Listen to others for fun and profit

By Tynan's recommendation, I downloaded Sebastian Marshall's ebook Ikigai. He poses that leading a meaningful life is a very different ambition from the all-too-commonly sought-after notion of "happiness". Too often, according to Marshall, we seek happiness as the pinnacle of human experience, without first considering its self-involved implications.

In Ikigai, Sebastian makes several reading recommendations, one of which I took immediately. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie, evidently, is a classic guide to human interpersonal relationships. Though the book is extensive and draws several practical points about successful interpersonal relationships by example, it all really boils down to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

What does that mean, exactly? The notion that we should treat others as we prefer to be treated is abstract and difficult to make actionable. We feel most valued, most respected, and most connected when our own interests are put first. So, in order to elicit that feeling in others, we need only put their concerns above ours.

I'm on a trip to Brooklyn this week and have been using my being surrounded by eight million strangers as fodder for my social engineering exploits. So far, my experiments have validated Carnegie's hypotheses swimmingly. I used to have a bad habit of interrupting others mid-sentence, of concocting a retort before my conversational companion had finished their thoughts. This week, I've focused on reversing that pattern.

On the plane ride here, I was seated next to a bearded fellow reading a book in Hebrew. I leaned over and asked if it was the Torah. He explained to me that it was actually the New Testament of the Bible. Interested, I prodded further, and he revealed to me that he was a creationist. Rather than condemn his beliefs as stifling progress and disrupting scientific education, I chose to listen. And, as I listened, I realized this man was actually more intelligent and more informed about science than I was. Even if I didn't leave the conversation convinced that his point of view was correct, I left it feeling humbled about my own.

I've made a point to ask more questions in place of my own rhetoric. People love to talk about themselves. And, if the foundation of our lives is other people, it follows that we should be fascinated and humbled by all of them one way or another. If you listen, you find that every single person you talk to has something valuable to say.

And that's exactly why I advocate this approach. It's one thing to be an altruist, but that's not in our nature. What is in our nature is to change behavior in order to obtain value. And, given that all value, whether economic, social, or political, is derived from other people, it follows that we want them to value our company. It's just a matter of cherishing theirs first.

My tiny living ebook is now available for free!

I've just put the finishing touches on Minify, my short ebook about my transition to living in a tiny RV, and am happy to announce that it's now available for free download. Some highlights:

  • Curate your possessions to a Few Wonderful Things.
  • Learn how living in a tiny house, apartment, or RV can save you thousands of dollars per year.
  • Make delicious, nutritious meals in your simple kitchen.
  • Enact simple principles to encourage tranquility in all aspects of your life.
  • Practical advice for those interested in minimalism, frugal living, and tiny living alike.

Head over to the book's website to grab your copy today: Minify: A 21st Century Guide to Living a Happier Life With Less

Tmux for Vim users

Tmux is a terminal multiplexer with a more elegant configuration and more powerful feature set than GNU Screen. Tmuxinator is a layout manager for tmux which makes managing complex tmux sessions easy. If you work on several projects at once like I do, Tmuxinator allows you to run several tmux session configurations at once, meaning switching contexts is as easy as typing a shell command. Tmux also allows full customization of its keyboard shortcuts, meaning if you're accustomed to Vim's keybindings, you can enable yourself to feel right at home. There are plenty of tmux tutorials online, so check those out for details about setting up your environment. Instead, I'd like to go over the contents of my `.tmux.conf` file so you're able to get comfortable in tmux quickly as a seasoned Vim user.

First, I set the tmux prefix key combination to Ctrl+A instead of the default Ctrl+B. This means that the prefix key combination can be pressed using only your left hand. And, if you remap your Caps Lock key to trigger Ctrl instead, both keys are right next to one another, making it easy to switch panes, create new ones, etc.

set -g prefix C-a

Next, I set the history limit to 100000 lines. This allows scrolling back as far as you'll ever need using Ctrl+A [.

set-option -g history-limit 100000

There are a couple settings that make Vim itself more pleasant to use inside of tmux. To ensure keyboard shortcuts inside Vim still work, we need to enable XTerm keybindings. And to be sure Vim's colors aren't distorted, we enable 256 color mode:

setw -g xterm-keys on
set-option -g default-terminal "screen-256color"

