Dogs and Existentialism

I have a Tumblr now! I’m still experimenting with using the platform for short essays and thought nuggets. Here’s an essay cross-posted from that Tumblr:


The Melancholy of Retrievers

(Wandering philosophy. Not attached to most of these opinions.)

I’m staying for a few weeks in the home of relatives who own a Labrador Retriever. I’ve spent a lot of time around this dog in the last few weeks, after many years of not living with a pet. As a result, everything about the notion of “owning a dog” – or the very existence of domesticated dogs – has become strange to me.

The dog, Jasper, lives to play fetch. When he isn’t sleeping or eating or drinking, he picks up anything he can find and brings it to you so that you can throw it. If you don’t throw it, he’ll try another person. If no one else is around, he’ll pant and whine at you and shove his head between your legs to stare sadly into your eyes until you give up and play fetch.

I’m sure this is normal dog behavior, and it’s the sort of silly thing that people love about dogs. But it makes me wonder how it feels to be Jasper.

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Privileging the Story // Do I Trust Journalism?

My friend Jack Newshama reporter on The Boston Globe, asked a good question on Facebook the other day:

Question for my non-journalist friends: why don’t you trust us? (“Us” being journalists in general. Because poll after poll shows that the overwhelming majority of you don’t.)

My answer turned out long enough for a blog post.

I trust journalists. That is, I trust most people, and I don’t see journalists as being very different from most people on average. I would trust a journalist to watch my laptop in a cafe while I used the bathroom or water my plants when I went on vacation.

Journalism isn’t a person. It is a product, produced by journalists. And as it is practiced, I only half-trust journalism.

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My Senior Thesis: How Can Great Charities Raise More Money?

Update: Charity Science, an organization whose work I admire, has added my thesis to their page on charitable giving research. I highly recommend their site for more information on the topics discussed here.

* * * * *

I haven’t written a blog post for nearly a full season.

One-third of this phenomenon is the fault of my senior thesis:

Charitable Fundraising and Smart Giving: How can charities use behavioral science to drive donations?

It’s a very long thesis, and you probably shouldn’t read the whole thing. I conducted my final round of editing over the course of 38 hours in late April, during which I did not sleep. It’s kind of a slog.

Here’s a PDF of the five pages where I summarize everything I learned and make recommendations to charities:

The Part of the Thesis You Should Actually Read


In the rest of this post, I’ve explained my motivation for actually writing this thing, and squeezed my key findings into a pair of summaries: One that’s a hundred words long, one that’s quite a bit longer.

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Area Writer Applies To The Onion, Fails

I recently applied for a writing position at The OnionI went in expecting to be rejected, knowing that the website has some of the funniest living writers on staff. And I was, in fact, rejected!

I noticed while I was applying that I couldn’t easily find any other applications online. So I’m posting mine here, with minor edits for typos. If you’d like to work at The Onion, you’ll have to do better than this. (Also, you’ll have to spend more than four hours on your submission. When it comes to finding your dream job, don’t procrastinate.)

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The Hexagon Game // Surrounder

Three weeks ago, I was sitting in a bathroom with hexagonal floor tiles. As I stared at the floor, I began thinking about geometric patterns involving hexagons. (I’m going to assume everyone does this until I hear otherwise, and if you tell me otherwise, I might refuse to listen.)

The thoughts went something like this:

What if these hexagons were one color? And those were another color? What patterns could you build?

And then:

Wait. What if, when one hexagon was surrounded by hexagons of a different color, it got “killed” and taken away? Like the hexagons were soldiers in some kind of horrible hexagon civil war? And the battle continued until every scrap of territrory was owned by one of the two sides?

After washing my hands, I power-walked back to my desk in the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute and began to prototype a board game. (This was long after the end of the workday, because the Institute is air-conditioned and contains fewer spiders than my house.)

After three games, I thought I really had something. After six games, I was convinced that the game was terrible. Then I expanded the board, and the cycle began anew. When things began to look really promising, I did some research on game design (which, in the tradition of Aaron research, included useful activities like reading the entirety of the manga Hikaru No Go and the biography of Christian Freeling).

Finally, I posted a picture of a finished game, and people were curious enough that I felt the game itself was worth blogging.

So, here it is. I call it “The Hexagon Game” inside my head, but a better, more Google-friendly name is “Surrounder”. I hope to hack together a playable app for it once my Javascript skills are up to snuff, but for now, I play in… Microsoft Paint. Such are the trials of game design.

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Belated Philanthropy: Update

Last December, I wrote a post about a concept I call “belated philanthropy”.

In summary: When someone solicits me on the street, asking for money, I don’t give it. Instead, I make a note of the incident in my mind. Later, I donate to a charity based on how many people have asked me for money since my last “belated” donation.

Here’s why:

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