Mo Bitar

@mo

Passionate about product and software. Working on Standard Notes, a simple and private notes app.

bitar.io @bitario
You'll only receive email when Mo Bitar publishes a new post

Hazy

January 18, 2018

In Rocket League, when someone joins in the middle of the game, the game lags and glitches momentarily, integrating the new player into the network. My friend mused, what if real life lagged every time someone new entered.

Life ultimately remains fascinating, despite the waking drudgery of our days. Sometimes I’ll wake in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and still be crossing the ethereal divide between two different worlds—I’ll stare out the window, through the night and onto the moon—and in this drunken haze, I’ll immediately melt in the infinitude of our existence, in the realness of this experience. In that moment, the moon becomes mystifying—You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be a thing. what are you? where are we? These hazy concoctions by my brain are not something I produce by will, but are almost a chemical helplessness emanating from my source.

Other times, in the middle of the afternoon, I’ll catch my reflection on a clear glass window, lock eyes with my projection, and think in total stupor, what is this?

These sorts of incidents happen with only little more regularity than the sighting of a shooting star, and I cherish them. It's the soul of the universe winking at me, almost as if to remind me: I’m still here.

Clarity

January 17, 2018

I hadn’t been very productive from Friday until Monday. Which sounds like it’s a weekend related thing but I assure you it's not. My weekend's borders are dashed, so you can slip in and out any time. But, Monday was strange. I was excited to get out of the house and head to the office, and avoid all the wondrous merry distractions at home. But, wasting time I still managed to do. Apparently, you can’t run from yourself.

I was so heavily reluctant to produce even a single line of code, that it was laughable. But it wasn’t unfounded. I was working on a problem in the beginning of last week, and couldn’t find an agreeable solution to it. Every solution I thought of was ugly and long-winded. I pushed it to the back of my mind, and began working on other problems. But I could not forget about my one true problem. The quality of my work began to deteriorate. My throughput began decreasing slowly, then all at once. I leaned into it, and called this weekend a “break” (which is what you’re supposed to do, but when there is little separation between life and work, the weekend’s as good a day as any to work). Sunday night, and I thought, for sure tomorrow I’m going to kill it. Monday came and I did impressively little. Zero, probably. Like I said, it was impressive.

Monday night, after moping and loathing, the solution came to me. Yes, that’ll work. That’ll work wonderfully! It was hiding in plain sight all along. (The problem regards how to safely create native super-privileged extensions for Standard Notes that come pre-bundled. Typically extensions are all treated as third-party, and require explicit permissions from users before being able to access any data. What I wanted to do was build any future “native” features also as extensions, to avoid modifying the core code. So the new Extensions manager is actually an extension itself, and comes pre-bundled.) The tension let loose, the knots untied, and finally, everything came together.

Tuesday (yesterday) was a great day of work. It was automatic. No need to thank me or my willpower—when the problem is clear, and the solution is clear, we do work.

I still largely believe that lack of productivity always comes from lack of clarity. I’ve never had perfect clarity and found myself unable to work. It’s always when I’m sort of uncertain, or blocked, that my producing functions come to a halt altogether. I knew this was the case, but wasn’t sure how long it would be until I found a solution. 4 days, 16 hours, and 2 minutes.

Don't do something every day

January 16, 2018

I wrote in a post just a few days ago, that because I had happened upon a flow that seemed to be beneficial to me (writing every day), that you should also explore the opportunity to challenge yourself daily, by committing to a fixed schedule where you produce some sort of item every day. And upon further reflection, this is total bullshit on my part.

There’s a certain self-help culture online wherein those who happen upon a productive nugget of truth or wisdom share it and urge others to also see things in this light. There’s nothing wrong with this, only that, it gives the illusion that this is the only way. It has the potential to make you feel bad about your life, because you’re not doing this thing that this other guy is doing who swears has done wonders for him. Prescribing something unto others, or doing something because someone else told you it would change your life, is in many senses dogmatic and reminiscent of other group-based identification systems that hypnotize you with mindless indoctrination.

All this to say, I find meaning and value in writing every day. And because I was happy with it, I urged anyone who reads along to find something they can challenge themselves with every day as well. I sort of prescribed it. But, I say now: do whatever the ƒ you want. There are trillions of ways to find peace and meaning, and to better yourself. It’s inconsiderate of me to recommend doing a daily challenge, when maybe you are already onto your own flow, your own rhythm, that seems to be working for you. Then I come along, theoretically, and have you second guess your actions and direction. The better way for me to have done it would be to just tell my story, without making a prescription. If you pick something up, cool, if not, cool.

If you want it bad enough, you’ll figure it out. Even if you never read a book or write a note in your life. Or, figuring it out might lead you to reading your first book. But that’s one and the same.

The God Move

January 15, 2018

I watched AlphaGo on Netflix yesterday, and have been in an eerie mood since. An amazingly well made documentary, AlphaGo is the story of AI and man. Have you ever seen images and cartoons from the 50’s that attempt to depict how the future will look? It’s the retro-futuristic vibe similar to the Smeg line of products. One thing you will notice though: we always get it wrong. No matter which time period we attempt to predict the future from, we get it wrong.

I’ve always wondered, if this process repeats itself—if we are always wrong in predicting the future—how might we be looking at things incorrectly now? In our case, our predictions of the future consist of a doomsday like prophecy of AI revolting against their maker, or gaining full independence from us. If anything, the story of AlphaGo says, this is us misunderstanding our creative creations. AI augments. AI makes us better.

AlphaGo chronicles how a team from Google called DeepMind built a neural-network based AI that learns how to play the ancient game of Go, and the story of the preemptive cultural devastation and shattering it caused. It’s heart-warming, beautiful, eerie, and ultimately, makes me profoundly proud of the human race.

I’ve never played Go before, but the way the game is depicted makes my mouth water. Moves are described as being “beautiful and divinely creative”, and one particular move played by a human was so unimaginably creative as to be called “The God Move”. Professional players of the game seem to speak with endless poetic flow and wisdom, and claim that the experience of playing Go and the sensations one feels are so unique that they can be felt through no other medium.

Needless to say, I will be spending exactly the next 1 week obsessing over Go, then never touching, reading, or hearing anything about it ever again. Thus is the nature of Netflix-induced obsessions. Besides, the pros were handed Go boards mere seconds after birth—you just can’t compete with childhood practice.

What's your axiom?

January 14, 2018

Rumor has it that we only live once. Of course, we live an infinite number of times, as we are just processes that execute the function of life. But while you’re here, while you’re in this body, and while you have the ability to harness raw materials and transform them into another order, why not indulge? Why not explore? It takes only one axiom.

If you can decide that 1+1=2, then the powerful rest follows. What is your 1+1=2? What is something that no matter how inhospitable your surroundings become, will always reign true and is thus something you can perpetually rely on? This helps, because it’s your home base. It’s from whence you detach and to where you return.

When you have an axiom, it’s a lot easier to make difficult decisions. When you unfurl all the complexity and mathematics and emotion, what should remain is a solid foundation consisting of any one thing you choose and trust.

I speak in total abstraction because I have lost my mind ages ago, but, to give perhaps one contrived example: When I quit my job to focus full time on my current endeavor, the possibilities for fear were endless. What if this, what if that. In the end, my axiom was simple: I’m not going to starve. No matter how bad it gets, I trust in my ability to not let myself starve. (Whooppee, I’m touting the most basic biological function as something I’ve manipulated to my advantage.) I trust in my ability to solve problems when they are thrown at me. Have you been known to be someone who is good at solving problems? Great. You’ll do just fine, no matter what situation you’re thrown in.

Ultimately, I might fail. I might screw up. I might die in tragedy. But trying—that’s the stuff of life.

The flower and the bee

January 13, 2018

I have a friend who insists he’s blind. Not lacking the ability to decipher light, but the ability to break it apart. He says, I can’t see the divisibility in things. He says, there is no you, there is no me—there is just the universe, at a particular time and place.

The Great Unfolding, he’s wont to say. I find this philosophy totally beautiful, if not utterly useless. He refutes that the binary nature of human beings is innate, and instead calls it learned. This was at first a shocking revelation: I had always thought that the dualism of nature was inherent in its design, and we the byproducts of its yin and yang.

No matter how many counter-examples I would try to give of areas that seemed inherently dualistic, he stood firm: You have been culturally conditioned to see it this way.

While you may count objects, and see here a computer, and there a person, and further there a desk, couch, and chair, it is you that is breaking apart “the scene” to divvy it up. In reality, there aren’t multiple objects, there is only 1 object, and this object is the universe. And he says that the process of breaking up what we see into separate entities is defined by language.

And I found that fascinating. Because it’s wickedly true: when we have a word for something, we’re able to identify it and separate it from the scene. When you don’t know what the constituents are named, you call it, and see it, by its overarching name. Even more tragic, when you don’t have a word for something, you’re likely to miss it altogether.

In Swedish, they have a word for "the glimmering, roadlike reflection that the moon creates on water”: mångata. Where you used to see several participants, like the moon, the moonlight, the water and the waves, the Swedish only see one thing: mångata. And while you may enjoy forest bathing (shinrinyoku in Japanese), you may miss some spectacles simply because you do not have the vocabulary for it: komorebi is the Japanese word for the sunlight that filters through the leaves of a tree.

So, my friend has a point. That the universe comes as one. And humans slit it apart with their brain. Take away the human, and you no longer have millions of disparate objects, but just one thing: the great unfolding universe. Imagine a beautiful fractal pattern infinitely unfolding and emanating outwards in triptic kaleidoscopic fashion: he says that humans aren’t observers of this phenomenon. And they aren’t separate from it. Instead, they are the tip of the unfolding. What you are, what I am, are not separate entities, but the universe at an x,y,z,t coordinate.

My friend takes inspiration from the likes of McKenna, Watts, and the Buddhist culture, and says simply: the lives of bees and flowers are so intertwined, that where we have broken down behaviors to identify two separate entities, to a different perspective, to the divine perspective, it might just be one thing.


My friend, despite my urging, does not have a linkable presence online, so remains shrouded in mystery. Until then, I will proxy his thoughts whenever possible. Perhaps, after all, there is no friend and there is no me: there is only what the universe wishes to say at this particular spacetime coordinate.

When you have to, you will

January 13, 2018

9:25 PM. This is no good.

In the last two weeks, my home and I have morphed into a single homogeneous entity. An as of yet unnamed species, this entity seems to oppose its manifest destiny at any op or inopportune moment imaginable. Trapped in these confines, I devised a plan to escape, and successfully executed it at 8:30 this morning, wherein upon waking up, I immediately ripped apart the gooey organs connecting me into this habitable vessel, clambered through the front door, ran as quickly as I could without looking back, and caught the first (ok second) bus to the office.

I got away this time. But I'm not always so lucky.

My wife will sometimes offer to drive me to the office, but I like taking the bus. The trip is only about 28 minutes, and you’re sort of in the center of it: this is where life happens. Not at home.

The altering is the important part. Please: If you work from home, have somewhere you can go to sometimes. What a prescription. I had been averaging under a few microseconds of useful work for the past few weeks, but today, without the opportunity for endless distraction, and surrounded by fellow laborers, I had a replenishing full day of usefulness. And I had the chance to miss home. There was a tweet that I can’t seem to find now, by I believe Nassim Nicholas Taleb, that said something like: You’ve entered into perfect harmonious equilibrium when, at the office, you can’t wait to go home, and at home, can’t wait to go to the office.

It’s now about fifteen minutes until ten, and that is a style of describing time I have never used before. I sometimes have to remind myself why I’ve taken on this silly challenge of writing every single day. Surely the world is not in such dire need of any thing I have waiting to say. But, the reason is important, and amidst the countless challenges I’ve ultimately left behind and forgotten about it, this one remains as important to me as it was on day one:

It’s about the challenge. It’s doing something difficult on a scheduled basis. It’s to keep my mind sharp and on its toes. And in some ways, it’s to prove to myself that even the most ridiculous and rigorous of challenges, if you care badly enough, can be within reach. If it were about the writing, I could have surely prescribed doing it once every few weeks, or per week at most. But everyday?—the sheer madness of it could not help but arouse my always latent sense of competitiveness. Could I beat myself at this? Could I overcome laziness, boredom, volatile supply of willpower, a longing for easiness and worklessness—could I overcome the sick part of me that wants to bring me down, that wants me to give up, that wants me to explore the sick world of failure and what more comfortable challenges it may bring—could I overcome myself and commit to something ridiculous that I know will benefit me in some way were I just to keep it up?

Welcome to two hours short of no. It’s now almost 10pm, and the urge to postpone has driven me to the edge of comfort. But I’m here. I’m checking in. I made it. I’m out of breath, and I’ll try to do better, but I’m here.

With that said, I wouldn't still be doing this if I hadn't come to appreciate the wonderful improvements in mood and spirit it has contributed to. Nothing solves all of life's problems, but the fact that this remains important to me is 100% empirical. I urge you to explore and commit to a daily challenge of your own—commit to scheduled madness every day, and commit to it publicly. Tell your kids, tell your wife, tell your friends, your coworkers, your Twitter followers, your Uber driver, and your mom.

You’ll quickly learn that when you have to, you will.

Chip Away

January 11, 2018

I forgot to walk my dog until noon this morning. In our four years together, this has never happened. In David Attenborough voice, these are signs of a tumultuous time.

The offline installation of extensions has been such a challenging problem, that longing for any gratification, I feel instantly accomplished by doing any minute task, like properly indenting a line or changing a margin. Yup. That’ll do it for today. When the problem is a behemoth, you dread fighting, and are easily fatigued. But, I’ve found that even if all I get are a peaceful two hours of work, then I don’t mind chipping away at this problem at the pace it demands. Chipping away, in fact, is the magic of nature. So, while I may chisel only a mote, I do appreciate the process of things, and understand that incessant chiseling is far more producing than instantaneous productivity.

I have no idea how much further I have. So I’ll just continue to chisel languidly until I’ve removed enough obstacle-matter to see the light hiding behind. That’s when the energy returns.

The Last One Percent

January 11, 2018

The economy of our days is often times volatile; a high warrants a low and a low warrants a high. Compensation. A “correction.” I for no reason today awoke in the red, with a mass sell-off having apparently taken place during premarket hours. And if my job was to at all increase the share value by any number of points for the day, then I have further disappointing news.

What was the event? The news? What did the analyst find? No one knows. All I have is my marketing department, with its endless supply of forward-looking statements to suppress shareholder worry.

But, there are clues to this mystery. Black Mirror—horror for the mind. I know people who refuse to watch Black Mirror on grounds of not wanting to have their mental stability robbed. I don’t blame them. The new season came out a few weeks ago and I only just watched episode two yesterday. Watching it requires some serious mental gambling, which I am not always so willing to put any amount of on the table.

The other clue is the nature of challenges. Hard at work demolishing and constructing new areas of code, my disposition has went from uncontained excitement to obnoxious and aggressive peals of are we there yet? emanating from the back seat. I’m working on it, I try to plea, but work harder is the only reply. The end is so close. I reach for it, and clamber my way towards it, but between us is as big a tease as the infinitesimal fraction of light speed we can’t reach.

All of that to say, I'm anxious to finish up what I’m working on. I want it to be done. Unfortunately, I’ve made an inventory of remaining tasks and it looks like there’s a lot more work to do. It’s now the funnest part of any software project: The Last 1 Percent. Mind games will be played. Deadlines will be missed. Bugs will surface. Sleep will be lost. An emperor bug will emerge and convince you that it is unsolvable and that you’re for sure fucked this time. Ah, the dread. Of course, you solve it 2–100 hours later. The range is the scary part. But, I’ve been in this mess before. And I’ve managed to make it out alive every time. So, there's your forward-looking statement.

Easy

January 9, 2018

I woke up later than usual today, after staying up last night trying to get to the bottom of Origin by Dan Brown (author of The Da Vinci Code, which I haven't read). The book is thus far interesting, and is more like an art and religion manifesto by the author (though I’m only three-quarters of the way in), and is filled with mouthwatering descriptions of Spanish art and architecture and an overall well-fitted encapsulation of the role of religion and science today. It’s a compelling read if you’re looking for a break from reality.

I went on a nice walk with my dog today, after the poor little man had been trapped indoors for the last few weeks. It’s been less than ten degrees on average, and no matter how brazen he is in anticipation, he can’t take more than a few dozen steps outside without immediately surrendering to the freeze. He’ll stand up on his hind legs and surrender his arms in the sky, hinting at me to levitate him at once. He’s nimble, and at eighteen pounds, is about the size of a fox, so it’s manageable. My MacBook is however only two pounds, so muscle atrophy will come into play.

Of course, I’m deep in technical hell right now, so my pace is forceful. I’ve had to demolish many comfortable areas of code in order to make way for the new, and the city lies helpless in rubble right now. The poor citizens don’t know what hit them, but not to worry, your god is deep in thought right now. A decision will be made soon. Inside, new religions have already been formed to deal with the devastation.

Although, I have been mindful of my pace. I had been driving well above my speed limit for the past week, but caught myself yesterday after noticing how bad the swerving was getting. What if you just slowed down? Eassyyyy. Just take it eassssyyyyy. See, doesn’t that feel better? Indeed it did. I hypnotized myself by depriving my mind of all its chatter, and dumbingly repeated What if you just slowed down as if I were trying to memorize it. I instructed the other part of my mind to sneakily pass a message to my body to start moving things around. I picked up a cup, and walked it to the kitchen. You're doing great. There were two dishes on the kitchen counter, so I lifted them to the sink. I then looked at my living room in total dismay and violently wondered how that could have happened since the last time I cleaned it two days ago.

These bizarre creatures go to considerable lengths to avoid tidying their living space.

Sorry, have been watching too much Planet Earth. The last of it actually, which makes me sad. The intro theme to season two is just heartbreakingly beautiful. It hits me so hard. The most compelling stories are the ones that leave you shaken afterwards, not for days, but weeks, months, and perhaps the rest of your life. I struggle to name anything that has so profoundly shaken my understanding of the world as the Planet Earth series. It used to be that bibles, torahs, and qurans appeared once in a millennia. Now we stream divine revelation. What a beautiful thing.

I have left today to make lunch, which I’m still having to hypnotize myself to do. Must get back to work. You’ll do better work if you do this stuff first. Ok fine.

Life is so hard.

Joint Pain

January 8, 2018

I’ll never forget it: Ten or more years ago, in the midst of the cold Chicago winter, I found myself always itching my scalp and body from dryness. I was watching an episode of Family Guy where Stewie goes to some Star Trek convention and the cast and crew hold a Q&A. Instead of asking questions about the show, the audience proceeds to ask silly every-day household questions, like:

Oftentimes my household sponges accumulate an awful amount of buildup. What can I do to prevent this?

(Patrick Stewart): That's an excellent question. It's very important to thoroughly wring out your sponges after every usage. This will prevent the accumulation of grime and bacteria. A dry sponge is a happy sponge.

Hilarious. The next question was important:

I have this itch on the back of my leg, and I can't figure out if it's a bug bite or dry skin.

Do you take hot showers?

Yes.

Dry skin.

Thanks.

And you know what, I’d never considered it. I never considered that the (really) hot showers I was taking might be contributing to the itchiness. It’s obvious now, but don’t take really hot showers in the winter if you don’t want to be all itchy. I didn’t know that then. And it solved my problem for good. Thanks Family Guy.

I bring this up so I can share with you an even more important finding, that happened recently and also in a serendipitous way.

Joint pain. I struggled with it for at least three or four of the last several years. Sometimes, really bad. And everywhere. Wrists, knees, elbows, back. It just came out of nowhere. I remember at one point not even being able to walk for a day because my knees just gave out. Wtf? I didn’t even do anything for this to happen.

I wore knee braces, back braces, and tried all the remedies you could imagine, but nothing worked. I went to the doctor once but doctors are a waste of time. Of course, when I told this to worried onlookers, their first thought was “Omg, dude, maybe you have arthritis. Seriously go to the doctor.” No, I don’t have arthritis. I wasn’t going to let my mind believe that, and I wasn’t going to google it either, because I know WebMD is waiting to pounce, ready to 100% convince me I have arthritis.

I went through a “health revolution” at some point where I would shop strictly for items with the least amount of ingredients (a useful heuristic). I had a small stint with working out, and was looking for some protein powder at Whole Foods, and found one with just two ingredients: Whey protein, and sunflower lecithin. As pure as it can get.

That night, I mixed up a nice protein shake with my newly acquired substance, and drifted calmly to sleep. What would happen next would be my most dramatic health episode in some time. I awoke in the middle of the night in pain and gasping for air. My breathing tubes were 90% blocked, and my chest was aching with sharp pain the likes of which I had never experienced before. It wasn’t 911 bad—it felt like the type of thing that just needed to go away. But it was bad. I sat upright in bed and just did whatever breathing exercises I could summon. It was one of the more painful experiences in recent memory.

What could have caused it? The only new factor introduced into my environment was this protein shake. I tried again the next night with a smaller quantity of the protein shake, and sure enough, the same issue occurs.

Bingo.

Since I was a child, I’ve had a minor allergy to actual sunflower seeds. I couldn’t eat them. If I did, my breathing would clog up. Not 911 bad, but bad enough to know to avoid them. Never did I ever make the connection that I might be allergic to sunflower byproducts, like lecithin and oil.

But it was unmistakeable. Any time I consumed this protein shake that contained only two ingredients, I had an episode in the middle of the night. And I surely wasn’t allergic to the whey protein.

It was the sunflower.

So, for the next few months, I avoided products with sunflower lecithin and oil like the plague, which is not as easy as you’d imagine. Sunflower oil is very commonly used as a cheap industrial oil in many of the products you eat every day. Just go to the chips aisle in your grocery store. I promise you this: You will not find one single bag of chips without sunflower oil. I already checked. I know this because I can’t eat chips anymore.

But something amazing happened: my joint pain—it went away. Knee pain? Gone. Wrist pain? Gone. Back pain? Depends on how much I sit, but that old back pain—gone. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing. I’m not one to microdose on gourmet mushrooms and probiotics, and not a health nut who tries a new food experiment every day. This happened totally by chance. And the results were unmistakeable.

It’s been over a year since this discovery, and the joint pain has never returned, after being a comfortable guest for over three years. Today, I avoid all foods with sunflower, which actually turns out to be not only pretty easy, but really good for you: You’ll find that most junk food contains sunflower. I’ll be at Costco and this new amazing looking food item will stick out to me. Costco has perfected the art of the impulse buy, and by this point, I already knew: you’re buying whatever Costco wants you to buy. But now, when I pick up that amazingly packaged organic food item that promises to change my life, I’ll read the ingredients and pray for sunflower. Please have sunflower please have sunflower. Ingredients:…sunflower oil… Bingo. I put it back down.

All this to say, if you find yourself aching for no apparent reason, and know you don’t have some chronic condition, maybe because you’re young or because it’s just uncalled for, try to identify ingredients in your diet that may cause you problems. I’m not one to be allergic to many things, so it surprised me that my body would choose sunflower. Allergies are of course another word for “mutations”, so this isn’t some hipster culture thing: You might have an allergy that not a lot of people have to a common food item. Identify it, isolate it, and eliminate it.

What if dreams are...

January 7, 2018

I like to speculate on things that can easily be googled and figured out for sure, but that ruins the fun of it. My speculative writing teeters on the edge of fiction anyway. And besides, if we just accepted only what is written, what room would there be for the crazy new? So here’s my wild theory.

I was watching Planet Earth II yesterday (brace yourselves), the episode about deserts. Any time I watch Planet Earth, my mind is instantly taken away. If it isn’t the greatest TV series ever produced, I don’t know what is. Aside from the cinematography, which even after you watch the behind-the-scenes continues to bewilder and evade you, it’s really the story-telling that makes it so compelling. What Planet Earth as a series excels at is writing. You can tell they fill in the gaps in a lot of places, but it doesn’t feel deceptive. You know that’s how it really is.

Anyway, I wrote a few days ago how a baby iguana emerges newly-born from the sand for the first time ever, and immediately knows to start running towards and up the hill. How does it know? Instinct, sure. In yesterday’s episode, they captured in pitch-blackness an infrared scene of a long-eared bat preying on a deathstalker scorpion, ON FOOT, and it was one of the most terrifying things I’d ever seen. Literally, the scene’s ingredients called for “two parts nightmare." Here’s a screen cap that sort of captures what I mean:

Now this little ground-walking bat scares the hell out of me. Can you imagine what the poor little scorpion, who is fighting for his life, must feel? Assuming the scorpion lives to tell the tale of this Grendel-esque monster, the image of this death-seeking bat screeching in its face will surely haunt it for the rest of its PTSD-ridden life. (This scorpion’s sting is by the way venomous even to humans, but this horrendous bat has grown somewhat immune.)

And that got me thinking. Dreams are a wild, wild part of biological existence. It’s safe to say we still don’t really know what they’re for. BUT. And hear me out on this. Newly-born mammals take their first breath and immediately know a couple of ground rules. The iguana knows to run up. Even new-born cats know to cover up their poop with dirt. So, there’s obviously information stored and derived from DNA. Instinct seems to be real-life events and useful heuristics somehow imprinting themselves on the DNA. This way, a mammal’s real life experiences (and which predators to stay the f* away from) is loaded up on first launch. You see that image above? If that scorpion were me, I would have nightmares about the flying bat monster every day for the rest of my life. And that’s important for future generations to know, wouldn’t you think?

But when exactly is this data written to DNA? A monster like the long-eared bat comes flying in your face trying to kill you. The experience scars you forever. But in the moment, is it immediately written to the DNA and permanently emblazoned for future generations to be weary of? Or….maybe that’s what dreams are? A transcription process of real-life events to DNA, at which point, the bizarrely compressed “memories” of your life are stored and passed down to descendant generations, helping guide them from day one.

Amongst the many things that Planet Earth has illuminated, it has helped me understand one thing very clearly: every living thing is a single-run software program; an executable that runs a non-infinite loop. The program source is contained wholly within, and comes with everything the organism needs to live out a full life (just add water). The locusts which swarm the arid Madagascar south-west after torrential rainfall and instantly devastate any signs of greenery are each single-run software programs that execute their entire lifecycle within a couple days, and then immediately cease function. When reproduction occurs, the software source is copied wholly (and imperfectly), and booted up. It’s clear that the software describes not only physical appearances and traits, but personality, fears, tendencies, and, I’m betting, even nightmares.

So that’s my theory: Experiences are contained in our DNA. And experiences are written to our DNA during our dreaming cycles.

Now let me just google this..

2.1 Progress Update

January 6, 2018

I’m talking to myself while I work. That’s always a good sign.

