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Last month a video was shared with me about this young man from Colorado named Easton LaChappelle who during high school taught himself programming and electronics because he was inspired to make something cool; A robot hand that could be controlled with a glove.  At a science fair he met a young girl who had a prosthetic arm that he learned cost about $80,000.  His hobby of cool became a mission. Through connections over the internet, learning 3D CAD modelling he kept persisting and iterating using all the methods he could as fast as he could. The evolution over such a short time is awe inspiring.

Easton is really an inspiration. He’s 19 and lives a life of curiosity and selflessness outside boundaries. Enjoy!

The video I originally watched about all this was shared on Facebook shared by a friend.  He makes a very special announcement at the end of it. Easton’s company that he founded at age 17 is called Unlimited Tomorrow.

February 11, 2015 at 3:58 pm | 3D, computers, gadgets, inspiration, interesting, learning, philosophy | No comment

If you’re complaining, you’re losing

Many years ago, and yet not that long ago, this guy Lawrence Lessig gave a talk on the free software / creative commons movement.  He is a lawyer and works on all kinds of initiatives, government corruption most recently. Back then he was speaking to elite coders and hackers about how corporations do and always will try to lock up ownership of the future for themselves. “The past will always try to control the future” I think was the statement. (Here’s me asking you to verify it so you go off on a tangent that leads to enlightenment.)

Another quote from that talk, Lessig mentioned a politician friend who he worked with in those movements against corporate culture control.  “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”  Meaning that to get your point across within a group of politicians, stakeholders or a courtroom, once you find yourself explaining, there’s a good chance you’re not reaching them.

Think about that.  How does one make an impression and convey information without a transmission of facts or reasoning to the listener? The answer is you have to find a way that rubs off like a stain that was always there to begin with. People should be walking away thinking that’s what they believed in the first place, you only reminded them.  Drawn out details will of course work sometimes for some people. But look at it this way, the reason you’re talking about something you’re passionate about is because your aim is to reach the hearts and minds of everybody in the room. So your strategy must adjust for those daydreamers or those with raised brows and folded arms etc.

Today I had this thought on the train ride to a meeting about how I deal with things. “If you’re complaining, you’re losing.”  Because although complaining can let off steam, if you’re complaining to others, you’re losing them, wasting time, reminding them and giving them permission to spread their own complaints. You’re also making your ego worse.  Because you’re just  repeating and solidifying your attachment to expectations, burning that into your mind once again. The demand that what should have happened didn’t happen.  And frankly your ego, or your management of your ego isn’t getting any easier with that kind of mindset.

Sure blow of steam when you need to, try to adjust it towards a constructive means of self-talk. Whatever that energy is that needs to be released don’t let it affect your future self. Letting go of expectations, attachments is a path to being happier while working through outcomes that aren’t as pleasing as you wanted.

Now you might say, “Mike all you’re doing here is explaining this, breaking the ‘rule’ as you reveal it.”  Yes that’s true.  But like I say in a lot of my journals, I’m mostly talking to myself here. 

January 6, 2015 at 12:16 am | inspiration, learning, philosophy | No comment

False Nostalgia

I ran across this piece of writing at the Huffington Post:  I Miss the Village.  The attempt by the author was to lament a loss of community, but it comes across as a false understanding and a potential call to action was wasted.

I miss the village I never had. The one with mothers doing the washing side by side, clucking and laughing hysterically, tired in body but quick in spirit. We’d know each other so well: annoying one other from time to time, but never staying mad long because the truth is, we need each other.

washing-clothes-river-philippines-nostalgiaYes the same village where 300 people share a water basin and risk of deadly flu, cholera outbreaks, black death, etc. at any moment. I can’t stand selective false nostalgia pieces like this.

I consider myself very lucky never to have had this life.  Despite how it may feel, a sense of community is always at people’s grasp. But if anyone disagrees, and they want this fiction, plenty of villages exist around the world where everyone knows your name and you can do the washing in the contaminated creek/sewer. Where people spend so much time on repetitive activities that they never get above water to solve bigger problems, because they can barely fend for themselves. Where superstition is rampant, and lack of access to education and medicine.

