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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

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 - 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.


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

Sketching Fashionable

Yet another terrific gem from over at the Internet archives (

Check out “Costume Design and Illustration” from 1918. Like many others of the fantastic collection of public domain texts, you can read online or download in all possible formats.

I also just discovered tonight that the online reader app works really well on the iPad.


March 8, 2013 at 1:38 am | books, design, general, graphics, learning | No comment

My new Gold Star System for keeping clients happy

I’ve made so many mistakes. And here’s a big cause. Because a certain level of customer service requires a personality that reaches out on a continual basis. To help people in your own business, you have to assume that they need to hear from you frequently.  Assume they’ll get upset if you don’t.  This is my biggest mistake. I care about the people I help out, but I also have this mechanism in my brain that makes me indulgent in the specifics of problems I solve rather than the emotions of the people I’m helping. That same indulgence puts me into a mode where I don’t want or feel I can’t communicate comfortably until a problem is solved or understood sufficiently.

This makes my clients crazy. I sort of know this, but it’s not always the active thought in my mind. In my field, you come across problems constantly and often there’s no logical prioritization at work. If I’m a surgeon and had 2 patients and I had to operate on both of them, one needed urgent but simple heart valve clearing, and the other had a fish hook really jammed really good through his hand like I’ve never seen, well guess what? Let’s just say I’m not a surgeon for a reason.  My brain works on the wrong problems, because those problems are the ones that I obsess over.

Anyway, I’ve accepted that I will always have a bit of chaos to deal with and can reign it in the right leverage.  The gold star system. Or the black mark system if you want to call it that. Either way, allow this system to fix your / my lack of communication.

A new client decided to work with me / you because ideally we are the best. Or the best they could afford. Regardless, now that you’re working together, you have a relationship to maintain that is measured by 6 gold stars. You start off with 5 1/2 stars.  And your communication and ability to set expectations makes you gain or lose them. For every time, you fail to communicate, you lose a gold star. Every time the client has to call you up and check in, means you haven’t set the expectation. After 5 of these mistakes, (OR LESS!) you’re down to one-star. Basically your client is looking for an out. They wouldn’t hire you back, they are just begging for this project to be completed.

I’ve gotten myself to one star several times. Because of my inability to set an expectation and demonstrate that I care about my clients feelings.  And wouldn’t you know it all I had to do was just have that embarrassing call earlier and just get better at it.  What I mean is the call that you have to say AGAIN that you haven’t made progress, that you’re stuck something or got sidetracked. And just be a grown up about it. It’s better for them to get sick of you that way than to not hear from you. And you won’t want to keep making those calls so you will eventually prioritize better over the next day or so you gave yourself as breathing room between calls.

It’s common for me or anyone lose a couple stars during the course of a relationship but you don’t need to do THAT much work to keep your reputation and your stars to a good level and manage it.

So next time you / me, when there’s that passing thought that maybe I’ll put off that call until I have something to show, or try to get that fix in just under the wire think of it as a question: “Do I really want to lose a gold star over this bit of laziness, shame, inability to fix or solve or prioritize something on time?”

And the next question should be asked once a week or so, “How might I get 7 stars out of this relationship?” Imagine what seven stars would be? It’d be like you’ll be seen in such a good light that you’d have to make a huge effort to lose a star. You’d have to stab them or something because they see you as such a positive force in their lives.

Let’s not go overboard here, just do your damn job.

January 15, 2013 at 2:22 am | freelance, inspiration, learning | No comment

Books for gaining superpowers

This kind of “hivemind” posting happens regularly on sites like metafilter and reddit, but this one worked because the request was so poignant.  What books have you read that gave you superpowers? Instead of people posting their favorites, they really thought about ones that changed them profoundly in ways they were even surprised by. I wanted to share the list.

And a lot more at Ask Metafilter!

I also wanted to share the best 2012 books from Vice and BrainPickings.


December 30, 2012 at 10:28 am | books, inspiration, learning | No comment

Estimate projects using OpalCalc

I created a video tutorial of a sample website project breakdown using some new software I found called OpalCalc. Estimating project costs for my freelance website and design projects is made easier with OpalCalc.  I think though you can do the exact same thing using other tools, this little app has a way about that works for people whose brain is maybe wired differently, or who just need something to help lay it all out quickly.

October 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm | design, learning, training, webdev | No comment

Recommended Books October 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and overall self improvement. I ran across an article the other day that mentioned a few books that can really help a programmer in that regard. But none of the books mentioned really needed to be confined to programming. Since I’ve read these  I felt like I could share some favorites.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

It’s a book about being a good person, caring about people so they care about you and knowing when to speak your mind and when it won’t matter one bit. It’s intuitive but a good read. It’s an old book so I’d be VERY surprised if you haven’t heard of it.  I’ve always found it pretty easy to make friends because I am interested in people.  So this book is an arrangement of ideas that I think people can benefit a lot from.