I’m giddy with excitement at the updates in store for Standard Notes. I’m not usually prematurely optimistic, but it’s nice when things start coming together.

Version 2.1 might as well be called Version 3, but, I don’t want to be a version “45.6.8” sort of company. So we’ll be thrift.

The prototype I’m toying with of offline installation of extensions is probably most promising of all. It opens doors for new experiences and a wide variety of secure applications.

For three days now, I’ve been consumed with trying to figure out a new design language for the core Standard Notes experience, including the interface, menus, and extensions. It all feels sort of disparate now. But—and I don’t know how I’ve ended up here—I’ve caught on to something I really like. I’ve built it out as a separate CSS framework, then integrated it into the core project, and the result has caught me shamelessly admiring out loud a few times. God damn. The romance phase disintegrates quickly, so I’ll take what I can get.

The new design language will be open-source and available to any developer wanting to build nice looking applications and extensions for Standard Notes. The new visual style feels heavy, which is a quality I’ve always desired for web apps, especially when housed in Electron.

2FA—I gyrated in joy with my laptop when I first got Google Authenticator working with Standard Notes, some two weeks ago. I’ve been using it ever since, and it makes me feel so secure and warm. It’s ready to go, with only a few design tweaks remaining.

It’s all so exciting, because: Standard Notes has matched cryptowallet-like security since introducing local device encryption in V2. With end-to-end encrypted sync, local device encryption, and soon two-factor authentication, I’d be hard-pressed to name a more secure place for your contents.

And that's a beautiful thing.

Pricing cannot be an afterthought

January 5, 2018

I wrote yesterday how the notion of app ideas is still fairly romantic, and challenged anyone exploring building one to really give it some thought before actually doing so. I don’t mean this to say “don’t experiment and hack things,” but as someone legitimately concerned for your well-being, how are you going to survive, dude?

If a friend came up to you and said he wants to write a book and get it into Barnes & Noble, would your first piece of advice be: Dude. Just start writing. Go. Now. Start writing.

It might depend on the audience. But my first reaction to that would be: Now wait a minute. You sure you want this? You sure you know what you’re getting into? Not a lot of authors make money.

As someone who has hacked away on hundreds of (failed) projects in the last decade, I can, based on my experience, wholeheartedly tell you: Now wait just one minute. Before you start hacking away, there are a few things you need to know. Not a lot of indie developers make money.

The most important thing I always, always got wrong was making pricing an afterthought. Because why spend time on pricing if you’re not even sure the project is going to take off? No, I’m going to build the app first. Then if it does well enough, begin introducing a revenue model. Right?

Here are a few reasons why this is a dangerous mindset to have, and why pricing cannot be an afterthought:

  1. Having a pricing model at first launch can affect whether the project is successful or not.
    Besides supplying you with the fuel needed to continue doing work on the project, having a pricing page and revenue model can also have subtle psychological effects on both you and your users. For one, a customer may be willing to take you more seriously if they know you’ve thought about the long term plan for your company. You say “I’m going to build this app that a user will use for the next five years,” but a customer says “How can I trust you’ll be around five years from now if you don’t even have a revenue plan in place?” Customers are smart. Personally, I take companies with revenue models far more seriously than those who just have a free product without any clue how to monetize it. I trust paid products more.

  2. Believe me on this: you will lose the motivation to build new features at some point, including pricing.
    This may not be permanent, depending on your level of perseverance, but your levels of motivation for building new features, especially something as uncomfortable as pricing, will waver tremendously. Because in most cases, at least for me, the initial response to a side-project launch is always underwhelming. You need to amass users over time, through lots of hard work. It’s definitely achievable. But when you’re down in the slumps, not having acquired enough users and certainly not making any money off this, the last thing you’ll feel like doing is the hard and laborious work necessary to integrate a payment and subscription system. I know so many startups and small companies who put out a free product thinking they were going to monetize it later, but lost the motivation to do so far quicker than they imagined. If building pricing seems tedious compared to the rush of building the actual app, do it first, as early as you can, and, if at all possible, always, always launch with a revenue model in place. Future you will thank you.

  3. Strategizing around pricing models teaches you to be a better entrepreneur.
    At the end of the day, in order for your project to be successful, you’ll need to learn to be more than a software developer. You’ll need to learn to be an effective marketer, accountant, strategist, and operations manager. These are very hard things to learn, and something I still struggle with as a developer. Mostly, I struggle with these areas because I have no practice in them. All my shipped projects have only been technical feats, and not marketing or business problems. If I had practiced optimizing pricing and keeping users engaged with all my products, I would have had a much easier time doing the same thing now. And make no mistake about it: marketing (including user acquisition, retention, and churn) will be absolutely essential to master for your company.

Ultimately, there’s still a lot of room for blind experimentation and hacking, but only if you truly don’t care about the outcome. If you do care about the outcome, namely, that you want the project to be successful and provide you with a little bit of income, you can’t defer pricing to the future. You can’t defer the “business” stuff. Build it in from Day 1. And on Day 365, you’ll have a well-oiled, functioning business machine. Worst case on failed projects with built-in revenue models: you become a far better entrepreneur.

There's no such thing as app ideas

January 4, 2018

I realize that most people are distracted by cryptocurrencies to be bothered to think about app ideas anymore, but I still get the occasional “hey, I have an app idea!” from the casual layman, be it at a family dinner or reunion of friends. Of course, out of sheer dumb curiosity, I’ll say, “what is it?”, but I’m finding it might be time to start telling these people the truth:

There is no such thing as app ideas.

It’s a fable. A fantasy. A story passed down from generation to generation. That all you need is an app idea. And fate handles the rest.

*Leans into mic* Wrong.

App ideas are not a thing anymore. When you think “app idea” you hear $$$$$, but try rephrasing it as such and see if you’re still interested: “I’ve identified a gap in the market, and believe I am uniquely suited to build a solution. I am willing to spend the next 5-10 years of my life slaving completely in the dark to build this product, and no matter how difficult it gets (it will get difficult), I will not give up. I realize that the product I build at first will probably suck, and will not be what customers want, so I will spend the next several years painstakingly refining it, talking to customers, poring through books, consulting with experts, all while confessing that I had no idea how difficult this was going to be. I’ve also accounted for the financial costs associated with building an app business, and am ready to quit my full-time job when needed to focus full time on this endeavor. Here is my product, here is the problem it solves, here is the market, and here is how I plan to acquire customers.”

Not so sexy now, is it?

How 'bout that Ripple? Been goin up like crazy.

The story progresses

January 3, 2018

For the deity-fearing amongst us, closure is part of the benefits package. You get a nice little beginning, middle, and end, all packaged in a wonderfully vivid story passed down through the millennia.

For the agnostics and the 100% sure—lack of closure is the name of the game. At first creating a black hole of meaninglessness and insignificance, the void slowly incorporates itself into every area of life, ultimately finding ways to be useful and productive, until a lack of conclusion becomes a great point of opportunity and not a source of anguish. It allows one to fantasize, create, and wonder on their own stories, and settle on something that fits nicely with them. It expands the world, and now rather than having one definite story, the possible storylines become endless. Between now and the heat death (?) of the universe several trillion years from now, anything can happen. It’s why shows like Black Mirror are so uniquely stimulating.

But while the lack of music in space seems at once eerie and irresolvable, I do think there is a conclusion to all this. I do think there is a story here—an objective source and destination for life. I think we or some future species will make progress in uncovering the details of our precarious existence. There is an explanation for all this, and it will use words like “and then,” “unbeknownst to them,” and “finally,” and not words like “randomly exploding ball of energy,” “chaos theory,” “random mutations,” and “infinity”.

Neitzche becried that God is dead and we are the murderers, but what he couldn’t imagine was the birth of something far more powerful.

The same person

January 2, 2018

This is common knowledge to me, and may be to you too, but I thought I’d share it in case it may not be. All speculation is treated as fact to make the writing easier:

You and I are the same person. Exactly the same person.

The voice in our heads: they’re the same voice.

The person you accidentally made eye contact with? The same person.

You and your dog? The same person.

You and the squirrel stalking you from the tree? The same person.

I wrote some time ago how I struggled with the concept of comprehending the existence of other people. How can other people be real? How is that possible? If within me is an impossibly large universe of existence, how can it be that within everyone else is a universe just as large? I could not fathom it.

But what you are, what I am, what we all are, are processes. We are input/output machines. We struggle to understand from whence we came, and how is it this all works, but the answer is right in front of our eyes, if only we could parse it: Our source code is passed generation to generation, and is then fully contained. Do you remember the iguana/snake chase scene from Planet Earth II that made its rounds on social media some time ago? I watched it again yesterday after seeing that Planet Earth II was added to Netflix in full glorious HD detail, and it was unmistakeable: the instruction set is contained in the DNA, and it’s explicit. A newly hatched iguana emerges from the ground for the first time in its total existence, and immediately knows not only to start running, but to start climbing the rocky hills before it. How does it know to go up, if this is t=0.0001 for it? The instruction set is contained within. You just need the process of consciousness, coupled with a physical avatar, to execute it.

When you see someone else, and look into their eyes, you are looking into yourself, if yourself lived a different life. When you see someone richer than you, who dresses better than you, speaks better than you, and lives better than you: that’s you if you grew up in an affluent environment and were exposed to the same factors. When you see someone poorer than you, who dresses less fashionably than you, speaks less articulately than you, and lives a more difficult life than you: that’s you, if you grew up in that same resource-deprived environment. When your dog whines and moans, and scratches at the door at the prospect of heading outdoors, that’s you, if you were housed in a four-legged body.

A process. That’s what you and I are, and every other conceivable living thing. Look deeply into the eyes of an animal just once, and you will see that they are as real as you—nay, are you—and not some dumb excuse for a living thing.

So, be kind to you, whichever body you find yourself in.

Loosened

January 1, 2018

It is inanely cold today. I took what was supposed to be a brisk walk, but turned out to be a nipping icebath, and all my parts are now numb. Icicles are beginning to crystalize in the outer shell of my mind, slowing the speed of my thoughts to a drawl. My functions are still unthawing, but I can waste no more time—I’ve come running back as quickly as I could. My fingers feel large and blurry, and mistype flagrantly as I write. You are reading this only by the mercy of autocorrect:

I saw something strange on this walk. And I can’t be sure if what I saw is what I saw. My face was mostly covered with a ski-mask and by the hairs of my coat jacket; the teary melt in my eyes formed an icy bond between my eyelids, causing a glare and twinkle in everything I saw. But it could not be mistaken.

A few days ago, I discovered that Easy on Netflix was an anthology series, and not another Netflix love show. Never one to afford missing out on the creative wonders of anthologies, I settled in and watched one then two then three episodes. The last of these episodes is the one which helps us tell this tale. The storyline captivates us in the optimistically mundane lives of people living in Chicago. Watching, I began to melt into my sofa, while the show simultaneously unbuckled and loosened my grip on reality, pulling me into its adjacent world. I was made to believe that these characters were real-life people, so much as to have made me wish the best for them after the closing credits played.

In this episode, however, there were no conflicts. There was no foreshadowing, or tension; no antagonist or protagonist. The show presented no obstacles and no solutions. No lesson, moral, or food for thought. Most ultimately, it delivers a profound lack of climax.

But I did thoroughly enjoy it while it passed. I enjoyed being in the real presence of, if I'm not mistaken, friends for twenty-eight minutes. I had no regrets, and would happily spend time in that same way if again offered.

A lack of conclusion might as well be in the horror genre for me, but maybe it doesn’t have to be that way? It’s the journey, isn’t it?

I spread fake news today

December 31, 2017

I’m not particularly proud of it. But it happened. I shared fake news. No, rather, I created the fake news. Then spread it.

Some friends and I share an iMessage group where we occasionally speculate on cryptocurrencies. In the past few days, we’ve been closely watching the price of Ripple.

I woke up recently, befogged and groggy, and saw this tweet:

I didn’t click on the video, because, I mean, I’m not going to sit here and watch a 3 minute video of Jimmy Kimmel mean tweets. But, wow, Ripple was on Jimmy Kimmel! What a feat! So I messaged my friends immediately. “Holy shit. Ripple was on Jimmy Kimmel. They must have a hell of a marketing team.”

My friends consumed this news without question, because, why would I make that up? It’s easily verifiable.

Later in the morning, after a little caffeine begins pumping through my bloodstream, I revisit the tweet and actually watch the video.

Well I’ll be damned. Turns out, this wasn’t a Jimmy Kimmel thing. Instead, the Ripple team just recorded their own “Jimmy Kimmel style” video in their own office of employees reading mean tweets.

I felt like a fool. I wasn’t sure whether to be upset at myself or the tweet author. It’s hard to tell whether his intention was to deceive (he is himself an employee of Ripple). But, obviously I was at fault. I shared meaningful news without verifying it in the slightest. The damage done was minor, but imagine if I had just a smidgen more of real influence—I could have really affected the perception of Ripple, and thus its price.

Having seen friends and family in the past share fake news accidentally, the behavior seems difficult to avoid, given the amount of content available and our lack of time to parse it all. So we go by headlines, and share them off, because why would a headline deceive us, right?

It’s hard to say whether I learnt any true valuable lesson. My time available to verify all content as it streams past my eyes will only continue to deplete as more content is created. So, the time vs. content verification problem gets more difficult every day.

This post is just to say, it can happen to you. You can spread fake news even with the best of intentions.

Be careful out there.

The myth of telling people about your goals

December 30, 2017

There’s a certain myth floating in the ether which essentially says that when you tell people about your dreams and goals, they’re less likely to happen, or you’re less likely to make them happen. This isn’t a very prevalent myth mind you, but more of a subtlety. Sometimes, I’ll have told someone about my goals, especially very short term goals, and, after failing to succeed on them, I’ll curse and bemoan myself for having shared them with other people.

There is some truth to this belief, but not for reasons you’d expect. Quite simply, you’re more likely to give up on your goals than persevere. Like 99% more likely. The default outcome of our bold goals is failure. It requires a special forcefulness and ironclad commitment to see a goal through. Hell—it requires vehemence and strict commitment to even check a minute task off your todo list. The energy you require for something grander is unfathomable.

When you give up on your goal, or project, or idea, or resolution, it’s not because you told someone about it prematurely—it’s because giving up and failing was the likely outcome anyway.

Now, telling people too early on about your goals does have some effect, especially for the faint of heart. Namely, you may be easily swayed by feedback and criticism at this point. You tell your friend about this project you’re really excited about, and the friend gives you some feedback that makes you question your endeavor. First, if you easily accept that input and it sways your efforts in a negative direction, then you were likely just looking for an easy way out anyway. And if some feedback from a friendly face is enough to derail you, then it’s best you exit now than face the one-hundred-million-times more scary monsters that lie ahead. If you can’t handle early input, you won’t be able to handle whatever comes next. In which case, your quitting was caused not by your friend’s feedback, but by your lack of resoluteness to begin with, coupled with the default tendency of our actions to falter.

Personally, the only reason I sometimes avoid telling friends and others about my endeavors early on is not because I am afraid of being voodoo cursed, but because I’d like to see how serious I am about it first, and decrease the 99% chance of giving up to at least 70. If I shared with everyone my precarious plans as soon as they hatched, I’d quickly dilute my reputation as someone who doesn’t finish what he starts (which is all of us, really.) This is not a huge deal, but I prefer sharing something only when I’m mostly convinced of it myself.

So share your plans as much and as early as you wish, keeping in mind that do or don’t, 4/5 of your endeavors will likely fail anyway. Afterwards, you’ll scramble searching for a reason why, and the easiest one will be: “I knew I shouldn’t have told X!” But poor little X had nothing to do with it. It’s you that can’t finish what you start.

@ing people

December 30, 2017

I saw yesterday that someone had tweeted about a small, local, and not particularly well-written article about the design flaws in Apple’s new flagship Chicago store. John Gruber was mentioned in this tweet at the end via “cc @gruber”, and Twitter showed me that Gruber liked this tweet.

That would have been that, except for the fact that when I scrolled up a little more, Gruber, after being alerted by that tweet, had posted a reference to the article on Daring Fireball, his blog that drives a lot of traffic.

Wow.

A few minutes later, The Verge, with over 2 million followers, publishes an article of their own also citing the same Daring Fireball article and the original local blog.

I stopped keeping track after that, but I’m sure the article continued to spread thereafter. All because some random Twitter account was thoughtful enough to add a “cc @gruber” at the end.

This conflicts me in many ways. I’ve always been torn on whether randomly @ing “influencers” to take notice of your tweet or content constitutes flagrant spam. For one, it definitely devalues the “aesthetic” of a tweet, like a string of random hash tags. Two, it’s a sort of shameless begging. I’ve done it before and ultimately felt dirty about it.

But you can’t deny these results. I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to get on sites like Daring Fireball and the Verge. And all it took here was a simple “cc” in a one-off tweet.

Makes me reconsider how my sense of “shamefulness” and “not wanting to bother busy people” may be more of a hindrance than a service.

Layer code instead of modifying in place

December 28, 2017

I caught myself doing something shady recently and thought I’d share so that you may avoid doing the same. I ought to have known better, but, I was a few weeks into a new feature branch on Standard Notes, and last minute, I needed an important feature to make everything else work. And it got really, really ugly.

The background of it is I wanted to sync user preferences to a user’s account, rather than saving just locally. This way if you choose to sort your notes by title instead of date, this preference will take effect on other computers you open the app on. The challenge is, there needs to be only 1 user preferences object on the server (the rule is also that I don’t modify any model schemas on the server. I use the generic schemaless Item that Standard File provides that allows for arbitrary content.) This is made difficult by the fact that when a sync conflict occurs, objects are duplicated so that no changes are lost.

So, I needed to introduce the concept of a “singleton” model, where only 1 can exist for a given user, both on the client and the server at any given time. As I mentioned, adding this in was last on my todo list on this feature branch, so I had already depleted my “wise” architectural energy on other parts of the code. So in all my glorious haste, here’s how I put together this so-called singleton feature.

You can see the abandoned pull request here. I’ll spare you the code as it’s too long, but essentially, I have this “service” called the SyncManager. The SyncManager has one responsibility: sync changes you make to local content, and retrieve changes available on the server. And it’s pretty good at doing that one task. What I needed was for this once focused SyncManager to be able to handle items that are marked as “singletons”, and in that case, it should first retrieve pending items from the server, then send up the local singleton model if nothing comes back. This way I ensure only 1 exists.

So I went into this SyncManager and start changing a shit ton of code right in place, adding a bunch of conditionals to teach it this one new trick of how to handle singletons. I modified my main sync function and filtered what gets sent up to the server, changed my pagination function to account for singletons, and a whole bunch of other nasty stuff that I definitely was not sold on. I felt really dirty about the whole ordeal. But hey, I ran it, and it worked.

I played around on this branch for about 3 days after that, to make sure that no matter what I did, only 1 user preferences object existed. I placed a console.log that counted the number of extant user preferences, and it always said 1. Wonderful. I really pulled this off.

One day before I was about to ship, I was playing around with the app, and there it was:

Number of user preferences: 2.

Ahhhh. One job. You had one job.

I scrapped it. I scrapped the whole thing. I literally abandoned that entire branch after I saw that. Because it was justice. I knew the way I built the singleton handling was dirty. And I felt better about scrapping this hastily put together feature than to jeopardize the most important part of this whole ecosystem: the syncing.

It’s been two months since that horrific incident. And I haven’t forgotten the need for syncable user preferences. So, feeling cool-headed and calm, I gave the singleton feature another run for its money. This time, I was going to do it the right way.

Here’s the thing: the SyncManager is really good at doing its one job. It’s really good at syncing things. Rather than teaching it new tricks, and it then doing both of these tasks with lessened zeal, it would be wise to build on top of it. This is Architecture 101, but in the real world, we don’t always do what is right, but what is convenient. (There is a word for this that I’m struggling to recall. If you remember what it is please share it with me. I think it starts with a c.)

So that’s what I did. I left the SyncManager intact, and instead created a new “SingletonManager”. The singleton manager has one job and one job only: make sure that only 1 item exists of any object you are instructed to keep an eye on. It took less than five minutes to put together the logic, and I gave it a run.

Lo and behold, it did its job, and seems to do it well. No matter how many user pref objects I tried to create, it always resolved into 1. And I was completely clear-headed about the whole thing.

The moral of the story is: try not to modify things that already work. Because it’s very easy for those modifications to lessen its ability to do the one thing you already knew it was able to do. Instead, build on top of working components. The SyncManager is really good at syncing. Teaching it new tricks will not only have it struggle to perform that new trick, but also lessen its ability to perform the thing you depended on it to do. I now have functioning singleton models, which will be really important going forward, handled by a class that is really good and specialized at resolving multiple items for which there should only be 1. In code, I think it’s safe to say two specialists are better than 1 generalist. And I will never forget this lesson again.

You can see the new SingletonManager (WIP) here.

Update: the word was expedient. Definitely did not start with a c.

Update 2: A reader on Twitter correctly identified this as exactly the "Open/closed principle": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open/closed_principle

When did stocks become boring?

December 27, 2017

A friend of mine is experimenting with a podcast, and at the end of one such experiment (and coming from a finance background), he gave out some tips on stocks you should look into. And while I was listening to that segment, I felt something strange that hadn't materialized so directly in me before: A strong disdain for stocks and stock markets in general.

Psht, stocks. I thought it was normal, but after reflecting on it later in the day, I thought, when did that happen? When did stocks become boring?

I’ll speak for myself and say: very, very recently. And cryptocurrencies have all to thank for it. Compared to cryptos, the stock market feels so incredibly outdated. It’s like trying to use Netscape today to gain access to information.

What gives that feeling? It’s a combination of things. Stocks seem to carry with it the feeling of “old money”, and as strict as the SEC may be on insider trading, there’s no way a board room full of old rich men are behaving morally when all incentives require them not to. So there’s a sense of general distrust that permeates the whole thing. “Sell the news,” they say, as if it’s wisdom, when really it means that insiders always take their cut long before anything ever makes its way to you.

Then there are the exchanges themselves. I’ve dabbled with stocks since I was thirteen, but never got anything to show for it. I purchased a few shares of Tesla some years back on Robinhood—but what do I really own? I haven't received any stock certificates. My ownership in Tesla is just a number in Robinhood’s system, which you are eventually beggingly at the mercy of. Just recently, Robinhood informed me that I needed to upload a photo of my social security card in order to do anything with my shares of Tesla. This is the second time they’ve locked my account without notice. And given how exciting and attractive cryptocurrencies have become to younger people, my best bet is Robinhood will struggle to acquire the users they’re after and very soon shutter its doors.

With crypto, I don’t need anyone’s permission. I receive full ownership of the private keys, and I own them forever. No one can take that away from me, even if the government sends armed agents to my door. Obviously, I’d be wise to cooperate, but the point is, I don’t have to. So there is a large political cause of freedom and the right to personal property found in crypto that is not found in stocks and traditional banking.

Stock markets also represent a brutal philosophy of growth that I simply cannot support. Companies which are publicly traded become slaves to their next quarter earnings report, instead of focusing on long term health and sustainability. It’s a culture of unquenchable thirst and ravenous, destructive hunger. The “growth at all costs” mentally is just not something I want to be a part of or contribute to.

All of this contempt for the public markets has grown silently within me for the past couple years, and it may be latent within you too. Cryptocurrencies are as much a counter-cultural revolution as they are a bank-replacing technology. Almost everything is democratized, and the people behind it almost never wear suits. Compare that to the fundamental pillar of our crony capitalist system that is the public markets, dominated by 1%ers who continue to wreak havoc on our shared ecosystem and politics, and it’s easy to see why stocks feel so unglamorous as of late.

Aside from the volatility and potential gains to be had from either stocks or cryptocurrencies, I generally feel safer having my money in crypto rather than held and managed by suits at a bank or brokerage. I have no reason to hide from my government, but I have had my PayPal account frozen enough times for no apparent reason to grow distrustful of centralized systems.

The question to be asking is, if you had $200,000 of hard earned money that you wanted to protect, where’s the best place to put it?

Well, under your mattress sounds pretty great, since you could always keep an eye on it and sleep right on top of it. But, you become an easy target just waiting to be robbed. Not to mention it loses value every year it sits collecting dust.

You could put it in a bank. But then you have to trust Bank of America to not be a douche about your money. They can freeze your assets any time they please, and prevent you from withdrawing so much as a dime, especially if done at the behest of the U.S Government. You might say, “I earned that money legally and have no reason for concern.” Try telling that to PayPal. I have little doubt, given your innocence, that you will eventually regain access to your funds. But just the fact that other self-interested parties have that much control over my hard earned money is great cause for concern, especially when there are alternatives available without these downsides. Oh, and you’re only insured up to $100,000.

You can place your money in the stock market, but, that’s susceptible to exactly the same concerns as banking: You don’t really own anything, and it can be seized by your government at any time.

(You can also buy $200k worth of gold, but that falls into the same category as the perils of storing physical cash.)

What remains is the wonderful world of crypto. As long as you own your private keys, no one in the world can take your money away from you. You can’t be robbed. The funds can’t be frozen with the strike of a gavel. And, while this is mostly irrelevant, you might even quadruple your money in a few years time. The risk is of course the volatility of daily prices, but I’m not particularly worried about that.

There’s a lot of talk about the impending crypto bubble, but, given the viral peer-to-peer nature of it all, I’m hard-pressed to come up with any one scenario where the crypto system as a whole is destroyed. Sure, short term pops are inevitable, but on the long term, try to think of any one event that can permanently shatter a system like this.

There are only two crypto-shattering events that I can think of:

  1. A dystopian society where access to the internet is prohibited.

  2. The collapse of cryptography as a whole, ushered possibly in part by the advent of molecular and quantum computing. I’m not particularly troubled by this, as its arrival will be seen from at least a mile away, giving us ample time to redesign our systems to take advantage of quantum cryptography. I realize that disruption is usually revolutionary and not evolutionary, and doesn’t always give us time to react, but cryptography is too fundamental of a utility in our ecosystem for us to not be paying wildly close attention to it.

Of course, the government can try to ban cryptocurrencies, at which point, it would be prudent to start buying more of it.

Barring these circumstances, I think crypto goes on and infiltrates every aspect of our lives. This isn’t some new insight, as the optimism is already reflected in the price, but more of an invitation: consider putting away your doubt and fear, and instead find ways to contribute to this new system of independence.

The money is now flowing from the old to the new. The future is as exciting as it’s ever been.

Daily Routine

December 26, 2017

The morning is a better time to write. My hands do not hesitate like they do at night, after 80% of my energy has been depleted. My stream of consciousness flows less sinuously, and empties effortlessly onto this ocean of paper. This transcription process is cathartic. The coffee makes me brash.