The photo I’ve included here is misleading too. It’s present day Philippines, where this idealized location with a beautiful waterfall and kids playing. Most people don’t live by a source of fresh running water, and even if they did, there’s always somebody upstream putting something into it.

If you’ve ever washed and dried your clothes outside (I have many times) you can’t quite get that comfortable in a shirt that’s been drying in the humidity all day.  It’s crusty and wrinkled and never really smells clean. The author is correct, you do it because you have to.  Well, I’m glad I don’t have to. I’m glad a system is in place where I can attain mechanical and electronic tools that I could never make on my own has been designed and fashioned and shipped to a place that I can purchase it, even on a low salary.

People from that long ago would gladly trade places with us for our access to food, education, supplies, and abundance in general.  It’s true that many of us have squandered our abundance and broke away from our community, to the point where we might not even percieve it’s still there. We’ve bought into the 9-5 rules made up by richer people, we’ve upgraded our automobiles and forgotten how to fix things and ask for and offer help. We’ve taken the easy and cheap way to do things and caused damage and pollution and hardship for the future generations. Still I wonder, why would anyone dwell on a fictitious past?

The other cliche I often encounter in writing and from people, “Oh I long for the days when you could let your kids walk on their own without fear” People seem to think it’s because of the breakdown of community. That you don’t know and no longer can trust your neighbors and those who lurk in the woods.  Maybe partially, but no, you can’t let your kids walk on their own because they will get murdered by a 2,000 lb car at any given moment. A car that somebody sleep-deprived and angry is driving to get to and from job they hate. Somebody who forgot how to regard and pay attention because they can’t seem to get distractions of earning and attachments of possessions and lack of free time off their mind.

Today , we have more choices than we’ve ever had but haven’t attained the courage to make them. You need a lot of courage to trade one lifestyle for another.

We’ve traded a communal task environment for a complex machine that can do 1000% of what we need to survive and thrive. A machine that can provide us with amazing things, created mostly by people we don’t know. But a lot of us haven’t quite been able to grow up inside this massive cooperative environment and learn to feel satisfied and balanced within it.  In other words, even with the best grass the world has ever seen, somehow it must have been greener 200 years ago. I can say that, and I can say this:  If anyone want community and a sense of well being, they have to look first at how they are helping and interacting with others, what actions they are taking at any moment. Because community and friendships are only a conversation, or an invitation, or a kind gesture or a favor away from our grasp.

July 23, 2014 at 10:21 am | family, inspiration, nostalgia | No comment

Here we go, some 2014 ideas

latin brain diagramResolutions.  I just want to take advantage of this arbitrary earth date as leverage toward lifting myself to a few new goals.  So here goes.

Electronics

I really feel like I’m  missing out on my favorite type of creative projects because I don’t have solid footing in electronics.  What a wealth of great available cheap components for building inventions we have nowadays with the Raspberry Pi. And yet I shouldn’t be intimidated by some wiry hand drawn schematic.  Time to embrace what things might mean or just asking for help instead of letting the voice that says “You will never get this.” to run my future. So many great things to be built that electronics are involved. I certainly don’t need to know how to do all of it, but I need to get things started and kill off the intimidation. I want to solder components together to create something new even if it’s just a box with a button that makes a sound.

Yoga

I can’t really think of a better way to keep a body working than to ensure all it’s parts are primed for flexibility. I don’t know much about all the levels of yoga, all I know is I want to do my stunt bike riding without inflaming the bones or ligaments or whatever is hurting me in my lower back / hips / upper legs. That and I think yoga probably has some other real world non-esoteric benefits. I also think I need to do a ton of meditation to keep my brain healthy and mentally awake so tack that on with this goal.

Design / Development

I can make a website look like anything I or my clients want for the most part. But I have a gap in my skills when it comes to building UI components. That being an essential part of dynamic sites and web apps, it is a no-brainer to be addressed. Whether it be some more gains in jQuery or jQuery UI or mastering the forms within Foundation or Bootstrap. Also, I have seen a few ways to create phone apps using some easily available and simplistic tools such as AppInventor. I really need to explore this more.  I think devices are a different way of thinking about sharing ideas and content and should be part of my offerings.  Lastly In my work I really want to have quick setup procedures so I can generate a new site prepped and ready to be worked on using my favorite methods.  And this kind of preparatory procedure makes projects more joyful to build from, due to the instant momentum. What am I waiting for?

