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I've been quarantining in Las Vegas for four months now, so I thought that it would be fun to write about how I've used that time so far, especially because I've done a few projects that wouldn't have gotten done if I weren't here for so long. Presented in roughly chronological order:
1. Rewrote lots of CruiseSheet
I'm not sure how other people do it, but when I create a new project I tend to just jump in and start making it. That means that some of what I start out with wasn't exactly suited for what the end result was, so I get a little bit of accumulated kludge. I had noticed that it seemed like the number of available cruises would slowly decrease over time, which didn't seem to reflect reality, so I took a deep dive on the data import section and found the error. While I was under the hood I also fixed a bunch of other minor things that had been bothering me for a while.
2. Got back on a perfect gym / eating schedule
My general rule is that I keep perfect habits while at home in Vegas, but allow myself considerable culinary leeway when traveling. It just feels wrong, for example, to go to Budapest and not eat the amazing $12 three course lunches. And on cruises I've eaten up to 16 lobster tails in a sitting. The problem is that the amount of time I had been spending traveling had increased a lot over the preceding few years. My weight had gotten up to 165 which is the max I let myself get to before cutting down, so it was convenient timing.
I typically eat just one Chipotle meal per day, sometimes some fruit for dessert, and work out every other day like clockwork. Once a week or so I'll have a different meal with my wife. This is a really easy way to lose weight in a healthy manner, and I've lost 12 pounds. I don't want to get under 150, so soon I'll increase my food again. This was a fun experiment because I always think it's not that hard to lose weight, but have never really had a reason to do it all at once. Usually if I get up around 165 I just regulate my food down a little bit.
3. Started coaching 5 new people
Before coronavirus I had stopped taking new coaching clients for around a year because it was hard to schedule with all of my travel. I also really prefer to have the first few calls in Vegas because it's my favorite work environment and those calls require really intense focus. For months I had been thinking about adding new people, but finally decided to when I got stuck in Vegas. This batch has been a really great group of people, so I'm now very glad that I took them on.
4. Bought a 3D Printer and learned how to do 3D CAD modeling
This is another thing I had been wanting to do for a while that finally made sense when I knew I'd be in the same place for a while. For the first month or so I printed something every single day, usually something I had designed myself. Now I print every week or two, but it's an amazing superpower to know that I can summon objects into existence within a few hours of conceiving of them.
One day I was burning a stick of incense in my office and found myself annoyed at how I have to fish the unburnt tail of the stick out of the holder after it finishes burning, so I thought about it and designed an incense burner that automatically ejects the stick using gravity. That's my favorite thing I've designed and printed so far. I also made custom tea containers that fit exactly within my Kanpai titanium thermos, so I can now carry about 50% more tea when I travel.
5. Helped my mom move from California to Texas
I've never been so grateful to be stuck in a car for 28 hours! This was the first time I got to leave my house in a month and I really enjoyed the trip. My flight home happened to be the slowest travel day of the entire pandemic and I had an entire Southwest 737 to myself. That was a truly surreal experience.
6. Boat upgrades and Lake Mead exploration
I've done a bunch of work on the boat while being here. The biggest things have been replacing the alternator (first real mechanical project I've ever done), replacing the fridge that I had previously broken, changing the lights to LED, replacing all four batteries and fixing the previous owner's poor wiring, and finding a good place to mount the barbecue grill. We've also spent a lot of time exploring new areas of the lake instead of just going back to our favorite place every time, and have found some incredible new spots that really change our experience out there.
7. Fixed my motorcycle and moved it to my brother's house
My motorcycle, last ridden in San Francisco years ago, had been sitting in Todd's garage here in Vegas. He sold the house but the tenant remained the same and he let me keep the motorcycle in the garage for years. My brother is an ex motorcycle mechanic and had space in his garage so we took it out of storage and fixed the sticking clutch so that it could be driven to his house and stored there. This had been bothering me for years, so it felt great to take care of it.
8. Installed a sauna in the house
My condo has a storage room near my front door that I have been filling ever since moving in. Most of the stuff in the back didn't really need to be there anymore, but there was no way to easily access it. So my wife and I took everything out, found better places to store it, and installed a sauna in the space. I was originally going to build my own Finnish sauna there, but decided to buy a premade one first to see if I even liked going to the sauna before committing that level of effort. So far I like it and am hoping that the purported health benefits are real, but I'm skeptical.
