Don’t Know. Keep Learning.

Earlier this month I turned 30.

I never really put much thought into it until it happened.  I don’t particularly care about age milestones, and so it was just another day.

But then I felt compelled to write a blog post about it.  Not about my turning 30 (that’s boring), but maybe about some hard-fought wisdom I’ve acquired over the years.  Something to motivate, enlighten, inspire – blah blah blah.

And that’s when it hit me, that at age 30 I don’t really know a goddamn thing.

Sure, I have experiences, and knowledge, and whatever else is required just to get out of bed every morning, but timeless wisdom?  Nope, nothing to see here.

So I decided that was fitting; perhaps knowing that I don’t know (very Socratic, btw) was the wisdom I had to share.

Then I realized that was only a partial thought.  The true wisdom is that I know that I don’t know, and therefore I’m content to keep learning.

And so there’s your timeless wisdom.

Reading List for April 2013

Holy moly I can’t believe April has already passed. I’ve been keeping pretty busy working on several different projects, but still managed to read quite a bit.  So without further ado…

Here’s what I read in April of 2013.  Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

 

1 – The Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself, by Chris Guillebeau: Having read Chris’s blog in the past (it’s good, btw), I recognized his name next to this catchy title whilst I was some torrent site.  Then I checked if it was available on his website, and when I found that it wasn’t I grabbed the torrent.  It’s around 50 pages, and just touches on ways to make money online.  If you’re new to the internet this could be useful, but I’m pretty sure he has better products which are more worth your time now.

 

2 – Moonwalking With Einstein, by Josh Foer (audiobook version): I had heard Tim Ferriss mention this book at least thrice in interviews or articles, so it made it on my reading list.  Somehow I was under the impression that this was a book about how to improve your memory, with a little bit of narrative mixed in.  The actual ratio is just about the exact opposite.  I was, as you might expect, a little disappointed by this; it was nevertheless a compelling story.  Read it – you’ll like it.  Here’s a quote that made me smile (more for the prose than the idea): “Every sensation that we remember, every thought that we think, transforms our brains by altering the connections within that vast network. By the time you get to the end of this sentence, your brain will have physically changed.”

 

3 – The Ice Dragon, by George R.R. Martin:  This was fantastic.  Fast paced, no-nonsense prose that made the 100 or so pages fly by.  I’m not really a fan of his Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones), because of his writing style in it, but here a younger Martin (this book was copyright 1980) is a different animal.  The Ice Dragon seems to be written for a younger audience, though – so keep that in mind.

 

4 – Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler (Free, Project Gutenberg):  When I was in high school, I noticed this book in my friend Nick’s backpack.  He said it contained some good ideas, and a different perspective, but didn’t really go into detail, nor did he sell me on bothering to look into it.  I don’t know if Nick failed to sell me on the book because of the stigma associated with Hitler, or because of the writing, but as it turned out, it made it onto my reading list anyway, more than a decade later.

As far as the book itself goes, I saw three distinct parts, which I will describe briefly.  The beginning of this book was wonderful – part history lesson, part narrative, part auto-biography of the making of a dictator.  You should read the first bit.

The next part was a long, spiteful tirade.  Actually, the spitefulness waxed and waned, but the rant was thorough.  Once you notice him ranting, it doesn’t get better until much later.  The summary is that he hated everyone and everything, but gave the Germans a pass because he felt they were victims of a Jewish conspiracy.  There were plenty of logical flaws in his thinking, but mostly, I think, he was just the kind of guy who went looking for negative things, and of course he found them everywhere.

Then there’s the end. It outlines several things that should be taught – organization, leadership, making decisions, taking action.  I don’t know remember at what point he started to get into this, but this last part was probably the best.

 

5 – The Waste Lands (Dark Tower book 3), by Stephen King:  This series continues to get better as it progresses.  In this book I definitely felt myself becoming fully committed to the story.  There are two oddities in this book, though, that I feel the need to mention, hopefully without giving anything away.

First off, the ending is weak.  The book just stops.  This turns out to be sort of fitting, in an ironic way.  Also, there’s an apology from King in a brief epilogue saying the story wasn’t coming anymore, and he didn’t want to fuck it up by trying too hard.  I applaud his honesty, and obviously he has the reputation to be able to get away with that sort of thing.

