Andre Agassi: “I hate tennis with a dark and secret passion.”

Talent can be both a gift and a curse.  What we are good at may not necessarily be what we love. When it is, then the world is beautiful and great. But when it’s not, it becomes hell on earth.  On one hand, you can say “it’s a good problem to have.” Which is true. But from another perspective, it’s a curse.  When you are have no options, you are not responsible for choosing.  The choice is simply forced upon you and you can comfort yourself, always, that the path you are on is simply your destiny.  These were the cards you were dealt and you’re just going through the motions, following the predetermined script.

But when you do have options, choosing can be both liberating and damning. Because then you are truly responsible for whatever comes next.  Thus, this choice can a burden.  If you realize your talent and potential, doing so may consume your entire life requiring thousands upon thousands of hours.  Maybe you’re good at tennis.  But maybe you’re also good at painting!  Or writing!  Or software development!  Or basketball.  Who knows?

But if you don’t pursue and realize your God-given talent, you may also later regret it for the rest of your days.  Emotionally, you might not be able to rationalize away the feeling that you could’ve possibly been a great, possibly been a contender.  Maybe one of the best to have ever played the game.

I learned on Reddit today that Andre Agassi positively despised and hated tennis.  His father, who was Armenian and immigrated to the US from Iran, was a professional boxer and exerted constant pressure of Agassi to play the game and win.  He even built a tennis court in their backyard so Agassi could practice!  To be clear, Agassi possessed tremendous talent.  But in his autobiography, Open, Agassi talks about how tennis consumed his every waking moment and was an enormous, tremendous burden.

Sure, in a way, it’s a privileged perspective.  But I honestly urge empathy if you’re able to summon it.  This gift/curse is a genuine struggle that many people legitimately face.  Andre Agassi —1996 Olympic Gold medalist, eight-time Grand Slam champion, and winner of 30 million USD in prize money— hated tennis.  As the old adage goes: “Be kind to everyone; inside, everyone fights their own war. Everyone bears their own cross.”


Spirituality is not often a locus of focus these modern days.  Whereas it was front and center in Native American life and in ancient times, spirituality is nowadays much more relegated to third-class citizenry, if even that.  To be sure, we’ve made such tremendous leaps and bounds in science and technology that much of the practical motivation has disappeared (no more rain dances to the weather gods necessary when you’ve got Monsanto, John Deere, GMO seeds, and GPS-guided tractors on the job) but putting that aside for a moment, it’s struck me as I’ve gotten older just how vacuous living daily life has become in spirituality’s absence.

Ask ten different people what spirituality is to them and you’ll receive at least eleven different answers.  So I’ll just clarify what I mean when I discuss “spirituality.”  To me, “spirituality stuff” is what you’ll find in the “New Age” religion section at any Barnes & Noble.  It’s an attempt to explain (currently) unanswerable questions like, “What happens when you die?”; “How does Karma and resurrection work?”; and supernatural phenomena like visions, déjà vu, or lucid dreams.  Often, these conversations will also involve phrases like “energy levels” and crystals/gem stones (very similar to the kind you’d find at Wall Drug).  Meditation is also super-huge.

Honestly, I never knew anything about any of this but Bagel is really super into it.  And thus, I’ve gotten really into it.  I like it!  To me, it’s extraordinarily arrogant to think that human beings, a species that doesn’t even fully understand gravity yet, can in good-faith “close the door” on all of the New Age spirituality stuff.  Russell’s Teapot and Flying Spaghetti Monster are all in the realm of possibility, no matter how ludicrous they may at first sound.  My general stance on all of this is thus:  “Is it useful?”  Once we leave mathematics and the hard sciences, it all just becomes unfalsifiable belief claims anyway.  So why not believe what motivates and inspires you?  The philosopher and founder of American Pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) calls it “experiential cash value” and I think he’d agree with me.

Rent-a-Girlfriend: An Encomium to Anime & Manga

Reaching into my bag of analogies, here’s what I’ve got for you today:  Sometimes you’re on a high-protein diet.  You’re eating nothing but healthy foods:  Lots of Kashi cereal, quinoa, fruits, asparagus, spinach, and broccoli.  You’re a machine and your body’s a temple.  You only shop at Whole Foods, eat organic, and nothing but the best of the best enters your system.  You are, after all, what you eat.

And then, there are other days:  Häagen-Dazs Double Chocolate Chip and Rocky Road, Kettle Salt & Vinegar chips, beer, wine, the worst of the worst.  You know the diet is awful but it just tastes so good, at least initially.  You’re fully cognizant, in your infinite wisdom, that you’ll pay for such extreme decadence later and that you’ll regret having consumed such unqualified abject garbage into your body.  But you simply don’t care.  YOLO, etc.

Reading manga, I essentially equate, to consuming garbage.

