An experimental design for an index page: all the content on my site, searchable with CMD+F.

Feedback appreciated here. Script TBD.

TODO:

  • Formatting

  • Make all inter-blog links reference this page.

  • Add more views.

Post Titles and Dates

“Notable Problems, Projects, and People”

2019-12-09 - “Now”

“Books”

2019-07-14 - “Up and to the Where?”

2019-07-13 - “Hello World”

2019-08-06 - “On Moving Away”

2019-11-28 - “Digital Tools I Wish Existed”

2019-12-20 - “Year in Review: 2019”

2019-10-12 - “Healthy Living”

2019-09-08 - “Next Steps, 2019 Edition”

2019-08-31 - “Journaling”

Full Text Posts

“Notable Problems, Projects, and People” - back to top

Interesting problems, projects, and people. Continuously updated.

Problems

Better access to information and dissemination of knowledge

  • RoamResearch is like Workflowy, but with graph support. Makes structured thought easier. This is very cool.
  • Readwise sends you a daily email with highlights from your books so you can think about them more often.
  • Memex is a private full-text browser history search tool with support for annotations, collections, and highlights.
  • Notion is a beautiful app for collaboration and writing which pulls in much of the functionality of Airtable and Trello.

Cleaner energy production, energy efficiency, carbon sequestration

  • AirCare lets you offset your flight in seconds.
  • Impact Makers is a great (Slack) community for meeting a diverse crowd of people at the intersection of technology and climate change.

Improved education, re-training

  • Lambda School provides a computer science degree alternative with no-cost up front, and takes a percentage of your earnings. Hello, aligned incentives.

Lowering cost of access to space

  • Launcher is lowering the price of getting small satellites to orbit.

Misc Projects

  • Sovrin a promising solution to the online identity problem.
  • Solid is looking to restructure web application for a more privacy-first user-owned data model.

People

  • Piotr Wozniak is researching spaced repetition, incremental reading, memory, sleep, and a whole lot more.
  • Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication is a great framework for thinking about and improving one’s relationships. HN.

    2019-12-09 - “Now” - back to top

Thinking a lot about personal information systems and how we discover, consume, and share content.

Reading Novacene and Psychology of the Digital Age. Listening to Roadside Picnic.

Learning Elixir.

Doing contract work to pay the bills.

What’s a Now page?

“Books” - back to top

Favorite books by subject. Most of these fit into more than one so I had to pick one.

Have a recommendation for one that should be on this list? Drop me a line!

Human Brain, Group Psychology, Networks
Wisdom of Crowds, TheJames Surowiecki
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and WorstRobert M. Sapolsky
Brain that Changes Itself, TheNorman Doidge
Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, TheOliver Sacks
Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, TheFlorence Williams
Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st CenturyHoward Bloom
MusicophiliaOliver Sacks
Life, Philosophy, Religion, Spirituality
When Breath Becomes AirPaul Kalanithi
Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of ReligionAlain De Botton
Wisdom of Insecurity, TheAlan Watts
Course of Love: A NovelAlain de Botton
Modern RomanceAriz Ansari
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian SpiritualityDonald Miller
How to Win Friends & Influence PeopleDale Carnegie
Doors of Perception and Heaven and HellAldous Huxley
How to Change Your MindMichael Pollan
Courage to be DislikedIchiro Kishimi
Finite and Infinite GamesJames Carse
Politics & Social Sciences
Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal WorldRutger Bregman
Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of PowerShoshana Zuboff
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each OtherSherry Turkle
Amusing Ourselves to DeathNeil Postman
Nothing Is True and Everything Is PossiblePeter Pomerantsev
The Master SwitchTim Wu
Behavioral Economics
Thinking, Fast and SlowDaniel Kahneman
InfluenceRobert B. Cialdini
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our DecisionsDan Ariely
Fiction
Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated PrimerNeal Stephenson
Stories of Your Life and OthersTed Chiang
DuneFrank Herbert
A Gentleman in MoscowAmor Towles
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Philip K. Dick
Catch-22: 50th Anniversary EditionJoseph Heller
CryptonomiconNeal Stephenson
Brave New WorldAldous Huxley
Devil in the White CityErik Larson
Nineteen Eighty FourGeorge Orwell
Artificial Intelligence
Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend BiologyRay Kurzweil
Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World, ThePedro Domingos
Startups, Business, Career
Zero to OnePeter Thiel
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized WorldDavid Epstein
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win BigScott Adams
Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business WinGene Kim
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted WorldCal Newport
Finance and Economics
Richest Man in BabylonGeorge Clason
Rich Dad Poor DadRobert T. Kiyosaki
Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily LifeNassim Nicholas Taleb
Economics in One LessonHenry Hazlitt
Memoris, Bibliographies, and Business History
Educated: A MemoirTara Westover
Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at LockheedBen R. Rich
Remains of the DayKazuo Ishiguro
Ghost in the WiresKevin Mitnick
The Smartest Guys in the RoomBethany McLean
Andrew CarnegieDavid Nasaw
Countdown to Zero DayKim Zetter
Surely You’re Joking, Mr FeynmanRichard Feynman
The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola VirusRichard Preston
One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.comRichard L. Brandt
Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine EspionageSherry Sontag, Christopher Drew, Annette Lawrence Drew
Masters of DoomDavid Kushner
Total RecallArnold Schwarzenegger
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic FutureAshlee Vance
InnovatorsWalter Issacson
Hillbilly ElegyJ. D. Vance
Skygods: The Fall of Pan AmRobert Gandt
Space Barons, TheChristian Davenport
On the Move: A LifeOliver Sacks

2019-07-14 - “Up and to the Where?” - back to top

The idea for the title of my site as well as the best description of my life philosophy I’ve read so far originally came from a post of Tim Urban’s I read a long time ago. The basic premise (though he does a much more wonderful job of explaining it and you should go read it now) is that as humans we are somewhere on the spectrum of consciousness. This somewhere is likely higher than that of a beetle’s, and considerably higher than that of a plant’s. But that’s only what’s going on below - what about above? Well, we don’t know - like the classic saying, does an ant in a colony have the slightest conception about the construction of a ten-lane superhighway next to it? In the same way we may be staring at a higher form of consciousness in our daily lives and completely miss it for what it really is.

So that’s a bit depressing - what’s the upside? The difference from where we are now to the next “step” may be absolutely massive - but what if we were to split it into smaller, sub-steps? It becomes a little more approachable. I think everyone has those moments in life: where we come close to seeing a peek of the big picture. For some it might be caused by comparing the length of a single human life to the age of the universe. For others, the miracle of life: everything starting with two cells and continuing a beautiful continuous unbroken chain going back millennia. Yet others might marvel at how little anyone actually understands the complex economic and social systems we’ve constructed - but how everyone pretends to. Or by contrasting the sheer number of human beings on the planet with the imperceptible fraction of them I’ll get to meet in my life. Sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon marveling at how light breaks through the dark storm clouds, in complete awe of the timescales and processes involved in its formation. Or taking in the absolute vastness and complexity of natural systems on the planet: energy and weather systems that make jokes of our most powerful modeling abilities. Standing in the crowd of a concert, feeling the perfect synchronization and connection between the singers and the audience by way of simple vibrations in the air. For me, it’s moments like these that reliably give me a reality check of precisely how tiny, inconsequential, improbable, and fragile my entire existence is.

