A Hundred Redwood Trees

A friend texted me today asking if I was busy. How to answer such a question? No, and it may be "I need help installing Word on my impossibly slow and unresponsive computer." Yes, and I'm an asshole.

"No what's up?" Please don't be a tech issue. Please don't be a tech issue.

"I feel lost. I don't know what I'm doing with my life. I don't seem to be motivated by anything anymore. I don't know where my passion has gone."

I double check the sender to make sure it wasn't me.

Sigh, — how to help you dear friend when it is I that needs help?

I've always had the luxury of giving up. That is, giving up on any present endeavor would not have harmed me in any significant way. Rather, it was more that I would with some probability miss out on something good, but, ah well.

Time and time again, a new hobby or passion would enthrall me — one wildly more exciting than the last. And when it got hard or uncomfortable, giving up began flirting with me, and I could not resist her advances.

I have this time around however carved so deep into one single direction that I cannot see any other way I look. Of course, my mistress still comes to visit, even on this long and winding path — give up and let go, and let us explore a new freedom together. I close my eyes and get closer. I can feel her breathe against mine. At the height of anticipation, my heart a second away from beating out my chest, I pull back. I can't do this. I'm so sorry.

She leaves embarrassed. But she'll be back.

In the morning, I check the map. I look up and straight ahead. Then back from where I came. Is today the day we turn back? It's like the joke about the man who swam half way across the ocean before turning back from fatigue. Amusingly, I'm at a point where going back would probably be more work.

So further I walk into the canyon I've carved for myself. When I reach the edge, I'll sit and rest for a few days. Then I'll awake on one day, tired and wary, and begin carving languidly from the edge. The dust from the falling stones blankets my eyes until I have no choice but to call it a day. I'll rest another week, sometimes sleepwalking in the middle of the night towards the wall with my chisel in my hand. I fall back to the ground before I ever make it.

Often, I'll look at the stone wall in my way and ask myself, "how bad do I want to chisel today?" The wall increases in opacity each day, and now I see only black. I cannot see even a centimeter beyond it. I may chisel for weeks and weeks without seeing anything but black.

And so it is everyday the same confrontation. On what fuel am I running? Imagine you were in the woods and everyday saw a bear clawing away at a huge rock while making very little progress in erosion. Without fail, you arrive bright and early in the morning, and there he is, that poor bastard just clawing away at the rock. Doesn't he know it's just more rock?

So too does it seem insane of me to continue. Can't you see? It is absolute insanity for me to march straight even though I cannot see ahead of me. Is it not mental? Put him down. Shoot that poor bear and rid him of his misery!

This is the madness we operate under today. To carve and carve even though we may not even be sure what's on the other side — this is obsessive madness and borderline insanity.

And it would explain why I seem to be losing my mind.

These days I carve out just a little each day. I've nestled in to this new canyon and have made myself a nice home. The other day I lit a fire under the moonlight. There was a nice wind, and the mint of the trees danced with the crackle of the fire  — I inhaled it slowly. I looked around my new settlement in contentment. I noticed new types of trees that I had not noticed before, and unknown animals rustling in the distance. I've discovered new elements and materials, and have devised plans for new tools to chisel with, on some future day. I look back towards the path from which I came. But where there was once a worn path, there are now a hundred redwood trees.

The Meantime

That's what gets left out. In stories about fame, success, and glory, we don't get a sense of time. We only learn of the checkpoints in someone's journey, events which may have numbered just a hundred in the story of one person. The meantime are all the long endless seconds in between.

The meantime is eternity. It is time at a pace beyond your control. It is days that never end, constant doubt and questioning, incessant fear and irrational paranoia. It is chores and work and labor and illness and theft and hunger and life. The meantime is when it's easiest for us to give up. It is the time we are off stage, and in it we constantly question our previous performances. The meantime is, by every definition I know, hell.

The meantime is growth. It is navigation. It is when we form new ideas in our minds, or understand something old in a new way. It is growth that cannot be seen or measured. But growth, by its very definition, is agony. Because growth outgrows itself, continuously.

Not everyone makes it through the meantime. In here I've discovered the most ravenous monsters that one can imagine. Fighting them each day fatigues even a warrior. But I've heard stamina is something we have going for us.

How to cope with the meantime? By it's very definition, you can't. The meantime is unavoidable, because whatever merry distraction you summon to hasten an interval of meantime, it is no longer meantime, and the shortened segment now stretches to fill the vacancy — the same mental space is always occupied by the meantime.

The meantime is silent struggle. It is the pain of new memories being formed, of immeasurable growth, and of death. The meantime can not be measured, observed, or written about. It is the invisible shadows that follow us everywhere we go.

The meantime is when it is decided if it will kill you, or make you stronger.

Taking Risks Accelerates Progress

How much sooner do you think you’d arrive at what success is to you if there were no consequences on you or your family for your actions? Not having to worry about providing, about health, about anything – how much sooner would you arrive at success? Maybe you’d say in 3-6 months, compared to the several years otherwise. Your reluctance to behave in that sort of “reckless” fashion is what’s called fear. Thus conquering fear allows you to accelerate your progress. The act of conquering your fears as applied to daily life is called “taking risks”. Taking risks accelerates your progress by orders of magnitude. Being totally reckless, or turning off the fear factor completely, is probably dangerous in the long run. But those who find success, as they themselves have told us, have had to turn up that dial to just above uncomfortable. And watching other species fight for their survival in unimaginably uncomfortable ways has also confirmed this theory for me.

Watching Planet Earth (the original, II, and Life Story) has gotten me to see this clearly. It’s the story of us that we’ve forgotten. The moral of every episode is that life is tough and those who hide in comfort die and starve, while those who make the perilous journey towards where opportunity abides are the ones that prosper. There’s a game to life. A trick. The trick is, those who conquer their fears win. Those who do what is difficult win. And this is not some metaphysical philosophical musing. This is the reality of the nature of existence for biological beings. It’s cut throat competition. Every species fights for their survival. We’ve advanced mostly beyond individual violent fights for survival. But make no mistake about it — we are still on stage. This stage is less physical, but no less real. And the moral of our story, the way a distant documentary might comment, is that those who took the largest risks, who conquered fear, reaped the largest benefits.

Standing Man

I’m prone to spontaneous bursts of inspiration, usually in the negative form. Looking back on my childhood and teenage years, and comparing them to my now days, I notice that I am not so different from my younger self. My main method of change is and has always been through revolution, rather than evolution. Revolutions are cold and bloody, and happen overnight. Evolution is long and steady, and happens over a lifetime. I’ve went through many phases in my young life, and would shift capriciously from hobby to hobby; not over time, but overnight. I would awake and something would be different. I wouldn’t feel like being a movie director anymore. I wouldn’t feel like being a world-famous photographer anymore. I wouldn’t feel like:

– being a professional bowler anymore

– being a professional basketball player anymore

– being a masterful magician anymore

– being an accountant anymore

– being a lawyer anymore

– being a doctor anymore

My inability to commit to anything long term was not an aspect of pessimism for me growing up; it was of optimism and a sense of opportunity. I would never quit one thing and pity myself on the couch: I would quit one thing for the other — the other being at that time a better opportunity. This allowed me to become a masterful dilettante growing up, and, unfortunately, works great when you’re a teenager.

As good as my lack of commitment to any one particular thing was for me growing up, this same form of approaching change seems to be incompatible with adulthood. As a child, you can quit bowling for ping-pong and not a single person would be harmed in the making. Jobs to me are no different than a hobby — I feel the urge to move on to something new very soon after beginning it. The difference of course is that you can’t just quit a job like you can a hobby: you’re married now. You have a mortgage to pay. Utilities to keep on. Parents to support. Team-members to not harm. Switching becomes quitting, giving up. Grit becomes the necessary skill to have, not passion.

And I haven’t yet made that transition. I still look to spontaneous bursts of creativity and passion as my guiding light to decision making. This has made me all too susceptible to feeling the need to quit jobs way too soon into one. And although I would not want to trade this trait for anything in the world, I am beginning to see the powers of its destruction; its form of revolutionary over evolutionary change.

Throughout my childhood, I’ve developed my sense of passion and self-reliance so strongly that my sense of grit, resilience, and long-form hard work is essentially non-existent. And although during childhood revolutions are a great way to quickly explore different realms and dabble in hundreds of fields, during adulthood, it becomes exhausting.

I want to become less of an “idea-man” and more of a hard-working man. Less of a creative bursts man and more of a man that works through the temporarily uninspiring. Less of looking through instantaneous change as a way out and more through developing myself through one thing over a relatively long period of time.

Grit, resilience, perseverance, and hard-work are all words not presently in my dictionary. And I never quite had the goal nor interest of acquiring them either. I’ve cherished my instinct far too much, and while I never wish to let that go, I do see the need to develop other forms of life management.

The goal now is to set goals. Create strategies. Cherish long-form execution over spontaneous bursts of creativity and ideas. To look out rather than in. In its current form, this is revolutionary: my desire to do this came overnight. So it’s fun. It’s full of change. I’m going to do great at it.

For the first 45 days.

After that, it’s going to be miserable. Old me? Come up with something new to do.

New me: keep going. For me, that’s undefined. I’ve never kept going after hardship and boredom. I’ve always always always looked for and found something new. By sliding unlubricated through this narrow and impossible crevice, I’m hopeful that I’ll 

find develop an appreciation for the painstakingly slow yet impossibly effective process we call evolution.

Evolution makes dust into man, while revolution turns man to dust.

Standing

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Look at that mountain, I just want to stand on it.

But you’re on a mountain now—
How does it feel?

The Myth of Healthy Foods

It’s liberating to realize that there’s no such thing as any one specific “healthy” or superfood, but rather that your best odds at living a healthy life is to eat as many diverse not unhealthy things as possible, and hope you did it right ten years from now.

This isn’t a great solution, and it would be great if we received more timely feedback and positive/negative reinforcement from our bodies (then again, maybe our bodies don’t plan very far ahead anyway). But until we figure out a better solution, there’s no sense in obsessing over making sure you take your daily dose of goji berries or spirulina because they’re touted as healthy. Just eat different things that are generally well known to not be bad for you.

Anything else, such as obsessing over one type of food (my mom likes to drink a homemade mixture of roasted cumin seeds, lemon and water every day because she says it’s “healthy”), is really just marketing and/or misinformation.

Variety is healthy.

Monotony is not.

Which probably explains why we sometimes get sick of the same food if we eat it every single day: our body wants us to change it up. This way it increases the chances of getting different nutrients that your conscious self might not even be aware your body needed.

Invisible Probability Forces

In recently attempting to understand the intuition behind basic probability theory, I found myself unable to think past the tangible reality of what it all meant. You flip a coin a couple times, and you see mixed results. You try to guess its next move, but it always outwits you. You’ve flipped the coin twenty times now, and you don’t see a pattern. You get heads a couple times, followed by tails five times, then heads three times and tails six more times. There just doesn’t seem to be a pattern here.

But probability theory says that over a large enough number of coin flips, eventually, the number of resulting heads will approximately equal the number of tails.

Now, this seems like basic probability, the kind we learn in grade school: there are two possibilities, and one result per flip. That means there’s a one in two chance of getting heads, and a one in two chance of getting tails, or a 1/2 probability, or 50/50.

What troubled me was, given that the outcome of every individual coin toss is random, how is it possible that over the long run, they begin to conform to certain outcomes, as predicted by our equations? In other words, what is this invisible force that makes coin outcomes converge to predefined ratios, and if this force wasn’t acting on the individual coin flips, then at what point does this force actually begin affecting the results?

You can see by my use of words like “invisible force” that I didn’t quite understand the concept.

There was an invisible force, however, that helped make this concept click for me.

An excerpt from a short book I was reading described the solution to my confusion elegantly. Carlo Rovelli, in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, writes:

“Teaspoon [heating] and balloon [popping] behave as they must, following the laws of physics in complete independence from what we know or don’t know about them. The predictability or unpredictability of their behavior does not pertain to their precise condition; it pertains to the limited set of their properties with which we interact. This set of properties depends on our specific way of interacting with the teaspoon or the balloon. Probability does not refer to the evolution of matter in itself. It relates to the evolution of those specific quantities we interact with. Once again, the profoundly relational nature of the concepts we use to organize the world emerges. The cold teaspoon heats up in hot tea because tea and spoon interact with us through a limited number of variables among the innumerable variables that characterize their microstate. The value of these variables is not sufficient to predict future behavior exactly (witness the balloon) but is sufficient to predict with optimum probability that the spoon will heat up.”

This made sense to me. Statistics isn’t, “hey look at these equations we came up with, and look how in real life, reality conforms to these equations. We’re so smart.” It’s more like “hey look at this weird behavior of this real life object. We don’t fully understand how it behaves, but check this out: we can still plot its behavior in the long run. It’s pretty frustrating that we don’t understand its behavior exactly, but at least we can still express that behavior in a language that we can understand and also manipulate, i.e equations.”

So I think probability theory is a temporary language. I think it’s our way of building up to a better language that can more accurately point to and describe real life phenomena. There’s no way in hell science or mathematics is going to see a certain phenomena and not attempt to find a way, anyway, to put it on paper. We have to. And probability theory is really the best we can do at this point.

So it’s not, “we have these equations that the laws of the universe oblige to” (“over large numbers“), but rather, “look at this strange behavior in the universe: here’s a way we can express that in a way that works fine for now and allows us to make predictions on that data in a way that’s somewhat reliable.”

