My update to the Berkman Community

Hey! I’m a Berkman/RSM fellow this year, and also still an affiliate. They asked for a mid-year check in email to the community. It took a while. I figure, why not share it here? This is a verbatim copy of what I wrote, modolus some formatting differences.

Hey friends! My, how time flies.

As a reminder — I’m Sahar. This is my life story. This is what I’m up to now (in a more personal way). Mainly I run Integrity Institute. I was a fellow in 20-21, an affiliate since, and now I’m also an RSM fellow.

🧱 Work projects and success
  • I’m running Integrity Institute.
    • We are a think tank on how to fix the social internet, powered by our members: tech professionals who have experience on teams like: integrity, trust and safety, anti abuse, responsible design, content or behavior moderation, and so on.
  • We’ve moved from 2 co-founders and 1 staff to 2 co-founders and 5 full-time staff.
  • The recent chatter around “tech exodus” and “how do we integrate these people into civil society” is a thing we pretty much called 2 years ago. Now a big challenge is finding the funders who be delighted to realize we exist and that we are already doing the work they wish was happening. (Do you have advice on that?)
  • People tell me that we’re the luckiest nonprofit in the world and we’re doing great! I guess I have high standards for what we could be doing. It’s an important moment.
  • I like finding ways we can partner. We have in abundance: actual workers who fix social media for a living. First-hand knowledge. We also have in abundance: organizations, governments, journalists trying to talk to us. We do not have in abundance: staff time, general operating support, a moment to breathe.
👋 Personal projects:
  • I’m getting married! 
  • I still run this blog, and I still make mixtapes. I’m behind on mixtapes, I would love your suggestions of great music to put on mixtapes to send to my boo
  • For fun, I still matchmake people in a romance, housing, or jobs way. Feel free to follow along or join.
  • I moved to Brooklyn! I’m in Crown Heights and would like to be part of more local (and niche) communities
🐫 Specific work examples in case you like that sort of thing
💬 Thinking projects

I’m trying to spend time writing and thinking out loud again. Things I’m trying to find the time to finally write:

  • The case for hiring integrity workers (to do integrity work or “normal” product work)
  • This work is not (or should not be) a cost center. (It’s about long-term retention and product quality!)
  • The macroeconomics of social platforms: thinking about supply, demand, and distribution for content
  • Using “integrity thinking” (incentives, supply/demand, etc) to diagnose governance failures in social media
  • More about how the answer is design and behavior moderation. “Content moderation” is a bad metaphor
  • The retweet/share/forward button is bad.
  • How to think about ranking and recommendation systems (“algorithms”). The answer is: 1. this is actually simple. 2. here’s a fun metaphor involving crazed chef robots. 3. Just look at a/b test results
  • Social media companies are actually weak and easily bullied. Even as the platforms they own are powerful and important. This is a bad thing.

It could be fun to take my ideas/bullets that could be blog posts or op-eds, and work with others to turn them into more fleshed out papers or something. Let’s think and write together. I also know that Zahra Stardust and I need to finish cowriting our thing together.

🥰 Hooray for BKC people

I want to shout out the staff and community members of BKC. It’s been delightful spending time with you, including over the last semester.

This includes pretty much all staff at RSM, my fellow fellows at RSM, and the staff at BKC. Mentioning everyone would be a fool’s errand, but some recent connections and shout-outs:

  • I had a lovely time getting to know Biella Coleman at Bruce Schneier’s party a few weeks ago
  • Tom Zick and I met as BKC fellows, stayed friends in Boston, and now I just invited her to my wedding!
  • Rebecca Rinkevitch and Sue Hendrickson and I keep running into each other at conferences! Including one where Micaela Mantegna was there
  • I met, separately, Marissa Gerchick and Joe Bak-Coleman for 1-1 hanging out time in Brooklyn lately, and I hope soon the 3 of us plus Nate Lubin can hang out altogether.
  • Kathryn Hymes met Marissa and I for the best cocktails in brooklyn the other day.
  • Susan Benesch and I had a few deep conversations. And Elodie advised my staff on how to understand the conference landscape.
  • Joanne Cheung and I had a lovely long conversation in an oddly cavernous and loud restaurant at Union Square Manhattan.

If you’ve gotten all the way this far down the email, wow! Hooray. Please accept this cookie. 🍪


Cranky but smiling

During the Roddenberry Fellows retreat, we had this exercise where people put down their identities on virtual post-its. Many people wrote things like: “first gen college student”, or “Black”. I understood the directions a little differently.

I like the output though. It’s a pretty accurate depiction of who I am. So I thought I would share. Anything surprise you? Anything I missed?


The front cover of the alumni magazine

When I was young, I had a peculiar relationship with my college. I loved it in the way that a certain type of american liberal loves their country: it has so much promise, the people are so good, there’s a ton of embedded culture and history here that is amazing. And yet, the people running it keep making terrible choices. Like the church in Dante’s Paradiso, it’s adulterated, corrupted, attacked, compromised — but still divine.