That reality check is the closest thing I can imagine to a mere hint or shadow of the perspective a higher consciousness might have. A peek that might be nothing compared to the actual thing - but it’s more than the wake-work-eat-relax-sleep-repeat haze I find much of life passing me by in, hard as I try to be present. And in those brief moments I experience a humility and wonder beyond anything else I know. I am reminded of all the other species on the planet and feel compassion and empathy for them. I see people struggling to take care of their families, trying to do what it takes to protect the ones they love most and understand how I would do the same in their shoes. The incredible souls in the world sacrificing their comfort, safety, and security for the sake of others. And I can only see the beauty in it all. A beauty and order that language fails to describe but math, art and music do a better job of conveying. That against all odds, I - a collection of atoms consisting mostly of empty space - has the chance every single day to experience and explore this incredible universe. To know what it is to laugh, to cry, to feel, plan, love, create, enjoy, and build. And that I might perhaps connect with another human being and share with them a fraction of the joy I’ve gotten lucky enough to feel fills me with immeasurable excitement. That death is merely part of the cycle of life and that my atoms may someday be a part of any number of points of life in the future. And that the only logical thing in the face of all these realizations is to enjoy, celebrate, and try my best to preserve that beauty.

Eventually, like all such experiences, the view fades. The sun sets, the song ends, the gliding eagle disappears out of sight. Hunger, thirst, random memories, tiredness, or a distraction sets in and my mind goes back to its usual game of worrying about things beyond my control. However: what I do get to keep is a slightly clearer picture of the path that led me to that vantage point. Sometimes, that path involves helping others and giving my time to them without expecting anything in return. Others, it’s a Wikipedia binge starting with some random topic and ending with the big, perhaps forever unanswered questions. Yet others it’s simply laying on the roof of a houseboat looking out at the stars and feeling tears starting to well up at the potential of exploring and colonizing them one day. And so I do my best to follow those signals, like a moth to the flame. With fewer preconceptions and judgement. More acceptance, curiosity, and humility, and most importantly: love.

So, tying it all up again - why Up and to the Right? Because it’s a reminder of the direction of progress, my own and humanity’s at large. Like a compass heading; a sign of which way to go - but not a destination in and of itself. A route that may have ups and downs requiring continuous course correction as new information is acquired and understood. The direction towards the next step on that “consciousness staircase”. And a reminder that any data is only smooth from far out - up close it is an inconsistent, noisy, and unrepresentative sample of the bigger picture.

Over time I’ve found various other descriptions of this feeling as described by people. To some extent I view religion as an organized attempt at finding, cultivating, and sharing that love and beauty - but an attempt that so often ends in only more pain and division for those involved. I believe many of us experience this feeling with our own distinct perspective colored by our unique life experiences, dreams, and memories. And that’s precisely what makes it so wonderful to hear about other people’s moments - it’s the closest thing to see seeing reality through another person’s eyes. In the words of Alan Watts, “you are the universe experiencing itself”. Kurzeasgt calls it Optimistic Nihilism. Tim Urban calls it Truthism. Carl Sagan calls it spirituality and that’s the one that resonates most with me. Like many things, labels are only useful in describing and grouping similar things - and I’m learning that the most special things in life are also the hardest to label, explain, measure, and categorize. They just are.

2019-07-13 - “Hello World” - back to top

This is my first attempt at a blog. Somewhere to post my musings, observations, or just links to interesting things. Don’t know what it’ll become yet - guess we’ll find out together.

I started journaling a few years ago and find it to be immensely helpful in sorting out my thoughts about life. Occasionally I want to share my thoughts with people and figure this might be a good way to do so.

Though I haven’t been around for too long, I have had the privilege of witnessing some interesting events and meeting a ton of incredible people. Along the way I’ve learned a bit about myself and this amazing world, both good and bad. There are some things I’d love to tell my 18-year-old self - but given I can’t do that due to some limitations with our understanding of time - the next best thing is reaching out to others searching for similar answers in hopes of lending an extra perspective.

If this sounds interesting at all, feel free to subscribe or just check back in a while.

2019-08-06 - “On Moving Away” - back to top

Occasionally I speak with people considering an opportunity to move away from the place they call home to somewhere entirely new - be it for work, school, temporarily or indefinitely. I remember myself making that decision and the questions I had swirling around in my head. Hopefully this assortment of words provides some insight or reassurance to someone else in a similar situation.

I spent the first 19 years of my life around one major city - Sacramento. For those unaware the population is about half a million and the metropolitan population about two (though rather spread out). Not a massive city, nor was it a farm town - perfectly suitable for families, young couples, and someone looking for a laid back California way of life. I have many fond memories of growing up there and take great pleasure in visiting and simply walking around midtown or driving up to Auburn seeing the familiar mountains and forests. Most of my life though was spent in the suburbs - being driven around and eventually driving myself to school, work, and wherever else I wanted to go. Unsurprisingly - almost everyone I knew lived in or around Sacramento and happened to intersect with my personal routines, interests, and communities - I was content with my bubble. Which might explain why seeing some friends uprooting their lives and moving to a different city (for work, a relationship, or simply for fun) seemed absolutely insane to me. Moving away from all my friends, family, relatives, and the life I knew? Restarting and building everything up from scratch again? It honestly seemed terrifying.

Now, don’t get me wrong - I always pictured I’d move to a big city, eventually. The likeliest candidate in my mind was San Francisco given I was interested in programming and there seemed to be plenty of them having a good time there. In my mind this would happen considerably later in life - after I’d finished school, got my first job, and settled into a relationship with someone. Yes, this was actually a prerequisite - I was actually very scared of moving somewhere all by myself. In fact, the exact wording I used in my journal entry the first night the idea was proposed was I would start from zero. From scratch. Knowing no body. ... that being said, it's not an unconditional no. The idea was there.

Well as life would have it, soon enough I was presented with the option of packing up and moving over to New York City for at least six months, perhaps longer. In my experience peoples’ reactions to this can be grouped into two buckets - “let’s go” and “forget about it”. I was in the latter camp. Fear of the unknown, first time doing something like this, etc. - I was not having any of it. The thought of putting this much distance between myself and my friends and my family scared me - I’d never had to maintain friendships involving distance and had no idea if I’d be able to. I also considered how long it took me to build my social network in Sacramento and it seemed like I was just setting myself up for a lot of loneliness and ended relationships. A few dinners with friends later though and I was beginning to see the other side of the situation - a potential adventure. If it went badly, well I could always move back. But the choice to let this opportunity pass me by might end up in regret - something I like to minimize.

A few months of preparations later, a couple going away parties, some tearful farewells - and I was on a shuttle from Newark, NJ to Penn Station at 2 am in the morning. It was just me, my two suitcases, and a backpack. The hostel we had booked had sent us an email saying they’d overbooked and we would have no place to stay that night. I was exhausted and hungry. Stepping off the bus into the street alone into this massive city where I knew nothing or nobody, I felt a pang of loneliness I hadn’t really experienced prior, being this far away from the familiar. But that loneliness was underlined by something else - actual independence. All of a sudden, figuring out where to sleep tonight was my responsibility, and my responsibility alone. As were the next 10,000 decisions I’d be making - from the mundane to the existential. It was up to me to make things work.

