Some people have committed a great deal of their lives to trying to best make the world a better place. I’m trying to sit down with some of these people and learn more about their thoughts and motivations.

Today, I sit down with Brian Tomasik. Brian worked at Microsoft as a computer programmer, earning a sizable salary that he then donated to important causes. Throughout this time, he also wrote on his blog, Utilitarian Essays, and he is noted for being one of the first people to consider earning to give and donating to vegan outreach, two concepts that are now commonly found in the “effective altruism” community.


Earlier, I just released a personal review. I try to do these every three months to give my life some direction and continue to strive for something. These reviews, and the broader effective altruism movement in which I operate, together give my life a lot of purpose.

Some people have asked me how I make these personal reviews. I’m here to tell you. I like my workflow a lot and it works well for me, but I’m not endorsing this as the “best way” to create a personal review, and other things might be better / more efficient, or work better / more efficiently for you in particular.

Really Quick Summary

  • I have goals.
  • I track time in Google Calendar.
  • I use GTimeReport to export my Google Calendar for the desired date horizon.
  • I go through my time report and combine things into categories.
  • I publish those categories and compare them against my goals.


Follow up to “Personal Review for March - May 2014”.

This review covers May 18 through June 29. The reason I’m doing this review for 1.5 months instead of the standard three is two-fold: (a) this time period is very neatly bounded by large shifts in my life – graduating college on the 17th of May and starting at my first job on the 30th of June and (b) I need to end this cycle early if I want to get on a standard Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec, Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun three month review cycle.

How Did I Spend My Time?

For these 1.5 months, I was focused primarially on pre-professional prep (learning a lot more statistics and programming) and secondarially on seeing friends and family. Here’s the breakdown:

Activity Total Time Hours Per Week[1] % Week
Sleep 351.5hrs 51.3hrs 30.5%
Social[2] 253.8 37 22%
Other[3] 167.3 24.4 14.5%
Programming 121.3 17.7 10.5%
Breaks 63.3 9.2 5.5%
.impact 25 3.6 2.1%
Move to Chicago 18.5 2.7 1.6%
Exercise 11.8 1.8 1%
Driving[4] 11.8 1.7 1%
Apartment Hunt 6.8 1 4.1%
Write 6.25 0.9 0.5%


Follow up to “So You Wanna Learn How to Code? Going from Zero to Programmer Hero in One Guide, for Great Justice”.

I’m currently working as a computer programmer at a start-up in Chicago. I’m getting paid to write code. It’s pretty neat. Most notably, I was not a Computer Science major in college, and I only took two CS classes. I got the job nearly entirely through about 700 hours of self study.

Best of all, you can do it too!

I wrote a guide on how to go from “zero to hero” in computer programming. I got a lot of people I know who program to contribute. I think it’s a pretty good guide, linking a few resources together into a coherent curriculum. In fact, I think it is the best guide you could find, short of working full-time to develop a complete online curriculum of their own.

Well, turns out someone did work full-time to develop a complete online curriculum of their own.

Enter The Odin Project.

Visit there, and find a complete curriculum, focused on Ruby on Rails, that takes you from zero to hero in a fulfulling way. Best of all, they focus on doing projects, so you actually learn by doing.

I went through it and now, after a few months, I’ve completed the curriculum in entirety. I must say, I’m forced to admit defeat. I find it much easier, more thorough, and more motivating than my own guide. I recommend people follow through it instead of follow my own guide.

…That being said, I do have some modifications I’d like to see to The Odin Project. So consider doing The Odin Project, except with the following modifications. I advise that you read these notifications in their entirety before starting The Odin Project, and then follow them as they come up.


Now that I’ve been doing some research blogging, it’s time to continue the trend with something big. Maybe you’ve seen ACE’s leafleting study analysis and was like “woah, that’s long, no way I’m going to read all that”. Instead, my reaction was “that’s long, but is there any way I can make it longer?” So I did. Sixteen hours later, I emerge with this:


Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) is a non-profit with the goal of using research to find ways to help more save nonhuman animals with the same amount of resources. Given that the pro-nonhuman movement is quite small, any increase in our “bang for our buck” is quite important, and I welcome this research and aim to contribue to it myself.