Morning writing gives structure to my day. Waking up is essentially like calling Math.random() on your day. Without structure, it will quickly devolve into anarchy. Rebounding is difficult. Randomness can be good, but best saved for controlled environments, especially when you’re intentionally trying to bash things together to see what kind of reactions you get. Otherwise, it helps to have daily functions in your day that reduce entropy. While the universe ticks and progresses towards total destruction, the human class is made special by the fact that we aim to reverse entropy. Routines are a great way to accomplish this.

The only routines I have thus far are:

  • Wake up between 8-8:30am
  • Brew up a small cup of coffee
  • (Now hopefully restored) Write a couple pages on the first thing that comes to mind
  • Head to the office (co-working space) and do some work until about 3-3:30pm.
  • Break for lunch
  • Crash from lunch. Sometimes this one is deadly serious, and can take me out of the game for a couple hours. (I wrote this post in the morning, but am now typing it up and publishing it after my lunch. This seems to be a good, mindless activity to do while digesting.)
  • Attempt to give work one final go. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.
  • Commute back home.
  • The rest of the day is a ~well-earned “do whatever you want”, at which point I’ll either take a long walk to cool off, play some PS4, cook, Netflix, and, if I’m excited enough, do a little more work.

I used to view commuting as a waste of time, but, working from home, I felt I had too many hours that I needed to fill. And it wasn’t realistic that I would fill it all productively. So it was easy to fall into “worst self” behavior. I had an important insight somewhere along the way that I would be wise to fill my day with as many activities as possible. Free, empty, and self-time is good, but too much free empty self-time is no good at all.

Commuting, including getting ready to leave in the morning, is a great way to fill up 2 hours of your day, relatively productively. I’ll listen to podcasts on the way, which is good “life training”, in accordance with my “go to school” mentality.

Also, in a shocking turn of events, I went to the gym the other day for the first time in a really long time. There was nothing else to do so I said eff it. It was really hard getting myself to go. But now, due for a second time, I’m not so troubled by it. Sure, I’ll go to the gym again. No big deal.

Starting is the hardest part. It just starts rolling after the initial push.

When to write

December 26, 2017

For the first time in sixty-something days, I’m legitimately struggling to upkeep the habit of daily writing. It’s not that I’m losing some battle. But, I have most to write about when I’m undergoing some kind of struggle, in which case writing helps me explore that struggle.

Now has come time to work, and the struggles I undergo can all be fixed from the command line. Hats off to you Seth Godin. I don’t know how you do it.

The habit. That was the important part. The habit is more important than the writing. This started as a “first thing you do when you wake up” type thing. Now it’s devolved into, “let’s wait and see if later might be a good time to write.” But later slips, along with your control over the rest of the day. The morning, you own. It’s all yours. I said I was going to allocate it to code, but that has meant the slow mourning of a useful habit. And as much as I enjoy making progress on other things, I would be truly saddened to lose the progress I’ve made on this. So I’m going to go back to writing first thing in the morning. I’ll just need to find a way to not let it distract the rest of my day.

Wait a minute. It just came to me. The distracting part of writing is the publishing part. The act of writing itself in the morning actually gives me a lot of good energy. I start becoming excitable and thus unfocused when I publish the writing onto the internet.

The solution is then easy:

Write in the morning.
Publish in the evening.

I’ll try that.

Christmas Eve Worklog

December 24, 2017

This is no good. It’s not that I don’t want to write, but just not in the thinking mood. This is getting to be dangerous. I need the consistency of the routine back. But I need to code in the morning. No solution yet.

But, the tradeoff has been valuable in many ways. Progress continues on some really cool features for Standard Notes. It’s not just the features themselves that I'm excited about, but the way the features are built and installed. I risk being publicly committed by mentioning what they are, but, it's the only thing that's been on my mind all day, and thus the only thing my mind is capable of conjuring.

  • An all new package manager. Long gone will be the days of visiting a separate dashboard to install extensions. Now you’ll be able to install and browse extensions right from within Standard Notes.
  • Local installation of extensions. This one I am super excited for. The current model requires all extensions to be hosted on a remote (or local) server. This does the job, but compromises a little on potential security and availability. With this new system, any extension (editors, themes, etc) can be installed and run totally offline from the safety of your own computer. This means we can begin developing more extensions that deal with extra sensitive data while not having to worry about a hosted delivery model. (Desktop only)
  • Two-factor authentication. I am ecstatic about this. It’ll be installable directly from the package manager. (It’s a package itself.)

The part I’m most excited about is that all these new systems are built as extensions themselves, including the package manager and multi-factor authentication. Very little custom logic is being written in the core of Standard Notes. So, whatever we develop, you can develop too. Even things like multi-factor authentication can be written as simple extensions. We’ll most likely ship with Google Authenticator support, but it would be trivial for other developers to build Authy or 1Password two-factor authentication extensions.

This “generic” architecture ensures that the core of our application does not rely on what may be modish at the time. Instead, new additions are built as lego blocks that are easily detachable. If Google Authenticator fades away in five years, we won’t be as impacted as we would be if we tightly entangled Authenticator logic with our own logic.

Really, my core rule for Standard Notes is: You can build any cool feature you want, but it has to be an extension, as not to creepingly bloat the core application. This way, you can always layer down to absolute simplicity, which should be more than enough for many people, myself included.

Unprofitable Days

December 23, 2017

I’m in a generally positive mood today. And I bring notice to this fact only because it is very easy to see, given previous posts, that this isn’t always the case.

A friend of mind was asking me how I felt recently after I had messaged him some weeks back about my apparent state of despair. I couldn’t recall what he was referring to, or what state I could have been in at all two weeks ago. He told me it was on December 12, that he sensed I was in a panic. Well, December 12 is meaningless. Unless…

Unless I keep a daily log of my days. Wonderful! Finally a use for my uselessness. So I looked up the day’s post for December 12, and indeed, it was my shortest post ever. I was in a pretty bad place.

Where has the time went? I do not recall deciding to be better since then, but alas—my spirit seems to have increased tenfold. What was the turning point? It must have happened during a blink.

Emerson writes:

If any of us knew what we were doing, or where we are going, then when we think we best know! We do not know today whether we are busy or idle. In times when we thought ourselves indolent, we have afterwards discovered, that much was accomplished, and much was begun in us. All our days are so unprofitable while they pass, that 'tis wonderful where or when we ever got anything of this which we call wisdom, poetry, virtue. We never got it on any dated calendar day. Some heavenly days must have been intercalated somewhere…

We never do quite feel ourselves grow. But take a look at you now. You’ve come a far way. The invisible growth that magically occurs in the interstices of your days: that is the fruit of life.

The first four hours

December 22, 2017

I’ve been running a dangerous habit the past few days of letting writing occur on a non-fixed time, as opposed to first thing in the morning. But, it felt like a necessary adjustment, as writing first thing would put my mind in the frame of writing, which would not rub off for hours. For me, the morning is the most productive part of the day, so what I do for the first four hours is probably the highest quality work I'll do all day.

For the past two months, that’s been on writing this blog and developing a useful habit. But, there are new frontiers now on the technical side of things. Exciting engineering challenges that I’ve been dreaming to start work on. I’ve been energized by the gush of feedback I’ve received from asking users how they use Standard Notes in their daily lives. The result was magical. When we design and build things, rarely do they have the ability to speak back to us. With software, you can send a small ping to your users and get a PONGGGG in return. It’s like an organism that was electrified by the rush of human energy flowing through it. It was a powerful, enlivening experience.

All that to say, the first thing I want to allocate the first part of my morning to is now architecture and code. The other part of the day brings with it compensation from the morning’s caffeine, post-lunch haziness (sometimes straight up unconsciousness), and the unfortunately-timed realization that it’s all downhill from here. It’s not so bad. I’ve been a little lazy lately post-3pm. I begin dragging my feet. It’s probably the winter. Afternoons and nights during the summer were a great time to work. Now, nestled indoors under yellow lights and never-right heating conditions, I melt into a languid state.

But I’m warming up. If yesterday was 30mph, then today was a good 32.

Get into it

December 21, 2017

Get into it and you’ll be into it.

It’s so commonly prescribed as to almost be cliche, but we know the hardest part of doing anything is starting it.

Starting requires the most amount of energy. But, you only need one Big Bang.

Once you start, physics kicks in. Momentum. Inertia. At that point, you’ll just keep going until something stops you.

This pervades every corner of our world.

Cars make all kinds of funky noises when they start in the cold. But once they warm up, they drive like a dream.

It’s a lot harder to start running than it is to stop.

Waking up by alarm is hard. But once you’re up, you’re up.

Do you ever pick up one dish, then find yourself just full-on cleaning your entire house?

Do you ever start something reluctantly, and find that it might be easier to just keep going?

Do you ever start something reluctantly, and find that you’re actually enjoying it, and that it wasn’t so bad?

You just have to get into it. Then you’ll be into it.

I’ve been focused on the human/operations side of business for the past few months and staying away from code. Now, I have to get back into the code. But my code engine has been inactive and making all kinds of funny noises when I try to start it. I struggled for a few days, but then I just got into it. First by doing something really small, like five minutes, then compounding each additional session.

I’m at about 30mph now, heating up towards 70. At 70, there’s no stopping me. And that gets to be another problem.

Do nothing

December 20, 2017

I wrote a few days ago about how the quote “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone” had profoundly resonated with me, and that I thought I would take that on as a challenge to strengthen my resolve against my monkey-mind.

For my own sake, though, I’d like to adapt this challenge to a more modern way of life, in a way that I can benefit from directly. I can expand the definition of “do nothing” to include activities which accomplish productively little as to essentially be a null activity. In that case, cooking can be seen as a do nothing activity. Casually reading a book can be a do nothing activity. Playing with the dog. Cleaning your kitchen. I find this to be a productive definition because these are the tasks I usually put off (except for the dog one). If I require myself to do a daily dose of “do nothing”, and null tasks like organizing your shoe closet are essentially absent-minded do-nothings, then I finally merge mindfulness with productivity and create a perpetual incentive loop.

I sound like a mad man, but, what I’m trying to say is:

Require yourself to take time out of every day to do nothing.

and

Do nothing can safely include things like cooking, reading, cleaning and tidying, washing, fixing, decorating, and whatsoever similarly befalls you.

Some marketing advice

December 19, 2017

In accordance with my recent understanding that it is more efficient to seek help from external sources than to pedantically rely on yourself, I’ve gotten some operations & marketing advice from an operations & marketing savvy person. He immediately opened my eyes to all the wonderful things I'd been doing wrong. Politely of course. But he was right. He saw holes in my strategies in minutes, while I have grown too numbingly close to the problem to have any sort of clear sight.

I thought I’d do a quick brain dump of what I learned, and hopefully elaborate on them in some future posts.

  • It’s easier to keep a customer than find a new one.
  • Churn is a leaky bucket. You can fill and fill the bucket with water and substance, but if the leak is not contained, you’ll wither out.
  • Features != growth.
  • Advertise features to people who are interested in those features. An analogy is, Tesla may be a very kid-friendly vehicle that works great with baby seats, but that’s not what's called out on their homepage. They selectively choose the message based on the audience they’re interested in and what their audience is interested in.
  • Record keeping is essential. I feared this was the case, as I'm not a great record keeper. But I'm increasingly seeing how important this can be. It’s so important to have a chain of events that can be studied in the future. So, so important.
  • A gap in the market doesn't mean there's a market in the gap.
  • Find your best customers. Ask them to describe the product, then use that description.
  • Use-cases over features. Don’t just list out what the product does. Talk about specific problems it solves and ways it can be used.
  • Develop and understand user personas. Essentially, break down your audience into three or so different groups of people that would use your product. For Standard Notes, the three personas that I see most often are: The Privacist, The Writer, and The Hacker. Visualizing that has sparked many new lights in my head.
  • It’s better to convert users when they are ready for it, rather than as soon as possible. It makes for a healthier business.

He recommended studying the field of behavioral economics in general, and suggested two books:

P.S. I did the whole “sit in a room for 15 minutes and not do anything” thing. It was fine. I’m going to do it again tomorrow.

All of man's problems

December 18, 2017

I’ve become increasingly a fan of Naval Ravikant of AngelList. The man freestyles prose on all topics, from life to cryptocurrency. His Twitter bio links to a Farnam Street article, and the article links to a podcast the two of them did together. I am halfway through the podcast and am thus far amazed and astonished at Naval’s eloquence and unstoppable substance spewing machine.

At one particular point, Naval quotes the 17th century French mathematician Blaise Pascal who says something that profoundly resonated with me. He says:

All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

A dagger through my heart. Ouch. I feel this one. And profoundly struggle with it. I can’t recount how many mistakes and bad decisions have been made in life because of my inability to sit still. I can’t tell you how many habits would never have been formed if I were able to sit quietly in a room.

So, so simple. Yet thoroughly quarrelsome. I’ve undertaken a lot of difficult challenges in the past few years. But to sit alone for half an hour in an empty room somehow sounds most difficult of all. I tremble just thinking about it.

Challenge accepted.

I’ve built up a yoga habit before that lasted just nigh on 30 days. It was wonderful while it lasted, but alas, dies in flame like the rest of my initiatives. But, I like the simplicity and minimalism of this one. Yoga is great but requires you to learn things and do things “the right way”. I’m sure you can point me to some interpretation of yoga that is more self-reflective, but it will probably have an esoteric name, thus requiring me to learn how others did things.

I like this way better: create or find an empty room. And just sit there. For half an hour. No phone, no laptop. Only an hourglass. And do this in the midst of your day’s hurricane.

Really, it’s about control. Who’s in charge of your day? For most, the answer is our dependency-craving monkey self. Desire after desire, all fulfilled at the speed of thought. There is an incipient voice in us that craves a chance in the spotlight. That craves control over our primate selves. It promises to be a more reasonable ruler. It promises to be less capricious. It promises more balanced living, all custom tailored to 21st century way of life. It’s a new software upgrade. We keep telling it, “Not Now”, but the installation is seamless, if only you let it: just be still.

The mind is a wild place.

December 17, 2017

A wild, wild place.

Undomesticated, savage, untamable: these are some synonyms for wild.

Primitive, uncivilized, uncultured, barbaric.

Unpopulated, rugged, rough, inhospitable, desolate, barren.

Stormy, squally, tempestuous, turbulent.

Disheveled, tousled, tangled, untidy.

Unrestrained, out of control, undisciplined, unruly, disorderly, riotous.

The mind is a wild, wild place.

10,000 hours is way too many hours

December 16, 2017

This post embarrasses me in many ways. The first is that I’ll be making extensive Rocket League analogies, which is a fantastic game I play on PS4 (but available on almost every platform). The game is supremely well made, and offers infinite room for self-improvement. There will always be someone better than you, which gives you the incentive to keep playing. The second is because despite having spent many, many hours playing this game, I have today I realized I am pathetically under-skilled.

To date, the game tells me that I have spent about 2 days and 2 hours playing the game, which equates to about an hour a day for the last two months. Sounds reasonably healthy. In this time, I’ve gotten to level 34 in the game, which bestows upon me the title of “Veteran", an honor that my mother ultimately refuses to recognize. I did some of the in-game training, but spent most of the time learning how to get better just by playing. And I thought it was working. I felt like I was getting pretty good.

Recently, unable to connect to the online servers, I figured I would watch a live stream of other players. This one particular player was also a level 34, which means we probably spent the same amount of time playing the game. This ought to be interesting—I wonder if my skills will match his.

I spent the next 45 minutes with my jaws dropped below my waist. This player was profoundly more skilled than I was. He did tricks I didn’t even expect to get close to within the next year. He showed a deep understanding of the game and its strategies. I spent a lot of time being impressed, but even more time embarrassed that I had spent the same amount of time as him without developing the same level of skill.

But just then, he exits the game lobby, enters into the training section of the game, and goes into “Custom Training”, a part of the game that I never bothered to venture into. Custom training allows you to download training courses created by other players to practice really specific parts of your game. He instinctually glided his way through the menu to a particular training course, and immediately begins doing the same move over and over again in an effort to get the ball to the goal. He did this for the next ten minutes.

Well holy shit. There it is.

All this while, there were “brain modules” available for you to install to increase your brain’s ability to play the game. All you had to do was download the training module, loop through it hundreds of times, and you brain learns to perfect it.

All I had to do was do the training.

For the last 2 days and 2 hours of total playing time, I was playing completely instinctually, hoping to get better by practice alone. 10,000 hours right?

It turns out, that’s one way to do it. But probably not the best way. You can go the raw route of just expending time and repetition to improve your comprehension of something. That can take a long time. Or you can take specialized training and skip lightyears. You can install brain modules that take out the guess work and show you exactly the thing you should be training.

Books. People. Articles. Classes. Podcasts. Speeches. Observing. These are all things that can cut time off your 10,000 hours.

I had been going about this all so very wrong. And I refer not to this game, but my own personal growth. I’m a huge “I learn best when I figure it out myself” proponent, but sometimes, that just takes too long. And often times, especially in the technology and startup world, there are just too many things you must be able to do well in order to succeed.

So I say now to myself: Do the training. Go to school when it’s time to learn. It’s too pedantic to try to figure everything out yourself.

Things I'm exploring

December 15, 2017

I’m in a weird state where all my thoughts are unapologetically raw. By raw I mean unassembled. I have a hundred different variables floating around in my head, and the cruel job bestowed upon me is to figure out how to arrange, combine, and breed them to achieve some sort of increase in progress. It is an absolutely maddening process.

The ideal solution would be to iterate over the possibilities like a computer, quickly and thoroughly. But in our world, each of the floating variables requires prohibitive amounts of energy. So the game is made crueler by the fact that your resources always underwhelm.

Here are some of the particular problems floating around in my head, that if you have suggestions to, would benefit me greatly as a catalyst.

I’m trying to figure out how to get more people interested in subscribing to the Extended package of Standard Notes, which helps sustain the project. But, I don’t know where to begin. I’m super averse to developing new features and functionality in the hopes of attracting more users (as is traditionally done). So I forbid myself from recklessly adding features that would add weight and bloat to the application, and threaten its survival. On the other hand, another threat to survival is not sustaining a steady amount of interest. So, if I can’t build new features to attract users, how else do I consistently keep the public apprised of Standard Notes? One option is to write about relevant topics on a blog, but, I’ve sort of outgrown the usefulness of this method. The benefits have been very, very slim, even for articles that had a wide reach. The other option is reaching out to the press and pitching some sort of story, but I’m not particularly great at pitching and developing long-term “people” strategies. I’m not very good when it comes to strategizing business interactions, so I’ll just say what feels right at the time. Usually, however, this format tends not to follow the “standard” pitch format, whatever that seems to be. All that to say, I hope to optimize more for building something slowly and getting attention slowly, rather than rely on my impressive pitching and sales skills to grow. However, these two are constantly at odds with each other.

One thing I’ve recently thought through that seems to be a really neat solution to this problem: I sort of hate marketing, but I love building and coding. What if I build code that markets? Essentially, embedded marketing. Marketing so that I never ever have to think about marketing, and instead be laser-focused on product and sustainability. Certainly intriguing. For me, this could be something like a collaborative editor in Standard Notes. Collaboration is a great way for existing users to get other people involved, and, if they’re as savvy as the original user, then exactly the type of person that we hope find our product. A referral system would also be a great way for existing users to get free lengths of service, while inviting a friend to receive the same benefit. I suddenly don’t feel bad about coding something like this. It helps make the entire project ecosystem more circular, and less reliant on the capriciousness of this human being.

Another thing that’s constantly on my mind is expanding the component system of Standard Notes. Right now, components allow for cool things like Markdown editing, HTML editing, code editing, autocomplete tags, GitHub push, folders, and more. What if this were to be expanded to add, for example, spreadsheets, kanban boards, slides, calendar, and so on. Essentially, Standard Notes becomes a powerful operating system to host useful applications who use the working note in Standard Notes as a secure datastore. It’s a wildly fascinating idea, and one I would love to pursue were it not for the constant pound of marketing and related business responsibilities at my door. This has created a gripping deadlock of: Don’t code, market instead, don’t know how to market, fatal_crash. I’ve made some progress as noted above, but still very much in its incipience.

This has all been so intensive on my processing unit that I’ve had several spontaneous mental exceptions in the last week. I mean literally, a stack overflow. I would have one positive thought, trace it all the way down only to descend into madness and quickly crawl back out. I reach to wipe my forehead but retreat in fear of simmering my hand. Too many variables, too little resources; my poor machine emits a blinking red light. But that light is a signal, and my hopes are it reaches something that reflects back kaleidoscopically.

The human function is to want

December 14, 2017

The illusion, or the projection, that the mind makes on our consciousness is that the human function works like this:

wants = get_finite_wants();
want_index = 0;

while(self.alive) {
  if(want_index >= wants.length) {
    self.success();
    break;
  }

  self.want(wants[want_index]);
  want_index++;
}

But that’s not it. It's what we're lead to believe. That our wants are finite. And that we work towards them, and achieve success once we iterate through all of them.

It’s a damned, cruel trick that life plays on us.

In reality, the human function is:

while(self.alive) {
  self.want();
}

There is no wants array. There is no counter. No matter how “successful" someone becomes, they still want for more.

I promised I wouldn’t have any new morals for the next few posts, but I couldn’t help myself: Don’t optimize your life around wants. Because it’s infinitely recursive.

The human function is to want. To live is to want. That’s the process of life. The mechanism of growth. You can never comment out self.want(), but you can append more lines to your human function to add more meaning to your life-loop:

while(self.alive) {
  self.want();
  self.cherish();
  self.wait();
  self.love();
  self.play();
  self.learn();
}

Journal Entry #56

December 13, 2017

How much to really say? How much to open? I've made this blog public to get over my fear of being public, but there is a maximum darkness threshold that I simply will not let out. There is a thing as too much honesty. I think. But maybe that's just fear. The truth is, I'm currently tired of writing publicly like I know what I'm doing when I have no idea idea what I'm doing. Any post that I write giving advice or motivation is always note-to-self's. But I'm presently tired of giving myself advice. I'm tired of trying to motivate myself with some profound and as of yet undiscovered philosophy. What remains?

I don't know. I imagine for the next few days I'll be writing unintelligibly not for any audience, but for me. Because the habit itself of writing everyday is more important than what I write about or what value I try to add to your day. I've tried to make my posts somewhat useful for an external audience, but then it became that every post needed to have some grand epiphany or moral.

Well, in this post, there is no story. There is no conclusion. There are no aphorisms or morals. Because what do I know? Painfully little. I mean literally. It is painful how little I know.

I'm nowhere near giving up. And quite frankly that's not an option at this point. So I don't worry about that. But if not giving up, what remains? I don't want to call this perseverance, because that sounds romantic.

No, what's left is just the raw stuff life is made of.

Life is in the interstices. Not the checkpoints. Yet checkpoints are all I yearn for.

There's your moral. You can go cash it in for literally $0 of productive or economic value.

Objectively Difficult

December 12, 2017

Objective difficult is nothing to feel bad about. Objective difficult is when you are doing something so hard that the gods themselves would struggle with the same task.

If you’re doing something hard, but don’t feel great about how far you’ve come, or the progress you’re making, or your inability to handle the challenge, determine if it’s Objectively Difficult.

If so, relax. And keep going. It’s not you. It’s the problem.

I've gotten stupider with time

December 11, 2017

Somehow, throughout years of conscious self-improvement, I may have gotten stupider. Don’t get me wrong—I may have gained some wisdom. I may have learned some strategies and tactics. I may have upped my technical talent. I may have learned a bit more about what I want and how to go about getting it.

But I’m no more able to drive this vehicle than I ever have been. In fact, while I have been collecting all these in-game tokens to improve my abilities, my driving has gotten worse and worse. I swerve constantly and recklessly. Sometimes I’ll even destroy the bumpers that were built to keep me in place. Other times I’ll fall asleep right at the helm of the wheel. And, when it’s really cold, my car doesn’t even start up.

While I have learned so much about the outside world, I am no better a driver than I ever was. I struggle with daily life now the same way I always have. Subtly, but profoundly and consistently. Years and years of conscious efforts at self-improvement and self-actualization have yielded the likes of a mad man driving intensely and uttering too many unintelligible epigrams while trying to keep up with the road’s curves and ends.

We spend so much time supping up our vehicles, preparing them for every climate and environment, but forget ultimately that there’s no predicting the curvature of these roads. A man with a beaten-up car can make it through the winding challenges of life with more ease than so-called navigation experts, if he drives humbly.

Nonetheless, I am amused by my own stupidity. I find it cute, how hard I try but ultimately what little control I have. We spend so much time optimizing our vehicles that we forget to enjoy the ride. There’s some fantastic scenery along the way.

Be Intelligent For Your Users

December 10, 2017

I was talking with a friend yesterday about my experience with Apple’s AirPods and how, despite the price, they are one of the most magical pieces of technology I’ve ever used. You really wouldn’t expect a pair of headphones to delight you in this fashion.

It’s more of a feeling, so I can’t describe it perfectly. But it's by far my most futuristic self. It improves your day, and makes something you couldn't imagine being any simpler infinitely simpler. But surprisingly, the magic is in not just the hardware, but the content itself. It feels like raw information is entering your ear wirelessly through the ether, through some seamless sorcery. I’ll be on the bus or walking on my morning commute and a stream of knowledge (through podcasts) will be entering my ear directly. It doesn’t really feel like there’s technology involved. It's like a gush of wind blew in some high-fidelity wisdom. That’s why it’s magical.

But, there’s also the little things. If you’re listening to something, and you see someone next to you trying to say something, you naturally remove one of the heads from your ear and say “Pardon me?". Well, the first time I did this, the music stopped immediately on its own. When I put the pod back in my ear, the music resumed.

That was damn magical. And I was reflecting to my friend, that essentially, these things have no buttons whatsoever, so they’re forced to make decisions on our behalf and assume our intentions. By removing buttons, they’re forced to become intelligent for us. The iPhone X is a fantastic manifestation of this. It is by far the most magical iPhone device I’ve ever used, and so much of it has to do with the lack of the home button.

I really admire Apple’s ability to trap itself in a corner and come out with seemingly magic-based solutions. I don’t know of another company at this scale that’s able to constantly pull feats like this. Apple essentially removes variables from the environment—variables that millions of people depend on, mind you—and asks, how would this look now? And the solutions are often times stunning.