Second, I felt like I was being trolled during most of this book.  In fact, it might have been for the entire first half of the book I expected to see the next chapter title be, “Sorry I switched the ebook file, and this isn’t the real story.”  And, of course, the non-ending reinforced that.

Anyway, I enjoyed the hell out of this.  There are lots of questions, and few answers, and that makes for great reading.

On a side note, though Mr. King will never read this post I will address him here anyway:  Sir, I had an idea for a character in a story I may or may not ever sit down to write, that speaks much in the manner your Blaine does.  It seemed like a risky deal until I saw it being used.  Thanks for the reassurance, even if inadvertent.

 

6 – The Gunslinger (Dark Tower book 1), by Stephen King (audiobook version):  No, that’s not a typo – I read it again.  Well, listened actually.  After being wowed by book 3 I had to find out if my harshness of the first book was justified.  I’m still not sure.  I still didn’t much like this one, but at the same time there’s so much that makes sense once you know what happens later.  Whether this was written in originally, or was added as a part of his beefing it up and revising after the series was done, I don’t know.

PS:  I’m pretty sure this audio version ran considerably longer than it took me to read the print version, and I’m not a very fast reader.  Skip it and get the text.

Adventures in Outsourcing

So I finally popped my outsourcing cherry, and now, looking back I can’t believe I waited so long.

I guess it’s not really that simple though.  There was a mindset shift that needed to take place between where I was, and where I am now.

The first time I went to Fiverr I thought, “This site is dumb. I don’t need any of this stuff. If I did need anything, I’d just ask friends.”  What a fucking moron I was. (side note: Back then I showed the site to a friend, and he promptly paid for a chick to write his name on her boobs and take a picture of it.)

The other day, while working on a project I’m doing with a friend, we agreed that we needed a voice over that didn’t suck for a video he wanted to make.  So I suggested he look at Fiverr.  Sure enough, he found a guy, and less than a day later he had a solid video.  We’ve since used that same guy for a number of videos – he does great work (although we’ve ended up paying for more features than what you get for $5.)

Within the last few days we’ve tested a number of things through Fiverr – promotions on blogs, paid retweets, paid Facebook shares, SEO stuff, graphics, ebooks, and “free” traffic.  The quality of such things has varied dramatically, but overall we’ve both been satisfied by the results.  If you have a realistic view of what your results will probably be, I’m sure you’ll feel the same way.

But I have to admit, it’s pretty addicting.  All of the free time I might have had as a result of outsourcing tasks has been reinvested right back into Fiverr, in the form of digging through the listed gigs to find more shit to do.  I seriously have at least 60 bookmarked.  Everything from document formatting (for a coming surprise on this site!), to t shirt designers (ah t shirts, my old nemesis!), to people who will research whatever the hell I want them to.  It’s absolutely ridiculous, and I probably should seek help.

If I’m sure of anything about these tests so far, it’s that I wasted a hell of a lot of time doing shit I could’ve outsourced, should’ve outsourced.  I’ve easily done more real work in the past 3 days than I have in the 2 months prior.  I recommend you take this to heart, and don’t wait like I did.

Try this:  Put aside $50 as your budget.  Brainstorm 10 things you need or want done for your site / biz / whatever you do.  Find people who are offering those things as gigs, and select one based on reviews and past work examples.  Then wait for the results to come in.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Reading List for March 2013

Here’s what I read in March of 2013.  Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The Gunslinger (Dark Tower book 1) by Stephen King:  The recently updated version of this series comes with new introductions, one of which is pretty apologetic for this first book in the series.  King pleads that the story “was written by an incredibly young man” and “really gets going in the second book.”  I have to admit his self-analysis was spot on, and I have to commend him for it.  It’s really hard to be so critical of your own work.

If I wasn’t told by a friend whose opinion I trust that this was a great series, and if I wasn’t familiar with King’s storytelling ability from his movies, there was zero chance I would have ever finished this book, let alone read further in the series. (See below for book 2 review.)

