Why Boston?

post by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2020-10-11T02:40:03.116Z · LW · GW · 85 comments

In college we had a set of signs we posted for common concepts. You might point at the sign that said "lexical semantics" as convenient way to indicate that a discussion had fallen into that particular trap, and we had signs for many circumstances. The sign with the largest impact, however, was "move to Boston". Twelve years later it's worked surprisingly well, and ~85% of my friend group is now here.

I'm also seeing a lot of discussion [LW · GW] among Bay Area friends about moving. With the pandemic, fire season, and high rents, it's not surprising! I wanted to expand on a comment I left about why I like Boston.

In no particular order:

The biggest downside by far is housing costs. Other downsides include darkness in winter, cold in winter if you don't like that, and that for many industries it is near the top but not the top.

(I also grew up in Boston, my family is still in the area, and I'm close with them. Even if Boston was substantially worse I would still consider living here for this sort of personal reasons. While I feel like the above is written fairly, I'm probably biased in Boston's favor.)


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Zvi · 2020-10-13T15:04:44.539Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I continue to be a strong advocate of New York City. If you think NYC is too expensive (it's cheaper than it was a year ago, and cheaper than SF, and totally Worth It, but yes it's not cheap), Boston is an excellent alternative choice. Right now we're doing our pandemic hideaway in Warwick, NY, about 40 miles NW of the city, but we'll be returning to Manhattan (probably Stuyvesant Town or Chelsea/Union Square area, outside chance of Brooklyn or Upper West Side) in Late Q1 2021. 

A number of strong people have recently clustered in Brooklyn in the Fort Greene area.

If anyone is seriously considering NYC and wants to talk to me about it in more detail, happy to answer any questions.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2020-10-23T20:57:40.700Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note about NYC being too expensive:

When people talk about the city being expensive, what they are talking about, primarily, is rent prices. This is the massively dominant factor in NYC’s higher cost of living. And the caveat there is that while rent prices are very, very high in Manhattan, and quite high in the parts of Brooklyn and Queens that are <​= 15 minutes by public transit from Manhattan, as you get further from that, the rents drop. Not to Midwest levels (for example)—no, never quite that far; but they do drop.

And many things are actually cheaper in NYC than elsewhere. I own a car and benefit from that fact greatly, but it can’t be denied that car ownership is not at all mandatory in NYC—that’s money in your pocket. Groceries—fresh fruits and vegetables in every variety, and everything else from the basics to ethnic cuisine ingredients—are cheaper than anywhere else I’ve been to, in the U.S. The ubiquitous “99 cent stores” are huge money-savers. Etc.

comment by maia · 2020-10-12T13:42:25.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, we've just moved from SF to the DC area, so I guess I should comment somewhere with our thoughts on the decision. To be honest, I think Boston is objectively mostly better for us than DC, but personal reasons -- our own family -- are overwhelming the other ones.

On specific points:

  • Industries -- Boston and DC are similar on this axis, I would say, depending on whether you count government as one industry or many (since there are many jobs in DC that come out of government).
  • Programming jobs -- Boston is much better. DC has lots of programming jobs, but they mostly pay less and/or are for the military.
  • Walkability overall is probably a bit better in Boston.
  • Natural disasters -- mostly the same. No blizzards in Maryland/DC.
  • Governance -- I don't feel all that qualified to comment. Maryland is probably similar; DC has governance problems due to its unique position as the nation's capital, which makes it illegal for it to govern itself in a few ways.
  • Queer and poly friendliness -- I'm not sure how this shakes out. I think Massachusetts is pretty friendly to being gay specifically, but perhaps less tolerant of other kinds of weirdness. When visiting, as someone who grew up in DC, I do feel the "Puritan" vibe a bit. But it's complicated. DC also has pressure to appear "normal," much more so than anywhere on the West Coast. I think in general the Northeast loses here, but maybe not by as much as you'd think. (In my experience, lots of folks who say "The Bay Area is the only place I could live, because of the queer-friendliness!" have only been to two places: the Bay and the Midwest or Utah. The Northeast is  more like the former than the latter, IMO.)
  • Multi-unit houses -- Boston definitely wins here. There are a few options in e.g. Takoma Park, but DC in general isn't great for this.
  • Schools -- Complicated. Montgomery County has very good schools, but housing prices are unfortunately very closely correlated with school districts here.
  • Airport -- DC has not one but three major international airports, one of which is accessible by train, another which will be accessible by train in the next couple years, and a third which has a solid bus corridor.
  • Medical care -- Not sure, probably similar.
  • Weather -- Maryland summers are hotter, but winters are much less inconvenient, though perhaps less beautiful -- much less snow. YMMV on this. Personally, I strongly prefer East Coast summer to West Coast non-summer. If you've lived your whole life on the West Coast, I predict there are shades of green you have literally never seen.
  • Dance and music -- Boston wins at this, although the DC area scene is not shabby either. IIUC, Glen Echo is the largest weekly contradance in the country and probably the world, with typical attendance of over 300. And the Spanish Ballroom is very beautiful. But, we certainly can't compete with the sheer variety and popularity of traditional dance and music in Boston.
  • Housing -- DC seems to be somewhat cheaper. We live in exactly the type of 2-bedroom apartment you mentioned, walking distance from the subway and 30 minutes to downtown, and are paying about 1.8k for it. The pandemic doesn't seem to have affected prices as much here, since it's a smaller city with less tech industry. (Plenty of 'essential' workers in government.)
  • Urban-to-rural continuum -- That sort of exists here, but DC pushes prices up for a much further radius than Boston does. So you don't get as much of a discount for being rural.