Fast forward 25 months to today. Looking back, I can confidently say moving to New York was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I’ve learned so much about myself, the world, other people, social structures, self-reliance, my own motivations and demons, relationships, struggles, and failures. I’m surrounded by an incredibly diverse set of people from all over the world across countless industries and walks of life. I’m at a place in my own life where I’m beginning to get a grasp on who I am and how I relate to this world. The question is: could I have discovered and learned all of this by staying in my comfortable life back home surrounded by family and long-time friends? Given my data sample size of one - it’s impossible to say for sure. But my gut says it would’ve taken a lot longer than two years. Being thrown into an environment where I knew nothing and nobody, being required to learn on the fly and establish something out of nothing - it’s an incredible learning opportunity. Removing all the filters, assumptions, biases, routines, and networks around you doesn’t mean they disappear forever. On the contrary, it makes you finally aware of them. Cognizant of how those decisions are actually made instead of being so used to them that they might as well be an immutable part of who you are.

One of my biggest fears going into all of this not being sure if visits home and FaceTime would be enough to maintain those relationships and running the risk of losing them. I’m going to do you a big favor and compress two years of experience into a single sentence:

The people you hold dear (and who feel the same about you) will be an integral part of your life regardless of distance, presence of face-to-face interactions, or frequency of those interactions.

You’re welcome. I do want to add two corollaries to that:

  1. You may not be aware of who those people are, even if you think you do. Some I expected to stay close with I ended up drifting apart from; other relationships I didn’t value as much before leaving only grew richer and deeper with time and distance.
  2. Qualities and traits you admire in other people may change with time, and that’s ok too. You’re going to be out exploring the world. You’re going to have assumptions about yourself and others proven wrong. Call it perspective, experience, wisdom, data - whatever you want. But there’s a very low chance that upon returning you’d be able to just plug yourself right back into the old life you used to have.

Another major concern of mine was meeting new people. I had it easy back in Sacramento - I was part of a massive Slavic community who saw each other on a weekly basis for years and years. It’s impossible not to make friends in that environment. Moving to NYC took all of those advantages away and put me on a level playing field with everyone else. This meant I had to be the one reaching out, initiating contact, putting myself out there - there was no existing connections to piggy-back off of, no community I was familiar with to instantly plug into - none of that. A few of my personal takeaways for finding friends in a new city:

  1. Say hi. At a coffee shop, waiting in line? Exploring a new part of the city? In an elevator waiting to get to your floor? There’s a sea of incredible people out there just a friendly hello away. Talk to them!
  2. Use the internet. I don’t care whether it’s dating apps, meetups, events, comedy club nights - use this incredible thing humanity has invented to find other human beings who share the same interests/concerns/values as you. I met one of my close friends on a dating app looking for a girlfriend. I met tons of amazing friends on an experiment called HeyGreet - literally an app to to put you in random dinners with others in the city. I’ve gone on a date with someone I met at a concert in someone’s living room. Don’t get stuck in your little corner of the city - explore it.
  3. Always say yes. Get invited to some random party where you don’t know anyone and think you’ll be awkward all night? I don’t care - go. Some of the coolest people I’ve met have been through random encounters at a friend-of-a-friend’s party who I showed up to with a 6-pack and a bag of chips. Invited to some random event by a friend-but-not-quite-friend-yet with? You’d better go! This is the time to stuff your calendar as much as possible. Maximize serendipity and spontaneous encounters.
  4. Don’t wait. Everyone has busy lives - especially in a city like New York. Chances are the person you want to grab dinner with already has a long list of social obligations you’re competing with - other friends, a partner, a sports team, a company to run: you need to be proactive and reach out instead of waiting for them to remember. Do this enough times and you’ll find a balance start to form with invites going out from both sides. But it takes effort to get there.
  5. Be creative. Explore your interests. Sign up for that random class you’ve been eyeing a while. Schedule a picnic in the park. Plan a day trip somewhere. Put in a little effort into organizing something and people will almost always be happy to join. People are social creatures, but often would rather just not think about anything and lay in bed and do nothing. Having someone else offer to do some thinking for you is a wonderful gift.

All of this being written might make it seem like moving away is the easiest thing in the world. It’s not. There were definitely evenings where I was still getting situated and had nothing to do besides wandering around. Other times I’d see all my friends back home together on Instagram and feel like I was missing out on amazing times. Most of all, seeing some of the relationships end and not really being able to do anything about it - that isn’t easy at all.

In addition to all of this, I had a very fortunate set of circumstances that made this move relatively low-risk and easy:

  • An amazing safety net back home - if I ever fail big time in NYC I can always move back in with my parents and they’d probably even float the ticket back. Not everyone gets that and I do not take that for granted.

  • I’m lucky enough to have skills for an industry that happens to pay its employees extremely well. No major city is cheap - especially when considering a physical move and job transition on top of that.

  • I had a lot figured out for me in NYC including a stable job, an apartment, and roommates. This would’ve been much, much harder had I needed to land a job, while looking for an apartment, while dealing with insane realtor fees, and trying to establish a social network. Others I know had to deal with that whole list and more, so while it is possible, it’s also quite impressive. That being said: if you’ve read this far it’s likely you have something deeper you’re going after and aren’t just chasing a whim. Follow that dream.

  • NYC is an incredibly diverse city with some of the most accepting and open-minded people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Not all cities are like that, and I’m lucky I landed here.

This ended up being longer than I expected. But the key idea I want to leave off with is that life is an adventure - treat it as such. Nothing happens by default - you have to put yourself out there and and accept some non-zero level of risk. Sometimes that’s as simple as smiling at another person and saying hi; other times it’s packing up and moving across the country. But time and time again I learn that exploring the harder, more annoying, less clear, or less-traveled road ends up being so much more rewarding, worthwhile, and beautiful.

2019-11-28 - “Digital Tools I Wish Existed” - back to top

My digital life in a nutshell: I discover relevant content I don’t have time to consume, I find time and become overwhelmed with my scattered backlog, I wish the content were in a different format, and then I’m unable to find something again once I’ve consumed it. Not retaining enough is a valid problem but we’ll tackle that one later.

There’s a lot of generalization in my summary but the core issue is an extraordinarily high level of friction in the process of finding, organizing, and sharing digital content. During the past few years I’ve noticed:

  • The more seamless the acquisition & ingestion, the more engaged I am with the content

  • Insights are just as likely to be found in a 400-page book as in a 40-minute podcast

  • Notes and their subsequent review are essential for long-term retention

  • Recommendations from other humans are as good, if not better, than algorithmic suggestions

In the rest of this post I attempt to explain the digital tools I wish existed, and how the the currently available tools do not suffice. What are also probably lacking are my habits and workflows around this - but I’m looking at tools specifically here.

Queue management for inbound digital content

Where to begin? Probably the most common problem I see myself and other people dealing with is processing the incoming deluge of articles to read and videos to watch. This isn’t all personal recommendations - it encompasses any and all content I think my future self would appreciate me consuming. A list of issues, roughly by order of appearance:

  • Content (or links to it) arrive from a variety of sources including text messages from friends, email conversations, tweetstorms and replies, references in books, suggestions in real-world conversations, and more.

  • Every book, article, post, or tweet has the potential to lead to more content.

  • Content is published in a variety of formats including but not limited to images, sound files, videos, Google Drive docs, diagrams, long-from paywalled articles, PDFs, powerpoint presentations, and base 64 encoded blobs.

  • I have little visibility into required time investment and foundational context until I’ve opened it and started thinking about it. Should I sit down with a pen and paper to read this or can I skim it while waiting for my coffee?

