Clothing received!

boxes of clothing

Last week, two giant boxes showed up

on my doorstep near Seattle, Washington. They were bursting with clothing.

Not only were there bomber jackets - there were about 200 neckties and bow ties that Alexander had squeezed in. 

colorful ties

Considering that each piece is hand cut and hand sewn, the quality of the garments is incredible. I went over each piece with a lint roller to take of the spare threads, but other than that, I was happy with the quality. Each button was covered with fabric, providing a soft surface. The metal tags gave everything a touch of luxury, as I had hoped.

jackets on coatrack

The one thing that I noticed that needed to be fixed was the button holes. I called Alexander and asked if he owned a buttonholer. He told me he didn't. Thankfully, I have one, and I had just ordered a ton of thread in every color of the rainbow (impulse purchase on Amazon). I'm going to devote this weekend to sewing a perfect button hole on each jacket that needs one.  


Note: this part is a series about my experiences starting a fashion import business. Want buy some gorgeous African clothing (and at the same time, help save Rwanda's national parks?) The store is online at

You can help by following us on instagramtwitter, and all other social media as @umudozi. 

I travelled to Rwanda...and started a business?!?

Travelling to Rwanda was mostly my Mom's idea. My brother has been living there since last summer, so I agreed to take her for a trip there to visit him this February. 

My brother, by the way, has a blog about his time there over at

Micah has made a lot of friends there through his work and his church (and also just because he's just a super nice guy, not a misanthropist like myself), and he introduced us to his host family and his neighbors. Rwandans LOVE making speeches. If you go to a Rwandan dinner, be prepared to listen to a lot of speeches. It's probably much healthier than what we do in the U.S. - wait until somebody dies until we say nice things about them. 

View of Kigali


The weather, also, is perfect. We stayed in a guest house in Kigali, and every morning we were woken up by the birds singing to the sunrise. There are so many birds! 

Micah's neighbor's brother was getting married, and we were invited to the wedding. I was psyched, but I hadn't brought appropriate clothes for a wedding. That meant that we had to take a trip to the market so that I could get a beautifully tailored outfit in colorful kitenge cloth.

We ended up going to 2 of Kigali's biggest markets and spending most of the day shopping.

Kimironko Market is an indoor market with so many stalls and things for sale and people trying to sell me things. It was overwhelming. The colors and patterns of the many fabrics were dizzying. 

I expressed interest in buying a jacket, and was immediately flocked by vendors of all ages. They handed me binders with laminated photos of different styled clothes to leaf through. In the back, smiling calmly, was a young man wearing a colorful hat and shorts. He held up a long jacket on a pole. "Do you like this?" He asked. "Ooh, yes!" 

"Try it on," he said. I tried it on and immediately wanted it. It fit perfectly. "I can make you a jacket like this if you pick out the fabric, but you can't have this one. This is my floor model." 

"How much is this one?" I asked. We went back and forth. I ended up buying two jackets from him, including the floor model. He measured me for the second jacket, and agreed to deliver it to the guest house where I was staying if I sent him the address on instagram. 

Later that evening I remembered to send Alexander my address via instagram. I leafed through his photos. Each one had a photo of a different customer and their outfit. The outfits were unique. They were fresh, fun. 

Alexander came to my house two days later to deliver my blazer. It had shoulder pads, pockets that actually worked, and the fabric that I had picked out was stunning. The placement of the design on the sleeves and pockets was perfection. 

Me and Alexander

He sat and we chatted for a bit (in Rwanda, it's traditional to offer guests a drink before doing anything else). He told me about his stall in the market, how he wanted to study business, and how he had gone to the Peace Corps' camp for gifted boys. I asked if he was exporting his clothes anywhere. He said that one of his friend’s moms, who lives in Tennessee, had bought some things to sell and was sending him the proceeds. 

I asked him if he’d be interested in starting a business with me. I only had a few days left for my visit, but we agreed to meet on Sunday. I traveled on the back of a moto by myself across the city to meet him at the coffee shop. We drank iced coffee and picked at some french fries, and he showed me his best samples. I told him what I wanted, and he told me that he would sew it for me that night.

My plane was leaving at 6pm the next day. Mom was getting anxious, but Alexander pulled up at 3pm, as promised. His bag was stuffed and he was bleary eyed with exhaustion. He’d stayed up the entire night sewing, and his creations were incredible: five bombers with patterns and contrasting pockets; hats of all colors. He even threw in some items for free, and told me to just send me the money once I’d sold them. I hugged him and told him I’d be placing an order for more soon, and we left for the airport. 

I felt the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I’ve never worked in fashion. However, my guy told me that these items would practically sell themselves. They were beautiful and unique, the creations of an artist. 


Note: this part is a series about my experiences starting a fashion import business. Want buy some gorgeous African clothing (and at the same time, support the dreams of Alexander Nshimiyimana, my business partner in Rwanda?) The store is online at

You can help by following us on instagram, twitter, and all other social media as @umudozi. 

Obsessed with clothing tags

Fronts and backs of two different clothing tags

For the past couple weeks, I have been obsessed with tags. What makes a great clothing tag? Do tags even matter? And what's the difference between a tag and a label?

Did you know that to sell clothing in the United States, you legally must provide care instructions on a tag? Most tags have the size and the place of manufacture as well.

tag with a picture of a boat

I did come up with a few principles for what makes a great tag. 

1. tags should be unobtrusive and comfortable. 

2. tags should be well made and well sewn.

Many of my clothes have tags that are already fraying. On printed tags (as opposed to sewn tags) the care instructions quickly fade. Even a vintage Saks 5th avenue dress that probably cost a small fortune in the 1950s had the tag sewn on crooked. 