Take this plot of the results of an experiment involving random results. See that wavy pattern? We have a name for it. It’s called the Normal Distribution.

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The details are irrelevant: just know that we’re now using charts, graphs, and equations to describe random behavior. If I asked you a thousand years ago, “hey mate, I’m gonna flip this coin 5 times, tell me some math about it.” you’d say “mate are you crazy? There’s no math to describe that shit.” But now look: we have a language to describe it. We’re making progress.

Entangled

Update: I have since learned that the conclusion I make in this post is
incorrect, and as a science hobbyist, quantum mechanics is still far too difficult for me to understand. I leave this article published as a thumbtack in the history of my foolishness, and also as a way to hopefully instill curiosity of the subject in the reader. (See footnote for brief explanation.)

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine called me with some troubling news: the world of physics is in total disarray. “The best definition we have for how things work, at the quantum level, is magic,” he explained. There was panic in his voice.

“Jeff, what the hell are you talking about?”

He pauses to catch his breath. “Science right now,” he continues, “is stumped.”

“Sure, we understand how life-size things work, how planetary-size things work, and even how cell-size work. But go even deeper, to a subatomic level, and we are absolutely clueless,” he explained. It turns out, my distressed friend was not alone in harboring this eerie sentiment towards the laws of physics which I had until that point assumed we had a pretty good understanding of — it troubled many smart people, including Einstein, as well.

“Slow down Jeff – what the hell do you mean it’s ‘magic’?” He began explaining his late night obsession with a branch of physics called quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is mind-bendingly difficult to wrap your head around, and human language falls short in properly explaining it. He began his explanation thus: “Imagine there is a table in front of you. This table has a coordinate in 3D space, and you know that if you closed your eyes, or turned your back to this table, that it would still be there with 100% certainty. You would know that its color, position, and size has not changed just because you’re no longer observing it.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, at the quantum level, you can no longer be so certain.”

Quantum mechanics, amongst other things, says that you cannot make any assertions about certain attributes of a particle until you measure those attributes. For example, a particle has a spin. For simplicity’s sake, a particle’s spin can take on a negative or positive value. However, this particle does not have an “inherent” spin, and only takes on a value when you (an observer) measures it.

“What about before it’s measured? It still has a spin value right? We just don’t know its value because we haven’t measured it, but it still has a definite, inherent value, whether or not we are looking at it. Right?”

Wrong.

He continues his explanation, half in disbelief himself. “Before we measure it, its spin is ‘random’. Indeterminate. And not due to human ignorance; just literally random. It could be anything. Only when you measure it does it become something.”

At this point, my eyes are squinting and my fingers are anxiously brushing through my hair. “But— what if— how does— doesn’t it—it’s because—what.”

I was stumped.

“What the hell do you mean its spin is ‘random’ before you measure it? What does that even mean?”

That wasn’t even the spookiest part.

“Have you heard of quantum entanglement before?” he asks.

“Sounds familiar, but no not really.”

“Well,” he laughs, “you might want to sit down for this.”

I sit.

“Ok, so, you know how I just told you that we don’t know a particle’s spin for sure until we measure it?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, Quantum Entanglement says that once two particles become entangled [through interaction], that if you were to separate these two particles a million miles apart, and measure one of the particle’s spin and find it to be positive, you then immediately know the other particle’s spin is negative.”

“But I thought the spin of a particle is random until you measure it? Why does measuring one particle’s spin immediately cause another particle, millions of miles away, to all of a sudden be non-random and definite?”

Magic.

Being the modern homosapien that I am, I wasn’t going to take “magic” for an answer.

I struggled with this concept for several weeks after that bizarre phone call. I read article upon article, watched hours of YouTube videos, and struggled with dozens of analogies and metaphors that try to explain the concept at a five year old level. I still could not make sense of it. How can something be random? What does it mean for a physical attribute to be random? To be nothing? To be uncertain?

I found an answer to this question in the most unlikely of places.

I took a strange trip this Sunday with my wife to Target. She said we needed matching towels for the bathroom.

“What’s wrong with our current towels?” I asked.

“They’re gross. They’re like old hand-me-downs from your parents.”

The aisles of Target were brightly-lit and vibrant as ever. I never liked Target much, since every time I went only looking for a toothbrush, I would leave with $120 worth of goods I never knew I needed. This time around, I was less interested in comparing towels and more so with my continued preoccupation with quantum entanglement. I paced the wide aisles with hands behind my back and gaze straight towards the ground, anxiously pondering what it meant for something to be random; what entanglement can possibly mean.

“…doesn’t have a spin…observe through arbitrary distance…random…,” I mutter to myself like a mad-man.

“Do you think this purple would go nice with our shower curtain?” my wife asks.

“Yes.”

“…observe one…other constricts to same reality…”

“What about the color of this blue hand towel?”

“Yes.”

“…perspective…alternate version of reality…relative to observer…”

“Are you just saying yes to anything?”

“No.”

“No what?”

“No, honey.”

She smiles. I buy myself some time.

In that moment, through my pacing back and forth, I was utterly unaware of myself. I was nothing more than a brain floating through space and time without a body. I wasn’t six feet tall, nor was I 170 pounds, and I didn’t have black hair. I was nothing but thought and motion.

Deep in perplexed and spaghetti thought, I glance to my right and am instantly taken aback by what I see.

A mirror.

I was spooked. There I was, meat and everything. Before then, I was infinite. The moment I looked in the mirror, I instantly became six feet tall, 170 pounds, and sure enough, with black hair.

And it clicked. Before I measured myself in the mirror, I could have been anything. I didn’t feel like I had black hair or hazel eyes. Heck, I could never know what color my eyes were for certain unless I “measured” their color (with a mirror). It’s not until I observe myself that I can make accurate assertions about my attributes.

Now, that might seem like a far-removed example, but riddle me this: what color are you?

You can’t say yellow, or black, or white, because the question is not what color is your skin, but rather what color are you. The answer to this question is obviously that there is no answer since this question is nonsense.

Now, let’s say you have a mole on your face — what color is this mole?

“Easy,” you say, “brown!”

Fine, good. What color is the mole to itself?

“Uhm, brown?”

Wrong, since this question is similar to me asking you what color you are — nonsense. Going even further, what color is the mole to your nose? Well, our nose doesn’t perceive of color, so this question is again nonsense.

So, the question of “what color is this mole” can best be answered not by “brown”, but by “depends on who you ask”, or, “depends on how you measure it.”

To a human perceiver, it depends on the lighting conditions, the mole’s angle to the light source, the fogginess of the mirror, or the quality of your eye sight. To a non-human perceiver, this question cannot even be posed in the first place.

So, does a mole have an inherent color? The answer is no. It is only when you decide upon the rules of how you will measure its color and perform the measurement does it actually take on a color.

Let’s go over some more fun, but not necessarily literal, examples.

Imagine you’ve woken up to a magnificent sunrise, and you have not yet checked the time.

What time is it?

You don’t know.

Therefore, the time could be anything. Your world is as of yet infinite. The instant you measure the time however, you constrict your version of reality to a very specific interpretation: 8:30am. This time carries with it real world implications and obligations: you now have 30 minutes to take a shower, make coffee, walk the dog, and drive to work. Simply by measuring time have you altered your reality and constricted it to a specific interpretation.

Here’s another example, in true Schrodinger fashion: you send a heart-felt text message to your hopeful-to-be special someone, then immediately hop in the shower. You sing and bust moves while you lather your hair with fruity shampoo, all while images of love and romance conjure in your mind. You dry yourself off and head to check your phone for a response. As of yet, your version of reality is infinite. You don’t know for sure whether you have gotten a response, so you could be anything, happy or sad. The instant you check your phone, however, you’ve constricted your version of reality to a very specific interpretation: you haven’t gotten a response yet, and are instantly saddened. Simply by measuring your environment (checking your phone) have you altered your version of reality.

(You might even see from the above examples the dangers of constantly checking your phone – every time you pull your phone out of your pocket and “measure” your notifications, you constrict your version of reality to a specific interpretation that was before unbiased and infinite.)

Take even mind-altering substances (for example, that is). When you ingest marijuana, you might say that it makes you feel more spiritual, and that it connects you with nature, and it just feels right. The effects of marijuana however are not pre-divined and “deep”, but just a very specific (and ultimately random) interpretation of reality. The fact that smoking weed makes you feel whole is coincidental and not in any way pre-destined. Replace “smoke weed” with “drink alcohol”, “ingest psilocybin” or “take LSD”, and you’ll see the same pattern: every substance provides its own very specific perspective and interpretation of reality. The fact that magic mushrooms connect you to some sort of divine nature is a very specific, and random, interpretation. This implies that there is an infinite number of realities that could exist, each with its own perspective, and thus that there can exist an infinite number of new and novel drugs that will come about in the future that will let you experience a different version of reality. Perhaps one will make you feel like wind, or allow you to conspire with plants, or make you feel transparent, or see clouds as bits and bytes – the possibilities are literally endless, since all reality is perspective. Humanity’s current culture and mode of living? All one very specific interpretation of reality.

So, with this mindset, quantum entanglement is not so mind-bending after all. We’ve known since Newton that the universe tends to balance itself (i.e for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction), and since Einstein that energy is neither created nor destroyed. So the fact that if one object is positive the other must be negative is not a very troubling concept. Now, combine that with what we know about measuring reality, and we see that when we define the rules by which we will measure the spin of a particle (i.e on what axis), then simply by performing that measurement on that axis have we constricted our version of reality to a specific interpretation, i.e positive, and since the universe must always remain in balance, measuring that particle’s respective entangled particle by that same interpretation of reality (i.e on the same axis) will lead to an opposite spin (i.e negative).

Magic? Not so much. Troubling? No. But that every attribute of you and I is not absolute, but only dependent on and relative to who the observer is, has given me some pause. “Black” as an answer to “what color is my hair?” is no longer a valid response, since “relative to x” must be appended to the question.

And really, it seems, “relative to x” must be appended to every physical and metaphysical question that any human has ever posed for there to be a real shot at a valid answer.


Update: My conclusion doesn’t hold up. It turns out that if you measure the spin of a particle several times on the same axis (“same version of reality”), you won’t get the same results every time. This is what makes QE spooky: if you measure the first time and the first particle’s spin is up, then the entangled particle’s spin will be down. If you measure again on the same axis, the first particle’s spin can now be down, and the entangled particle’s spin will automatically be up. Mind = more blown. Looks like I have more reading to do.

Do the right thing.

In the course of a week, there may be at most one or two events in which we don’t know the self-morally correct decision for a given situation. In most cases, the difference between right and wrong is clear. The difficulty lies not in recognizing which of the two is is better aligned with our values and goals, but in choosing the right path.

I struggle with a certain lack of discipline in various areas of my life, and in an attempt to control and mold myself into the kind of ideal person I wish to be, I try to set up rules for myself that would take place in a future setting: when faced in the future with this exact predicament P, with presently defined right option R and presently defined wrong option W, you MUST choose R, or face the consequences. This molding and forced discipline places pressure on me to perform in a certain way in the future, but future me always overrides past or present me, and so it is unlikely that any rule I create for myself will be taken seriously at a future point. Over time, this erodes the trust I have in my self-discipline, such that it becomes pointless for me to even attempt to create boundaries for myself. What results is a sort of anarchy — a lifestyle without governance or any system of checks and balances.

I think a better way to approach self-governance is not through creating countless arbitrary rules that are hazily defined and unable to withstand the test of time, but rather through entrusting one’s self to make the obviously right decision at any given time and place. To be an “adult” in any given situation, which is to say, do the right thing at all times, and not just according to the impossibly-finite rules you’ve set for yourself. If you struggle with an ice cream addiction, this system would suggest that you not say “I will only eat ice cream once a week,” a rule that you are likely to break, but rather that you entrust yourself to only eat ice cream at times and intervals that go towards the basis and principle of why you know you shouldn’t be eating so much ice cream in the first place.

I have a friend who doesn’t smoke cigarettes habitually, but might have one late in the evening after a long day’s work. To prevent himself from getting addicted, he doesn’t try to control himself with strict limits like “I will ONLY smoke ONE cigarette a day, in the evening, only if I’ve had a hard day’s work.” This type of rhetoric is that of a pending addict. Instead, he doesn’t have any definite limitations on tobacco usage, and trusts himself to smoke at intervals that are not addicting and at times when it’s necessary and useful. This might mean that on one day, he might have two cigarettes, but on another, none. This is sane self-control. The less-sane alternative is strict rules that apply constant pressure and force you into an endless struggle with yourself, resulting in frequent disappointment when the rule is eventually broken.

Most of the petty forks in the road we encounter on a frequent basis have a clear answer to what is the right thing to do for our situation, and what is the counter-productive thing to do. For me, rather than attempting to define and control my behavior to model my ideal vision of myself, I’m going to try and give up on attempting to control everything, and instead entrust myself to behave like a well functioning adult, and do the obviously right thing for my situation at that point in time.

The right answer will always be clear. It’s just up to me to choose it.

And for those rare situations where right and wrong are not obviously clear, then we can be a little more forgiving of ourselves for making the “wrong” decision, and add it to our morality table so that the next look up is easier.

To update your software, take a vacation

When you begin to ask questions like “why”, crazy things happen. When it comes to our daily routine, however, “why” is the least asked question of all. We figure that we must have arrived at our current routine by gradual evolution; by tinkering and tweaking until we’ve found something agreeable. We then live on by this standard flow for as long as possible, sometimes years. And yet while we sit here judging and questioning articles, people, and events, our daily flow slips by undetected and unquestioned, as if it were an immediately trusted and familiar face. Our daily flow dictates our productivity and progress — should this not be the most scrutinized and closely observed aspect of our life?

