Friday, June 7, 2019

Inspiration is Perishable

I haven't written a post in awhile. It's not that I didn't have any ideas that I wanted to share. I had them. We all have them. I'm inspired for a short while and I make a mental note of writing it later. But when later comes its gone. The reason I got around to it now is because I'm reading through this wonderful post by Naval Ravikant: There is so much gold in there but I'll just touch on this part for today:
"When you have your inspiration, do it right then and there... but sometimes I just hesitate, or I just pause, and it just dies." 
I always though Nike had the perfect slogan but now I think it could be even more perfect if we add mind the time. If not, it will never happen. So

Just do it, now.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Enjoy the now

We are always striving to be somewhere else. If we are in school we are wishing that we are done with school. When we are working we are wishing for the day when we have enough money to stop working. If we are single we want to be married. If we don't have a house we can't wait until we can afford the down payment.

Which is all fine. But the problem is a lot of us delay our happiness and tie it to the new thing or the new state we will be in the future. We tell ourselves "I'll be happy when..."

But this kind of thinking is a trap. What makes you think you'll be happy when you get to that spot. It might be further along the path but just as before there is another hill in the distance, an even greener pasture.

This Alan Watts video put it beautifully. We keep thinking it's coming, it's coming.. one day we are going to get that success. And then one day we wake up and we are 40 realize, shit, it's not supposed to be like a journey where we are trying to get to the end. It's more like a musical or a dance, where we are supposed to fully enjoy it, every step of the way.

I'm a budding indie developer with very few customers, very little revenue. I'm going to try to enjoy this for as long as I can.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Hidden Costs

Just read this NYT article The Streets Were Never Free which talks about how there is a general perception that the use of public roads and parking spaces is free. For most commodities, when the demand of it goes up, the price of it goes up as well. However, not so for roads. Thus the congestion as everyone wants to use the roads during rush hour.

To clarify, most people do know that the streets are not actually free since their taxes pay for it, however since the cost is not directly paid each time, there is less of a direct association, and thus roads can seemingly seem free.

It reminds me of the recent news of China and India refusing to take America's trash. I think that has built a sense that producing waste is nearly free. People see the $50 that they pay to have their recycling and trash taken but the idea of environmental costs were largely hidden because it was someone else's problem.

Another way to put it is, because of the hidden costs and subsidies people don't have enough skin in the game. The tighter the feedback loop the better. Thus the congestion and the trash in our face will be a good thing long term as we will finally have to face up to the problem. The traffic isn't going to get better on its own. At what point is the 3+ hour commute just not worth it? Hopefully we don't need to wait to see the full effects of burning our plastics and trash before we take action.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Zero To One

Peter Theil wrote of the concept of Zero to One in his book titled the same. Here's the summary (thanks

Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1.
 This concept explains why I still use my Nexus 5, a 5 year old phone, today. I could upgrade and go from 1 to 1+n (in my opinion n is a small number) but I don't really care. I can do (almost) everything with my current phone as with the latest. The new one is a bit faster, has a later os, fingerprint scanner, etc. Whatever its an incremental upgrade. Going from a non-smart phone to a smart phone was a 0 to 1 upgrade.

It also explains why companies that do go from 0 to 1 are super successful: they are doing something new and don't have competition. Another concept similar to this is Red Ocean / Blue Ocean. Imagine a red ocean where many sharks roam and there is blood in the water. This is like when there is a bloodbath of many companies all competing with each other. Then there is a the Blue Ocean where no companies are. If you successful thrive in the blue ocean than you will own all of it. Companies like Google and Facebook have done this.

However, beware of playing in the blue ocean or going from 0 to 1. Because of survivor-ship bias we don't see all the companies that played in the blue ocean and died because there was not enough opportunity there. Although its incredibly profitable, it also is incredibly difficult and risky. I've heard many recommendations that indie developers should stick to the red ocean because that means there there is a demand, the market is already validated. Indie developers do not have enough resources to work in the blue ocean. Doing this means not creating something new, not going from 0 to 1.

However, creating something completely new even for an indie dev is fun and still can be rewarding. 0 to 1 is an important concept to understand and all entrepreneurs should know where they stand and the tradeoffs.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Digital Minimalism

Cal Newport is the author of "So Good They Can't Ignore You" , one of my favorite books. Check out a previous post about the book's main topic: "Follow Your Passion" is bad advice.

