When ideas become second nature

When I was young, I read books and articles with ideas about how to be effective. I had gracious mentors and teachers who gave me insights from their experiences which I could apply into my own life.

And I did. I read David Allen's Getting Things Done and now keep all my tasks organized in OmniFocus. Because I enter tasks from my phone and review them weekly, I never worry about forgetting something.

I read Tim Ferriss's 4 Hour Workweek and now recognize how to apply the Pareto principle to accomplish more in less time by eliminating the trivial in favor of the critical.

My mentor Patrick introduced me to the agile software development methodology. Now I don't even think twice when I organize my client projects into user stories and allow the product owner to prioritize their implementation.

Merlin Mann's talk Inbox Zero at Google in 2007 led me to keep my email inbox empty ever since.

After reading Vicki Robin's Your Money or Your Life, I learned the importance of tracking every penny that comes into or goes out of my life. It's become a keystone habit for improving my finances.

These ideas are simple to understand, but can take years of conditioning and practice to become habits. When I first heard these ideas, I would parrot them as the holy dogma of how to be effective. But years on, I realize they're merely lanterns lighting the way. You still have to walk the path.

Who the hell am I?

I think I know better than other people and I want them to know that.

I pontificate about political theory as if it were real life. It's not. It's theory.

I tell you which foods are healthy and which are not. Does anyone really know anything about nutrition at all?

I make judgments about others based on appearance.

I give advice when none was solicited.

Who am I to assume the role of CEO of the world?

Who am I to assume I know better?

Who the hell am I?

How I prepare coffee at home

I love coffee, and living in the Pacific Northwest means I drink a lot of it. Over the years I've perfected my home brewing methods and love the ritual of making a delicious cup each morning. Although there are plenty of tutorials on how to make a great cup of coffee, I thought I'd share with you how I like to make mine. (Photo below is my home coffee bar.)

My home coffee bar

My favorite beans

Coffee sourced from Ethiopia tends to be my favorite. Ethiopian coffees tend to be fruitier and brighter than other coffees. To me, they have the most pronounced flavor profile. Of course, that's a personal preference and I encourage you to find the beans you like.

Here in Portland, we're spoiled with amazing coffee roasters all over town. My favorite roasters are Heart and Coava.

Coffee for one: Aeropress

The Aeropress is my favorite way to brew a single cup of coffee. Because of its unique vacuum brew method, it's fast and easy to clean up afterwards.

To start, I weigh out 16g of beans and dump them in the hopper of my Barazta Encore grinder. I use a fine-medium grind at approximately the '10' setting on the Encore grinder.

Then, I heat 500ml water to a boil. While it's boiling, I place the Aeropress base atop a plain white mug I bought for a dollar at a thrift store in Eugene a couple years back.

Once the water is heated, I flip the switch on the grinder and pour a splash of hot water into the Aeropress to heat the mug. This is important to make sure your coffee maintains temperature as soon as it hits your mug!

Once the coffee is ground, I turn off the grinder, dump the water in the mug down the sink, and dump the ground coffee into the Aeropress. I fill the Aeropress to the '4' line with water, gently agitating the grounds. Then, I use the Aeropress stirrer to stir the mixture gently for about 10 seconds.

Once the mixture is stirred, I wedge the Aeropress plunger inside the base, and pull up to create suction so the coffee stays in the Aeropress for the duration of the brew. I have a timer preset to 1m30s on my coffee bar so I can press the 'Start' button without setting the timer.

After 1m30s have passed, I plunge the plunger and force the sweet, sweet coffee nectar into the mug.

Coffee for two: Chemex

When my girlfriend is staying over, I like to jolt out of bed and prepare us a batch of coffee from my Chemex.

First, I weigh out 42g of beans and dump them in the grinder hopper. I use a medium grind at approximately the '15' setting on the Encore grinder.

Then, I heat a full gooseneck kettle of water. While it's boiling, I place the Chemex on top of my kitchen scale (I use the Jennings CJ-4000) with a square Chemex paper filter opened and the "folded" side toward the spout.

After the water is heated, I pour boiling water all over the filter. This both removes the papery taste from the filter, as well as heats the Chemex to provide a better brew. In addition, I also pour a splash of water in our two mugs to heat them as well.

Once the water has found its way through the filter and into the base of the Chemex, I turn on the grinder and dump the water in the sink.

After pouring the ground coffee into the now-wet paper filter, I begin the bloom process. I slowly pour water from the outside of the grounds inward in concentric circles, trying to only hit the dry grounds with the stream of water. Once I've poured about 100g of water into the Chemex, I pause to let the coffee "bloom". After a few seconds, I stir the mixture carefully with a spoon.