But, for what it's worth to anyone considering this area: we're most likely here for the long haul, and we have a habit of making meetups and building community wherever we go. I suspect having a few solid, unmoveable pillars like Jeff and Julia in a community helps keep it stable despite upheaval. We hope to be similar pillars wherever we end up.

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2020-10-12T17:55:29.838Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for writing up your reasoning, and for being such reliable organizers! :) 

comment by Owain_Evans · 2020-10-16T16:11:15.654Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've lived in Boston, NYC, SF Bay, and Oxford. For me, a big advantage of Boston was that most people I knew were clustered in a small area (Cambridge/Somerville or a short cycle away from them). This is radically different from the SF Bay, where people are spread across Berkeley (where UC Berkeley, MIRI, CFAR are), Oakland, SF (where Open Phil and many tech jobs are) and the Peninsula and South Bay (home of Stanford and many other tech jobs) and transport between these areas is mostly slow (esp without a car). 

London, NYC, and Berlin have the same issue of people living far apart, but it's mitigated by better transport options than the SF Bay. Oxford has the same advantage as Boston. (NB: I was studying in Cambridge and so had more friends in that area. But at the time, many rationalists who weren't studying at Harvard/MIT also lived near Cam/Somerville.)

comment by Alex K. Chen (alex-k-chen) · 2020-10-11T04:44:06.201Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why isn't Boston more popular? (even among the VC crowd)? It just self-evidently seems to the second best place to be. I mean, many Harvard/MIT students I know seem to all want to go to the Bay Area after Boston simply b/c much more happens in the Bay Area (and their friend groups and grouphouses are all there) - and I guess NYC takes second place for "amount of things that happen" and it tends have more communities that are radically open/weird. 

Also there used to be the Citadel grouphouse there, but people tend to forget it now.

For lower housing costs, you can also possibly try the outskirts around Boston. I feel Providence is also underappreciated amongst many.

BTW I also appreciate how clean Boston's air is for a major city (there certainly seems to be less car volume here than in NYC or the Bay Area) - https://www.iqair.com/us/usa/massachusetts/boston shows that car traffic contributes less to pollution here than other cities.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-10-12T06:59:04.302Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The second-best place to be is much less good than the best place. Because everyone who thinks it's important to be in the best place and can be, is, as are everyone who thinks it's important to be seen as one of the people who can be in the best place. So you only get people/organizations which either can't move to the best place, or don't think it's important to be in the best place and don't mind that other people will largely infer that they can't move to the best place. Since most things are two-sided markets and which place you are in is a quality signal in those markets, this cuts off a lot of upside potential for the ambitious.

Replies from: jsteinhardt
comment by jsteinhardt · 2020-10-13T06:46:42.306Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the other hand, the second-best place selects for people who don't care strongly about optimizing for legible signals, which is probably a plus. (An instance of this: In undergrad the dorm that, in my opinion, had the best culture was the run-down dorm that was far from campus.)

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2020-10-13T12:23:22.392Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In undergrad the dorm that, in my opinion, had the best culture was the run-down dorm that was far from campus.

This was my experience at Swarthmore as well. But I think a lot of that came from this being a dorm that essentially, any student who wanted to live there would be able to get a room. The analogy would push toward choosing a place that has much cheaper housing costs!

comment by bendini · 2020-10-14T23:44:25.186Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From what I understand, the case for Boston is as follows:

A. Similar good things

  1. Boston has similar urban amenities of the SFBA (colleges, medicine, airport).
  2. Boston tolerates the rationalist kind of weirdness (queer and poly).
  3. Boston has lots of the activity groups rationalists enjoy (contra dance, kink).
  4. Boston has enough rationalists that it's possible to run weekly events and for people to have their own little friendship groups.
  5. Boston has plenty of buildings that are suitable for large grouphouses.
  6. Tech salaries in Boston are only 10-20% less than the SFBA. 

B. Similar bad things

  1. Boston has a very high cost of living ($2800/month for a 2 bed that's 30 minutes from downtown).
  2. Boston is within the US, so is at the mercy of US federal politics (i.e. revolution risk).
  3. Boston is within the US, so it has similarly insane healthcare costs.
  4. Boston has NIMBY housing policies that are unlikely to change.

C. Large/important improvements

  1. Boston has far less risk of earthquakes and wildfires.
  2. Boston has better non-car transport options. (Although it's unclear how it compares to NYC and how much worse it is than the best cities internationally.) 

D. Small/minor improvements 

  1. Boston is much less dependant on the software industry than the SFBA. (I'm unsure if this is important for rationalists, as most of them are software engineers so the main benefit for them is less social homogeneity in their non-rationalist friend groups.)
  2. Boston has a lot more elite schools per capita.
  3. Boston's architecture is similar to Europe.
  4. Boston skews younger than the SFBA (likely due to its elite universities).
  5. Boston has 4 distinct seasons.

E. Large drawbacks

  1. Boston has the same sky-high cost of living as the SFBA, but only a fraction of the startup scene.
  2. Boston has very cold winters.

F. Small drawbacks

  1. Boston has summers that are hot, humid and swarming with mosquitoes.
  2. Boston still has it's Puritan cultural prudishness.
  3. Boston has below average food culture. (Again, probably Puritan influence.)

G. Other differences

  1. Boston has the blunt communication style you find in Northeastern US cities.


I can see why some individuals would be better off in Boston, but looking at the bigger picture I can't see how this would be a suitable replacement for Berkeley. It has most of the downsides that people mention (e.g. cost of living, opposition to new housing) when they complain about Berkeley, but can't offer the rebuttal of "yes, but our institutions are already here". 