The default keybindings for splitting windows are poorly defined in the % key. To provide more memorable shortcuts, I've bound them to | and - for vertical and horizontal splits, respectively. This means you can press Ctrl+A | to split your current pane into two vertically, and Ctrl+A - to split it horizontally.

bind-key | split-window -h
bind-key - split-window

Next, to match Vim's / search, I enable the vi key mode.

setw -g mode-keys vi # I especially like being able to search with /,? when in copy-mode

One of my most commonly used Vim features is the Ctrl+W pane navigation commands. These allow easy navigation between all your visible editor panes. This behavior can be mimicked in tmux by binding the hjkl keys to the select-pane command:

unbind-key j
bind-key j select-pane -D

unbind-key k
bind-key k select-pane -U

unbind-key h
bind-key h select-pane -L

unbind-key l
bind-key l select-pane -R

Vim and Tmux are elegant tools on their own, but a veritable developer utopia when used together. I love my new terminal environment and can't wait to put it to work for me. Cheers!

Disable volume buttons on iOS using Activator

The other night, I stumbled while holding my iPad and knocked my volume-up button such that it now sticks, meaning the volume indicator is now stuck on-screen. Luckily, I devised a way to disable both volume buttons using the Cydia-based app Activator.

To enable this hack, you'll need a jailbroken iOS device, the latest version of Cydia, and to have the Activator app installed.

  1. Inside Activator, tap 'Anywhere'.
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the list to 'Volume Buttons'.
  3. Tap each item in the 'Volume Buttons' section and select 'Do Nothing'

Your volume indicator should disappear and you just saved yourself a trip to the Apple Store, or worse, the cost of a new iPad.

Random acts of aggression

Streets are public places for community building, free speech, and safe mobility.

The general consensus is that Portland is a relatively safe and tolerant city. Most of the time, my beliefs, appearance, and behavior are tolerated and accepted by most people. Either that or they're passive-aggressively keeping their mouths shut. Either way, altercations rarely arise, and when they do, they're resolved swiftly and peacefully.

On Sunday, May 27, 2012, at approximately 3:00 pm, my faith in those convictions was shattered as I looked the fender of a speeding red convertible in the eye, contemplating, if only for a fraction of a second, the possibility that my life might be cut short by an unmeditated act of aggression. I was (and still am) reluctant to make the details of this incident public for my own safety, but I cannot help but share a synopsis as a friendly reminder that such aggression can happen here, too.

As I approached an intersection by bicycle, two cars queued in the lane beside me, followed by a third. As soon as the signal turned green, I continued through. The motorist in the first car stopped in order to yield to my right of way before proceeding with her right turn. I continued approximately 200 feet, when I heard a loud bang from behind.

The third car, a red convertible, had rear-ended the second car. Instead of pulling off the street to exchange insurance information, the red convertible proceeded to swerve out of the right lane into the left lane, pass both the other cars back into the right lane, and aggressively run me off the road, his front bumper well into the bicycle lane. Did he believe it to be my fault he rear-ended another car? Did he just not have an insurance policy? What perverse cowardice could drive someone to such aggression?

The next day, as I was walking down the sidewalk on my way to the grocery store, a teenager yelled "Faggot!" out the window of his SUV as he sped by. Boy, he sure must have felt empowered, him and his big SUV and his homophobic slurs. I wish that poor, deprived, wandering soul the best of luck, because despite his bigoted demeanor, my own self-love and improvement-oriented attitude mean I'll live a happier, healthier life than the lowlife aggressor. While he digs outward, I dig inward.

Aggression is the outward reflection of a person's insecurities and fears. The aggressor sees something in his victim, whether it be social status, intellectual ability, self-confidence, or physical prowess, which he either lacks or believes he lacks. Instead of looking inward and asking how he can possess the qualities of his victim, he chooses to belittle his victim's weaknesses. So, the next time you're a victim of aggression or bullying, just remember that it just means your aggressor is probably wrought with insecurity and misery because your stride is just that much better than his. Just don't get run over in the process.