I also custom programmed an arduino and light strip to make a James Turrell style light show during the sauna and plan on modifying the electronics to be controlled by my home automation system.
9. Replaced my dining room with a Chinese-style tea room
When I bought my condo it had two breakfast nooks, which is unusual for a small condo. One I built into a Japanese style two-mat tatami tea room. The other I used as a dining room, but since I eat Chipotle at my desk every day I never actually used that room. I've been wanting to do something different with it for ages, so I finally converted it into a Chinese style tearoom with a table. Now I have a relatively authentic Chinese tearoom and Japanese tearoom in my house. I may build a custom table for the Chinese one since it's very hard to find a shallow table that's the right height.
10. Moved Sett to a new server
Sett has run on its original AWS server for nearly a decade now. I had become afraid to upgrade any packages on the server for fear that it would break Sett, and I was paying more than $100/mo to run the server despite it being old, slow, and underutilized. I finally bit the bullet and spent about half a week moving the site to my own server and upgrading all of its dependencies. This went relatively smoothly except for a few parts. I also fixed a number of bugs (and still have a few left) and deleted over 100k spam accounts. I'm toying with the idea of removing crufty Sett features and then working on it again to make it even better. Going through the old code and fixing stuff made me warm up to Sett again.
11. Fixed my email spam system
I host my own email on my own server and at some point I realized that the spam system wasn't actually learning when I reclassified messages as spam or not-spam. It still worked reasonably well without that so I'd only dedicate a few minutes at a time to try to track down the problem, and inevitably I would think, "Well... it's not so bad..." and give up. I finally committed to fixing it no matter what and it took a few hours. The problem was a small typo, but it was hard to track it down.
12. Built the mega bed
I've always had either a full or queen sized bed, and always thought that it was big enough. However, over the past year or two I noticed that if I slept in the same bed as my wife for too many nights in a row I would begin to feel tired. One night apart and I would be back to my normal self. We had begun alternating sleeping together and sleeping in the guest room so that I could be well rested.
I toyed with the idea of getting a king-sized bed, but we have a really excellent queen sized mattress that I didn't want to give up or spend the money to replace it. I finally came up with the idea to rotate the queen mattress 90 degrees and use it at the head of the bed. I could then cut a cheaper Amazon mattress to make a section for our feet. I also rotated the mattress frame to sit at the feet and built an extension for the head. I'm not sure how clear that description is, but the end result is that we have an 80x80 bed (4" wider than king!). I even found an oversized king down comforter and duvet, and standard king sheets stretch to fit the mattress (and to hold the two pieces together). The end result is amazing and I doubt anyone would realize it's not just one huge mattress. I've never slept better.
I'm really glad to have gotten all of these things done in the past 4 months. It's fun to look back at them since the beginning of quarantine feels like ages ago. I'm definitely running out of projects I've been wanting to do for a while, so we'll see what comes next!
I think there's a relatively good chance this post will be a little bit messed up, since I'm just now fixing Sett. Apologies in advance if you get multiple notifications for it, no notifications, broken links, etc. I expect to have Sett running better than ever within a week.
I have a Patreon now! If you get a lot of value from my work, consider supporting it.
I see a lot of people struggle with motivation, especially those who are already doing well. That represents a big loss of potential, as those who have already achieved some level of success are demonstrably able to channel motivation into output. I have some ideas on why this happens and also how to combat it.
While I think that it's important to be able to work with as little motivation as possible, there's no point in making things harder than they have to be. Working is easier and more enjoyable when we are properly motivated, so learning to motivate ourselves is a valuable skill.
It is possible, and maybe even preferable, to be motivated by work itself. I wrote a whole post called Love Work about this many years ago. If you are not able to love your work and be motivated by it, you are definitely in the wrong field. However, all of us go through periods of time when our immediate tasks are not overly motivating. I spent the last two weeks totally rewriting code I had already written, which is really hard to get very excited about.
Think of external motivation as the starter to your productivity engine. Work is usually most motivating when you're in the zone and in the middle of an interesting problem, but sometimes we need a push to get there.
A reader emailed me recently and asked how I'm able to have such a great group of friends who are so adventurous and into crazy ideas like buying an island and other properties around the world. I certainly don't take my friends for granted, but because I'm surrounded by them constantly I do sometimes forget just how unusual those types of people are.