If someone can spell out the case for moving the main rationalist hub from Berkeley to Boston, I'd like to hear it, but from my perspective it seems like relocating to Boston would be squandering this one-time opportunity to put the hub in the global maxima.

Replies from: Owain_Evans, jkaufman, JacobKopczynski, JacobKopczynski
comment by Owain_Evans · 2020-10-16T16:22:07.431Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Big improvements (for me -- YMMV):
1. Boston has two of the world's best few universities very close together. (It's hard to live close to Stanford without studying there, and it's a huge trek from Stanford to Berkeley).
2. There's an obvious Schelling point in Boston for where to live (Camberville), while interesting people/companies/organizations in the Bay are in SF, Oakland, Berkeley, and South Bay/Peninsula. 
3. Boston is closer to NYC (and the other big East Coast cities) and Europe. 

I'd guess Camberville is significantly cheaper in terms of overall COL than SF but it has similar big city amenities (concerts, opera, museums, huge diversity of events) that Berkeley lacks. 

comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2020-10-15T21:39:32.840Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a pretty good summary!

I'm not actually trying to make the case for moving the main rationalist hub; I actually think it's pretty likely that the hub cannot be moved, at least not intentionally. Instead, I'm trying to describe why people might consider moving here as individuals.

Replies from: bendini
comment by bendini · 2020-10-16T00:57:33.835Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, that makes more sense. I think if you'd posted this last year I would have assumed you were making an individual case, but the recent interest in moving the hub away from Berkeley made me think otherwise.

comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-12-28T23:20:06.130Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

E. Large drawbacks

  • Boston has very cold winters.

F. Small drawbacks

  • Boston has summers that are hot, humid and swarming with mosquitoes.

These are backwards. Cold winters are a lot easier to work around than sticky summers. (A fireplace is simpler than an air conditioner.)

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2020-12-28T23:39:45.159Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

These are backwards. Cold winters are a lot easier to work around than sticky summers. (A fireplace is simpler than an air conditioner.)

Er, what? This seems completely backwards to me. Putting in an air conditioner is as simple as buying a unit online, installing it into a window, and plugging it into a wall outlet. Putting in a fireplace (!!) is… actually not possible at all, for most people (e.g., anyone living in an apartment).

What does it even mean to say that a fireplace is ‘simpler’…? I can’t map that to anything even remotely relevant to the question of whether I can have a fireplace in my apartment or not. (And the answer is definitely ‘not’.)

Replies from: habryka4, JacobKopczynski
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2020-12-29T22:41:23.476Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I don't think this is super relevant, space heaters are pretty easy to buy and use and fulfill the same purpose. Agree that fireplaces seem like a giant pain to install, and are often not feasible. 

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2020-12-30T05:54:45.774Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Space heaters tend to be rather worse at heating a space than air conditioners are at cooling it. (They can also be fire hazards, though that’s not strictly relevant to effectiveness per se.) But yes, a space heater is an option.

Note that aside from the (in)feasibility and (massive!) expense of installing a fireplace, there is also the fact that as a renter, you simply wouldn’t have permission from your landlord to make such modifications to your apartment.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2021-01-02T21:56:33.854Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why are you still hung up on the utterly irrelevant question of whether it is practical to install a fireplace? No one but you has claimed that matters.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2021-01-02T21:59:12.057Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Um, we are talking about whether you should move to Boston or not. Whether you can install a fireplace seems way more relevant to me than how conceptually simple fireplaces are.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2021-01-02T22:14:21.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No one is suggesting you install a fireplace, literally no one, so no, it is completely irrelevant whether you can do so.

The relative difficulty of solving the problems of excessive cold and excessive heat, however, is relevant. And that relative difficulty is cleanly and clearly illustrated by the relative simplicity of the simplest solutions to those problems, which are, respectively, a fireplace and an air conditioner. As I said before:

This has obvious practical consequences for the comparative difficulty of the problems; it’s much easier to fix ‘too cold’ than ‘too hot’.

The fact that a fireplace is simple has the obvious implication that heating is an easier problem to fix in theory, and that has the implication that it is probably also easier to fix in practice. And this is indeed the case.

comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-12-29T01:19:37.933Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fireplaces are thousands of years old, because they are very simple. The most complex part is arranging air flow to not choke the room with smoke, and even that was present in prehistory. You can explain every aspect of their operation to a five year old, and if they're a bright five year old, you won't even have to repeat yourself later.

Air conditioners are less than two centuries old, because they are very complex mechanisms. No comparably-effective simpler technology exists, especially not for humid places. Many intelligent adults have some difficulty understanding their operation. (In hot, dry places adobe, for heat capacity, and windcatchers for active cooling, are pretty good low-tech tools, though still discovered well after the fireplace, definitely not explainable to a five year old, and maybe 20% as good as AC at best.)

Creating heat is so simple you can and will do it by accident. Moving heat is a difficult, precision operation. This has obvious practical consequences for the comparative difficulty of the problems; it's much easier to fix 'too cold' than 'too hot'.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz, jkaufman
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2020-12-29T10:31:47.901Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is all completely irrelevant to the question of whether I can have an air conditioner and/or a fireplace in my residence. You do see that, right?

You were responding to a comment about practical considerations relevant to living in a certain city. The question at hand is: what is, in practical terms, easier to deal with: hot summers, or cold winters? Everything you’ve written in your latest comment has zero bearing on this question. The comment is plainly a non sequitur. And your first comment was simply wrong, as, again, the matter at hand concerns the practical considerations, which are as bendini summarized them (and as I elaborated on).