  • Learning, work, news, and entertainment all have different priorities in my life (roughly in that order).

  • I would like to batch process content in different “streams” regardless of where they are stored. For example: I have two hours, let me work through interesting text content my friends sent me last week. Or: show me all the interesting/relevant videos I’ve queued over the past month.

  • I’m not always connected to a stable internet connection.

  • If it’s a long piece of content I want my position saved reliably so I can resume at a later point.

  • I often want it in a different format than the one it was originally published in (audio → text, text → audio, pdf → ebook). Automated conversion works but is cumbersome. Listening to text articles requires sending them to a special app and converting articles to ebooks is annoying and loses a lot of formatting and navigation.

  • I love to respond to a person’s recommendation - preferably before they’ve forgotten why they sent me it in the first place.

  • I’d like a centralized history of content tied to my notes and annotations in case I want to find it again later. It feels like every week I’m speaking with someone and I remember a blog post I read a few months ago they might find relevant … or was it a Reddit post? Can I find it my history? Oh no, it’s been replaced with [deleted] … find an archived copy… rinse and repeat.

Relevant XKCD, as is tradition

Following my curiosity feels like chasing a caffeinated bunny around while real understanding requires time, perspective, and reflection. The internet makes the former much easier - so I find myself constantly balancing the two. Additionally, my energy and attention levels vary throughout the day and it’s far easier to just open Twitter rather than continue reading a long-form article I started on my laptop two days ago. Too often I default to the lower-friction one.

Honorable Mentions: Pocket, Instapaper

A universal book log, recommendation & sharing system

I love exploring other peoples’ reading lists. Here’s my own. I find everyone keeps their reading lists in different formats on different platforms. Plaintext lists are nice but hard to parse. Spreadsheets are easy to parse but a pain to manage. Third-party services aren’t interoperable, require logins, and are not future-proof.

Part of the problem here is metadata is hard. Someone has to sit there and fill out the author, title, subtitle, summary, page count - and they’re probably not going to do it for free. Amazon is a good at it but is hostile to publishers. Goodreads has much potential but seems to have stagnated. Linking to the book’s Wikipedia entry would be my preference but very few books have an entry.

Whatever this tool for managing my ever-growing reading list will be, it should:

  • Let me compare my reading list with another to see overlap. I find this a wonderful way to spark conversation and find common interests.

  • Allow me to tag books instead of placing them into static lists (think clusters or tag clouds).

  • Be tied to my highlights, annotations, and bookmarks in a non-proprietary, searchable, and shareable format. Make them public if I want to.

  • Save context on where and when I found this book: why I thought it was important to read, when I read it, what I wrote down while reading it, and what other content I discovered through it.

  • Let me query this tool like a relational database. For example: show me all books about scaling startups recommended by people I follow on Twitter or by people they follow. The current Twitter search makes me feel like I’m using a government site created before I myself even knew what a computer was.

  • Help me deal with prioritization. My reading list is a mess and I can’t be alone. Are certain books better read before others? Prerequisites? Could three of them be replaced with one? What are the other books by the this author? Are they worth reading too? Why exactly did I think reading this 800 page book was relevant when I added it? Is 80% of the content attainable from a blog post? Where is that post? Has someone in my network written a rebuttal to the ideas in this book? The list goes on and on.

  • Provide relevant suggestions with the typical recommender approach based on what people interested in the same topics also enjoyed reading and learning from.

Honorable Mentions: None :(

Intelligent PDF viewers, eBook readers, audiobook & podcast players

Functionality I want in my document reader

Reading is incredible and I love my Kindle. But eBooks today are just a step above OCR’ing a book and slapping on a few basic features which have existed for 30+ years. While I’m reading an eBook I want to:

  • Have relevant illustrations, graphs, and tables appear for duration of their mentions so I don’t have to flip back and forth between them.

  • See glossary terms and their definitions which appear on this page. Highlighting and searching a term is great but the author may have added important context to the glossary definition.

  • View popular annotations and highlights across all mediums - not just by other readers who own an Amazon Kindle readers and purchased this book version and also happened to highlight it enough times. A quote was referenced in 300 blog articles? A two sentence excerpt retweeted 50,000 times? You bet I want to know!

  • Follow referenced information easily. You cited a paper - great, let’s look at the footnotes. Oh, the full reference is in the back of the book. Online list of citations? Of course not! Drop a bookmark, navigate to the back of the book, pull out my laptop, find the paper. Of course, a paywall. Grab a snack. Acquire the PDF. Search for keywords to try to find the referenced information. Sigh, 2019.

  • Not be hindered by the DRM system. Copyright is important and I want to support authors but it’s insane to me all these content licenses I’m acquiring can’t be donated to a library upon account closure. Yes, legal DRM-free eBooks exist but they aren’t without their own issues.

  • Seamlessly switch between devices and formats while retaining my position. Something like Whispersync (a neat idea but come on, I’m not made of money. Also, see above points).

  • Let me use a digital or physical keyboard instead of an e-ink keyboard to type my annotations. A possibility here is a companion app, which feels like a notes app but ties my notes to their location/text in the book I’m reading.

What I want my audiobook player to look like

Most of these points above also apply to my experience listening to podcasts, audiobooks, and watching Youtube videos and interviews. I find myself wishing I could:

  • Navigate them more comfortably. Both Libby and Audible leave much to be desired in terms of navigation. Finding a quote I remember hearing to three days ago is basically blindly stumbling around - and I lose my current spot too. Seeing a list of chapter numbers for the book I’m listening to has been helpful a grand total of 0 times. And how cool would it be to drop a bookmark from my bluetooth-connected headphones as I’m biking down a street.

  • View an auto-generated transcript of a podcast as I’m listening to it. It should have easy-to-follow links to references to other podcasts, media, books and support searching for key terms. YouTube already transcribes all of their videos and Google Meet now generates live captions as we’re talking - why can’t we do something similar with podcast apps?

Honorable Mentions: Readwise, Weava, Descript, Otter.ai, Polar

A centralized search interface for my digital brain (memex)

I want to be able to open an interface, type three words, and instantly see results from everything my digital self has interacted with. Emails, years of full-text browsing history, text messages, Slack messages across all my organizations, calendar invites and events, books, podcast transcripts I’ve consumed, Twitter and Instagram DMs, PDFs I’ve downloaded, bash commands, videos I’ve seen, my online and offline files, notes, blog post drafts - I really do mean everything.

I acutely feel the need for this when I’m trying to find something I know I’ve seen online but can’t remember where I saw it. Google is wonderful for finding new information, but absolutely poor for re-finding things. Chrome’s history has so much potential - but I suspect Google would much rather have us look at their ads a few additional times rather than go direct to the source. I accept I might be in the minority on this one. Regardless, this tool should:

  • Accept and parse the following queries:

    • spacex announcement type:video 2016

    • links from:jon@test.org topic:python

    • paper on temperature, productivity referenced in book:Uninhabitable Earth

    • type:pdf habits digital interfaces

    • reading comprehension type:blog post

    • printer ink receipt

    • type:book read:2017 finance

    • file:py datetime parse

  • Respect my privacy: hosted on something I control and never mined for ads.

  • Support all my devices with two-way sync so I can search and add to it wherever I am.

  • Be extensible: allow me to easily ingest my own information and extend with desired functionality.

