Thursday, May 31, 2018

Month Of Blogging Complete

Here it is, my last blog post for this month. Completing a goal I had of writing every single day of the month (and most of last month). Well, technically I didn't write every single day since I missed one day and made it up. But at least I have one post for every day of the month.

This Wednesday's episode (the final of season 1 QA - its so good go listen) of Akimbo by Seth Godin summarized my motivations perfectly. Someone asked Godin how he gets his ideas. His response was that all famous creator's early work wasn't really that good. The secret is to begin. By doing so you change your state. You get better by putting in the work. The early work won't be good but the process of iterating, putting in mindshare, makes it better. And it starts with deciding you will do it, even in the face of the risk that it won't work.

The second part of it was fighting the resistance (originally coined in The War Of Art, Steve Pressfield). When you decide to do the work over and over, the resistance gets out of the way.

That second part is my primary motivation. The type of person I want to be. The being tired of procrastinating on my goals. I don't want to be a famous writer or even have a large audience. But I do choose to develop my thoughts and insights of how I want to view the world. And I certainly want to get shit done and achieve my dreams. So I'll keep writing, keep working, keep getting better. Everyday I'll be writing, but I'll probably work on more long form posts so I might not be posting every day. But trust that I'll be putting in the work.

Start Small

There's a story (I think its from Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenence), about a student getting a writing assignment to write about his city. He starts thinking and thinking about the topic and after 20 minutes doesn't know what to write about. His instructor sees that he is stuck and gives him some advice: start by describing a specific brick of this building. From there the student starts typing away, describing the texture, look and feel of that brick. Then he moves on to the other bricks and how that brick fits in with the others and then the school and so on and on the words and ideas flow until he completes his essay.

I came back to this story for a couple reasons. Well for one, I was thinking about what I would write myself today. There is a world of things to write about so there is no excuse that there are no good ideas left. And we also know that there is no such thing as writers block. So I decided I would narrow my focus to something small. And when I started that process I realized that I heard a story like this before.

So that's what I wanted to share today. In order to get started, you have to get started. It helps if you get out of the abstract and down the specific. And, oh I just remembered the other lesson from that story, it was that the reason we are stuck when writing is that we are trying to do 2 things at once. We are trying to get our thoughts out AND organize them at the same time. That's too hard. Instead its better to get the ideas out first and then later organize them. That might be a brainstorm or a shitty first draft. Whatever you want to call it, you need to start before you can make it better.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

24 Hours

Each day we are given 24 hours of time. No more, no less. We can spend it however we please. You can use it productively or waste it. Its up to you. In fact that's really the only thing we can decide about ourselves: how we choose to spend our time.

But even if you waste your time for a day, all is not lost. The beautiful nature of time is that you cannot waste time in advance. Its not like money where you can spend all of it on a buying binge, possibly to the point in which you owe money. You can't do that with time. If you waste your 24 hours today, you will get a fresh 24 hours to work with tomorrow. You can't waste 48 hours today.

You can however have the perception of owing time. Like when you end up spending the day on YouTube instead of doing the work you had planned. Then you may think you are one day behind your expectations. But thats just perception (and a dangerous one). In reality you still give your time going forward.

Its a dangerous perception to feel like you are always behind. That you owe time. Its funny that when I quit my job, I thought that I would be relaxed and carefree to work on my projects, away from all the aggressive work deadlines. But it turns out that I still struggle to keep up with my own arbitrarily made deadlines. I've been reading a bit on stoicism and working on changing my views. Where I am right now is where I need to be. I'm working on truly believing that I am on the right path. Its easy to look at peers who have built great companies already. The ones who are doing what I am doing but are 10 years younger. We look at others and believe that maybe we should be there and not here.

In a world where we are always looking ahead, knowing that we are where we are and being happy about it is becoming more and more rare. A couple things that help are practicing being grateful: appreciating where you are where you came from appreciating the things you already have. The other one is meditation: learning to be in the moment. Not in the past or the future but in the present. Is it possible to be striving, pushing for high achievement in life yet still happy and relaxed? I think so but probably with time and practice. I don't think it comes naturally to most people.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Addition By Subtraction

There's a popular quote: "Perfection is achieved not where there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away" - Antoine de Saint Exupéry. I've heard it referenced many times in the software engineering (enterprise) world. We think a lot of adding new features, however, good code has little extra fluff. No code that is overly complex, everything doing what it needs to do, no more no less. This keeps the code base trim, easy to understand and easy to adapt.

The same is true for ourselves. Sometimes we focus too much on adding by addition. However, there is often truth in addition by subtraction. For example, minimalism. All those antiques in your closest and sporting equipment that you haven't used in 5 years. You might be better off selling them, turning them into cash or items that you actually use. Instead that extra stuff is actually weighing you down.

This is not true just for stuff. What about the people in your lives? Do you have friends that might be weighing you down? Possibly negative people who don't put wind in your sails but rather fill your life with drama? This is a tough decision, but maybe its time to cut them loose.

What about your habits? Do you do things because you've always been doing them? Maybe there's a tv show you follow that has run its course but you still watch it anyway because it used to be good and so its just a habit to watch it every Wednesday. What about those extra snacks that aren't so good for you.