Very little of it is, shall we say, intellectually or spiritually nourishing.  And much of it, at least the material I like (Rent-a-Girlfriend; Code Geass; The Pet Girl of Sakurasou; My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected; Bakuman) is at best, “problematic” and at worst, outright sexist. And I don’t even mean, “of-its-times-sexist.” I mean, content that is literally being produced today, in 2020.  (It’s important to keep in mind that Japanese culture is, in many ways, different than here in the west and I encourage everyone to not immediately leap to judgment.)  But in summary, the conclusion stands:  This isn’t James Joyce or Bleak House.  I generally pride myself on being a well-read and deep thinking individual.  But I’m telling you, no human being is able to operate in the highest gear, that redline gear, all the time.  If you try, you’ll simply burn out and die.

Thus, that’s why I’m a big fan of anime and manga.  Like anything else, there are tons of flavors of the mediums– some extremely deep and philosophical (eg. Death Note).  And while I do enjoy such fare, that genre of anime/manga is definitely not my default, go-to content.  Nah.  At the end of a long day when I’m at the end of my rope and am running on fumes, I reach for the light and feel-good stuff.  And I regret nothing!  Mwahahaha!

Quitting: Sometimes Hard but Necessary

Quitting is hard. But sometimes it is the right move. It’s hard to quit and easy to just keep going. There’s comfort in doing what you’ve always done. Maybe it’s sticking with a losing position that you’ve held forever. Or with an activity or at a job. Or a relationship. It’s hard, but sometimes you just gotta let go. You just need to quit.

Banal but true: Our time and energy are finite. As Ben Horowitz at a16z is fond of saying, “What you do is who you are.” You’ve heard many times that it’s not just about yes– but also about saying no. It’s important to decline opportunities we’re only lukewarm about so we can keep our cycles open and our time/energy/money readily available for when something does come along that makes us say, “Hell yeah!”

In that vein, when we do tether our carriage to the wrong horse (a job, relationship, city, etc), cutting your losses is paramount. Otherwise, you’re just cheating future-you out of time, energy, and resources.

One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from Horowitz; when asked what a junior employee should do at a company they’ve just joined but don’t fit in culturally, Horowitz’s advice was: “Quit.” He goes on to explain that as a junior new-hire, you won’t be able to change culture at a company. That’s something that can really only be driven top-down, from the executive level. For example, if the CEO is always arriving late to meetings, it’s likely punctuality simply isn’t valued at the company. And as a junior new-hire, the new kid on the block, any effort you expend to remedy that will most likely just be Sisyphean.

So if you’re not fitting in, just recognize you’d joined in error and it’s time to abandon ship and board another. There are many ships in the sea– surely, one will make you happy and better help you grow.

Institutional Knowledge via Public Artifacts

Publicly posting artifacts on a constant, consistent schedule keeps me motivated.  These days, it’s enormously easy to relapse and go off the deep end of unproductivity.  Here’s a trick that I’ve found which works for me:  Write an email to your future-self describing whatever bug fix or feature you’ve implemented.  Write the way you’d normal write an email to a BA or business liaison.  Then go and actually implement the feature.  Record everything in GitHub.  I can’t lie, I enjoy looking at the Progress Map and seeing one big block of progress.

Because there’s a public artifact of my work, I can then easily review my WordPress or GitHub and simply, at a glance, see how I’ve been spending my time and everything I’ve been doing.  If you’ve having trouble staying motivated, maybe give this a whirl.  It may do wonders!

If you’ve ever worked at a company, especially a large one, then you’re familiar with the concept of institutional knowledge.  I know ever since Citizens United, it’s really unfashionable to view companies as human entities.  But in many ways, if you really think about it, companies are human-like in many ways.  Any individual cell is extraneous to a human, but in aggregate, they constitute the human body.  Likewise, any individual human is insignificant to a company, but together, they are the company.  Institutional knowledge is the idea of documenting one’s work and knowledge in such a way that after the employee leaves the firm, the company will still have semblance of whatever the employee knew/did while s/he was here.  In addition to oral transmission (the employee teaching other employees via “knowledge transfer”), we were also expected to document as thoroughly as we could our work so we’d be, in a sense, fungible.  Should the company ever need to replace us (for the “greater good,” of course), it was important such replacement happened as seamlessly as possible.

Now, of course, as these things always are, in practice, institutional knowledge –at least where I’d worked– was near complete shit.  Some employees were understandably reluctant to part with their knowledge because –surprise, surprise– they didn’t want to be fungible, interchangeable assets.  Gee, who could’ve guessed?

Anyway, I’ll save the diatribe for another time.  The point I wanted to make today, in this entry, is that as I’ve grown older, it’s become useful for me to apply the concept of “institutional knowledge” to myself, as a person.  In other words:  Treat myself, a human, more like a company.  Through the course of any given day, week, or month, I’m entertaining hundreds of various, disparate thoughts, on a variety of subjects.  On any given topic, I may have spent tens or hundreds of hours contemplating.  Gay marriage/abortion/gun rights?  Toast or croissants?  Is this Basketball Dome undertaking really a good idea?  And I’m certain I’m not alone.  Every day, people are probably thinking hundreds of random thoughts about a dozen or so different topics.  The real tragedy here is for the vast majority of us, these are all ephemeral.  Sure, our stronger convictions we’ve probably thought to ourselves thousands of times so they’ve turned into core beliefs.  But everything else is just sadly lost in the ether.