What I would like to understand, and am hoping you might explain, is whether you disagree with my assessment of the practical considerations (and if so, on what basis), or, if you do not disagree, why you believe that your first comment makes sense as a reply to bendini’s.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-12-29T18:32:24.575Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your objection was the non sequitur. My reply is not irrelevant to that objection, but that doesn't matter, because that question is itself irrelevant to the one at the top of the thread. No one cares, and it does not matter, "whether I can have a fireplace in my apartment or not".

The point is blindingly obvious, which is why I explained it in small words above, but I can excerpt the critical pieces for you:

Cold winters are a lot easier to work around than sticky summers. [...] Fireplaces [...] are very simple. [...] Air conditioners [...] are very complex mechanisms. [...] This has obvious practical consequences[...]; it's much easier to fix 'too cold' than 'too hot'.

Fireplaces and ACs are the simplest available solutions to those problems, and their difficulty is vastly different. More sophisticated solutions exist, but the difficulty of practically implementing them is likewise determined by the massive disparity in difficulty of the underlying problem.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2020-12-29T18:43:18.313Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This reply seems like either obstinacy and rudeness put together, or deliberate trolling. So I will bow out of this conversation, and trust that anyone reading this will see what is obvious.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-12-29T21:49:36.468Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, if they see the obvious it won't be because you helped, since you still haven't, despite very clear step by step explanation. I am rude because you have ignored all polite explanation and obstinately insisted on discussing irrelevancies.

comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-01-02T02:07:36.080Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For comparing potential cities and climates, the simplicity of the mechanism of adjusting the conditions to human preferences is essentially not a consideration. Cost matters, convenience matters, and I could be convinced that the simplicity of the methods people actually use matters. But fireplaces are irrelevant since essentially no one in Boston is using one as their primary method of heat.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2021-01-02T21:52:41.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cost and convenience are almost entirely determined by simplicity. The fact that a fireplace is much simpler than an AC is directly causally linked to the lower cost in money and inconvenience of fixing the respective problems they address. Whether you actually use a fireplace is immaterial.

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-01-03T02:45:42.814Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we knew very little about the level of technology in a society or how expensive things work, sort of reasoning might make sense. Fireplaces are simple, heat pumps are not, so we might expect that dealing with excessive cold might be easier than dealing with excessive heat.

This is not at all the situation in which we are having this discussion. The actual mechanisms that people use for heating and cooling are much more complex than the simplest devices capable of the job, and the cost and convenience of cooling relative to heating has changed massively as technology has improved. If you're trying to figure out whether Boston is a good fit for you, I still maintain fireplaces are irrelevant.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2021-01-03T16:50:42.123Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the cost and convenience of cooling relative to heating has changed massively as technology has improved

Not really, no. That's the point: the problems retain their natural relative difficulty. The complexity suggests certain properties about the relative situation, and those properties have remained true.

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-01-03T21:20:15.053Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problems have not retained their natural relative difficulty, which is why the introduction and falling costs of Air Conditioning have led to large migration to the Sunbelt.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2021-01-04T04:08:22.678Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That doesn't follow. The sun belt became habitable because it got easier to fix, but that wasn't asymmetric in difficulty, just asymmetric in relevance; the difference between 'pretty easy' and 'very easy' matters much less than the difference between 'really hard' and 'a little bit hard'.

comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2021-01-22T21:40:08.777Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's try this again, being more explicit about the analogy, though it's incredibly simple so that really shouldn't be necessary.

E. Large drawbacks

  • Boston has very cold winters.

F. Small drawbacks

  • Boston has summers that are hot, humid and swarming with mosquitoes.

These are backwards. Cold winters are a lot easier to work around than sticky summers; a fireplace is simpler than an air conditioner.

  • A fireplace is simple, and is the simplest man-made method of dealing with cold.
  • Because it is simple, manufacturing tolerances and installation tolerances are large.
  • This makes it cheap, and easy to install, when installing it as intended
    • If you install a fireplace six inches to the left of the intended location, it will work without problems. (You will probably have other architectural problems, but they are not the fault of the fireplace; if it had been a window or a non-structural column that was moved, that would be equally problematic.)
  • Derivatives of the fireplace optimized for particular use-cases, such as being addable and subtractable after the building is finished, start from this extremely low baseline. They add complexity, reduce manufacturing and installation tolerances, etc.
  • But because the baseline is incredibly low, even after making those changes it remains very simple, so the devices remain cheap, easy to install, etc.
  • End result: Furnaces, space heaters, radiators, all are cheap and abundant.

Contrast with

  • Air conditioners are the simplest general-applicability man-made method of dealing with heat.
  • They're really fuckin' complicated. Tolerances for installation and manufacture are small.
    • If you install an air conditioner six inches to the left, it probably won't work at all; the seal will be crap and you'll get worse results than you would have from leaving the window closed. At best you'll get 50% capacity.
    • Variants exist with better tolerances, (freestanding units with pipe) but they're more expensive and less efficient.
  • This also makes air conditioners fairly expensive. An AC unit can cover more ground than a space heater, but even if you want to evenly blanket your home with heat (usually not true, some rooms are much lower priority), it will take only two or three space heaters per AC unit, and AC units cost roughly 5x a space heater.
  • Because AC units are so complex, advanced variants are not a common product. The main descendant innovation is central air. This has all the drawbacks of a fireplace with regard to installation, though it does have higher efficiency.
  • Central air has another relevant feature: Even in really hot jurisdictions like Los Angeles or Phoenix, AZ, it almost always also has heat. Because once you've set up the ducting and control systems for central-air AC, it is trivially easy to support heat through that. So using it once a decade, or just the possibility that you might, someday, want to sell to an octogenarian with no thermoregulation who can't take the 'cold' of 65 F, is more than enough to justify the cost.