Third, the tag must delight. With that in mind, I turned to illustrator to design the perfect tag, and finally, I hunted down some quality tag makers on Alibaba.

The first tag was the metal tag for the blazer sleeve. This is more branding than anything else, and I wanted a more expensive, metal tag to class it up:

Umudozi tag drafts

After surfing for hours looking for ways to make tags more fun, I decided to include a Rwandan phrase on the inside tag.

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 22.51.06.png

Me and the tag maker, Shenzhen Xinbaoyuan Weaving Co, went back and forth about styles. He said I should do a center fold tag, but I wanted a tag that would lie flat and not bother the person wearing the jacket. That's apparently called a "straight cut" tag. 

Also, my smallest font was too small for their embroidery machine, so I had to make the tags a little bit bigger. 

Unfortunately, something went wrong with the first print of our Umudozi tag:

Umudozi failed test

Thankfully, I caught it, and Shenzhen Xinbaoyuan Weaving Co. corrected it. However, the tags I was sent were very thin, and I will be ordering from someone else for my next batch. I should have taken the faulty initial run as a warning. 

In the end, 500 cloth tags and 500 metal tags were shipped to Rwanda and placed in the clothing.

I still have to make the hanging price tags for the clothing. I'm going to go with something ecofriendly, since these get tossed after you buy the jackets. I think I'll make them from recyclable material.

Note: this part is a series about my experiences starting a fashion import business. Want buy some gorgeous African clothing (and at the same time, support workers in Rwanda?) The store is online at

You can help by following us on instagram, twitter, and all other social media as @umudozi. 


Fire poofer weekend

I've been interested in fire my whole life, but only started working with it as an artistic medium in the past year. Let's be real though - when I say artistic medium, I basically only mean that I make things that take me a while to build and I have some degree of control over how much and when the fire comes out. 


Last summer I got to work on some of the electronics for Martin Montesano (AKA Moltensteelman)'s piece for burning man - The Three Wishes. 



Code for the project is here:

One of the most satisfying feelings in the world is pushing a button and watching fire poof out.


In April this year I attended the Flame Effects for the Artist workshop in Garberville, CA, put on by PooferSupply. Not only did we build our own poofer over the weekend, we also learned lots of useful information about safety and how to work with authorities. Eric, aka Propaniac, who runs the workshop, is not only a volunteer firefighter, he's also worked in the LP Gas Industry for over 30 years and is involved in writing their regulations.


And now, finally, I've started creating my own flame effects from the plumbing to the code. I hope to share more posts about this as I learn, and hopefully share a project or two on Hackster. For now, I leave you with this video:

Huge thanks to Paul Stoffregen, Moopi and Moltensteelman, who initiated me into the cult of the poofer.


Living in the suburbs, you have to strike a fine balancing act with your neighbors.
You want to be close enough to them that if your house is burning down they’ll come help you. At the same time, you have to keep enough distance that they won’t stage an intervention when you wake up at noon and wear the same stained sweatpants five days in a row.
I’m new to the suburbs, so my neighbors still treat me with friendly caution. I have a butch haircut, but I wear mermaid leggings and dresses while I’m gardening, so I'm pretty sure they don’t know what to make of me yet.

Today, my neighbor and I had a fake argument about whose job it was to cut the ivy growing between our homes. I said the roots were on my side of the fence, so it was my job, and he said the roots were on his side, so it was his job. In the end, he ceded and I continued with my task. 

English Ivy is a terrible invasive species. It crawls up trees and sucks the lifeblood out of them. It crawls everywhere. To kill it, you have to burn it, like a zombie corpse. Otherwise the clippings grow roots and come back to life again. 
Ivy is now my arch enemy. I enjoy hacking at it. I love mutilating living creatures that can’t run away or resist. 
That’s why I’m a vegetarian. 

Not that I have any beef with people who eat meat. In fact, I respect people who shoot their own food, like Mark Zuckerberg. What do you think Mark Zuckerberg wears when he goes hunting? Do you think he has a camo sweatshirt and little camo flip flops?


I missed out on The Boring Company's flamethrower sale,  but thankfully you can buy a weed torch (basically a mini-flamethrower) for under $50, which is way more affordable and apparently just as much fire. I think this is going to be my ivy destroying method.

One simple trick to wake up early

I’m terrible at waking up.

In the winter in Seattle, when the sun doesn't rise until nearly 9am, it's especially hard. I have a 10K lumen happy light, and it helps a bit. I highly recommend it. But I still hate mornings. I've tried other tricks, like writing down what you're grateful for (nope, doesn't help), putting Beyonce as my alarm (I ended up hating Beyoncé), and peppermint oil (bullshit). This trick won't make you jump out of bed, but it might at least keep you from hitting snooze.

Ok, here’s how to do it:
Drink a tall glass of room temperature water as soon as you wake up.

That's it. 

Unnecessary (Sobras)

I took the liberty of translating this piece from an opinion column in El Espectador by Fernando Araújo Vélez. It needed to be shared. The original title is Sobras

It was hard for me to pick an English translation for sobras. I went through the following synonyms:

Redundant, Superfluous, Unneeded, Extra, uncalled for, leftover, remaining, Surplus, excess, leftover, remnants, scraps, dregs, waste, one too many, Finally I decided that Sobras = Unnecessary.


We have unnecessary words for humility, submission and pardon, when these words come from those who benefit from them and for them, and we have had too much of their impositions and their deeds.


Their words and discourses are unnecessary, because they tend to be lies to deceive us, and we have superfluous variations of their tricks throughout history...