Family

This is only this far down the list because I don’t have an order other than my brains direction. My family really needs to get out more. We need to have fun shared experiences, more of them.  And I’m not sure if I’m just really satisfied in my life that I don’t seek out those weekend moments or I just don’t have a good imagination. What I do know is I want my kid to have good memories of his childhood, be that from going on really cool vacations or having a sweet treehouse.

My basement

My basement is a lot of square footage that isn’t really being used. And it’s big enough for my kid to ride his tricycle in easily. Why have I not taken the steps to clear the clutter and put in the lighting? I don’t know man, because it’s not fun. Time to get on this little by little. New light fixtures, carpet tiles, organized less chaotic computer parts and tools would be a huge accomplishment. My basement is sort of finished.  It has the potential to be a great place to hang. Right now it’s just an embarrassment.

Self-promotion

I really need a set of ways to promote myself, my work… In a tasteful way. Because I enjoy helping people, the way to do that is to make sure that people know you can help them. But so far I haven’t had the comfort level of self-promotion. Many things just don’t feel like me.  And I need to find those ways.  Any suggestions, send me a tweet at @michaelbuddy.  I already share a ton of my interests on Twitter, but I don’t necessarily have a bridge to other areas.  I have an interesting relationship with social media. I don’t really care for a lot of it, most of the time, but I do want to enjoy using it more by seeing results from it. Otherwise it seems to be a big waste of time.

Woodworking

I have several projects not started. And I really like completing things. I didn’t really do any wood projects in 2013. I did some good ones in 2012. 2014 needs some of my unfinished ideas fleshed out. Because making pieces out of wood is awesome. It’s custom, it’s creative and it changes your environment.

Paperwork Woes

Anyone who’s ever spent time with me might know that I can’t stand paperwork. I actually really hate touching and sifting through paperwork and files. That’s just plain terrible for success in life. And I find dealing with even digital paperwork a big pain. This must be resolved. I seek to be a master of returned emails, quickly-billed side projects and early submitted tax forms.

Drawing

I’ve done a little bit of drawing and doodling in 2013 off and on.  Where I used to have a lot of shoddy sketch entries in my daily todo journal, I flip through it now and I kind of like the scratch I’m seeing lately.  I think just because I have worked on some flourish to my writing in some cases. But who wouldn’t love a stack of used moleskine notebooks that look like a work of art to look back on.  The better they are, the more likely I would want to review them.

Books

Many great books I have, I’ve only started. And while I don’t mind not finishing a book, I really think I’m missing out on some great chapters because I think I grasp a concept too early or get a bit bored with it. And restarting a book or chapter becomes a little painful as compared to an interesting YouTube video or Netflix movie. I don’t care about numbers of books so much, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment if I can finish a few good books I already have.

Seeking mentors

The past few years have taught me that mentors can be found all around me, both older and younger than me.  Time to interact with them more frequently.  A mentor to me seems to be a friend who you can discuss big ideas with and move forward on them. I’m also looking to be a better mentor to a few people if I can.  The quickest way to be something is to start seeing yourself that way in the first place.

Review and Reflection

I like the reward of moving onto the next thing but the truth is I really need to write things down and review them more. And to make this more pleasing to do I think will help projects get done because, while progression is a key to happiness, one can’t hold onto every great idea and those that are worthy shouldn’t be forgotten or swept away for the latest interesting thing. Looking back is ok to do. And seeing that process as a rediscovery might make that easier. Because when you look back you can still see something as new, because you look at it from a new moment in time.

Thinking bigger and executing

It’s important to think big. And execution on ideas is paramount to a life well spent. Whether it be writing that book or building that piece of furniture or making that relationship happen. And some good ideas are imperfect because they should be a little or a lot bigger. Fear and comfort zones or negative self-talk or a lack of models all get in the way of many great things happening in our lives for the benefit of others. Each idea I have evaluated as sound need a real go and one of the first thoughts is, can it be bigger.

