It’s Been One Year Since Dropping My Job Like a Bad Habit

26 Oct

What a year it has been! It’s been all about challenging assumptions, shifting paradigms, and setting up the life I want. Let’s take a look at a few areas.


I spent my first significant time out of the country. And loved it. I don’t know that I’ll be satisfied with 1 or 2 week vacations ever again.

Tim Ferriss wrote about “mini-retirements” in the 4 Hour Workweek. Yes, the book is about bigger ideas than just outsourcing. It’s about crafting the life you want to live. Making it a reality. Here are a couple interviews about the mini-retirments: Using Mini-Retirements to Get More Out of Life and How to Take a Mini-Retirement: Tips and Tricks.

We all envy teachers who get the summer off (or at least part of it). Here’s what you’re thinking: “wow, wouldn’t it be great to have 2 or 3 back to back months off work? Every year!” Would you agree with this statement: I’d rather make $60,000 and have 3 months off than $80,000 working the whole year. Yes, obviously. Well guess what – no one is going to just hand it to you. You have to go out and make it happen. (And don’t tell me you could live on 25% less money – you might have to make some changes but wouldn’t it be worth 3 months off a year?)


I think it’s really awesome that I am earning a living on my own. Yes, I realize as an employee you do in fact have to earn your pay, but it’s different. You are dependent upon a company, which is dependent upon customers. I am dependent upon customers directly. Kind of like in the old days before corporations. Or like a fixie biker (a purist removing the middle man).

But I don’t necessarily think jobs are bad. Heck, I still think I’ll have a traditional job again some day. Boy will it be different though! It will be because I want to be there, not because of money, career advancement, or even because you’re supposed to have a job. It would have to be a situation where I really believe in what we are building and the team / company are in a position to make it a reality.


Goals are a whole lot easier to meet when you feel in control of your life. With this new power you might even set some goals!


It’s hard to realize how toxic an environment is until you remove yourself from it. My frustrations at work built up over time, but they were gradual enough that it wasn’t enough that I didn’t make any drastic moves. Just like the frog that slowly gets boiled to death, I did not jump out of my job. I wasn’t able to notice the significant impact this had on the other areas of my life.


Sports are Cool – The Oakland Athletics Edition

3 Oct

Today the Oakland Athletics won the American League West. There are so many cool things about this, I don’t know where to start. I guess we’ll start at the beginning of the season.

Going into the season, the Texas Rangers have played in back to back World Series, had a $121 million dollar payroll, and are expected to win the division. But then in the Angels went on an offseason spending spree because they were tired of losing to Texas. They came in to the season with a $155 million dollar payroll and ready to finally knock off the Rangers. No one bothered to discuss the Athletics.

The Athletics were thought by the experts to be rebuilding. In the offseason they traded away their top two starting pitchers. And their closer. Basically they traded away everyone good for a bunch of players with very little major league experience. They came into the season with a $49 million dollar payroll – the smallest of all 30 major league teams.

And yet they kept winning games. They are so young they don’t even realize they aren’t supposed to win these games. They finished the season with 5 rookies making up their starting rotation. Somehow they went 94-68, finishing ahead of the Rangers (who they swept 3 straight to end the season) and Angels.

One more amazing thing to leave you with: today is the FIRST day of the entire year that they have been alone in first place. Finally, after 162 games they made it. Good time to end the season.

If you want more cool baseball stuff, check out this old post.


Inconsequential Childhood Memories

14 Sep

brain vs braun

Memory is a funny thing. Some people remember everything from a decade ago crystal clear. Others can’t remember where they parked their car an hour ago.

Of course a certain amount of memory can be trained. I read part of the book “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything“, where a journalist with an average memory spends a year training for the U.S. Memory Championship. It’s an incredible insight into what is possible if you have the right system – check out a Slate article he wrote for a quick overview.

But that’s only one type of memory and the author said he still loses his car keys. There is a completely different type of memory freaks that are even more interesting. There was an awesome 60 Minutes episode interviewing a handful of the rare people that have what they call “superior autobiographical memory.” If you ask them – “do you remember what you did on April 7th, 1973?” – they’ll be able to tell you exactly what they did that day, the day of the week, what they wore, and what they were thinking about.

Sleep is also crucial to your memory. I learned somewhere that the last few hours (5-8) of sleep are when most the transfer of memory from RAM (short-term) to hard-drive (long-term) happens. So if you don’t get a full 8 hours of sleep, you aren’t learning as effectively as you could be. The fact that people sleep less these days than a few decades ago can also be partially blamed for a whole bunch of other things, like getting fat. Maybe New York should mandate 8 hours of sleep a night rather than banning sugary sodas? Hard to tell which would be more effective, but one gets all the blame.