  • Cluster information based on content, tags, geo-location, connected people, conversations, source, and other factors I’m not even aware of.

  • Notify me about changes to documents and webpages I’ve visited.

  • Allow a rough export of my research on a topic (like, a knowledge dump off everything I’ve consumed on pandas) with the ability to easily share it.

Honorable Mentions: Memex by Worldbrain.io, Roam Research, Notion, Coda.io, Alfred, Trove, Local Native, ArchiveBox, Raindrop

Parting Thoughts

I’m fascinated with a better bridge between our minds and our digital devices. A well-designed tool should disappear and allow complete attention to the task at hand, but digital devices today are far from this ideal - often due to arcane copyright laws or profit-seeking. These aren’t new ideas by any means. See Vannevar Bush’s original conception of a memex over 70 years ago. We are way overdue for this. I see enormous potential at combining a true memex with all of our personal data (health, fitness, biometrics) along with our habits, goals, tasks, reflections, and communication tools.

It seems to me that as information becomes more abundant, the connections drawn between disparate pieces are becoming increasingly important. The easier it is to share that graph with other people, the faster we can learn from each other and understand complex relationships. I’m excited for a world where knowledge is easier to discover, validate, dispute, understand, retain, and share.

I hope to cover my thoughts on processes, note-taking apps, and knowledge graphs next. Stay tuned here. My thanks to Arthur Tyukayev, Alex Ly, David Heimann, Em deGrandpré, Alexey Guzey, Sam Tkachuk, and Brian Timar for reading drafts of this and providing wonderful feedback.

HN Discussion

2019-12-09: fixes grammar

2019-12-20 - “Year in Review: 2019” - back to top

It’s been a long year. I learned a lot about the world as well as myself. Cried more than ever. Accomplished a few things and failed at many more. Some reflections and observations, and related readings.

Personal / Life

  • Be yourself. Because that’s the coolest version of you there is.
  • Dancing is cathartic. Use the music as the metronome and rhythm and move your body as if you’re creating the music. More importantly, have fun.
  • Harnessing curiosity is like pouring rocket fuel onto your learning capacity.
  • Creativity = inspiration + time + iterative output + feedback. Learn to nurture it.
  • I’m not as unique as I thought I was growing up. There are a lot of people out there like me – excited about the same future, and struggling with the same problems. Just gotta find each other.
  • Therapy is one of the few subscription services I can think of that forces you to take regular time out for yourself instead of sucking it away. It has a very real return on investment.
  • Sam Altman: The days are long but the decades are short

Aside from needing to be delivered eloquently, ideas also have to be repeated to us constantly. Three or five or ten times a day, we must be forcibly reminded of truths that we love but otherwise will not be able to hold on to.

Religion for Athiests, Alain De Botton

Cherish moments with close friends. And take more photos!

Professional & Work

  • Burned a lot of money after leaving my first startup, but also wasted a lot of time worrying about burning money. Do one or the other; not both - worrying kills productivity.
  • I started getting more specific about what I want to focus on: exploring the intersection of human brains and technology to make communication faster and more reliable. Lots of downstream effects from getting this right - better remote education, professional collaboration, and more accessible therapy to name a few.
  • Deliver early, collect feedback, iterate, repeat. Talk to your customers, and build for them.
  • Imposter syndrome is very, very real. I’ll let you know when I figure this one out.

Writing & Thinking

Relevant XKCD
  • Don’t be afraid to state the obvious. It may not be so obvious to others.
  • Ideas evolve over time. Your hot take on something might inspire one, anger another, and cause a third to write a long post about it - let the memes evolve.
  • Pay careful attention to memes which hijack your emotions and encourage tribalism and the environments optimized for them.
  • Hypothesis: framing something as a hypothesis helps calm the ego.

The world around you is full of puzzles. Prioritize, if you must. But do not complain that cruel Science has emptied the world of mystery. With reasoning such as that, I could get you to overlook an elephant in your living room.

Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky

  • Explore using paper, sharpies, poster boards, sticky notes, stickers, markers, whiteboards. These are very cheap and accessible brain interface tools.
  • Start carrying around a notebook and a pen, everywhere you go. Continuously remind yourself about questions you’re trying to answer and problems you’re trying to solve.
  • Pay attention to the ideas that just keep coming back. In the shower, falling asleep in bed, during workouts. Dig at them, explore, explain, visualize, and connect with others obsessed with similar ones. Look for bus ticket obsessions.
  • You don’t really understand something until you can explain it on a napkin.

Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the “transcendent” and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.

Letters to a Young Contrarian, Christopher Hitchens

Diet & Health

  • Slowly transitioning my diet to vegan. About 80% of the way there.
  • Sleep is non-negotiable.
  • Wrote a post on healthy living.
  • Listen to your body. Expect a mid-day slump and plan accordingly. Go for a walk and get some air. Watch a sunset.

Love & Relationships

  • Everyone is lovable, but no two people want to be loved the same way.
  • Love is so much more than the tropes pushed by society. Don’t be afraid to explore it.

Meeting People

  • The key to good conversation: get the other person talking about things they deeply care about and ask questions. You are providing to them a safe environment to explore, refine, and correct their ideas. In return, you get to learn something about them and the world. Explore your shared reality together.
  • It will be a long time before video communication comes close the emotional bandwidth of having a long, in-person conversation over a few drinks at a quiet bar.
  • Just say hi.
A 1930 Lucky Strike advertisement. Source: History.com

The next decade is going to be absolutely wild. Some predictions:

  • We’re going to look back at today’s social media like we do doctors’ endorsements of smoking back in the day. And just as shocked at our ignorance.
  • Misinformation is going to become a serious problem. Deepfakes, speech synthesis, disinformation campaigns, a lack of standardized identity proof systems, bots, and insecure electronic voting are going to make things very complicated.
    • Validation of news and events will be done bottom-up with chains of trust.
    • It’s becoming easier to craft the reality we want to believe. Or want others to believe.
    • World War 3 is going to be fought on the internet. Arguably, it has already begun.
  • Individuals (artists, singers, journalists, teachers, authors) will continue to garner more influence and trust than the institutions they are employed by or represent (news agencies, schools, companies, governments).
  • Real-time “productivity apps” such as Slack will be forced to evolve or die.
  • Income Share Agreements are going to become more commonplace.
  • Someone is going to figure out how to do search better than Google and wreck havoc.
  • Research-backed regulated psychedelic-assisted therapy will go mainstream.
  • NoCode is very real - we’re seeing the barrier to entry of starting a company and fulfilling a business need plummet as technology becomes more accessible.

Some numbers and special moments from this year

  • 99,792 minutes of Spotify
  • 3,701,520 steps
  • 6,840 flights climbed
  • 193 miles on a Citi Bike
I rarely dress up. Weddings are an exception.
The answer to 'do you want to drive to Yosemite tonight' is always yes.
I'm grateful for the most incredible people in my life.
Second half-marathon down!
Kayaking on the Hudson river mere hours after the half-marathon. Worth it!
Little Canal in Lower East Side. One of my favorite spots for thinking and writing.
The J squad: June, Jonathan, Justin, and Jogah.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden: an amazing escape from the city.
Dragged my sister out to visit me in NYC! She'll be back.
Little siblings be growing up, but they've replaced me with a dog.
My dad ran his first marathon I and couldn't be more proud!
Summer in upstate New York has its moments.