A lot of times we look to become better by adding something. Some knowledge, some trick, some item. However sometimes the change is staring us right in the face. Its the things we already have, its who we already are that we need to change.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Startup Basics

Really great video. Back to startup basics. Instead of getting VCs on board and building the next Facebook, focus on making something that people actually want and sell it for money. That's how people have been running businesses from the beginning of time. Also, nothing wrong with a lifestyle business. A billion dollars is awfully nice I'm sure. But the money doesn't solve all your problems. Instead of building a product to be bought up, maybe create it so you can keep enjoying solving people's problems and make money at it along the way, buying yourself a bit of freedom along the way.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Understanding the Meaning of Shoulds

People will give you advice all the time. Usually it comes in the form "you should...". I call this "giving a should". The first thing to remember is that if someone gives you a should, even if it is not for you, you should be grateful. Why? Because they are sharing a part of themselves. You see that idea didn't come out of nowhere. Instead it came from their thoughts, their dreams, their desires, their fears. It is less about you and more about themselves. This means that if someone gives you a should you should never criticize it too harshly. Feel free to explore more on why they are giving you that should. Feel free to test the assumptions. But be cognizant that it came from that person so an "oh that idea is dumb," would be almost an attack on that person. There are some percentage of people who are able to distance themselves from their ideas; they might respond "oh, why do you think it is dumb?" But I think a majority of people would be offended because they are attached to their ideas, as if the idea is part of themselves, and thus an attack on the idea is a personal attack.

I'd actually recommend that when you receive a should, you might want to use that as an opportunity to learn more about the person giving you the should. Try to understand deeply where that came from. Where did that should originate from? Is it a childhood dream that they have been yearning to fulfill? Fear of upsetting a parent? Pressure from society? A pleasant experience that they had themselves and want you to have the same experience? If someone offers you a should, they are usually willing to share they reasons behind it as well.

Once you know the reasons behind the should you can make a better decision on if you should keep that should or not. You are not required to. Its not yours to begin with after all. If you decide to not keep it, at least you will have a better understanding of the person behind the gift.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Be The Man in the Arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
- Theodore Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena

Was watching the NBA semifinals yesterday and LeBron had "The Man in the Arena" written on his shoes. Its true we sit on the couch and criticize players when they are less than perfect. In real life we love hearing about failure stories about those around us. Maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves, not doing anything.

Less criticizing. More doing. And less sports watching for me...

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Better Than Yesterday

Its such a simple question: are you better today than yesterday? If you can answer yes to this every single day then you will be successful. Its harder to answer than not because there are negative forces pulling us back, making us worse. If you don't do anything you are worse than you were yesterday.

If you decide to take today off on you workout (and assuming its not because you are letting your muscles recover from yesterday's workout) then you are weaker than yesterday. Your body, muscular and cardiovascular, gets weaker by the day if not being put to work.

Some of us may have gotten stuck in a routine where we go to work and have become stagnant. We don't come out of work better. Sure maybe we make a little more money and our financial health is getting a little bit better. But in all, this could be considered a net loss, considering the opportunity cost of what you could be doing. And, if you are not learning, as well as let the stress take a toll on your body, and creating miserable experiences, its a big net loss. Don't forget your mind will atrophy as well. It works like a muscle and if you don't constantly use it, it will deteriorate.

Rome wasn't built in a day, but it also didn't fall apart in a day. If you skipped a workout or didn't learn anything one day, it doesn't mean anything. In fact, if you went to the gym and worked out really hard one day you wouldn't notice it in the mirror. If you did it 5 days in a row, you also would not notice it. Its the constant day by day, month by month effort that is needed to see growth. And that works in reverse as well. You cheat too many days and the results will be obvious down the line.

Make today better than yesterday. Put in the work. I promise you, the results are waiting for you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Play the Long Game

When playing any game you have the option of playing a finite game or infinite game. I'd like to talk a bit more on advantages of playing the long game.

When you play an infinite game, the thing you are working on doesn't have to work out. Not right away. You can do what is right vs. what is easy. You can make mistakes and learn from them. And since you can tolerate mistakes you can actually move faster. You no longer have to be perfect.You have time to experiment. To put things out there and listen. Being perfect can actually be limiting as it can prevent you from shipping and getting valuable feedback.

When you play the short game, you are limiting yourself. It's like an American football team in the 4th quarter, short of time and timeouts. You can't throw to the middle of the field for the risk of being tackled and losing time. You can't run the ball because you won't get down the field fast enough and you'll quickly chew up time. You really only have quick deep throws to the sideline. Sometimes you'll be far away from the end zone and only time for one play: the Hail Mary. You say your prayer and toss the ball up for grabs in the end zone, hoping it will work out.

For things that matter, you don't want to leave it up to a hail Mary. Everything, every little battle, the game within a game  is important. But losing or having setbacks in any of those doesn't kill the overall game. For the football team that means losing a game doesn't matter. They  can learn from the loss and get better. Good teams take losses well and learn from them, keeping their eye on winning  the championship that year. Great teams, dynasties, work towards building up their teams to be successful over decades.

For myself, wanting to be a successful indie developer, I am looking to build skills to be successful in the long run. It doesn't matter if the specific project that I am working on works out or not. There will be many of them. I just need to focus on the things that I can control. What matters is that I put myself in a position to play an infinite game. When that happens it "opens up the field" for me and I have room to experiment and grow. That'd the dream anyhow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Do Not Disturb

I've been getting a ton of automated spam calls. Well not a ton, but about one or two a day. Which is annoying enough. When I first got them I picked a few up. They were coming from my same area code (as opposed to previous ones that came from out of state) so I thought maybe it might be a real number. Big mistake. I end up listening to the start of an automated advertisement and even though I hung up in a few seconds.. they probably know that my number has a real human on the other end.

I've been looking up solutions and one of them was the National Do Not Call Registry. I've been on the list since late last year and the calls haven't stopped. Of course they wouldn't. The do not call registry requires that telemarketers register to the list and actually use it. Im sure some respectful telemarketers do so, but given the seedy nature of the business, most could care less. I'm sure some just think of it as a business decision. They make so much money that they could pay the fines if caught.