Thus, what I’ve enjoyed doing is maintaining a personal blog to keep track of everything.  Even if another human soul never sees it, I sincerely believe the record-keeping is valuable.  You can chart your growth over time and see how your positions have changed as you gain life experience.  You can literally write about anything; it’s your blog.  Movie and book reviews, thoughts about current affairs, etc.  As you begin to amass a corpus, what’s also fun is periodically reviewing the material and extracting the trends in how your musical tastes and concerns of the day have shifted over the years.  Like, “Oh– this was the period I was super into punk rock.”  Or, “Oh– I really got sucked into election politics and American Civil War history for six months here.” Juicy self-insights everywhere!

Writing and reading are truly the gifts that keep on giving.  Record those artifacts and build a time capsule for your future self!  Sure beats watching random YouTube clips all day.

Oliver Sacks – “What Really Matters”

Oliver Sacks is one of my heroes. The New York Times calls him, “The Poet Laureate of Medicine.” This man could really write. Of all of his works though, which there are many, his writing that has most resonated with me which I’ve kept closest, is the essay he published in the NYT on February 19, 2015– mere months before his death later that year due to terminal cancer. I literally keep a PDF of that essay on my desktop.

We often hear the advice to “live each day as if it’s your last.” “Carpe diem” and “to seize the day.” But do any of us truly do that? And what would doing so actually entail? Being caught up in the news cycle of the day? The latest umbrage and protest?

In today’s busy life, especially in 2020, a genuinely strange year, I have taken the advice to mean focusing on what is essential to you. And letting the rest recede. As I’ve grown older, I’ve increasingly detached from the world and have instead begun focusing on only what I feel truly matters to me. Upon learning of his terminal diagnosis, Sacks wrote on February 19, 2015 (emphasis, mine):

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

Oliver Sacks – “My Own Life” (The New York Times, February 19, 2015)

I don’t have terminal cancer, but I do value my time. And I don’t feel like we should wait until we’re at death’s door to properly value time and to value our own lives. If not now, then when? If not you, then who? If not here, then where?

Flexible Minds

LetterSong TitleMovie TitleReal Person
AAlways Remember Us This WayArmageddonAlger, Horatio
BThe BestBeauty & the BeastBrie, Alison
CCall Me MaybeCrazy Rich AsiansCarlisle, Brenda
DDrone Shot of My YachtDie HardDonovan, Landon

Neuroplasticity has been recently on mind. (You did almost get a post about “Nigel Farage” today though.) Namely, I’ve been thinking about aging and how as we get older, people seem to grow increasingly rigid in their thoughts and ways. From my limited understanding on what I’ve read, I believe the calcification happens because of our biology. Neurotransmitters, brain chemicals, all that. It’s sadly unavoidable, a fate destined for us all.

To combat the advent of such sadly inevitable dementia though, Bagel and I have been recently playing a game I (creatively) call, “The Grid Game.” We usually play it when we take our evening walks after dinner. The way it works: We alternate taking turns– like I start with ‘A’, she replies with ‘B’, etc. Everything must be done purely from mental recollection– no smartphones or Bing allowed! If one of us gets to the answer first (haha, usually me– but only because we’re playing in English! Bagel language would be a different story altogether) then we give each other hints like, “This is the first movie we saw in the cinema together.” Or– “My favorite song last summer! Played it in the car every time!” Stuff like that.

We initially conceived of the game as a way to help her improve her English. But I have since taken to playing it on my own time and with more specific categories (like “World Leaders,” “TV Shows,” and “Fictional Characters.”) It’s actually harder than you may think; remember, no smartphones! The other day, I got stuck on “Real woman’s name that starts with ‘I'” and after something like 20 minutes, the best I could come up with was “Laura Ingraham.” Not my proudest moment, I’ll confess. (For “Real man’s name that starts with ”I’,” my response was immediately, “Kazuo Ishiguro.”)

Anyway, I now keep a Google Doc open in one of my hundred tabs I have open and occasionally revisit it throughout the week. A coding exercise I’ll probably eventually do (gotta put all the data science I’ve learned to work!) is build a “Diversity Score Calculator” to analyze submissions and then break them down by sex/race/age/genre. I’m still kicking around some ideas but I think it’s an interesting exercise to judge your own implicit bias. When you free-associate, do you most often think of white people? Black people? Men or women? American, European, Hispanic, Asian? Contemporary or historical figures? Artists or politicians? Other? If political figures appear, are they most often right or left, conservative or liberal? For artistic works, summer blockbusters and platinum hits or the classics? Breakdowns like that. Anyway, just my random idea for the day. So much to do and so little time!