I founded and ran a publication based on that premise, starting my first semester freshman year. That was my biggest, most important, center of my identity.

We had so many adventures. We memorably liveblogged a weird student union judiciary hearing, to the hilarity of the audience and judges. We ran a political party. We helped kick out the president of the school (not the student union, the whole school). I made friends, we had generations of contributors. Alumni of the blog went out to found magazines of their own, or be hotshot national reporters, or do wonderful organizing in cities and rural areas across America.

I loved it. I loved Brandeis so much. (Still do). But it was hard to express, since my commitment to my understanding of Brandeis’ ideals often meant I clashed with the people in charge of running the organization. It didn’t help that I was a teenager. To this day I have regrets about different fights I picked, or positions I took, or things I said.

At the end of senior year, something important happened. The “establishment” (did it even exist?) sent out an olive branch (or was I just overthinking it?). I got the David A. Alexander ’79 Memorial Award for Social Consciousness and Activism. An official object, that was presented me on a stage, for the work that I did.

It was one of the happiest days of my life. It felt like people understood what I was trying to do — love my school, love the people in it, and be driven by that love to try to improve things.

Years later, I became a member of the Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund at the university. Again, it felt like my home loved me back.

None of that compares to what happened earlier this month.

Gideon Klionsky posting on my Facebook wall: "The front of the fucking alumni magazine?!"

In October, Laura Gardner, editor of the Brandeis Magazine (and the Executive Director of Strategic Communications) emailed me. She saw the Protocol post announcing the launch of the Integrity Institute and thought it might lead to a great feature story. She connected me with the amazing Julia Klein, and soon we were on the phone (and videochat) talking for hours and hours. We talked about my times at Brandeis, my parents, my life after. We talked about hopes and dreams and fears. How I grew. How I changed. I even learned some family history in the course of fact-checking with my mom.

In December, Mike Lovett, the university photographer, visited my apartment, and we did a photoshoot. It was so fun! He taught me about lighting, and angles, and shared some stories about the other people he photographed in his time. (Pro tip to the Brandeis children — one does NOT wear a hoodie of another college when you show up for a photoshoot for yours. Come on, you know better than that).

Finally, in early March, I got the physical, printed magazine with a little surprise — they made my story the front cover. You can read it here. I’m glad my parents got to see this day.

But also I’m glad for me. I love Brandeis. I miss it. I wish I could go back. It’s nice to see they love me too.


Social media that helps your friendships blossom

On Facebook, a few days ago, I noticed a weird trend. All of a sudden, I’d been getting a new type of notification. I posted about it, and got a ton of replies:

For years, inside of facebook, I argued that the app could help deepen friendships instead of just cataloging them. What about a “people who used to be close to, who you haven’t messaged [or commented on their posts] for a while, feature”? How about proactively helping heal cross-cutting cleavages by reminding you that you’re friends with people of identity X?

I have no inside knowledge here, but something weird has been happening on my facebook lately. I keep getting notifications that “person X has posted”, where person X keeps changing. Is someone on the inside finally trying to make it happen?

But this new feature has problems. It’s a good idea, but I’m not sure it’s implemented well. Why are these notifications and not feed units? If you change the behavior of the app, you’d want the initial interactions with the new feature to be of high quality, yet they typically link to low-quality posts. And rather than an invitation to reconnect with a person, they are an invitation to view that person’s posts, with no explanation.

Typically, when fb notifications start pushing something that isn’t directly tied to me (“person X commented on your post, Y people liked a post”) I click the ignore button a few times. Then the system learns, and they stop. It’s been over a week, and these notification units keep coming. Either I’m in a half-baked A/B test, or someone really, really, is pushing this new feature. If I’m right, I salute the impulse. But the implementation is not ready for prime time.

Is it just me? Am I the only one seeing these? Or are y’all getting this too?

FB post here

Kushaan even tweeted it out.

The whole episode got me thinking. Can I break out of my normal habits and use, say, Facebook, in ways that make me happier? I already cut out all pages and groups, but maybe I could do more.

So I spent ten minutes looking through stories on FB Messenger / IG, and replying enthusiastically to slices of life from old friends. It was … invigorating. It’s easy for me to type up thoughts. But maybe the real key to internet happiness is just cooing over a cute baby.

In that vein, here’s a picture of Sarah and me dressing up for new years, right before we started an epic battle in Gloomhaven. No big idea, just a little glimpse of a life.


Updating /now for 2021

Previously on

In writing letters to old friends, I’ve found it a little hard to get a sense of “how are they doing these days?”. Skimming Facebook doesn’t seem to be great way to figure that out, for a few obvious reasons. I ask them, of course, but that too often tends to get a 2-3 sentence answer about their last few weeks, instead of the more fully considered sense of who they are and what they’re about.

I can’t blame them, though. In telling the story of my life, who I am these days, etc, I can get similarly tongue-tied. Luckily, Derek Sivers has a solution: the now page.

So — I wrote up what I’m up to these days.