What I've learned after three months living tiny

Cozy corner in my RV

It's been about three months since my girlfriend and I trekked to Beaverton by bus to pick up the RV that I now call home. Since then, I've gone on a wild two-week roadtrip in my own house, transformed a modest RV interior into a luxurious palace on wheels, and learned so much about how to make the most of 100 square feet.

  1. When you live in a tiny space, clutter's effects are amplified. When I lived in my loft apartment, weeks would go by without giving the place a good decluttering. Bottles and cans from parties weeks ago would remain on my giant countertop. If I ate popcorn the night before, you'd likely find the remnants in my giant bowl sitting on my coffee table. In the RV, most surfaces serve many purposes, so there simply isn't room for clutter. I do my dishes within a day because I only have one plate. Everything has its right place, and if it doesn't, its misplacement will reveal itself as soon as I try to drive my house away and need to find a place to stow it.
  2. When resources are limited, you curb your usage subconsciously. My RV holds 20 gallons of fresh water and 19 gallons of waste, which is just enough to live one week comfortably before going to the dump station. Because of this inconvenience, I find myself turning off the faucet to conserve water more than I did in a brick-and-mortar home. It's amusing how barbaric and selfish we actually are when it comes to conservation, but I'll admit it took knowing my own supply is limited before I'd make a concerted effort in curbing my usage.
  3. My life is generally richer and more experience-driven. When you live in 100 square feet, you're not occupied with the temptation to buy a new, swanky piece of furniture. Since I moved into the RV, I've found myself more eager to leave the house to explore, since I've stripped my house of frivolty and responsibility. No space for a couch means I'm less likely to vegetate during the daytime.
  4. A small space is dirt cheap to maintain! When I lived in my loft apartment, I was paying $1239/mo in rent, between $20-$100 in electricity per month (it had electric forced air heat), and varying amounts in water and sewer usage. In the RV, my monthly expenses are $100/mo for my parking spot, about $25/mo for electricity, about $10/mo for propane, and $40/mo for waste disposal. That puts my monthly base living expenses at $175!
  5. A small space is cozy. My RV is just a downright pleasant place to be. Most people assume because I have such a small space that I'm not comfortable. I think the opposite is true. My walls are closer together. Rather than the cold, vast cavern my loft often felt like, my RV feels like a small, warm cocoon.

Okay, so you're probably thinking there must be some serious drawbacks to tiny living. "Don't you wish you had more room once in awhile?" "Doesn't living in your car get old?" "Don't you wish you had a shower in your house?" Sometimes these thoughts enter my mind. But in all honesty, the feeling of self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, and ingenuity I derive from this lifestyle far outweigh the drawbacks. Quite frankly, I'm happier than I've ever been.

If you're interested in tiny living in an RV but don't know how to get started, drop me a line! teejay.vanslyke+rv@gmail.com

Using HTML data attributes to elegantly create Mixpanel trackers

I've been using Mixpanel to track user behavior on one of my projects, and sought a more elegant way to track link clicks than the track_links method the standard API provides. Instead, I'd like to be able to specify the tracker's name and properties as HTML attributes.

Simply paste this snippet into your document ready block to get started: Using data attributes to elegantly create Mixpanel trackers

Then, on any links you'd like to track, simply provide the data-mixpanel-tracker attribute:

<a href="/moon" data-mixpanel-tracker="he chose to go to the moon">Go to the Moon!</a>

Specify custom properties in JSON using the data-mixpanel-properties attribute:

<a href="/moon" data-mixpanel-tracker="he chose to go to the moon" data-mixpanel-properties="{agency: 'nasa', mission: 'apollo 13'}">Go to the Moon!</a>

This snippet will automatically redirect the user to the link's href after 300ms, so no need to worry if the Mixpanel request failed. Happy tracking!

A holistic approach to happiness

My homemade salad in a tiffin

March was a turbulent month for my body and mind. I had just terminated the lease on my apartment in Portland and was in the process of moving into a tiny RV. Every day was rendered more burdensome by persistent rain, gloomy skies, and an unnerving sense that the rabbit hole of my anguish would burrow ever-deeper.