Today I wanted to point out some topics from Cal's newest book: Digital Minimalism. I just got done with listening to the eBook and thought it was great. I'd recommend it. Here are some bullet points:

  • Thoreau noted that the farmers were not able to escape their harsh conditions with more work. Feels sorry for those that inherits farms, etc. because they are hard to get rid of.
  •  Clutter is cost. Must balance between cost of time and attention
  • Nietzsche, Descartes, Newton, Kant, Pascal, Wittgenstein, etc. are examples of men that never had families or close ties but lead remarkable lies. We are wrong to assume intimacy is the peak.
  •  "Solitude Deprivation"- we are living in a time where we are depriving ourselves of the gift of solitude. We try to avoid boredom at all costs.
  • In our downtime the brain automatically spends its free time thinking about social networks
  •  Receiving likes from people we don't know well does not correlate with happiness
  • Analog cannot differentiate between phone and interaction in front of us. the social-ness takes away positive experiences in front of us
  •  "one click approval mechanism" - Clicking like is just one bit of information. It does not replace a rich flow of information that we get from face to face communication
  • If you don't check and respond on instant messengers that often (it is asynchronous), then it won't be treated like dialog. Thus it paradoxically strengthens the relationship as you seek higher quality conversations. Do not treat (social media) it as a replacement for real conversation 
  • Chase high quality leisure - Aristotle
  • A nod to the FI community and particularly MMM. Work in the physical world. Happiness through meaningful work and connection.
  • Computer programming is good but it misses the physical world (This hit home since I code 16 hours a day. Although I do miss building physical stuff)
  • Replace passive interaction with screen with active interaction. Use the technology as support (i.e. use YouTube to learn how to change your oil, or do a muscleup), not the primary.
  • Fix or build something every week
  •  Social media companies want you to focus on why you use them not how you use them because the majority of people can get the same value in 20-40 minutes
  • Embrace slow media (well thought out curated - not "breaking" news) or as Tim Ferris says: low information diet
  • To what end? - Thoreau. Are we degrading our humanity (with this technology) ?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Hidden Work

I didn't get too much done today. I spent most of the morning thinking about creating a new feature for my app. I sketched out different designs. Erased some things here, added a doodad there. It just didn't seem to fit though. After awhile of it I took a step back and realized that my approach was all wrong. I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And furthermore, because it didn't fit right, I decided that it wasn't worth the effort to do the necessary work for the feature and to work on something else.

Although it didn't seem like I did much I actually got a lot done. We are all going to have days where we don't have a bunch of lines of code or words on paper to show for it, but that doesn't mean we didn't do work. We did the taxing work of emotional labor and thinking. Thinking doesn't happen for free.

Tim Ferris once mentioned that he would write 5 pages and only have one good paragraph that he'd actually use for his book. The rest of the writing would be thrown away. But, he mentions that there is no way around this because its precisely the bad work that has to be produced to get to the good work. It has to be this way. So all the work I did today led me down a path and then back to the beginning. It seems like I am back in the same spot but I gained a new perspective and solved my priorities. This learning experience could potentially save me a lot of time versus me going down a wrong path. I got work done after all.

It takes bad to get to good. Not all work can be quantitatively measured. Don't get down on yourself if it seems like you are having an unproductive day. Getting stuck or hitting quicksand might be part of the journey to getting to your goals.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Life Is Short

Life is short. We all hear this but its really hard to picture exactly how short it is. Tim Urban has some great visuals and technique for thinking about this. Think about the things you want to do in the percentage of time left to do them. For example, most of use live with our parents until we turn 18 and then move on to college. If we work we might come home once a month or so. That means that we only have 5% left of the total "spend time with parents" time left. That changes the perspective a lot. How valuable are those moments now? Might even consider making changes to increase that time?

Now that we see that time is short, how do you increase the amount of time we have? Paul Graham recommends spending less time on bullshit. In fact "It's almost the definition of bullshit that it's the stuff that life is too short for." Work on things that you find meaningful and would care about looking back in the future.

Don't worry, you don't need to quit your job. If its not soul sucking, a job can provide you the cover (health insurance & cash, less stress, etc.) to do what you love. Focus on reclaiming your time, prioritizing, and spending it on the most valuable things.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Breaking the Rules

In families with multiple siblings have been studied extensively and one of the findings is that the second sibling tends to be more rebellious.