Some time has passed, and I’ve updated the page. Here’s what it looks like now, Nov 3rd, 2021:

Last year, I had quit my job at Facebook and moved into Somerville. I dove into my neighborhood, started a bunch of projects, and tried to heal from burnout. I wasn’t done with that, but had to put that all on hold to participate in the 2020 election. I also become a fellow at Berkman-Klein.

Up until recently, this year, I was working on a secret project with many friends and former coworkers. This involved an in-person retreat, a ton of conversations, dreams, and documentation. Talking to possible donors. Briefing journalists and helping them better understand how the world worked.

Now that we’ve gone public, I can finally tell you what my life is like!

Now, I’m excited to finally talk about the big project: The Integrity Institute

When I started diving into the Berkman fellowship, I started noticing something strange: people started taking me very seriously. Journalists, academics, activists, even policymakers not just wanted to ask me questions: they took my answers seriously.

Turns out that things seemed obvious to me (due to my time at Facebook) were not so obvious to people on the outside.

This was cool, but made me uncomfortable. There were integrity people, many who had since left Facebook, who I looked up to. Surely they deserved a platform too.

So I gathered them in January 2021. We decided to found a group that would be a combined professional association for integrity workers, a think-do tank, and a place to research what an “integrity science” would look like.

Fast forward months, and here we are.

With Jeff Allen, I’m running The Integrity Institute. It’s great! Check it out. (Here’s a lovely piece laying out what we’re up to).

Now, I’ve been focused on just a few other projects. Matchmaking (of many kinds), making mix tapes for Sarah, and thinking big thoughts with Berkman people. I helped kick ICE out of Massachusetts, but that honestly didn’t involve much work for me.

One day soon I hope to revive Yenta as well. The FB posts are still happening, but the substack is a bit dormant.

It feels weird to have One Big Project instead of lots of little ones. I miss hanging out with people, and generally relaxing. I miss being relaxed.


The February, March, April, and May 2021 mixtapes

Every month, I make Sarah a playlist of songs she might particularly want to hear. I’m a little behind, both in posting about them, and making them.

Here is a link to February’s mixtape, here is March’s mixtape, here is April’s mixtape, and here is May’s.

I’m posting a bunch of mixtapes at once! Here goes.

The February 2021 mixtape:

February’s theme: Hebrews.
  • If It Be Your Will by Leonard Cohen
  • Wake up New York by Zusha
  • קטנתי by Yonatan Razel
  • עוד לא אהבתי די by Yehoram Gaon
  • אהבות ליום אחד by Noam Bettan
  • חוזרים הביתה by Shlomo Artzi; Arik Einstein
  • לאן לאן לאן by Shlomo Artzi
  • עוף גוזל by Arik Einstein
  • לבכות לך by Aviv Geffen
  • רוח רוח by Chava Alberstein
  • ארים ראשי by Shay Gabso
  • Mothaland Bounce by Nissim Black
  • Take This Longing by Leonard Cohen

The March 2021 mixtape:

March’s Theme: Great songs by great bands we know and love.
  • Up the Wolves by The Mountain Goats
  • In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
  • Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear
  • Everything Is Moving So Fast by Great Lake Swimmers
  • Commissioning a Symphony In C by Cake
  • Staring at the Sun by TV On The Radio
  • Mykonos by Fleet Foxes
  • Magic Arrow by Timber Timbre
  • I Was Made For Sunny Days by The Weepies; Deb Talan; Steve Tannen
  • Sabotage by Beastie Boys
  • Dance Apocalyptic by Janelle Monáe
  • Waiting Room by Fugazi
  • We’re Going to Be Friends by The White Stripes
  • International Small Arms Traffic Blues by The Mountain Goats
  • Americans by Janelle Monáe
  • I Think I Smell a Rat by The White Stripes

The April 2021 mixtape

April’s theme: Good bands. Nice songs by those bands. A little bit of a trip back a decade or two
  • Tightrope (feat. Big Boi) by Janelle Monáe; Big Boi
  • Heads Will Roll by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • Lovecraft in Brooklyn by The Mountain Goats
  • it’s different for girls by of Montreal
  • I Think I Smell a Rat by The White Stripes
  • When Doves Cry by Prince
  • 2006 Remaster by The CureClose to Me
  • I Ain’t No Joke by Eric B. & Rakim
  • These Few Presidents by WHY?
  • Knife by Grizzly Bear
  • Did You See The Words by Animal Collective
  • So Long, Lonesome by Explosions In The Sky
  • Prelude For Time Feelers by Eluvium
  • Holland, 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel
  • Your Ex-Lover Is Dead by Stars
  • Everything For Free by K’s Choice
  • I Like That by Janelle Monáe

The May 2021 mixtape

May’s theme: Just some songs you might like to listen to as you work
  • To Ramona by Bob Dylan
  • Lullaby by Leonard Cohen
  • Mrs. Cold by Kings of Convenience
  • Champagne Coast by Blood Orange
  • Röyksopp Forever by Röyksopp
  • Bekhe Ze Jayet by Jawid Sharif
  • Dead Hearts by Stars
  • Myth by Beach House
  • Dayvan Cowboy by Boards of Canada
  • Waking Up by Explosions In The Sky
  • You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere by Bob Dylan

(Thanks again for Spotlistr for making it easy to export spotify playlists.)