In conclusion: The fact that fireplaces are simpler than AC units has direct, obvious consequences for how difficult it is to keep your home warm vs. cool, regardless of whether using an actual fireplace is practical or even desirable. It is much easier to deal with Massachusetts winters than Massachusetts summers via technological means.

Replies from: bendini, SaidAchmiz
comment by bendini · 2021-01-23T16:57:06.113Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To clarify, I was thinking more about the overall effect of the weather on people. You are not indoors all the time, nor can you cover every square inch of your body with warm clothing. At least from my point of view, being outdoors in 20F wind in a winter coat is worse than 85F in shorts + t-shirt. I'm not disputing that air conditioning is more technologically complex than a fireplace, I just don't think it's a major factor.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2021-01-23T22:13:07.147Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it is a pretty major factor. 20 F is not that common, and much easier to work around than 100 F, which is approximately as common. Both are pretty terrible outdoors; 20 F often comes with some benefits that make it worth suffering through, most of which involve snow, and 100 F doesn't AFAIK, but that's a minor detail. And you're correct that the difficulty of dressing for the weather is not obviously tied to the difficulty of controlling an indoor environment; I think there's a weak correlation there, but it could just be noise.

It's only inside that you can really work around either extreme enough to be comfortable. And how hard that is differs greatly due to the different underlying complexities of the problems.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2021-03-02T15:57:23.366Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This makes [a fireplace] cheap, and easy to install, when installing it as intended

This is not true at all. Fireplaces are very expensive to install, costing thousands of dollars at the low end (and going into five digits of dollars). (Furthermore, if you live in a rented unit, you generally have no option to install a fireplace at all.)

If you install an air conditioner six inches to the left, it probably won’t work at all; the seal will be crap and you’ll get worse results than you would have from leaving the window closed. At best you’ll get 50% capacity.

This is also not true at all. I can move my window air conditioner six inches in either direction right now (I’d just have to undo/re-do some screws and reapply some foam padding), and it would work just as well. The same has been true for every other air conditioner I have owned.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2021-03-03T06:29:33.516Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

when installing it as intended

At this point you must be deliberately misreading everything I write. No one could be that wrong by accident.

I can move my window air conditioner six inches in either direction right now

I conclude that you have not actually tried this, because if you had you would have noticed that it reduces the capacity of the device massively. AC units need to be placed centrally in the window with carefully-guided siderails.

Replies from: jkaufman, SaidAchmiz
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-03-04T02:30:45.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

AC units need to be placed centrally in the window

Link? I hadn't heard this before.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2021-03-03T15:03:20.051Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does “installing it as intended” actually mean in practice?

I conclude that you have not actually tried this, because if you had you would have noticed that it reduces the capacity of the device massively. AC units need to be placed centrally in the window with carefully-guided siderails.

You conclude incorrectly. I have indeed shifted my A/C’s position, in the way I describe, multiple times (spanning multiple units). There was no detectable effect on the A/C’s performance.

comment by Sam Marks (samuel-marks) · 2020-10-13T02:02:43.950Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Boston resident here, so I thought I'd add some more points and further emphasize some things.

  • The bike infrastructure is really good, and rapidly improving. In fact, there's so much bike infrastructure that I want to make the converse warning: if you are a nervous driver, driving around here can be terrifying because of the bikers.
  • The winters can be quite brutal (though they seem to be getting milder). And since Boston is way too far east for its timezone, this means that the winter sun sets very early (think ~4:30pm).
  • New England in general, and Boston in particular, is very lovely. If you like the European town aesthetic, this is probably the closest you can get in the U.S.
  • The food scene is pretty bad -- food which is both good and cheap basically doesn't exist.
  • People here are very young, especially when all the students are in town. Whenever I leave Boston, I'm shocked at how old the people are. 
  • Marijuana is legal here. However, the dispensaries can be inconvenient to get to: none have opened yet in Boston or Cambridge. 
  • I really love living here, and almost everyone I know also likes living here. The exceptions tend to be Californians, though. Did I mention how brutal the winter is?
  • Whatever those Intangible Qualities of a Happy Place are, Boston has them. I'm not sure what gives Boston this feel; I think it's some mixture of excellent green space, good walkability, a sense of history, small-town aesthetic blended with big-city resources, and generally well-educated and competent populace. Think of the anxious feeling you get when you feel like the world is falling apart and there are a million little things coming apart at the seams -- the felt sense of Boston (at least for me) is the polar opposite of that.
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2020-10-11T03:55:05.767Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Paul Graham also supports Boston

If you are CEO of a venture-backed startup, where would you move your company to outside of CA?

PG: Boston.

Replies from: RyanCarey
comment by RyanCarey · 2020-10-11T18:31:11.547Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He is even more effusive in his essay "cities and ambition" (which incidentally is quite relevant for figuring where rationalists should want to live):

Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder. The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer. What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you've been meaning to.


As of this writing, Cambridge seems to be the intellectual capital of the world. I realize that seems a preposterous claim. What makes it true is that it's more preposterous to claim about anywhere else. American universities currently seem to be the best, judging from the flow of ambitious students. And what US city has a stronger claim? New York? A fair number of smart people, but diluted by a much larger number of neanderthals in suits. The Bay Area has a lot of smart people too, but again, diluted; there are two great universities, but they're far apart. Harvard and MIT are practically adjacent by West Coast standards, and they're surrounded by about 20 other colleges and universities. [1] Cambridge as a result feels like a town whose main industry is ideas, while New York's is finance and Silicon Valley's is startups.