Things I’ve suspected a while but confirmed this year

  • The internet is the single most incredible invention in human history.
  • Most of humanity’s potential has not been unlocked yet. We are just now starting to explore progress and how to quantify and understand it.
  • Getting out to nature regularly is essential to sanity.
  • Life gets significantly more interesting when you begin taking risks.
  • Nobody has any idea what is going on in this world. So let’s hold on tight and make this thing work. We’re all we got.

    2019-10-12 - “Healthy Living” - back to top

For me, healthy living consists of sleeping well, a clean diet, frequent exercise, journaling, meditation, and socializing. Once in a while I let stress get the better of me and this causes my life to start spiraling and sliding out of control: deadlines start getting missed, emails pile up, I lose sight of my goals and life just gets overwhelming. It’s not pretty. Like any engineer, after such times in my life I do a post-mortem of what went wrong and time and time again I’ve found one or more of these crucial habits disappeared causing others to disappear in a chain reaction.

Quick disclaimer: when it comes to healthy living (however we choose to define that) I find it’s much easier to list out the things I should be doing as opposed to actually doing them, and even easier to suggest others do them. As is the case with many things in life. Regardless, I have a growing list of habits which keep me sane, decently healthy, and relatively happy. It’s important to note that stress will always be there - it’s a part of life. These aren’t techniques for removing or avoiding it - instead they help me manage it and keep perspective on what’s actually important and worth worrying about.

Sleep is foundational

One of the first things to break down once my life gets busy is a healthy sleep schedule, which I define as 7.5-8 hours a night with a consistent bedtime and wakeup time. Though it may seem like a lot, it’s an investment which pays dividends. I’ll leave the task of summing up the research to Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep (or a summary, and a scathing rebuttal) - but what I can say is he’s not joking around. On a healthy sleep schedule, I find I have more energy, the days seem longer, I’m better able to deal with and understand emotions (my own and others). Productivity comes easier, I look forward to activities more, and I don’t get as frustrated. My body recovers from workouts more reliably, I don’t have to drown myself in coffee, and life just seems better.

Without sleep? The opposite. I’m crankier, I feel rushed and behind on tasks from the minute I wake up even though I have 16+ hours to get them done. Events are harder to schedule, I have to drink cup after cup of coffee, and worst of all I have that incessant fuzziness in my brain that sucks the joy of life right out of me. Programming is difficult and reading is a chore. I put off going to bed, since I woke up so late. I then find it hard to fall asleep from all the coffee - pushing my sleep schedule back further, perpetuating this cycle further. It’s not good.

Action items

  • Pick a schedule and stick with it. 11p-7a works best for me, though it varies by season. I try to maintain it on weekends as well, barring special occasions.
  • No caffeine after 5p (it has a half-life of about 6 hours - do the math).
  • Blackout curtains, earplugs, and an eyemask during the summer.
  • No electronics after about 9pm. Minimize texting, email, and internet before bed.
  • A wind-down routine: light reading (no epics or research papers), drawing, music, audiobooks, meditation, and light cleaning all work well.
  • No riveting conversation right before bed. Otherwise I spend half the night thinking of that perfect joke I should’ve timed better.
  • A cooler bedroom works best for me - though this varies by person.
  • No nightcap. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not help sleep but actually ruins it.
  • No phone use in bed. I keep it out of reaching distance to remove the temptation, and it’s set to Do Not Disturb mode throughout the night (and day).
  • Melatonin for getting my sleep back on track if necessary. I take about 1 mg at a time, and rarely more than 2 nights in a row.

Exercise

Ideally for me exercise is a 1-hour weightlifting or running session, 6-7 days a week, though the recommended amount is roughly half that. Most of what I know about weightlifting comes from Simple Science Fitness and my running began with the Couch to 5k iOS app. I’ve since run two half-marathons and am currently training for a full marathon - something I never imagined myself doing.

Working out is non-negotiable for me. Much has been written about the benefits, but again - I’m able to personally see them appear (or disappear) in my life time and time again. Attention to and control over my body makes me feel like I have more of a say over my life choices. A well-timed workout on a long day provides an incredible boost of endorphins leaving me more energized, motivated, and confident in myself. It means I’m actually tired when it’s time for bed, improving my sleep. And it makes me want to eat a balanced diet for maximum energy and recovery.

I also want to take a moment to highlight running as one of the first habits that noticeably changed my life for the better. Growing up, I hated any and all exercise - running, sports, swimming - all of it. After finishing the C25K program, I realized that 1) I had control over my own body, weight, and appearance 2) I can set goals and actually achieve them and c) running is actually a lot of fun, if done responsibly. Responsible running means slowly working your way up, finding good running shoes, and not pushing through pain. A gym membership is great, but not required - running can be (and should be, weather permitting) done outdoors and weightlifting can be replaced with bodyweight training.

Food is fuel

It might be third on the list but it’s just as important as sleep and exercise - they form a critical triangle together. I’d call myself a vegan but we’re not quite there yet. Instead I’d describe my diet as mostly plant-based with the occasional meal with fish or chicken (1-2 times a week). Cheese finds its way into my diet here and there as well. Eggs and milk are almost entirely out. I’ve chosen to go plant-based for ethical and environmental reasons but increasing veggies and reducing meat will make anyone’s diet healthier.

Regardless of your view on meat & animal products the best one-liner summary I’ve seen thus far is by Michael Pollen: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. His book Omnivore’s Dilemma provides a deeper look into the food industry and choices we do actually have when picking what we put into (or onto) our bellies.

Breakfast

I’ve been starting my day with a smoothie for the past four years and shall continue indefinitely regardless of how much it annoys my roommates and neighbors. It doesn’t require complex mental gymnastics early in the morning, I can buy ingredients in bulk, and it starts my day off right.

Always: almond/soymilk, cherry/orange juice, cup of oats, spinach or kale, protein powder, chia seeds, flaxseed, and frozen berries.

Sometimes: cocoa powder, ground coffee, bananas, frozen mango, cherries, peanut butter.

Never again: cereal, cookies & cream protein powder, ice cream.

Lunch, dinner, and snacks

I try to cook at least a few times a week. Nothing fancy: veggies, tofu, lentils, mushrooms, quinoa, pasta. Usually enough for a few meals. I try to minimize fried and greasy foods - ideally lunch is closer to a salad than a burrito (less of a carb crash and keeps the healthy flow going). I avoid most fast food, but the occasional NY pizza slice does find its way in.

I also snack a lot.

Often: Fresh fruit, lots of nuts, seeds, chips and salsa/guacamole/hummus. Kind bars or Clif bars, dried fruit, wasabi peas, dried seaweed, frozen berries and mango, chocolate, a cup of cereal, PB&J sandwiches.

Occasional: soy ice cream, chips, candy, nutella, anything from the Trader Joe’s dessert snack aisle.

Journaling, reflection, and goals

Once the physical needs are out of the way we’re ready to start taking care of the mental ones. Self-reflection is a way of looking at and processing the past, and goals point me towards a future I want to see. The two influence each other almost circularly - and journaling is a wonderful way for the two to meet and make magic happen. Just writing goals down and shoving them away in some text file doesn’t help anyone; I need to regularly go back and review them. Sometimes it’s to do a status check of where I am. Other times it’s to remind myself why I’m slogging through a difficult period. And occasionally it’s to erase some goals and replace them with others - the key is that there are realistic and achievable goals, and I’m working towards them. I find a good cadence for this is a check-in every two weeks, and a more serious session for review/planning quarterly. I tend to avoid setting goals around New Year’s or on my birthday but instead opt to start on regular, arbitrary dates whenever I feel ready. While I don’t have the most rigid structure around it, a good place to start is the SMART criteria.

