is wrong that my older daughter can read and write and the first-grade math before going to school. The latter probably wouldn't be a problem in a community, but some kids using computers and others not being allowed to use computers, that could cause conflicts, because the latter child would feel discriminated against.
Enabling Children

They pick a $200,000 medical school rather than a $250,000 school, and use the savings to fund the first 5 years of raising their child.

The economics of this are substantially worse. Someone in medical school has very little free time, and so needs more than the standard amount of childcare. Even standard child care, however, is going to cost more than $10k/y, more like $20k.

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