There are a few apps in the appstore selling spam phone call blockers. They work by aggregating a blacklist of bad numbers from people willing to report the number. A lot of the reviews say they don't work. Or they sometimes work and sometimes don't. Telemarketers have gotten sophisticated these days, ALL of the calls that I get come from a different phone number each time. Seems like they would be able to get through to a good amount of people before that number gets blocked.

I have an Android phone and google does a pretty good job of identifying spam calls. When one of these calls comes in it turns red and says "Suspected Spam Call" or something like that. It doesn't work 100% of the time though. And still, I have to be interrupted by the call and manually silence the phone.

So I've decided to go on Do Not Disturb mode permanently. Android has an option where you can set a mode for DND mode. I first set it to Priority Only. Then I can configure what Priority Only means. I've set it to allow everthing(events, reminders, messages) except for calls, I set it to allow calls from contacts only. This doesn't mean that the calls are blocked. They still come into my phone but are automatically silenced.

Before I did this I was worried that maybe I might miss some legit calls. But after thinking more about it I think making this change is fine. When I exchange numbers with a friend, I always get their number too. So I'd always put it into my contact list. And even if I didn't, if it was from someone who needed to reach me, I'd expect them to leave a voicemail. If someone really did need to reach me, whose number I didn't have, they would probably expect to leave a voicemail. I think its become a general norm these days that people won't pick up the phone if they don't recognize your number. To get in contact you'd leave a voicemail, or send a text message, or reach them through some other social media or chat app first.

So far its working great. I look at my phone and see that I missed a call and am glad that I wasn't disturbed. And I didn't have to install another annoying, permission asking, memory sucking app on my phone to boot. Two nice things that I wish but don't have: 1) if I am somehow listening to music on my phone, I have to wait for the call to go away before my music comes on again. 2) I still get missed voicemails that are blank and I have to waste my time checking them.

Monday, May 21, 2018

More Building, Less Flag Waving

When starting a programming project, developers will generally have very strong opinions on what programming stack to use. Many will say that you must use ReactJS or Meteor. If you decide on PHP, they will say it sucks and it is not REAL programming. Same for Java. Ruby is cool they will say. You should learn that one.

This type of thinking is very toxic. As Pieter Levels said, imagine a painter creating a beautiful painting. Would you ask the painter what kind of brush they use? It would be an absurd question. The same is true for a website. Is it beautiful? Is it functional? Do people actually use it? Why does it matter that it was built on PHP. Did you know that the billion dollar company Facebook was built with PHP?

This type of toxic thinking causes a lot of problems for newbies coming into the developer space, wanting to build products. When they ask what programming language they should use they are given a variety of very obstinate views. Even if they do manage to choose a language, maybe someone has convinced them that in order to write code they need to do it "properly" and that requires understanding of all the data structures and algorithms and Object Oriented Programming principles. They get defeated because they feel like they need a CS degree to get started.

As Levels pointed out, its nice to have more corner stores. We can use more indie developers creating useful products. We should be encouraging newbies to get started. And that requires use to be a bit less flag wavy. Instead of arguing which language or framework is better it would make sense to see it as a tool and encourage them to experiment and build something useful.

Whats a sane choice of programming language or framework? For starters, go with the one you know the best. Sure, some languages let you have less boilerplate or beautiful syntax, but at the end of the day all general purpose programming languages will let you build that website or that app. All things being equal, choosing a popular language will tend to have more people asking questions which means more support is available.

Arguing which is the best framework or language might be fun, but it can blind us, and especially newbies, to what is important. We'd be better off shifting the focus to what we are building than to minor differences in tooling.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

You Need A Review Process Along With Your Goals

So you've thought long and hard about your goals. And you've even taken a big step in writing them down. That's great. But its not enough. The next thing that you must do is consider where to put them. You have to figure out a plan on how you are going to remind yourself of your goals. Most people think about their goals and some even write them down. But a lot of those people end up keeping that list in their desk drawer or maybe its Google docs now a days, and end up never looking at them again. So that'ts what I want to remind you about today. To think carefully about how to remind yourself of your goals. Here's my current process.

I have different time periods for different goals. A long term view and a near term one. My daily todo list doubles for a review of the current day. I put in time to do reviews at different interviews. My strategy is I schedule a time when I am nearly always free (Sunday Evenings) to do a weekly rundown. I actually schedule this into my Google Calendar. Here I'll review my schedule for the week and set my weekly goals. I have my long term goals written down at the top of a note and the previous months goals. In order to set weekly goals I have to look at my monthly goals. And I set my monthly goals on the last day of the month. To set those I consult my long term goals.

I personally use Google Keep to track this. I keep my goal list as my first note so its easy to see. Since I use it for all my note taking and my todo list, I see it multiple times a day.

At each goal review I make sure I write. I write down the progress I've made and what changes I'm making and what specific thing I want to get done that week.

Thats it, its pretty simple. It doesn't have to be complicated, but I'd urge you to actually think about your process for tracking and reviewing your goals. Maybe you can write that process down. And if you do... make sure you review it.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Small wins

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt stuck at a problem in your main line of work? Whether its on your job or the a important side project that you are working on? I have and its a shitty feeling. You feel like you've made no progress. You feel like nothing is going right. The antidote for these times are to get some small wins.

I could spend 3 hours in the morning researching and trying out different solutions to my coding problem and still be stuck in the same place. Although I've technically made progress in finding out solutions that don't work. It feels like I wasted the morning. That's when I need a small win. A small win is something you can do and accomplish in a short enough time frame. It should be bite-size where its large enough to be seen as a step forward but small enough to accomplish maybe within an hour. The win can be another feature of the project you are working on, but it doesn't even have to be of the same project. A small win for me would actually be taking a break from the computer and doing a tough workout. I'll know that at least if I can move my self forward in some area of life I'll feel better. And once you accomplish a small win, it doesn't stop there. We are mentally wired to keep the momentum and seek greater challenges.