The grand lesson here is, how would you be forced to innovate if you were trapped in a corner? What kind of constraints can you create for your product that would force you to become intelligent for your users? The key seems to be removing decisions from the user and offloading that to intelligent assumptions. My friend noted that it’s easy to cross the line between intelligent assumptions and annoying, or even invasive, coercion. Indeed it is, but I imagine most products are so riddled with decision-making points that this line is no where in sight.

Really, it seems that the feeling of magic that Apple’s products so frequently create is based off their correct assumption of how I want to use their product, which saves me the time of figuring it out myself.

Not everything is a complex problem

December 9, 2017

I’ve found that the apparent complexity of a problem is proportional to the amount of time you’ve spent thinking about it. Which means, it’s easy to fall into a trap of turning a really simple problem into a difficult one simply by virtue of entertaining it too rigorously.

I’ll run into a problem sometimes, be it a personal or technical one, and immediately assume it to be a Hard problem. I’ll completely over-engineer a potential solution. This is more to do with my personal life than engineering, as I’ve been able to hone my simplistic approach to solving engineering problems over time. But for personal problems, over-complication is the name of the game.

This can easily turn into a daily occurrence if you don’t catch yourself. I’ll be feeling down one day, not feeling like working, and begin contemplating (or complicating) the nature of the problem. Do I lack proper incentives? Am I motivated? Am I losing my mojo? Perhaps I need to awake at an earlier time? Perhaps eat better? Perhaps I need to eat first then drink coffee then perform some physical exercise then step out of the house with my left foot before my right—perhaps this will solve my problem?

But na. That’s not it. It’s usually that I’m tired. Or worn out. And sometimes, you just won’t feel like working. That’s always ok.

Another complex problem for me will be, what am I going to get done tomorrow to ensure a constant stream of productivity? And I start designing some tasks in my head that over-engineer the purpose of any day. But it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like a solution. The real solution turns out to be, relax. This is not a hard problem.

This is such a common occurrence that I fail to come up with any concrete examples. But when a problem is so difficult, particularly a personal one, that you cannot fathom an agreeable solution to it, it usually means you’re over-complicating. There’s a simple answer right at your feet that you perhaps lack the conviction to pay mind to. But, when in doubt, start simple. That’ll usually be enough. Rarely is an overcomplicated solution the right solution.

You’ll get there faster if you slow down

December 8, 2017

I’ve spent a lot of time in the fast lane, traveling at speeds that are dangerous but feel good. Life in the fast lane is ultimately not a way to live. And when you find yourself drifting off from a comfortable 70mph and into the left most lane, you should really consider how much time you spend there.

The fast lane is when everything needs to be rushed. You’re perpetually running out of time to supersede your competitors or yourself. Everything needs to be finished yesterday, and you forgo any social priorities, like life and family, to get things done. Going so fast, your peripherals are completely blurred, and you fail to see the destruction you cause around you.

I’ve worked a majority of time under this fast-paced mindset of “I’m running out of time. I need to finish this immediately.” The problem of course is that “completing" software always exceeds the time you give it. You put on your racecar helmet, strap in your seatbelt, and say, I’m going to drive 100mph and get there in a week.

Of course, a week turns into two, and two turns into four. Before you know it, you’re still driving 100, and you’re two months in. Your rear bumper has fallen off. You’re running on two spare tires. Your passenger side rearview mirror is hanging on for dear life. And you’ve been going so fast, that you’ve passed up great people and an opportunity to live the nice life you’re speeding towards anyway.

In a word, speed is healthy in moderation, but not as a lifestyle. I know a friend who has been in the fast lane for the last six years, destroying relationships and forgoing a calm life to ship a product he thought would be finished in under a year. And really, the fact that he’s driving so fast contributes greatly to the perpetually missed deadline: you can’t comfortably and precisely steer a vehicle traveling 100mph. So you sort of just end up where the speed takes you, and it’s always towards chaos.

I told this dear friend that you might actually get there faster if you just slowed down for once. Take it easy. It’s taken you six years, but if you went at half the speed, you’d have double the product in half the time. You’d have held on to the people that mattered.

I speak of my friend, but I’ve spent my fair share of time in the fast lane, and can confirm that it’s no way to go about building products. You know you’re in the fast lane when you can’t seem to get yourself to step away from the problems. You have this one bug or feature, and you must complete it by the end of the day, no exceptions. So you skip lunch, you skip the date you had planned, and you work incessantly until 8pm, but figure out this still needs another 12 hours. So you repeat again tomorrow, driving at breakneck speeds and destroying your psyche in the process. Not only is it a poor lifestyle, it’s also a poor way to create quality in your products.

As for me, I’ve long merged into the middle lane. There are cars going faster than me on the left, and cars going slower than me on the right. But I’m able to enjoy my drive at a nice 70mph. I’m in full control of the steering, and can go left or right anytime I please. I easily walk away from problems and let both of us rest. It’ll still be here tomorrow. And when tomorrow comes, the problem is almost always easier to solve with a clear mind.

It turns out, if you slow down just a little bit, you might just get there faster.

Growth Articles That Make You Feel Small

December 7, 2017

I was speaking to a friend a few days ago about how frustrating it is to work really hard for months and months to make gradual progress, only to see some article about “How We Got 300,000 Users In 2 Days” or “How We Got To $1 Million Monthly Recurring Revenue Selling Toothpicks”, and other articles of this sort. You know the articles I’m talking about. They invalidate all the work you're doing and make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, or not doing enough.

I’ve been in this industry for many, many years and know, by fact, that startups struggle principally to attract users and to make money. They’re better at buying users and taking money a la venture capital. So, these sort of articles would confound me. On the one hand, I could simply discredit them by saying they’re not real, or fabricated, but that might be a “loserish” attitude towards something that I seemingly want for myself.

On the other hand, there is definitely something off about articles of this sort.

They all have the same format, don’t they? Nice, easy to read paragraphs no more than two sentences long. Fluctuating header styles, random boldness and italics sprinkled in, and a few fifth grade level line charts. This is the de-facto style of all SEO bloggers, which I’ve long been wary of. SEO bloggers tend to be what I consider scummy in their practices. It’s a sort of pyramid scheme. Their work essentially boils down to “How I Got 500,000 People To Read This Article”, which attracts you to reading it, and then counts your visit towards the headline. It’s all sort of a meta-recursive, self-ejaculatory pyramid scheme.

These easy-to-read high-result blog posts aren’t exclusive to SEO or marketing bloggers. I discredit any article or help post which counts my visit as a stroke to its grand ejaculation. But let’s instead consider articles with an honest nature written by seemingly honest people, that don’t have this format.

You have a nice guy or gal who doesn’t have a history of shady marketing practices, who has humbly put out a product to wild, wild success. The article is written honestly, has proper paragraph lengths, and doesn’t water down the reading to a fifth grade level. And in this article, this person claims to some hyperbolic result that is both inspiring and deflating—perhaps “How I Increased My Sales By 50,000% Overnight”.

Let me first say that articles like these are very hard to come by. I mean articles that are well-meaning, written honestly, and do not have some ulterior motive, like selling you the meta-product of growth for yourself. (As a rule, I discredit any articles about growth that aim to ultimately sell me growth.) These sort of honest articles are, by my browsing habits, the exception and not the rule. They do not trigger my bullshit alarm, but the results are so shocking, that I might have to work for the next five years to see similar results. And that’s sort of the goal, isn’t it? To make you feel like you’re doing something wrong,—very, very wrong. But let’s not be completely closed-minded: sometimes, we are very easily doing something wrong. Most times actually. But it’s important to be careful in how we approach articles that claim wild, exceptionary success.

So, I was telling this friend of mine that progress has been going pretty well since we last spoke. But, I mentioned, it doesn’t help the situation when every day I read some new article about how this person has made twenty million dollars in the time it takes me to make my morning coffee. Or how that person got a million users through some arcane marketing strategy with a touch of some Salt Bae level fashion.

My friend makes a funny, devilish look, as if he had figured it all out. He’s an entrepreneur himself, and has certainly come across the same species of articles. He said, “It’s important to recognize when someone is pitching a viable, reproducible marketing strategy (rare), and when someone is ‘backsolving’ their luck to make it seem non-coincidental.”

Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate.

“Well, it’s very easy to connect the dots looking back, isn’t it? Once an event happens, you can easily start connecting dots and telling a story. It’s what humans are good at.”

He mentioned the story of how he himself was able to solicit an external, six-figure contribution from a public company towards his startup without any working product—only an idea. And when I say “contribution”, I mean literally free, non-equity, non-debt based capital. He was a phenomenal salesman, and I myself attributed this legendary story to skill.

“You can easily contribute my results to some wicked skill, and I can easily connect some dots and backsolve to come up with a strategy for how you might do the same for your company. But the truth is, I got lucky. So many of the dots I’m connecting sound reasonable and reproducible, but happened by some chance encounter. I run in to this guy at this event who tells me to meet with this lady who tells me to email this person, and several traversals down this endless chain of events led to some magic. Could I try to inspire you and teach you how to do the same? Sure. But could I replicate my own results again with another company? Probably not. A lot of luck was involved.”

His message seemed to be, don’t discount luck in articles of success you see. Sure, often times there are nuggets of strategy you can observe and keep for yourself, but don’t approach these articles emotionally or enviously. If a person claims they grew an email list to half a million subscribers over night, and claims they can teach you to do the same, this is easily bullshit: this person could make a lot more money selling and performing this reproducible tactic to early startups and companies. Instead, they’re here trying to get you to give up your email for a “free no-bullshit eBook series on how to achieve similar results in half the time.” You can read and digest these articles, and suck out any bits of truth that might be helpful, but to be envious is to be mislead. To feel small is to be mislead. To feel like the work you’re doing is useless and pales in comparison is to be mislead.

The truth is, a lot of articles promising wild marketing success and growth are bullshit, and many more consist of backsolving luck. Very few honest, canonical articles remain that contain pure, reproducible strategy. Your goal is to differentiate between these three classes when reading an article, and to respond appropriately. There is something to be learned from all three classes of articles. But envy is not it. Self-deprecation is not it. What you want instead is to be a sort of neutral extraction algorithm designed to extract nuggets of strategy from articles of this sort. An algorithm is unemotional. It does not feel discouraged when an article is inflated. Instead, it seeks out the truths it has been trained to seek. And it throws away the rest. You can train your mental model to find whatever it is you seek, but as for me, my ruleset is:

  • If selling growth as a product, discredit almost completely.
  • If wild, exceptional results, then keep the luck factor in mind. Luck is inspiring just as well. The role of serendipity in our lives is something to be appreciated and humbled by. A feel-good story makes you feel good, and feeling good does good for you.
  • Of the little honest and reproducible content that remains, study extensively. Advice like this is typically buried in long books, as to not be saturated and already over-deployed in the market.

Ultimately, the only measure of how well you’re doing is, “Well, how do you feel you’re doing? Are you paying your bills? You getting sleep? You feel good about what you’re doing?” There is no objective measure to tell you if the progress you’re making is good. Yes, you can compare your progress to the progress of others, but progress is infinitely-faceted, and two comparisons are almost never valid.

When you want to know how well you’re doing, simply ask yourself.

Be absolutely resolute in what you do

December 6, 2017

When you’re doing something big, let’s say like approaching a big shot entrepreneur at a conference, or reaching out to someone via email and asking them for coffee, be absolutely resolute. Don’t wish-wash. Don’t waver.

In the past, I'd been so nervous reaching out to people that I would hide my request in a little “P.S.” at the bottom of the email. Here’s the kind of wimpy email I might have sent:

Hello Person,

[Some text about some previous work this person has done, and why I find it relatable. Sometimes a little too humbling.]

P.S. You don’t know me very well, but if you have time in the coming weeks, I’d love to have coffee and learn from your experiences.

You may not think it, but this email is pathetic. It lacks confidence, it lacks incentive, and most of all, it lacks resoluteness.

The email is of course a symptom of my inner self, and not just a writing problem. It wasn’t that I was particularly insecure, but that I sort of didn’t know what I wanted. Did I want to meet with this person? Maybe. Everyone else is saying you should meet with people. But I wasn’t entirely convinced. I was sort of just filling in. So my emails would reek of hesitation. And the rate of interest from recipients was equally wishy-washy.

Damn. I was hoping they would figure out for me if I actually wanted to meet with them.

Like I said, pathetic.

Doing things irresolutely is really bad, because you decrease your chance of success tremendously, and destroy your self esteem in the process. I would do things half-assed, get results that matched my pathetic effort, then be bummed out and discouraged to try similar things in the future.

What you want instead is full conviction behind every action. You want to leave no doubt in anything you do. If you’re going to reach out to someone you don’t know, you need to exude so much confidence as to humble the other person in prostration. I don’t mean arrogance. But some sort of indication that you know what you’re doing. Or at least know what you want.

Most importantly, don’t reach out to someone if you don’t know what you want just yet. Don’t throw a hail-mary hoping someone—anyone—will catch it. A hail-mary is an act of desperation. Desperation is the opposite of confidence. Desperation on you is like a snake with yellow stripes: it’s an indication to stay away.

When you know what you want, ask for it with all the conviction and confidence you can muster. Optimize for success, not chance.

You can send a pathetic email like the one I sent, and hope to get lucky, but odds are, you won’t, and you’ll have missed your opportunity to get what you want. Or, you can send an email with characteristics like this, and at least increase your chances by 25%:

Hello Estimable Colleague Who's Probably Pooping Right Now,

[bla bla bla]

I know you’re busy, but I’m confident we can greatly benefit from each other’s experiences. I’d love to learn more about x from you, and in return, it might be good for you to meet an entrepreneur building a budding company that shares a similar philosophy to you. Do you have time this week or next to...

It’s not perfect, but really, I’m trying to check off these characteristics:

  • No excuses (“You don’t know me very well”)
  • No wavering/hesitation/irresoluteness/vagueness (“If you have time in the coming weeks”)
  • Proper two-way incentives (i.e you get to learn from me as much as I learn from you)

Most of all, it’s firm. It’s resolute. I know what I want and I know that I want it. There’s no hesitation.

Really, the trick to all of life seems to be, if you exude confidence, people will consume it without question.

And, if you're sure of Newton's third law, then it would be a mistake to give it anything but your all.

Things vs. People

December 5, 2017

A new toy can only surprise you once. Or at most a few times, if it’s multifaceted. A diamond necklace will only surprise your wife once. A new house will only surprise you a few times before it slips into normalcy. A new car, just the same. A large sum of money, just the same.

The reason we desire things while they simultaneously empty us is because we know they will delight us at least once. But the magic fades quickly.

People, on the other hand, are infinitely surprising. They are infinitely dynamic. They are iridescent, and gleam a hundred different ways depending on how you shine the light. I’ve had friends for decades who still today surprise and delight me by their stories, jokes, embrace, and presence.

This is why we need people—why people are so much more important than things; why, when we have all the things, we still seek people. Nothing is as stimulating as human connection. Imagine being stranded on an island with an AI possessing the competence (or incompetence) of Siri—how quickly do you think you’ll go mad craving real human interaction? I cringe just thinking about the desolation.

As an engineer, I’ve deprioritized people in life and prioritized machines. Machines help turn me into a god (a supercilious one at that). People are puzzles that must be figured out. The choice has been easy. But profoundly limiting.

I never thought I’d say this, but:

You need people. You need people so effing bad.

Productivity of the soul

December 4, 2017

I was walking with my dog yesterday when I began contemplating on life’s hard problems, like “what am I going to do tomorrow?”

In the moment, it was a pressing question. Of most importance. I took it too seriously. I felt like I needed to have everything figured out about tomorrow. I felt that I needed to be productive. The right answer should have been something like “get some work done” or “make work for yourself if there isn’t work to do.” But I was in a good mood. So I took it easy on myself.

“I don’t know man. Read a book or something. Play some Rocket League.” And you know what? That felt like the right answer.

A lot of times, we are so focused on our task lists and our modern notion of productivity that we forgo productivity of the soul. I’m not sure what the soul is, but we can define it as sort of our emotional, immutable selves. It’s the unbreakable chain of our lineage from whence we came.

Productivity of the soul is the fuel for your main productivity. It’s the dimension behind your willpower. You can have a list of tasks that are easy to get done, but if your soul has not been productive lately, you will not have the fuel to complete even the simplest of tasks.

We already know, if not feel, that there’s something fundamentally off about our notion of productivity. We can feel it most times, but can’t always articulate it. We know that creating a dumb list of tasks and bearing some responsibility on our future selves does not always work. Yet we feel guilty when we are “unproductive”. We don’t view sitting down and doing nothing as productive, when really, it may be most productive of all.

Productivity of the soul. When your soul hasn’t been productive, you won’t feel like being productive either. The soul requires a task list just as well. Its requests are simple and rewarding:

  • Read a book, fiction or non
  • Play some video games
  • Play with the dog/cat
  • Call your mom
  • Have a conversation with another human
  • Scribble in a journal
  • Walk, run, or move
  • Lie down and be still

Really, productivity of the soul is anytime you’re not doing work off your main task list. But instead of feeling guilt and panic, you feel calmness and ease.

We tell ourselves we want to be successful so we can have the time to do these kinds of things guilt-free, but the fact is, you can do these things right now and find legitimate contentedness. Western productivity makes you feel guilty about it, but that’s only superficial. It’s learned, habitual behavior, and can easily be unlearned.

Having a productive soul fills up your fuel reserves and gives you what you need to do the “real” tasks you’ve been putting off.

I’ve enjoyed Jason Fried’s recent tweets about this topic:

Productivity is for machines, not for people. There’s nothing meaningful about packing some number of work units into some amount of time, or squeezing more into less. Think about how effective you’re being, not how productive you’re being.

and

If you’ve only got 3 hours of work to do on a given day, then stop. Don’t find 5 more to fill your day, just to stay busy or feel productive. Never feel bad about being done with something.

Joshua Bradley also writes: Efficiency is not the realm of the spirit. Productivity is strikingly at odds with creativity. But of the soul? To be creative is to have a productive soul.

Never ever play the What If game.

December 3, 2017

A reader on Medium responded to my post yesterday about doing the thing that scares you, and asked, what if you’re scared of death?

Hmm.

Well, I’m not sure if I have any advice about the topic of all topics, but, it might be important to differentiate between fear and worry.

I won’t use the official definitions, but we can try to break it down into casual sets. Let’s define fear as things you can do something about, and worries as things that are just sort of abstract panics about some future state.

I haven’t been able to conquer a lot of my fears, but my worries, those have been pretty easy. As a software developer, I love worries because you can sort of handle them and crush them remotely. You don’t need to go do anything. You just need to modify your internal state.

Worries can include things like:

  • What if I or a loved one dies tomorrow?
  • What if I lose my job?
  • What if my spouse is disloyal?
  • What if my company fails?

I think the common pattern between all worries is that they usually start with “What if”. And I only have one rule in life:

Never, ever play the What If game. Never.

If you play the What If game, you will always lose. Every single time. Because there are an infinite What If’s, and only one of you. You will be outnumbered and out-conquered. Never play the What If game. Simple as that.

Any time I’m speaking with a friend who expresses some sort of What If worry, I tease them and say: Stop right there. Do you realize that I can come up with a hundred what if scenarios to worry your mind after right now? Do you realize there are literally an infinite number of scenarios you can come up with that you can convince yourself are legitimate? Infinite. You’re just toying with one of them. Put it down. Walk away. Don’t play the What If game. You can’t win.

So, in the direction of worries, that’s the first strategy I employ. I never play the What If game. The moment a thought like that enters my mind, I laugh it off. I tell it, I’m not playing with you. Nice try.

Now, if a What If manages to pass through this filter, and seems a lot more credible than other What If’s, and I can’t seem to put it down, then I will employ another strategy. I learned this one from Emerson, and it’s stuck with me ever since. And it’s the realization that nothing can really hurt you. Nothing can leave you better or worse than it found you. The net result of all the events in your life tend to be very close to your average. If your average disposition is congenial, then even the scariest events imaginable, like death, will have a hard time fluctuating you.

Emerson lost both his wife and baby son, and writes:

In the death of my son, now more than two years ago, I seem to have lost a beautiful estate,—no more. I cannot get it nearer to me. If tomorrow I should be informed of the bankruptcy of my principal debtors, the loss of my property would be a great inconvenience to me, perhaps, for many years; but it would leave me as it found me,—neither better nor worse. So is it with this calamity: it does not touch me: some thing which I fancied was a part of me, which could not be torn away without tearing me, nor enlarged without enriching me, falls off from me, and leaves no scar. It was caducous. I grieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carry me one step into real nature.

He seems to have found that like fear, worry is just another illusion. It’s not real. It’s just as shallow as fear. It leaves him no better or worse than it found him.

Aside from the understanding that nothing can really harm you, and what is scary in thought harms you not, I try to employ another strategy that weakens my worries. It involves befriending them.

I imagine the worst thing that can happen, the thing that worries me the most. I then play out that thing occurring. And I start building a life around it. What if I lose my job tomorrow? Well, that would be pretty great because maybe I’d have a week of bumming around, which may lead me to discovering a new side project. Maybe a little bit of adversity also teaches me a lesson or two? It’s not like I’m going to starve, right? This one’s easy. This one’s so easy, that at some point during actual employment, I began to look forward to this alternate life I built in my head.

What if I or a loved one dies tomorrow? Well, as for me, if I personally die, then I’m dead, and there’s no grief about it. I won’t be alive to be sad about it. I’m sad for my family of course, but I’m dead, so…moving on. What used to get to me more is the thought of the death of a loved one. And while never easy, it’s important to block this one from entering through in the first place using the What If filter. If it gets through, then you can either approach it like Emerson, who has lived to tell the tale that even something as tragic as the death of both his wife and son left him ultimately no better or worse than it found him. Or you can approach it from “building an alternate life” in your head in which you still find meaning in the event of a tragedy.

I think a really good way to sum this all up is:

You’re gonna be fine lol.

The “lol" there is important. It’s sort of like when a naive or younger friend messages you about some worry he or she has, and you, being older or more wise and having been through a hundred similar experiences and lived to tell the tale, respond simply with an omniscient “You’re gonna be fine lol”.

It’s a sort of contentedness with the difficulty of life. It’s going to be ok. Ray Dalio writes in his book Principles that the death of his mother was one of the most tragic events in his life, but when he thinks about her now, he smiles.

That gave me some comfort. From knowing to never play the What If game, to the Emersonian insight of nothing can really harm you, to Dalio’s smiling retrospective, it seems like everything's going to be just fine.

And if that doesn’t help, then surely this will.

Immediately do the thing that scares you. Immediately.

December 2, 2017

A note to future self:

Immediately seek out and do the thing that scares you. The moment you notice you are afraid of something, seek it out, and destroy it.

Fear spreads like cancer. It is disease of the heart and mind. If you remain fearful of something, you will always feel small. You will always feel conquered. You will always feel held back.

Immediately seek out your fears and conquer them. Immediately.

Fear is not real. And that’s what you must prove to yourself, every time. When you seek out your fears and do the thing that scares you, you enjoy one of the most transcendent experiences a human can undergo. It is one of the rare occasions where instantaneous growth and healing occurs.

Doing that thing which scares you is the greatest experience you’ll ever have. It is medication like no other.

Seek out the thing that scares you and demolish the illusion it imprints on your mind. Unplug the projector. See that it’s not real. See that the fear was irrational. All fear is.

When you detect you are afraid of something, immediately conquer it. Waste no time. Waste not a day. Every second you delay is a thousand years of internal cancerous growth. Some people will let a fearful thought linger and fester in their mind for years, at which point, they become so comfortable with their tumorous protrusion, that they begin fearing the eradication of the fear itself. It becomes all they know.

The longer you wait, the harder it will be.

Seek out the thing that scares you, and do it. Immediately.

Afraid of public speaking? Immediately seek out a platform to give a public speech. Immediately. It will be the greatest experience of your life.

Fearful of reaching out or connecting with this or that person? Immediately seek them out and have a conversation. Immediately. It will be the greatest experience of your life.

Fearful of being spontaneous or of imperfection? Immediately seek out an imperfect performance and publish it. Immediately. It will be the greatest experience of your life.

When something scares you, do not let it conquer you. Do not let it overrun your life. Because make no mistake about it: it absolutely intends to, and will succeed 99.999% of the time. Immediately seek out the thing that scares you and do it. Conquer it before it conquers you. It will be the greatest experience of your life.

100% chance of failure

December 1, 2017

If you were 100% sure you were going to fail at whatever your current venture is, how might that change your actions today? I asked myself this yesterday. There are lots of competing cultures swirling in my mind regarding how I view success and failure. On the one hand, there’s the optimistic Disney or Steve Jobs mindset of Follow your dreams and It’s all going to work out in the end. On the other hand is the raw, neutral, statistical stance of Your venture is more likely to fail than not.

These two ideologies constantly compete for prominence in my mind, and it confuses the hell out of me. I fear however that the Disneyland mindset has trumped the “realistic” mindset. Which is not always a bad thing. Sometimes you need blind optimism when you’re completely in the dark. It’s the only thing that can get you out the other side. Too much blind optimism, however, can be lethal.

The everything will work out in the end mindset tends to make me lazy. It makes me think I don’t need to work as hard. I’m not as desperate. I take my time. I’ll figure this out, I say. It changes the intensity of my actions. I take things slow.

But what if an oracle told me that six months from now, my venture is going to go up in flames? How might that change how I act?

I imagine that would change my actions entirely. I’d be full of desperation. I’d do things I never thought I would. I’d reach out and/or beg people for help, rather than wait on my self for answers. Simply put, I would do everything in my power to prevent the realization of that prophesy.

I’d take on the “nothing to lose” mindset, which can be recklessly, but necessarily, powerful. It’s sort of like asking, if you had six months to live, how might that change your actions? How might that change how you treat yourself and others?

And so I wish I knew. I wish I knew for sure if I’m destined for failure. That would be the whip I need. The cold splash of water on my face. The exact catalyst I’m looking for.

But instead, here I lie like Schrödinger's cat, in a superpositioned state of both success and failure. If I knew for sure, it would change everything. But alas, the mystery is the meat of the game.

Why is success scary?

November 30, 2017

I’ve written a lot as of late about the fear that I have and the courage I lack. It’s weird how it’s chosen to manifest itself at such a critical point. You see, I had thought that, given some luck, success was sort of automatic: you do the work, you grow, and you become outwardly successful. I didn’t expect there would be emotional treachery involved.

I became stumped some weeks ago when given a few opportunities to advance my growth, I chickened out. I straight up cowered in fear. And more than scare me, it confused me. Why am I scared? This is what you wanted, isn’t it? We always speak of “hard work” as the necessary ingredient people lack and that which holds unsuccessful people back. You don't hear too often of people being held back by their fear of being successful.