We have unnecessary texts that praise them, and we have hundreds of monuments which have perpetuated them so that we might follow their examples. We have unnecessary sell-outs who repeat history, and we have too many heirs who have conformed comfortably. We have too many tariffs, when they have been stained with blood and with death, and we have too much of the idea that money is the end, instead of the means.


We have unnecessary queens, princesses, prince charmings, aristocrats, vassals, exploiters and exploited. We have unnecessary dozens of thousands of people in uniform, because without having someone to fight, they invent and follow invented, invisible enemies so that they may continue to be indispensable. We have unnecessary uniforms, schedules, wars, and armies of those who are unable to talk and be convinced, and instead of dialogue they use force, which is to say, bullets.


We have unnecessary people who traffic in bullets, who traffic in drugs, who traffic in words, who traffic with man and who convert him into a tiny lunatic with immense gear created by them. We have unnecessary people who traffic in gods.


We have unnecessary geniuses, inspired people, who tell us what we should do and how, and disperse the idea that they are geniuses and walk around inspired so that the rest of us believe it’s impossible to be like them. We have unnecessary owners of the truth, judges of contests, and prizes. We have too many medals for heroism, and too much of the belief that heroes are those who give their life for the motherland, and we have way too many motherlands. We have unnecessary borders, parades, latest fashions and new styles. We have unnecessary estates, fences, walls, notaries. We have unnecessary goals, productivity, and perfection, because perfection is condemning ourselves to centuries of centuries of serving a patron, and all of the patrons are uncalled for.


We have unnecessary front men, their firms and their works, and all of the work of those who write for convenience. We have unnecessary fear, acting out of fear, and living for obligations determined by others, and being employed by those others. We have unnecessary employees, which is to say people who are used, and what’s more, we have too many people who want to be the employee (used person) of the year. We have too much naiveté of voting over and over again for the same people, believing for some reason that our education, our health and our life are somehow important to these people.


We have unnecessary learning and living to the letter of the law, and we have so many unnecessary things perhaps because we ourselves are unnecessary.

Link to original piece in Spanish.

Tonight my dog is still alive

Tomorrow she’ll be gone.

I love her so much. I love her like my sister, my daughter. I can’t bear it. I can’t bear her leaving me.

Everyone has a pet die. I lost my first pet, Little Red, when he was four years old and I was five. He was a guinea pig.
But you, you’re more than a pet. I love you like a sister, a daughter. I’ve never heard a story of anyone who lost her mind after she lost her dog. Maybe I’ll be the first.

We stood in the woods and I let her run through the knee high hay. I never wanted her to wear a leash. I didn’t even make her wear a collar when she ran away. We were equals and friends.

In August on our vacation in Maine I stared into her eyes and I saw more than what I’ve been taught that ‘animal’ should be. She looked at me with eyes that were perfectly knowing, perfectly capable of understanding. There’s a reason our dogs aren’t at eye level. We could never treat them the way we do, as our subordinates, if we had to stare in their eyes constantly.

I felt uncomfortable staring at her, realizing that she was so much more than I expected. And the strangest thing was that I could tell she was feeling the same emotion - discomfort at realizing that I, also, was able to understand her in a way that she’d never known I was capable of understanding. At first she looked away, awkwardly, and then she held my gaze and we stared at each other placidly for a long time.


“She just don’t look like a normal dog to me sometimes when I look inside there. “- Rocky Balboa on his dog

On a sunny day in November, Mungo ran across a field and I followed lazily with footsteps crunching on the frost. She turned and waited and gazed at me, her eyes exactly what a narcissistic human needs; to feel needed, wanted, loved.

I hugged her more than I've ever hugged any human. I gave her affection knowing that she could never pay me back in material things, but only with the things that mattered, like licks and tail wags. I made her wear a Santa hat at Christmas and she indulged me for a few seconds.

She was a tiny thing once, and I could hold her in one hand. The morning, nine years ago, when we drove her home from the farm where she was born, she got carsick and threw up on the seat. She didn’t know how to wear a leash. She was so adorable. I set her photo as the background on my flip phone and showed her off to my new friends from college.

Last summer she discovered toads. At nine years old she discovered toads. She ran away for the very first time to catch the toads in the creek.
I let her run away because I wanted her to enjoy life while she could. When I found her she looked at me with guilty eyes and muddy paws, but she didn’t even come when I said “come.” She just wagged her tail. She was enjoying life like only a dog can enjoy life. As Walt Whitman said of animals, “they don’t lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins. They don’t make me sick, discussing their duty to God.”

Carefree as she sometimes was, she wasn’t without emotions and loyalty. Last spring she stopped eating. She stopped eating after Dad died. You can say it’s not connected but I know it is.
Once, years before, she peed herself because she was so happy the day Dad got home from a long trip. She never did that for anyone else. For some reason she adored him more than the rest of us.

Maybe it was because they both knew how to live a good life. They both knew had to put others first and love everyone and somehow be happy doing that. That’s why they got along.

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 21.29.30.png

The secret of Oz - a rambling review

Despite the low budget, this film was engaging. The main thing I took away from it, which was shocking to me, is that banks just make up trillions of dollars to ‘loan’ to the federal government, and then the government owes them billions in interest. So banks are making money by doing nothing, leaving taxpayers in debt. 
Call me stupid, but I had never realized this before. In 2015, the U.S. spent $223 billion, or 6 percent of the federal budget, paying for interest on the debt. That’s absolute bullshit. They have to pay interest on money that the banks MADE UP to lend them in the first place. What a fucked up system.