Which goes into the why starting rituals and making your bed are so important. Its tough to start on a complex, hard project. Its also hard to start in general. But its easier to start on something simple, its easier to get a small win. And those wins build up and that's the essence of getting things done.

Its certainly a mental trick. There is no reason why I should feel a bit defeated after working hard on a problem but ending up stuck. I've made progress. Yet appearances are everything, and it can be mentally defeating sometimes. If you find yourself in this situation, its a good sign that you should take a break, maybe look for a small win elsewhere to get your momentum going. Then get back at it.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Be Selective

Do you love watching movies? Yes me too. I used to watch them all the time. I remember a friend of mine use to have a binder full of copied movies from friends who had previously rented them from blockbuster and ripped them. Every time we met we'd watch a new movie.

Then there was Amazon Prime and NetFlix. Whenever I was bored I would flip through and find something to watch. Even when there was nothing really that interested us we'd find something and watch it anyway. Same for the movie theaters. If we were bored, the default was to watch a movie.

Now there's nothing wrong with watching a movie, but I look back and look at all the wasted time. All the hours spent watching these movies that weren't really good. Not to mention all the money going to those expensive movie tickets. The movie watching was really just there to fill in the space of being bored. Looking back I just wish I was a bit more selective with my time. 1-2 hours is a lot of time to waste.

With the advent of digital streaming, its too easy to waste away hours of your time, consuming media that you really aren't that interested in. Its like you have a NetFlix subscription so you feel like it would be wasted if you didn't watch anything. So you look around for something that looks half decent and waste your 2 hours. Life is too short to not be selective about how we use our time.

This doesn't just apply to movies. This is everything. I mention movies since that was my default time waster back in the day. I still watch movies and I still go to the theater every so often, the difference is that I am much more selective. Maybe your default time filler is social media or books or YouTube. Whatever it is just make sure that you are being selective.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Is there value in having new and exciting, different experiences? Is that in itself important? Is how we experience life important? My guess is that everyone would say yes, yes, yes to these questions. But I was thinking that what we say and what we do might be different.

Going back to the concept of slipstreams, if you do the same thing over and over again you actually speed up (which is they same as shortening) your life because you experience less. The time frame of that experience gets compressed. That's when you go to work at 22 and one day wake and you are 40 and you can't remember where all that time went.

If you aren't progressing at your job. If you aren't learning or experiencing something different then you should do something different now. I was debating with myself of the argument: yes, maybe you are stagnant and what if you really love your job? Then is okay to stay? Well.. yes I guess, but keep in mind that if you do, you have accepted complacency and the end of your life (at least as it relates to your job). What do I mean by end of job life? I mean that even though you might still have plenty of years to work, since you won't have any further change in experience, its really just one long single experience.. and that (long) experience is the last one you will have.

Ok, I know all of this is a bit theoretical and a bit nutty. No-one actually has the EXACT same experience everyday and even if they did, and enjoyed it, maybe that could be considered a good life. But that goes back to my initial question of is experience in itself valuable. If it is then we owe it to ourselves of seeking new and exciting, different experiences.

One of the main reasons people become stagnant and don't change is because they get comfortable and used to the habits and routines. Job-wise they become dependent on their salary and the safety it provides. Is this a problem or not? Is it solvable? I'd say so. There are plenty of people who have thought out-of-the box and constructed their lives differently than the default. If you want to know how, all you have to do is search.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Food Tradeoffs

You remember that saying that goes something like "College is about 3 things: partying, studying, sleeping. But you can only pick 2"? I always thought that was a great way to sum up the tradeoffs. I was thinking that food has something similar.

How about: Food is about 4 things: convenience, price, taste, health. But you can only pick 3? Lets break it down a bit and see if it works.

By convenience I mean quick and easy. Now you can go to a restaurant and have someone cook for you. Thats pretty convenient. But this is going to cost you in price. You can go to a fast-food restaurant for food which is convenient and low price, but not healthy for you. Taste kind of depends on your skill level of your own cooking. Me personally, eating out in general, tastes better than me cooking. Healthiness largely depends what you order, and what you would cook at home. You have more control of ingredients when you cook at home when you want to be healthy. In my case, cooking at home will generally be healthier than eating out.

Price wise, buying bulk at grocery stores and making your own food is unusually the cheapest way (and healthiest for me) to go. But as mentioned above, its not as convenient and not as tasty.

So how am I picking 3 here? Out of all of those above, the one I would sacrifice the most is taste. I mean it can't taste disgusting. But I don't have time (read: don't prioritize) everyday to cook a nice thought out meal. I'd rather eat and get onto whatever else I want to do. So I decided to buy a weeks worth of food on the weekend and do some food prepping on Sunday evenings in order to prepare meals for the week. This might be having some precut veggies for a salad or making an extra large batch of stir fry and then refrigerating / freezing individual meals. Healthy, cheap, and convenient. I get the best of both worlds because I leave a couple meals mid week to eat out with friends; those days I can really savour the experience.

Now, as I improve my cooking ability to figure out delicious, fast to cook foods, sometimes in bulk, I can theoretically have all 4 of them: convenience, price, taste, health. Just like that well rested Magna Cum Laude Frat boy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Be Happy Today

Achievers tend to live in the future. They work hard, pick off goals one after another. After one task is checked off, they look for the next. Sometimes this constant living in the future can lead to mental health problems. Its not hard to see why. If you are always looking at what you don't have, or what you hope to accomplish, you can never be happy.