And so, I set out on the open road in a blaze of escapist glory, thinking I was destined to find happiness outside myself. At first, the distraction of the road combined with the glimmer of sunshine provided me with the fulfillment I so craved. But, as with all stints of pleasure, it was short-lived and transient.

When I returned to Portland, I sought to properly investigate the source of my anguish. Why did I find myself in a constant state of yearning and escapism? It wasn't my friends, nor my surroundings, nor the weather, nor my work. I had tailored each of those to my liking--moreso than for most people have the opportunity or will. If none of those things, then what?

Fast-forward to this weekend. Within a 24-hour span, I discovered a film and a book, the likes of which would change my life. The film is the recently released, critically-acclaimed Forks Over Knives. In it, the documentarian examines The China Study, the famed 2004 book examining the relationship between the consumption of animal products and illness, in the context of the Western diet.

I was well-aware my diet wasn't optimal, but I knew my attentiveness toward what I put in my gullet was more than most Americans, so I thought little of it. But when I realized that certain foods, in adequate daily quantities, could reverse diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and coronary artery disease, I was astonished and sought to completely revamp my diet to meet and exceed those criteria.

Forks Over Knives evangelizes a strict vegan diet and claims meat, dairy, and even fish are not necessary for, and often detrimental to, a healthy, disease-preventitive diet. Being a curious little bugger, I never let one driver steer me down the street. After all, veganism is generally regarded as a veritable tightrope walk to get adequate levels of B vitamins, and essential amino acids. Dr. Terry Wahls, a now-recovering multiple sclerosis patient, gave a TED talk detailing the diet she used to kickstart her brain and find her way out of a wheelchair and walking again.

Now, rather than eating out for two or more meals per day, I go to the grocery store shortly after waking up each morning, buy a bunch of dark leafy greens, one colored vegetable, one bunch of herbs, two pieces of fruit, and a bag of seeds or nuts of my choosing. All of this becomes the basis for two heaping servings of raw salad. You probably think I'm malnourished, but I've never felt so alert and alive. My craving for "mood enhancers" like caffeine, alcohol and cannabis have diminished substantially, almost to the point where I find their use to yield a net negative effect.

Okay, so I've got my body on the path to proper nourishment. On to my spirit...

Enter The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle. Typically I don't gravitate toward mainstream bestsellers as the source for great inspiration, but there are always exceptions. This is a big one. Tolle has re-taught me the duality of being and self, a distinction I hadn't forgotten but one I had certainly neglected in my daily life. Whenever I find myself becoming anxious, fearful, or stressed, I focus my attention to the beauty of the moment I'm living. After all, the past and future only exist as recollections and projections in our minds.

This led to another realization, the likes of which Tolle couldn't have discussed in his 1999 book but stares me straight in the face in our twenty-first century age. If past and future are mere products of ego, if self and identity are ailments of our own making, then what does social media represent in that context? The ultimate manifestation of our egos in digital form? Are all the texts, tweets, status updates, and constant social noise causing us anxiety of which we're hardly aware? Does the comment I receive on my Facebook post, pushed straight to my phone and ready for my consumption the instant it is published, the most iconic example of non-presence, non-attentiveness, and unconscious living imaginable?

tl;dr Eat your fucking vegetables and be here now.

Affluence, transience and identity

I've been living out of my tiny RV for two months. My comfort level with the arrangement is growing steadily, to the point where I almost always get a good night's sleep in my vehicle. But there's still a nagging uncertainty amidst my gratification that I'll be caught and prosecuted for my behavior, the likes of which bears no harm upon others and has less of an environmental impact than a normal, modern living arrangement.

When I was in San Luis Obispo, I decided that its downtown core was much too alluring to spend my time driving between it and a campground on the outskirts of town. And so, despite its illegality, I spent the night in my RV parked on the street beside a law firm. I made sure my presence wouldn't upset anyone and kept my profile low. I awoke peacefully and didn't have any issues.

The next morning over coffee, I executed a quick web search for "RV parking in San Luis Obispo" and came across this article. Turns out, SLO has enacted an ordinance banning RV camping from their streets in an effort to combat vagrantism and the drugs and violence that come with it. Yet another instance of combating a problem by enacting more laws, rather than approaching it with discretion and common sense.