Finally, I continue pouring water in, trying to hit the darkest spots with the stream. If there are no dark spots, I usually aim for the center, letting the Chemex fill until I've poured 700g of water. Once I have, I turn off the scale and let the brew run its course.

After the dripping has stopped, I dump the used filter, swirl the coffee a bit to make sure it's even, and pour it evenly into each mug. The 42g grounds to 700g water ratio should yield about two mugs of coffee.

I hope this inspires you to prepare your own delicious cup of coffee at home!

Why I'm not on social media

I've been on and off social media sites for years. With Facebook's selling users' data to nefarious third parties and fake news bots infiltrating online communities to sway opinions, I'm proud to say I'm social media free in 2019.

When I was on Instagram, I often felt like my life didn't measure up. I'd see posts by people with (allegedly) more chiseled bodies, accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers run by 20 year olds, and ads convincing me my life wasn't up to par.

I feel sometimes like I'm missing out—specifically on events to which I'd only be invited on Facebook. But I'm not sure the prospect of having billions of opinions injected into my brain day after day is worth the few more parties I could attend.

I do feel out of touch because I'm not participating, but to me that's a good thing. It means I have to go out and hunt for meaning. That I can bask in the comfort of knowing the world is more complex than can be expressed in 140 (280?) characters.

I've never quantified it, but I bet there's a positive correlation between social media use and insecurity. There's definitely a positive correlation between insecurity and unnecessary spending. So maybe I'm richer for it, too.

It's a tired cliche by now, but if you're not paying for something, then you're probably the product.

2018 year in review

I'm a few days late writing this, but I wanted to chronicle some of what I've done, what I've learned, who I've met, and how I plan to spend 2019.

I learned a ton about yoga and my body. Although I feel like I exhausted the "self-help" portion of the yoga practice, the physical movements have followed me into the rest of my life, aiding in my balance and overall physical strength.

To begin a new chapter in my fitness journey, I started a new fitness program called Academy at my friend Mike's gym, Eastside Strength & Performance. His emphasis is on teaching how to answer your own questions during your training, which I really appreciate. If you're in the Portland area I can't recommend Mike's approach to fitness enough.

I continued working on Formbot, my HTML-form-submission-to-Slack app. It's technically profitable, but definitely not enough to quit consulting. If you love building static sites but always cringe when you need to set up a web service specifically to drive your contact form, Formbot might be for you.

The thought of buying a house soon continues to enter my brain, but I just can't make the numbers work. Portland's price-to-rent ratio is almost 30, meaning it's actually a renter's market (versus buying a house). Plus I'm not really sure I want to own a house in the first place.

Being that somehow Portland didn't have a FIRE (Financially Independent, Retired Early) meetup on Meetup.com, I took the liberty of starting one. Portland FIRE has grown to over 100 members!

In 2019, I want to write more. I've found that I'm often discouraged writing and publishing things here because I judge myself too critically. Instead of judging myself so harshly, I want to throw things against the wall and see if they stick. That's been my modus operandi for decades. Why stop now?

Is work a virtue?

Yesterday I came across Bertrand Russell's essay In Praise of Idleness in which he persuades the reader that the idea work is virtuous and is an end in itself is a fabrication by powerful people who want convince others to do work for them and maintain their power.

Having grown up in a family that prided itself on hard work and in a society that praises the sacrifice and dedication of those who rose to great success and fame, it's difficult to see outside the prevailing cultural narrative that work is a virtue and ought be encouraged no matter the cost.

"Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do"—this sounds reasonable, doesn't it? I know from my own experience that, when presented with nothing to do, I tend to gravitate toward my vices. But is this a symptom of idleness, or of our cultural discomfort with the idea of not working? Is the tendency in idleness toward self-destructive behaviors like drinking, indiscriminate sex, or gambling actually a manifestation of our shame and guilt surrounding our prevalent cultural narrative that work is good, and if we're not doing it, we're bad?

For me personally, it's been a struggle to see that doing work for work's sake is not virtuous. It is not a virtue to toil for a cause you don't believe in for sake of a higher "standard of living", if your current living standard is satisfactory. I'd enjoy the security of financial independence and that's the main reason I work as much as I do, but at the same time, spending all of one's time in pursuit of a secure tomorrow discounts the beauty and spontaneity available only in the present moment.

This isn't to say that the causes one advances through work are not virtuous. But if the same causes, through technological per-capita productivity increases, can be advanced at the same rate with less work, how is it virtuous to continue working at the same pace? Isn't our eventual goal in productivity increases to permit everyone to have abundant leisure time? Why have we instead decided work ought fill a specified amount of our day, instead of a specified quota of productive output?

Analysis is not action

Have you ever spent a whole day trying to make a decision?

We all sometimes suffer from "analysis paralysis", right? That nagging feeling that we're not doing the so-called right thing. The idea that if we choose to open one door, all the others will be locked forever. Opportunity cost.