When I moved to New York, I was very excited at first. It's an exciting place. So it took me quite a while to realize I just wasn't like the people there. I kept searching for the Cambridge of New York. It turned out it was way, way uptown: an hour uptown by air.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-10-12T07:02:50.249Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Like most of Graham's essays on non-startup topics, he extrapolates well beyond his data and confuses his map for the territory. I like the essay and the framework, but it's mostly bunk; you could make similar arguments completely shuffled around by examining a different subculture of each city and cherry-picking different examples.

comment by waveman · 2020-10-11T05:13:28.838Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pretty good governance, as illustrated by the pandemic response.

Third worst state for deaths (all expressed per million population) in the US. 
If MA were a country it would have the worst death rate.

Compare MA (1,391 deaths per million) to Taiwan (0.3 deaths per million, none for months) with no lockdown. MA is 4,000 times worse. "Good" is not a word that has any applicability here. I would suggest "disastrous" or "catastrophic" would be more apt. Even Australia at 35 is 40 times better than MA. 

I notice a lot of places are delusional about their 'great' covid response.

Replies from: jkaufman, jsteinhardt
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2020-10-11T17:59:39.572Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I say good governance, I'm comparing to the US as a whole. I agree that many countries did better with the pandemic. Comparing a state to a country, though, is kind of silly when the country can shut its borders but the state cannot. Additionally, you've picked two island countries to compare to, which have additional advantages in securing their borders.

Still, within the US Massachusetts has one of the highest death rates. The other similar states are NY, NJ, and CT, and these deaths primarily came from poor control of the outbreak at the very beginning. My understanding is that this was primarily a failing at the national level, where the US had incredibly limited testing capacity due to a combination of poor choices at the CDC and counterproductive pressure from the White House. The coronavirus got ahead of us, and the whole Northeast corridor was pretty hard hit. Where I am giving the Boston area credit, and especially Cambridge/Somerville, is in the level of local response. The state and these municipalities weren't going to be able to fix the testing problem and it took longer than I would have liked for them to realize that the CDC was not going to be filling it's role, but once they did their response was very good.

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-01-02T02:09:25.997Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, a few months later, and I was wrong. I do think we have decent governance, but our handling of the pandemic has been crummy even in situations where we should have been able to do better.

comment by jsteinhardt · 2020-10-11T05:29:57.228Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many of the factors affecting number of deaths are beyond a place's control, such as how early on the pandemic spread to that place, and how densely populated the city is. I don't have a strong opinion about MA but measuring by deaths per capita isn't a good way of judging the response.

comment by adamzerner · 2020-10-11T04:30:49.105Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's the rationalist scene there like? Meetups? Socializing?

Replies from: samuel-marks, jkaufman, alex-k-chen
comment by Sam Marks (samuel-marks) · 2020-10-13T02:04:54.607Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The SSC meet-up during Scott's meetups everywhere tour drew over 140 people. So there's a bunch of rationalists, but not any hubs. (Though there is a group house in Cambridge that runs LW meetups.)

comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2020-10-11T17:42:41.583Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a local LW group, and before we had kids my wife and I would go most weeks. We also host (in non-pandemic times) a monthly EA dinner.

comment by Alex K. Chen (alex-k-chen) · 2020-10-12T16:33:01.287Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It used to be much more active and frictionless (the Citadel), but the Citadel got evicted sometime late 2016/2017.

comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-10-12T06:42:03.735Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As another Massachusetts native (from the exurbs, not the Hub of the Universe), currently living in SF, I agree with most of this. However, you're seriously underrating the significance of blizzards. Even in ordinary times without global warming driving the extremes higher, blizzards sufficient to shut down the subway for a day or two were roughly annual. Now you get even worse storms every year or three, and that may increase. Hurricanes also have increased in severity and frequency IIRC (nope, checked, that's false; neither severity nor frequency has increased.)

Other drawbacks over the West Coast:

  • Boston summer sucks. Firstly, mosquitos; if you've lived there your whole life you are underrating how nice it is to have no mosquitos, and also probably underestimating how mosquito-free the West Coast is. Secondly, humidity. On the West Coast you can step into the shade and have the temperature instantly drop ten degrees or more (°F). No such luck in New England; you can't escape the heat from a Boston summer without air conditioning or a properly-enclosed basement. Open a window and you're hosed.

  • Prudishness. Norms around public intimacy are way more restrictive. None of it is given legal force, but the Puritan culture is still around. "Do what you want, but don't make me pay attention to it" is the puritanical liberal ethos and it's still the prevailing view in New England. (Probably less bad in the big city than in the subdivisions or in Worcester, where I spent most of my time, but it's still there.) This also means that the 'weirdness point budget' is lower, but I'm unsure quite how much lower due to urban/rural confounders on the anecdata I have. (This is a pretty significant adjustment for the other direction as well; my best friends on the West Coast have almost all been East Coast transplants.)

  • Rudeness. I am pretty certain this is substantially, though not entirely, a result of the previous point. In Massachusetts, it's considered impolite to waste stranger's time with pleasantries, rude to involve yourself in stranger's problems or conversations, and generally normative to assume other people are looking out for themselves and won't appreciate you getting involved. At its more extreme, this produces the terrifying pedestrian dynamics, where the accepted way to cross in a crosswalk is to look carefully for speeding cars and if none of them look like they're speeding too much to be capable of stopping for you, walk out into the crosswalk and dare them to blink first. This is a hard cultural shift to navigate and will probably produce isolation in people who are used to West Coast norms. (This is actually one where I still prefer the East Coast norms after a decade on the Left Coast, but it's a flaw for most people considering the move.)