Forrest Gump

It’s been a strange couple weeks for me. A lot of stuff I’ve worked on (mostly in secret) for the last few years is now in the news. It looks like it really was important after all — I wasn’t deluding myself.

First off, of course, the whole Facebook Files / whistleblower thing is about the work that I and my colleagues did at the company.

Relatedly, in Time, there’s a decent primer to the civic team, which I worked on at Facebook for the majority of my time there.

Next up, via Ezra Klein just a few days ago, there’s a profile of David Shor and his polling, which was more or less what I helped build over the 2020 election cycle.

Weirdly, the NYT bestselling book, Black Buck, is heavily based on Mateo’s time at Grovo — the place I worked before Facebook.

I feel a little like a Forrest Gump — near all this fame and excitement, always just slightly off screen.

Wonder what happens next.

I have been, and will be, posting a lot of life updates here. This dynamic is why: seems like enough time has passed that I write about my 2020 election work.


The natural phases of recovery from burnout

In January 1, 2020, I was in a bit of a frenzy. The month before, I had quit my job. I explicitly didn’t line up another job after it. Instead, the plan was to reset my relationship with time, and with workism. This was difficult.

I think I did a pretty good job, though. And people have found it useful to hear, over the last year or so. So now I’m sharing it publicly.

In my experience, embracing the identity of “not having or wanting a job right now” comes in waves.

In the first wave, I kept the attitude that powered me at work. Everything was about tasks to be done, checklists to be completed, and general industriousness. In that vein — I renewed my drivers license (hard, because it was lost somewhere in Mexico and also I had moved states in the meantime), got some healthcare balls rolling, and cleared out many lingering email tasks. I started using Roam, audited a couple classes in Harvard, and became a coach for volunteers for Bernie Sanders.

In wave two, I could finally start getting down to the serious business of thumbing my nose at productivity. I wasn’t perfect at it: for one thing, Sarah would often nag me to “stop doing chores and start working in the Skyrim mines”. But I spent weeks mostly playing video games and reading magazines like Jewish Currents in cute cafes.

The idea here was to burn time, extravagantly and flagrantly. Show my body that productivity is not a core value by ostentaniously doing nothing of consequence. Get all the napping and mind-resetting out of the way.

I did end up doing some work-ish things. I was honored to be a coach for victory captains for the Bernie campaign. I audited a class on Milton (my fave) and another on Indian Philosophy. But mostly I toiled in the Skyrim mines.

In wave three, I thought I was ready for projects. I was wrong. I took on an enthusiastic, almost frantic searching for meaning.

I was blogging, running a book club, reading magazines, light coding, community organizing, rock climbing, tabletop roleplaying, learning about coffee, matchmaking, writing to friends, and more. Suddenly, I had too many commitments.

The feeling of “wow I’m so happy and empowered, the world is my oyster, I can do PROJECTS” turned into “oh god I took on too much why am I so stressed this whole adventure was about avoiding burnout”.

In wave four, I cut back on projects substantially. I experimented with adding and removing commitments, so that I could figure out something sustainable. It’s about curiousity and testing. What actually feels fun? What feels like a chore? What do you want your life to look like? (I slipped back into some phase two thinking for a while, which is fine).

By the end, I had begun to remember how to enjoy life more fully. I made time for walks in the outdoors, friends, and projects I actually wanted to do. Things were not great, but much better than they used to be.

(That is, until I decided to throw away all that newfound balance, and dive head-first into the 2020 election. But that’s a story for another day)


What I did in 2020

In those early months of January and February, I had just quit my job. I explored my new, non-employed identity. I had quit Facebook for many reasons. One of them was the realization that, after about six months in Somerville, I still didn’t know my neighbors, my neighborhood, or really have any deep friendships. I needed a break.

I had moved to Somerville back in June 2019, but it felt like I only truly moved to the area the first day I was job-free. I had a few months of wintry freedom, then covid hit.

By the end of February, I was increasingly concerned about this novel coronavirus in China. With some trepidation, I visited my cherished former roommates in San Francisco, and spent the entire visit wondering why no one was freaking out as much as I was. People in my informational orbit (except, notably, for Matt Stoller) seemed to be fixated on the Democratic Presidential Primary. I stocked up on food, made panicked calls to my relatives, and tried to convince my friends that no, we weren’t going to be able to have an in-person communal Pesach event, no matter how much they wanted one.

When the public finally acknowledged the virus, I was on the second save of my post-work journey: video games. Hours and hours of Skyrim. Spending hours zoned out playing Slay the Spire. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was trying to write more, again.

I stayed home. I played games. The classes I audited were cancelled. I started writing. I applied to Berkman (a weeks-long endeavor!). I started a book club, restarted my matchmaking hobby. Ran a dungeons and dragons game. Joined another.