And that's true... to a point. We cannot do everything. And our decisions do matter. But sometimes our inability to make decisions quickly hurt us even more.

Perhaps then it could be said that it is wise to carefully consider big decisions, but wiser still to set limits on the duration of your analysis.

When you choose wrong, it hurts. But when you don't choose at all, you don't grow.

I sold all my self help books

When I woke up this morning, I glanced at my bookshelf. Almost every book was a book about how to be happier, how to be healthier, how to love myself, how to love someone else, how to have sex, how to be more emotionally stable, how to be more productive, how to stop being depressed, how to get rich, how to stay rich, and how to find God.

But then I decided I'm happy enough. I'm healthy enough. I love myself plenty. I love my friends, family, and partner a ton. I'm decent in bed, I think. Sometimes I'm a bit of a handful, but I'd say I'm pretty darn emotionally aware. I'm definitely productive. Sometimes people get depressed, and I'm a person, so I'll probably get depressed again. I'm getting rich my own way, and it'll stay that way. Or it won't; I don't know. And God is the beauty in everything and everyone. I see it. Right. There.

Archival as art

I've been making art and music since I was a child.

Because of the portability of digital media, I've managed to keep most of that work, transferring it from hard drive to hard drive over the years. I've always intended on sharing it with the world, but could never find the courage or perseverance to build a platform suitable for housing all of it.

I wanted a platform where I could tell a story. Where I could share the most intimate details of where I was when I recorded a song or made a video or sketch. These details are what make art meaningful; they turn my somewhat benign and technically unimpressive works into a part of a person's life worth thinking about.

That's why I built my new original art & music platform, art.teejayvanslyke.com. On it, I'm working to archive, chronologize, and annotate every last shred of my creative output from my life, as a sort of meta artwork. It's an effort that's more personally motivated than motivated by the idea that you or someone else might become captivated by my story. But I do hope that it inspires you to be unapologetically creative in your own life, to share your sacred self-expression, and to harness the power of your own godliness.

10 things I'm grateful for in 2018

  1. My friends. I returned to Portland after stints in both Seattle and Eugene, mainly to be closer to my friends during what was a rough period of last year. I've been humbled by the incredible support my friend have offered me this year and hope I've been as emotionally available to them as they have to me.
  2. My apartment. When I sought to return to Portland, I knew the housing market was crazy. Amidst the emotional turmoil surrounding a recent breakup, I did my best to find a new place to call home. Luckily I found a great fourth-story apartment in a newer building for below market rate. It's perfect for me in that it's minimal, has bicycle parking, in a great location, and quiet. I really lucked out.
  3. My brain. I can't offer enough gratitude for having been born with the brain I have. For whatever reason, I was blessed with the right biological makeup to navigate our insane modern world. Had I been born two hundred years earlier I don't think I would have made it. Sure, my brain is also responsible for causing some existential dread, but it's also helped me to where I am now. Thanks, brain.
  4. Yoga. To help curb the existential dread that comes with a brain that tends to think too much, there's yoga. I've practiced yoga in the past, but always found myself falling out of the habit. After several months of practicing several times per week, I can attest to its benefit in helping calm my mind's chatter.
  5. My bicycle. Any time I'm feeling down and out, a quick ride to the park or to the cafe seems to quell whatever's ailing me. My current bicycle is a Surly with an eight-speed internal hub and a Brooks saddle. I've never enjoyed riding a bicycle as much as I enjoy riding this one, and I treat it like a baby.
  6. My family. My family has been there for me through everything. They were there to care for my cat when I foolishly sent my ex-girlfriend across the country with him. They were there for the fallout from the 2016 election... enough said. They were there when I moved back to Portland and they're always there when I need someone to talk to. I'm forever grateful for their continued generosity and open-heartedness.
  7. A newfound sense of optimism. I think that in our increasingly secularized world, our faith has eroded and been replaced with skepticism. Being skeptical is practical, but only as long as it's productive. To me, optimism is believing everything will be okay, even if you don't have the evidence to prove it.
  8. The inventiveness of those who came before us. It's so easy to forget that even a modest modern lifestyle is more luxurious than that of kings a hundred years ago. We've eradicated so much suffering through technological advances and we take it for granted every time we flip a light switch or flush the toilet.
  9. Those who put their lives at risk to help others. The other day I asked myself how I would react if I were tasked with risking my life to save someone else's. I've never been much of a hero and I'm not confident in my bravery given a dire circumstance. I'm thankful there are people who are.
  10. Time. I'm most grateful for the time I'm afforded each day to live according to my own schedule, to pursue the things I want to pursue, and to live the life I want to live. Not everyone gets this much time. When I'm feeling boredom, I breathe and remember how lucky I am.