I've said it a million times, but I do feel as though my greatest assets in life are my friends and family. This is, or at least should be, true for almost everyone because no other part of your life has the potential to bring as much joy as other people.
And yet... people don't really think much about friendships or put all that much effort into them. Think about how much proactive time and effort people spend on their careers compared to the people around them. Career is important, but not as important as people, and yet most people are far more eager to work on their career.
If you want to have an excellent group of friends, you must commit to that goal and be willing to work towards it, not just hope it happens (spoiler: it probably won't).
Beginning around high school, one of my major core values was paying the least possible amount for everything. I was always trying to figure out how to get things for massive discounts or to orchestrate some complex trade so that I got whatever I wanted for free in the end. I got so good at it that my first real income-producing business was in high school when I was buying and selling Palm Pilots and Apple Newtons. I started that business with the purchase of a $70 Newton and never invested more outside money into it.
Being frugal can be good. At it's best, being frugal is the practice of deciding whether you actually need something or not, whether it will be worth it to you, and carefully stewarding your money. Most people should probably be more frugal.
Over time, however, I realized that my frugality had turned into something different. I felt as though I didn't win unless someone else lost. When I went to a buffet, it was important to me that I ate so much that the casino lost money on me. Either I was the sucker or they were the sucker, and I didn't want it to be me. One of the best things at the Bellagio buffet was the pesto mashed potatoes, but I would only allow myself tiny amounts of them because I didn't want to fill up on cheap potatoes.
My business immediately after the Newton trading business was professional gambling, which was very much a win-lose situation. The casinos were trying to force me to lose and I was trying to do the opposite to them. The experience of being a professional gambler was very valuable to me, both financially and mentally, but I wonder if it helped ingrain into me that idea of not wanting to enrich companies.
I don't keep very close track, but last year I went through emails and discovered that I had purchased about 100 plane tickets for that year. Many were short hops to reposition and sometimes one trip would be three different tickets, but still-- that's a lot of travel. And now, I've flown twice in the past three months. Once to help my mom move across the country and once to visit some quarantining friends in Florida.
If you'd asked me a year ago what the chances were that I would fly only two domestic trips in three months, I would have said about zero. And yet... here we are.
It's rare to get such a big change in behavior, so I thought I'd write about a little bit, as much for future me as for you.
The biggest surprise is that I really like it. The first week or two was novel. The next two weeks had me searching the map to see if there was anywhere I could justify going, knowing that the answer was no. And since then I've been loving it. Paradoxically I can't wait to travel again and know that I will as soon as I can, but I also sort of hope the lock down keeps going for a while.
Before getting into this post, I should come clean: there was actually one friday about 450 days ago where I thought that I had already done the day's puzzle but I hadn't. So far that reason I haven't actually done the puzzle 800 days in a row, but rather 800 days with one day missing. Ok, it feels good to get that off my chest.
Three years ago my family came to visit me in Budapest. My younger cousin, with whom I tend to be both cooperative and competitive with on just about everything, had printed out a few crosswords to do on the plane. I immediately felt that if she was getting into crosswords I should also get into them, so we started doing puzzles together. The New York Times puzzle ranges from Mondays (easy) to Saturdays (hard). We were doing Tuesdays and Wednesdays with some difficulty, but it was a fun challenge.
Fast forward a few years and we both do the puzzle every single day (except that one Friday) and we share our times with each other. The rules are simple: no cheating, no using the built-in check or reveal feature, and the puzzle must be done before midnight EST. At first my extra ~15 years of experience on this earth played to my advantage and I would beat her almost every day. Now her intelligence and quickness has overcome that advantage and I win 1-2 times per week average. Some weeks I don't win at all.
Even if I'm not able to beat my cousin, I'm pretty good at crosswords these days. The last time I wasn't able to solve the daily puzzle was over two years ago, and my median times range from around 3 minutes for a Monday to 10-15 for a Saturday (lots more variance there, so I'm not sure). Besides being a lot of fun to do the puzzle (just like my daily Chipotle, I look forward to it all day), I've learned a lot through doing the puzzle.
There was a time in my life when I was singularly obsessed with output. I rated my days in terms of how much output I had produced that day and tried, within reason, to limit anything that did not produce output. It felt great to do this, as I had previously not been particularly good at producing output, and it was completely within my power to make any day into a good day.