PS. For anyone who’s interested, you can make a copy of the template here. And also, here is my own personal August 2020 entry. Again, the idea is to just free-associate and complete the sheet as fast as possible. Like, a good time would be 10-15 minutes. Don’t worry about “appearing PC” or cosmopolitan and worldly. No one’s gonna see your answers! Just be yourself. You might be intrigued with the results.

The MCU Model vs The DCEU Multiverse Model

Multiple universes and timelines have been recently popularized by Rick & Morty, Community, Steins;Gate, and the entire DC Cinematic Extended Universe (DCEU).  Though parallel universes and timelines have long been a well-trodden science fiction trope, I think mainstream folks more generally expect something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Under the brilliant (genius?) direction of Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios since 2007, MCU’s Phase I-III comprised the first twenty-three films of Marvel’s single shared cinematic universe.  This was an incredible ten-year run starting with Iron Man in 2008, culminating with Avengers: Endgame (April 2019) and ending with Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 2019).  One day, I’m sure historians will reflect on the unprecedented feat; it’s genuinely remarkable to me that Feige and his team pull of single, consistent, coherent world, the way they did.  Truly, bravo.

It’s been fascinating to watch Marvel’s crosstown rivals, DC, make a similar attempt, fail spectacularly, and then reboot with more a “Multiverse Model.”  Eg.  I just read today that Batfleck will be returning to don the cowl once more in The Flash (Summer 2022).  This will be happening despite the fact that Robert Pattinson is the new Batman in Matt Reeves’s separate The Batman movie.

Personally, I’m a fan of the Multiverse model. Obviously, I have no evidence to back up what I believe. Maybe the life we’re currently living is truly all there is. Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe there’s a billion, trillion Wobbles all walking around somewhere at this very moment. Some Wobbles became writers and others became lawyers or software programmers. Chances are, at least one Wobble became (or tried to become) an authoritarian dictator that oppressed hundreds of millions.

Across all of these timelines, I like to think all of the Wobbles share a common core, a single soul. Sometimes, when we dream while sleeping, we may catch glimpses of our parallel selves, all leading their own lives in their own timelines. Anyway, just my belief. 😊

Sonya Blade is played by Bridgette Wilson-Sampras from Extreme Ops!

Lost Opportunities – Nope

No one knows what the future holds. It has infinite potential.

Looking back on what has passed, it’s easy to identify what appear like lost opportunities.  Jobs not taken, promotions not achieved, relationships not pursued.  If I only would have bought Tesla stock a decade ago, I’d be rich now.  Or if I would’ve studied X instead of Y.  Or moved to A instead of B.  The list is endless.

This kind of thinking is commonplace and entirely erroneous.  As I’ve mentioned before, I feel like I’ve honestly never made a mistake.  To that end, I don’t waste any time thinking about what might have been.  The past is exactly that:  The past. There are two parts to this:

Part 1:  Feeling good or bad about your current life stage is a transient, ephemeral feeling.  It’s impossible to hypothesize whether if things would be better or worse for the simple reason no one knows what might have actually happened.  Yes, maybe you bought Apple stock in the 80s and went on to be a billionaire.  But all of that money led to half a dozen divorces and a cocaine addiction and you ended up dead before 40.  There is no counterfactual to life.  What’s appears “good” now (like winning the lottery) may in a year’s time be a terrible curse– plenty of those stories abound.  Fake friends coming out of the woodwork to fleece you; relatives calling in; etc.  And on the flip-side:  What seems like “abject tragedy” now could somehow later be “the best thing that ever happened to you.”

Part 2:  One of my favorite scenes in The West Wing is sometime in S7 when Josh (or maybe it’s Santos?) is looking at the election map with Leo; they’re in the final stretch and trying to figure out what states to give up spending in, and where to bet the remainder of their campaign funds.  Santos says to Leo:  “Are you sure we want to do this?  It feels like we’re closing a lot of doors.”  And Leo replies:  “The best strategies always do.”

There’s no way to Monday-morning-quarterback life.  Like that scene in The Dark Knight Rises— sometimes you just need to climb the pit wall without the harness.  There’s a time for caution and a time to go all in.  Ray Dalio reflects similarly in his book, Principles, when he decided in the early days to close shop on Bridewater’s China expansion.  Though it was lucrative and possessed huge potential, Dalio just couldn’t wage war on so many fronts and so he gave up some potentially golden hens abroad in order to nurture others closer to home, here in America.  (In the end, I conject that things worked out fine for Ray.)

If you have any regrets with the life you’ve lived so far, don’t.  Regrets are dumb.  Focus on the present and future.  By ruminating on the past, you’ll just shoot yourself in the foot even more; actually missing opportunities in the here and now.  Now that’d be the true tragedy.

Today’s parting thought: For some reason, I am just absolutely amused to no end with the very notion of Tom Cruise somehow being The Last Samurai in the entirety of Japan. Another 2003 cinematic masterpiece, this one courtesy of Edward Zwick: This time around, the Samurai and Bushido culture, which has existed since the 12th century (that’s nine centuries (900 years) ago, for anyone who’s counting) somehow culminates with Tom “Mission: Impossible” Cruise as being the last warrior of an ancient caste that dates back nearly a millennium. That is honestly so genuinely great on so many levels. Truly, legit entertainment; fiction done right.