Vegan Outreach and The Humane League are two pro-nonhuman non-profits that aim to do direct advocacy on behalf of non-human animals. One thing they do is deliver leaflets to people aiming to convince people about the horrors of factory farming and convince them to eat less meat. ACE claims that this is one of the most cost-effective ways to help non-human animals, but wants to put this to the test.

Throughout the latter half of 2013, Joey Savoie and Xio Kikauka, in cooperation with Animal Charity Evaluators, implemented a study of the impact of two Vegan Outreach leaflets on diet change. In March 2014, ACE released their analysis in cooperation with Statisticians Without Borders.

I was personally somewhat skeptical of the analysis and though there was a decent amount of information still being left on the table. I wanted to take advantage of the publicly provided dataset to do my own independent analysis to see what I could personally learn.

I did my best to check for errors, but it’s quite possible errors in my analysis may still remain.


We all know that “the standard American diet” is unhealthy, and bad for the environment, and all sorts of things. But, as we know, it also contains a lot of suffering due to the consumption of factory-farmed meat. I’m not going to argue for the ethics of a vegetarian diet here (I’ve done that elsewhere). Instead, I’m interested in some quantification – just how much suffering is in the standard American diet?

As a caveat, at the moment I’m not looking at environmental impact, though I might expand the analysis later. As another caveat, it’s worth pointing out that the standard American diet may not really exist in any particular person, but it’s a useful statistical generalization to talk about. As a third caveat, this analysis ignores the fact that there is an elasticity to supply and demand (e.g., by not eating one pound of cow, you do not cause precisely one pound of cow to not be produced, but rather just a large fraction of it, since a drop in demand leads to a corresponding drop in price, which leads to a corresponding yet smaller re-increase in demand.)

To begin, we need to know three things: (a) how many animal products are in the standard american diet, (b) how many animals does it take to produce that much meat, and (c) how much suffering is brought about by each kind of animal?

Let’s go!


Meta-note: I’ve now decided that I like shifting toward doing these less frequently, with less links each, but in much more depth, potentially spinning more lengthy discussion to my Tumblr. Going forward, I will now also tag each of these posts with “Sunday Links” in addition to tagging them with the categories of the contained links, when appropriate.


Longer musing redirected to my Tumblr: “Not All Arguments are Nuanced”:

Sometimes I hear my non-Greek female friends talk about men in fraternities being rapists, or even more likely to rape than the typical person. This has always made me uncomfortable, even if it is technically true. I always feel tempted to say “But not all Greek men are like that”, a variation on the clichéd Not All Men Are Like That you hear in feminist circles.

Of course, this type of derailment is appropriately rejected for reasons Vox explains well, which is why I say it in my head and not in real life.

But I’m still uncomfortable. I know it’s not all about me, but it’s how I feel as a participant in the discussion. I feel uncomfortable and now I understand why.</blockquote>



Follow up to “Personal Review for December 2013 - February 2014”.

I’m doing this review a little bit earlier because (a) I just graduated college and feel like I want to review what I’ve done within that context and (b) I can get back onto a Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec review cycle by doing a May-Jun review next. I’ve also had a shift in goals that fits well within this cycle as I start work at the beginning of July. This review covers 1 Mar to 17 May.


Michael Bitton is a graduate student in Media Production in Toronto. For his thesis paper, he’s been researching effective uses of media for doing good in the world. He currently sees the most potential in health communication and social marketing in the developing world. You can find out about his writings at his blog, A Nice Place to Live. I had this conversation with him on 26 Feb via .impact, but thought it would be good to cross-post the conversation here. I’ve added a bit more from the comments I’ve received from others.

Note: These notes are a quick summary of our conversation and may not be all that coherent. They miss a lot of nuance and may not reflect statements that both people agree to.


Some people have committed a great deal of their lives to trying to best make the world a better place. I’m trying to sit down with some of these people and learn more about their thoughts and motivations.

Today, I sit down with Boris Yakubchik. He’s the co-President of Giving What We Can: Rutgers and has been involved in the effective altruist movement for a long time, regularly giving away 50% of his income to the Against Malaria Foundation.