January 1, 2014 at 7:00 pm | inspiration, philosophy | No comment

New Obsession – The 1904 Worlds Fair

My wife is from Japan. So it makes absolutely no sense that she would fall in love with the World’s Fair. But she did. And then she got me obsessed with it.

worlds-fair-daily-programFor years now, I’ve loved the artwork of past eras. Bioshock was such a great game for me because it took a past era and built a world around the design that I could explore.  When these Worlds Fair books started showing up around the house from the library, I began looking at them.

I don’t have this sense of pride in my town necessarily for making the World’s Fair happen. I have a pride for humanity, in what they can build in a short amount of time.  And there’s also a sadness, because so much of the amazing palaces that once stood just a short car ride from me, were torn down, burned up or simply couldn’t withstand time and environment.

This new obsession combines a strong curiosity on the innovation of the time period, the design, the audacity of it all. I’m not sure many people were ever big thinkers, but when I look at the old photos, I think, would we ever be able to do something like that again? Does anyone get to think so big anymore?

I’ve got more to write here about it, but I’d like to point out a few interesting things.

October 30, 2013 at 11:21 am | inspiration, interesting, Japan, photography | No comment

I Learned My Lesson

As I look at it, there are two ways that you can learn your lesson. One way, the preferred way is to be mindful of what’s not working or what mistake was made that brings you down, and then you take steps and mindfully alter your path. That’s the right way to learn a lesson because you can look back on it positively and it reflects someone who is open to adjustment.

The other way of “learning” is getting to that “I’ve had it!” point.  And yeah you’ve sort of learned the lesson, but really it was pain and negativity that became heavy enough to finally give you no other pleasurable choice. This way is again a positive outcome, but you can’t look back so pleased because you finally just hit bottom or broke or whatever you want to call it. You won’t do it again, but still it’s not necessarily an area where you grew. Really you just exhausted yourself.

What about you? Do you learn your lesson after a couple mistakes or do you find yourself years down to the road saying “I’ve had it!”

I think the former method increases your mental strength and flexibility. And without a doubt will save you time.  It must be the healthier route. The latter is relieving and has finality, but it just doesn’t revitalize you with confidence when you look back over the scenario objectively. Either way you learn your lesson, dumping detrimental habits is progression and will make you better.

July 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm | inspiration, interesting, philosophy | No comment

The secret sauce of freelance is caring about the client and their project

I had a long talk with a buddy of mine the other night.  He’s having a lot of trouble focusing on a particular project. It’s something he’s fully capable of and can’t seem to leverage a personal commitment to take care of the work. He’s missed deadlines and managed to make himself miserable over it.  It has gone from something that needed to get done, to affecting his confidence in his own capability.

I make no assumptions here because I’ve been in a similar position and besides it’s really hard to pin down what any individual’s block might be. Why can’t they focus? What is it about a project that isn’t working for them? Where did the motivation go? Why aren’t they able to take charge and help the client?  Sometimes it comes down to a way of thinking about the problem, like when a project is too big or we want it to be too perfect before we even start.  I know I’m not alone in stalling on on projects because unless I see it to a specific depth in my minds eye, I want to hesitate rather than go down the wrong path. Then there’s the  unnecessary worry, confidence issues and simple bad habits and boredom. Imagine how much better a plumbers day is when he gets to work on good hardware with good tools and connections, vs the day when he’s got broken old pipes that crumble in his hand when he touches them.

What really hurts us is that empty space that opens up from the vagueness of a project plan or the hesitation to move the ball forward. That empty space is quickly taken up by something more interesting or an urgent problem from somebody else. And another day or week goes by.  The moments you do think about the project are fleeting and it gets smaller and less significant in your mind. You’ve long forgotten what you needed to do and that old email is buried. Until it all comes crashing back to you in the form of fear and stress, and eventually a kind of dread or loathing.