If you are not happy, not satisfied with your current self, you will NEVER be happy. We think to ourselves, if we can just make it to the next goal post we will be happy. If we can just get that raise. If we can just lose 5 more pounds. But when you get there, you look at the next goalpost. How great would it be to get that next raise. This is a never ending cycle.

Now this isn't necessarily bad. Its good to be hungry, to be motivated to be better. However, especially in today's society where this attitude is everywhere, it can be quite damaging. Depression, especially in our youth, is on the rise. People are more capable and empowered than ever, yet not happier. Its better to be happy now, waiting until you get there does not work.

One way to improve this is to not live in the future all the time. Shift the focus from what you don't have to what you have. Take a look at the past. Where you came from to who you are now. Be grateful for what you have. If you don't make this a practice its easy to take the things you have for granted. One great way to do this is a this gratitude exercise by Tony Robins on the Tim Ferris podcast. Try it. You cannot simultaneously be grateful and sad/angry/fearful at the same time so once you start being grateful, all the other negative feelings take a backseat.

I've added this to a daily journal exercise so that I can reflect and feel grateful every single day. I focus and then write down 3 things that I am grateful for. It seems simple but, as someone with an achiever mindset, it really works to keep me in a positive mindset each day. A constant reminder of how lucky I am regardless of the million things that I want to accomplish and how far behind I am.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Edible Food-Like Substances

I recently watched and loved the documentary In Defense of Food. It follows journalist Michael Pollin as he dissects different aspects of food and answers the question: what should I eat to be healthy? One of his rules of thumb is to "Eat Food." As in, eat real food.

As he points out in the documentary, food today has adapted so much from what food used to be. Everything in the middle of the grocery store may as well called "edible food-like substances" instead of food. Its pretty obvious that the fruits and vegetables count as real food. Also everything in the meat section. But once you get into the center things get interesting. You see all sorts of food labels that are loud proclaiming the benefits of using the product: "Low Fat! Glutin Free! No preservatives! etc.. "  The history of it is that science was used to make the food more efficient, possible to store longer. This made the food less healthy. And now science is being used to fix that original problem by adding nutrients back into the food. Wonder Bread is a good example of this where the germ was removed from the bread, making the wheat less nutritious but would store longer. But because it was less nutritious, they decided to add vitamins back into the bread. If you eat real food you will get the nutrients directly from the food and not have to guess at whether the claims of the processed food is valid or what is being hidden behind the message. Real food isn't loud, it sells itself.

The second interesting thing about this is Pollin's insight about the rise of foodism. Foodism happened when the conversation stopped circling around what food to eat but rather what the food contains.

"It’s sort of like a religion ’cause now, if what matters about a food is something you can’t see, then you need a priesthood to mediate your relationship to that mystery. And so we have a priesthood that consists of doctors, who we consult about food, and various experts, and writers of books on nutrition and nutrition scientists of all kinds. And we defer to them."

And its not bad to know nutrients are in the food but it does make eating very complex considering there are scientists on both sides and the information keeps changing. One of the things we can do is to simplify our choices and take advantage of nature and evolution. Eating food that existed hundreds, thousands of years ago makes more sense than eating something made in a factory by humans not so long ago.

Until you differentiate between real food and edible food-like substances, its very hard to eat healthy since every single edible food-like substance has some sort of health claim nowadays. Its no wonder people are confused. Stick to simple, real food and you'll be fine.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Good or Bad? Yes

All three of these videos have a similar message. 

You can't connect the dots going forward. You can only connect them going Backwards.

One of my favorite fables. Is it good or bad?


The central theme here is that events as they occur are up to you to interpret. You can put a positive spin ("Good.") on them or you can leave them as is, maybe connect the dots looking back down the line. Most importantly, you are in control. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Luxury is Nice, But Can You Really Afford It?

Most people who buy luxury goods can't really afford it. Well, they can literally afford it. But they end up paying big time for it in time down the line.  A luxury purse for example might only cost you a month of time to pay off today, however, accounting for investing to your retirement, that could end up costing 10x the amount, or 10 months to a year of time.

Many luxury goods are bought in order to show off. To let others know how successful you are (or at least how successful you want to be seen). If you can't afford it however, all you have is the pretense,  but nothing to back it up.

Luxury goods may be of higher quality, but not always. Some of them might appear nicer but have poor design. If the item is more than just to show off, pay attention to the quality and build. Sometimes the less expensive ones are better in that regard!

 If you buy luxury goods, you don't let your other traits shine through. You are basically waving around the item and asking people to judge you based on it. When that happens the focus is taken off of other positive things about you. If you can't afford to gain the (fake?) respect of others through luxury goods, maybe you can do it through other means; your accomplishments or personality.

Really think about the type of people you are attracting with luxury goods. Often times people buy a luxury good because it will help them attract attention from the opposite sex. However, not all attention is equal, are you sure it is for the reasons you want? If not, you can use this concept to filter out people. If you dress-down you can filter out people who will like you only for that particular appearance. Its okay to let people self select you out of their attention.

Obviously if you are super rich, you can go right ahead and buy. But otherwise, consider what you are really buying and if you can (and should) afford it.

Friday, May 11, 2018

If You Are Good, Noone says a word

When I was in China practicing my Mandarin. I would get a bunch of people saying. Wow, your Mandarin is really good. But they were just being polite. Because if I was really good, they wouldn't say anything.

When people expect something, that thing is not remarkable. Remarkable as in literally, something you would comment on. Its only when something is different than expectations where things become remarkable. In my case, since I am Chinese-American, and they can't tell me apart from native Chinese until I speak, they would remark that my Mandarin was good AFTER they found out I was American. Because its expected that my Mandarin was good if I was native Chinese. But its not expected that my Mandarin is good if I am American.