Now, before you start feeling guilty that you ought to have been more critical of your daily routine, let’s first acknowledge this isn’t your fault. The fact is, modifying your daily routine frequently and routinely would be exhausting and counter productive. Our mind automates and routines tasks for a reason. It would be tiresome to be constantly inundated with meta analysis. If you find yourself sitting in a comfortable home with comfortable clothes and modern technology, perhaps your morning routine has done you some good to get you where you are today. But it, like all great things, must come to an end and make room for the new. And the new has potential to be even greater.

The problem is, you don’t typically wake up one day and say, “well, time to completely kill off my routine and design a new one from scratch.” That’s just not how it works. And truthfully, I sometimes get too comfortable in my own routine and would find change inconvenient. But let’s look through a broader scope in the eyes of the most change-savvy process of all: evolution. In the perspective of the subjects of evolution, change is scary because it leads to risk which could lead to death. In the perspective of evolution, however, change is diversification and therefore a must — as is death. And so the universe with all its reckless abandon sends asteroids crashing on our planet, destroying everything our planet has worked so hard for so that something new could arise from the ashes. The Earth continues this violent need for change with storms and hurricanes, earthquakes and erosion, wildfires and tornados. This is brute-force change, and it’s immediately effective.

How do you brute-force change in your daily flow? Interrupt it.

What’s a good excuse to interrupt your beloved daily routine that you have come to cherish and depend on for the last several months and years? A vacation.

Travel somewhere, whether domestically or abroad, and embed yourself in that foreign culture and geography such that you forget about home. Being far from home and away from the things that have enabled your previous daily routine will force upon you a new temporary routine, one that consists of a varied mix of whatever is necessary to be done at a given point as well some spontaneity and creative planning.

When you come back home from your intoxicating vacation, you’ll stumble and slip on every step of your previous routine. It won’t feel quite as natural anymore. Your brain has awoken from the deep and hypnotic slumber that encapsulated and automated what your daily routine was, and you now find yourself in the driver’s seat of a manual vehicle. You won’t feel right for the first few days. You’ll regret ever taking a vacation for the inconvenience it has caused in your life. Your vacation has bored you of your previous routine and you are now pressed to find a new one, and for that you curse your decision. Change is inconvenient.

Wired In

Is it possible to hit deadlines while remaining friendly?

If you’re like me, you always choose shipping over chatting. The result is hit deadlines and finished products; the price, neglected relationships and unfinished interactions.

I often find myself asking, am I a mean person? Is it unreasonable that I ask not to be interrupted so that I can be more productive? Am I mean for being abrupt and pithy with my statements, when my intention is understandable and perhaps even noble? To accomplish more work and be more productive: is this not the embodiment of the modern human being?

Even after long sessions of rationalizing my questionable social behavior, I still feel guilty. Why aren’t you nicer sometimes? Couldn’t you get work done and be nice at the same time?

I spent a good two years working from my bedroom in my parents house on various projects and apps a few years ago. One project in particular took a full year to complete, and I only left my room to eat, if that. I lost 30 pounds to drinking coffee and eating 1 meal a day; I just didn’t (mentally) have the time. I don’t need to explain to you the grip and wrath a bug has on you: nothing in the world matters but solving that bug, and when you battle these creatures everyday, you emerge with a dreary countenance and hopeless disposition. Nothing matters but solving the problem at hand: it’s defeating you every second you’re not thinking about it.

Sometimes, during moments of brief self consciousness, I think back to times in my life when I was spontaneous and outgoing. I remember being places, so I must have been outgoing, right? That time is so long past that I can’t recall if I was born this way or just evolved to be this way by necessity.

I was once asked why I say so little, almost as if my silence were an elephant, which is odd since I choose silence to remain camouflaged and unnoticed. I say, oh you know, long day when in truth I want to say, let me work, and my work will speak for me. If I do good work, then we have had a good conversation, and you have gotten to know me a little better. My words can only point; they are not sufficient nor important enough to describe what I am or what I am thinking about.

I speak the fatiguing language of work, and with those that don’t speak that same language, I have a hard time communicating. Not that I cannot spontaneously converse with you, but rather, what is there to be said? Life is ephemeral, and I wish to spend it with my hands occupied. When you ask the question, would you rather speak to hundreds of thousands through a theoretically successful app, or speak to one person of the weather and current events, the answer is dispassionately obvious.

If you don’t create, how will anyone know you exist?

This thought whispers through my body like a cold breeze. I am not a man, nor human — I am a binary slave; a slave to that phrase. It dictates my every action and interaction; it is the force behind my every moment of optimism and simultaneous despair.

During times of great pressure and tight deadlines, several weeks will have passed where little will have been said by me and little joy will you have seen visible on my face, while you and I wonder, what darkness does this man harbor that he cannot summon the joy of a couple words every so often?

To my parents, to my friends, I am a vague representation of a human being. To my wife, I am my best self — someone no one else sees but her. My wife and I once joked how sorry my parents must feel for her, that she (my wife) got stuck with such a stern and emotionless man. I am in fact the opposite, but during the times I lived with my parents, all I did was work, and this is all they ever saw of me. My rare ups and frequent downs. The glimpses of despair when I was being overcome by a bug or technical problem.

I search both extrema for the balance of this delicate act. There are times when I tell myself, it is ok to live for a bit. Take some time off from your incessant swirling, of thoughts and deliberations, of life analysis and social paralysis.

And so I do. And I do it well.

I live. I go out. I call my mom. I watch TV. I experiment. I learn to cook. I read. I socialize.

This is fun, I think to myself; I ought to be this jolly more often.

Until, during the midst of a conversation, an idea comes.

An idea too good to pass up.

You look at me. My face is glowing. I am ecstatic. You haven’t seen me this happy in a while.

I run to my computer. I open Photoshop. Click. Click. Clack. Click. I create a new Xcode project. Click click clack clack clack.

I turn around, and you look at me again. My eyes are red. I look like death. The smile is gone. It’s time.

Time to work.

One Week in Peru

On Friday, June 13th of 2014, I quit my job without an idea of what to do next. Two days later, I found myself on a plane to Peru. The thought of going to South America came to me only the day before, and I booked my flight that same night. I wanted to explore culture: to figure out what part of me was human, and what part American. The only way to do that was through contrast.

I didn’t book a hotel beforehand, nor did I plan out what I would do for the week that I was there. I decided it would be funner to figure it out as I go. I traveled light, with only a book bag, so that I wasn’t tied down to any particular location by heavy luggage.

Cusco is a high city in southeastern Peru with a population of just under half a million. The Peruvian sun gleamed deceptively, burning my face but not creating any warmth; you needed a sweater to traverse the days and a jacket at night.

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The streets were narrow and the people nice. I felt welcome and human.

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Cusco is situated near the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world, and elevated well above what I was used to: 11,200 ft above sea level. I had difficulty breathing the first couple days, and I always felt out of breath, even when I wasn’t moving. The natives recommended cocoa leaves to help with altitude sickness.

I happened to arrive during a time of the year when week-long celebrations took place, with colorful and golden parades and marching alpacas.

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They love me.

 

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Ladies man.

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A Peruvian girl looking beyond the parade.

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A boy sitting behind his mother as she sells fruits and vegetables on her market stand.

For the first day, not knowing what else to do, and flustered by altitude sickness and jetlag, I decided I would just go museum and landmark touring.

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The all-seeing Eye. Peruvian art.

That lasted about 20 minutes until I grew bored, and decided I would rather soak myself into present culture than look at artifacts of the past.

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Aww, baby alpaca.

As the night fell, so did the cold. The streets became navigable with less people, and I headed in the direction of food.

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Peruvian nights were chilly but refreshing.

I had bad luck with restaurants in Cusco — lots of them run by people who have no idea what good food is. I found a shawerma joint that was really good, almost better than the authentic ones back home.

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Shop workers waiting for the night to end.

As the sun rose to a bright start the next morning, so did I, and decided I would venture off towards the mountains and see where that takes me.

I walked upwards and upwards, until I happened upon a young man that asked me if I wanted to ride a horse into the mountains.

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“Follow me.”

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 The views were breathtaking, both literally and metaphorically.

The man guiding me looked young but old. Probably 34. He spoke little english, but enough for us to communicate. I spent the entirety of the morning with him as he took us up treacherous mountains. We rested near a stream of water that ran all the way down from the mountains and through the plains, of which seemingly ownerless horses drank from. I sat in beautiful repose for half an hour, soaking in the tranquility of the scene. I was desire-less, and did not wish to disturb the moment with a photo. That image lives in my memories in its most noble form.

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A lot more dangerous than it looks. Beneath him was death.

The mountains were extremely steep, and I was amazed that our horse was able to ascend it with me on its back. I felt bad for the horse, but my friendly guide told me not to worry, that they’re built for this terrain.

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The steepness of the mountains.

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The horse that took us up.

On our way back, we encountered a stone-smith that crafted pipes and other memorabilia from stone, by hand. His talent and attention to detail was amazing and inspiring.

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A stonesmith in the mountains carving objects from stone.

 
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Alpacas grazed the fields all through out the mountain sides.

 
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Boys returning home from school.

 
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Steep mountains are no match for human ingenuity.

 
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Beautiful dogs roamed the streets of Cusco, seemingly without an owner.

 
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An alley going towards the city square, Plaza del Armas.

 

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More parading in the city streets. The Peruvian color palette is both vibrant and psychedelic, probably owing to their ancestral and holy drug, Ayahuasca. The substance is a potent mix of plants, one of which contains DMT. It is legal for certain organizations in Peru to provide Ayahuasca for those seeking it.

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Dusk on the mountain top.

I spent the next few days on a lone home in the mountain tops, almost 30 minutes away from downtown Cusco.

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 The only cat I saw during my entire visit. This was dog country.

The reason for my stay in this home, and its impact on my life is, however, a story best told another day.

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The room of a thousand stars.

A Well-Disciplined Machine

There are days, such as today, when I have absolutely nothing to write about, but in want of expressing myself or feeling productive, I sit at my computer and stare at an empty page and a blinking cursor. “What can I possibly write about?” I ask myself pessimistically. I scan my mind for possible ideas, things which might have happened today, notes I may have written down that might lead to a potential post. Nothing. I sit staring at the document for a few more minutes, reluctant to give up, when finally I accept the fate of the situation: there is nothing to be written. I close the document and am now left staring at my desktop. No! I fight the urge to give up. I will write about anything, I tell myself — just write. I reopen the document and begin writing about whatever spills through my hands.

Who is it, at this point, that is writing, my hands or my mind? — the sound of ice dropping from my ice maker sounds like gunshots, which never ceases to scare me. It is my mind that writes, because at this moment, I was at a loss for words, and I looked to my hands for guidance, but they lay dumbfounded on the keyboard, waiting for a command. My fingers only obey. But what if my hands refused to cooperate? What if I had told them to type, but they rejected my command? Impossible! I think. My hands do not have free will — they merely react to my thoughts! And so how is it, that at times, our mind instructs our body to do certain things, but our body refuses? Get up out of bad you lazy fool, my mind instructs my body. But my body buries itself deeper in bed and cries “NO!”. Who is it that is in control at that moment? Am I insincere in my wanting to get out of bed, and recognizing this, my body seizes the chance for more rest? Is my body by default wanting of more rest, or more activity? Or perhaps it is just indifferent towards change, and would rather remain in its current position to conserve energy? But who is my body to dictate what is better for it, when my mind knows of all the current factors behind my decision: it is time to wake up, go to work, and earn a living so that I may feed my body, so that it may be sustained. Has my body, after all these years, not understood this simple concept? Could we not work together to attain a goal that would be beneficial for the both of us?

Who is it, I ask, that refuses to cooperate with our current commands? “Don’t eat that cookie!” my mind commands my hands and mouth, but they refuse to cooperate. “Go for a walk, so that you may be healthier,” my mind commands my legs, but they sullenly refuse. Objects at rest remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force, says physics, and perhaps my physical components only wish to obey the laws by which they are defined. Perhaps then, that the commands of my mind are the outside forces, but that these forces must be so strong and resolute as to be unquestionable. The wind is an outside force capable of uprooting trees from their homes, but it requires a certain amount of vigor and wilfulness to achieve this goal. Leaves will dance to a gentle breeze, but will be forcefully detached by the autumn wind. And so we can say that not every thought is equal in weight and force; that for our legs and hands and mouth to cooperate and execute our relatively difficult commands, they require not just our default command level, but a roaring and upheaving command filled with such energy and force that it is undeniable. It is not enough to command your legs “walk” or your body “move” or your mouth “do not open to chocolate”, — no, you must become god-like in your force, and summon all the power and authority within you to prepare a command so powerful and grandiose, that you may only have the mental resources to execute that same breed of command once or twice in a day. Your commands must be so powerful, that you are out of breath the moment they are uttered. Breathe in all the air around you so that your chest puffs out and your hands extend rigidly behind you, and blow into the trumpet of your body a reverberating “WALKKKKKKKK!” that shakes the floor beneath you, such that your legs begin to tremble from fear of your authority. And then go for that walk.