But honestly, I don’t know. I know NOTHING about our financial system, to be honest. I know a bit about bitcoin, especially the slightly more technical parts. But I know NOTHING about banking, or the history of banks, or the history of finance. A lot of things that I watch or read leave me wanting a lot more information, and feeling like I’m only getting part of the story. 
Here’s this article, about how congress was bouncing their checks and not getting fees, and their constituents complained about it:
Why should congress get hit with fees when the fees they have to pay come out of OUR pockets? This is an absurd article on an absurd site. 
Oh, nevermind, it was their personal checks that weren’t getting charged. Not a big deal, but I’m glad they fixed it. 

Taking Macroeconomics freshman year of college, I immediately knew that the professor was oversimplifying things, and that his graphs of supply and demand were honestly just plain useless. 

I think the myth of the free market is a lie people tell themselves because they want to *feel* free. 

As Max Weber says, bureaucracy helps the economy because it slows things down to a predictable and manageable pace. I think he’s right - I think more people are better off when we have a predictable market with red tape and socialism and a large middle class and state controlled funds. Better off financially though. Mentally, they might feel trapped and frustrated, so they might be worse off overall. In which case, the free market would IN FACT be better. Is it better to be fair or to be free?

Why don’t people talk about the history of finance the way they talk about the history of war, or the history of politics? 
People are interested in hearing stories of people, and the history of finance is largely anonymous. Probably this is because bankers don’t want people to know or understand what they’re doing. J.P. Morgan - who was he? Chase? What about Charles W. Morse?

Oh wow, J.P. Morgan merged my great great uncle’s electric company with Edison Electric! He had a lot of the same interested as me. philosophy, electricity, teaching, science:

Life goal - have a wikipedia page as good as Edwin Houston. I feel very close to him - as if I shared his genes (I do). Maybe I should do a series of blog posts about him.

WOW. Old J.P. was a fascinating character. I started out the article convinced that I would hate him, and ended up liking him quite a bit. What a life!  He was the vision of the protestant work ethic - doing work to stay busy and make things more efficient, not necessarily to get rich. Charles Morse was his antipode, doing things just to get rich quick, and failing in everything. It’s funny that he has his own wikipedia page when he was such a giant fucking failure.

Although suffering ill health, J. P. Morgan testified before the Pujo Committee and faced several days of questioning from Samuel Untermyer. Untermyer and Morgan's famous exchange on the fundamentally psychological nature of banking—that it is an industry built on trust—is often quoted in business articles:

Untermyer: Is not commercial credit based primarily upon money or property?
Morgan: No, sir. The first thing is character.
Untermyer: Before money or property?
Morgan: Before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it … a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.

1873 there was also a panic I think...

Ok, I have quite a bit of reading to do about finance.

I wish someone would write a copy of this article with cartoon illustrations: Maybe that's my next project.

Had it not been for those pesky Borromeos,

...the Pope might still be holding orgies. I’ve had a fever all afternoon, so I stayed in bed part of the afternoon instead of going to CES, and I’ve learned some amazing things.

The Borromeos were one of the ruling houses of Italy during the Renaissance, and several of their most prominent members were Cardinals in the Catholic Church. Carlo Borromeo in particular was a noted reformer. He became the Archbishop of Milan, and reformed the whole city. He tried and found some of the Jesuits in the area to be guilty of "unnatural offenses" (coincidentally, they also happened to be his political enemies). He also helped to organize the council of Trent. Overall, he was a pretty cool guy - he helped lots of poor people and fed the hungry. He also burned 150 people alive for practicing witchcraft. That's not very cool. 

Carlo happened to have a nephew, Gesualdo, who he encouraged to become a monk. Gesualdo was a prodigy, and probably insane as well. He was something of a rock star in his day. His fame was cemented when he murdered his wife and her lover with a knife and mutilated their corpses. He was never charged for the crime (after all, it was just his wife). Later in his life was rumored to keep attractive young maids and manservants around that he forced to submit to his sadistic whims. Also, he made beautiful church music. 


Having a fever has opened up delusions in my brain. I’m listening to Gesualdo’s madrigals right now, and they are taking on a 3D appearance. Sometimes a voice darts out from the piece as if it were in the room, speaking to me. It’s frightening. Part of me enjoys it and part of me wants it to stop. It makes my stomach roil.

I started listening to Gesualdo because I am reading Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception,” and he mentions Gesualdo’s madrigals being a bridge back to humanity.
Look at that sculpture of the Veiled Christ? Does it give you chills? Huxley also talks about the universality of billowing robes in artwork. This is the perfect example of that. He talks about how much he enjoys the wrinkles in his grey felt pants. I get that.

I really wish my dad were around so I could call him right now. I would have him listen to Gesualdo’s music. I would send him this video of Thomas Tallis’ music:

She tried on magical realism as if it were the fall trend

Everything she thought in her head, she imagined writing as if she were a magical realist author. The night she had a fever, she imagined describing herself as having caught fire, and been consumed by the flames, and risen like the Phoenix. As she ate her mom’s granola, her teeth crunched through the seeds of he mother’s love. Sitting across from her mom, she saw a frail and tiny bird come down and land on the table, tucking its head under its wing. Everywhere her mom went the tiny bird went, getting smaller and frailer by the minute, until it could no longer fly, but crawled on the ground. Her mother’s watery eyes went blank and turned light blue and could no longer see the present, only the past.

But her father…her father was not dead. Someone who is with you for 28 years takes at least that long to die. He wasn’t a ghost exactly, but he might have stepped into the room anytime, and the fact that he didn’t pained her. There was his diploma on the wall. There were more photos of him than ever in the living room. How could he be dead when so many images and thoughts of him still existed? If she had actually seen him dead, he might have become a ghost. But she had only seen a casket. There was no body. The last time she had seen him in person was helping him to put on his socks at her brother’s place in New York. Or maybe it was at her mom’s house. It must have been, because they had all driven there the next day. She had watched David Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’ in the car.