I studied this reservation within me intensely. Why am I scared? Are you freaking kidding me? You come this far and stop at fear? Unacceptable. This is why I spoke of the need to make changes in the last few posts.

I asked a friend his thoughts, and he agreed.

“It’s objectively scary. When you have a mediocre life, nothing is expected of you.”

And I guess that’s sort of a large part of it. The spotlight is scary. My entire life I’ve spent trying to avoid it. I don’t like attention. And I’m socially reserved exactly for this reason. When you gain momentum of success, it means more people will start paying attention to you. More people will expect things of you. And that scares poor little me.

It’s amazing to what extent my subconscious will carry out actions in my life. How does it go undetected for so long? It manifests itself in so many other ways. It takes a while before you really start understanding who's in the driver's seat. There’s a sort of latency of consciousness involved.

I, and probably many of you, don’t like being disliked. And I’ve found that the more effort you place in being outwardly, in trying to attract attention to what you may be doing, the more unwanted attention you get as well. Suppressing unwanted attention in my life has been pretty easy: just stay inside, both mentally, and to some extent physically. When it comes to being entrepreneurial, staying inside won’t work. You need to get out of your shell.

"If you want to be liked, be poor.” A pithy aphorism, but my friend is right again. If you want the easy life, if you want nothing to be expected of you, if you want to be well liked and be the recipient of emotional charity, be as little as you can possibly be.

If you want more for yourself, prepare to head into the eye of the storm. Prepare to be the target of unwanted attention, ridicule, and mockery. Prepare to be emotionally unstable. Prepare to fight your fears and demons every single day.

I wasn’t prepared. I went onto the battlefield with only a paintbrush, thinking a few artistic strokes here and there was all I needed. It turns out, it requires a hero’s courage. A wild audacity. From where shall I acquire these tools? No idea. But at least now I know what I’m looking for.

I enjoy struggling too much

November 29, 2017

This is a hard one to cope with. On the one hand, when I’m struggling, I try to make changes that decrease my level of struggling. Then, when my struggles have decreased, I become so bored, that I want to undo all the changes I made so that I begin to struggle again.

This is seriously messed up. But it makes sense. The struggle is an indication of work and progress. It is a very explicit feeling. Not struggling doesn’t feel like anything at all. I enjoy struggling, and it would be damned near perfect if it were not for one thing: the struggle takes me out of the real world.

It makes me forget my social priorities. I become a recluse. I forego social interactions. When I’m in the midst of the struggle and a friend reaches out, I’ll say sorry, not now. The result after several, several years of the struggle is a life so focused on solving problems, that outside of that world is a barren landscape I cannot bear spending more than a few days in.

There are some advantages to focusing less on problem-solving and more on real-world affairs. I become more sociable. I go out more. And, by some impressive sorcery, I’ll initiate contact with friends. Their reaction is of shock. I might even call my mom. Gasp! I’ll visit my parents more, I’ll take my wife out to a nice dinner, I'll answer my phone. It's great.

And get this—I’ll make plans. During the struggle, if today is Thursday and you ask me, hey, want to do something on Saturday, I’ll freak. “Saturday?? Are you out of your mind? That’s 48 hours away! You expect me to commit to a plan today, Thursday, as to what should happen Saturday? Who knows what problems I’ll need to solve Saturday! Sorry. I’ll let you know Saturday morning.” Saturday comes around, and plot twist!—no can do.

Planning paralysis. I absolutely cannot commit to plans for the near or distant future. I need to keep my calendar open for the struggle.

After a point of too much struggling, I begin to feel suffocated. I’ll have not left the house for weeks on end. You’ll have not heard from me in months. And I begin to feel lonely. I begin to feel, this is no life. So I’ll start making changes. I need to focus more on improving my real-world health, and less on solving problems and making progress.

And so I do.

But never for long. The struggle is too addicting. I always come scratching back like a withdrawing crack addict.

Hey man, *scratches neck furiously* ...got some more of that struggle?

What is true, and what is beautiful.

November 28, 2017

Some weeks ago, I found myself tinfoiled by the question of the objective vs. subjective nature of reality. I was so endlessly obsessed with trying to understand, what is the true nature of the world, as opposed to the nature of the world from my perspective? It sounds like a meaningless question, and probably is, but is extremely fascinating.

At first, it was just an amusing thought. Later it would grow into a behemoth that occupied a great percentage of my working CPU. My friend was also fascinated by this question, and we talked about it at some length.

The question itself is increasingly scientific, especially in fields of quantum physics, whereas in the past it may have just been metaphysical. It asks, if every conscious organism in the universe ceased to exist, what would the universe look like? What would it sound like? What would be its purpose? Would it even exist?

And while this question troubled me, to my friend, it was not the slightest bit troubling. He approached it from a different perspective. He spoke of Terrence McKenna, who quoted Plato who said something along the lines of:

The Good, what is it?
Tricky, tricky…tricky.

The True, what is it?
Trickier…even trickier.

The Beautiful, what is it?
The Beautiful is EASY.

The beautiful of course is our subjective interpretation of our world. And while there may be endless contemplation to its objective nature, what is beautiful—this we inherently feel and understand. There is no inner turmoil about it.

When you focus on trying to solve the unsolvable, you’re in for a world of pain. Heading in that direction is great if your title ends in PhD. For casual mortals like me, there is great peace to be found in what is beautiful.

In that direction, I already know the answers to everything.

Life doesn't like to be observed

November 27, 2017

There’s a strange part of the modern, scientific human being that likes to observe the world and its functioning. If something good happens, we say, how do we make more good things happen? We try to deduce it to an exact science. You might also find me contemplating, as in previous posts, things like “nature rewards this or that” or “life tends to act this way or that”. The reality of course is these are dumb, blind guesses, and are at best bizarre personifications of a world whose “true nature” we know little about.

I’ve noticed the more I try to observe the world and try to extract patterns and deduce aphorisms, the more I wind up hurting myself. Perhaps it’s subtle, but if you lean too much on one angle, you’ll fall quickly when it’s taken away or reshuffled. We tend to ignore that the external world is changing just as quickly as our internal one.

Emerson writes:

Nature does not like to be observed, and likes that we should be her fools and playmates. We may have the sphere for our cricket-ball, but not a berry for our philosophy. Direct strokes she never gave us power to make; all our blows glance, all our hits are accidents. Our relations to each other are oblique and casual.

Life likes to be lived. It’s sort of a respect for its “realness”. When you begin to question whether you are in a simulation or whether the universe is lazy-loaded—or, more grandly, when you begin to try to inspect the source code of the world—it’s a sort of pervertedness of trying to look down nature's blouse. She doesn’t like it. She much prefers you play her game instead.

So, you’ll probably see less contemplations from me in the near future of the “mysterious inner-workings of the improbable universe” and more of who knows what.

When you're stuck, bash things together.

November 26, 2017

I’ve been stuck in a loop of non-progress for some time. Things are going well, but not as well as I’d like (I’m pretty sure that remains the case at every level of progress). In any case, the hardest part of building something new, especially a company, is that the road is unpaved. There are no signs, other than a few warning and “Dead End” signs here and there.

I’ve found myself extremely stuck as of late. Not knowing what to do next. I’ve scoured through books, through the web, through my mind, and have found some direction, but not enough. My questions are so particular, that I feel there’s really no way to solicit help from anyone. This of course is a problem of its own: when you’ve gone too deep, and the questions become so abstract and particular that you don’t even know up from down anymore, it’s time to step away from the problem. When you’re solving a problem that’s impossibly hard, it’s best to wait until the problem represents itself in a simpler form.

But of the most fundamental problem—what to do next?—where does one begin? This problem reappears at every level of entrepreneurship, if not life, and is one I struggle with more than any other problem.

What. Do. I. Do. Next.

This question aches every centimeter of my body. I feel nothing but pure resistance to it, because of its paradoxical nature. Imagine being in the center of an underground tunnel system, except, there are no outlets. The walls are made of dirt, and in order to move forward, it’s not a matter of choosing left or right, but instead, you need to dig a passage through any of the thousand options.

What’s the right answer?

If you approach it like this, you’ll be paralyzed of inaction. There is no right answer, or if there was, contemplation is not the right shovel. Instead, you better begin digging in a direction—any direction—and repeat until you find the tunnel that feels like progress to you.

This is what entrepreneurship is like. Instead of forks in the road, there is no road—there are just walls encircling you, and you must chisel at some arbitrary direction in order to move.

I think I’m beginning to understand that, when you’re stuck, and you’re not sure what to do next, the only possible answer is: try as many different things as possible. Create new reactions. Observe the effects. Repeat. Grow. Observe. Study. Repeat. Grow.

That’s sort of the evolutionary method: it doesn’t really know where it’s going. Instead, it tries things, and if beneficial, enlarges that trait, and if detrimental, phases out the trait. This is the nature of the universe at large, isn't it? We've sort of been trained to think "there is a right way, I just need to figure out what it is." When really, the nature of the universe is smashing things together until something acceptable happens.

This is a grand revelation to me, because I have been stuck in a loop of doing the same things over and over again expecting unique results, and am shocked when nothing new happens. Not only that, I’m adamantly resistant to new experiences that don’t have a direct, obvious yield. I’ll only do things if I can measure their immediate results. This sort of mathematical approach to problem-solving will yield some results, but has a very low upper limit.

What you want instead is a sort of chaotic, serendipitous method of progress-making. I know a business-minded guy that would jump at every “want to have coffee” opportunity that came his way, and it confounded me. “Aren’t you afraid it would be a waste of time?” I would always ask. But now I get it. He was experimenting. He wasn’t being biased. He was creating experiments, and studying their reactions.

As for me, I'm putting away my contemplation chisel and putting on my safety goggles. When you’re stuck, and don’t know what to do next, bash things together until a reaction occurs that you’re happy with. Then head in that direction. Rinse, lather, repeat.

A vision for how life should be

November 25, 2017

A hopeless in love friend was oozing his worries yesterday, and said in the most beautifully tragic way:

I have this vision for how my life should be. And my real life doesn’t match it.

If there’s anything I uselessly specialize in, it’s letting worriers know that they are symptoms. You are never ever alone in how you feel. You are a statistic, and odds are, most other people feel this way too.

Even more hopelessly, I replied is this not the human condition?

I reflect on this now because of how beautifully sad that original statement was. And how relatable it is. That vision, those images we see play in our minds of how our life should be—that’s the driving force of our inner evolution. It’s like being totally happy with your current iPhone and then seeing the new iPhone X and not being happy until you acquire such physical sorcery. Once you see it, it ruins everything you love about the present.

I’ve always thought, but hold no substantial evidence of or scientific backing for, that this sort of fundamental “visioning” we play out in our mind is a fundamental property of all biological life. All life evolves, and we’re sort of mystified by it. But given the fractal nature of the universe, we need not look any further than the process of our own evolution to understand how it happens at every level.

And if our consciousness evolves through wanting, through seeing a different version of ourselves, then perhaps it is not too farfetched to say that the fundamental unit of life is ambition. Surely you can’t quantify the ambitiousness of a cell in your body, but I believe what holds for you holds for me, and what holds at one level holds at every level.

All this to say, the way you feel regarding your health, your wealth, your work, and your future, is symptomatic of the times and tied closely to the health and wealth of the entire system. You are never alone.

This sounds like common sense now, but I did not understand this concept well until my early twenties, when I began to develop the partial lens to understand what the hell Emerson was talking about, like all the time.

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—— and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.

Emerson in "Self-reliance"

Of the ground, and of the Sun

November 24, 2017

What comes from the ground is grounding. This much I’ve learned. It’s tethering. The ground produces some of the most addicting products we consume (well, it produces all the products we consume, but). Food, fruits, vegetables, alcohol, marijuana, mushrooms, coffee, tea, tobacco—they all come from the same place, and all seem to share a common property: they are grounding. They bring you into the earth.

But I don’t want to be pulled in. What is the 21st century human being if not a beacon of outward exploration? Of space, of solar, of science. We are departing the ground. We are developing our own world. We desire to go up. Yet Earth tries to bring us down, and uses every trick up its sleeve. We were made to ascend, yet find ourselves overwhelmed by the grounding forces on this planet. The sun, the planets, and the wonders of space levitate our consciousness into higher order, but the ground pulls us back.

I’m untethering. I want to cut the cord. I want to go solar. Pure, raw, unadulterated, scientific energy. Because I know what I want, and where I want to be. Grounded, is not it. I’m of the exploring sort, yet spend no time exploring substantial reality. I get sucked in by grounding energy and make myself a nice comfortable abode. I like it here, I say. This is comfortable. I find some pleasant truths and make some cute progress. But this isn’t it. I’m shackled. I feel it, but ignore it. I’m grounded by reality's loop which I’ve mistaken for my life.

Then there is solar energy—the purest form of sustenance mankind has ever known. Solar invigorates. Solar cleanses. Solar challenges. Solar comes from above. It’s not grounding, like everything else we know. Solar is powerful. It’s the unadulterated human being. The conquerer of worlds. Who has heard of a rooted tree taking substantial claim to the outside world? Grounding sources of energy seem to want to make you part of the ground. Solar energy guides you up and away, like a tree extending its branches to meet the sun.

Ground energy is all I know. And I think I’ve seen enough. My compass is recalibrating. And it’s pointing upwards. I check my gauges. My escape velocity is just enough. My fuel is running low but is plenty to get where I’m going.

Of the ground, one falls prey to being coiled and tethered. Of the sun, of space, is pure infinity.

The Courage That I Lack

November 23, 2017

I've been telling myself that I am not afraid. And therefore any mismatch between the progress I'm making and the progress I want to be making is due to a datetime imbalance, and not some sort of inhibition.

I may have been partly right. But also very partly wrong. Perhaps I am not afraid of many of the things I choose not to go after. I am not afraid of meeting people, yet I always tend to stay inside my head. I am not afraid of talking to people, yet I always prefer to avoid small talk. I am not afraid of trying new things with an open mind, yet my experiences for the past year have been anchored on the usual. I say I'm not afraid, but if not fear, there seems to be something else holding me back.

Courage.

I seem to be lacking it. This is a great word, and one I don't seem to actively use in my mental vocabulary. When I speak, or think, or write, I may use the word "fear" extensively, I may use the word "ambition" or "inhibitions". But never do I recall conceptualizing courage. Even in popular American culture, we speak of conquering our fears frequently, but courage seems to be a sort of Eastern/Chinese concept.

Sure, I may not be fearful of meeting new people or experiencing new, inconvenient things, but I lack the courage to do so. Courage is officially defined as the ability to do things that frighten you, but to me, it's something else. Courage is a bold brew of energy. You can conquer all your fears but still lack courage. It's sort of like the second level to fear. Fear II.

I'm just beginning to explore the world of courage. So I have no results or anecdotes. I was reading Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris (a great collection of advice from experienced people) and the word kept popping out at me. And the second I read it, I felt an instant connection. It filled up a certain part of me that was empty. And I knew instantly that courage is what I had been lacking.

I'm struggling to write this post. How can someone who has just discovered they lack courage write anything about it? But there’s just something about what it means to me that makes it the perfect ingredient to the imperfect recipe I’ve been concocting. I’m trying to define in words the chemicals I feel when I utter the word courage, but I’m at a loss.

Courage is..

It’s..

Hmm..

It’s..

Let’s see. It’s sort of big. It’s full of grandeur. When I think of courage I think of a warrior. I think of Chinese folklore. Courage is bigger than fear. It’s bigger than ambition. It’s bigger than us. Courage is the human inhabiting a larger space than themselves.

Courage is a sort of audacity. Courage is to be small, but do big. Courage is not so far off from YOLO. They seem to share similar vibes.

I guess, now that I think about it, courage can best be defined as: stop being a little bitch and get out there.

How do you define courage?

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.

— Anais Nin

Why You're Resistant to Being Productive

November 22, 2017

A friend was telling me yesterday that he’s been struggling to get daily tasks done. He’d rather just put them off. But this friend might as well be me, or probably you. Sometimes we go through periods of absolute demolition of our daily tasks, but other times, we go through seemingly longer periods filled with reluctance to work.

In observing this behavior in myself in the past, I’ve noticed that it usually comes down to three reasons why I don’t feel like doing the work I should clearly be doing. The way I’ve been able to observe it and get at its root is because it felt physical. There was a definite obstruction preventing me from doing the work. I could squeeze and squeeze, but could not get past this obstruction. What gives? For me, it’s always one of:

1. I don’t care about the work

This is a hard one and one that I’ve battled with constantly throughout my life. This was especially hard in college where I could not summon a single fuck to give. I couldn’t care less of the topics, and I was always entangled in some side hobby that was far more interesting. If you don’t care about the work, you’re not going to feel like doing it, no matter what productivity system you have in place. The moment you begin caring about the work, you’ll get tasks done so quickly that a productivity system might even be a hindrance (an exaggeration of course, but it truly does become automatic).

Unfortunately, there is no workaround for this one. If you don’t care about the work, it’s going be a long and agonizing journey to completing this task and its descendant tasks in the future. The only solution I’ve found is to find a new line of work altogether.

2. I'm not sure how doing that work will take me to the next step

We are future-minded beings after all. You have someplace you want to be in the future. There are things you need to do today. If you can’t draw a direct line between the present task and where you want to be in the future, you’re going to have a hard time summoning the will to complete the task.

This one can be solved through brainstorming: you need to find a way to draw a line from this point that you’re stuck at to where you want to be. As soon as you connect the dots, you can begin to find meaning in your tasks, and feel like you’re working towards a goal.

3. I'm not sure what I would do after I finish that work (what the next step is)

This is the hardest one of them all to detect. Because you like the work. You know what your long term goals are. But you just don’t know what you would do after you finish this task. So this innate friction arises. This happens to me mostly in releasing software. I love building software. And of course I have a long term goal of building a successful software product. But in the moment, I’m not sure what I would do after I release the project. And until I figure out what that next step is, there’s going to be huge friction to move forward.

This one is probably the easiest to solve: just figure out the next few tasks after this task. If all you have on your to-do list is “Release project”, you’re never going to release. If instead you have:

  • Release project
  • Email 10 journalists about it
  • Post on Product Hunt
  • Reach out to first 5 users

Then you’re going to have a lot easier time, since releasing the project wouldn’t be an existential dead-end. It’ll just be the beginning of your future.

The Final Reason

If you’ve gotten all three of these potential productivity resistors already locked in place, but still find yourself unproductive, you may just simply be tired. I know this was the case with me a few weeks ago. I had been working so hard that I was simply out of fuel. A few days recharge did the trick.

While we were made to work, there is an entire economy of resources residing in our bodies, a lot of it beyond our immediate control. Rather than taking the advice of another person in matters of personal productivity, just listen to yourself. What are your whispers saying? Ask yourself “Why am I not doing the work I should clearly be doing?” and listen to the answers your mind starts shouting. The right answer will always be echoed. It’s just a matter of listening.


If you've found your own methods for dealing with productivity reluctance, I'd love to hear from you. Please get in touch via Twitter or email.

A class of internet-developing humans

November 21, 2017

The question of the random vs. non-random nature of our existence in essence asks: what part of our lives has meaning, and what part is chaos theory? I tend to think that science ascribes too much randomness to our world, while religion and spirituality ascribe too much meaning. But, as a friend of mine says, it is the job of each of those fields to specialize. Science specializes in eliminating meaning, and allows it to focus on what removing that lens makes the world look like. Religion specializes in ascribing meaning to almost everything, and yields interesting, different results.

I was reflecting yesterday on where we find ourselves in 2017, and the hundreds of thousands of years of human and cultural evolution that got us here. And I found it extremely odd that given the infinite twists and turns, the infinite possibilities for how this could have turned out, reality instead converges onto a set of people that develop an instantaneously-connecting technology that shrinks the world down to milliseconds apart. I find it odd that given the infinite possibility for randomness, a class of humans emerge that develop speed-of-light networking technology, similar to underground networks of mycelium strings that puppeteer the natural world.

I find it extremely suspicious given the infinite possibility for chaos, disorder, and absolute incoherence, that we instead develop mathematical and physical theories that allow us to distort our world to enhance communication (and it's always communication technologies that we seem to develop first, isn't it?). The Earth eerily seems to be developing a sort of mind, and we are its brain cells.

Given the infinite possibilities, I find it increasingly non-random that we seem to be developing a world of inherent meaning, rather than associated meaning. I don’t think the argument of “you’re just seeing patterns or meaning where really it truly is just random” applies to internet-developing human beings. You could have said that perhaps at past points in human history when we were doing nothing with our lives (though I’m not sure we were ever doing nothing), but what’s happening now, this,—this is inherently meaningful. And I’m not sure I can continue to let science convince me otherwise.

The Capitalism Squeeze (or, No One's Happy)

November 20, 2017

Have you ever heard of a company or startup having more labor resources than they know what to do with? I’ve never heard such a thing. Instead, every employee, every company owner, and every story I hear is riddled with The Great Squeeze: human resources are squeezed far beyond their breaking point, and hiring more is detrimental to the bottom line.

The result of the squeeze is unhappy laborers in every corporation around the world. You must complete eighty hours worth of work in forty (the result is of course eighty hours of work). The emotional cost is unbearably high. A friend of mine complains that in his role as a middle-manager in a billion dollar corporation, his store is perpetually under-resourced, and he is given no budget to bring on help. Every last dollar is squeezed out of every oozing corner by remote executives who view employees as a line item rather than delicate souls.

But this is all by design. For a capitalist to view his labor as a pool of delicate souls would surely harm his bottom line. So, by all accounts, this is working—for the capitalists.

For the laborers, for the employees—the great squeeze pushes them to their absolute limit, far beyond the point of total madness. Yet they are urged to press even further. I recommend no solutions in this short post. I’m only an observer. Capitalism is great for the entrepreneurial-minded, which I tend to resonate with. So I enjoy certain aspects of it. I enjoy that one can build something from scratch, and found an empire around it. That companies exist today with more capital than many world governments combined is a fascinating occurrence.

I don’t enjoy however watching my friends and family torn down every day to their absolute core. My friends in the medical field complain that they are required to be so business-minded, that their incentives forbid them from spending any reasonable time with their patients whatsoever. The system truly benefits no one but the capitalists themselves.

Again, I don’t have any solutions. And it’s all too often we complain today about needing to replace systems without thinking through the consequences or alternatives. Systems are solutions to problems. They are not solutions to every problem. I don’t need to sell you on the fact that there is no such thing as a system that solves all problems. Instead, we need to ask, what is capitalism good at, and what is it bad at? Capitalism excels in growth and wealth creation, and has been a fantastic solution to that problem. Empathy and good will? It’s not so good at that.

To my friends who read this who are affected daily by the Great Squeeze, know that you are not alone. Know that in fact, 99% of the world feels the same pain you do. And know that, unfortunately, no one person or entity is to blame. There is no scapegoat here. This system has produced countless wonders, but again, is not some magical panacea that optimizes for every problem. This system was specifically optimized for growth, and in that direction has produced fantastic results. It wasn’t optimized for your feelings.

At some point, I suspect we will achieve such endless growth at a human cost so high, that we step back and begin to reconsider our cancerous priorities. Whether this happens in our lifetime remains to be seen, but the pillars holding up this system are beginning to show great signs of distress.

Giving fate a chance to intervene

November 19, 2017

I’ve been under the weather for the past few days. The world must have read what I said about being twistedly envious of Charles Darwin’s extended sicknesses and took it literally. As shitty as it feels, it has allowed me to finally take a small, much needed break. Yesterday was the first day in probably a year that I did no work at all.

I’ve gotten into a rhythm of listening to podcasts when I can instead of music. Typically I go through a podcast phase once every year or so, before deciding I’ve been intaking too much information and need a break. Joe Rogan’s podcast has been hitting the spot for me. He brings on a variety of guests from different backgrounds and has wildly stimulating conversations. The amazing part is, Rogan never asks questions, like in a typical interview. He never says “So, you’re a mathematician—tell me about math.” Instead, he’ll just start blabbering about some random current event and finds a way to flow it from there.

The most recent one I listened to was with Dan Carlin of Hardcore History. Dan Carlin and Joe Rogan combined in one podcast is the meeting of two legendary podcasters. Dan’s insight on current events and history, especially that of the Middle East, is extremely fascinating and enlightening. I highly recommend giving it a listen.

They talked at some length about, essentially, quitting your shitty job to go do something you’re passionate about instead. And Dan said something I really liked. He said that when you take action towards your goals or dreams—any action—you give fate a chance to intervene. I’ve always suspected that as hostile as the universe may be, it does want us to succeed (as a whole at least). And so when you take one step towards your goals, or an action, there is an equal and opposite reaction on the part of the universe. The universe will never ever make her actions obvious, as to arouse suspicion. We call it luck, or fate, or chance, but in reality, these are the mechanisms the world employs to help you grow from a tiny seedling into a colossal tree.

But here’s the thing: because of nature’s desire to be sneaky and not leave any clues, it’ll never help you if you don’t at first help yourself. When you help yourself, and receive some good will back from the world, you associate it with your effort, and thus nature has you fooled into thinking you are growing by your own accord, when in reality there are a million forces acting on your world to make it expand.

All that to say, when you take action in the direction of your goals, you give fate a chance to intervene. If however you remain indolent and idle, for nature to help you then would surely violate her principle of suppressing suspicion. Put another way, this amounts to “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” Both of these combined work based on the assumption that nature has good intentions for its inhabitants, which I absolutely believe it does. We’ve made it this far, haven’t we?

Reality optimizes for the whole, not just you.

November 18, 2017

This one is fascinating to me. Someone I follow on Twitter liked a tweet someone else posted, and that tweet was a picture of Ray Dalio’s book called “Principles”. I had never heard of Ray Dalio before, but apparently he made Forbes’s 100 richest people (17 billion USD net worth) through an investment firm called Bridgewater Associates. Ray himself is an intellectual, and so far his book is extremely fascinating. He takes a very iterative and evolutionary approach to self-improvement.

The screenshot that got me interested in the book captured a passage that said:

Reality is optimizing for the whole—not for you. Contribute to the whole and you will likely be rewarded.

And that instantly blew my mind. Because this was an unresolved area in my life. Who does nature reward? Why do some people “make it” and others don’t? Does nature favor some over others? I never made any progress on these questions, and just hoped for the best.

But when I read that, it clicked—nature, or reality, or the universe, or god, or time, or whatever, optimizes for the whole, and not just me. I no longer had to wish to be lucky, or hope that nature chooses me as one of its favorites. No—all I have to do is essentially figure out what the world is optimizing for, and board that train. At that point, you’re in the hands of mathematics and market economics, and rewards are no longer this mysterious, prayer-based system.