For Kavod, I became co-chair of partnerships. Thanks to prompting by Sivan, I set up a virtual pesach for Boston Jews of Color.

I took a lot of stuff at once. Realized I had too many projects on my hands. Put many of them on ice.

By the end of May, I started a job. I hadn’t completed the renewal I was seeking. But something more important came up — the 2020 election was looming.

Thanks to George, I joined Open Labs. This was perhaps the best job I’ve ever had — the only possible contender being the civic team at Facebook.

I became the engineering lead for the team. I worked with amazing people. Among other things, we built the engineering infrastructure for notably cheaper, faster, and more accurate polling and A/B testing for the election. Then we shared the results of that polling and testing generously.

(If you know about Jesse Stinebring‘s and David Shor‘s Blue Rose Research project, it was work adjacent to that)

It was magical. Really competent, generous, talented people. (Too many to tag!) I got to try out my manager/organizer/PM skills. We took the time to build a good team culture, and it paid dividends. One thing we did as a team outing — playing puzzles together with the Association for the Protection of Magical Creatures. Another thing we tried: Jackbox games every friday afternoon.

Ultimately, the election took over my life. I had to jettison most of my other commitments and go back into an intense, all-consuming job. I don’t regret it, but it wasn’t really what my body needed. And hey, I still was able to do some fun projects, like getting people jobs, joining the Louis Brandeis Legacy Fund, writing some posts, and raising money for the Movement Voter Project.

Over the summer I took an online course on anti monopoly run by the Law and Political Economy project. Sarah and I visited Rochester for a few weeks. We came back. For my birthday, Sarah got my friends to all call in amazing voicemails ahead of time. We wandered the town, drinking lots of wonderful coffee and eating fun foods, while I listened to those messages. Thank you, they were wonderful.

In September, I became a Berkman fellow. This was pretty cool! But I ultimately put it way on the back burner till after the election was over. This was a good call, but still a little disappointing: I felt like I had the fellow experience for only one semester, instead of two.

The year ended with me first scrambling to understand and react to post-election-day arguments about the legitimacy of the vote, then retreating into some well-needed quality time with video games and Sarah. I started ramping up my Berkman work. I spent a few days writing hundreds of bullets of notes, trying to work out how I felt about social media and how it works.

It was cold outside. The virus still ran rampant. It had been a strange year. I might not have finally reset my relationship to burnout and stress, but I had helped win an election, I was happy with my boo, and things were good.

(As a reminder, I keep a “then” page that lists what I’ve been up to every year of my adult life. I’ve now finally updated it for 2020)


Introducing: Now

In writing letters to old friends, I’ve found it a little hard to get a sense of “how are they doing these days?”. Skimming Facebook doesn’t seem to be great way to figure that out, for a few obvious reasons. I ask them, of course, but that too often tends to get a 2-3 sentence answer about their last few weeks, instead of the more fully considered sense of who they are and what they’re about.

I can’t blame them, though. In telling the story of my life, who I am these days, etc, I can get similarly tongue-tied. Luckily, Derek Sivers has a solution: the now page.

So — I wrote up what I’m up to these days. (And, as a treat, what I was up to back in the day).

I’ll update it as my life changes. Here’s the snapshot of what it says today, May 15th, 2020:

Last year, I moved to Somerville, MA, to live with Sarah. It was hard, because I had to leave my wonderful friends in San Francisco. I miss my roommates, in particular, even still. By December, after a long deliberation, I decided to leave Facebook.

In what has become a lovely tradition, I’m taking months of unpaid vacation after leaving a stressful job. Before the latest plague, I had been going to cafes, reading magazines, auditing some classes, and meeting old friends and new. I’ve started getting closer to the Jews of Color, Mizrahi, Sephardic Caucus of a local jewish social justice organization, and thinking more about the feeling of being a brown jew.

Now, I’ve been even more focused on a few projects. Matchmaking (of many kinds), thinking, running a book club, and more. Join me!

It’s not all labor, though! I’m taking longer walks. Playing games alone and with friends. Bridge, Hanabi, and Dominion are my favorites to play together.

Speaking of friends, I’ve started my correspondence habit again. Emailing, but also writing longhand letters. Tell me your address and you might get a surprise note in the mail.

Hope you like it.



Here’s a quick, biased history of my adult life.

I’ve been writing a lot of letters to old friends lately. That’s necessitated a lot of “here’s what I’ve been up to since we last talked” conversation. It could be useful to have that in one place: linkable, searchable, updateable. See also: Now.

In 2011, I graduated college. I loved both the undergraduate experience, and Brandeis University specifically, so I didn’t want to leave. I stayed an extra year to pick up a master’s degree in computer science. I did it in a strange way: taking an intense course in app development and game design in the summer, auditing courses in the fall, and finishing my degree in 2012.

Between graduation and the start of the program, however, I went on an epic road trip with Sarah, James, Rek, and Zuzana.

Occupy Wall Street kicked off in 2011, and I happened to be in DC for a few conferences in late September/early October. I stayed an extra two weeks and had a small role in founding Occupy K Street.