Somehow she couldn’t remember him in her childhood home that trip. Maybe because all her memories of him there blended together. Maybe because he was still grading his student’s tests. Maybe he was still grading his student’s tests somewhere else. It seemed more probable than him being in a box underground.

Once she dreamed that she visited him in the box underground. He was certainly dead, but he looked the same as ever. She dreamed about him frequently at first, and woke up to crappy days at work. She held her tears in and felt them waterfall down her neck into the deepest part of her stomach where they turned into ice.

She was in Pennsylvania for a month after he died. And then the month was up, and she was back on the road, doing business trips and acting strong, with her back straight. She cried in the airport in Austin because she imagined calling him and telling him she was in Austin. She went to a conference about silicon chip manufacturing, and left halfway through because the people scared her and the tears she had swallowed in order to hide them were coming up ice cold from her stomach and she felt like she would vomit. She ran back to the airbnb and the tears ripped out of her as sobs. She roared like a bear, and her hair grew into a lion’s mane, and she became a wild animal, dangerous to look at. She ripped the pillows into shreds with her claws, and threw the furniture against the wall. Nothing was going to stop her from her reign of terror in this place. Nothing was going to stop her roars and bellows. The earth shook, and a crack appeared in the asphalt that tore its way up Congress Ave. A man in cowboy boots fell into the abyss and was never seen again, and a stray dog was also lost, but neither were missed.

A tiny woman baking cornbread in her apartment felt the lion’s roars and remembered when she herself had been transformed into a lion. She rushed downstairs and found the door and knocked three times. The roars stopped. A crack opened in the door and the woman saw an animal, a girl with the mane of a lion but a face that was gentle and bewildered. The tiny woman gave the lion-woman a hug and her sobs petered into whimpers. The crack in Congress St heeled itself up, and the sun came out from where it was hiding behind the clouds.

She never sobbed like that again, and she had never sobbed like that before. Her lungs lost the capacity to do anything more than a small sob. Her hair, however, remained like a lion’s mane, and from then on, no matter what products she used or what salon she went to, within 24 hours her hair was back in its manelike form.

N=1 diet experiments

I spend inordinate amounts of time researching diet on the internet. Like politics, diet is confusing and there's lots of fake news out there. That's why I'm happy to have found a blog that I think cuts through the bullshit - After obsessively reading for a couple months, I finally wrote Denise an email. 

Dear Denise Minger,

I'm writing you a letter to you on the world wide web. I found your blog in August, when I decided to attempt a vegetarian ketogenic diet. Several of my friends in San Francisco were doing keto (it's just becoming popular there - all the tech geeks claim they discovered it) so I figured "what the hell - let's try this." I was interested in finding something that would increase my focus and improve my race times. Also, let's be honest - I wanted to get 6-pack abs. This actually wasn't my first time trying a ketogenic diet.

I'd done keto 10 years ago, the summer before freshman year, after I gained a ton of weight on a Rotary exchange. Keto made me feel great and I lost all the weight I'd gained in Argentina, although it was a hard diet to stick to. Also I remember that I had to pee constantly, which made my first internship awkward. My mom, a nutritionist, recommended that I do a low carb diet.

Anyway, I mentioned to Mom in August that I wanted to try keto again, and she gave me the book "Keto Clarity." It was kind of a fluff book, but it did point to a lot of interesting studies. Of course, being my mother's daughter, I couldn't just accept the studies at face value, so I dug into them a bit more, and that's when I found your fantastic blog post "In Defense of Low Fat.".

To be honest, after spending approximately two days reading through the whole damn thing (I can't imagine how long it took you to write it!) I almost wished I hadn't read it. I was 10 days into keto, I'd just gotten over the "keto flu", and here you were telling me that maybe all of this was in vain?

I stuck to keto for another week and a half before finally giving up after Burning Man. I did win the "Fastest Naked Woman" award in the Burning Man 50K, which may have been partially due to having been in ketosis, or glycogen depletion, or something...

I've been researching for years and doing various diet experiments on myself, including: raw vegan (duration: one month - I did this because I was reading Steve Pavlina's blog)

  • Went wheat, sugar and corn free (duration: one summer - I felt amazing!)
  • Vegan (I watched Forks Over Knives in 2012 and immediately called my Mom, who let me down with the news that the China Study had been debunked. I still stuck to veganism for two years until my doctor at Bastyr told me I needed to start eating eggs for protein)
  • Vegetarian (I started eating eggs in 2014)
  • Pescatarian (I started eating fish again in early 2015 when I visited Peru and I couldn't resist the ceviche)
  • Vegetarian ketosis (duration: 3 weeks)

Being off wheat, dairy and corn seem to have the most positive effect out of all the experiments, but they're also the most difficult to avoid. I was tested for celiac as a high schooler (ugh, the procedure was horrible!) but my test came back negative. It may have been a false negative, since I hadn't been eating gluten for several months at the time I had the test, so my celia wouldn't have been flattened, if they ever had been. My doctor at Bastyr also suggested that I had a wheat allergy. I've noticed that wheat and dairy cause congestion and often bring on a sinus infection. Because I have frequent sinus infections, I got my sinuses checked out this spring to make sure everything was draining correctly. 15 minutes and $500 later (after insurance), I was assured that they looked great, and drainage wasn't the problem. It must be the wheat. Not all breads are created equal for me. Eating wheat in Argentina, and especially eating European bread, doesn't seem to have the same negative effect on me as eating wheat in the US and Southeast Asia. Other things I've tried:

  • I've done the 21 day Standard Process cleanse 1.5 times. It made me feel GREAT - maybe because I was off wheat.
  • I've tried to do a weeklong juice cleanse. I got so sick I thought I would die. I ended up giving up the cleanse after 3 days and spending the next 4 days in bed watching non-stop Woody Allen movies and vomiting into a bucket.
  • Also, I've been seeing a nutritionist, Sam, off and on since fall of 2014 (he's the one who recommended the Standard Process Cleanse as part of an allergen elimination process). He does a lot of weird voodoo (look up 'nutrition response testing'). Even though I don't understand or believe in his arm pushing and pulling, he managed to give me some amazing supplements that cleared up my persistent acne, made my belly stop hurting, got rid of my anxiety, and even cured a chronic IT band problem caused by overruse.

