God is everywhere

Atop Spencer Butte

This weekend I took a solo retreat down to Eugene.

I climbed to the top of Spencer Butte and did something I don't do usually do: I sat and looked.

I'm always so distracted taking pictures and texting my friends about the alleged majesty of it all that I don't even stop to look. When I did manage to pry my eyes up into the distance, what I saw was divine. It was God staring me in the face.

Not the Christian God or the Muslim God or the Jewish God or the Hindu God. Just God. The unknown. The mystery. That sense that there's more than we see.

I'm working to see God in more of what I do each day. To pause and notice the little magic working itself in everything.

That awe I feel when I look my partner in the eye.

The warmth of a meal among friends I haven't seen in a long time.

The way I feel when I pick up the phone to call someone I love and tell them that.

That feeling when you shut the laptop and decide life is too short to spend all of it twitching your fingers into a machine.

That. That's God.

I have to get ready

Which are the shoes that are perfect for any and all weather conditions and activities? When I find them, I'll finally go outside.

What is the perfect apartment to rent? That one apartment that balances cost, square footage, location, and amenities in a way that sparks the same romantic euphoria as the gaze of a new lover. It's a place where I'll store my hundred things, curated to spark joy, with not a touch of excess. It might take me decades to curate them, but once I do I'll start living.

Which backpack balances versatility, size, aesthetic, and function such that I can use it for travel, around town, my gym bag, and as a grocery sack? I'm not sure yet, but once I am I'll finally go on that trip.

What is the best way to brew a cup of coffee? What delicate ratio of beans and water and grind setting and water temperature and vessel and roast will achieve the proper setting for the perfect cup? Until I find it, I'm not interested in having you over for coffee. It's not ready yet.

Which car will excel both in the city and on the highway, will be great for going grocery shopping as much as climbing mountains off-road, and will double as a campervan in a pinch? If you have any leads, let me know because I'm not sure I want to go on any trips until I've found it.

How much money do I need before I start doing the things I want? That just-right amount that gives me a perfect annual income at a safe 4% annual withdrawal rate. Once I have it, I'll finally get to do everything I want.

But until then, I have to get ready.

Break things down

In software engineering, it's not technical prowess that most often prevents projects from being completed on time and within budget. It's lack of clarity.

If features and tasks aren't understood by all stakeholders, both in their content (the what) and purpose (the why), there's a risk those invalid assumptions become real code.

One habit I've developed in the course of my career is breaking things down. I'm not afraid to dissect and extract everything from a set of requirements until I'm confident I can execute their implementation with precision.

In practice, that means taking an epic feature specification, i.e. "As a payroll administrator I want to be able to view a payroll summary report" into all of its smallest divisible parts as separate tickets in your project management software:

  • I want to see a list of my employees
  • I want to see all of my employees take-home pay
  • I want to see my total payroll tax for the pay period
  • Et cetera

Managing multiple tickets for one feature might create a bit more project management work, but it enables team members to discuss each component of the feature separately and in-context.

Imagine if you hadn't broken down the original user story, and imagine you wrote the all of its requirements in a single ticket. If there's a question about more than one of the requirements (which, there will be), you're now forced to engage in a disjointed discussion thread about all of the questions all in one place. This is confusing and difficult to parse in the long-term.

By creating multiple tickets, you're able to have more contextual discussions about razor-thin specific topics. I can discuss what exactly it means to see "a list of my employees", and it won't be ambiguous which requirement I'm referencing because the discussion is contained within its own ticket.

This also enables you to track the progress toward completion more granularly. Instead of the "doneness" of the epic feature being represented as a binary state ("done" or "not done"), it can be represented fractionally (four out of nine tasks completed). This is powerful in representing progress to stakeholders because it ensures them you're making progress, even if some aspects of the feature are more effort-intensive than others.

The next time you're writing functional requirements, ask yourself whether there's a way you can break it down further. Your team will be more equipped to ask questions and you'll be more equipped to track progress.

What it's like to have a crippling fear of flying

People who know me closely know I have a crippling fear of flying. I've avoided boarding planes since 2009, and haven't flown since 2016.

In a nutshell, it really sucks. As somebody who is in awe at the engineering marvels of the modern age, the fact I cannot use the safest, fastest form of travel ever devised runs counter to my entire ethos. It feels inconsistent.

I've avoided going to see my family. I make excuses for why I can't come see my friends in other cities. I say I don't see the point in world travel. I do; I'm just terrified of it.