Your will is a depletable resource that regenerates every night in your sleep, and a sign of a successful day is going to sleep absolutely exhausted and empty, or “ego-depleted“. Every morning, you have a full tank of “ego” that you may use to execute sudo-level commands: use it all, whether wisely or unwisely, just use it all. Anything leftover doesn’t rollover to the next day — everyone starts fresh in the morning. Eventually, your body begins to respect your authority, and requires less and less effort to cooperate with your commands. At this point, you become a well-disciplined machine, capable at a moment’s notice to execute any command your mind desires.

Friends with Boredom

Boredom is that overwhelming state of emotion one feels when faced with so many possible things to do coupled with the lack of desire to do any of them. More than anything, it’s a lack of discipline. I sometimes wonder whether it was possible, perhaps thousands of years ago, for one to have felt bored. The fact of the time was that you could either work, read, socialize, or sleep, and faced with this ultimatum of no choices, I could not imagine that one could have gotten bored, but rather accepted the fate that the activities of the day had come to an end. The paradox of choice, as it has come to be called, is the root of boredom, and when faced with zero choices, boredom ceases to exit. In our modern day, with the infinite options of things to do, we become paralyzed and entangled, not knowing where our time would best be spent, and rather than make a choice and do something, we sit idly and pity ourselves and our lack of initiative, and begin to feel the worst emotion that a human can encounter: the feeling of boredom.

Paulo Coelho talks about a day where it just so happened that there was nothing for him to do — he’d written articles that were due, he’d updated his webpage already, he’d went to the doctor and got his stomach checked out, his plane tickets that he’d been waiting for had arrived in the mail.

I have things to do tomorrow and things which I finished yesterday, but today …

Today I have absolutely nothing that requires my attention.

Uneasiness, or boredom-incipient, began to creep into his soul:

I feel uneasy. Shouldn’t I be doing something? Well, if I wanted to invent work, that wouldn’t take much effort. We all have projects to develop, light bulbs to change, leaves to sweep, books to put away, computer files to organize.

I encounter a revealing thought at these lines:

I sit down on the wet grass and start making a mental list of what is going through my head:

(a) I’m useless. Everyone else at that moment is busy, working hard.

Answer: I work hard too, sometimes twelve hours a day. Today I just happen to have nothing to do.

I too feel guilty when I’m bored, because I know there is so much that can be done, so many projects that can be developed, so many thoughts that could be transmuted to words, so many articles that I could read and learn from, but here I am, doing absolutely nothing. I feel useless and a waste of human space, while others are working hard and making something happen. But that’s just it. I work hard too. Really hard. And like Coelho says, today, I just happen to have nothing to do.

And I begin to feel less guilty at my occasional bursts of boredom. In fact, I’ve found a way to welcome it. I’ve begun to treat “having nothing to do” as an activity of its own, where I accept it wholly, and sit down and just meditate. And I don’t mean esoteric meditation, — I just sit down imperfectly, whether on a couch or in a bath, close my eyes, and empty my thoughts. I would have been doing the same thing reluctantly anyway were I to accept being drowned with boredom. This way, however, I regain control and discipline, as if to smite life and say “Ha, you can’t get to me! You throw boredom at me, but I accept it and turn it into an opportunity for peace and silence.”

The Importance of Looking

Paulo Coelho (author of The Alchemist) writes:

At first, Theo Wierema was merely a very persistent individual. For five years, he kept sending letters to my office in Barcelona, inviting me to give a talk in The Hague, in Holland.

For five years, my office replied that my diary was full. My diary was not, in fact, always full, but a writer is not necessarily someone who speaks well in public. Besides, everything I need to say is in the books and articles I write, which is why I always try to avoid giving lectures.

Theo found out that I was going to record a programme for a Dutch television channel. When I went downstairs to start filming, he was waiting for me in the hotel lobby. He introduced himself and asked if he could go with me, saying: ‘I’m not one of those people who simply won’t take “No” for an answer; I think I may just be going the wrong way about achieving my goal.’

We must struggle for our dreams, but we must also know that, when certain paths prove impossible, it would be best to save our energies in order to travel other roads. I could have simply said ‘No’ (I have said and heard this word many times), but I decided to adopt a more diplomatic approach: I would impose conditions that would be impossible for him to meet.

I said that I would give the lecture for free, but the entrance fee must not exceed two euros, and the hall must contain no more than two hundred people.

Theo agreed.

‘You’re going to spend more than you’re going to earn,’ I warned him. ‘By my calculation, the cost of the air ticket and hotel alone will cost three times what you will earn if you manage to fill the hall. Then there’s the advertising and the hire of the hall…’

Theo interrupted me, saying that none of this mattered. He was doing this because of what he could see happening in his work.

‘I organize events like this because I need to keep believing that human beings are still in search of a better world. I need to contribute to making this possible.’

What was his work?

‘I sell churches.’

And, to my amazement, he went on: ‘I’m employed by the Vatican to select buyers, because there are more churches than there are church-goers in Holland. And since we’ve had some terrible experiences in the past, with sacred places being turned into nightclubs, condominiums, boutiques, and even sex-shops, the system of selling churches has changed. The project has to be approved by the community, and the buyer has to say what he or she is going to do with the building. We normally only accept proposals that include a cultural centre, a charitable institution, or a museum. And what has this to do with the lecture, and with the other events I’m trying to organize? People don’t really meet together any more, and if they don’t meet, they won’t grow.”

Looking at me hard, he concluded: ‘Meetings. That was the mistake I made with you. Instead of just sending e-mails, I should have shown you that I’m made of flesh and blood. Once, when I failed to get a reply from a particular politician, I went and knocked on his door, and he said to me: “If you want something, you need to look the other person in the eye.” Ever since then, that’s what I’ve done, and I’ve had nothing but good results. You can have at your disposal all the means of communication in the world, but nothing, absolutely nothing, can replace looking someone in the eye.’

Needless to say, I accepted his proposal.

— excerpt from “Like the Flowing River”

Beginner's Luck

My first app to the App Store back in 2010 made it to the number one position in the US Productivity category. How, I do not know. I did not advertise it nor did I really make a big deal of it publicly. It was more of an experiment than anything else. I hadn’t even known it was top in its category until I was randomly browsing the productivity category to see what else was on there, and lo and behold, my app sat gloriously on its lucky throne. Since that day, I have been on a wild goose chase to recreate this success, with all but little luck.

On Christmas of 2013, I wrote and submitted an article titled “4 apps, 1 weekend” to HN. I thought very little of this post, nor did I care if it did particularly well. In fact, after I submitted it, I hopped in the shower and totally forgot about it. I came out and seen that I had several new emails, many from Twitter about several new followers, as well as miscellaneous email inquiries, all starting with something like “Loved your article on HN!” Since that initial taste of sweet and ephemeral success, I have been on yet another wild chase to write a post that might somehow get me to the top of the list, with all but little luck.

The high that has come with such fleeting success has been toxic and dangerous. Since these two early successes, nothing else has quite mattered to me more than recreating them: by somehow making another product or writing another post that might be recognized. I spent months and years crafting and perfecting new products, thinking it would be as easy and prosperous as my first. This, obviously, was not the case. And since 2010, almost five years now, I have been unable to recreate an app as successful as my first, and also unable to recreate an article as popular as my first. This has created within me an insatiable restlessness, where an inner inclination lingers within that urges me to continue working and creating until I can consistently recreate these successes.

Since then, my faith in myself and my abilities has decreased with every new app or article I publish. It has even gotten to the point where I fear spending too much time on a single product, fearing that it might (and most likely will) fail, and all that time will have been lost. I tell myself, “the less time I spend on this, the less heart-broken I will be after it fails.”

Nothing has quite changed in this self-pitiful saga, save for one glimmering strand of hope that I have found recently: that I am not alone.

I happened upon a book that you might have read called The Alchemist, a book so divine that it has been translated to more than 56 languages. It tells of a fictional boy who leaves all behind on a journey to find a treasure that he dreamt about. In the beginning of his journey, the sun shines bright, and everything miraculously works in his favor.

“That’s the way it always is,” said the old man. “It’s called the principle of favorability. When you play cards the first time, you are almost sure to win. Beginner’s luck.”

“Why is that?”

“Because there is a force that wants you to realize your destiny; it whets your appetite with a taste of success.”

As he progresses on his journey and towards his treasure, however, life becomes increasingly more difficult.

Meanwhile, the boy thought about his treasure. The closer he got to the realization of his dream, the more difficult things became. It seemed as if what the old king had called “beginner’s luck” were no longer functioning. In his pursuit of the dream, he was being constantly subjected to tests of his persistence and courage. So he could not be hasty, nor impatient. If he pushed forward impulsively, he would fail to see the signs and omens left by God along his path.

What has given my agnostic sensibilities hope here is that I now have something to believe in: that life doesn’t hate me and wishes for me to fail. No, — I was played by Beginner’s Luck, and to reach your treasure, you must play back.

The Amazing Echo

I recently read Dustin Curtis’ rant on the new Amazon Echo, how Amazon has no idea what they’re doing and how their new product is misguided and “sucks”. My reaction was a bit different. When I first saw the commercial for Echo, I was in tears. It was so beautifully done and natural that you felt the family was real and lively. Let’s set aside branding for now and focus on the meat: the actual product. I think the Echo is wonderful.

I just recently purchased my own home, and I couldn’t be more excited to move in. Having only rented in the past, I never had the comfort nor peace of mind in making any rented place feel like home, since I knew I would be moving out soon. So I wouldn’t invest in things like a Nest or Phillips Hue, since the place wasn’t mine to tinker with. But now that I’m moving into something I own, I’ve gone as far as making a list of all the home electronics I want to purchase and furnish my place with. The (short) list currently looks something like this:

  1. Nest
  2. Phillips Hue
  3. August house lock
  4. Roomba vacuum

Any time a new product comes out, I add it to the list. Home automation products excite me unlike anything else. We spend so much of our time at home, and up until very recently, our homes were very disconnected. And think about the promise of these products, and how valuable they are:

  • Save money on your heating bill with the self-learning Nest
  • Control the mood and lighting environment of your entire place from your phone with Phillips Hue
  • Come home to a clean house with Roomba

As a homeowner, these things should excite you the way a laundry machine first excited the hard working people that washed by hand. I, like many others, am actively hunting and seeking new smart products for my home, whatever they may be. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary – it just has to provide even a semblance of utility. We understand this product category is still in its incipient phases. We don’t expect one product to change the way we use our entire home – just for your product to be good at what it’s for. It’s not unlikely that in a few years we’ll have hundreds of smart products in our home that focus on doing small tasks well.

Enter the Echo.

What does Amazon have that arguably no other company has? Purchase data from millions of customers around the world. What they purchase, where they purchase, how much they spend, their spending habits, trends amongst populations, and just general product trends.

I don’t have the insight to guarantee this, but more than likely, the Echo was born out of data. They looked at what people were purchasing and what they were likely to purchase, and observed a trend where users who don’t generally purchase high cost items spend hundreds on smart home products. And what they did was something that no one expected them to do – they created a new, original product.

I would have expected much less from Amazon, perhaps creating a Nest look alike or a Phillips Hue competitor. Instead they created something no one else quite thought about. Yes, Amazon.

The Product

Yes, the Echo is Siri in a box. And we all know how often we use Siri and how that works out. But this is different. With Siri, you’re out and about, and not usually in a place where it’s ok to yell at your phone. I’m not going to bust out my phone at work or at a library to talk to Siri. The only time I really ever actually need Siri is when I’m driving, and that’s a hit or miss. At home, it’s different. At home, you’re you. You walk around in your boxers, yell at the TV, play with the dog, sing with your kids. You’re allowed to be loud at home. The Echo is a welcome and befitting lifestyle product that has the potential to fit right in.

The problem with every connected technology product thus far is that I need my phone to control them. This means having to take out or find my phone while my hands are oily from cooking, unlocking it, pressing and holding to activate Siri, and just hoping she understands you.

Or you can simply just yell “Echo, set a timer real quick for 5 minutes”. Perhaps Echo’s functionality is currently limited, but let’s look at the bigger picture here, since we all know tech products are a work in progress. The very reasonably near future:

“Echo, call my mom”

“Echo, turn on the heat; it’s a bit cold”

“Echo, dim the lights a bit would you?”

“Echo, can you call my Roomba over here. I made a mess.”

“Echo, I can’t find my phone. Ping it, would you?”

“Echo, my friends are here – can you unlock the door?”

“Echo, make yourself useful and order an Uber.”

“Echo, order a pizza from Papa Johns – cheese, chicken, pineapple, and jalapeño. DO NOT forget the jalapeño.”

Better yet, once it learns your habits, maybe she’ll recommend things:

“Mo, time for work. Should I order an Uber now or in 5 minutes?”

“Mo, it’s Friday night and you’ve been sitting on your ass for the last 4 hours. Interstellar is playing and I heard it was pretty good. Should I order 2 tickets for the 8:30 show?

Now that’s a smart home. And Amazon of all people thought of the first product that can connect all these things in a way simpler than by fiddling with apps on a phone.

The Branding

Call this a matter of opinion, but I thought the Echo commercial was beautifully done, especially coming from Amazon. The family felt so genuine and nice that you envied their life. When his wife yells loudly at the Echo, the sweet and likable character that is the dad enthusiastically explains that you don’t have to yell at the Echo: it uses this new technology that lets it hear you better. Think of how a less original advertising company would have done that same commercial: “THE ECHO USES PATENTED FAR FIELD TECHNOLOGY TO HEAR YOU FROM WHEREVER YOU ARE IN THE ROOM. AND THERE’S MORE!”