This quote perfectly answers why reality chooses to reward some and not others. Basically, you have to ensure you’re not only contributing to the system, but contributing to the right problems. This understanding immediately closed the circle for me.

I’m not yet sure what practical implications this will have. On the one hand, I’m glad to be working on a problem that the world seems to be selecting for (privacy and thought-management). The scary part is keeping track of when reality changes what it's optimizing for. I imagine that once you’re already on one train going 100mph, it’s hard to get off and board another. Which explains why large companies are so susceptible to disruption.

The moral of the story seems to be: pay attention.

Memories of Winter

November 17, 2017

The memory of winter is always the same for me. It’s always difficult in an emotional sort of way. The memories themselves are clear, but the times while they pass are hazy. I’m always half sleepy during winter, and thus only half myself. Maybe it takes adjusting to. But memories of winter are always dark.

There are memories of working on other projects years and years ago from my bedroom in my parent’s house. That was, during the moment the most profound era of my life, but retrospectively a dark and challenging time. There was the memory of starting several different employment jobs, which all for some reason began during the winter. I could never manage to summon happiness during times of employment.

Winter reminds me of hardship, both mental and physical. It reminds me of sub-zero temperatures in arctic Chicago. It reminds of the yellowness of the artificial light, heat, and electricity in our homes. It reminds me of times I would walk in the freezing ice to my bus stop, then train station, then the frost-bitten half mile walk to work. It reminds me of time spent trapped indoors, suffocated from the lack of outdoor greenery and photosynthesis.

Winters are always hard, and I don’t expect that to change. Summers are probably hard too, but are softened by the sun’s gentle warmth and the wind’s cooperative breeze. I wonder what part the weather plays in the difficulty of winter, and what part is just timing.

As arid as winter may be, I do have memories of warmth. And togetherness. In the winter, warmth is centralized, so it brings people together. It makes us feel human and vulnerable. No matter how wealthy, how prominent, you require warmth like anyone else. Winter is a humbling journey. There are of course the memories of December, which are always brought to you by the steaming of roasted coffee, the warmly lit Christmas streets, and the togetherness of the frenzy of holiday shopping.

November and December are welcome winter guests, but don’t stay for long. It’s January and February that overstay their welcome. March is a beautiful, hopeful time; April is a waiting space, and May brings back the sweet smell of nature. June, July, and August go breezing by, and winter approaches quickly yet again, before you find yourself relentlessly embraced by its gripping hold.

For all its dark and solemn memories, winter makes us stronger. While we may have conquered the physical part of it through endless technological lubrications, the mental part remains as reptilian as ever. I’m not so sure I’d be the same person I am today were it not for the Annual Winter Games. And as hard as it may be, I look forward to discovering what this year’s challenges will reveal about myself, and all there is to be learned about the world around me.

As twisted as it may be, I enjoy your annual coming, Winter.

How does the universe look to nothing?

November 16, 2017

I had a fascinating conversation with a friend regarding the objective vs. subjective nature of reality. Does the universe objectively exist whether or not someone is there to observe it, or is its existence subjective and in the mind of the observer? This question dates back centuries, but comes back highly recommended from quantum physics, which makes this question no longer a metaphysical one, but a fundamental scientific one.

Neither of us made any particular progress on this question. I believe that our senses plays a large part in how we perceive the existence of the universe, and without our senses, the world is just metadata. Some interpretations of quantum mechanics state that a conscious observer is required for electrons to make up their mind about their attributes, and thus that a conscious observer is required for the existence of the universe. Without a conscious observer, nothing can be said to exist.

My friend has a gift for taking the complex and simplifying it into bitesize edibles. We’ve argued about this topic inconclusively for months, particularly about what role language plays in distorting this entire conversation to begin with, such that the answers are even sillier than the questions. So many of these questions that are fascinating to think about might just be tricks of the mind.

But, I gave it a try nonetheless. He asked, “What does an objective universe mean to you?” I struggled with an answer, but ultimately simplified it thusly: Without our sense of sight, the universe does not have a visual interface. Without our sense of hearing, the universe does not have an auditory interface. Without our sense of touch, the universe does not have a tactile interface. So what’s left? Take away the human, take away the perceiver, and what’s left?

That’s the question that our conversation, and science in general, is trying to get at.

“What you’re essentially asking is ‘What does the universe look like to nothing?’” he noted. I started to laugh, because put like that, it makes you realize what a silly question that is to begin with.

He went on. “What you’re really trying to get at is, how does the universe look to a God-like figure? That’s the objective reality we once knew and loved. This question is a lot easier to answer, since God is a constant observer with a well-defined point of reference. But take away the concept of a god, like we have in modern times, and we’re left sort of struggling: If God is not the center, ever-present point-of-view, then what does the universe actually look like objectively without anyone there?”

Or in other words, what does the universe look like to nothing?

Put like that, it may just be a paradox, or a temporary fascination of our limited mind. Or it may be our mind expanding its bounds. In either case, at our current level, this question might just be nonsensical.

A Photograph of the Mind

November 15, 2017

My wife always forces me to make unnatural poses for a Snapchat or Instagram photo. She tells me “smile!” but if I wasn’t already smiling, then the photo is a lie. I’m being pedantic just to say, I hate hate posing for photos. It’s more of my introverted nature than anything to do with worrying about faking an emotion.

I’m really not sure when this started. About a decade ago I remember being extremely extroverted. I was an arrogant teenager, and I probably loved taking photos of myself. Something unhinged in my twenties, where I’m now extremely reserved and internal. You’d have a hard time finding a photo of me anywhere.

But while a photo captures the light information of an environment and re-enacts it on a two-dimensional screen, I like to think of writing as a photograph of the mind. There’s really no other way to capture what’s inside. Instead, you have to bring it out. I used to write frequently even when I had an audience of zero. It was a way for me to place a bookmark in my life, and take a snapshot so that I remember the significance of a given day.

There seems to be something similar between the act of capturing a photo and capturing the words of your mind. However, the aching desire of my wife, and perhaps almost every other woman I’ve met, to take photos and capture the moment never ceases to confound me.

In the moment, I never stop to think "I should interrupt the flow of this moment to take a photo of this moment". Stopping to take a photo in the heat of a moment seems antithetical to the moment. All that to say, I never could, and still don’t, understand the seemingly instinctual need to take photos of every passing second. My wife yells at me for being the worst photo-poser she’s ever met. I’m ruining her memories.

But if photos are simple snapshots of a time, and writing is just the same, then I may be making progress.

My wife likes to revisit old photos and reminisce on them. I find it cute, if not silly. But hypocritically, I’m just the same. I’ll go back and revisit things I wrote years ago, and think back to the moments that were. Writing is more vivid to me, because I can’t guess at how I felt from a photo. With writing, feelings come flowing back to me. And if that’s how a photograph makes others feel, then it is indeed a fantastic emotion.

The common emotion between all state-capturing arts seems to be remembering. Who would have thought that would be one of life’s sweet pleasures?

The Romance of Another's Life

November 14, 2017

Some years ago, I was reading Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species to see what the source itself had to say about evolution. Aside from the topic itself, I found myself growing somewhat envious of Charles’ post-mortem grandeur. It’s easy to give someone so much credit retrospectively, not realizing they were mortals themselves.

Darwin recounts how at many times, he grew very, very ill during his research, sometimes bedridden for most of the year. This surely must have been a horrible way to feel and live. But my silly mind found romance in that. “Ah, what a beautiful thing. Perhaps I need to fall severely ill so I can go through enough adversity to be as original as Charles Darwin?”

I kid you not. I would have these kinds of thoughts. It wasn’t just Charles Darwin. Any time I read a biography about some great character, I would find ways to envy their adversity and wish it upon myself. “So and so was hated by almost everyone, and struggled through great depression and frost-bitten loneliness.” Ah, but to be remembered as great, even at the cost of being hated by everyone—what I wouldn’t do to live that same life.

It was borderline troubling for me to think this way. Obviously, my brain misunderstood the situation. But this happens day-to-day, whether we realize it or not. There is a certain romantic effect that occurs when we read or learn about other people's lives. We love stories and the images they conjure in our minds. But when we hear one, we fail to realize the story is compressed. A story may be just megabytes of information, whereas the real life would have been countless and countless trillions of terabytes. A story, no matter how traumatic, how depressing, always has a dream-like aura to it that takes us away from our world and into its fantastical fictional possibilities. It helps us imagine a world beside our own—any world.

But that’s the distinction that finally led me to the understanding of not being envious of a story. We try to find ways to escape our world in any way we can, even for a brief moment. We lust for external experiences. But don’t let your mind fool you: sameness is all anyone knows. You look at this character, and he has this house and this car, which to you seems like a life full of splendor; to him, it’s sameness. The same sameness you know and love of your own life.

No matter how novel, how splendid, how glamorous, how romantic another’s life may look to you as a third-person, in the first-person point-of-view, it is all sameness, and we are all trying to escape the same thing. If you’re rich, you wish to experience something else, namely perhaps, some struggle. If you are poor, you wish to experience something else, namely, less struggle.

I’ll never let a story confuse me again. I’ll never grow envious of a character from their story. I’ll never look at another’s life and wish it for myself. Because the truth is, we are all the same. We are all the same character. The same process. Our common denominators define us far more than our outlying characteristics do. What makes us human—here the desire to flee from sameness—is far more powerful than what makes us externally captivating, like beauty, glamor, and outward displays of success. You can chase, you can change, you can grow—but you can never hide from our common humanness.

Once you understand this, you’ll finally know that nothing is worth wanting for but the heart’s subtle content.

Don't mistake stress for an existential crisis

November 13, 2017

This may seem obvious for many, but for me, I never could handle the difference between the two. Any and all stress was an immediate existential crisis. What I mean by existential crisis is, you blame the stress on yourself. You think, there’s something wrong with me, and it’s ruining my life.

But there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just legitimately stressed.

It’s important to catch exactly when this happens as well. Sometimes, an external event will happen that is beyond my control. For example, back when I was performing a security audit for Standard Notes, the reviewer underwent a sickness and would take weeks to get back to me. Getting the audit completed was the most important thing in the world to me at that point. It started out as stress: I need to get this completed asap. My company can’t continue operating without getting this completed. I literally can’t do anything else until this is done.

Day 3, and you still remember a little of why you originally became stressed out, but start finding new things to stress about. It starts spreading.

By Day 7, you all around feel like shit but have completely forgotten how it started, and now think that you are just inherently depressed, and begin questioning your life decisions.

Don’t. Do. That.

You are not depressed. You have not made bad decisions. There is nothing wrong with you. This all started because of some anticipation from an external event that has not yet been resolved. Anyone who underwent this same event would experience this same objective stress.

I repeated that to myself. And sure enough, after about one month of waiting, the audit was completed, the stress was resolved, and everything went back to normal.

Make sure you never forget why you started to get stressed in the first place. And to make sure the original source is resolved before letting it spread. More than likely, there is nothing wrong with you. Anyone in your shoes would feel the same exact way. There is probably some external event that started all this, but you’ve lost track of it by now, and the stress has spread to every other area of your life that you think it’s always been like this. Worst of all, you start to think you probably deserve it.

Catch yourself. You’re not depressed. You’re just stressed. Or, at worst, you’re undergoing temporarily irresolvable stress. In which case, you just have to be patient. It’s hard, but hang in there.

Is Nature Intelligent?

November 12, 2017

This is a question of endless struggle. On the one hand, nature obviously produced us, and it becomes troubling to say "that which produced something as intelligent as us is itself not intelligent". On the other hand, chance, probability, randomness, and singularities play a huge part in modern science, and to question that would surely invite ridicule.

I had an eight hour round-trip drive this weekend where I got a chance to catch up on some fascinating podcasts. This one in particular was the Joe Rogan podcast with Paul Stamets, which Rogan himself says is his favorite podcast he’s ever recorded. I highly recommend listening to it. Around the sixteen minute mark, Joe and Paul discuss the idea of whether nature can be said to be intelligent. And I thought Paul gave a great response which, as Rogan himself said, is unequivocal.

Paul mentions how his brother was editing one of Paul's books on mycelium, which is the vegetative part of fungal bacterial colonies, and objected to Paul using the term “intelligent” to describe mycelium, or nature in general:

He was editing one of my books about how mycelium can save the world, and he goes, Paul, you cannot say that mycelium is intelligent! You can’t say nature is intelligent. And I go wait, Bill, I respect you, but you don't realize the hypocrisy of the statement you’re giving me? You’re telling me nature is not intelligent and yet you are born of nature, using the mind to conceive the concept to challenge the idea that nature is not intelligent—when you are part of nature?

Listen to the full podcast here. You won’t regret it.

Code Me

November 11, 2017

I’m exhausted. I keep saying, after I fix this one bug, everything will be groovy, and I can relax. But then I find a new issue to get entangled in. “Just this one last feature, and all will be nice and slow again.” But it’s constant pounding. If I'm not fixing bugs caused by previous code, I’m fixing bugs from new code.

The problem is that I’m an obsessive. Once I start on something, it becomes the only thing I want to do. And I’ve been addicted to coding lately. A great problem to have right?

Well, coding is fun, when it goes your way. But it never does. From your code will arise new emperor bugs that will demand your enslavement. When a bug, or problem, or difficulty arises from writing new code, I strap my seatbelt, because I know I probably won’t eat, sleep, or shower until it's fixed. This is fine for once in a while complications. But I’m finding that I’m in a strange loop that encourages constant development, and that has gotten me feeling tired.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not tired of coding. There is nothing I’d rather be doing right now. But the way it affects my external life—that part is tiring. That coding is the only thing I ever want to do, that part is tiring. The most tiring part of all is that I can’t get myself to take a break. I just don’t want to. Taking a break gives me major FOMO.

I’m not tired of coding. I’m tired of external life stopping me from coding. Do you see why that can get to be a problem?

How To Leave App Reviews Like A Decent Person

November 10, 2017

There is common behavior in the app (and technology) review world that, upon inspection, really does not seem to be logical. I’m sure you’ve probably seen user written reviews that read something like:

☆☆☆☆★

“This app is good, but it doesn’t have this one feature that this other app has. 1 star.”

This sort of comparison game is human nature, and while I don’t intend to change the nature of our behavior, I do hope I can make you think twice before posting a review like this in the future.

Taken literally, an app developer will presumably have happened upon an idea before development begins. The idea begins to take flesh, and as it is manifested into software, begins needing strict definitions. What is this app capable of? What is it not capable of? Where is the line drawn? And how does my ethos play a role in what the long term evolution of this app looks like?

Boring stuff. But all that to say, app development is usually quite intentional. A developer will be out to solve one specific problem, and that problem may not be the exact problem you’re having. And that’s ok. It would be crazy if those two always matched up.

The problem begins when you begin reviewing an app that is explicit in its intentions, based on what you think the app should have instead.

For example, this app intends to solve problems A, C, and D. And A, C, and D are hard problems, mind you. You, lovely consumer, are looking for an app that also does B. So you check out this app, knowing it doesn’t have B, and upon using it, are frustrated that it doesn’t have B. So you write a review saying,

☆☆☆☆★

“I love that this app solves A, C, and D. But it doesn’t solve B. Shame, shame, shame.”

Was it Einstein that said don’t judge a fish on it’s ability to fly? When you insist on judging something for an attribute it never claimed to have in the first place, no real progress is made. No productive activity occurs. Emotions are exchanged, where one side vents, and the other side is helpless against it.

What is the developer of this app to do now after reading this review? Feature B was explicitly not a problem this app was designed for, and probably for careful reason.

But, let’s have some empathy for the app reviewer. After all, they’ve taken time out of their busy day to download and try out your app. Let’s say at some point in the future, you dear reader are confronted with a similar predicament: an app you want to love is missing feature B, even though it never advertised it had feature B.

What should you do?

Well, if you want to do the right thing, and be kind and empathic, and make real progress towards solving this situation, the best thing you can do is email the developer. Have a conversation. Find out why feature B is not included, or perhaps learn that feature B is planned all along. ★★★★★.

Leaving a negative review because an underwater app couldn’t fly? That’s just mean.

PSA: Add dir="auto" to your inputs and textareas.

November 9, 2017

As someone living in the bubble that is the United States, it can be hard to think externally. But every so often I am reminded there is a world outside of my own. This sounds like a hugely unnecessary pep talk before I lay down something extremely simple. But one small change can be the difference between your app being used by people around the world, or just strictly by people like you. The distinction between these two worlds is something I endlessly struggle to comprehend; luckily, the folks building the fine web browsers we depend on are doing the hard work for us.

I’ve gotten requests to add right to left language support (RTL; languages like Hebrew, Arabic, and Urdu) in my note-taking app since its very beginning. And anytime I would begin to investigate what it would take, it seemed non-trivial.

Common solutions suggested adding a character listener on the input, and, when you detect a character that is RTL, you switch the direction of the input from dir=“left” to dir=“right”. Sounds semi-reasonable, but manual and scary. To me, unicode, ascii, and the entire world of encodings is not something I thoroughly comprehend. So anytime I can avoid writing low level language parsing, I absolutely do.

This topic of adding RTL support would come up every few months, and every time I looked at it, it was the same advice: write a character parser, use this third-party library, or use dir=“right”—none of which I wanted. If you do a search for “textarea rtl” or “textarea right to left”, or other related terms, none of the results mention dir=“auto”. Instead, you’ll get answers like Use dir="rtl" in the tag?”, or this third-party library from Twitter that promises to handle this for you.

The first results page of Google never lies, so I thought this was just inherently a problem that required direct intervention, and so was never quite able to prioritize it (so much for my moral high ground).

It wasn’t until only a few weeks ago that I decided, enough is enough. This problem needs to be solved. I did some more searching for terms that I don’t remember now, and finally arrived at a GitHub post where an unsung hero commented “You can just add dir=“auto” to your textarea.”

What? No way. There’s no way that works. After a year of looking for solutions, and it was that easy?

Yup. Plugged it in, gave it a spin, and it worked flawlessly.

Wow.

So, my really small, but really big, public service announcement is: Google has been lying to us about RTL support in inputs. It’s a lot easier than you ever imagined.

<textarea dir='auto'> שלום, עתיד. </textarea>

And now you know.

Super complex demo.

Mozilla documentation on dir.

When nothing happens

November 8, 2017

I’ve spent the last week in a buggish sort of hell trying to track down bewildering software issues that made no sense at all. It was, by all definitions, hell. I hated myself for writing bugs. And I hated software for being so sensitive to my human-ness. After spending several days collecting clues and checking the same code over and over again, I concluded there was nothing visibly wrong, and it was time to exile myself to some remote island.

The issue would later be solved, of course. And it was bewildering for good reason: it had something to do with the timing of the new iPhone release, where people started getting new phones and restoring them from iCloud. Well, it turns out restoring your phone from iCloud will restore your data, but not your keychain. This confused my poor little app. And since I discovered that, the rest is history.

I felt great after fixing this bug that had come to define my life. I was in the best mood I've been in all month. I had big plans now that I was a free man: go on vacation, treat myself to exquisite delicacies, maybe leave the house for the first time and rediscover the sun—oh the heavenly thoughts! After releasing a bunch of new updates and crossing off my todos, I felt so extremely accomplished.

But the next day, nothing happened.

Sure, less support emails regarding this issue. That should be more peaceful right? But it was a business as usual sort of day. My traffic was the same. Sales were the same. No interesting activity on Twitter. And, I was so exhausted from that week of hell that I just wanted to take one small day off from coding.

And that became a new sort of hell. And surprisingly, this hell of nothingness was 100x worse than the hell of a software issue you don’t know the cause of. All that to say, be grateful you have problems. Because boredom is the worst problem of all. I can confirm this sentiment dating back to all the many software development jobs I had—being a cog in a wheel sucks, but what sucks more is being a useless cog in a wheel. It sucks the most.

Luckily for wanderers, boredom will only ever be a small window of reprieve from the constant storm. The next day, it was back to the stress of work. And I’m grateful for it.

Save yourself from Daylight Saving

November 7, 2017

I’ve been waking up at exactly 7:00am ever since Sunday. Before that, I would wake up around 8-8:30am. Of course, 7:00am Sunday, accounting for Daylight Saving Time, is really 8:00am, so “physically”, nothing has changed. However, overnight, your daily routine is pushed back or up by one hour, and we make no big deal of it. Our artificial world clocks are adjusted, but our internal clocks are stuck trying to figure out what the hell just happened. But life goes on. By Monday, we’ve forgotten all about it.

I wonder what role DST has in the difficulty of winters. It’s sort of like stumbling your way through the front door, and never quite stopping stumbling until you exit from the other side. If you get off to a bad start, you have the potential to ruin your mood for the next few months of your life.

Essentially, you’re trying to run on two different systems that haven’t synced up yet. And if you don’t sync up within the next few days, you might be screwed. Your sleep schedule is altered, which we know to be supremely important. This then alters the way you wake up, which we also know to be important to the mood of your remaining day. The mood of your day then spirals into the mood of your week, then your month, and ultimately, a whole winter.

All this to say, be careful you didn’t trip your way into DST, and that you’re not currently stumbling. If you are, catch yourself now and recompose. If you feel your routine has changed or been altered, make sure you’re ok with it. Left undetected, you may have a sour couple weeks or months without even realizing the original cause was DST. You’ll end up blaming yourself instead, and trying to fix an internal problem that probably doesn’t even exist.

I think all it takes is a sort of “Do you agree with this new flow?” If so, you’re good to go. If not, feel out what’s changed and try to readjust.

Do Everyday

November 6, 2017

I'm trying to write every single day. And it's really hard. It's the first thing I do when I wake up every morning. Why? It's good therapy. And it instantly gives meaning to an otherwise blank canvas of a day. But I don't always have things to say. Or worse, I don't always feel like talking. I might learn a life lesson here and there, and be inclined to share it. But every single day?

Close to giving up, I visited Seth Godin's blog, and without fail, he writes a new post every single day. It goes back years and years. Not a single day missed. And it's good content, too.

Ok Seth Godin. If you could do it, surely it's within the realm of possibility for mere mortals like me. I just needed to know it was possible.

And, interestingly enough, his post today is about writing everyday:

The secret to writing a daily blog is to write every day. And to queue it up and blog it. There is no other secret.

I haven't missed a day in many, many years--the discipline of sharing something daily is priceless. Sometimes there are typos. I hope that they're rare and I try to fix them.

Over time, the blog adds up. People remember a blog post a year after I wrote it. Or they begin a practice, take an action, make a connection, something that grows over time. The blog resonates with people in so many fields, it's thrilling to see how it can provoke positive action.

What's your equivalent of writing every day? I enjoy writing, but maybe you enjoy making podcasts? or videos, or music, or apps, or comics, or yoga, or cooking—whatever you enjoy, try to do it every day. That's a meaningful life.


P.S. If you're wanting to blog every day, you can use the same tool I use (this site). You can publish directly from your notes, and readers can subscribe to updates via email or RSS. Go to the home page to get started.

I'm glad I'm not doing hardware

November 5, 2017

Anyone who builds software knows how hard it is. I'm referring not to the initial building of software—that's the easy part. What's hard is actually keeping software afloat and healthy for long periods of time, while making it work for millions of people with thousands of different environments.

I've recently been trying to debug a certain race condition that has been driving me absolutely mad. Doing so has lead me into a mysterious world which I thought I knew like my own name; after all, it made perfect sense while I was building it. In trying to track down this issue, I've encountered areas of code that question my sanity. But, this is code, and we constantly transcend ourselves with every passing look-over. It's how we get better. And—not to worry; just fix and deploy with seamless OTA updates.

Hardware, on the other hand? Now that looks tough. I know very little of the hardware world. Here it seems you battle constantly not with a user's machine environment, but with non-negotiable physics. And if, after spending millions or billions of dollars, you find there's a defect, you can't just deploy a hotfix. You now have millions of complicated devices that will need human servicing in order to repair.

However hard software is, I can only imagine hardware is 100x more difficult.

And if you're like Apple who builds some of the most complex pieces of hardware and software, then god speed. Your date with entropy awaits.

Post-Human

November 4, 2017

Humans today are pathetically ephemeral. It’s what defines our existence. Death lingers in the back of our minds like an unpaid bill (a huge scary bill). Tragically, we may be some of the last ephemeral beings the world sees before this problem is solved. Technology and medicine are moving fast. Within decades, or no more than a century, aging will be cured or delayed, or better yet, electron-emitting devices will be manufactured that can create anything.

I try telling my friends about my wild theory that sometime in the (near) future, humans will be able to make nightly backups of their 3D electron sequence. If the next day you get run over by a bus, your at-home particle emitter will be notified, and respawn you from your most recent backup.

You’ll be able to make backups of your entire family, every night, automatically as they sleep. If gods-forbid something fatal should happen to your daughter, no worries—just restore her from the last backup. Her entire electron sequence would be reconstructed into 3D space. After her restore, she’ll be the same person she “was”. If during the backup process she was in the middle of a sentence, she’ll continue this sentence the moment her respawn is complete.

This is of course assuming that consciousness is made of matter, which I, and science for that matter, believe to be the case. Some people I tell this to ask, “But what about the soul??”

The what?

This may all seem far-fetched, but consider the electron-capturing and electron-emitting devices already in existence today. A microphone captures physical air patterns and re-distorts reality to play it back. Speakers literally change the air (and thus the electron sequence) in their vicinity.

A camera captures light information and re-distorts reality to play it back on your screen. Your iPhone screen is a 2D particle emitter. And let’s not forget about our huge 60-inch particle-emitting flat-screen TVs right in our living rooms. These mega machines reenact reality by distorting a 2D electron space to mimic captured data.

So, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched after all to say that in the future, a similar device can exist that can be pointed at an object to scan its 3D particle sequence, and can later re-emit this sequence in another 3D space. Essentially, a hi-tech camera and a hi-tech 3D printer. Easy.

The implications are of course troubling, if not fascinating. With death no longer being the constant nag it is to us today, humans will transition from a human to a post-human existence. Fear for us today has its roots in our aboriginal fear of death. Without this defining characteristic, our consciousness will shift. And given of course that you can 3D print a being from backup, you could print any object just as well. Theft, jealousy, lust, greed—these will all be things of the past. Why would one steal or be jealous of anything when they could have what others have in an instant? War, famine, poverty—all things of the petty human past.

No—with this technology, we will transcend our petty human existence into that of immortal gods. And that’s really where my imagination ends. What does a universe of a billion gods look like? Well, either we’ll find out soon enough, or, the universe is recursive in nature, and we’re already living in such a world: Our gods have gotten a hold of a similar device and have used it to create our universe.