Michael Bay

Bad Boys II (2003) – Will Smith and Martin Lawrence go to town!

Ku Klux Klan members get a shellacking in this 2003 cinematic masterpiece by Michael Bay. I say with the utmost absolute sincerity possible that I am confident, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no other human being on planet earth has informed my own value system and moral foundation as much as has Michael Bay. Growing up in the nineties, Bay was everywhere. And ever since, to this day, he continues to be a constant fixture in my thought space, a cornerstone of my belief system and personal identity.

I missed the first Bad Boys (1995) and The Rock (1996) but every single Bay film since, starting with Armageddon in 1998, I’ve been there on opening weekend at the theater. I dragged my entire family to see Pearl Harbor in 2001, and was there for Bad Boys II in 2003. Yes, I even saw The Island (2005). In college, that summer I was staying in midtown New York with my buddies all working Wall Street internships; that’s right– we all went to Transformers (2007). I personally went twice.

When you watch a Michael Bay film, especially those early ones when Bruckheimer was still keeping him reined in, those movies represented everything I genuinely believed being a man meant. The difference between right and wrong. The humor and masculinity, the dedication and camaraderie, the spirit of sacrifice. Good lord, the sheer American patriotism. I dare you to find another film director who is as virtuosic as Bay is at putting on the big screen what it means to be an American. Oh, right. You can’t. That director doesn’t exist.

In today’s entry, I tip my hat to Michael Bay. Mr. Michael Benjamin Bay, I salute you. Everything I am today, my very moral and ethical foundations, I owe to you. Thank you.

Memories – Part I

Have never seen this version but its poster is so awesome I couldn’t resist.

Jane Austen (1775–1817) is responsible for two of my fondest memories in this long life I’ve led so far. The first memory, over a decade-old at this point, is when I lived in New York. Back then, I was in my twenties, single, making good money, and didn’t have a care in the world. Life was good. When I reflect on those years, that version of me definitely feels foreign, as if he was a completely different Wobble who I wouldn’t recognize today. Heck, I don’t even know if I’d befriend that person nowadays. That Wobble was conceited as hell and had enough confidence to power a medium-sized rocket ship. 🚀🚀🚀

Anyway, I was twenty-something and totally free on the weekends with no obligations whatsoever. No girlfriend (or even friends, really), no family, nothing. So I often spent my free time on weekends just wandering alone around New York City, roaming the streets. It was a blast and totally deserves its own post that I’ll probably write one day.

That particular weekend, I found my way to the The Morgan Library Museum on Madison Ave between East 36th and 37th St. There was a collection of Jane Austen’s letters that was on special exhibit which I wanted to check out! Since I worked at the bank back then, all employees got free passes to all of the major museums in the city. So entry was free, though I do remember getting the ol’ stink eye from the woman behind the counter when I presented my bank badge for my free ticket– we were then in the throes of the financial crisis and had just gotten bailed out by American taxpayers while everyone else on Main Street was losing their homes. Zuccotti Park had become ground zero for civil unrest. Ah, the memories…

Anyhow, I happily spent that entire afternoon reading Austen’s old letters. I honestly don’t remember much about the letters now, thinking back on the memory. But in my mind’s eye, when I think back on that afternoon (and maybe I’m inventing this, I have no way of knowing) but I remember some of the letters possessing a constant undercurrent of anxiety. Austen wrote about feeling alone and uncertain if her stories were any good. And wandered aloud if anyone else would ever think anything of them. Many of the letters, especially those to her sister, Cassandra, were just pedestrian though. Mundane, everyday affairs.

I wonder if one day archaeologists/anthropologists from the future will find this blog buried on some USB stick or server rack somewhere in a mountainside. Ha, that’s funny to think about. I was about to cue up Memory #2 but see that I’ve actually reached my word count for the day! So Memory #2 will need to wait for another 26 days. Tune in next time! That one’s definitely one of my favorites. 🙂

Intergalactic Expansion & Empire Building

Intergalactic expansion and empire building has been on my mind recently.  Over the weekend, I just finished reading Providence by Max Barry, the Australian author who also wrote one of my other favorite books that I read ages ago, Syrup.  A quick aside– on a very short list, Barry is definitely one of my favorite authors.  I consider him an “ideas guy”– sometimes his storytelling goes sideways, especially in his third acts, but Barry’s ideas in Jennifer Government, Lexicon, and Providence are all superb and set him apart.  At his best, he’s right up there with Robert Charles Wilson. (Spin by RCW is fantastic, by the way.  RCW’s other books, though, I’ve never liked enough to even finish.  But Spin is a legit tour de force.)