In the weeks preceding a scheduled flight, I'll become agitated and irritable day-to-day for seemingly no reason. I'll spend hours Googling flight fatality statistics. I'll envision the worst possible scenarios: Total engine failure, bird strikes, the wings falling off, whatever. It doesn't matter how far-fetched. It's going to happen to me. I know it.

I've had a full-blown panic attack right after getting on a plane and forcibly left the plane right on the runway. I've schemed how I'm going to secure a rental car to make my return flight.

When you have a phobia, no statistics about the safety of air travel can help. 1 in 7 million? I'm that 1. I could talk to the pilot and they could seem friendly, but that's probably because they're drunk. They're gonna kill us all.

I've tried hypnosis, meditation, therapy, books about air travel, exposure therapy, and positive visualization. I've read books and listened to seminars. Nothing has worked so far.

I'm planning a trip to see my family all the way in Florida. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time I'll learn to trust the process. I'll realize death is inevitable, and to live a safe life devoid of meaning is worse than death itself. The humble act of boarding the plane might reverse a decade of irrational behavior.

Just maybe.

If you're unsure, split the difference

Too often I'm tempted by the one of the two most extreme options when making a decision. When you have a goal, it's alluring to pursue it to the exclusion of everything else.

Want to become financially independent? Sell everything you own, live in a van, and save 80% of your income. Happiness and lifestyle in the present be damned.

Want to lose weight? Go on a no-carb diet, even though carbohydrates are necessary macronutrients.

Want to run a business? "Hustle" for 16-hour days and don't pay attention to your family or friends.

This kind of all-or-nothing thinking is, for whatever reason, incredibly attractive. But it's not realistic or possible. Instead, what if you split the difference?

Become financially independent in just 17 years without dramatically compromising your lifestyle by saving 50% of your income.

Lose weight by balancing a healthful, low-glycemic diet with regular exercise every day.

Build a business slowly and sustainably in your spare time, doing something you enjoy.

It takes longer, sure. But just what were you planning on doing afterwards, anyway?

Building a maintainable capsule wardrobe for men

When it comes to clothing, I favor timeless, well-crafted pieces over the cheap thrills of fast fashion and whatever's in style. I enjoy looking good because it helps me feel good. Often I've found myself resentful of replacing functional clothing with new clothing only to impress others, but impressing others can be a functional pursuit if it improves feelings of self-confidence and self-worth.

Being that I'm a frugality and resourcefulness fanatic, the idea of buying more clothes is burdensome and frought with indecision. I've therefore sought to codify a series of pieces that are well-constructed, timeless, and easily purchased online so I can replace them without hassle.

A capsule wardrobe is a method of curating a wardrobe according to staple garments that can be mixed and matched to produce several different outfits. Mine currently consists of approximately:

  • 10 pairs boxer briefs
  • 10 pairs socks
  • 2 pairs jeans
  • 2 pairs joggers
  • 10 tees of different colors
  • 4 button-down shirts of different weights and colors
  • 2 sweatshirts of different colors

Out of these, I can build numerous different outfit combinations. Because there's a stocklist of clothing to have on-hand, it's easy to re-stock garments whose appearance has degraded.

I have a few favorite brands and pieces that I've settled on as my current favorites for re-stocking. My criteria for them is that they are durable, comfortable, and that I feel attractive wearing them.

Unbranded Brand Raw Selvedge Jeans

I've owned a couple pairs of Iron Heart jeans and have been impressed with their quality, but my last pair developed holes in the crotch within a year of purchasing. Because of this, I decided to try other options, since Iron Heart jeans can run almost $300.

I did some research, and I found exactly what I was looking for. The Unbranded Brand makes 14.5oz selvedge denim jeans with no branding or embellishments, at a third of the price of Iron Hearts. I love their no-frills attitude, focusing on craftsmanship over style.

Everlane Tees

After American Apparel shuttered all of its stores, I scoured the web for a decent source for basic t-shirts at a reasonable price. So far, I've settled on Everlane. They've got a pretty wide variety of colors and cuts available, and their clothing is ethically sourced with a transparent supply chain.

I'm not entirely impressed with their durability, but that might be more the result of me washing and drying the shirts on regular cycles and more often than is necessary.

Merrell Shoes

I'm on my third pair of Merrells and have continued to be impressed with their well-compromised mix durability, style, and comfort. I just bought a pair of their Annex Trak Lows and so far they've been fantastic.

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.