And so, I had three options. I could continue to spend my nights on city streets and risk being harassed by the police, I could find a campground on the outskirts of SLO and pay $45/night for 100 square feet of cement in an area with no amenities or attractions, or I could realize how unwelcome I felt and head home. I headed home.

Here in Portland, we're constantly at odds with how to deal with homelessness and vagrantism. Our downtown core is littered with their trash and our shelters have lines longer than swanky brunch cafes on a late Sunday morning. And yet, we continue to uphold laws prohibiting camping on public grounds and ordinances prohibiting long-term camping on private lots. In my short experience as a vagabond, my most striking observation was that my ability to be productive was drastically reduced when faced with the question of where I would sleep that night.

Now that I'm back in Portland and sitting pretty in my girlfriend's driveway while contributing my share of rent each month, I'm reminded that I'm still living an illegal lifestyle. Because of zoning ordinances in our city and most others, I've effectively erected a second domicile in a lot zoned for single-family occupancy, which if used regularly, constitutes a zoning violation. Luckily, I've got a laundry list of alibis if the city asks any questions. "This is my mobile office and I live in the house with my girlfriend" is what I'm sticking with for now. But the fact that I even have to consider having an alibi for completely harmless behavior (and in a time of increasing rent fees, one solution to the affordable housing problem) makes me cringe. Why should it be illegal for me to occupy a perfectly suitable dwelling on private property?

My RV lifestyle has granted me new perspective on homelessness and vagrantism. Despite my affluence and ability to get a hotel room or rent a house at a moment's notice, my reluctance to do those things means I face many of the same problems and vulnerabilities. I seek to live a happy, peaceful existence and have chosen minimalism as my path. It's too bad it's illegal for me to do so.

Bay Area Exploits

Rialta on the street in San Jose

It's amusing to observe the patterns of my anxiety, as correlated with the weather and scenery. Portland's climate generally leaves me feeling depressed and wanting more. Its urban landscape is as near to perfect as an American city can be, but it might edge too far into the category of "major metropolitan area" for me to maintain a consistent semblance of sanity.

Monterey's cool, sunny climate combined with its seemingly lacksidasical seafaring populous made it a damn near perfect place to reset my head. And now, being thrusted back into another major metropolitan area, I'm reminded why I left in the first place.

Every California city is comprised of equal parts slums, picket fences, and ugly car-oriented commercialism. Even Berkeley, a haven for progressivism, is a congested beheamoth of a place. Don't get me wrong: Californian urbanites are generally lovely people. It's just that the car-oriented, sprawling nature of their urban areas propagates a unique brand of California aggression. Everyone here is in a hurry to get somewhere, and when they're done being somewhere, they're in a hurry to get somewhere else. It's as if someone put blinders on their car windshields and they're living oblivious to the fact they live in the most beautiful place on earth. Or it's because one look out their car windshields means another In-N-Out Burger, strip mall, or traffic interchange.

If there were a brand name for this perpetual state of rushedness and instant gratification, it would be dubbed San Jose™. In less than 24 hours, I've witnessed a man in a Lexus blast his horn at a woman walking in a parking lot as if his weekend might be ruined if not for his on-time arrival at the local BevMo!. I've counted the BMW's, the Lexuses (Lexi?), the Mercedes-Benz's, and the sad, balding men who drive them.

If there's one thing I've re-learned in my travels, it's that the most vital ingredient to happiness is what I like to call experiential diversity. Nostalgic thoughts act as natural antidepressants. Marketers convince you that their product or service will make you feel at home or bear resemblance to "the good old days." They're just targeting the same part of the brain stimulated the first night home after a peaceful vacation or the moment two loved ones are reconnected at the airport. What advertising and commercialism does not grant us is sustained diversity in experiences, thoughts, and ideas. If our hunter-gatherer roots aren't indicative enough of humankind's tendency toward exploration and conquest, then the blood-soaked founding of the United States should be. Denying our primal need to explore is to deny our humanity.

Never let the people on television, in your computer, on billboards, or on the radio persuade you their way is the right way. It's a certainty they're trying to take your money, and it's a near certainty that they feel the same longing and entrapment as you do when you listen to them. I've found a new kind of fulfillment, and it comes from within.