Meditation

Besieged by the ever-increasing evidence in support of the positive effects of mindfulness meditation, I’ve finally begun incorporating it into my life. This is probably my least developed habit: I have a long way to go before harnessing the full benefits but even at its current level it acts as a stark reminder of the difference between letting my thoughts define me versus simply noting and observing them, and the importance of taking a moment to take a step back and just let everything be. A great starting point is this New York Times article with audio sessions you can follow along with. Waking Up by Sam Harris influenced my thinking on the intersection of meditation and spirituality, and I intend to work my way through Mind Illuminated. I find the best time for me is right before bed, but to my understanding it varies by person - sometimes I find a midday session is great as well.

Sunlight and nature

As much as I love technology and cities and all the bright lights I find it essential to take the time to get away from it all and unplug. I try to spend at least 30 minutes outside in the sun every day, preferably in the late morning and in a nearby park or green space. I find myself coming back refreshed and oddly more cheerful than I left - and I’m not alone: The Nature Fix by Florence Williams opened my eyes to the myriad of benefits from spending time in nature and the complexity in replicating these seemingly simple effects in our cities and homes.

While a daily dose is important it doesn’t replace an immersive hike in a forest or a multi-day camping trip at a lake. The recommended time is 5 hours a month, but if I could have my way I’d be out there every weekend (working on it). It’s vital to escape the ever-increasing noise pollution, enjoy the sights & smells, and remind myself that I am capable of more than walking around on nice even sidewalks.

Friends, socializing, and having fun

Once both the physical and mental needs are taken care of, it’s time to go connect with others and explore this world! A critical ingredient in all of this is regular, unhurried time with friends and family. Whether as simple as dinner at someone’s apartment or a multi-week trip abroad: conversations and interactions are the way we learn, experience, and grow with the people we care about. Perhaps not everyone is into the social thing - that’s fine - but it’s still important to schedule in downtime and enjoyable activities completely disconnected from profit or obligations. Sometimes I struggle with this, but luckily my friends have a way of dragging me out to have fun. I also find having a generally healthy lifestyle allows me to be better prepared to enjoy the full range of experiences this world has to offer - even if they are emotionally, physically, or psychologically intense.

Parting thoughts

All of these habits tend to build on top of each other in a self-reinforcing upwards spiral of self-improvement. It’s kind of magical. When everything is in alignment for me (sleep, fitness, diet, reflection, journaling, social life) I find my thoughts are clearer, I’m more motivated, I embody a more positive attitude, and am generally more fun to be around. It’s not a coincidence. I’m extremely grateful I get to live in a society which at least offers the opportunity to develop these habits and this life structure. Unfortunately much of that ability comes down to money and flexibility - I hope someday everything I listed here is as accessible as our basic rights and freedoms. I would also like to see these methods and techniques taught in school - preferably in high school along with classes on personal finance management, filing taxes, and a deeper dive into our civic structures and responsibilities.

2019-11-21: added in link to Why We Sleep rebuttal

2019-09-08 - “Next Steps, 2019 Edition” - back to top

People have been asking me what I’m doing with my life, what my next steps are, where I’m going to be living, what my goals are, when I’m getting married, how many grandkids I’m going to have…. I wish I could tell them - because I sure as hell don’t know. Life’s really unpredictable. What I do have instead is a rough outline of what I hope to achieve over the next decade or so. Subject to change as I learn more about myself and the world - this post will be continuously updated and I hope to re-visit it every year or so. In some ways this is what I’ve been doing for a while privately with my goals - but I figure it might be a good time to make it public to better connect with others who might be interested in working together without requiring a caffeinated in-person spiel from me every time.

My parents celebrating my 1.5th birthday!

A little background

Born to loving immigrant parents from Belarus who raised me in Sacramento, California. Enjoyed and did well enough in school but was generally more interested in reading books and learning things my way. Learned piano, picked up video editing, dabbled in mechatronics, and played a whole lotta video games. After discovering programming through modding Minecraft I realized you can get paid to program computers. Started running and lifting, cleaned up my diet, and began to take in interest in the world at large. Began pursuing my Computer Science degree at Sierra College and found myself at a startup. Joined as a founding engineer, dropped out of school, moved to New York City (see my post on moving away for why you should consider it too) and helped take the company from two engineers and a prototype to fourteen employees, several products, and a solid business model. Gained a ton of experience but eventually felt my rate of growth slowing at the company and came to the conclusion I should move on - so I did. During my time in NYC I also learned a lot about myself and what’s important to me, made a bunch of amazing friends, traveled with some of them, and enjoyed the hell out of the city.

I’ve spent the past few months hacking, hiking, reading, writing, enjoying long conversations, and generally thinking about what I want to do with my life. It’s been a wonderful time as it’s lent me some clarity on what I’m looking for as far as next steps go. Please note that by no means do I see this as set in stone; I expect 80% of this plan to change. But better some plan than none at all.

End Goal

If I could boil my current life ambition down to a single sentence it’s to successfully combine my interests and skills to leave this world a better place than I found it. While the lines between skills, hobbies, and interests seem to grow blurrier by the month, a rough list includes: learning, working with others, programming, building products, cognitive science, research and reading, writing, hiking, conversing with people, exploring physics, virtual and augmented reality, engineering, psychology, running, nature, and artificial intelligence. I’ve explored only the tips of most of these icebergs and have so much more to learn and build. Some of these are extremely broad and with time I hope to focus them down with time, but ultimately I’m in not in a rush to specialize.

What does a better world look like? We’re all familiar with dismissing the concept of a utopia - but it might be more achievable than we think. A lot in society is either broken, or really broken. In my opinion the top issues (not exhaustive) include: lack of access to clean water and healthcare, climate change, human rights violations and abuses, broken immigration systems, ineffective education, environmental destruction, a lack of trust and transparency in our political systems, inefficient knowledge discovery, lack of accessible therapy, and animal rights abuses. Don’t mistake me for a pessimist though - the past few centuries of progress have done an incredible amount to alleviate the pains and struggles present throughout most of humanity’s past. Life today for the average person is safer, easier, and more fulfilling than at any point in history. If I were born 100 years ago it’s unlikely I would’ve been able to even think about these problems let alone try to do my part to solve any of them but somehow I got lucky enough to be able to do both. A good friend put it well: society should be scored by the least fortunate in that society. By that metric we’ve got a long way to go.

Remainder of 2019

I’ll be spending the rest of the year in New York City focused primarily on side projects and experiments while doing contracting work to pay the bills.

Benefits: an incredible social network, access to world-class institutions, networking opportunities, a thriving culture with delicious food, general city life benefits.

Drawbacks: high burn rate, pollution, noise, distractions, and difficult access to nature.

Right Away (1-2 years, 2020-2021)

For the next year or two, I’m looking for an environment to really focus on my self-education while continuing my side projects and exploration without the daily distractions of a nine-to-five or having to work enough to pay for a city apartment (and all the other expenses that come with living in a city). Ideally, it will have:

  • A lower cost of living than NYC.
  • Reliable internet access and an ergonomic workstation (a standing desk, multiple monitors, whiteboards, and a workspace that isn’t my kitchen counter).
  • Very close access to nature for hiking, swimming, and long walks. Mountains, lakes, and coasts are all great. Seeing the stars at night is a plus.
  • No requirement for a daily vehicle or commuting.
  • A community of interesting, motivated people nearby working on similar problems for collaboration, advice, ideas, and support.