Instead we see a lovely family go about their regular lives using the product naturally. What I love most about it was there was no dramatization, no Apple-like cinematography. It was just…real, and honest. And it sold me. Maybe that’s Amazon’s brand, their touch? Just down to earth products for down to earth people. Sure, we don’t have Jony Ive designing our products, their commercial tends to say, but we’re a real company, and we want to create products that are actually helpful. We, just like every single tech company on this planet, are still experimenting and finding what works best for you and us. Yes, we fucked up with the Fire phone, but here, look at what we’re doing now. The Echo.

I’d imagine that’s where their heart is at. It’s not farfetched to say that sometime in the near future, Amazon’s largest income share will come from their own in house products rather than their online retail sales.

The chance success of startups in a wildly volatile marketplace

There is an illusion of science in the success of tech companies, and those who have made large exits wear the white coats. Most people believe in luck when it comes to failure, as in, “I was unlucky to have failed”, but believe that success is the product of strategy; of science. But give a successful entrepreneur enough time to launch his next product, and you’ll see that even he will choke on the baffling currents of fashion and time. It is no coincidence that some of the most successful startups have come from nobodies – naive teens tinkering ignorantly with the tools they have before them. If the success of a product were diagnosable and predictable, then business analysts would be rich beyond measure.

Your first successful product is always by luck. Baffled by your chance success, you attempt to study and recreate every retrospectively ingenious move that was made during your first launch. Armed with the elixir of product success, you spend countless months perfecting your next product. If you’re a developer yourself, you’re lucky – you won’t spend much money on hiring engineers. If you’re a business man, you will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars crafting your dream recipe.

In either case, you launch your second product, and without fail, you fail. You are completely bewildered. I thought I did everything right, you question yourself. Everything I did for product #1 I did for product #2. If you’re a developer, you shrug off the failure as a failed project, and move on after a week. If you’re a business man, you shrug of the failure as a failed investment, and move on after a couple bottles.

Product #3 time comes around, and you are not really sure what to bake in this time. You are still convinced that there must have been something you did right with baby #1, and are convinced that you now see what you did wrong with baby #2. Foolishly, you still believe there is a science with your successes and failures. So, you attempt to craft now a balanced product, that takes the lessons learned from the previous two, and even mix in some bold new spices. In terms of craftsmanship and utility, your new product is more mature than any you’ve ever built. A fine piece of work, you don’t mind admitting yourself.

You launch ecstatically, yet you fail again.

It is safe to assume that the lighthearted will not dare risk their time or money at yet another project. They defeatedly tell themselves, there is a science to success, and I do not possess the knowledge. I ought to go to school, get a degree in business, or marketing, or strategy, or design. And that’s the last we’ll see from them.

But there are a few that continue past this point. These few don’t believe in the science of success. Nay, they believe in experimentation. After one success and two failed products, they notice a pattern: there is no pattern. Therefore, they continue on, knowing that yes, the next four products might fail miserably, but maybe the fifth one won’t?

If you create a product hoping to succeed, odds are, you will fail. If you create a product expecting that you will fail, and it fails, then you’ve, in a sense, succeeded. And if it succeeds, well, you’ve still succeeded. A heart can tolerate only so many let downs, and in this age of wildly fierce startup competition, in an industry that has become so mainstream that there now exists a comedy TV show about it, if you keep expecting success, you will cry and feel little and dumb every time you release a failing product. Rather, you should feel solace in the fact that perhaps no one really knows what they’re doing. Carry on, work with and expect failure, and continue evolving yourself and your products till one day they succeed. Or maybe they don’t, and you’ll die without a successful product? Well, by that point you’ll be too dead to care. It’s a win-win.

Do not disturb

You check your phone on two occasions: when it interrupts you, and when you manually check it yourself in hopes that the outside world has communicated with you. Let us say that the distribution between the two is equal, that you check your phone as much as it checks you. Is it a true statement then that the less time you spend on your phone, the more time you can allocate to being productive and healthy? I think so. So what if you were able to cut your phone usage by 50%? Imagine the sanity you’d gain back.

For the last two weeks, my phone has been on Do Not Disturb, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back. My phone doesn’t dictate my actions now. Think of all your sparks of genius that a text message interrupted. Think of all the never-to-be-found-again moments of intense focus you’ve had that a phone call interrupted. The mental algorithm you were devising that spanned a mental flow tree spanning thousands of generations – destroyed by an urgent Snapchat.

Consider the following scenario: you’ve just found the solution to a bug that’s been nagging on you all day. You start implementing the solution like an excited school boy, anxious in anticipation of your work coming to life. Then, during your most intense moment of focus, hands rapping fervently on the keyboard, your phone begins to ring and vibrate obnoxiously. Someone just now decided that they need your attention.

I don’t need to describe this feeling to anyone.

You end up now treating the person you speak with poorly, anxious to hang up and get back to work. This, over time, eventually deteriorates the relationship you have with this person.

Now consider the alternative. The call comes, and you miss it ignorantly. It takes you a few more minutes to finish coding your masterful solution. Build, run…works! Oh the joy! You exhale with deep relief, and now reward yourself by taking a quick phone break. Oh look, missed call. You call back, and are now at ease and give the listener 100% of your glorious attention.

Try it. Turn on Do Not Disturb for a little while. You’ll miss a few phone calls. So what? It’s really not as bad as it sounds. It actually feels good.

To enable Do Not Disturb mode on your iPhone, pull up the control center by swiping up from the bottom of your screen, and tap the moon icon. Welcome to freedom.

Mobile phone batteries are not ready for 2014

Throughout a typical day, the average 2014 human being will consume on their mobile devices a couple of YouTube videos, listen to a few songs, send and receive dozens of Snapchats, upload and browse several photos on Instagram, tag a few songs in Shazam, check their Facebook notifications more often than not, use GPS to find out where they are and where they need to be, hail a cab with Uber, check the weather, make a few phone calls, send out hundreds of text messages, compose and read lengthy emails, play some system and graphic intensive games, open and close dozens of various apps, and often browse the web when apps alone don’t suffice.

After 3 hours on the go, your battery is suffering with 35% remaining, and you begin to fear using your phone anymore, in case an emergency strikes where you actually really need to use your phone.

Mobile phone batteries were not designed with today’s intensive usage patterns in mind. A few years ago, you wouldn’t share so many videos and pictures throughout the day. A couple years ago, only map based applications used GPS. Today, it is not uncommon that an app require access to your location, camera, microphone, accelerometer, network connection, and bluetooth all at the same time. And it’s only getting more intense from here.

Two years from now at this rate, your battery won’t last you more than an hour. Let’s make 2014 the year of the battery, not the year of a 20% thinner device.

Meditation without the frustration

Many of the most inspired and successful people in history have praised meditation as a keystone in their journey, that without they would not have been so fortunate. And indeed, many that practice meditation today claim levels of peace and happiness not achievable by any other means.

I begin to feel guilty at this thought, and wonder whether I may be missing out on something potentially life changing. Sadly, all my attempts at meditation have ended in failure.

My frustrations with the topic have made me approach it cautiously, and as much as I may sometimes wish to dismiss meditation as an optional and esoteric ritual, I cannot seem to flee from it. Something always comes back and whispers to me “if it works for them, why wouldn’t it work for you?” And so I begin my semi-annual “I should start meditating!” phase:

  1. Become inspired to meditate.

  2. Look up books and articles on how to meditate.

  3. Become skeptical of the advice given by said books, but think “if it works for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?”

  4. Doesn’t work for me.

  5. Cry at my failure.

This phase has come and gone often in my life, but is not something I get any better at with every attempt. Somehow, I always end up at step five.

Every resource I’ve read on the matter tends to recommend some greatly original tip that I awkwardly try to incorporate in my ritual, thus making my experience even more difficult.

If you Google meditation, some of the first few tips you’ll find are:

“Stretch first”

“Feel your body parts”

“Pick a specific room in your home to meditate.“

“Read a book (or two) on meditation.”

“Listen to instructional tapes and CDs.”

“Generate moments of awareness during the day”

“Use a candle.”

“Meditate early in the morning.”

Sure enough, these are standard and commonplace techniques in the meditation world.

It always confused me why such a deliberate and exacting ritual would be the secret to happiness and inspiration, as if the universe had inserted some kind of cheat code in life — that if you were to press these certain buttons and do these specific steps in this specific order, you will magically unlock great bounties and treasures.

If it is in your nature to be overly analytical and always thinking, then why go against that, and defy your individuality for the sake of resembling that of someone else’s? And what about those who will have never heard of this ritual? Will they be doomed to live a life devoid of the exclusive happiness that meditation is said to bring?

No, there must be a way for them.

There must be a way for everyone.

As for me, attempting to free my mind of thought is torturous and maddening. It’s just not natural for me to be thoughtless. And why would it be? Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have made sure our minds are never free nor empty, and now, in this perplexing twist, to achieve happiness you must do the exact opposite of what is in your nature to do? You have to not think? Who would have thought.

But perhaps we over complicate meditation.

A few days ago, I came home from work exhausted and frenzied. My mind was cloudy, full of stale and left-over energy, but I insisted that I get back to work on my neglected passion project. No sooner did I sit down at my desk than I collapsed entirely. I can’t do this, I thought, I need a minute. I am exhausted.

I crossed my arms languidly on my desk and let my head fall on top of them. I was so depleted that I could not even garner the energy to think.

Half an hour had passed, and I was still in the same position, motionless and for the most part free of forced thought.

After I felt like I had been sitting long enough, I opened my eyes and stood up.

Woah.

I took a deep breath, and exhaled all the murky vapor that had been steaming in my mind and body throughout the day.

I felt great.

My mind was clear. I was calm and refreshed. My energy felt clean and organic. I was ready for anything.

Without even realizing it, I had just meditated.

I didn’t need a candle. I didn’t need to stretch. I didn’t need to imagine green light coming out of my nose. I didn’t need to focus on my breath.

I just took the time to consciously slow down. I did what came natural to me. And I never felt better.

So why does “meditation” work, and why does freeing up your thoughts have a positive side effect on your well being?

Our mind is very similar to a computer. When too many programs (or thoughts) are open on a computer, it becomes laggy and unstable. To get things back under control, we need to close down some programs and free up some resources. Mentally, we need to unload all the stale thoughts and programs that have been lurking in our minds from the beginning of the day or the day before and shut down programs that may be running in the background and needlessly consuming resources.

This process of managing mental resources is what we call meditation, and there are a million and one ways to achieve this same result.

Some people take a walk.

Some people go out for a jog.

Some people walk their dog.

And some people just so happen to sit in a dark room with their legs crossed on a medicine ball while a candle burns with inspirational music playing in the background, all while consciously trying to free their mind and focus on their breath. Exhale.

What comes naturally to one may not come naturally to another.

Stop overcomplicating it. Don’t torture yourself to do something that doesn’t feel right to you.

Sit, stand, or lay however you want, at whatever time of day you want, wherever you are, and just take the time to slow down.

Congratulations, you’ve just meditated.

How to maximize the number of email responses you get

Few things make me as frustrated as an email of mine that goes ignored. For one reason or another, I take this overly personal. It’s especially demoralizing when blog posts I’ve read have encouraged readers to reach out and say hello, and when I’d take them up on that offer, they wouldn’t respond.

It turned me bitter. “How dare you encourage me to email you and then go on to ignore it!”

I have in time gotten over any bitter feelings I may have had over an email, but I vowed that if I were ever in their position, in a position of mild fame or popularity, that I would reply to and recognize every one of the poor souls who took the time to reach out to me. “Oh I’ll show them! I’ll reply to every email, every tweet, every letter! I’ll never forget where I came from!”

Ha.

A couple weeks ago on Christmas day, a post of mine made it to the front page of Hacker News, and I began to receive an influx of emails and tweets. Awesome, I thought, my chance to prove that it’s possible to respond to everyone and be happy!

But after receiving about five emails, I just wanted it to stop.

It became overwhelming. My mind was constantly “buzzing” with excitement. I couldn’t focus, and for that and the next two days, I couldn’t get any work done. I was grateful for all the attention, but those few days were the least productive days I’ve had in recent memory.

As it turns out, responding to emails is not only difficult, but also distracting. I ended up responding to every email and tweet that I received, and by the time it was all over, I exhaled a heavy deep breath. If I couldn’t handle ten or so emails and a handful of tweets, I can’t imagine how actual “famous” people are able to manage hundreds of emails a day. That’s insanity.

Of the emails I received, my favorite were ones that were short and had inserted a hook that allowed for an easy response:

“Great article, how did you make the apps so fast?”

That’s easy:

“Thanks! Practice practice practice!”

Then there were the difficult ones:

“Great article. I too find it difficult to balance between personal work and a full time job.

{writes three more paragraphs about personal life experience}

Looking forward to your response!”

Ah crap. What do I say here? Crafting a response for vague emails can be difficult, since you’ll have to get creative with a polite response. These types of emails demanded a lot of time and resources, and I on my mission to respond to everyone did not leave them hanging, but I can imagine why someone with a busier schedule might just ignore it.

And then there was the occasional

“I’m working on this idea, would you like to join me?”

from someone half way around the world. These were the most difficult to respond to. I was already involved in my own enterprise and could not be distracted by someone else’s. Giving a plain “no” would be impertinent of me, so it took time to craft an amiable response.