In 2012, I graduated my master’s degree. I was building lots of apps for fun, and asked Rootscamp if I could make them an unofficial app for the conference. That turned official, and then into a contract, and later into an “apps for organizing” startup with Adam Hughes, Chris Stathis, and Alice Chuang.

We moved our headquarters to Connecticut, and learned a lot in an incubator, before winding it down.

In 2013, Aaron died. I got angry, and moved to Springfield, Missouri to join Zack Exley at the Wikimedia Fundraising team. I built the infrastructure for the A/B testing team better refine how Wikipedia asks you for money, some stats to figure out when to stop a test, and an internal web app to view the results. I moved back to Rochester, NY, then Manhattan.

My time in Springfield was important. It was so different than my life up till then! I was in a truly christian-dominated space. There were more “jews for jesus” (read: Christian) synagogues there than actual jewish places of worship (there was only 1, and you needed a friend with a car to take you). I learned a lot about life in truly christian-dominated spaces, made a bunch of friends I’d normally never meet, and met people of very different lives than mine. I think about my time there a lot.

In Rochester, I made friends with local, erudite anarchist communists. I made friends with Metro Justice, Rochester Red and Black, and started a little blog called People Powered Rochester.

In 2014, I moved to Oakland to take care of Joshua Kahn’s geckos. For a couple, glorious weeks, I lived with Jay Carmona, Becca Rast, and Jonathan Matthew Smucker. It was amazing. Then I moved in with Bhavik Lathia, also in Oakland, also wonderful.

I went on many dates, and eventually wound up my time at Wikipedia (The ED was leaving, Zack was leaving, and my project felt complete). I started mentoring heavily at Startingbloc. I was confused: why, if I had done all those cool things, did I feel so unfulfilled?

I spent about 8 months traveling around the country, trying out different lives like you try on a hat, doing different projects for 2 weeks 2 months. (Touring hackerspaces around the country, housing justice organizing, cofounding a startup, helping run Zephyr Teachout’s gubernatorial race, hanging out with the homeless, tumblr diaries, a romance back in Rochester, living with Charles Lenchner for a bit, some online campaigning, etc).

In 2015, I decided it was time for a job again. I joined a 100-person startup as their first Data Scientist. I moved to Brooklyn with Lydia Bowers, and then Manhattan / Murray Hill in a studio, 5 minutes from work.

My sister Shelly moved to New York for a fancy job on Broadway, and so she lived with me for a while. It was really nice. We never could agree on what to watch on television, so we compromised on old favorites from childhood like Winnie the Pooh.

I went on lots of dates. James Cersonsky stopped by quite often. I left the startup. I romanced a brilliant artist. I spent 6 months thinking about what I wanted from life, how society worked, mentored even harder at StartingBloc, wrote some code for Bernie, and enjoyed life. I even got an acting reel! Facebook gave me a call — and I decided I’d work there next: but not until I took a few more months off.

In 2016, I moved to Palo Alto. I had some time before starting work, so I spent a lot of time helping friends get jobs. I moved into a hacker house that was kind of a scam, but made great connections with my housemates. I biked to work (for 45 minutes each way!) every day via a state park. Later in the year, I moved to San Francisco. I reconnected with Elise Liu, and made friends with Adam Reis and Mek Karpeles.

I started work. I was scared at first, but by the end of the year I found my confidence. It was a fun, innocent time. Yes, came into the company determined to remember that it was an “it” or a “they”, not a “we” or an “us”. At the same time, here I was, working at a respected company with amazing perks and a sense of optimism.

Trump won the election. The mood was black. I founded Oh Damn, Now What to be an organization for tech-ish friends of mine to radicalize and organize.

In 2017, I moved into what became Serapeum with Mek, Drew Winget, and Jessy Diamondman. It changed my life. Oh Damn Now What turned into a book club, and lived on for most of the year. I got closer to Bend the Arc and became a Jeremiah Fellow. I hired Sasha Silberberg as my dating coach. I moved to the civic team at Facebook.

The Civic team was amazing. A little island of essentially a mission-driven nonprofit within a larger corporate structure. We had an amazing culture and did pro-social, fun work like registering more voters than anyone else in america, and building tools to help people look up and contact their elected officials. Then Cambridge Analytica hit, and we spun up a team to tackle election integrity. We built the first ever tools for that, in the Alabama special election. That’s where I met George Berry, got close to Monica Lee, Bogdan State, and other amazing friends.

At the very end of 2017, Sarah and I kicked off our romance at a Hannukah party at her parent’s house in Rochester. (We were both visiting from different coasts). I started rock climbing with my roommates and loved it.

In 2018, Serapeum moved to a new house. Jessy left us, and we gained Ariel Liu. I switched from data engineering to software engineering at work. Our team and scope ballooned in size.

With James Barnes and other friends, we built the first and second election integrity war rooms to monitor and protect the US midterms and Brazilian presidential election. It was intense.