The Secret Life of Software Bugs

November 3, 2017

Bugs simply do not reveal themselves to me when using my own product. They cower in fear, knowing somehow their all-powerful, all-punishing creator is watching, ready to descend upon them in wrath and eliminate their existence. No, my creations hide from me. Instead, they are attracted to my users. Poor, helpless users who do not have the tools to squash these creepy crawlers.

Some bugs are bewildering. A user will have found some way to place his app in an impossibly invalid state. My goal is to replicate his world using the clues I am provided. Tragically, the solution always lies not in what the user tells me, but in what they don’t tell me. The missing link is always some small, insignificant detail no one thinks is important enough to bring up.

A special few bugs are long term mysteries that can be solved only through divine intervention. Every day I’ll collect clues and pin new suspects on my investigation board. I have to be getting close.

Other bugs seemingly discover ways to transcend their given abilities. They do things that are just not supposed to be possible. This bug might set some text to a red color, but you search your code and find no where at all where the color red is used. How can this possibly be? You begin questioning your own sanity. And no doubt, your sanity does not escape these experiences unscathed.

You never do find what made the text go red. You’re in your late eighties now, sitting by a warm fire on a snowy day. You’ve long retired from the treacherous craft of bug-hunting—that was of another life. Snowflakes play through your window like a screensaver. The sound of hissing heat from your stovetop fills the room, and your teapot begins to whistle softly. Here and now, as you come to terms with the end of your life, somewhere atop a remote snowcapped mountain on the edge of the world, it hits you—the hex code for red is #F00. F00 was the default color value in case the input was null. You thought it said “FOO”, so you ignored it. In that moment, your heart accelerates. You fall to the ground with hands held against your chest. The camera switches to an aerial view, and lingers briefly on your face, then begins receding slowly.

You lived a good life. But alas,—your bugs did too.

I'm not entirely sure you exist.

November 2, 2017

My brain has many bugs and limitations. But by far the most limiting is my inability to comprehend the existence of other people. I mean, I know you’re there. And I know that your world, to you, is as big as mine is to me. But I am completely incapable of ascribing “realness” to your life. I am incapable of fathoming that inside your mind is a universe bigger than my own.

Because one universe is large enough. I have an already difficult time fathoming my own existence, to even begin trying to fathom yours. This may all sound like useless metaphysical nonsense, but one of the most important ways this issue manifests itself is in my inability to comprehend the busy-ness of other people.

When I send an email to you and don’t get a response, or get a very delayed response, it is almost certain that you were extremely busy and could not get to my email in a timely manner. But small-mind me takes it personally. Small-mind me asks, how busy could you possibly be?

The maximum value of my own busy-ness is the maximum value I am capable of ascribing to your busy-ness. You could very well be 10x busier than me, but I cannot fathom it. Small-mind me insists that if I can manage it, so should you.

I discovered this was a problem when I noticed my own busy-ness increasing over the past few months as I’ve had to deal with more support emails and bug fixes. And every time my busy-ness level increased, my level of empathy towards other people’s busy-ness increased. Better-mind me says, ah ok, now I see that people can in fact be a lot busier than I imagined. But small-mind me limits this empathy once again to a value no higher than my own.

I have a much easier time fathoming the existence of people close to me, but there is still a concrete wall in between, with pores that allow me to see through to you. For random strangers, it’s a lost cause.

Sometimes, I’ll be driving and stopped at a red light, and a human pedestrian will be walking by. I’ll look at them in bewilderment and think, inside that person is another universe larger than my own. To that person, that universe is as important as mine is to me. Inside that person, there are hopes, and dreams, and grief, and happiness, and complications. Inside that person are religions, philosophy, knowledge, and wisdom. That person is as real as me.

But I can’t fathom it. It’s just an abstract thought, like a universe that is infinite—how can something be infinite?

Your existence boggles my mind just as well.

Stop changing your homepage

November 1, 2017

I’ll be honest. I hate data. Parsing it, collecting it, strategizing around it—I just want to build things the way I feel like building things. Instinct has gotten me up to here, hasn’t it? And while I haven’t fully made the switch to a hard-core data kind of mindset, I have realized its importance in some areas, especially if you’re a new company.

One of the most dangerous things you can do starting out on a new app or product is changing it too much, especially when you’re not sure where your product stands. The most creeping temptation will always be “I should change the homepage.” Or screenshots, or description, or tags, etc. Essentially, your first instinct will be to think, “this is not going as I expected. Perhaps I should change something about the first thing users see?”

This is a devilish temptation that I’ll address in another post. But assuming you’ve decided to make a drastic change, please take this warning: gather as much data as you possibly can before doing so. You’ll hate yourself if you don’t.

Anyone who’s created an app or project of their own knows the feeling of changing something as one last final act of hope, only for absolutely nothing to happen. In fact, changing something because you’re not sure what else to do is the quickest way to murder your project. Because if you put all your hopes in a homepage redesign, spend a month doing the work, and launch to crickets, you’re going to be left saying, “Well shit. Now what?” You’ll be so discouraged that you’ll most likely quit. This was the fate of several of my past projects.

Instinct can help you come up with ideas and goals, but it will leave you stranded when it comes to validating your changes. Ugh that word. Validating. Makes me uncomfortable just thinking about it. But it can be important, especially if you’re long-term serious about your project.

This sort of advice is extremely obvious to anyone that operates a wildly successful company. But if like me you’re just someone who’s passionate about creating useful products, and are still hopelessly optimistic about the “if you build it, they will come” mindset, it can be difficult to adopt.

If you’re wanting to change your homepage design, make sure you collect as much data as possible about current homepage metrics. Visits, time on page, drop off points, heat maps, and whatever fancy new landing page analytics exist today. After you make the change, you’re going to want to monitor these metrics as closely as possible to look for any improvements or deteriorations. If you don’t collect these metrics before hand, and launch a redesign based on instinct, your morale will quickly suffer if the changes have no apparent effect. And to be honest, a homepage redesign is hardly ever the real culprit for the problem you’re having. Having data can help you realize this.

Most importantly, give your product some quality alone time without bothering it. If you make a change, let it sit for a couple months before being tempted to change something again.

And in general, don’t change things too often. You’ll confuse yourself and find yourself spinning. It’s very rare that a single change will dramatically alter your results. If you depend on changing surface elements of your product or company to improve your results, you’ll be left completely deprived of will and motivation to try other things. And odds are, the fix to the problem you’re having is somewhere in the pile of “other things” which you’ll tragically never get to.

Don't build features you can't afford to maintain

October 31, 2017

It’s fun and pleasurable to make children. In fact, it’s orgasmic. But, there tends to be an upper bound on the number of children a couple could bear. At some point, the couple presumably understands that another mouth siphoning scarce resources would be detrimental to the entire family, and cannot possibly be sustainable. I’m sure you see where I’m headed with this.

Building new features is highly fun and entertaining. In fact, you might even call it the orgasm of the technical world. You’ve brought forth new life that had not been present before. With a few lines of code, a few third-party libraries here and there, your app is now capable of new things, and you couldn’t be prouder.

But there is a high cost to these violent delights. Adding features is a weapon that should be used sparingly. Here's why:

  1. Once you add a feature, you won’t be able to remove it without causing mass upset.

    Really think about this one. It’s kind of scary. Consider every feature you add absolutely permanent. You will have to maintain this feature for the rest of your application’s life, which for your customers' sake, I hope to be many decades. The more technically impressive your feature is, the higher the cost to maintain it. And if your feature relies on a third-party library for its core functionality, you are in for a world of pain. On top of your pile of daily incoming bug reports regarding just core app functionality, you’ll have a new pile just for this impressive feature, with bugs you can’t begin to fathom, existing somewhere inside the 20,000 line third-party library.

    Really really consider how much you care about your product before adding features as quick as customers request them. You’ll be doing your company and your customers a disservice if you don't.

  2. If your new feature is not perfect, your reviews will suffer.

    You could have a 5-star product, with unmatched stability and performance. But the moment you add a minor feature somewhere very deep inside the app, that only 1% of your users will ever even get to, and that feature doesn’t work as intended, your reviews will suffer. Five star reviews will turn into one star reviews detailing the upset you’ve brought users to their day. You cry No fair! What about all the other great parts of the app? But thus is human nature. You could win the lottery one moment and be filled with joy, but stubbing your toe a moment later will instantly ruin your mood. The feeling a user has towards your product will, for the most part, be relative to their most recent experience. You want to try to minimize the number of places things can go wrong. This is why I call my product Standard Notes. It minimizes features so you never have to worry about stubbing your toe.

  3. Your product won’t survive as long.

    I’d like to posit that a business that adds features recklessly will survive for a shorter period of time than it otherwise would have. Features means lines of code, and lines of code means maintenance and bugs. And there’s a sort of concurrency problem with labor. You could have a trillion dollar corporation with infinite resources, but there’s still a limit to how many engineers you can hire and manage, and can work concurrently on a given project. Thus, adding features and maintaining them is not something that can be hacked to your advantage with capital and resources.

Most importantly, adding features is probably not the solution to the problem you’re having. For me at least, adding features is a sort of defense mechanism I employ when I’m not sure what else to do to grow. Sometimes, adding features could be exactly what your app is missing, but this is rare. In most cases, your sales are low not because your app is missing some shiny feature, but because of other fundamental issues in another department, like marketing or customer service.

Recently, a somewhat-competitor of Standard Notes added a new feature to their app: an Apple Watch companion application. It was actually really nicely done, which means they spent some time on it. This was good news to me. I don’t believe a watch app is necessary for a notes app, and those scarce resources could have been directed to much more important problems. Instead, they chose to use their resources to build a complicated feature with little ROI. At this rate, all I have to do is continue pacing myself, and I have the potential to outlast them on stamina alone.

Finally, heed this warning from a guy who will be perpetually enslaved to a feature that all his users could have probably lived without:

Build a Business, not an App

October 30, 2017

During the 2008-2010 App Store gold rush, all you needed were a pick, ax, and laptop to strike it rich. Forget a business plan and forget being original: Just make an app, any app, and your chances of making some profit were better than none.

Times have changed, and the single-app mindset can be catastrophic today, if you’re still chasing it.

App vs. Business

“Apps”, compared to a business providing an app, were novelty items during the emergence of the iPhone and Android. There were so little of them, that your best shot at success was just to be present. Today, there are so many apps, with more being released every day, that Apple has even begun deleting inactive ones due to the overwhelming supply (which sounds like a search problem over a quantity problem, but search isn’t really Apple’s strong suit).

My experience with apps and the App Store is probably similar to many developers’. I got in casually around 2008-2009, and built dumb apps because I was curious. I had no intention of making any money. But, I was around the raging waterfall of app demand, and got a little wet. This natural spectacle began getting too crowded around 2012 however, with hundreds of thousands of developers trying to get a sprinkle of all that flowing app money. And if during that time you put all your hopes and dreams into a single app, you were a dead man walking. You just didn’t know it yet.

It took me several years to begin adjusting. Even until 2016, I had not yet shed the single-app mindset. I kept producing single-utility apps without a story, hoping one would catch on. And some did, for the first few weeks. But an app cannot survive by itself in the jungle. It needs loving and caring parents to raise it to maturity. That’s what a “business” is. An app is this beautiful, newly-born creation, offering hopes of redemption for all of humanity. But it needs support. It needs guidance. You can’t just throw your new-born on a modeling stage (like Product Hunt) and hope for the best. At best, you could use that as a testing ground, but it’s important to realize the long game.

The Long Game

If you’re building an app and not a business, you’re playing the short game. Your chances of success will be much lower. And that’s just based off the definition of long vs. short: when you’re in it for the long run, you’ll have more time and gain more wisdom, which will allow you to nurture and care for your product in ways customers can begin to appreciate. But, when your mindset is that of “I’m going to hack together an app over a couple weeks, slap a 99 cent price tag on it, and post it around,” you’re setting yourself up for failure. Not that it’s not a great exercise and learning experience. But if you keep doing the same thing expecting different results…

That’s the loop I found myself in. I was releasing relatively useful app after app. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t driving a Tesla yet. It’s not until last year that I decided, or finally learned, that one needs to manifest their own existence into a product. That sounds intense, but let me explain.

An app is a reflection of the creative abilities of its creator. An app usually consists of a small ecosystem of software and customer reviews. A business on the other hand involves so much more. Marketing, customer support, branding, sustainability, long term strategy, finances, scheduled releases, and community fostering. With all these attributes, a business begins taking on a personality of its own, and creates survivability momentum not found with single-launch apps.

Now what?

So, let’s say you’re sold. Let’s say you now want to start a business as opposed to an app. Where do you start? Well, the distinction is admittedly subtle, but important. Here are a few things you can do to grow your app into a business, and increase your likelihood for survivability and success.

1 | Tell a story. Build a brand.

An app has a function. “Use this app to do this task.” Not much of a story there. Not much reason for a customer to stick around once they’ve used your app to accomplish their task. A business on the other hand has a story, and a byproduct of that story is an app. For example, Standard Notes, which is the product I am presently building, came into existence because I believed this:

Software should be built to last. In today’s fast-moving, growth-over-everything mindset, software bloats while companies grow faster than they can keep up, resulting in bugs, poor usability, and eventually, the death of the product. This treats the customer as a means to an end, and is insulting and deceitful.

Thus was born the app of my dreams: a safe and simple place to store your notes. It promises to remain simple for ever, so that it doesn’t grow beyond what we are capable of managing. It promises to pursue longevity over growth, so you can count on your notes being there for you decades from now when you need them.

The story resulted in the creation of the app. And while an app’s lifetime may be numbered, a story is timeless, and can remain important for centuries to come. When you build a product around a story, rather than a function, you increase your likelihood for survival and sustainability, while also better communicating why one should use your product.

2 | Foster a community

Community-building sounds like a difficult chore. But by this I mean, just have a place where people who like your product can hang out and ask questions. For me, this was as simple as a public Slack group and a discussion forum on GitHub. At worst, it makes the whole ordeal a lot less lonely. And at best, you’ve created a vibrant, self-sustaining community that can continue to exist even when you perish.

3 | Invest in the ecosystem surrounding your app.

An app is hard enough to build on its own. So to put work around the container of the app sounds again like an unpleasant chore. But you want to build a comfortable and safe environment for your app to grow in. You wouldn’t just drop your beautiful new-born at a Baby Gap runway and pick them up a few years later. Instead, you’d want to create a safe and nurturing environment where your model-to-be can come home to and rest, learn, and grow. It can take years, so you need to be ready to provide support to your new-born at any time. (I don’t know how I ended up with a baby modeling analogy. Just work with me here.)

More directly, the ecosystem around an app could include a full website (not a landing page) that describes your philosophy, your goals, and allows customers to get in touch with you or other members of the community. An ecosystem could also include consistent public communication with customers, like blog posts, tweets, videos, and other forms of social media (sorry, that term stresses me out too). Most importantly, a vibrant ecosystem must include unparalleled customer support. Remember, you’re in this for the long run.

The Final Ingredient

If you’ve done all these steps correctly, you might still find yourself struggling. The last and final ingredient? It takes time. A commitment to a business over an app means you’re not measuring yesterday’s download numbers as an indication of whether you should give up. A commitment to a business means you’ll do whatever it takes to grow this thing, even if it takes several long painstaking years.

And really, that’s the most important distinction between an app and a business: it’s your mindset. You wouldn’t chase after a failing app for more than a few months. A business with your name written all over it? Well, that sort of becomes you. You’d feed it to grow with the same ravenous energy you have towards feeding your own body and soul. And, if you ask me, that’s a good recipe for success.


If you're just starting out on your journey, please don't hesitate to reach out via Twitter if there's any way I can be helpful.

Stop Waiting

October 29, 2017

I have a really bad habit. After I release something, be it a project, an update, or even an article, I wait. I wait for something magical to happen. I wait for the universe to finally give me what’s due. Because one of these days, one of these updates or features or emails I send—one of these is going to make it. And it’s gonna be huge.

Right?

Painfully wrong.

I just learned this lesson myself only a few days ago. For the last decade of shipping projects, my ritual and plan was always to 1. Develop the project, and 2. Perform a one-time marketing session of posting it around, emailing people, etc. Then I would wait.

And when nothing happened, I got upset. I got disappointed. I grew discouraged. Every new release, I told myself, this is it. This is the [project, idea, article, email] that’s just going to take off by itself. But it never did.

This was troubling, mostly in part because I also didn’t believe in the opposite. I believed in patience and luck, and I also believed that hard work payed off, but I believed it was cumulative. Meaning, I thought the work I put in yesterday counted for overall effort, and after a certain point, I was off the hook to do any more work, until I received some positive reinforcement.

But I’m starting to realize that effort is not cumulative in that sense. What I did yesterday to increase my chances of success is quickly forgotten if I don’t follow up on it today. I could reach out to ten tech bloggers today, but if I don’t continue reaching out every single day, it will be a lost cause. I could release a great new update with the best new features, but if I don’t continue delivering updates and quality control, the app will quickly be forgotten. You can release the most popular article mankind has ever seen, but if it’s not done frequently, it won’t matter.

It might be from some pop song, but these words ring true: it’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you’re doing.

I think a good litmus test would be to ask yourself, what am I doing? If your answers contain past verbs, like “updated”, “wrote”, “emailed”, “reached out to”, you’re waiting. Don’t do that.

Instead, you might say, “I’m updating the app every week with quality releases” and “I’m writing an article every two days on software development” or “I’m finding one new blog or journalist to reach out to every day.”

Present tense work is great not only because you’re constantly producing, and thus constantly increasing your luck, but also because it forces you to do really good work that you otherwise wouldn’t have done. A software project that you do work on every single day, after one year, has got to be damn good, compared to a project that you push to once every month. A blog that you write to once every other day will be far more interesting and engaging than one you write to every month.

Apart from the increase in quality of work, present tense work is also great for the mind. I’ve long discovered that happiness is actually quite simple, at least for me: I’m happy when I’m working. Not working? Not happy. I don’t mean this in an instantaneous sense, just in an overall sense. Did I do good work today? I’m happy. When you commit to working over waiting, you’ll not only gain a healthier state of mind, but great momentum.

Momentum is one of the most important deciding factors in my productivity. The hardest part of releasing something is the abrupt halt in momentum. Building up to a release is a lot of work. Towards the end, you’ll be running on pure adrenaline, working long hours to finish that final never-ending 1%. After you release, waiting absolutely demolishes your momentum. So instead of waiting, keep working. Keep advancing your project. Time is still passing, so the effect will still be that of “waiting”. The difference is a sort of “active waiting” vs “idle waiting”. With idle waiting, a month will have passed while your project collects dust and eventually stops being interesting. With active waiting, your project grows more interesting by day. If perhaps after thirty days you hear nothing back from what you were waiting on, then by now your project has completely changed and is many times better, allowing you to restart your cycle and begin reaching out again.

I can’t emphasize enough the destructive behavior waiting has had on the fate of my projects. And it’s a shame it took so long for me to understand this. The next time you find yourself refreshing your email, refreshing your sales dashboard, refreshing your analytics suite, expecting something new, you’re waiting. Get back to work.

You could be anything

October 28, 2017

The first half hour of every day are the most difficult. I sort of have to remind myself who I am and what I’m doing. It’s a lot of work when you think about it. Every day, you choose to renew your commitment to be yourself. You choose to live a day similar to the one you lived yesterday. Really, there are no days. Yesterday is separated only by sleep and the eerie parallel universe of dreams.

For the first 30 seconds after I awake, I am completely dumbfounded.

But it starts coming back to me. I see my bed, and I remember my home. I see my wife, and I remember my love. I see my room and walls, and remember where I am. This process happens so seamlessly, it’s as if nothing happened in between. But I’m on to you world. I know I’m loaded up every morning.

We choose to live the same life we lived yesterday. If there is no free will, there is most certainly the decision to abide by our definition of reality. Because it could very easily be different. You could very easily go off-track, on an adventure that might instantly change your life. You could awake and decide that instead of going to the office today, you’re going to drive hours away from home without a destination. You could decide to walk out of your house and not stop walking until the sun sets. You could decide to travel to another state or country. You could change your entire life, if you wanted to. But you won’t. Fear holds you back.

I’m mostly convinced that fear is an illusion. I’m often reminded of Emerson’s observation that fear and grief are only terrifying in thought:

In the death of my son, now more than two years ago, I seem to have lost a beautiful estate,—no more. I cannot get it nearer to me. If tomorrow I should be informed of the bankruptcy of my principal debtors, the loss of my property would be a great inconvenience to me, perhaps, for many years; but it would leave me as it found me,—neither better nor worse. So is it with this calamity: it does not touch me: some thing which I fancied was a part of me, which could not be torn away without tearing me, nor enlarged without enriching me, falls off from me, and leaves no scar. It was caducous. I grieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carry me one step into real nature.

I think thinking about something scary is is scarier than actually experiencing that scary thing. You decide who you are every morning, but fearful thoughts keep you in check.

“I can’t just not show up to work—that’s madness!” Perhaps it is. But, what’s the worst that could happen? An awkward conversation with your boss? Or maybe you get fired from a job you probably hate and end up finding one you love? Scary.

Inconvenience is adventure misinterpreted.

I’m no thrill-seeker. But I retrospectively love where inconvenience or rash decisions place me. If every morning you choose to live the same life you lived yesterday, then sameness will be all you ever know. Switch it up. Decide on something new. You are defined by your adventures and the challenges you’ve faced. I like sprinkling a touch of uncertainty on life. It really brings out the flavor.

Every morning, you decide to be you, thinking that’s who you really are. But there is no you. There’s just a body of consciousness deciding to do the same things and feel the same way they felt the day before. You is just a really bad habit.

Don’t mistake repetition for permanence. You could be anything.

I don't know, a million times

October 27, 2017

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

I repeated these words frantically to myself as I was taking a walk, trying to figure out not only what my problems were, but what the answers were as well.

How do I get more traffic to my website? Should I be getting more traffic to my website? Should I be improving the product? Am I charging the right price? Maybe it’s too expensive? Maybe it’s too cheap?

I don’t know.

Should I be going out and meeting people? Networking? Connecting? Maybe someone else will know?

I don’t know.

I’ve gotten help along the way, but everyone sort of says the same thing. Jason Fried is a really nice guy, and he’s responded to a few of my emails when I asked him for help starting out. In the beginning of Standard Notes, the main question I had was, should I begin charging right away, or keep everything free to attract as many users as possible, then after gaining a stable user base, begin working out a revenue model?

It sounds obvious now (for a bootstrapped company, start charging yesterday), but at the time, I lost several weeks of sleep to this question. I was so carefully afraid of moving in the wrong direction and accidentally killing my project. I asked Jason if he had any insight, not realizing that I’d be putting him in a difficult situation. And he gave the best answer anyone in his situation could possibly give.

He quoted a part of my email and said “You answered your question right there.”

If I forego revenue right now, I might be able to attract more people to the platform because of the cool benefits of the subscription package. But I’ll miss out on building a sustainable business, and also delay my goal of making enough to do this full time.

Indeed I did.

I bring up Jason because he tweeted this some time ago, and it made me feel better about my cluelessness:

Seek fewer mentors. Seek more self-confidence. Too many people are stuck waiting for someone wiser to show them the way. There is no way.

All this time, I had went about my lack of knowledge of building up a company as a sort of education that I was lacking. That there were answers that others knew, that I just did not have the access to. So I searched the internet, I searched books, and I searched people, looking for answers to my incessant questions. But I never found them.

That’s because they didn’t exist.

I don’t have children, but I imagine building a company is like raising a child—each one will be infinitely unique and different from the other. There are generic answers available everywhere, but ultimately, it will be instinct, love, and care that will set it apart from the others and create the best possible environment for success.

Today, "I don’t know" is still a staple of my vocabulary. And as much as I hate not knowing, in a sick sort of way, I kind of like it too. The unknown is scary to death, but it’s so damn exciting.

You’ll figure it out. Just keep going.

You should quit your job.

October 26, 2017

Sounds reckless right? But I want to make the case for why quitting your job can be a great way to advance your project, even when it may sound like a scary idea.

You see, I had always thought that, during times I was employed, the extent to which my side projects would reach was inherent in the nature of the project. That is, the reason all my side projects tended to be single-use and single-launch was because they were designed for that.

I was lying to myself.

The truth was, my side projects never took off because they were missing the most important fuel a project needs: time. I would launch every project on the basis of “If I build it and launch on Product Hunt, they will come, and my moment will come.” It never came.

I tried various ways to optimize success during employment. I tried waking up at 4am every day, and working on my own projects until 7am before heading to work, but that didn’t last very long. Three hours is time, but what’s needed is capital-t Time.

I tried rationalizing working during work hours, but it always felt shitty doing so. It’s no way to live. You start feeling extremely guilty and paranoid, and you begin to hate your job even more. I even tried taking long vacations exclusively to work on side projects. That one worked pretty well actually. But you can only take so many vacations.

I bounced from job to job, looking for the one that would make me happy and cure my need for wanting to work on my own projects. “I just need to find a company that works on a product interesting enough to make my own.” I found two such companies, and worked at them for some time, but in the end, the whispers came back. You have to do your own thing.

There’s never a perfect time to quit your job. I had only a few months worth of savings, and the project I was quitting my job to pursue didn’t yet have a revenue model. But enough was enough.

Today, quitting my job was the best decision I’ve ever made. I only wish I had done it sooner.

Here are a few reasons you should quit your job:

  1. It will cure your shitty mood.

    After the excitement of starting a new job and joining a new team wore off (about 2-3 months), the feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose would come screaming back. There’s an inherent sort of degradation involved in employment, especially if you’re cursed to be ambitious. You sit behind a desk contributing labor to executives that profit more than you ever could. No matter what salary I was paid, no matter what my stock options were, I couldn’t escape from the inherent shittiness of feeling that I could be doing all this work for my own product rather than someone else’s. And that created an inherent depression.

    After quitting many jobs in my career chasing the perfect one, but never finding happiness, I learned that it’s not any particular job or company that I hated working for. It was employment in general.

  2. It will allow you to grow your project in ways you could never have imagined.

    You know the feeling: you’re at your day job, and you just can’t wait to get home so you can get hacking on your side project. You plan to be home no later than 5:45 p.m. 5 o’clock hits, and your build fails to compile. So you stick around for another 10 minutes. On your way out, you catch your boss in the hallway and you make small talk for a few minutes. You run to catch the bus, but it’s delayed by 12 minutes. You make it home by 6:30, and you are absolutely exhausted and defeated. You have half an hour before you need to start thinking about dinner. You open your computer and start trying to work on your project, but you’ve been staring at a damned computer screen all day, and it’s the last thing you want to do right now. Maybe after dinner? After dinner, you crash, and grow even more tired. You call it a day, and repeat the same thing tomorrow.