After all this research and experimentation (seriously, how many years of my life have I spent researching nutrition on the internet?) your blog really touched something in me, and made finding my perfect diet actually seem obtainable.

Because of your blog, I just plugged my 23andMe info into Genetic Genie and discovered that I have the same genetic mutations as you do. I have both the 'Warrior Gene' (MAOA R297R Gene - 2 TT alleles) and the Bad MTHFR gene. Yup, I'm a bad MTHFR (2 A alleles). This could explain many things, including why I'm prone to anxiety, why I've been diagnosed with ADHD, why taking hormonal birth control makes me literally insane, and why depression and heart disease run in my family. It might also explain why the supplements that Sam gave me actually did something - maybe they provided methylfolate? Or helped with methylation? Either way, I'm excited about discover this! 

I'm glad that you spend the time researching things in depth so that I don't have to go that deep. I still have a bunch of questions that I'd love to chat with you about, so I'm looking forward to our consultation. Here are a few of my questions:

How can I get 6-pack abs? What should I be supplementing with? (My current favorites include D3, ginko biloba, bacopa complex, wine and coffee :D) What do you think of Cod Liver Oil? Are PUFAs really bad? What do you think of MCT oils, like the ones Bulletproof Exec sells? Have you heard of, and do you have an opinion on Standard Process Supplements? What diets, or dietary supplements, have you found to be best for skin, nails and hair? Have you tried any nootropics? Any other genetic analysis that you recommend? Have you tried anything like Self Decode? Are you into biohacking at all? Have you ever been to HiveBio? Are we related?

Sincerely, Monica

Trying not to stop and walk

Often when I run by myself I end up just walking instead.
It's not physical. It's purely mental. It's extremely frustrating, because my mind seems to just forget why I wanted to run in the first place (to clear my head, or get a serotonin boost, or because I had too much energy) and decides to stop my body, and then I'm stuck walking back.

Tonight while running I got the urge to stop and walk about three miles in. I decided to focus on the feeling of wanting to walk to see what was causing it, and also as a way to keep me from walking.

I remember doing something similar while riding along the California coast on a bike. I had been taking short breaks every 10 miles, but I decided not to get off the bike just to see what it was like. It was extremely difficult not to give in and get off, but in the end I made it 60 miles without even stopping to pee, and the mental reward was tremendous.

The first thing I realized was that the desire to stop came when I was halfway into my run, and I knew I would have to start running back. Even though I was doing a loop and I wouldn't be retracing my steps, it was still in the direction of home. I realized that running "back" was a demotivator. It's really typical for me to walk when I reach the halfway point. Even if I were to decide to just run out and then take the bus back, I would probably still start walking halfway to the bus stop (wherever that was).

Everytime my mind would shift to think about being home or going home, I would want to walk. On the run out, I rarely think about that, but as soon as I start heading home I start to count the steps and look up to see how far away I am. Thinking about how much farther I have to run a real demotivator. In my ideal running state, I'm so lost in thought I barely realize where I am. But as soon as I look up and start to think "I have to make it past that stopsign and then run a mile down that road" my mind just wants me to stop and walk.

Running on trails is helpful because they twist and turn and don't give you good landmarks to go off of. The coast is similar, since the horizon doesn't serve as a mile marker. In both places I feel like I could run forever. Running at night helps somewhat too. The worst place for me to run is on a flat sidewalk or track in the middle of the day. There, you can't help thinking about how much farther you have to go, and it becomes pure torture.

I also realized that I wanted to walk whenever I thought about what I would be doing when I got home. This is especially true when I run before work or in the middle of the day, and I have to get back and do something boring. But it's also true when what I'm going to do is fun. I realized that's because it makes me think about how much time I have left until I get home, and when I think about time it demotivates me.

In fact, time is the greatest demotivator. Why do anything, when time will pass and make it irrelevant? Why run, when the time spent running is short and will be over soon? Why not just walk and take things slowly?

Sometimes to make myself keep running I check what the next mile marker will be, and decide that I have to make it at least to that marker. But that doesn't work 4 times of out of 5, and when it does work, it's because I've gotten lost in my thoughts again and forgotten that I set a goal at all. I used to be much more strict with myself about running. For eight years I had the same four miles that I would run each morning at 6am when I had to catch the bus, then at 7am when I started biking to school, then at 8am when I was in college. I enjoyed those mindless miles that I did as soon as I woke up. Maybe morning running is the trick to not stopping. Or running with friends. When I run with friends I don't stop because I feel ashamed of stopping. Also they distract me by chatting. But for long runs, my own mind is my greatest friend and distraction.

I'm not sure if there's a threshold of miles that I reach where suddenly I lose the desire to stop. Typically around five miles I start to feel good. But I've been struck by the desire to stop at two, three, four, and fifteen miles. Maybe the threshold is fifteen miles. Once you've run that many, you might as well just keep running until you reach your destination.