The secret to making it happen for me has more often been the simple notion of caring for the person. You care what happens to your client, and you associate your actions directly to whether they succeed or fail. You tie yourself to their happiness in the space you have control over.  You care that they meet their goals, you care that they can move onto the next great thing once they get this out of the way.  And you care that they took the time to work with you for something rather than somebody else. Along with that, instead of viewing the problem as time you don’t want to spend, it helps to be grateful that you have the opportunity to help people at this level, rather than be in a place where even the basic necessities of life are scarce.

How you define ‘caring about your project’ must go beyond clean and elegant code or efficient processes. It must be overwhelmingly a desire to cultivate a relationship and a sense of duty and commitment. Exercising those muscles will make you successful and keep you earning even when you have a big screw up or your choice of expertise goes into obsolescence.

June 4, 2013 at 4:27 pm | freelance, inspiration, learning, philosophy | No comment

Website time-wasters and the light tendency of habit

The internet will be the end of some people. It will ruin their otherwise intelligent (and even productive) brain and skillset. Because it’s so frightenly easy for somebody to indulge in the wrong content that will take them away from their goals. If you have goals to produce something new, a news aggregator site like Reddit or Hacker News, indulging in them for too long will take away the mindshare that would help you create the kind of output you’re capable of.

track-switch - Photo by Peter Kaminski - Flickr.com/creativecommons/We think of addiction and bad habits as being this pull we can’t seem to break free of. But if you observe more closely, you start to see how many habits are really just small tendencies. We know what we are supposed to do, but our brain has wired a bad habit. A bad habit isn’t always that strong, we just have the process locked down. And disrupting it is just as easy as indulging in it. Think of it like that track switch lever for a train. Flip the switch, and your off on a completely different course.

My brain loves the new and loves exploring. And it gets rewarded because I found the right sites that feed it exactly what I want. If your brain loves interaction and gossip, your rewards might be easily met from Facebook. If you like to laugh at people acting silly, your dish of rewards is found at Youtube or College Humor. But you can switch the track and it’s not like you’ll suddenly throw a fit or crash. Once on the new course, you’ll think, “Well I’m better off doing this other thing anyway.”

I’ve had a browser extension called Leechblock for Firefox installed for years. I certainly don’t use it enough but I’m really seeing how valuable it is.  It might actually save someone from ruining their career. That’s how important this or plugins like it can be. You enter a web address or a list of them and make them a blockable set. So if you’re too often checking news in the morning. Enter those sites and block them at those times. It’s probably your weak habit or tendency to browse these sites, and it may be all you need. The way you know it’s a weak tendency rather than a real addiction is if you can think back on days when you just forgot about them or didn’t visit because you were so focused on something you actually made more important. It’s very likely that you’ve avoided them for real work before. So there’s no reason you can’t do it more often. Other than inaction or lack of desire that is. Another test is, if you had a site that you used to go to, but now kinda sucks, or went dead. You moved on. It’s not like your still tapping in that old url years later with bloodshot eyes waiting for it to come back. You changed tracks.

Leechblock for Firefox

If you keep sabotaging yourself despite using a blocker, maybe it’s time for something stronger, like further reinforcement such as editing your hosts file to fully prevent those sites.  If you don’t want to ever check a specific site again, you can add it to a permanent block list in Leechblock or through a hosts file.

leechblock-blockpage

When you do habitually type that url or open that shortcut, you will met with the Leechblock Block page. It’s generic, but you can make that alternative blocker page any page you want. So instead maybe have it send you to your online todo list, or to really break the pattern, maybe have it redirect you to something you hate, such as an image gallery of a really annoying pop music artist named Minaj or Bieber.  Or to a custom message page you make, like a big bold quote about habits or confidence or motivation. “Y0u’re an epic (whatever) with some serious chops, stop doing things that make your bank account shrink!”

On Google Chrome, you can use Nanny, or StayFocused which are similar.  For Safari, something called Waste No Time is available, though I haven’t tested it, as Safari is not something I ever use. For Internet Explorer, the solution is really not to use Internet Explorer.