So in my case, if I was truly good at speaking Mandarin. Then people wouldn't say anything at all. Since I could match their expecations: I look Chinese, I speak Mandarin.

This is similar to Seth Godin's Purple Cow theory. Brown cows are unremarkable. But if you saw a purple cow in a field of brown cows, that would be remarkable. Thus, when marketing, you want to be the purple cow. You want to exceed expectations and become remarkable.

Being different than expectations causes things to be remarkable, good or bad. In my Mandarin speaking, I was a purple cow (in a bad way) wanting to be an ordinary brown cow. When marketing, you want to aim to be a standout remarkable purple cow.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Simon Sinek has a story where he helps a homeless person make $40 in 2 hours instead of her normal $20-$30 per day. After the 2 hours she leaves. The crowd laughs when Simon mentions this.

A long time ago I would have laughed right a long. But thinking more about it, I think we might learn something from this homeless person. That person knows what is enough for them. On the other hand we toil endlessly at our jobs, as we make more money we buy fancier things, never really thinking about what is enough.

Now there's nothing really inherently wrong with wanting more. I get it. We all want better. However, life is a game of tradeoffs and tradeoffs are made whether you are aware of them or not. Even the super rich at some point makes tradeoffs; they eventually will run out of money after buying their 23rd mansion or 3rd yacht.

And going one step further, if there are tradeoffs to be made, then that means that if you spend OVER what is enough for you in one area, you have less left over for another area, and that is less than optimal.

Most spending decisions aren't such a big deal. But some are life changing. One big mistake is to buy too much house. Buying too much house can cause you to spend your ENTIRE lifespan trying to pay it off. If that wasn't a life dream of yours than that's a huge problem because maybe you should have bought less house and took multiple vacations each year. Or less house and more cars. Or no house and rent all over the world. Whatever you desire.

Since everything you buy you need to work for. You can even decide to not buy more and more things, and work less. This brings us back to the homeless person. The homeless person has  decided what values they have, what they need to survive. They aren't inflating their lifestyle and know when to quit working.

The actual numbers are much different than yours but don't laugh at the homeless person. Everyone's numbers should be different because our needs are different. Accept the fact that everyone else is making different tradeoffs than you.

When you don't know what's good enough for you, the default is always 'more' and if you never stop and think of what that point is, you can easily go past your true 'enough' point, robbing energy from other areas.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Job Stress

Not long ago one of my friends quit his job. He wanted to take a long vacation to get away. I was invited but had to decline. I'm excited about what I am doing now and don't want to get away. In fact, I'd like to stay and work.

The proposed get away was an all inclusive resort get-away where we wouldn't have to think about anything. I actually don't like these kinds of vacations. I prefer to do work and not stay at a hotel and eat too much and get drunk. During my latest traveling I took it on myself to actively learn Mandarin and multi-day treks. I'm not seeking comfort, instead adventure and personal growth. However, I know the feeling. When you are overworked and over-stressed, this is the type of thing that might appeal to you. When I quite my job, I did in fact go and de-stress at a beach.

People forget to count destressing as a cost to their job. I remember when I used to have a job, doing some destressing on Sunday evenings in preparation for the week. I also remember going on getaways like these. These can be counted as part of the cost of the job because I wouldn't need them if I didn't have the job. I wouldn't have anything to get away from. Not to mention the damage to your body from those that stress and those that turn to drugs and alcohol.

When you take away stressors from your life, you are not looking to be mindless. Instead you crave meaningful work. I remember a study done with rats where when given a poor environment, they would keep hitting the drug lever to get wasted. However when their environment had plenty of cool toys and cool gym, they actually avoided the drug lever. Not all jobs are equal but some of them are poor environments; stressful and toxic.

I'm happy my friend quit his job and fully supportive. I'll probably see him a lot more since we are both unemployed. However I'm not going on the get wasted / get away retreat since I don't need it. I love my work.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Your Sugar, Yes Please

Often times when offered a sweet, I kindly decline and say something like "No thanks, I don't have a sweet tooth" or "I don't eat sugar". This is the truth, however it masks a little of the important details. Yes its true I don't have a sweet tooth and yes its true that my body is less inclined to have sugar cravings. But this isn't because I am naturally like that. The real reason is because I made myself that way. I made a decision to not eat sugar.

Human beings (as well as other animals) are highly adaptable in terms of their diet. Its no surprise that people today tend to eat things that grew abundantly around where they inhabit. If you are near a coast or on an island you probably eat a lot of seafood. If you are in the desert, maybe you learned to eat cactus. Nowadays due to ease of transportation we have more food options and can eat things not found locally.

So we are very adaptive in what food we eat, the food itself has adapted a lot. Much of the food we eat nowadays is not natural. Soda for example is not found out in the wild. A person or company decided to create this concoction and market it worldwide. Over time soda is now culturally accepted as a normal food item for most people. Go to any party today and its a likely beverage choice. But remember that its all man made, made and sold. Sugar (fructose) itself is found in natural growing fruits, but soda is far removed from it.

And because us humans are so adaptive, and even more because some of our options are man-made by businesses that may not have our best interests in mind, we can and should adapt. We are not at the whim of our cravings if we don't want to be. What you eat is not naturally given, its a choice. Not deciding or not caring is also a choice. I've made a choice to prioritize my health over my cravings and my body (and resulting food choices) are changed because of it. My younger self used to eat a lot of simple carbs and drink a lot of soda, but as I learned more and more about food I made decisions to change. Now I don't need to spend any energy resisting these cravings because its a habit. Its just who I am.