Anyway, reading Providence got me thinking: If humanity were to ever get off earth and escape our solar system to another one within our galaxy, it’d most likely be because we’d depleted all our earthy resources, right? Essentially, the human species had reached a point where we were consuming more than earth could replenish. (Which, I should note, given rapidly declining birth rates in all advanced, industrialized countries, is most definitely not a foregone conclusion.) But if it did happen, which resulted in humans flinging themselves across the far reaches of the cosmos, would that mean that humans –in aggregate as a species– are simply kind of like bacteria? We simply don’t want to die. So we’re going to try catapulting ourselves to somewhere else far-flung, reproduce and exploit all of the natural resources there, and then repeat the entire process all over again?

(A long-running trope in science-fiction, by the way, is that the wealthy and powerful flee earth one day leaving only the most impoverished and destitute here on whatever hollowed husk remains. It’s intriguing to ponder but I honestly don’t see the cookie crumbling that way. Space travel is just too risky and expensive. The rich people, my general take, will need to somehow figure out how to enjoy their end of days here on earth, which I argue is a good thing.)

Non-sequitur– Nation States! Max Barry developed this online game! Originally, as a PR stunt to promote Jennifer Government back in 2002 during his book launch. But then Nation States became its own bonafide hit! Barry is truly a brother from another mother. I’ve been contemplating this exact same idea for years now but Barry beat me by at least a decade! Social systems, government styles, political science, and group dynamics— that’s the good stuff.

PS. I also heap upon Mr. Barry my infinite gratitude for disabusing me of any romantic/naive notions I may have once harbored for running a massive online project like Nation States. I think I’m infinitely more enamored with the technical challenge of building a project like NS rather than actually dealing with the legion of randos that’d eventually/inevitably follow. I suspect Mr. Barry was too.

EVE Online

Fate & Destiny

Paperman (2012)

Hillary Clinton, to me, represents the very embodiment of fate and whatever higher powers that govern our universe, most clearly at work. IMHO, Clinton’s political career, a complete flaming train wreck of tragedy, unequivocally proves that God clearly exists. Clearly, humans do not control their own destinies.

How else can one explain the bizarre and totally bonkers election in November 2016? The wife of a celebrated President (well, maybe a little less celebrated now, but I remember the 90s… it was different then), a senator, and then the Secretary of State. Secretary of State! She has literally represented America on the world stage at the highest levels. And then ultimately losing to… Donald Trump? Seriously?

I genuinely believe, as long as you try your absolute best and have done everything you positively can, as long it’s fated to be, the universe will meet you halfway to make it happen.  And if it’s destined to not be, well, no matter how hard you try, no matter how determined you are, no matter how many sacrifices you make, it will simply not come to pass.  Period. If you think human will alone is sufficient, I suggest you look at Clinton’s life story. Give it a nice long read; it’s hefty. Aside from Michelle Kwan, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else work so much, try so hard, come so close, but then still ultimately fail in the end. Hillary Clinton was (and still is) the Ultimate Hufflepuff. And I honestly say that with the utmost admiration. I disagree with many of her positions, but I also consider myself a fellow Hufflepuff. And so I admire her grit and sheer doggedness, even (especially) in the face of complete and total abject failure.

Life is short and can sometimes be cruel. But I feel as long as we maintain a perspective that there are truly higher powers at work, pulling the strings in ways we cannot always (or even begin to) comprehend or understand, such a mentality will help console ourselves in bad times and stay humble in good ones. Hillary, you tried your best and I’m genuinely sorry it didn’t work out. For what it’s worth, I rooted for you.

“In the absence of light, darkness prevails.”

The Global Positioning System

GPS, aka The Global Positioning System, is now something we just take for granted. But its history is fascinating and worth 300 words today. First– GPS is owned by the United States government and operated by the US Space Force. Technically, it’s today a network of 33 satellites not in geosynchronous/geostationary orbit. At any given point in time, at least four satellites are visible from anywhere on earth.

The GPS project started at the US Department of Defense in 1973; the first prototype satellite launched in 1978; the first constellation of 24 satellites came online and operational in 1993.

Originally, GPS was solely meant to be used only by the US military but President Ronald Reagan authorized its civilian use via executive order sometime in the 1980s. It really only became truly useful to civilians starting on May 3, 2000 though when the US government disabled “Selective Availability” which had hitherto deliberately added errors (up to 100 meters) to GPS precision when civilians used it. Not good for Google Maps navigation, one can imagine.

Finally: It’s worth noting that the US government can selectively deny or degrade access to GPS to selective endpoints at the government’s discretion. For example, Uncle Sam did this in 1999 during the Kargil War to the Indian Army when India and Pakistan were fighting over the Line of Control in Kashmir.

Since foreign nation states understandably don’t want to forever be at the whim and mercy of America, they’ve also started launching their own GPS satellites in the past two decades. Russia developed GLONASS (which finally completed in 2011, but its origins actually date back to the USSR, 1976); China launched BeiDou in 2000; the EU’s GNSS (Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System) went live in 2016, India put NavIC into orbit in 2018; and Japan even contributed QZSS (“Michibiki”) –four additional satellites– that augmented in the American system in 2018. In 2023, Japan plans to launch seven additional satellites to create its own independent system.