Sarah and I became a solid item by February. She stayed with me over the summer, and I visited her in Philly as often as I could. Serapeum moved again to a new, more permanent home — 24th street.

In 2019, I made some moves. I started working closely with Matt Wilde. I decided to move to greater Boston to live with Sarah, who was going to start the Climenko Fellowship at Harvard Law. For a little while, my sister Talie lived with me at Serapeum while Mek and Ariel temporarily moved to Atlanta.

I moved to Somerville. I started working on Presto. It was amazing to work on a heavy-duty, infrastructural piece of open source software.

The news got worse. I left Facebook. It was a hard decision.

In 2020, I learned how to recover from workism and get back in touch with what I wanted from life. That project went well, but was cut short by the need to dive into the 2020 election. I became the engineering lead for OpenLabs, and, among other things, helped build the engineering infrastructure for notably cheaper, faster, and more accurate poling and A/B testing for the election. Then we shared the results of that polling and testing generously.

In other news: Covid happened. Sarah and I stayed happy together. I started writing more. I started my time at Berkman.

In 2021, I founded the Integrity Institute. This was a big deal. I published my big thinkpiece in MIT Tech Review, which led to a great podcast. The founding of the Institute led to other big press moments. I was on the cover of the Brandeis Alumni magazine. It was a big year. I helped kick ICE out of Massachusetts, but that honestly didn’t involve much work for me.

It was also a year of some personal re-calibration. Sarah was working very hard on her career. I was stuck indoors a lot. Founding the institute took pretty much the entire year — so many group calls and 1-1 chats, so much stress, cajoling, etc. We also moved apartments — one floor higher. Mek, Ariel, and Drew spent 2-3 weeks with us over the summer, as did George a little while later. I visited DC and my cousin Robert in Charlottesville for 2 weeks.

In 2022, I moved! Sarah got a fancy job as a professor at Brooklyn Law school, so we moved to Brooklyn! Specifically, Crown Heights. Integrity Institute really took off. In the early part of the year, I helped Sarah prepare her dissertation and wrap up her fellowship. In the second, we did all the delayed family outings that covid had suppressed for years. We hired the first staff of Integrity Institute in 2022, grew real fast, had our first fellows summit, and generally exploded in size. Sarah proposed!

In 2023, I spend much of the year at home working! II grew, with more staff, power, impact, and members. Layoffs in tech led to an explosion of members. I kept climbing. I met some neighbors. I flew around a lot. James and Kani got married. Sarah and I got married! Our wedding was fantastic. Including the post-wedding.

In 2024 so far, I got II some new leaders so that I could leave it in good hands, and then left. Sarah and I figured out what life together looks like. I played more video games. I finally visited Adam and Catie in Tennessee for Big Ears. Seeing people’s response to October 7th hit me really hard.

Now — you can see what I’m up to lately here, on my now page.


My Debt story

Our book club is reading Debt, The First 5000 Years. A prompt before starting has been: “What is your professional and personal experience with the concept of debt?”. This is lightly adapted from my response:

My last decade or so of life has been conducted just a little bit under the shadow of Debt, (the book). I remember reading the Crooked Timber symposium on it when it came out, reading the back and forth in Jacobin, etc. I think I’ve read more criticism and reviews of the book than there are pages in the book itself.

In that decade, I’ve felt a need to have read the book, in the same way I feel the need to read Keynes, Piketty, and Marx’s Capital. If I haven’t read those, how else could I show my face in public and dare to have opinions?

But I haven’t read the book. That is, until now. (And I’m not finished yet!)

I also have had a relationship with debt, the improper noun.

  • My father’s business has depended on debt. Loans, rotating credit cards, etc, in order to fund the expansion of a small real estate business. And he’s been remarkably successful!
  • I grew up feeling afraid of repeating his feat, and then failing. 
  • I went to my second (or fifth!) choice university to escape debt and high tuition. 
  • I arguably ruined my first startup / my relationship with my best friend, in part, because we both paid ourselves high enough salaries to pay our university debt. 
    • (This might a bit of a stretch. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I was so worried about paying off my university debt that it overhung my actions the entire time)

Debt has been a political topic I haven’t quite cracked. Post-Occupy, the group Strike Debt came out with the Debt Resistor’s Operations Manual. I remember poring over it. Feeling so excited. Part manual, part guide to “this is how the world works, you’re being screwed”. In my travels, I’d recommend it to strangers who were having debt problems. They often followed up to thank me. 

I dimly know that debt has been used to reinforce the post-WWII US-centered order. That it has to do with oil, Confessions of An Economic Hitman, and private equity. That leveraged buyouts are bad. And that there’s a weird thing where people feel obligated to pay their debts but corporations are assumed to be allowed to default on them all the time.

But I haven’t, yet, stitched that into a holistic idea of how the world works.

I’ve been excited to read this book for a long time. 


My Monthly Mixtape Ritual

As you know, I’m dating Sarah. Sarah is very good. When we started dating, however, I noticed that she had a small flaw: not only did she not like the same music as me, she didn’t even know that my favorite bands existed. When she listened to music, which wasn’t often, it was mainly show tunes from her favorite musicals.