But its not who you have to be. I don't hate on other people's decisions. I encourage people to decide for themselves. I remember not too long ago we had a soda tax local proposition. Although I don't care to drink soda and wouldn't mind if it disappeared off the earth. I had to vote no (don't tax) because I respect people's rights to decide for themselves. I think there are better solutions (education) to get people to take care of their bodies.

We often forget, and especially when it comes to food, that we are in control. Each meal is a decision we make.  If you accept the default that is a decision that you have made.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Work for Someone Else

Looking to join a big company or small company? Every company is different but I think another way to put this is: what do you think about structure, stability, and higher pay versus freedom and flexibility and less beauracracy. I personally prefer the later but your answer heavily depends on your appetite for risk and what skillet you want to learn.

For the budding indie hacker, I would say that joining a small startup to learn business process is a great way to learn and build up your runway. Before starting your own business, it may be valuable to work for someone else's. You will likely be hiring employees in the future so it's a good idea to experience being one. To understand the motivation and the day to day.

At the same time if you have your entrepeneureal hat on you will find so many business ideas. Each time you run into a process or a tool that could be better, it is a problem waiting to be solved. Take note. You may run into multiple problems every day. Obviously you will need to validate the idea and see if it makes sense for a business, but being exposed to real problems is the best way to come up with ideas. You shouldn't come up with business ideas in isolation.

Joining a business doesn't mean giving up on your entrepreneurial dream. If you have the right mindset it can be a great opportunity to safely learn skills, generate ideas, and build up the bank account.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Cleaning Out My Closet

I'm doing some more minimalism. This time cleaning out my closet. My technique for doing so is to wear everything. I will wear each piece of clothes once and after I do a load of laundry. Leave them out instead of returning them to drawers. Thus I am forced to wear everything. If there is a piece of clothes that I am not willing to wear or possibly not fit right or ripped or whatever, then I will donate it or toss it. A major purpose of this is to take inventory of what I have. Then I'll know what I need to buy. I don't know how many times I've bought similar items that I already own.

This will also let me wear a bunch of stuff that I forgot that I've owned. Not counting general tidying and having less stuff in general.

A co-worker of mine originally introduced me to this concept. You start with all your clothes hangers towards the left.  You slide it over to the right after you wear it. At the end you are left with all the things you are not willing to wear.

Again, not everyone should minimize. Some people feel more free when they have less stuff and feel like decluttering their stuff, declutters their mind. I have a friend of mine who doesnt care for it: he is worried if he will end up needing the item later. But if you are looking to decluttrr, this is a pretty good system of sorting out your clothes.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Skin In The Game

I quite enjoyed the book Skin in the game: The Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. It talks about the consequences of asymmetries of risk in systems. For example, the problem with our current systems is that the decision makers don't bear any of the consequences. And because of this difference, there is no learning, no evolution.
"Bureaucracy is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the consequences of his or her actions."
Having decision makers immune to risk is a bad thing for the system. Since the decision makers are not taking on any risk, those decision makers will cause the system to build more and more asymmetric. Good news (maybe) is that if it is not force-ably decentralized, the system will eventually balance itself, possibly by collapse.

One of the examples of this was the 2008 crises. The bankers were immune to any risk. So they passed the risk onto the common people. Eventually the risk built up enough where it collapsed. The bankers blamed a "Black Swan" event. But really in a system like this a collapse was inevitable.

Without being the victims of their (bad) decisions, there is no learning and the trend should continue. In order to evolve there needs to be skin in the game. And this was true for our ecosystem for millions of years. Each species is here because they survived in a system where they had direct skin in the game. Death was the consequence of not adapting. Today however, those bad banks are still alive in our system because we artificially bailed them out. This goes against the skin in the game principle. Did the bankers learn a lesson? Of course not. Will it happen again? Of course.

The skin in the game principle is seen not just in the business world. Taleb goes on to write about how academia is full of people who theorize and make decisions but don't do anything else and thus not take any of the risk. What is supposed to work is not the same as what actually works and the reverse is true. What works but sounds stupid is not actually stupid.
"Avoid taking advice form someone who gives advice for a living, unless there is a penalty for their advice"
Make sure you understand what kind of risk people are taking when dealing with them. So much bad advice is given when there is no risk, when interests are not aligned. Whole industries are sprung up on giving advice but taking no risk (eg. financial advice, education).

One of the more interesting parts was about risk and how it relates to employees. The salaried employee was invented so that employees would have skin in the game. Employers need employees to have penalties for not showing up on time, not being reliable. Thus employees are indoctrinated to dress the part and talk the part. They have fear of upsetting not only their employer, but all other potential employers. A person who is employed for a while is showing a type of domestication, an evidence of submission because they are willing to give up their personal freedom for the cushy office life.

There's an Aesop's fable where a dog is boasting to a wolf about all the luxury and comforts it has. The wolf considers joining but after realizing what the dog's collar is for he runs a way. However, in the previous fable it was a wild ass and then that ass ends up being eaten by a lion. So skin in the game cuts both ways.

Overall great book. Its one of those books that everything is "obvious" but so insightful.

Thursday, May 3, 2018


When I was a year out of college I took a job at a company working for a year. That company ended up getting acquired by a larger company. I didn't like it there so I just quit. Just like that. Sounds like an easy decision looking back. But I think at the time I was making more money than I was every making and I was worried about how it would affect my career and if I would ever get a job again and whatever other thing people worry about. I didn't wait for working there a year (to look good for future employers). Looking back I'm so glad I did. Time is precious and of course I would quickly find a different path. I also took an amazing trip through Europe in between.