Anyway, America did it first. And also: For anyone who wonders why a fourth of the federal budget goes to defense each year, this is one reason why. So America can be #1 and have nice things. Even if it means our citizens don’t get universal healthcare and the poorest among us are consigned to dying in the streets. At least we gave the world GPS.


Feeling good is important. That sentiment may seem banal and trite but for me, it was a lesson hard learned. When I was a younger man, all gasoline and no brakes as they say, emotions felt of little import. Sure, feeling happy or excited was useful. And feeling manic was definitely helpful towards being productive. But more than anything else, when I was younger, I was very much drawn towards action. No matter the circumstance, just knock off the next task on the list. Move, move, move.

As a young person, as long as you’re still on the rails of high school, then college, then work– this system works decently well. As long as you stay on those well-worn rails, you can generally cruise control through life with minimal thought. Study, graduate, make money, pay bills, repeat. Emotions never really entered the equation much anywhere.

But after getting derailed, I’ve come to realize that emotions actually do matter. They matter when you can’t just put everything on autopilot. When there’s no academic calendar or Dilbert-style office overlord driving your schedule, you’re suddenly on the hook for what to do next. And this individual freedom to decide “what’s next”— that really depends on feeling good, if you wish to be productive.

What I’ve come to learn after writing and publicly posting ~300 words every day is that writing is a kind of barometer for me about my mental and emotional state. It’s the proverbial canary in the coalmine. If the words come easily and flow– I’m in a good state. If I’m blocked, I’m apparently in a bad state or tired, even if I don’t feel bad or tired.

Related to this, by the way– the 85 percent rule! Tim Ferriss interviewed Hugh Jackman! (I absolutely love that episode and recommend it with every fiber of my being.) But basically: I’m at my best when I’m loose, operating at 85% capacity, and feeling good. That is my optimal state.

I’ve also come to learn that if you’re having trouble sleeping, writing the 300 words right before bed actually works quite well. It’s a good exercise that tires out those neurons.

Truly an Age of Wonder

Emoji Dick.  Man, I don’t even know where to start with this. On one hand, it is certainly a grand testament to the power of human imagination and the aggregate efforts of crowdsourcing.  Together, there is no obstacle too great, including Herman Melville, that we cannot surmount and overcome.  On the other hand, it is rare I discover something I so genuinely, sincerely consider useless.  Generally, I pride myself as an open-minded individual.  I consider it a strength that I can usually find merit in just about any project, human, or argument.

But good lord.  Emoji Dick– this one I really needed to stretch for– it’s a real reach.

I first discovered Emoji Dick on the a16z podcast hosted by Sonal Chokshi.  (For what it’s worth, by the way, Chokshi is excellent.  I curate my podcast playlist very carefully and have listened to many voices over the years.  The way she thinks about “insight per minute” and information density is the absolute best.  I really love listening to her interview and show run the a16z podcast.)

Anyway, emojis were something I had for the longest time never cared for.  I’d considered them childish and was enormously snobbish about them.  I consider myself “grammatically proper” and refuse to shop anywhere that doesn’t use “ten items or fewer” for its express checkout queue.  So much to my surprise, there’s an entire hidden political war in the world of emojis.  For example, as Chokshi raised in the episode– does Taiwan get an emoji flag?  For China, that was a no-go and would have huge implications on the Unicode standard (for in which there is a Unicode Emoji Subcommittee). And were there sexist implications of the “woman emoji with bunny ears?” And how would each vendor (Microsoft, Google, Apple, LG, Samsung, etc) choose to implement those Unicode emoji standards on their own platforms? It was a fraught and twisted web.

So fast forward to now and I’m wholly onboard.  The emoji ship has sailed.  I’ve decided to take life much less seriously (especially after meeting Bagel).  We only live this lifetime once… might as well use some emojis. 🚢👋🍰🚀

The Difference Between Dreamers & Doers

Dreams are a dime a dozen. The difference, of course, between Dreamers and Doers is execution. Dreamers jot down ideas by the truckloads in spiral-bound notebooks under the shade of bamboo shoots on beautiful autumn evenings. Dreamers are always imagining a better future from their comfortable, upholstered perch; they forever envision realms of the newly possible. A Doer is someone who starts in the same place but at some point grows so sufficiently frustrated, impatient, antsy, and restless that they simply need to act.

(At this point, it’s important to clarify: The need to act really isn’t so much a choice; but rather, it’s a compulsion. Not acting would be so unfathomably unbearable that non-action simply isn’t an option.)

From a thousand miles away, the vista is beautiful and breathtaking. But at the treeline, on the verge of that dark wood, it’s all terror.

Yet, guided by delusions of grandeur and fueled by unearned confidence, the Doer charges forth into the unknown. In the Doer’s mind, there is only conviction.

To some degree, a Doer is irresponsible. When a Doer embarks upon the Great Crusade it’s with only a vague notion of what the mission is. There is no exact plan, no precise blueprint. Instead, there exists only a foggy outline of what is to be accomplished. The Doer is equal parts daring and foolish, throwing caution to the wind in favor of action.