2 – Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (dramatic audio version):  If you want to know what the word classic means in science fiction, this is it.  There are 3 short books here: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation.  There are 4 more short stories written by Asimov to join this, and many more offshoots by other prominent authors.  In 1965 it won a special one-time Hugo aware for “Best All-Time Series” beating out Lord of the Rings – that’s how monumental this work was.  This is well worth your time.  PS: You can get the audio version I listened to for free from archive.org

3 – The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower book 2) by Stephen King:  As I said above, if not for a solid recommendation by someone I trust I would never have made it to the second book.  With that said, here’s a message I sent to a friend telling her what I thought of book 2: “Just finished – literally, at 5:30am – Dark Tower #2… good. Really good. Makes up for the lack of fuck I gave about the first one.”

 

That’s all for this month.  3 books? 5 books?  All of them are short reads, too.  I’ve been pretty busy, and March has flown by.  I feel like a slacker.

My New Favorite Browser Plugin: TooManyTabs

I’m hard on browsers.  Understatement of eternity.

I normally have at least 100+ browser tabs open, and I try to limit myself to 4 windows.  Crazy, I know.

I crash Firefox pretty much daily, and I’ve found it to be the best browser available.  Disclaimer: I’m confident of that statement at the time of this post, but be wary of it because it changes pretty frequently.  It wasn’t too long ago that I swore by Chrome.

Every so often, one of these crashes decides to fuck me hard, and my tabs can’t be restored.  This happened to me this past week.  So I sort through my browser history for an hour, picking out maybe 10-20% of what I had opened, and the rest are lost to the ether

Maybe it’s fate.  Maybe I didn’t really need those anyway.  Regardless, it pisses me off.

I’d like to be able to decide for myself what I need and what I don’t.  So this time I went to look for some way to back up tabs.

I didn’t want to bookmark them.  Bookmarking something is a way of sentencing to death.  “This is something I should keep in mind in the future, let me bookmark it so I will never see it ever again.”

Well, it turns out you can get sort of the same effect as bookmarking while still keeping tabs in your toolbar.  They’re just not open.  Although it looks just the same, they aren’t actively consuming memory.  Fan-fucking-tastic!

It’s called TooManyTabs, click here to see vids and get it.

If you’re a tab pack rat like me, you’ll love it.

Reading List for February 2013

Here’s what I read in February of 2013.  Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – 17 Lies That Are Holding You Back and the Truth That Will Set You Free, by Steve Chandler (audiobook version):  This and the next book were on my iPod forever, and I decided to finally listen to them.  Why put them off so long?  Because the author has the most boring monotone voice I’ve heard since 9th grade Algebra.  If you can get past that, this book was actually really good.  The author’s advice is spot on.  Do yourself a favor and find a clip before buying the audio though; if you can’t tolerate it, just get the paperback.

2 – 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself, by Steve Chandler (audiobook version):  Same author as above.  This one reminded me of a list post on a popular blog:  too many bullet points, and not enough depth.  It’s redeeming quality (and I do recommend you check it out), is that it’s really short.  If you pick up any ideas from it, you can always explore them on your own.

3 – Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook version):  This book is perhaps best known for its 10,000 hour rule that has been thoroughly debunked elsewhere on the net.  The concept I like the most, however, is what he describes as “cumulative advantage” – a small initial handicap snowballs over time to become a huge advantage.  I feel this concept is greatly overlooked, because we as humans seek shortcuts instead of a slight advantage we might have to work for day after day.  Anyway, this is a good book, and Gladwell’s storytelling ability has a way to keep you interested in a lot of shit you otherwise wouldn’t give a fuck about.

4 – Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan Holiday:  This book is really two different books combined.  One outlines the game of media coverage, and how to play it.  The other is a pained, reluctant account of having a hand in that game, and a regret that the game even exists.  I wish there was more of the former, and less of the latter.  Regardless, this should almost be considered a must-read for anyone with a cause to promote, whether they are a charity org or an entrepreneur.

5 – 1987 Century Plaza Seminar, by Gary Halbert:  Okay, this one isn’t actually a book.  I listen to lots of audio programs that aren’t books, and I won’t normally list them here.  But, in this case, I want to give this one an honorable mention.  I’m just starting to dig into marketing a little bit, and I found this to be very helpful personally.  As far as I can tell, this is not for sale anywhere – you’ll have to pick up a used copy somewhere, or torrent it.