    That was my average daily experience. It’s no wonder I could never make meaningful progress on a project. Imagine if instead you awoke every morning at 8am, and immediately began working on your own project without limit. Imagine the progress you’d make. The things you’d learn. Quitting my job to focus on developing my own product has been the single biggest investment in my skills I’ve ever made.

  3. Multi-tasking is a myth.

    I have never been able to do two things at the same time. Or, at least, I’ve never been able to do two things well at the same time. My best work has been when I’ve had a single-minded focus on one project or task for a long period of time. Switching contexts is something that I've never really been good at. Once I start something, and build up momentum towards it, it’s really difficult for me to switch to something else. When you start your day doing work for your employer, and do it for the next 8-10 hours, you gain momentum in the direction of your employer, and opposite from your own work. Switching becomes as chaotic as doing a u-turn driving 100mph.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that quitting your job will be filled with sugar, candy, and all that is sweet. Building my own product without a stable income has been the hardest thing I have ever done. And it only gets harder.

Here are a few reasons you shouldn’t quit your job.

  1. Working on your own product will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

    Quitting your job takes only 1 day, and the euphoria wears off after a week. After that, you’re left with the cold hard reality that you need to make something happen, and soon. The best part? Nothing will go your way. Every day brings a new challenge, and most times, you'll just want to quit and go back to the “comforts” of employment, where you only have to pseudo-worry about anything. Self-employment is definitely not for the faint of heart.

    Most days I find myself asking, what on earth am I doing? What do I do next? Answers never come easy. I only have one rule for myself: keep going, and don’t give up. I’ve been able to make great progress on that mindset. (And trust me, giving up is a second instinct to me. I’m so good at it. Doing this has taught me not only the value of not giving up, but also that I am surprisingly capable of persevering.).

  2. Creating a product people use is rewarding, but equally punishing.

    All I ever wanted and dreamt of when I was laboring over someone else’s dream was to create a product that people would enjoy using. I told myself that if only a handful of people found my product useful and I made very little money from it, I’d be supremely happy. In some part, that was true. Having people use and depend on Standard Notes today has been the most rewarding experience of my life. But with every new user comes the opportunity for new bugs and issues. This is software after all, and there is no escaping from those dreary creepy-crawlers. Bug reports instantly ruin my day. I hate letting down users and inconveniencing them with bugs. The worst part is, they will never ever go away. Just think: you will have to live the rest of your life fixing bugs. Bugs that can make users very upset. It’s rewarding that people use your product, but it’s equally punishing.

  3. You will have no idea what you’re doing.

    You better hope that all your jobs have prepared you for this moment. If you’re venturing solo, be sure you’re ready to handle everything, from development to marketing to sales. As a developer, coding is the easy part, and I’m tempted to always do it because of how instantly gratifying it is. Marketing and sales? I might have an easier time understanding quantum mechanics. Be sure you really want this, and be sure you’re ready to work harder than you’ve ever worked before.

What should you do?

I can’t speak for your situation. Every one of us will have infinitely varying circumstances. But if all day you dream about quitting, and all you can ever think about is how much happier you’d be working on your own stuff, then what are you waiting for? Signs hardly come this clear. The world is scary, but I promise you this: you’ll live. You won’t starve. And worst-case scenario, you’ll learn a valuable lesson or two about life and entrepreneurship, and hop your way back into another job.

I don’t have kids, so I can’t offer any advice in that direction. Quitting a job becomes a whole different monster in that situation. Talk to your family and see if quitting your job is right for you.

Finally, keep in mind that I’m just some stranger on the internet you probably know nothing about. You probably shouldn’t listen to me. Ultimately, this decision is yours to make. I thought I would share my experience and what I’ve learned, in case it helps someone trapped in a situation similar to the one I was in.

Quitting your job won’t solve all your problems, but it will definitely bring on a new set of more interesting problems. The kind of problems that, if they don’t kill you, have the potential to change your life.

How To Destroy A Company

October 25, 2017

It’s fun to hate on things we love. Humans tend to have a sort of fetish for violence when things are too easy. Utopia will never exist because Marco Arment won’t like a minor detail, and will ruin it for everyone. I love and respect Marco, and use his name only as the most common example of behavior that, when inspected, really doesn’t seem to be in our favor.

I get frustrated by usability bugs as much as anyone. And as someone who like Marco runs a company, I understand what it feels like when someone criticizes your product. It is by far one of the worst feelings of this strange existence. I can only imagine Apple, made up of humans just like us, has the capacity to feel the same.

Now, this isn’t some Apple-apoligist party. But I would like to plea with our natural desire to complain when we are frustrated. I’m just the same. I draft so many tweets that are complaints, but try not posting any of them. My only rule when tweeting is not to complain, since no one really benefits from it, other than to see how many other people I can get to agree with me.

But, Apple sucks, right? They’ve lost their way. They’ve lost sight of the big picture. Marco is wont to say, “who’s the product manager now that Jobs is gone?”

And, Google sucks too, right? The Pixel 2 XL has major screen issues. They’ve lost control of their hardware.

The behavior I find most strange is that we tend to root for these disasters. While we want the nicest new products every year, a sick little part of us wants Apple to slip up. Wants Google to ship a failing product. So that they can learn, and get their shit together. And the natural extent of this behavior, whether we realize it or not, is destruction. We have the power to bring down these companies. There’s no question that consumers have the power to destroy consumer companies. But why are we constantly utilizing this power against companies we love?

Can you imagine a world without Apple? No new iPhones every year. No new super-slim laptops (I for one am a fan of thinner laptops. Portability is what they're made for.) No new Apple TV, which has completely changed the way I watch television.

Can you imagine a world without Google? As far as I can tell, Google is the internet. They may not have invented it, but they definitely define it.

Call me insane, but I think we should root for companies we love. Understand that at large scale, things only get more difficult, and that if we want more nice things, it takes not just monetarily supporting a company, but emotionally supporting it too. You might say, I don’t want any more new products. I just want my existing ones to work better. And that’s fair. It’s ok to question if a company is moving too fast. But when they slip up, I think we ought to allow room for apology, and not immediately take it to its most destructive end.

I was asking a friend the other day if he had any issues with his new MacBook Pro keyboard. He asked me what I was talking about. “You didn’t see all the rage over Apple’s sticky keyboard issues?” He had no idea what I was talking about. He loved the new keyboard. I filled him in on what was being said, and ever-wise he said, “Sure, when you compare Apple to objective-utopia, they suck. They're pathetically imperfect. But compared to almost anything else in 2017, they are the best thing in existence. They are the best part of my life. And overall, they've made my life drastically better.”

I thought that was worth reflecting on. Next time I find myself wanting to say, Apple sucks, or Google sucks, it’s helpful to add “compared to…”. I think that makes things more fair. Apple sells the image of perfection, so when there are obvious bugs, like the calculator bug in iOS 11, it’s sort of embarrassing. And I think rather than taking that as a sign of “Apple has lost their way,” we ought to allow room for forgiveness, if we want to see Apple and similar companies continue to push new products that we, overall, love.

I've seen heaven. And it's written in JavaScript.

October 24, 2017

Why React Native is the Future

I have a weird way of describing software. And you’ll either know what I mean, or you won’t. It’s sort of strange, but software interfaces feel like they have a weight. When I use an interface, it can feel heavy, or it can feel light. Neither is better than the other. It just sort of depends. Chrome is very light. Safari feels heavier. And Firefox feels the heaviest. It’s probably bullshit, but that’s the feeling I get.

One of the heaviest feeling experiences in my software development career has been using Swift in Xcode. Oh the pain. The delay. The Kanye-West compiler that never lets you finish. I’ve lived in this unwieldy world for the last several years, building applications the only way I knew how: raw, manual, single-platform code. Go native! Right?

When I learned about React Native, I was skeptic. Write code in JavaScript once and deploy native apps on both iOS and Android?—this has to suck. So I ignored it. And instead ended up writing two separate native apps, one in Swift for iOS, and the other in Java/Kotlin for Android. This was in addition to a web app written in JavaScript, and an Electron-based desktop app. (The app is an encrypted cross-platform notes app, so availability on every platform was key.)

This worked well enough for some time, but had its difficulties. I could manage writing the web app and iOS app, but I had no experience with Android whatsoever. In fact, I had never used an Android device my entire life for more than an hour. Luckily, a community contributor was happy to help in building the fundamentals, which allowed me to forego writing an app from scratch, and instead just maintaining it with incremental changes.

Any time a change needed to be made, or a feature added, I would need to journey into three separate code bases and write the same code, in three different languages. Being one person, this wasn’t always very efficient. It could take a week to make even the simplest cross-platform change. The result were apps that could never have nice things. For example, several users were asking for the ability to add a passcode and fingerprint lock to the application—a very reasonable request for a security-minded notes app. But the implementation of this was no triviality: first, a passcode setup interface in addition to an input interface was required. Then, encrypting offline user data with the passcode. Then, on mobile, specifying when the passcode or fingerprint should be requested (immediately or on app quit). The thought of writing all of that code in Swift, then Java, then JavaScript, was a nightmare. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

There has to be a better way.

Enter React Native

I had to describe the context and emotion behind what it felt to have to maintain separate codebases for an application, so that you know the elation I felt when I began using React Native. For the first week of writing native applications in Atom (!), my mouth was agape. I could not believe how easy it was. No Xcode, no Swift, instant reloading of changes, writing in the ever-easy to use JavaScript—I was in heaven. I would put the iOS simulator and Android emulator side-by-side as I was writing code, and spent half the time in utter disbelief that everything just worked. I never had to wonder, well, this looks good on iOS, I wonder if it’ll work well on Android? For the most part, if it works on one platform, it’ll work on both, with little adjustment.

The most beautiful part? I WAS REUSING ENTIRE CLASSES FROM MY WEB APP! I was able to copy complex classes involving models, controllers, and encryption logic wholesale with very little change. The entire sync engine of the app? Copied right from the web app. Encryption and decryption? From the web app. Models and relationships? From the web app.

I was so, so happy not to be writing all this stuff from scratch. Sync is hard, and encrypted sync is no easier. The web/desktop codebase was our flagship, tested product, and the confidence of being able to reuse those components was magnificent.

One of the hardest parts of building native applications using native IDEs is the user interface. On iOS, it is so painstakingly time-consuming to develop interfaces. You can do it through code, but it will involve a lot of code. And managing dynamic layout constraints with code is more hellish than most tasks. You could use the interface builder, but, you lose the fine-grained control and flexibility code gives you. And good luck committing and collaborating on Interface Builder changes in git.

In React Native, dynamic interfaces are a breeze. You use CSS-like syntax to build the the design of your dreams:

let containerStyles = {
    backgroundColor: “red”,
    display: “flex”,
    alignItems: “center”,
    width: “100%"
}

let childStyles = {
    fontSize: 14,
    color: “black”,
    fontWeight: “bold"
}

<View style={containerStyles}>
     <Text style={childStyles}>Hello, future.</Text>
</View>

This is the basis for building all interfaces in React Native. And it’s really as simple as it looks. And the bast part?

THEMING.

Essentially, your entire interface is a bunch of JSON properties. You’ve probably already noticed it wouldn’t be very hard to pull a JSON style blob from a server or file and completely change the appearance of the app. So that’s exactly what I did:

Do you know how hard this would have been in native code? My mind aches just thinking about it.

What's the catch?

During my journey through heaven, as I looked in every direction in utter amazement and wonder, I kept thinking, what’s the catch? It can’t be this easy to build native applications. It felt almost sinful.

Now, this is software, and a software development tool at that, so there is no such thing as perfect. React Native is still under active development, so you’ll experience some gotchas. My first few gotchas felt existential. “Shit! This is the end! I knew it. I knew it was too good to be true. This issue is going to completely blow up my project.” Luckily, there was no issue that couldn’t be solved.

For example, one of the more annoying issues I experienced was that the TextInput component of React Native just didn’t work well enough on Android for a notes app. The scrolling was laggy, and anytime you scrolled to read the note, it would automatically bring up the keyboard. Extremely frustrating. I tried for several days to hack my way around the issue by somehow manipulating the JavaScript code to prevent both issues. But absolutely nothing worked. I learned however that this is not the end of your project. It is the beginning.

React Native allows you to easily build native components for anything your heart desires. A native component or module means you can write interface and business logic using native Swift/Objective-C or Java/Kotlin and easily create a JavaScript interface for controlling those modules. In my case, I wrote a custom textview module in Java that made scrolling much smoother, and wouldn’t focus the input on scroll. This was straight up Java written in Android Studio. I imported it in JavaScript, added it to the view hierarchy, and boom, a beautifully scrolling text input in React Native. Problem solved.

I used native modules for other things too, including the encryption module (separate modules for iOS and Android) and the fingerprint authentication module.

Should you use React Native?

Yes, yes, 100% yes. Even if you’re building a single-platform app, I would use React Native. It just feels like the better way to write apps. As new as Swift is, it feels ridiculously outdated and heavy compared to the nimbleness of writing apps in JavaScript. I really wish Apple focused on making it more accessible to write great applications, rather than introducing the most esoteric programming language I’ve encountered in some time. Xcode was built around Objective-C, and Swift still feels out of place inside.

I was able to re-use about 70-80% of the code from our web app in building the native mobile app. The rest is interface code that could not be re-used. I was even able to target lower versions of iOS and Android. Our original Swift Standard Notes app used the newest implementation of Core Data, so iOS 10 was required. The new React Native implementation works out of the box on iOS 8 and Android 5.

Want to see how a React Native app feels? You can download the finished product for iOS and Android. You can also check out the entire source code. If you have any questions on the React Native development process, please don’t hesitate to reach out on Twitter.

If doing something wags your tail, keep doing it

October 23, 2017

To whom it may concern,

I’ve always wanted to start a letter like that. During the 90s, my dad owned a fast-food restaurant in what was then not-River North. I remember he would receive letters addressed like that. Thus began my mild infatuation with TWIMC.

Last night I attempted to continue reading Biocentrism, a book I’ve been spending some time with every night. I only ever read when I get into bed, for as long as I can keep my eyes open. Sometimes I’ll last twenty minutes. Other times, just a few. But yesterday, as I read a few sentences, I felt a strange resistance.

It had happened again: I grew bored. I could not separate myself any further from it. All of these last two weeks I had spent lost in the world of quantum mechanics and the conditions of our probabilistic existence. And just like that, I was totally over it. Reading the words off those pages felt like reading through bricks. I knew it was only a matter of time. You didn’t think I’d be into this stuff forever, did you? Na. Two weeks tops. That applies as much to quantum mechanics as it does to ping-pong (that one lasted three weeks).

I find myself now searching for something new to get lost in. It is so impossibly difficult for me to start a new book. I’m never impressed enough by book descriptions. I have the same problem with TV shows and video games. I just don’t know if it’ll be worth my time. I ended up going with The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic, a book suggested by Ryan Holiday in his email list about the last few stands of the Roman Empire.

I’ve had phases where I’m particularly interested in history. But today’s times are too strange to have an interest in politics. 2016 ruined politics for me (and The West Wing). It burst my bubble of the idea of a progressive world, and morphed it instead into a world where no one has any idea of what's going on. Is 2016-2017 bad for modern politics? It seems like it. But is it bad for politics of the year 2050? It’s impossible to say. History has shown time and time again good can come from bad. Pity that we have to pay the price. Blood is delicious nutrition for our ever-carnivorous Mother Nature.

I have little interesting to write about today, and I still need to learn to open up more. I’ve done a month long marathon of writing daily before, but I wouldn’t publish them, so it was easy to be myself and talk freely. The moment I know I am being observed, I spin. My preferred party size is 2, then 3, and a maximum of 4 people. More than that, and I forget how to act.

I’ve been fighting my social behavior for the last decade to try to be more present and outgoing. But this might be the first year where I’m sort of just accepting my behavior as-is. I don’t make a lot of new friends. But I do write a lot of code. And that’s what makes me happy. Should I fight it?

If there’s anything I’ve learned during my brief and petty bout with existence, it’s never fight what makes you happy. Life doesn’t always give you signs so clearly. But happiness from doing something? That’s a break from the universe’s reluctance to show any emotion. She’s wagging her tail for you. All you have to do is fetch.

A falling tree doesn't make a sound

October 22, 2017

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? I’ve always thought the answer to this was yes, of course it makes a sound, even when no one is present. I posted this question to Twitter and the answers were the same: of course it makes a sound! I was surprised to learn this is the wrong answer.

After I heard the case for why it does not in fact make a sound, I was dumbfounded. Why had I been conditioned to see it otherwise? It was kind of earth-shattering. Let me explain why a falling tree only makes a sound when someone is present.

“Sound” is made when our ears pick up vibrations or pulsations in the air and converts them into what we perceive as auditory sensations. But without ears, all you have are pulsations in the air. Pulsations in the air do not have an “inherent” sound. It only becomes sound when our ears convert that air into sound. You wouldn’t say a binary encoded audio file has an intrinsic sound, would you? It’s just ones and zeros. Only when you open the file with an audio player, and the audio player routes the data to your computer’s speakers, is sound actually made. But if you open that same file in a text editor, it won't make a sound.

Once I saw it like this, I couldn’t understand why I had ever seen it any other way. Unfortunately, once you unlock this understanding, you’ll be taken on a wild ride where you question the objective vs. subjective nature of everything. If sound is made only when we perceive it, where do we draw the line with our other senses?

Images of the world are made when light is converted by our retinas into meaningful symbols. Without a retina to perceive light, what does the world actually, “intrinsically” look like? Again, it’s sort of just illegible data until our mind parses it and turns it into something meaningful. Without eye technology, the world cannot really be said to have a visual interface.

Without our sense of touch, the world cannot be said to have a tactile interface.

And really, given what we know about electrons being wishy-washy about the details of their existence, without humans, or other conscious beings, the world cannot be said to exist, period.

The universe is lazy-loaded

October 21, 2017

I’ve recently been entangled in the world of quantum physics, where absolutely nothing makes sense. I dance this confused ballad every so often, and always wind up at the same place: what on earth is going on here? The universe is as suspicious as ever.

I’m reading a book called Biocentrism, which argues that without conscious observers, the universe quite simply does not exist. That is, the universe as we know does not exist “physically”, but we create it with our minds. How is this done?

Well, I’m only a hobbyist, and quantum mechanics is still far above my pay-grade. But here’s my understanding:

An electron can have a spin. Assume for simplicity that the spin can either be up or down. At any given instant, an electron’s spin is said to be indeterminate. You can’t say, nor can it be said, that it will have this particular spin at this particular time, like you can do with most areas of classical physics. And this is not some sort of weakness in our observation or measuring techniques: it inherently does not have a spin.

That is, until you measure it. The instant you observe it, it collapses to a rigid state and then can be determined to be up or down.

It’s not currently very clear what the nature of the “observer” needs to be. Some argue that an observer need to be conscious, such as a human or an insect, for electrons to modify their behavior. Other interpretations do not require consciousness.

As the name implies, Biocentrism is about how biological life brings about the universe, and not the other way around. The book breaks down quantum mechanics in delicious and easy to understand bits, but parts of it still evade my tiny brain.

Essentially, the book argues that in a room with conscious observers (us), electrons will commit to a certain state. When a formation of these particles all commit to a state, we see it as the very persistent reality we know and love. However, when the observers exit the room, the room contents cannot be definitely said to exist anymore. The room now exists in a probabilistic state. The electrons making up the room can no longer be said to be in the same state you remembered them being in.

In a sense, the universe is "lazy-loaded”. It doesn’t “render” until it needs to. And this isn’t some wacky theory. It’s what the deepest and most fundamental understanding of physics is pointing to. A very, very “advanced” universe. And I think advanced is a very fair word to use.

Science, which is really good at producing endless technological miracles and advancements, is not so good at attribution. I don’t necessarily mean “god”, since that’s a concept that’s being deprecated quickly. Nor can I actually say what it is, but it is very clear what it’s not. The words “random” and “infinite” are words we’ve accepted to describe the universe, but neither of those words hold any actual meaning, other than being convenient concepts. To me, it’s as simple as:

A universe that created animals with consciousness cannot be dumb.

That’s probably as far as I’m willing to take it. I won’t say it’s intelligent, or sentient, or omniscient. But it’s most certainly not dumb. Random? Infinite? I don’t know what either of those words mean.

I hate marketing

October 20, 2017

I hate marketing. There, I said it. I hate hate hate marketing. Reaching out to people, forming new “connections”, networking—I cannot stand even the thought of imagining myself at a tech conference. I hate the thought of approaching strangers and trying to somehow mention or convince them of me or my product. Apart from my wife and a few long-standing friends, I am notoriously bad at up-keeping relationships.

Marketing for me is something I haven’t been able to learn like other things. If you want to learn to program, well, that’s easy: just follow the tutorials. If you want to learn to write, well, that’s easy-ish: read a lot and be observant. But there are no “tutorials” for marketing. You might say it’s an art form, but if it were, it would be some cursed, wicked form of art.

Marketing is the only field I know where once a new strategy has been tried and is found to work, it completely stops working. Meaning, if someone discovers a new way of clever marketing, it’s immediately copied by all, and is thus rendered useless. Marketing seems to be “the art of sticking out”, and when everyone does the same thing, well, that’s the opposite of marketing.

As for me, I just want to code. That’s all I ever think about doing. But coding, at least in my current stage, is a guilty pleasure. I know I shouldn’t be doing it. I should be marketing. Getting more people attracted to my project. Reaching out. Ekh.

At first, I tried to embrace my hatred towards marketing as a learning opportunity. “Hey, here’s something challenging and rewarding, can’t wait to learn all about it!” But I haven’t really made any progress, other than blind luck. And that’s just it: it seems there’s a huge luck factor involved in marketing, especially (or actually, particularly) when you’re working with a zero marketing budget. And when my fate hangs by a wire, “luck” is not something I want to be toying with.

I need consistency. Reproducibility. Calculability. Marketing and networking offer none of those. I know people who are so good at networking that it upsets me and boggles my mind at the same time. There’s a pretty great Netflix show called Atypical about an autistic teenager named Sam who functions almost “normally” except for the fact that he struggles to understand normal social cues and interactions. But in a sense, you don’t have to be on the spectrum to struggle with making sense of all the kinds of relationships and their subtleties.

When a friend explains networking to me, I am utterly baffled. “Wait, so you’re saying you reach out to random people you don’t know if you’ll like or not, sit through an hour lunch with them while you try not to talk with your mouth full, and call it a wrap until you do it again a few months later? And then you have to email them every month or so to keep the relationship ‘active’? And you have to go out of your way to do something for them in hopes that 20 years from now they might do something for you? And that on top of all that, you shouldn’t have a cynical or “reciprocal" outlook about it, but instead it’s about sincerely getting to meet new people? What in the actual fuck?”

Yeah. No thanks. I’m gonna go back to coding where things actually make sense.

Niceness happens in pockets

October 19, 2017

This is my attempted (re)beginning of writing three pages every day in the morning. It's a sort of therapy for me. A lot of stuff finds itself circulating in my mind, then lingers and pollutes it. It's become exhausting to think, I should write this down, and expand on it to learn more about it, then never following through.

Writing three pages every day is something I learned from The Artist’s Way. At first I thought it would be impossible, that I couldn’t possibly find something to write about every single day. But several months ago, I did this same exercise and found that not only was it possible, it was also extremely easy.

The trick is to write without thought. The cogs of your mind are spinning and producing thoughts whether you want them to or not. This exercise then is about transcribing this free flow of thought on to paper, without judgement. Seth Godin described it as something like:

One never gets talker’s block. Because you just say what you think. Similarly writer's block is a myth, because you just write what you think.

That really changed the way I look at writing daily, taking it from this grand impossible to a plain plausibility.

I write on actual paper when I do these exercises, since it’s more conducive to free flow. On computer, I might be tempted to hit the backspace key all too often. Paper allows room for imperfection. Computer underlines everything with red. It’s not its fault. It doesn’t know any better.

I try to write about things that might be useful to me in the future. Yesterday—ok wow. I don’t know if it’s the coffee, or it’s this book I’ve been reading on time and quantum theory, but I wrote the word “yesterday” and experienced a mental crash. What is yesterday? What is the physical yesterday? I guess I meant to say, “the continuous stream of consciousness I experienced before it was interrupted by a long sleep”—yesterday, I was thinking about niceness.

I’ve been recently captivated by why we become different people on the internet. On large scale websites like Twitter and Reddit, people (we) act different than they would in a small physical community. And this behavior tends to be more extreme on the mean-ness scale. Twitter is a meaner place than your grocery store. But why? We tend to blame the product design of sites like Twitter and Facebook for not being conducive enough to niceness and amiability, but I’m starting to think it might instead be the product design of human beings.

Several years ago I lived in a 52-story building in the heart of Chicago’s West Loop. There were so many residents that I would hardly see the same face twice. So, you wouldn’t really make conversation in the hallways or elevator. Most people would just look down as they walked. I lived in that building for six months and did not learn the name of a single “co-resident”.

The next building I move into, on the edge of River North, was a little smaller—7 stories, with about 10-15 units on each floor. This time, I found myself conversing at relatively greater lengths, perhaps more than a minute, with immediate neighbors. But it was still sort of abstract.

The last place, where I now live, is only a 3-story building with a single unit on each floor. I know all my neighbors’ names, occupations, hobbies, kids names, favorite restaurants, what time they usually head to work and return—I’ve made lengthy and meaningful conversation with all of them. If I run into one of them in the hallway, I’ll make a real effort to have a real conversation, and not just a “hi-bye”.

All that to say, I think niceness occurs in pockets. You start with the intimacy of two people having a private conversation, where I think niceness has the greatest chance of being found. Then scale that up to a group of friends, a team, a family, a small apartment building, a yoga class, your university. Niceness is present in all these places but diminishes with size. You’re more likely to say hi! to a passing person in a quiet suburb than in a crowded street in the middle of Chicago.

And if a tight-knit community is the best place to find niceness, then Twitter is neither tightly knit nor a community. It’s instead one of the largest, most crowded cities you’ll ever find yourself in.

I think the lasting solution to “how can we make the internet a nicer place” is to simply find intimate pockets that you can be a part of—the online equivalent of a 3-story building, or warm yoga class. But when you enter a mega metropolis like Twitter, with hundreds of millions of people, it sort of just becomes a matter of statistics, probability, and the strange (and ultimately shocking) distribution of human behavior.