Inconsequential Childhood Memories

I got thinking about memory because of a couple memories I have from 4th and 5th grade. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time with kids this age, so I’ve been going back into my past to see what I remember. Some of these things are so inconsequential, I have no idea why I remember them but not more important things:

  • We did mental math problems every day in Ms. Barth’s class – “Start with 7 … multiply by 3 … add 4 … divide by 5 – what’s the number?” Well I remember one time we did it, we started with the number of hours you sleep in a night. So I started with 9. I got it wrong because we were supposed to start with 8.
  • In Ms. Walker’s 5th grade class she read off everyone’s name and you were supposed to respond if you did your homework. One time I said “yes” and she thought I said “oven” (don’t ask me how). So from then on I would answer with a household appliance. But one time I didn’t do my reading and didn’t get to say an appliance. This was the start of my 15+ year run of becoming less cool every year.
  • We read Babe – they sat us down to explain the word bitch and that we shouldn’t use it.
  • The TV show South Park came out – I had a friend named Kenny and we thought it was funny he dies in every episode (even though we didn’t watch it, we just knew that it happened!)
  • We had a Tic-Tac-Toe tournament in our class. I made the finals where I faced off on the overhead projector against someone that also figured out how to win or tie every time. After we tied a half dozen times I got bored and tried something different so we wouldn’t just tie for all of time. I lost.

Do you have any memories from 4th or 5th grade that are just as inconsequential?


Kickass quote from the author of Moonwalking with Einstein that can be applied to any skill you are learning:

The OK Plateau is that place we all get to where we just stop getting better at something. Take typing, for example. You might type and type and type all day long, but once you reach a certain level, you just never get appreciably faster at it. That’s because it’s become automatic. You’ve moved it to the back of your mind’s filing cabinet. If you want to become a faster typer, it’s possible, of course. But you’ve got to bring the task back under your conscious control. You’ve got to push yourself past where you’re comfortable. You have to watch yourself fail and learn from your mistakes. That’s the way to get better at anything. And it’s how I improved my memory.


Starbucks Treat Receipt – The Best Idea Ever?

23 Aug

Starbucks is one clever company. I have been impressed by their promotions: like donating $5 to create US jobs for every pound of coffee purchased. I have been impressed by their fearless embrace of new technology: like signing up to process all credit card payments with Square. And I have been impressed by how deeply they have climbed into my head: the Starbucks Treat Receipt.

If you buy something from Starbucks before 2 pm, show up after 2 pm with your receipt to get any medium cold drink for $2. Yes, that includes the $4.50 ice cream drinks (aka Grande blended frappuccinos).

Why is this deal so awesome for Starbucks? Who goes to Starbucks twice in one day? Maybe if you are up early, but who goes after 2 pm? It is way easier to convince a paying customer to do it again than it is to get a new customer entirely. They must be crushing it on repeat customers during this promotion.

This deal is extremely appealing – I find myself saving receipts now. I tell myself “well, you might as well hang on to the receipt just in case you want to go later.” Then every time I reach into my pocket I find the receipt and think of Starbucks. Logically, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t want a sugary drink in the afternoon. And the iced coffee and iced green tea are cheap enough that the deal wouldn’t really save me any money. But I still save the receipts. I have gone back once for an afternoon treat and they are bound to get me again soon. Probably tomorrow…

There is even more cleverness, so much so that I will switch to bullet points:

  • “Treat” receipt. Yes, even the name is encouraging you to get one of those expensive sugary drinks. You deserve a treat. And then you are addicted. And probably pregnant.
  • The promotion is limited to one month. This makes it way more appealing. I think to myself, “well Brian, you better take advantage of this now because you won’t be able to later.”
  • The hot summer time promotion. You’re hot, thirsty, and have a treat receipt in your pocket. No brainer.
  • The oh so close to a rhyme – “treat receipt”. It is music to the ears.



Back to School Again – My First Experience with Coursera

6 Aug

In the spring I sat in on a class at Stanford – “Startup” taught by Peter Theil. I definitely learned a ton, but it wasn’t until I noticed I achieving perfect attendance that I thought I might enjoy taking other classes from time to time just for fun.

A couple weeks ago my latest class began – “Software Engineering for SaaS” (software as a service) offered by Coursera. It is adapted from a UC Berkeley computer science course for seniors. Why am I interested in this? Because it teaches a modern technology stack – Ruby on Rails – that is widely used and incredibly useful. If I were to start a new web application project a month ago, I would have struggled and wasted a lot of time getting started despite all my programming experience.

Why is that? Web programming isn’t exactly covered for most students in the computer science program. Rather, they take the fundamentals they learn and apply them to making websites. Sometimes this can be the same programming language, but often times it is not. I simply haven’t put in enough hours to be very comfortable in this area.

The hours that I have put in are in ancient technologies – PHP (used to power WordPress, and thus my websites) and ASP.NET (used by my old company because they had to use the Windows technology stack for conservative law firms that don’t want anything to do with open sources software (they’d have no one to yell at if something goes wrong!)). The SaaS class covers (or forces me to get experience on my own): Ruby on Rails, GitHub, HAML, EC2, Heroku, RESTful APIs, MVC, Agile, Cucumber, Capybara, and more buzzwords I’m forgetting.

I’m glad I’m getting a formal introduction to these because I believe it will lead to a better education than learning on my own. More importantly, I’m glad that I’m learning now before I have a project I’m trying to push out and cutting corners to get there.

Udacity is the other online advanced learning site making waves. Where Coursera adapts existing university courses for online, Udacity creates new courses from the ground up for online content. People aparently like this better. I think this chunking of content into smaller online bites, gamifying, interaction to keep your attention, whatever, only has potential to dumb the course down. What’s wrong with long-form classes? Not everything has to be a tweet, and for difficult concepts, I think long-form has an advantage.