I wonder if I were to make a strict training schedule I would stick to it and finish my runs without walking. I kind of doubt it, and I suspect it might actually demotivate me.

Top 3 things I think about while running:

  1. Composing a blog post in my mind, usually about feminism or running.
  2. If I were a DJ and I were playing the playlist I'm listening to right now, what song would I mix in next, and would I be wearing?
  3. The art car I'm definitely going to build for Burning man next year

The Flight Home

This has always been my worst fear. Dad Dying. When my guinea pig Little Red died and Isaiah made him a tiny cross and wood-burned it with the fourth grade letters “R.I.P.” I realized that one day my parents would die too. That whole summer, maybe that whole year, I cried myself to sleep each night with the worry thought that Dad would die. Once he came into my bedroom and found me crying and I had to tearfully explain my anxiety.

It’s happened. Somehow, miraculously, I’m able to handle it. My worst grief happened in January and February, when I first found out he was having heart problems caused by his cancer, and then when I visited him and he was so helpless. On January 7th right after Mary had left I scream-cried into the blankets and fell asleep spent and dehydrated waiting for Tony to get home. I don’t even remember him coming home that night. The next night I slept on the divan so I could continue to scream-sob into the pillows I’d piled around myself.

The night I arrived in New York and saw him sitting in my brother’s apartment, he told us he was feeling fine but ready to face his maker. Neither of us doubted that he didn’t have much longer to live. Isaiah and I went out to a bar because Dad told us it was fine - he was just going to sleep anyway - and I started to cry while we drank our nasty cocktails and he looked at me, pitying me, like he wished he could cry too. He confided that he hated the thought that soon he would be having to make a speech at Dad’s funeral. His worst nightmare was people coming up to him at the funeral and telling him that Dad was in a better place and that he should place his trust in Jesus. “I just don’t know how to respond to them,” he said. “I’ll freeze. Because they’re so well-meaning that it hurts.” I agreed that I hated that thought also. I hated the faithful words I knew people would give. “He’s in a better place.” “He’s finally with Jesus.”

Mom believed so fervently that the treatments would work, and yet she also knew exactly what was going on. If there was a 1% chance, she was going to make it a 100% chance. She is someone with a will that can bend iron. Break iron. Stiff, scrappy, sometimes mean. She told us the truth on the phone as the doctors told it, and yet also led us to believe that there was a chance of survival. She was doing it because that was the only way. Believe until you can’t believe anymore. What else would she have done? Accepted his inevitable death?

“If I get five more years, I’ll take them,” Dad said, and my soul rose. Five more years. Five more Thanksgivings. Five more Christmases. I wouldn’t be ready for his death at that point, but I would be readier. It was still a long way off. Maybe he could live forever.

When he died the thoughts came, but my brain didn’t have to work hard to push out the painful ones. “You broke his heart. He died of a broken heart.” Not true. Next. “You should have called him on his last day when Mom told you to call.” It would have been too late - he was already wearing an oxygen mask and couldn’t talk. And it would have been too distressing. I’m glad I facetimed with him two days before and remembered him healthy looking and smiling. I know he’s not mad at me for not calling. He’s dead so all his pain is past. “If only you had made more money you could have found a cure for him.” That is an insult to the amazing doctors who worked with him, and to my Mom. He had the best care and the best treatment. He would have died five years ago without them. I would still like to get rich enough to find a cure for death though. “You should reread every email he ever sent you on the plane home.” Nope. Not ready to do that. Maybe not ready ever. “Dad, I miss you.” No. Don’t address him as you. You can’t communicate with him. He was here and he’s not here anymore. Don’t hurt yourself like that. Pay attention to the people who are still alive. “When I get home I can’t wait to tell Dad about…” He’s not there. The reason that you’re flying home on the middle seat of this miserable red eye is that he’s not there anymore. Again, pay attention to the people who are still alive. “Mungo will be so sad. She’ll never see Dad again.” I dwelt on this one for a half-second to long and started bawling. There’s something so heartbreaking about the innocent, unspoken grief of a pet. “Dad will never see you grow up and have your own kids. He wanted grandkids so bad.” I don’t even want kids, so this is less pressure to have them.

I feel like I can deflect each of these thoughts as they come and live inside my bubble of semi-shock until I’m ready to come out and feel. I don’t ever have to think these thoughts though. They’re too sad, too hopeless, to useless. Just live and try to be happy.

Even being home, in his house, next to the garden he tended, my emotions aren’t taking over me. I’m still afraid for tomorrow. I’m scared of mornings. I’m scared of dreams where I resurrect him, only to wake up and relive his death. But I’m not scream-crying into pillows. I’m not waking up and feeling empty. I’m waking up and feeling full of love. So many people loved him and so many people love me. I can’t watch home videos yet. That would hurt too much. I can’t look at photos, or listen to tape-recordings of his voice. I don’t want to.

I feel like I have emotional antenna that I feather out around me, searching for signs of his presence and finding both too many and too few. Every plant whose name he told me reminds me of him. May apples. Sassafrass and spruce. Every drawing of mine that he took pride in. Music by Bob Dylan. Playing Guantanamera on the guitar. That’s one of the only songs he knew how to play.

I want to show Dad all the kind people who are standing by us. I want him to see their multicultural outpouring of love. But he’ll never see it. Instead I try to be gracious like he would be. Put others first.

Using Jekyll

I'm infinitely curious, unfortunately, so over the years I've changed my blog from a simple HTML site to a more complex one powered by jquery, to a Wordpress site, to a Squarespace site, and now to this cute blog, powered by Jekyll. The best thing is that all I need for blogging now is a text editor and I have complete control.

Check out older versions of my site on The Way Back Machine.