Replies from: Zvi, steve2152, alex-k-chen, jkaufman, SaidAchmiz
comment by Zvi · 2020-10-13T14:59:58.901Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Important corrective to the pedestrian dynamics. You do not check to see if the cars are capable of stopping for you - you assume that the cars will keep going straight at their current speed. Only if you can cross safely under that circumstance do you cross. Assuming the car will actively change what it is doing is a way to get killed. 

And it's super frustrating when it is clear that a car will be well past you by the time you reach them, then you start to cross, then they slow down, and now you have to stop too because you don't know if it's safe. This happens all the time outside of the east coast, and even happens in small towns in the east sometimes, and it's maddening. 

Also note that you can do what SF people do and wait for the light even when no cars are coming, I mean, if you think your life is too long and you want to give away some of it for no reason and never get it back. As you do. You can eventually cross that way.

Replies from: jkaufman, JacobKopczynski
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2020-10-13T16:00:53.225Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You do not check to see if the cars are capable of stopping for you - you assume that the cars will keep going straight at their current speed.

Hmm, I feel like there are actually two different modes? In one of them, yes, you assume the car will continue on at its current speed, and you start walking expecting to pass ahead or behind it. On the other hand, when there's enough traffic that you would have to wait indefinitely with that method (and there's no light etc) there's a mode where you stare at the car and start walking out, and then they slow down to let you cross. You do this with enough leeway that if they don't see you (or are a jerk) you still have time to stop before you would get run down?

comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-11-25T22:41:05.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is my experience that in Massachusetts cities (and even semi-urban towns), only attempting to cross if you will make it without the cars slowing down is only possible when waiting for the light. If you wait for the light, you then have the luxury of only attempting to cross if no car will interrupt you at its current speed and heading. Enough drivers treat red lights as guidelines that pedestrians must assume that all drivers will, so this is a nontrivial requirement. (I'd say 'imagine NYC except everyone's a taxi driver', but last I was in NYC that was nearly true already.)

It's unwise and uncommon to go full Schelling - i.e. performatively blindfolding yourself and then walking backwards into traffic - and it is normal and advisable to leave substantial safety margin, probably 3x-5x the technical minimum stopping distance, rather than assume they will detect it instantly. But you essentially must have to dare them to blink first, or you'll never get to cross.

comment by Steven Byrnes (steve2152) · 2020-12-29T02:42:54.629Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

if you've lived there your whole life you are underrating how nice it is to have no mosquitos, and also probably underestimating how mosquito-free the West Coast is.

I spent 4½ years in my 20s in Berkeley CA and pretty much the rest of my life in Boston, and it never occurred to me that Boston had more mosquitos than Berkeley, until I read this post a couple months ago. I mean, yeah it's true, it's just that the thought hadn't crossed my mind. That's how little the mosquitos impact my life. :-P Everyone's different!

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-12-29T18:34:18.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What that primarily means, probably, is that you are not tasty to mosquitoes. This is an axis along which people differ but not the one you probably meant.

comment by Alex K. Chen (alex-k-chen) · 2020-10-12T16:37:05.184Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm rarely a typical example of anything, but I never noticed anything in the dimension of prudishness or rudeness (I grew up in the Seattle area, now live in Boston). Also there definitely are some communities of "weird people" in "Camberville" (as they call it) too, though they perhaps don't define the predominant culture [I think it's easier for people to feel like they're out of place if they too weird]

Replies from: jsteinhardt
comment by jsteinhardt · 2020-10-13T06:50:04.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I noticed the prudishness, but "rudeness" to me parses as people actually telling you what's on their mind, rather than the passive-aggressive fake niceness that seems to dominate in the Bay Area. I'll personally take the rudeness :).

Replies from: maia
comment by maia · 2020-10-13T14:35:44.389Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

... huh, is that the thing that makes it mysteriously easier for me to talk to people from the East Coast?

Replies from: Zvi, JacobKopczynski
comment by Zvi · 2020-10-13T14:55:37.297Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-11-25T22:45:13.707Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems plausible. I put

(This is a pretty significant adjustment for the other direction as well; my best friends on the West Coast have almost all been East Coast transplants.)

after the prudishness part but I could definitely be misentangling that. And, well, you are someone who is one of my best friends on the West Coast. (Well, was. RIP Delmarva.)

Replies from: maia
comment by maia · 2020-11-25T22:58:35.445Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2020-10-13T12:27:16.290Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

terrifying pedestrian dynamics, where the accepted way to cross in a crosswalk is to look carefully for speeding cars and if none of them look like they're speeding too much to be capable of stopping for you, walk out into the crosswalk and dare them to blink first.

On the other hand, when I've been in the Bay Area walking around with friends, if we get to an intersection where the light is against us and you can clearly see there are no cars, I'll be halfway across the street before I realize that my friends are still waiting for the light to change.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-11-25T22:46:26.769Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, that still annoys me. It did even more in the Pacific Northwest, which is even worse than the Bay.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2020-10-13T14:56:33.107Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[stuff about ‘prudishness’, ‘rudeness’]

These are actually very large benefits of the East Coast over the West Coast.

(Humidity and mosquitoes are definitely terrible, though.)

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-10-23T16:16:57.644Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In what way is the prudishness a benefit?

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2020-10-23T20:48:56.388Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It leads directly to their being fewer PDA and otherwise overt sexuality. I prefer that, hence the prudishness is a benefit.

comment by PeterMcCluskey · 2020-10-12T02:33:28.881Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know that Boston has prestigious hospitals, but I'm unclear how to usefully compare the health they deliver.