After being on both the receiving and sending ends, I now see the importance of sending clear and concise emails. If we are to email people who, unlike myself, are extremely busy and “important”, there are a few things we should attempt to keep in mind:

  1. Keep them short.
  2. Make them easy to respond to.
  3. Insert a hook in the email so that the recipient can easily find a way to respond.
  4. Don’t make ridiculous requests.
  5. If you’re writing to give a compliment, do just that and nothing else so that you can make it easy for the recipient to be polite and just say “thanks!”
  6. The longer the email, the less likely it is to receive a response.
  7. Don’t ask questions that are too generic and have likely been asked many times before. If you want to engage in a conversation with the recipient, challenge them with a unique question that can be fun and easy to respond to.
  8. If you intend to show them your product, keep in mind there are likely a hundred other people emailing that person with the same intent. Eventually the reader learns to ignore those kinds of emails due to all the noise. Good luck with this route. You will be ignored. Get used to it.

And if you still don’t get a response, don’t take it personally. You might be the 150th person to send them an email that day, and it would literally be impossible for them to respond to everyone. Persevere.

4 apps, 1 weekend

I recently held a one man “hackathon” where it was my goal to release as many iOS apps to as I could in one long weekend. These were apps that I’ve already had the ideas for but never had the motivation nor energy to make. When the motivation came, I decided to squeeze every last bit of it before it vanished again.

A little under two years ago, I spent eights months working sleeplessly on a social networking app for notes, dubbed Notestand. I did not have a job, and had a measly income of $25 a day from other apps I had in the store. I had given up every semblance of a social life to work on this project. Never had I had so much faith in a project or myself.

Being my first real product, I hadn’t the slightest clue what I was doing. The concept of lean startup was foreign to me, and I spent months scrupulously finessing every last detail and squeezing in countless features. The end product did too many things, making it difficult to market. I now have a full time job as a developer.

The experience I gained was invaluable, but I vowed never to spend that much time on something I wasn’t even sure was market desired. The result was an antithesis of the Notestand way: ship, and stop taking yourself so seriously.

If the number one rule of Day Trading is never carry holdings overnight, my number one rule is never let a project take long, or it’ll never be finished.

With a full time job, for time, energy, and motivation to convene all at the same time was a precious event. And on this particular weekend, the stars had aligned and the universe’s motivation well had overflown, and I finally got to work on all the ideas that were just floating around in my mind.

The apps

1. Do Something (free) – find great things to do nearby.

There is no task more difficult than to find a new place to eat. Open Yelp and you are instantly overwhelmed by listings, pictures, reviews, distance, numbers – what does it all mean!? When an emotional being sees 3.5/5 stars, what are they to infer from that? There is no emotional equivalent to what that number represents. And to see five different restaurants all with a 3.5/5 rating makes making any decision dangerous and impossible. So you end up going for what you already know. So much for adventure.

Do Something solve this by finding only the best places nearby, and presenting them nicely one by one. No meaningless star system. No data overflow. Just “Really Good” or “Pretty Good”, and a “Take me there button”. Stop making excuses and go do something already.

2. Great Words (2 dollars) – I use this one frequently. I enjoy learning new words but was frustrated that there were no places I could save a word I encountered and refer back to it later. What I desperately wanted was to enter a word, look up the definition and usage, and later run through all my words like flashcards. And that’s exactly what Great Words is. The next time you’re reading Ralph Waldo Emerson, and come across a word like obsequious or antinomianism or capitulate, save it here and you won’t forget it. The goal is that by practicing, you’ll become a better writer, speaker, and overall communicator.

3. Note 22 (1 dollar) – I also use this frequently. I take a lot of notes, and Apple’s basic notes app does it for me features wise. I don’t need my notes app to control my thermostat. With the default iOS notes app however, there isn’t a way to organize notes into folders. Note 22 solves this issue, and lets you add different notes to different folders. Note 22’s UI also feels more native to iOS 7, whereas the iOS Notes app seems to be in a confused state between iOS 6 and iOS 7.

4. Routines (1 dollar) – a checklist for your common routines – every weekend I visit my family in the suburbs. I always end up forgetting something, like my charger, pajamas, glasses – something. It’s really frustrating. Thus was born the idea for Routines. Simply create a “Going home to suburbs routine”, and add a list of steps like “bring charger”, “turn off heat”, etc. Every weekend before going home, walk through each step, and check the item off as it’s completed.

Lessons Learned

It’s too soon to tell the results of this experiment. For one, it felt really great to work on some personal projects. I am never at my happiest than when working on a project of my own.

It’s also given me a lot of momentum. I feel much more fast paced. I’m not just lying around and pondering what I ought to do next or whether I ought to do it. I just do it.

I’ve realized it doesn’t matter what I work on, as long as I’m working on something. If that million dollar idea hasn’t hit yet, don’t just sit idly hoping it’ll come soon. Keep yourself busy and warmed up so that when it does come, you’re hyped up and ready to go.

If you have any tips on the motivation problem, or how you balance a full time job and personal projects, I’d love to hear about you: email or tweet me.

The Story of Edward

When Edward first came into my life, he was shy and afraid. When I’d come near, he’d go far. It was in his nature to be free. But as we grew closer, Edward couldn’t bear a second without me. And this drove him and I to madness.

Edward and I spent twelve years of our lives together, and he’d seen me through many of the variously capricious phases in my life. When I’d come home from whatever I happened to be employed by those days, he’d come to me ecstatically and kiss me. We’d talk for hours upon hours, him doing most of the talking. We were closer than two could ever be.

But as I grew older, he remained young, and his incessant desire to be around me fatigued every part of my mind and body. When I worked too much, he’d scream at me to spend more time with him. Whatever I did, he wanted to do too, but I, a man of my independence, could not always be troubled to share my time. And this drove Edward to madness. Madness enough, that I, at many times towards the end of his life, tried to hasten the end of his life. Yes, there were times when I tried to kill Edward.

It has been almost two years since Edward vanished, and I sometimes think back to the man I was then; a man that would be so tested by another being as to contemplate ways to murder him. What is wrong with me? The thought whispers through my body like a cold breeze. I begin to cry at all the memories Edward and I shared. Time tends to make the negatives seem less so, until all you’re left with is comely memories of snowy days around warm fires. Would I do the same thing today knowing what I know now? I say no, I’ll be better, but I know that’s not true. I’d probably do it again.

White light enters my living room as I sit and work. It’s a calm Sunday, and thick fluffs of snow play through my window like a screen saver. What have I learned from the experience, I ask myself? There is always a lesson to be learned from any major life experience. So what have I learned after betraying Edward?

Nothing.

Tears begin to stream from my eyes and trickle down to my lips, their bitterness reminding me of my own. He died for nothing, I cry. That hurts me the most.

I wasn’t the only one to love Edward, and neither was I his only love. If he were my own and I his, then perhaps I could begin to justify his deadly disappearance. But how selfish am I to take him away from everyone else who loved him? What gave me such power, such authority? I had claimed that my selfishness was always just self-preservation, but now, in my red hand, I have collected my first strand of hard cold evidence against that claim.

It was a warm summer day on a Friday afternoon, and I was home finishing up an important project. Edward being who he is had no patience for such things, and nagged on me to spend time with him. His voice was shrill, and it pierced through my ears and boiled the deepest cores of my existence. Edward makes it easy to fall in love with him, but he also has the ability to tear down the layer that makes a human amiable and pleasant, leaving nothing but the cold, unrelenting beasts we all are at our root. I’d have enough of Edward’s nagging that day, and it would be the day that something would finally be done about it.

I took him by the collar and shook him. “JUST SHUT UP” I screamed, as I mercilessly rocked him back and forth, “WHY WONT YOU JUST SHUT UP!” Edward screamed and pleaded, and seeing him struggle helplessly brought back the human in me. I immediately felt bad for poor Edward. He doesn’t know any better, I said to myself, just let him be.

“I’m sorry Edward. I really am. Sometimes you just need to learn to be quiet, especially when I’m working.” I hugged him, and for the time being, we were both content.

But half an hour later, his piercing scream returned, and the beast within me was primed and ready to go. I wasn’t going to shake Edward subtly this time, hoping he would “accidentally” lose his breath. No, I was going to make sure I finished the job.

I dragged Edward downstairs and through the kitchen. “You know Edward, I tried reasoning with you. I did, I really did. But I cannot do this anymore.”

I took with me to the backyard, opened his door, and yelled “GO! Just go away! Walk, run, fly — do whatever you need to go away!”

And he did.

He flew, because that’s what birds do, and he flew more majestically than I’d ever seen him fly before. He was ecstatic, as if he had been longing for this day, when he’d fly through the skies unbound. He was flying with excitement and confusion.

But I was not well. The second before he vanished into the blue, I screamed for him to leave and to never return, but the second he flapped his wings and made flight, I cried like I never cried before.

“Come back, come back you son of a bitch! For the love of god Edward, come back!”

I hopped on my bike and chased after him, trying to follow him through his freedom flight. But before I knew it, he had vanished, and I was riding my bike all alone, searching an empty sky.

I cried harder, mumbling Edward’s name, screaming that I’d do anything for him to come back. The tears burned my cheeks as they ran through my face, and I could barely see in front of me.

Edward was gone. And I was the evil man who had done away with him.

I was looking for my phone today, and upon checking under the couch cushion, I found a feather of his. A beautiful, soft yellow feather. It was a perfect feather, as Edward’s feathers usually were. I trembled at its sight, and a whirlwind of tears caught up to me.

The last I ever saw Edward was during his majestic flight of independence, and I’d never seen him happier. Perhaps, I tell myself, perhaps Edward is too great to be seen dead. Perhaps the world had decided that the last anyone would see of Edward would be of him stretching his wings farther than any bird had stretched before.

Yes, for Edward was a king, too great and majestic to be dead at the bottom of a lonely cage. After 12 years in his cage, the last thing Edward ever did was fly towards freedom, and even if it was the last flight of his life, it was the greatest and most beautiful flight I had ever seen.

Entrepreneurship is not ideation

I have, all my life, been of the thought that an entrepreneur is one who comes up with ideas that might make large amounts of money. And by that definition, then I am perhaps a great entrepreneur. But I am not a great entrepreneur. I have, in my mental cellar, hundreds of ideas waiting to be manifested, but none so. What is the difference then between me and a real entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur makes things happen.

An entrepreneur is not one who generates great business ideas nor one who feels that he will someday execute on one of those ideas. An entrepreneur is one who executes, immediately and without hesitant and pessimistic contemplation. An entrepreneur is one who learns by launching and failing than by reading and seeking. You don’t need to be a millionaire to be an entrepreneur, and you don’t need a large social network to be an entrepreneur. No, you need to launch to be an entrepreneur. You need to execute. You need to manifest. An entrepreneur is one who does not allow an idea to nestle in his mind, but immediately starts asking, how can I make this happen, today.

What to ask yourself when creating a startup

Update like 2 years later: I must have been down when I wrote this, because the age of invention will never dwindle.

The golden age of invention is dwindling. Look closely, and you’ll see that the most successful products and startups today are not original ideas, but iterations on previous ideas. Very little is new; most just an upgrade of the old. Every new generation of people refuse to live by the rules and ideas of previous generations, and are therefore always in an effort to replace what they did not have any say-so in. The “old generations”, whether of people or products, have not been brought up to the standards of today, and when the new steps in and shows them how it should be done, we call this disrupting.

Uber disrupted the taxi industry.

Chipotle disrupted the fast food industry

Tesla disrupted the automobile industry

Nest disrupted the thermostat industry

Simple disrupted the banking industry


iPhone disrupted the mobile phone industry

Tuft & Needle is disrupting the mattress industry

Robinhood.io is disrupting the stock trade industry

Most entrepreneurs today futilely ask themselves the difficult question of “what can I create that doesn’t already exist and can make life easier?” While both questions may lead to the same result, it is easier and more practical to start with the question “what already exists but can be done better?” What industry is in desperate need of disruption?

The Benefits of Willful Blindness

Update: I have since followed up with another post describing the dangers of willful blindness. The post below is officially deprecated.

There was a video on TED called “The Dangers of Willful Blindness”. I didn’t watch it. I have a condition called willful blindness. It is a mental disorder that alters the prioritization algorithm in my mind, and overrides the default priority weight given to thoughts and events. If for example there be 10 thoughts to be considered, 4 of them being murky attention grabbing whores, I would rather my mind be focused on the 6 other good-hearted, less pressing issues that are perhaps not so much in weight. If you take the absolute value of the weight of a positive or negative thought, you’ll find that most times, negative thoughts are heavier. A happy thought is as light as a hummingbird, fluttering nimbly and beautifully before you, and no sooner does it appear than it’s already gone. A negative thought, however, is a riotous rhinoceros which stampedes your mind, hitting the edges and causing sharp pain. To be willfully blind then, changes the chemical reactions that occur in your brain, similar to a drug.

Focusing on the rhinoceros in your mind makes life feel heavy. You are constantly worried and stressed, and every time you try to be happy, you think of all the reasons you shouldn’t be. But the willfully blind man takes no such treatment from his very own mind. He has stood up against the incessant thudding and stomping in his brain. He has realized that in either and every way, his death is as certain as his birth, and if he must go at it either way, that he would rather traverse his time with giddy and delight, than to go limping about the days until a day he falls in a grave. And so the willfully blind man has made a most daring compromise with the gods; that you shall trade perhaps a longer life for that of an invariably lengthed life, but where all the days can be as warm as an August pool. The model blindful man, having a cancerous disease, would rather be ignorant of his condition, than to be involved in a life long fight pregnant with the worries of his state and surviving only on numbing medications and tiring hospital trips. This blindful man would rather go about his days, though considerably numbered, with frolly and joy, than to live a longer life of trolly and foy.