My next job was pretty amazing. I really enjoyed it specifically because of the mentors I had there. I would consider this a slipstream where I gained vast amounts of engineering knowledge in such a short time. I would hang out after hours with coworkers an we'd talk about everything. Sometimes technical sometimes not. It was amazing. However there was a change in management and I was soon laid off. At the time I was a bit sad. But looking back again. I am so thankful.

It lead me to my third job where I stayed for 6 years working on all different teams and taking more and more responsibility. At the same time the company was doubling every year and times were really exciting. It was also incredibly fun. Towards the end however I had to call it quits because I knew it was time for me to move on. This time however it was really easy for me to make a decision. Thank god that I've been through multiple times of being away from a job  and always willing myself to a better outcome.

Some freelancers may think this is no big deal because they are always in the lookout for jobs and thus are not nervous or scared of the job safety net. However, I think there are a lot of salaried workers who have never been out of a job and are scared to death. Getting through though times is a actually a really good thing. It makes you anti-fragile because you will have built the skills you need to get a job. You may have had to improve your networking, interviewing, or technical skills. Getting through those times will give you true confidence of being able to leave your job at any time. Freelancing is the ultimate anti-fragility because you are doing this over and over.

I remember this video interview of a Game of Thrones actor saying that he was at a dead end job in data entry but was afraid to leave because he didn't know if life would get better job. He eventually hit rock bottom and left and decided to be an actor. I think there are a lot of people in salaried jobs who are miserable but afraid that there isn't anything better waiting for them.

You need to go through tough times to get better. To become antifragile. You can't do so from your cushy box. At the time I didn't realize it but I'm thankful for the times that I was forced to jump. I'm also proud of the times I did so on my own accord and look forward to taking them in the future.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Cleaning out my laptop

I still use the same laptop as I've been using since 2010. Yes that's 8 years and its still running strong. It goes to show that often its worth buying quality products that can last a long time vs. cheap products that break down and need replacement. 

Its a Thinkpad T420. i5, 8gb ram, upgraded SSD. The build quality is excellent. Its sturdy and rock solid. It doesn't feel like the cheap plastic that newer laptops have which bend and squeek when you put any pressure on it. The only downside is the screen. As its 1600x900.

It was running a bit sluggish recently and overheating. I realized that I haven't cleaned it out so I take it apart and look what I find.

A major dust issue. I really need to do a better job keeping up with the maintenance. Its funny because we get into a habit of thinking, "well it worked yesterday, why wouldn't it work today". These issues creep up very slowly.

After a good air canister session and reapplying thermal grease. I put it back together and wow, I can really feel the difference. The temperature of the cores are 10, maybe 15 degrees cooler. Such a big difference. And it feels noticeably faster.

I've been looking at prices of new laptops and I can't justify getting a new one. I'm not a gamer anymore so I don't really need something that powerful. This laptop is still plenty fast enough for web browsing, videos, coding, etc. The only thing I'd really want is a better screen. I have used a Macbook Pro Retina for work and it is noticeably better. But its not a must for me especially not for those prices.

Its certainly not a sexy laptop. A lot of people buy Apple laptops now a days for the statement it makes. Simon Sinek says that people will never have a dirty Apple logo on the back. People need others to see it so that others know what they believe. Its like people having Harley Davidson tattoos: they believe in what the logo stands for and want to be seen that way. I personally don't care. I use Linux so I'm that one one missing from the Mac vs. PC commercials. I believe more in making interesting products than the tools itself. I like Joel Spoksy's rant on not being flag wavy about programming languages. So what if PHP is shitty, show the world what you can build with it. Facebook was built off that shitty language.

And I these ThinkPads are used by plenty of organizations internally. Because they are so practical. I've had my keyboard break on me. A couple of the keys stopped working. For a different laptop that would probably be the end of it. I would be forced to buy a new one. Just like when my iPhone died and I went to the Apple Store and they said it was a hardware issue. But instead I was able to buy a new keyboard for 10 bucks off eBay and replace it myself.

Lessons? If you want to be practical, buy a durable ThinkPad, but don't blame you for getting the beautiful MacBook. Take care of your toys (and yourself for that matter), under-maintenance sneaks up on you.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

On Setting Deadlines

I often times set goals for myself such as "In 2 weeks I will complete this project". Its good to set goals but I think goals like this might not be the best. First of all, the completion date is a complete estimate of how long you think the project will take. But once we dive into the details we may run into all sorts of snags that might delay the progress of the project. Maybe its a strange bug or maybe it took a lot longer than you estimated to learn how to implement a certain feature. Since I am behind on the feature I end up feeling like I am behind and have more anxiety, due to a wrong initial best guess.

Goals are meant to serve you and if they don't then they should be eliminated or improved. Its not bad to have deadlines, but understand what they are. I like deadlines because they put constraints on what is possible and I am forced to prioritize (and actually ship). If I don't set any deadlines at all then I might end up working endlessly without shipping. That's the brilliance of 12 startups in 12 months. You are forced to build an MVP that isn't completely finished and you are forced to ship. If noone likes your product at worst you spend one month on it and have a learning experience.

A better way to set these deadlines might be to commit to putting work in. Why? Because you don't have complete control over how long something will take, but you do have complete control over how much work you put in. So instead your goal would be "I will commit to X hours a day working on this project". If you have a time frame then you would make sure the scope of your project is within that time frame.

Since I don't really have hard deadlines, I'm not really concerned if I am a little bit over, although I'll want to do a retrospective on why I was off. I'm more concerned that I am putting in the work towards the goal. Obviously if you have a hard deadline with a customer then you don't have an option, but if you are working independently on your own projects I'd recommend that you commit to putting in the work, rather than committing to a date.