Over time, both in myself and others, however, I noticed that high output didn't always lead to achieving goals. It was certainly better than not producing output, but I had a persisting feeling that my results weren't as good as they should be. I now have a more balanced approach and I my results towards goals now seem disproportionately good compared to my output.
If you don't feel like your results reflect your output or you are trying to figure out how to get started at being more productive, I have some suggestions based on my own experience.
It's important to realize that what you create when you are at your best will be many times more valuable than what you create at average or worse. Sometimes work created can even be a net negative. For example, if I force myself to write a blog post when I'm not at my best, maybe it will be unclear and actually turn people off from reading future posts. If I write some crappy code, maybe I'll have to spend hours in the future chasing down a bug that could have been avoided in the first place.
Just a few months ago I was talking to a new flight attendant about her job. I remarked at what a stable job it was, since people always need to fly, they have strong unions, and the airlines are big. Now she's waiting to be furloughed once the conditions of the bailout money allow it. Luckily she has a very stable financial situation and life, so being furloughed won't have a huge effect on her, except for putting her career on pause.
Life is full of people chasing the ghosts of things that used to exist. Just look at those who want things to be like they were in the 50s. One such ghost is a stable job. There are relative degrees of stability, and I'm sure there are some jobs that are still mostly stable, but the average job in the US these days is not stable. If you value stability there's nothing wrong with looking for the most stable job you can find, but you must accept that it may disappear.
Before you join the ranks of those who want to go back to the 50s, think about what this loss of stability has given us. Now we have way more flexibility and the ability to create our own jobs through entrepreneurship or gig working. It's not good or bad, it's just different.
Most people build lives around the presupposition of a stable job. They save very little money and think of their salary as monthly credits which they can use to pay off financing for whatever it is they want to buy. This works pretty well as long as they keep their job, because it's a very easy formula (money in = money out) and it allows them to maximize their immediate pleasure.
When I first began quarantine I was extremely productive. I rewrote some big parts of CruiseSheet and got a lot of work done. Then after a week or so I had cleaned out my backlog of tasks and, with cruise sales down about 100%, wasn't coming up with any pressing tasks to add to my list. I needed a new project.
For over a year, way on the backburner, I've had a project of building the world's most realistic LED candle. Over the past few years I've bought just about every possible contender on Amazon and found them to be pretty bad. Some have good color tone but flicker to much, others flicker appropriately but are orange, some have little movable wicks but cast weird shadows. I have one I programmed and built myself, but it's just a circuit board with wires dangling off of it. Maybe, in quarantine, it was time to build the exterior shell of it.
I've been interested in 3D printing for a while but was worried that if I bought a printer I would use it for a few days to print some of the standard stuff others had already made, and then it would just sit on my desk forever. The only friend who had one did exactly that and had only recently thrown the thing away. But I figured with at least one concrete project to do and a luxurious amount of free time, it was a good time for me to give it a try.
At the same time I saw a deal for a Monoprice Ultimate Maker (which is a rebranded Wanhao Duplicator 6), so I bought it. At the time I figured that any 3D printer would be good enough to make such a basic little project, so I didn't do much research.
I have almost no interest in politics, but I am interested in our country and society, so I inevitably get dragged into various political topics. If there's one thing I'm certain of in that area, it's that most people's interaction with politics is both harmful to themselves and counterproductive for society. At the risk of making many readers furious, I'd like to share my thoughts on politics.
First, though, watch my favorite video discussing politics that I've ever seen. It's the interview between Ben Shapiro (very conservative) and Andrew Yang (very liberal). Whether or not you agree with any of either of their positions is not relevant. Look at how they communicate. Both are clearly very intelligent, very respectful, and were looking for areas where they agreed. When they came across areas in which they disagreed, they tried to tease apart the underpinnings of why they disagreed. Sometimes they found common ground, other times they didn't.
I would love to see more conversation in this style. Just how refreshing it was made me realize how starved of intelligent debate our society is. I also found myself agreeing with both of them in ways I didn't expect I would.
Most people agree that division is one of our biggest problems in society. But how many of us can admit that both Trump and Obama did some positive things as well as some negative things? That's such an obvious and basic true statement, but almost everyone will bristle at it. If you cannot concede that a candidate you didn't vote for has done some positive things, and that someone you did vote for has done something negative, you are part of the problem.