A Fear of Empty Pages

I have a goal for 2013.  I want to become a better writer.

It’s not quality that I’m really concerned with.  I could definitely improve – better prose, better grammar, clearer thoughts – but my biggest problem is a lack of production.

In my head I know how all the scenes play out, and a general order of how they fit.  I know some phrases or words I want to use.  I see the characters vividly.

Then I sit down to write, and now faced with an empty page I freeze.  Nothing comes out.

Self-doubt creeps in.  “Well, maybe that scene could be tweaked a little bit.  Is Jill really a redhead?  Do I really know enough about the physics of a bumble bee flying to have a character talk about it?”

Then, there’s panic.  “No, maybe I should clarify this all before I write.”

Then distraction.  “I’ll research later.  Right now I have to go alphabetize the cans of vegetables in my cupboard.”

And, finally loathing.  “No, I don’t want to write today.  It’s hard, and I’m having a good day.  I don’t want to ruin that.”

No writing happens.  No magic happens.  That’s the problem.

So, when I say I want to be a better writer, what I mean is that I want to be comfortable with the act of creation.

Anne Lamott would tell me to write a “shitty first draft.”

William Forrester would have me rewrite something.

I think I need to take their advice.

Reading List for January 2013

Here’s what I read in January of 2013.  Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

 

1 – The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien (audiobook version):  I read this for my 8th grade English class, but in order to prep for the movies I thought I could use a refresher.  I love Tolkien’s writing style; it’s crisp and to the point.  What I found most interesting in this read through was that the audiobook clocks in at 3.5 hours, and somehow they turned it into a trilogy of movies.  And the first movie is around 2 hours and 45 minutes alone…

2 – The 33 Strategies of War, by Robert Greene:  All of Greene’s books are of a similar tract, “Here’s a pile of information, have fun storming the castle.”  Not recommended for casual reading.  However, if strategy interests you, another solid book by the author.

3 – The Secret Code of Success, by Noah St. John:  The author might have a point with his “afformations” concept, but the rest of the book is highly repetitive and dull.  The last third of the book was pitch for other products.  Skip it.

4 – I Will Teach You To Be Rich, by Ramit Sethi (audiobook version):  I read Ramit’s blog from time to time, and I finally figured I’d man up and read the book.  If you’ve dabbled in personal finance reading, most of this is not new information – just a refresher of all the stuff you know, but aren’t doing.  If you haven’t read any personal finance stuff before, I would recommend this as a, “If you only read one book about…” book.  It condenses the topic really well while giving you a clear action plan.  The scripts to get fees waived will save you a multiple of the price of the book the first time you use them.

5 – The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield:  Great book.  Short read.  Wish I read it sooner. Recommended for anyone who does creative work, or wants to in the future.

6 – The 80/20 Principle, by Richard Koch (audiobook version):  Pareto’s law seems to be mentioned everywhere now, so if you have a grasp of it already you can probably skip this one unless you’re really interested in the topic.  Good coverage of different applications though.  Wasn’t a fan of the voice actor for the audio.

7 – Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely (audiobook version):  Fantastic book.  If you are interested in human behavior, this is a great read.  Very readable; not textbook-like at all.  And the audio is done by Simon Jones, whose voice you may recognize from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Double score.

Relaunch!

I decided it was time to get off my lazy ass and relaunch the blog.

I knew I had to overhaul everything since probably last June – database error, links no longer worked, etc – but I just didn’t want to deal with it.

Then a week ago or so, I decided I didn’t care if I lost those old posts.  It’s not like you could get to them anyway.  A fresh start would be infinitely easier to make happen than my trying to salvage the archive.

So here it is.  Squeaky clean, and extra white. (I’m sure there’s a joke there somewhere.)

To those of you who keep checking in from time to time, even though nothing has changed in quite a while before now, thanks.  I appreciate your ongoing stalking.

And if you’re new, you can expect me to post in bursts.  Nothing new for 3 months, then 3 posts in a weekend.  Oh, and I curse a lot too, because fuck you, that’s why.

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