Now, musicals are great. I enjoy them, and have been known to go to a few on some occasion. It’s delightful that Sarah likes them — it gives her something with which to bond with my sister Shelly, who works in Broadway. But — what about The Mountain Goats? What about Wilco? What, not to put a fine point about it, about LCD Soundsystem?

So I made her a mixtape. A song each from some of my favorite bands. Bookended by two songs from a particularly good band. The format, and the habit, stuck. That was back in April 2018.

I’ve made a mixtape per month since then. It’s pretty fun! The challenge of making an aesthetically coherent album each month, always with new music, and all but the first and last song by a different artist, is real. I’ve explored arabic, hebrew, persian, afro-punk, chillwave, jug bands, and other forms of music I wasn’t normally listening to normally. I’ve started keeping an ear out for new things I haven’t heard before, and chatting up strangers to learn their tastes. It’s fun! Each month has a pretty different sound.

You can find them all on Spotify. March 2020 just dropped (with a lot of help from Disco). Take a listen.


Life in a time of Coronavirus, March 17, 2020

Has anyone else noticed this? Taking a walk yesterday, neighbours were actually pretty bad at keeping a full 6 feet away, but they were very intent on not making eye contact.

It’s as if, I don’t know, people can’t look each other in the eye without coming close? Or their instincts are muddled and they do the wrong kind of social distancing.

It’s strange.

Sarah is working hard. Maybe today she will finally finish her draft. We’re running low on vegetables. 54 eggs left.

We took a walk around town yesterday. Restaurants closed and hurting, but still putting a brave face on it. A local tenants union has been trying to form for a while, it seems. (Go go Boston DSA!)

There’s a new group in town: MAMAS: Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts. They have google groups, google docs, etc. They have a website with overlays of “neighborhood pods” where a pod captain is meant to coordinate everyone in a roughly 3-block radius.

Like this:

I hope it works.

Meanwhile, there’s a battle between the democracy/civil rights orgs who say: “absolutely never delay elections, this could set precedent for very bad things”, and others who say “are you insane? Crowding election places run by elderly poll workers is a recipe for needless death”. Maybe both are right.

In Illinois, it seems like the workers took charge: they just didn’t show up to the election places. Polling locations are closed all over chicago, I hear.
There is weird stuff happening in national politics. Trump is saying one thing “checks for everyone!” while his negotiators are trying to get the opposite. Some D senators have good plans, some R senators have good plans. But R senators are also trying to make things worse. Seems like a mess of confusion.

I begin to hate group phone calls or video calls even more. An event I’m helping plan is transitioning to becoming a long conference call that is also a passover seder.

Will it work?

Friends are beginning to host social events online. Live concerts. Trivia times. Webinars. The concerts are fun to listen to. Everything else takes more participation energy than I want to give. I can’t stand staring into a webcam any more.

Last night, I got into a long talk with my dad about social insurance, pandemics, and taking things seriously. Thankfully, it seems like he’s isolating correctly. I’m not too worried about them: my whole life, there’s been a stockpile of food in my parent’s basement. My mom reminds me that she stayed home before, during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Instead of leaving home and getting sick, the danger was leaving home and getting shot. Ah.

Except for that one cold walk, I haven’t left the home in days.


Love in a time of Coronavirus: March 11, 2020

The prisoners are going to die. All those packed inmates in prisons across the country. The people in concentration camps at the border. The victims of ICE raids housed in crowded conditions in cities across the country: when the virus hits, they’re going to fall like dominoes. But daily life continues.

Daily life continues, with small changes: people take up the “Wuhan handshake” of feet taps instead of handclasps. Fist bumps are replaced by elbow bumps. The supermarket puts eggs, milk, cereal on sale: but only if you buy 5+ cartons at once.

Things have started to escalate. The concert sends an email saying “we aren’t going to cancel, but if you want a refund, we’re thinking about giving you one”. Two days later, they just straight up cancel. The grocery store is decidedly out of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and most pasta. A few bags of frozen vegetables make a valiant stand to cover shelves and shelves of otherwise empty space. Classes cancel. Students are told to get out of their dorms. So much for the last quarter of senior year, class of 2020. Get your last-minute crush revelations and awkward hormonal goodbyes done before you fly home in 5 days.

My partner worries about graduating into a recession. My mom starts coughing. I retreat into clearing my email inbox, buying almond croissants for the former and calling the latter every day.

The house starts getting messier. I make a pilgrimage or two at the supermarket every day. I document the shelves that start getting bare. So far milk, eggs, bread, and snacks are holding up fine.

Links start getting passed around. Long medium articles about how bad things are going to be. Lion tamers of data whipping it into terrorizing shape. People joke about how we can’t trust government, how they’re denying or classifying everything, that it’s just like the Soviet responses to crises we read about in our textbooks. Haha.

On my todo list, I make a recurring daily item: breathe deeply for five minutes. Kiss your Sarah.