Contemplating Reality – A Practitioner’s Guide to the View in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism

This book is about self-awareness and meditation. Normally I’m turned off by a lot of “old wisdom” that is a nice way of saying bunk. But a lot of the knowledge of Buddhism and Tibet is I think sadly a lost treasure. If nothing else, this and other books like it I hope will convince people that meditation is worth their time. Not in some strange pretentious pseudo-spiritual way but really grounded in the reality of the hyper-present moment. Because our brains aren’t perfect, we are subject to what seems to be randomness, uncertainty, often negative self-talk.  What if there were a way to quiet and control your mind so you could feel a little more stable as you navigate everything in your world.  Turns out there is, but people in the west haven’t really had a history with it to even have it in their tool kit.

Keys to Drawing  or alternatively Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

It’s really important to learn to draw in my opinion. I use the computer so often sometimes my dexterity with my hands holding  a pencil suffers to the extent where I realize something might be going wrong with me. I encourage everyone to draw and learn to see things flat in your mind, to translate colors and shades into a 2D image.

The Design of Everyday Things

Start thinking about the process of how man-made things in our world are actually made. In some sense, it’s easy to construct something that is simple and functional, but not always. And competing interests in things like electronics makes it all the more difficult to retain something comfortable, usable, understandable and memorable.

Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty

Long ago, I saw networking as this contrived thing where you are pretending and everyone is trying to sell to you while you want to sell back to them. It seems so disingenuous. But I learned over time that humans need a few things that networking sort of solves. Humans occasionally need something to do outside the routine. So instead of the normal work days, mix it up once a month attending an event where new people are expected to be. And of course networking takes out beyond your small pool of friends and neighbors so you can discover opportunities that new people need you and you them. That’s not contrived at all. And if you don’t like the whole suit and tie thing, don’t worry you can dress however you want when you control the events that you go to. Most people would rather be themselves and would very much like to meet a real you.  Because it’s not so much of what people can offer each other, it’s about knowing what’s out there from different people who do different things from you.

October 22, 2012 at 12:01 pm | books, friends, learning | No comment

Am I too quiet to be a blogger?

I added “blogger” to my email signature over the past few months. But I’ve been wrong on that.  A blogger is one who keeps the conversation going.  I jump across topics and go through very quiet periods because either I don’t feel anything is worth sharing, or more likely, the effort to share is  more than what I feel the outcome is worth. I’m no blogger. And tonight I decided, I don’t care either. I’m happy to toss out the title.

I’ve seen a lot of people in my circle quit their sites because they decided that they couldn’t keep up. Even I threw in the towel once. Have you been there?  If you started and then quit a blog, it’s probably because you had an expectation for what  you thought this whole blogging lifestyle was about.  And when your habits caused you to veer further and further from that initial picture your mind drew, the tension built and it was easier to cut the rope than climb up it at that point.

You envisioned you had the time and had tons of ideas to share. (And you saw dollar signs right? Well I admit that I did. ) But when it comes to going through the motions, blogging isn’t all that fun. Staring at the computer screen, editing yourself over and over, finding that your idea was not as funny or original as you thought.  It’s a challenge to create a projection of what you want to share in the form of a written piece.  That’s why micro blogging is suitable for more people. Because you are constrained to a thought instead of a big concept and you are easily forgiven for posting stupid crap. You know at the beginning you won’t be consumed by constructing a tweet, you’ll just fire it off. You never get that feeling of dread that you’ll be trapped by it for hours or days.

It reminds me of those mind tricks you play on yourself to stop procrastinating.  The idea that you don’t need to dwell on committing to a whole hour to your upcoming project. Commit to 5 minutes only. And the mind trick is that your momentum will take you through the next 35 minutes and your procrastiation melts and is reborn into progress. Tweets and micro posts work because you don’t procrastinate on them. They’re so easy it’s sick.

Where am I going with this? Well it’s a message to myself and to you. Don’t get hung up on what you think a blog needs to be or the expectation that your blog needs to be something like popular or constant. Just be. If you have a desire for a site or blog or curated collection, look within and watch the downside of what your attachment to what you think it should be too early.  Better  just build in a direction and see what forms. Like drawing.  Shade a little here, a little there. Let the image emerge instead of kicking yourself because it’s not what was how you hoped.

May 5, 2011 at 12:51 am | inspiration, learning, writing | No comment

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