Willful blindness is not only used for recreation. All who create, whether it be through the form of cooking, writing, sketching, constructing; all who create know that their best work is done when they are wholly infatuated with the task at hand, whence not any thought could take them away. To be in the zone. And to be in that zone, you must be nearsighted, and shut out all of the external. Only then will your work have 100% of you. The willfully blind man uses this productivity enhancing drug when he wishes to filter, if only temporarily, the ever-pressing issues that constantly froggle his mind and prevent him from being engulfed by his work.

Like any other chemical, willful blindness should not be dependent on, but should rather be another tool in your survival kit. If ever you find yourself outnumbered and outpoured by sad and dulling thoughts, then drink the tea of willful blindness, and regain your enthusiasm and soul by raging in this age of worry. Regain your creativity by installing your own reality distortion field. Regain what makes you human by choosing.

10,000 Years Ago

Somebody, 10,000 years ago, a human just like you and me, going through exactly what we go through, looking for a way to be happy and make the best out of the days, gave birth to a child, who then went on to live a life of his own, and gave birth to another child, and this cycle continued, till you, I, was finally born. The blood that runs through our veins is no stranger to these lands, and nature is well acquainted with the families and ancestors of its current inhabitants. Someone 10,000 years ago just wanted to make it through the day, but his existence made way for mine.

The Human Class

If a garbage truck picked up your garbage, delivered your mail, and sold you ice cream, it would be extremely inefficient at doing all 3. But by focusing on just one thing, it is able to do its job well. This is the same with code: if an object or class knows too much, and is too tightly coupled with other classes, it becomes confused, difficult to change, and in most cases ineffective. This is also true in economics: if a country is efficient at producing a certain export and inefficient at producing another, it would be in its best interest to trade with another country that is more equipped to produce that other product. Let us not be fooled to think that humans are some special exception to this rule. We are all classes; objects in a program, and all of us are subclasses of the Human class. We have certain methods, certain properties, and know how to interact with other Human objects, but know very little on how to interact with other classes.

Software design patterns are no coincidence; are not some random discoveries of the best arrangement and structure of code. Nay, they are, inadvertently (as with everything), modeled after nature. Everything we create will always somehow behave according to some universal laws, as everything that exists or we create inherits from the base class PhysicalObject. This world follows excellent design patterns, namely that for the efficient execution of a program, each object should only know what it needs to know and nothing more. Looks like the Human class was just endowed with deep and wonderful introspection abilities. So don’t be disheartened that we are stranded on a lonely planet with vague and iridescent traces of our origin,— the less you know, the more effective you are, and the better you serve the overall program.

The Adverse Effects of Mental Profanity

My thoughts of late have comprised of bitter negativity and reluctant pessimism. I could not help but see the worst of every situation. The origins of this cancerous attitude, I did not know, but its existence was more evident than the morning sun. I began to simply dislike most things for no reason. And it wasn’t that I actually disliked the thing in question. My mental consciousness would just blurt out disinterest in things by default, before they were even given the chance. It seemed more like an automatic habit than an inherent dislike towards things.

Several days ago, my long time friend and I watched a movie with biased political views which he happened to disagree with. He expressed his discontent and anger the way a child would to get the attention and pity of his parents. “Fuck this, fuck them, sons of bitches assholes. I fucking hate the politics of [country name redacted].” It was more emotional than informed. He went on nagging incessantly. It bothered me. His negativity made me upset. What a miserable life one must have, I thought, when first reactions are of hostile resentment.

Later that night after he left, I was preparing a sandwich when I happened upon a most unfortunate realization. “There’s no fucking mayo!,” I shouted. “Fuckin’ a, how’m I supposed to eat a fucking sandwich without mayo?!” I began swearing to myself as if those were the only words I knew, before I abruptly realized that I sounded familiar. I sounded just like my bitter friend. What a tragedy, that I, the same man that was lamenting and pitying another soul just hours ago, am just a reflection of that which I resented. I saw myself in him. The state of my consciousness had been manifested in his performance just hours ago, and I for the first time saw it in physical form. My story cannot end in that same fate, I thought. This man is knee deep in the swamp of bitterness and hostility, and I have been given the rope by which to escape. Could this be the reason for my constant pessimism and negativity? Could swearing be the reason I was so often closed minded and angry?

So I thought I would try an experiment. Would my attitude change if I were to refrain from mental swearing? Would I regain my optimism and stop being resentful towards things by default? “No more swearing, no more fucking swearing!” I declared. This was going to be harder than I thought.

Over the next couple days, I would catch and stop myself whenever I used profane words. And not only when I used them negatively. The goal was to not use them at all, even if it were positive like “that video was funny as fuck.” I began to realize just how pervasive swearing was in my vocabulary. Almost every other sentence I uttered used swears as adjectives, nouns, verbs,— you name it. And don’t get me wrong: I never swore out loud. My friends and coworkers have only ever heard me swear on a few occasions. It is not a foul mouth that plagues me, but a foul mind. I place no restrictions on my thoughts.

It hasn’t been easy, and the frequency at which I mentally swore was appalling, but now, after just a few days, catching and preventing swears has become second nature. And this has translated into a new found sense of optimism. To see just how strong and effective these words are at affecting your mood, allow me to demonstrate.

(I will not censor swears here for the sake of science)

Say these two negative statements aloud in your normal tone:

“I hate dark chocolate”

“I fucking hate dark chocolate”

How did you do? The first sentence probably sounded very plain and default. It didn’t stir too much negativity within. You’re still calm and cool. The second sentence however probably got you riled up a bit. You probably unconsciously put a lot of emphasis on the word “hate”, and your face and mouth made all sorts of distorted and disgusted shapes. Heck your blood pressure might have even increased a little.

Swear words are not just harmless little words that carry no weight. They are powerful. They cause chemicals within your body to mix and boil. They can make you angry without your realizing it.

I’m happy to say that over the past few days, I have realized a dramatic improvement in my attitude. I’m forced to see things positively since I can’t swear at them. I can’t say “I fu**ing hate this show” anymore, and this keeps me calm and collected. I try to avoid all negative thoughts now, but if I must let one rip, I’ll try to say “I dislike this show, but here are some things which I do like about it”. I try to avoid the easy task of criticizing that which I don’t like, and find things that I do like, which is much harder.

Try it. Go on a swear fast. You’ll notice just how often you swear mentally and verbally, and just how much control these words exert on your mood. After trying this experiment, I can never go back to swearing again. It just doesn’t feel right.

The Dangers of Willful Blindness

A while back, I wrote a post praising the benefits of willful blindness. In it, I argued that being willfully blind and neglecting negative and pressing issues can help you attain more optimism and positivity in your life. I compared willful blindness to a strong chemical drug that disrupts the normal flow of thoughts in your mind. And now, just a few months later, I have realized that I have overdosed on this cancerous drug. Little did I know that what I had extolled and worshipped as a hack to life was just another form of denial; denying that bad is present or oncoming. Every negative thought that I had shelved and ignored was stored away in my mental cellar which I thought had no limit, until I began to realize that none of these buried thoughts just vanish. No, they pile up and across, until they begin to extrude out of your eyes and ears, your heart and soul. The better solution, rather than neglect your problems and pretend they don’t exist, is to befriend them. It is to know that bad and ugly happens around you and all across the world, and that this is perfectly normal. While the thought of something may be terrifying, the actual manifestation of that fear is tamable. The shadow is scarier than its caster.

Every negative thought I’ve stashed away has in time become an abrupt reality, and although it may sadden or harm me at, reality is always manageable. I came upon this realization just recently. I became increasingly interested in the history of the Middle East after watching a film called Zero Dark Thirty, and I spent days reading every Wikipedia article on the matter. The stories of the Middle East were more intense and twisted than any novel I’d ever read. It is the tale of an ever unstable region with fields laced of golden oil, where as a politician you are more likely to be assassinated than not. It is the story of a million people who have been mercilessly killed or displaced, with not a soul to ask about their dreams and ambitions. It made me realize that all this,— everything around us and the governments by which we stand—is but a work in progress; an effort to try and do things right, as hard and evasive as that may be. I thought that politics and foreign relations were opaque and esoteric topics beyond my understanding, but it is much simpler than that: it is a handful of human beings making trades and deals for the better good of the country they represent, and since every government represents a different country, there will always be conflicts and conflicts of interest. And that’s ok; this is normal, default behavior.

You see, even before you and I were born, wars and other grueling events had been omnipresent and ongoing. It is no use to think that we — we precious products of western civilization — will be some special exception to the way things work on this planet. Your life is as safe as geography and circumstances permit. Loss of wealth, disease, and death are all commonplace here. The thought of one or more of those things occurring is horrifying, but a human adapts at all costs. This is precisely why no event can leave us better or worse. We are strange living organisms living on a fragile planet, with odd protrusions coming out from our bodies in every which way. We have evolved, through millions of years, no—through nine months, from non intelligent life forms, to upright and impossibly intelligent beings. None of this is normal. Life is a program in beta — there are bugs and malware, deformities and oddities. Things will break and shatter; hearts will palpitate and implode; blood will seep out of your veins, perhaps one day uncontrollably; seas will dry and wither, taking with it the people of nearby lands— all is orderly and expected on this dear and mean planet Earth.

Bring your fears to life. Chase after the thing you fear most and manifest it; only then will you know that you are better than it. A fearful thought can only exist and nestle in your mind, but once manifested into the physical, it can no longer live in the same environment as we; for these heavy thoughts require the sweet glucose of your brain to survive; require you to tend to them and acknowledge them, for they are nothing without you, and you all the better without them.

A Lonely Age

What a man is and all that flows through his mind with the lapsing of clouds and ticking of time, is infinite. But what a man manifests, what he says and who he appears to be, is finite. To fall in love with another being then would be not to fall in love with that person and their infinitely varying selves, but to fall in love with the one face of an innumerably sided polygon. So it is not too difficult to believe that a man of young ambition fell in love with a woman that did not exist but as a sequence of numbers, of ones and zeros, the same way a real being exists as a sequence of peptides and heliotides. Yes, for this man fell in love with a finite woman, a very finite woman.

Even very early in the history of the man, this dominant and burly being has been forever in search of a woman so perfect and lustrous as to satisfy the deepest bowels of his desire. A man was shallow, and his eyes alighted from bosom to bosom, in reconciliation of his wildest fantasies. Perfect, as one might eventually learn, is a conception which cannot be represented by the physical, but only by the iridescent mental. Perfect, one could not find, but custom, well, is perfection enough. A woman, if you will, designed specifically for you, from feet upwards, with as precise specifications as a man could dream. Yes, for it was possible in this time and age, where technology had clambered to peaks which words had not yet the ability to climb, that a man could design his mate in any way he so chose; where numbers had coagulated in a way that might finally arouse a man. For in this day, infants were born not in nine months, but in days, and the ambitious cell was incubated artificially in a way more efficient than nature could have ever conjured.

You see, a man who had never experienced human love knew not what it was, but what it seemed. Love, the same way light could not be described to a blind man, could not be delineated by mere mortals as words and sights, but must be felt; must make the vermillion blood within palpitate aloud. To an unworthy eye, love seemed a transaction; a mutual compromise of individual vicinity for the better satisfying of both party’s needs. By this scanty definition, it seemed a promising alternative for a wealthy man to not have to trouble himself with the pains and gnawing of seeking and sheltering a mate. No, for this was an age where money could finally buy love; where love was finally within the purview of technology. This was an age where no man would suffer the choice between the work that so dearly occupied his time, and the nipping cold that often crept into the hearts of those who lacked companionship. It was a time where a balance would not be required between family and enterprise, where the relationship between hours spent and money earned was directly proportional to the love a man could acquire. This was a lonely and desolate age.

Three Brands of Water

To a Saharan desert inhabitant, the display right before my eyes would have been no short of the promised land, the seventh of all heavens. Organized before me were rows, columns, and grids of bottles of ice cold water. One could imagine, had they never been accustomed to the lifestyle of the so called westerners, that these bottles would be in clear plastic containers, without any labels or colors of any kind. It is only water after all – what more needs to be said? What purpose would any labels or packaging serve?

Enter Capitalism.

Each row of bottles had their own unique label stickered on to them, with varying tones and colors, shapes and sizes, prices and appeal. Some seemed fancier than the others, and more expensive, and others seemed they were priced to sell. Surprisingly, not a single bottle was devoid of a label. Not a single one of these clear, water inhabited bottles could speak for themselves.

And it only gets worse. My friends and I were on a road trip to the great Michigan Dunes, when we were all dying of thirst and decided to make a pit stop at one of those supersize tourist gas stations. It was the Mecca of our short two hour air conditioned pilgrimage. We spared none as we violently made our way to the back, reaching the sacred refrigerators just two seconds before we died from absolute dehydration. (Did I mention how comfortable the car ride over was?). Now, one would think, being in the dire situation we were in, that we would all violently topple over each other and blindly reach for the closest bottle of water available. One, who might not be too familiar with the Western way, might imagine that after grabbing the closest and cheapest non-labeled bottle of water, that we impetuously tore open the bottle and consumed it’s replenishing contents without a second to spare. This is not what happened.

We reached the refrigerators, and all three of us stood and paused. We placed our palm in our chins and our index finger across our cheek as we began to think about which of these water bottles best suited our personality.