One thing I can compare is the ease of getting blood tests. Most states allow residents to order blood tests via privatemdlabs.com, Life Extension, etc. But MA is one of the states that prohibits that, meaning that if you want tests that an average doctor thinks are unneeded (as I often do), it can be costly and time consuming to find a doctor who will sign off on them.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski, Zian
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2020-10-12T06:52:16.329Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you have a weird case, the prestigious teaching hospitals are very good for your outcomes. I probably owe 30% or so of being alive to the fact that Emerson Hospital didn't dismiss my self-reports of stabbing pain the night before I was supposed to get a hernia fixed as being a weird patient self-reporting about the hernia badly. As a result, they checked for and found appendicitis, and a serious case of it, which I was told (afterward) was probably life-threatening. However, if you check into the hospital without anything seriously wrong with you, you run a decent risk of them finding something less serious wrong with you, which can be pretty bad for your quality of life. (This led to my great-grandmother's rapid decline between age 100 and 105.)

In general, New England's culture is very much "nanny state". Experts are presumed to know what's good for you better than you do, whether they're doctors or legislators. (New Hampshire mostly excepted.) I'd expect this to interact poorly with the high level of education in the state, but it seems stable so I guess not.

comment by Zian · 2020-10-12T19:46:09.452Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can look at the data from the Leapfrog Group and CMS.

comment by Alex N (alex-n) · 2020-10-25T14:05:30.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The bitterness of the pill does not prove the effectiveness of the medicine in it.

MA is third worst state for COVID death in the US. Third, after NY and NJ - and unlike NY and NJ, MA does not have an excuse of having NYC in it. Against that background, the claim that MA has good governance (re: COVID) requires extraordinary proof. 


Replies from: jkaufman
comment by Mati_Roy (MathieuRoy) · 2020-10-11T12:45:06.247Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here are my notes for "Why (and why not) Montreal": https://bit.ly/AISMontreal Note that my notes are not directly about comparing to other cities. ex.: I'm not saying Montreal > Boston; I don't know

This is in terms of AI safety, I also have a more general one about best city for personal survival, but it's pretty drafty

Replies from: Kenny, Kenny
comment by Kenny · 2020-10-11T23:55:06.659Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I liked the notes, but they're hard to interpret (for me).

One example being me not appreciating how cheap 400-600 CAD "per person" (in what I'm assuming is shared housing) is for different plausible incomes by profession. If NYC housing costs are 150% of Montreal, but so too are salaries, then Montreal isn't really very much "cheap for a big city".

There does seem to be a good bit of AI work tho, and research too; that's interesting!

Replies from: MathieuRoy
comment by Mati_Roy (MathieuRoy) · 2020-10-12T03:21:34.485Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see what you are saying. But either MIRI won't decrease salary, in which case rent will be really cheap, or it will, in which case they'll have more AI safety progress per dollar (or so would the simple surface level analysis say)

Replies from: Kenny
comment by Kenny · 2020-10-12T19:47:59.795Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ahhh – I didn't know MIRI (or similar groups) were allowing people to work remotely.

I think Robin Hanson might be on to something with respect to the looming importance and significance of remote work (e.g. it will effectively create a much larger, more global, labor market) so I'd expect MIRI-like organizations to have to be willing to pay those still-high labor costs regardless of where people live, i.e. rent would be pretty cheap in Montreal (compared to SV or NYC or even Boston).

Replies from: MathieuRoy
comment by Mati_Roy (MathieuRoy) · 2020-10-13T00:46:17.088Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was talking about MIRI moving to Montreal with all employees, not about remote work

Replies from: Kenny
comment by Kenny · 2020-10-13T18:54:13.930Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ohhh – what's the context of that? A past possibility? Or just a hypothetical?

Replies from: MathieuRoy
comment by Mati_Roy (MathieuRoy) · 2020-10-13T23:15:47.310Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The context of my comment is this LessWrong post.

The context of writing the Google Doc is just me that wanted to pitch Montreal to EAs in general.

Replies from: Kenny
comment by Kenny · 2020-10-14T16:16:24.320Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks – that makes sense!

comment by Kenny · 2020-10-11T23:48:26.632Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

best city for personal survival

Like for a 'zombie apocalypse'?

Replies from: MathieuRoy
comment by Mati_Roy (MathieuRoy) · 2020-10-12T03:18:59.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

nnnooo, for the real world

Replies from: Kenny
comment by Kenny · 2020-10-12T19:44:31.009Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused then. "Personal survival" seems like a 'avoid early death' metric whereas 'personal flourishing' (or something similar) would include typical 'quality of life' measures.

Disaster is a recurring part of "the real world" too and some places are more or less dangerous than others in that respect. That seemed to be what you were getting at.

Replies from: MathieuRoy
comment by Mati_Roy (MathieuRoy) · 2020-10-13T00:44:06.958Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

'early death' seems redundant, but yes the other analysis I was referring to focuses on avoiding death, not personal flourishment. this includes: proximity to state of the art biostasis services, lifelogging-friendly laws, high paying opportunities / low cost of living & low taxes, good healthcare system, survivalist community, low murder rate, online grocery shopping, good air quality, etc.

Replies from: alex-k-chen
comment by Alex K. Chen (alex-k-chen) · 2020-10-14T12:37:46.448Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This really depends on many factors such as social connectedness (where your connectedness may be higher where most of your friends are, or where it's easiest to make new friends). The highest longevities in the US are the "ski resort" counties  [high altitude may play a role in this] in Colorado, but they're too expensive for most. 

Boston is significantly more disaster-proof than the Bay Area - one of the most disaster-proof of the major hubs outside of Europe.