Here’s the thing.  You don’t just correct your procrastinating tendencies by reading a blog post. I mean you might, but I’m writing this thing and I’m well aware that I’ll still delay things. But as you are procrastinating, it’s important to remember that all the crazy sites and articles and videos about news and technology, they all use your brain. Your brain uses a lot of energy and it’s a finite amount for the day really. So if you’re going to distract yourself due to the pain or boredom of an upcoming task, at least you can do is be a little productive about it right? No rule says you must read a specific site while procrastinating.

Productive Ways to Procrastinate when your brain wants to delay a task

Lastly, you already know all this don’t you? So do I. And we’ll still waste time. But since it’s often a weak habit, based on a light tendency rather than a need. It’s ok to try different ways to disrupt it and have them fail.  And you can have a little fun with it too.

May 20, 2013 at 12:21 pm | computers, freelance, inspiration, learning, tools | No comment

Good work by itself is not the tie that binds us

I am losing a couple clients this week. Just by coincidence, I got 2 phone calls that gave me that sinking feeling. And both clients are moving on to proprietary systems, which I almost never recommend. Part of me is shrugging off the situation because it’s not due to something I did or didn’t do directly. New representatives at the organization have become familiar with another system and see the best route to evolving their project is going with that system. You can’t control who gets hired or takes over a department or seat at your clients office.

However, the other part of me that isn’t shrugging this off is that I know that things could be different if I had created a different history with the client. There are dozens of opportunities every year to hit touch points of client service. Things that aren’t even work related. Some of them can be unique to the client, some can just be part of a routine or even automated. For example, sending thank you notes, or occasional greetings. Checking in with questions or recommendations Maybe even better,  asking people to become part of a community you / I created, such as a helpful newsletter tailored to clients.

Had I done those things, I would have spent very little investment per client, but I might be getting the next project opportunity. And that client is likely to deflect the other options, as they can see what they would lose. That  and as time goes one, I’d continue getting the referrals that client my provide. Because if somebody leaves you, even with no burned bridges, you probably just aren’t going to come to mind when their friend or colleague asks them about who to work with.  To sum that up, it’s possible you can do a great job and create a weak bond. That’s the problem. You, me, we all have to do good work while also creating a stronger human bond in the process.

I’ve always had a problem with lock-in, in terms of software. I like the open platforms so clients feel more comfortable to change, move and pivot as they need to.  But the lock-in I could be striving for, is one completely self-imposed. If my clients are tied to me through that connection or bond of a good relationship, I’m in a much better position and the business and my clients continue to benefit.

I remember at a previous job, I would ride with sales people to their client locations for training and technical support appointments. At the time, I was surprised at how often the sales person would be inquiring about the client’s kid’s soccer games and other life events.  At the time, I thought it was a surprise that anyone could remember so much, and wondering, what it just a little too pushy? Looking back, I understand it much more. A good sales person makes a habit of creating those bonds. Someone might say, well that’s shallow, because clearly the salesperson is doing so out of self-interest and keeping the client’s business. Ahh, but I must argue, you see a habit is something that you do without thinking. And I’ve come to believe that it’s less likely scenario that something habitual like that has a shallow undercurrent.

Test it! Ask a good sales person what it’s like to lose a client like that where they’ve cultivated a bond.  Ask how much of what they are feeling is about the money.

May 9, 2013 at 5:12 am | freelance, inspiration, interesting | No comment

You have to love the St. Louis Arch

Monument to the Dream is a 1967 documentary about the creation of the St. Louis Arch. The 30 minute film has all the charm of the best National Geographic films I grew up loving. That and the Modern Marvels Episode about the Arch made more recently really make you proud of your industrious human family and the kind of risks it takes to do something at this level.  Watch below.

The Modern Marvels film feels as bold as as the arch itself. It taps into the history of St. Louis back when it was a village of a thousand people, onto it’s status as a way station during westward expansion  and up to the period after the Great Depression and the downward turn of the economy and the city itself.  The project or the kernel of the idea that would become the Gateway Arch was an idea for the riverfront, something big that would improve and uplift St. Louis again.

What I love about the arch is that it’s not just something you can talk about or stare at. They had the foresight, the motivation to make it something you could ride up to the top in. What would become a sort of ferris wheel on tracks to a cozy lookout room.

April 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm | inspiration, interesting, nostalgia, philosophy | No comment

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