After a long and grueling analytical shakedown, we reconvened and by chance formed a triangle where we were all holding our water bottles in hand. We had all unanimously chosen the cheapest and only unlabeled water bottles in the store. No just kidding I chose Smart Water, my friend chose Fiji, and my other friend chose Dasani. Neither of these were the least expensive of the variety. I broke out in laughter. My god. How pathetic and brainwashed we have become. It was the epitome of our slavery to brands and their brainwashing marketing.

This whole time, I thought I was aware and infallible to the cunning tactics used by marketers. This whole time I thought that I was myself a marketer, and that I always knew when I was being conned and sold to. But I had subconsciously fell for the dirtiest of all marketing ploys: the branding of water. I had chosen the most expensive brand of water, simply because I truly thought Smart Water was smart, that it had something to it. How ridiculously pathetic of me. I felt ashamed and dirty. I was the “average consumer” that marketing studies would always refer to. I was a statistic.

I would not let that be my fate. I went back and got the cheapest water bottle there was. It still had a label, but it was a step in the right direction.

Sometimes, we’re not educated enough about a product to make a clear and unbiased purchasing decision. So we go for the one with the best and most colorful packaging. But water? Come on. If we fall for water marketing, we’ll fall for anything. Let’s start here.

The New & Old

Life is a war between the old and the new. The old becomes history, the new becomes old, the two combine and reproduce to make the new new, and ever onwards. Every generation out does the other, and while it may seem unlikely, our minds will one day shut, its views will freeze, and what we believe will be our truth until death, with no capacity for new. Our children will see us as old and traditional, just as we see our ancestors today. What the next generation sees cannot be seen or understood by previous generations, for they dwell in the land of the old, where the ministers of new dare not enter lest they be victims of dogma and antiprogress. Thus life is subject to the same rules as numbers, namely that you can always add 1. The worn out horses must choose their number and retire, but the energetic young stallions aim for numbers which the elders imagined impossible to fathom, and this cycle has created the ever progressing world around us.

Sadly

Bitterness takes the best of me
Watching flowers bloom and begging it to me
Your time will come, it says to me
Now now! I try to plea.
No! no! it cannot be!
To every seed an intricacy!
So longer I wait, till the day I see.

The Coldest Winter

Dear love,

I write this to speak to you. To tell you who I am and which parts of me have been missing. I have become a monster. Life has robbed me of my sanity. I used to be normal, and normal in the good sense, not the conformative sense. The kind of normal crazy people wish they could be. I find myself on a very dark planet, lost beyond recognition. I know very little of what is happening in my life. Everything seems to be happening all at once and nothing at all. The worst part about being selfish, rather, the punishment that all selfish people must suffer, is that they are blind to their selfish ways. I don’t remember how I became so selfish. It happened so innocently, through harsh and long days. I guess I’ve always been a little selfish; maybe it has to do with the path I grew up on. But in the last couple rememberable winters, I have been a monster; a man consumed by the mysteries and darkness of his consciousness. The road I have been on has had curves, potholes, and bridges that cut short. I guess you can say I’m swimming in dark waters now, a whaling whale lost in the middle of a dark moonless sea. The howls of emptiness are all I hear. Every flying carpet I stood on was pulled from beneath my feet while in air. I think, during all this, that men before me too have sailed these dark waters, and they all return from their journey with treasures. But even the thought of treasure cannot please me now. A treasure is a cycle, not an object. It is a process. And this saddens me; that I know I cannot fool myself. I long to believe in paradise island, to believe in something more than myself. How I wish I could unload the burdens atop my shoulder unto something else. But I know no one can carry it but I. Many a people, seeing your shoulders sunk below your waist, will sympathize and wish to help, to carry some of your burden. But it is only you that can incubate your misfortunes into fortunes. And by the nature of cause and effect, this has made me selfish.

It is February, in what now seems the second year of this long and brutal winter. It is as coldest a winter I’ve ever seen. I am desolate; a damaged machine searching this barren planet for a tool that might fix the sorrows and malfunctions; for a tool which I do not know the shape nor sight of. A computer is a machine that repeats processes. By this definition, a living man, full of soul and bliss, can become a matter of ones and zeros without his consent nor awareness. What was to be gained, I thought, in my conquest to maximize the amount of hours to myself by forcefully abrupting any time given to others, was happiness. Our mathematically lustered minds are keen to believe that more yields more. But I have gained less, and have lost all. To what end I say, has all this gone to? I have stolen all the time to myself as one man could possibly bear, but I have not been the wiser. No, something has been off. This is where I look back to the moral laws I have been taught, and understand their significance. They were right, I say now. To be selfish is to be cruel not to others, but to yourself. Our written code is modeled after our instinctual morals and behavior, not the other way around. I realize this now. It all makes sense. Not that it really matters. Making sense of one thing has never in the end helped make sense of anything.

There was a time when I believed I was on the golden path. To fortune and fame, and great status. I exerted myself to capacities I had not yet discovered I possessed. The harder I push and pedal, the more I’ll coast, went thought. But behind that door was failure, a door that no man wants to see open. It seemed to me, that most of the great things that had happened to me up until that point had happened without my conscious impediments and will; have happened by chance. So I decided to let go, and let life take control. And that is the path I have been on until just recently. This path may work, but its processes are painstakingly slow; unbearably slow. I felt as though I’d given up. I could not bear it any longer. I decided to change that, to regain control. But a mere decision was no match to physical circumstance. No, for I was snowed in, with no way out. From where I stand, I still do not see a path by which I can flee my current state. I shall have to accept my place as it is now, and wait for the day that my path mystically expands into previously nonexistent nodes.

And this is where I am today; waiting. It seems the wrong move. I feel I ought to do more. But what more can I do? What is it in my power to do? I’ll do whatever I can and more at every given chance. I am watering my seed of life, but this winter has produced little sunlight; has caused the snow to pile high atop my inconspicuous grain. Perhaps when the ice melts, I shall be able to see once again the green surface of this light-forsaken land; to see opportunity in each of the cardinal directions. I look forward to that day with great hope, that time may change my circumstance. It is a lie I tell myself to get through the numbingly cold days, but it is my god; a belief in something, anything, that gives me hope.

Voices

every one is made of two
some days red and others the blue
long suspected were multiple voices
each of which offers its choices
pick and choose
either way you lose
’tis not such a bad thing

The War Within

Nature constantly taunts us. Every human is fighting a war within. But had it not been for this perpetual inner war, then humans would not be what they are today. This system constantly challenges us, forcing us to despise the actions of today for the promise of tomorrow; forces us to be discontent. It challenges us — you’re not working hard enough, not eating well enough, your new design not genius enough, you’re too fat, too skinny, you need to study harder; it’s a master trash talker. But imagine had it not been for this system. Imagine had nature spoiled us with lavish compliments for every of our actions. Then what need for improvement would there be? The chimps and primates are perfectly happy with the one tool they’ve managed to create. Nature pampers them with wonderful compliments about their ingenious designs, yet alas the chimp has not been able to progress like the man has. Our every tool becomes outdated the second it is completed; that wonderful thought we had yesterday that seemed to make life instantly ethereal has deserted us today, and we are left looking for another promise of joy, and this forever onward. It is curious that the man has so much,— the airplanes and telepathic communication devices, electricity and inner climate control, refrigerators and fire at the press of a button; but yet we are not content. It this system alone, however, that is responsible for our continual progression.

The man will never be content. This is by design, not coincidence. That thing, that one thing on our minds today, that if we acquire we believe will result in a perfect life, shall tomorrow arrive, but our eyes will be focused on a new task by then. It seems not to carry that same luster that it carried in our minds yesterday. Alas Emerson, it is the thought that is much sweeter than reality. The thought is our fuel, the thought is wonderful and creative. We are creative beings after all. The man is a masterful story teller. Our mind draws a complete canvas and fills in any pieces, even ones that are missing. The mind personifies this world, for the world is rather empty and dull. If humanity can be characterized by one thing, it would their ability to tell stories. Everything has come from stories.

There is an algorithm at play here. We believe the only difficulty in life is finding a way to achieve the relatively trivial task on our minds, but behind the scenes, our bodies are working tirelessly to make us interact with the earth around us. Blood is pumping, lungs contracting, heart beating endlessly, a war of cells erupting within, billions of neural networks connecting to make sense of the world around us. And all without a single conscious effort from us. Our emotions are chemicals mixing. The rewards we earn, the feeling we get when we accomplish something: those are controlled chemicals in our body. The algorithm controls when those chemicals are released. Everything is precise and calculated.

The system is the computer, and the humans are the hackers, the engineers. Take a round pill manufactured in a lab and the substances within are altered. Dopamine is the chemical that our body releases to give us a sense of accomplishment, to reward and give us positive reinforcement. Take a small dosage of a certain white powder, and the chemicals are released instantly, and a sudden sense of accomplishment rushes within. Whatever designed this system wants us to keep going; has put in place systems to motivate us to keep going; has put in place systems to challenge us, to stimulate us; to practically control us. Alas we have little to do with the flow of this algorithm. No man has been able to penetrate its secret. We are looking from within; we will always be a part of this algorithm, and for us to fully comprehend it would mean we were above this algorithm, looking from without rather than from within,— and that’s just undefined.

Trouble

What is the reason for your worry, troubles and pain?
It is the mere thought of them that makes one go insane.
How scary things appear in thought,
but your whole life the future has cometh and harmed you not.
So fear not the mystery of days to come,
for all your actions are part of one,
– we are only but a part of nature’s hum.

The Ideal Self

No one can truly practice what they preach. What one preaches is ideal, is well thought out, is romantic and poetic, but what one does, is spontaneous and partial, is a flawed and incomplete manifestation of the ideal. What one preaches is not who he is, but the best of who he is. It is what each man strives for and wishes to become. Our ideals are goal posts, and must always— can only be — on a higher platform than their physical counterpart. We must aim for the stars, so that if our escape velocity falls short, that we might at least nestle in the clouds.

No thought can be translated to its physical equivalent without some loss of detail and aim, without a loss of the luster it had when it was suckling on the sweet glucose of the cerebral sugar well. The mind is a catalyst for thoughts; must house them and pamper them so that there be some desire to make them real. The thought is always sweeter than reality, and must needs be this way, for had the thought been barren and horrid, the being would not be incented to act, but would rather remain indolent. The thought will always be a better place than the present, or else we would be eternally complacent. So forgive the man who does not practice what he preaches, for that is by law impossible, but credit and praise him for that whom he aims to be.

Misunderstood

We must learn not to take things personally. No one ever intends to hurt us. Every one is busy living their own life, waging a war within, and focusing on accomplishing their own dreams, that they hardly put any effort into their communication, or pay no special consideration to what they say. It is no wonder that every other song we hear on the radio mentions the concept of “haters”. Haters are fictional characters perceived by every human. We are so overwhelmed, so captivated by our own lives, that we think the world conspires to make our life miserable when things aren’t going our way. We hate society because we think it hates us. But it cannot be that people are as cruel as our minds make them to be, that it must be just us mistaking what is a lack of attention on the other person’s part as bitterness and meanness. It is all a matter of misunderstanding, that had the other person known how their words made you feel, they would be sincerely apologetic, and swear that they meant no harm. But we cannot run to every person who we feel has offended us and try to settle our debts. This is a matter that must be settled within. We must learn to see society’s bitterness as not personal at all, but one huge misunderstanding.

Communication between two humans is by far the most complex task for a human brain, and misunderstandings and errors arise often. Conversation is a game of fast chess. Once one makes his move, it is up to the other to cleverly asses the right response, and since a spontaneous response must be generated within milliseconds, it is no wonder that people say such silly things during small talk. There is no time to consider if the statement is harmful or not, it must be orated lest we be conceived awkward. But, with practice and experience, we can learn what to and not to say. This we call manners, but we cannot expect everyone to carry this same experience and practice, that if we encounter someone without these traits, we should recognize it as a matter of inexperience, and not take it personally. Alas the world is one large sphere of confusion, a perpetual misunderstanding of words between people, a struggle for every man to be understood and accepted.

Every time

‘Twas a tired night, like many before
away from my home I began to explore
and I found something I hadn’t before
a new thought I could not ignore
so I followed it like times before
not knowing what else to look for
but it lead me to the same places as ever before
saying beyond you is a sea but you remain at shore
And so I took sail like never before
and once I arrived I asked what for?
I could not bear to think it anymore,
happiness will find me like each time before.

Ones and Zeros

The human has two states: happiness and sadness, or in other words, 1 and 0. Using ones and zeros, humans are able to create infinitely complex and super powerful computers. And where else do we get our design inspirations from other than nature? You see, with these two simple emotions, these two states, nature is able to dictate your every move and direction. 1 implies energy flow, happiness, a signal of affirmation, to usher you to continue doing what you’re doing. Zero is an off state, where there is no flow of electricity, felt by us as bleak and bitter sadness, telling us to change our direction, to do something different. Enough of these combinations, of these 1s and 0s, these sequences of episodes of happiness and sadness, and we are somehow magically led to a place we couldn’t have imagined, to a level of thought we could not have foreseen. Our ship is steered little by us, but by the raging waves and heavy winds of nature, which leave us with but one path to travel on.

Fate

The men that we call great,
had all to thank to fate.
The passing of time,
makes men sublime,
the lyrical divine,
and days align.
Day by day,
say and nay,
do all you may,
speculation at bay,
and time finds a way,
to make your name stay.
For the men we call great,
had only eaten off their plate.