I don’t know where exactly this will be yet, but I’m excited to figure it out!

Soon (3-5 years, 2022-2025)

I’d love to be on the founding team of a startup again after exploring some of my own ideas and taking them as far as possible. The startup should be focused on tackling a problem in one of the following areas:

  • Better access to information and dissemination of knowledge
  • Cleaner energy production, energy efficiency, carbon sequestration
  • Improved education, re-training
  • Lowering cost of access to space

I’m comfortable working on small, highly effective teams dealing with a lot of unknowns - a given at most startups. An engineer at heart, I find it easy to relate to people, customers and team members alike. A fulfilling day has me flitting between fixing bugs, writing documentation, debating a technical solution on a whiteboard, working with clients to understand and resolve their challenges, drafting plans for a upcoming feature and of course dealing with the myriad of other things that come up and need to solved.

Less Soon (5-10 years, 2025-2030)

Eventually I intend to run something between an independent R&D lab and a startup: providing the resources, connections, and support to a group of people much smarter than I to explore and attack some of the problems listed above without the bureaucracy of large organizations, short-sightedness of corporations, or politics of educational institutions. A pipe dream? Perhaps. We’ll see. I have no illusions about the magnitude and depth of all of these problems - but I can’t sit around and do nothing.

Along the way I’d like to enjoy life, see a bit more of this planet, get married, maybe have kids, bike across the country, visit a bunch of national parks, and write a book or two.

If you have advice, questions, criticisms or offers of collaboration - you can reach me via the listed means on my About page. I genuinely do look forward to hearing from you.

2019-08-31 - “Journaling” - back to top

A simple thing, on paper. Get a piece of it out and start writing. Or typing - doesn’t really matter. Anything and everything that comes to mind. It’s weird and unnatural at first - push through it. Save it, or burn it. Don’t overthink it. Wait a few days, and do it again, and again, and keep doing it. Four years into it and I’m just beginning to grasp the immensity of the benefits this simple habit has brought to my life - so I hope to share some of them with you.

Our brains are incredible but they could do with a few upgrades that would save us all a good deal of time. One such addition is a diagnostic port not unlike the kind your mechanic checks when you take your car in for maintenance - a clear and actionable readout of problems which need to be addressed. Given that we’re not quite there yet with the state of brain-computer interfaces I’ve found journaling to be a suitable replacement until then. Many of my anxieties, worries, and decisions tend to get warped, distorted, and intermixed in my mind as I sit there mulling over them until they’ve morphed into something nearly unrecognizable. Writing about them almost always helps - and occasionally even clears them away entirely. I suspect this happens for a few reasons: it forces me to be explicit about what I’m worried about, preventing me from leaving murky gaps in lines of reasoning in my thought process. It allows me to visualize the problem on paper and frees some room up for coming up with solutions (which I also write down). And it make some of my concerns look rather silly after I’ve put them in context by listing the things that did go right, or the things I do have currently.

A typical entry starts out with a quick recap of the day or past few days - interesting events, people I met, memorable things I saw or heard, or events which frustrated me. It’s a great space to practice gratitude and list out what I’m thankful for having in my life. Do these for long enough and they become indispensable for establishing when I met someone, what I was up to a particular week, or when I first came across an idea - basically a searchable, timestamped archive of my life events. Let’s call this a Level 1 entry - the bare minimum; equivalent to buying a gym membership and making a habit of walking to and from the gym. Much better than nothing, but not getting into the major benefits quite yet.

Level 2 begins when I try to describe how I’m feeling - am I stressed? Worried? Angry? Happy? Relaxed? Exhausted? I look at the events leading up to me feeling this way - was it a particular conversation? A good workout? A walk outside? Can I quantify what it is exactly I’m worried about? What will happen if it goes well? If it ends disastrously? What’s the likeliest case scenario? Occasionally it’s simple and obvious but sometimes I really have to think it through and figure out why something has been clouding my mind for a day or two and walk backwards to the conversation or event that triggered it. Over a long enough time span, I’ll notice if I’m writing about the same thing over and over again. I begin to see patterns - particular people, tasks, or habits that are making me feel a certain way. Sometimes these are good, and highlight what I should be focusing on more. Other times, not so good - giving me a hint at what I should be minimizing or fixing. This should be the goal of a good journal entry and is usually achievable 2 times a week.

Level 3 is more spontaneous and I don’t think it can be forced; it just happens. Not very often - I’d say once every few months, though it really depends on what’s going on in life. This entry starts out like any other but instead of just listing and sorting your feelings, emotions, and worries - you start digging a little deeper and following those rabbit holes. It happens by giving yourself both permission and the space to start asking and exploring questions that you might not want to dig into while eating lunch on your work break. Questions regarding your real happiness. Why have you been coming home upset for the past several weeks? How come seeing or not seeing a certain person affect your emotions so much more than expected? Why do you feel stuck with the next steps seeming like they’re getting further and further away instead of coming closer? Before you know it you’ve written a few hundred, five hundred, a thousand words and you’ve barely scratched the surface. Congratulations, you’ve made it to level 3. There’s a non-zero chance that you’ve just come across something big - something that needs addressing and perhaps has needed addressing for some time now. This doesn’t mean your entry is going to conclude with a solution (though it might). More often it’s only the beginning of the process to resolving it - but I have yet to regret starting that process and following it through - no matter where it leads.

Enough of the wishy-washy: time for the practical. I use a simple encrypted notes application on my laptop, accessible from my phone (super handy when out and about). I start every entry with the date and time - newest entries on top so I don’t have to scroll. Once in while I write on paper - if it’s good I’ll take a photo but generally losing an entry here or there isn’t the end of the world as most of the benefits happen in the act of writing itself. There are some things that I won’t type and instead just destroy after writing. I also leave a few notes at the very top of my entries that I see every single time: a few questions I’d like to ask myself regularly and a list of people I admire. If I’m ever feeling stuck these provide a nice starting point from which it gets easier. I typically write in the morning but the most insightful entries seem to occur late at night. Sometimes I’ll have a period of a week where I write nothing - not every day is an adventure and other days I don’t feel like writing at all - it’s ok to skip those as well. It should be an activity you look forward to doing leaving you feeling calmer and less worried.

Looking back through my entries from earlier is a humbling experience, but it’s not something I do very often. I’ll be honest, I’ve cried and I’ve laughed at them before. They end up being snapshots of my mental state from a very specific point of time: a little window into what I was feeling, worried about, regretting, or looking forward to. Sometimes looking back at an entry it’s absurd how dead-on I was describing something without understanding it fully, only to have it all come together months or years down the road. Other times I see how completely off the mark I was, failing to tell apart cause from effect and top from down. It’s helped me realize just how few of the things I worry about turn into the worst-case scenarios (so much wasted brainpower) but on the flipside just how easy it is to forget the essence of the very experiences that make me, me. Most importantly, it’s helped me keep an eye on the important things in life - my goals, aspirations, and the people I love in my life - and I hope it helps you too.

2019-09-19: removed duplicate “every”

2019-09-04: changed “so more than” to “so much more than”.

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