To be sure, plenty of Doers never make it to the other side. Hundreds of thousands fall somewhere in the great middle. That great expanse, the in-between, is littered with the corpses of millions who never make the distance. Some fall early; some fall late– but they are all casualties in making the attempt, felled chasing the green light.

A select few to make it to the other side. But then they still need to make it across the landmines. And survive the savage zombie wolves.

But is being torn viciously, in painstaking agony, limb from limb truly any worse than never having tried at all? Is it?

Fear & Discipline

Creating something new is always the easy part. It’s actually finishing the damned thing that is the challenge. I am especially guilty of this– enormously prone to begin half-a-dozen projects (day-trading, writing, data science) and finish/continue none of them. I’m not proud of it and this morning I’m going to take some time figuring out how to do better.

The root problem really isn’t difficult to grasp; put succinctly: I lack discipline. It’s natural to possess enormous enthusiasm at the beginning. A new idea or flight or fancy strikes you. And you’re off to the races, not sleeping or eating until you’ve finally If you examine my GitHub commit history, you’ll see that on most projects, the early days is when all of my commits happen. But then the weeks pass and that initial optimism wanes. Why?

Part of the problem is I’m drawn to novel challenges. When I examine my GitHub commit history, I see the times when I get a second wind on a long-gestating project is when I encounter a new technical challenge that requires new learning. For example, I recently received a new requirement for which I needed to learn BITFIELD and Sever-Sent Events. New stuff! Fun times! I was back to the races.

Instead of entirely being powered by novelty and love of learning and knowledge, the answer to my lack of discipline is fear, which I have found to be a particularly inspiring motivator. In particular: Bagel’s Wrath.

Over the years we’ve been together, she’s come to absolutely hate my undisciplined nature. She hates that I begin and never finish things and my very American, very accepting attitude of, “Fail fast and often; there is no shame!” She comes from a very different, “completest culture” that is very shame-driven. And so she’s developed a habit of randomly bursting into my man-cave to check up on me. If I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do (eg. programming), she will harangue me for about fifteen minutes and then whack me with an 18-inch long summer sausage that we keep in the refrigerator. The sausage is hard and cold; it hurts.

Of course, I’m still prone to distraction– like writing this blog post. But because of the Bagel Panopticon, I’m only allowed to indulge in my distractions when she’s either away at yoga class, shopping, or sleeping. So it’s really only under the cover of dark that I’m able to write these posts. The Eye of Bagel Sauron sleeps, but only barely.

Trump’s Master Plan

By December, nearly 300,000 Americans could die from Covid-19. That’s the latest possible projection that CNN is reporting (as of August 6). The good news is that number is significantly lower if we wear masks. The bad news is that there are still many holdouts who won’t.

A friend and I recently discussed how it was possible that America, planet earth’s richest country, is leading the world in coronavirus infections in deaths. So I dug into it and found this CNN report (June 30, 2020):

Continue reading “Trump’s Master Plan”

Wesley Morris

As part of my mission this month to write every day, part of this project has also entailed finding and discovering new writers whom I really like as well as further reading up on other writers that I’ve admired over the years. One writer in particular, whom I’ve followed and greatly respected from afar, is Wesley Morris– formerly of The Boston Globe and the 2012 Pulitzer Prize recipient in Criticism. Man, this guy can really write.

Morris first caught my eye back in 2011 with his piece, “Fast Forward”– a celebration of The Fast and Furious franchise. Morris wrote (emphasis, mine):

…the most progressive force in Hollywood today is the “Fast and Furious” movies. They’re loud, ludicrous, and visually incoherent. They’re also the last bunch of movies you’d expect to see in the same sentence as “incredibly important.” But they are—if only because they feature race as a fact of life as opposed to a social problem or an occasion for self-congratulation.

Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe (April 24, 2011)

In the piece, Morris cites F&F as “the most progressive force in American cinema.” Finally. I’d been saying that for years (well, maybe something more like “F&F is the (second) greatest cinematic achievement in the history of American filmmaking,” but close enough) so it was enormously satisfying to see an actual professional critic, someone who gets paid to have opinions and write, opine similar sentiments.

To Morris’s point, I honestly feel that there should be a sort of “Bechdel Test” for race in books or movies. (Edit: Oh wait. There is!) The Blind Side and 12 Years a Slave are great but to get past racism, we need to ultimately stop making such a big deal of racial differences. We need to all be more like Dom and the family in the F&F franchise. Others, like Joss Whedon and Morgan Freeman, have made similar points and I think they’re valid. The Utopian dream is in the future we no longer need to have “International Women’s Day” or “Black History Month.” When that glorious day at last arrives, then we’ll finally have achieved equality and moved into a post-race, post-sex society!

Morris has a number of other terrific pieces and I always enjoy his takes because they combine a sharp insight, rich vocabulary (I never fail to learn a new word when I read him), and penetrating horizontal intellect with mass commercial fare. Wesley Morris, my goal is to one day write like you!