Why? Well the first sibling starts by himself and lives in the world of the parents. The parents set the rules and the sibling is raised to conform to them. Parents tend to be more careful with the first child and get more lenient with the later ones as they get more comfortable.

So then the younger child is born. The older child is more dominant and because he has been getting rewarded for following the rules, he usually passes his way down to the younger child.

Sometimes they follow suit but often the younger child realizes he can't win, can't stand out, or doesn't want to be told by big brother what to do. He doesn't like the game that the older brother (and the parents) have created for him, so he changes the game. He breaks the rules. A rebel is born.

Similarly, today's millennial look at the world the previous generation left them with: possibly no social security, a college system that doesn't serve them (rather than empower them it leaves them in debt and little hope for saving), and housing which is ridiculously expensive. Some will follow the path that their elders say they should follow, some scraping by, others digging a grave of labor. But I'm happy (well not with the situation but with the positive change) to see that some are starting to break the rules.

I love seeing all the creative reaction to this unfortunate situation. Some are deciding to not go to college. Some are deciding not to buy house. Take advantage of remote work. Live and work anywhere in the world. Or maybe roadtrip in an RV. There are movements to redefine what success looks like. Can't afford all the status items of the previous generation? No problem because now its about the experiences you are having. Take that hike to Machu Picchu or travel through South East Asia. Minimalism is on the rise. The internet is providing thousands of ways to make impact, relations, and money. YouTube, Podcasting, and gaming are just some of the new career options.

Sure, not everything is rosy. Depression in millennials is on the rise. There are bound to be problems. But creativity and new solutions, growth happens during hard times. Rather than play a rigged game, break the rules and find a better way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Use Substitution to Your Advantage

Today I wanted to give some examples of how we can use substitution in our lives to our advantage. We often think in terms of addition or subtraction, but there are a lot of situations were we'd be better or where it is absolutely necessary to use substitution.

Every hour we have is already accounted for. Trying to do something new like learn to play guitar, or a foreign language or a side hustle? Well, you aren't going to get more hours in the day to be able to do that thing. Instead its going to have to come from somewhere. That might mean sacrificing a different hobby, or it might be less internet browsing. For me, I used to be a big sports fan but I gave up sports completely to work on my app.

Every habit that we have serves a need. Once we realize this its much easier to change our behavior. Many people try to quit smoking without addressing the need. That usually doesn't go well. The best way is to become self aware enough to figure out what need that thing or habit is fulfilling. Then, find an appropriate substitute. I had an alcohol dependency. I replaced a glass of wine in the evening to working on something I was passionate about. The alcohol was a pick me up because I was bored and uninspired. But once I quit my job and worked on what I was excited about, that went away real quick.

Trying to diet? Rather than do a calorie restrictive diet, try to do a substitution diet instead. You don't need to starve yourself. It doesn't have to be painful. You can eat as much as you want, but you are only allowed to eat healthy foods. Instead of eating this, eat that. If you are a picky eater you can pick out of the foods you like. I've maintained a steady weight this way for the last 8 years.

When trying to change a habit or behavior sometimes substitution is the most effective

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

It's Not Safe To Speak

Hitting on yesterdays point that life is inherently risky, Jordan Peterson says "It is not safe to speak, but it is even less safe to not speak". It can be scary to put something out there. To publish that app or write that blog article or voice that opinion. God forbid put it on YouTube and have thousands or millions of people listen to what you say. If you did that you are absolutely certain to hear criticism. People might not get it. They might say your work sucks. They might laugh or mock you.

But do the work anyway. Ship it. Because NOT doing it is even more unsafe and risky. If you don't ship you won't get the feedback you need. You won't affect anyone around you. You won't have the opportunity to iterate. There would be no personal growth.

Not doing it comes with no power, no self respect, no ability to voice your opinions... no truth.

And in truth, the negative consequences are mostly fabricated in our heads. Our fear is designed to keep us alive and reproduce. It will tell us "hitting that submit button might ostracize us from the group, maybe we should keep our mouth shut, that would be safe" The truth is the opposite: most people won't care enough about you to pay attention. There might be 1 or two haters but it would be hard to get people to take notice. And if haters do take notice, good. Maybe they'll have some good criticism to take note of maybe they won't. It doesn't matter. Continue to do the work, its safer than not doing it.