Note: after at year and a half, I concluded that I hate Jekyll, and I'm back on Squarespace.

Follow your calling? Or follow your play?

I always figured that my true calling would find me. My Dad is a pastor, and he always talked about being "called" to the ministry. My Mom, similarly, talked about being "called" to motherhood. So in high school, my overachiever friends started to pick their majors and the best college that would help them down that path, but I waited. And when I got tired of waiting, I travelled. Halfway around the world, however, I still hadn't found my calling, and my calling hadn't found me.

Obviously, my calling had to be something that it's possible to be passionate about. Something like music, or art, or drama. Those are the callings that are portrayed as being higher, almost spiritual. You see it in the media. Paganini, who practiced violin 16 hours a day. Coltrane, who played jazz until his lips bled. Van Gogh, and the countless crazy artists who followed him, who stayed up day and night creating and ingested all sorts of substances and finally killed themselves as a final sacrifice to their art.

Growing up in 20th Century America, I was well-off enough not to be put to work in the coal mines (as my Grandpa's older brothers were). The mines might have solved my existential crisis about what to do. As it was, however, I knew from what everybody told me that what I did had to be enjoyable. Of course, my parents reminded me that everything takes hard work. Life can't always be fun. And they really wouldn't mind if I studied business. Or medicine.

So when I went to college, I chose to study film, with a minor in business just in case because my parents insisted. I dropped the business minor after my first economics class. I stuck with film however, since it was subjective and passionate and beautiful, and because I knew nothing about it. I enjoyed the constant challenge of it. I had to learn about f-stops and how to correctly wind lighting cables and how to calculate amps and volts so that I wouldn't set the living room on fire when I plugged in my 3-point lighting. I had to grow the balls to go knock on peoples doors and ask "could I use your garden for my film shoot?" Hardest of all, I had to collaborate with my classmates and choose teams of people who could actually get work done. And somehow, since I always seemed to end up in the director or producer role, I had to overcome my introversion and learn how to manage teams of people.

All through college, film kept scaring me, although I worked hard and got excellent grades. I was the first person to ever get into the major freshman year (accidentally - my advisor thought that I was a sophomore because of my AP credits, so he told me to submit a portfolio and I did). Senior year I got a grant from Gerry Abrams to produce my senior film. But unlike some of my classmates, I didn't work on film outside of class. I wasn't passionate about it like they were. It was just my education, and it was there to define me. "I am a film major," I could say at parties, and people would understand me and know exactly who I was. I could look up my course schedule online and know exactly what classes I had to take in order to graduate and become a film maker. Follow the coursework, and you'll end up with a job. That's what the teachers told us. Every now and then, an alumnus would come back from the real world to warn us that it didn't work like that.

Outside of class I actually had job. And I didn't realize it then, but this was a job that I loved. I had gotten it accidentally. My neighbor Daryl worked there, and in high school, when I had had my senior art show, he ended up buying one of my paintings and hiring me on as his helper. I was working on user experience research for government projects, which meant that I spent hours fooling around on a computer. It didn't feel like a job. I spent at least half of my time doing flash tutorials, making balls jump around the screen and rotate and change color. I even created my own paint program. I remember the thrill when I debugged it and it actually worked. "I am god," I thought to myself. My coworkers were amused, and they fed my interest by giving me books on user interaction and design patterns. I had no idea that you could go to school for this, or that I wanted to go to school for this. All I knew was that I loved it. I figured that if I kept working there, after I graduated maybe I could get a job there.

Unfortunately, I didn't keep my job there. Instead, I went to France for seven months (and accidentally ended up with a French Major and and International Studies Major), and when I got back they didn't need me anymore. So I went looking for another job and found a non-technical position at Penn State's computer help desk. I walked into the managers office, and asked about the position. "Non-technical position?" He asked. "We actually don't have any non-technical positions, only technical positions." I walked out. I was standing in the hallway when I heard him call to me, "Wait!"

I turned around. "Do you have any technical experience?"

"Er," I said, "I've done some flash programming."

"Flash programming? That's technical. You should apply!"

"Oh, ok." I said. So I applied to the technical position.

I was so nervous my first day of work that I was probably shaking. It didn't help that the girl I was shadowing accidentally deleted all of her client's email when trying to switch him from POP to IMAP. The client actually hung up the phone and came to the Help Desk in person to give her and my manager an earful as I cowered behind them.

After the first day, I found that I enjoyed the work. I was surprised to find that I was able to keep up with the other employees, most of whom were computer science majors or IST majors.

In October, my manager asked me to create a website for the help desk. "Could you have something by Monday?" He asked on a Friday. "Sure," I said. I'd never made a website in my life. I put my homework on hold and stayed up two nights working on the site.  I  sliced up a psd file and figured out how to make a working navigation and an RSS feed in HTML and CSS. It wasn't anywhere near standards compliant, and it probably would have validated as "crap" on the WC3's validation tool. I thought it was incredible. I showed it to my manager, who nodded and listed some changes that he wanted. "Could you actually make a Drupal site?" He asked. "I want to make something that I'll be able to update easily." I had no idea what Drupal was, but again I nodded.

And that's how I found my play. For me, it's that godlike feeling after you create a website, or a paint program in flash, or you figure out how to do a cool trick in bash. People always say that they're "not doing what they went to school for" as if it were a bad thing. I think that for me, it's a good thing. School was work, so I thought, as I had been taught by the adults around me, that if I was having fun I was doing it wrong. School taught me to turn fun things, like watching movies, into boring, pretentious things, like critiquing film.

Meanwhile, outside of school I learned to dance with my "work." I edited photos for fun in France. I started building websites as a hobby. I experimented with writing for student papers. I picked up InDesign. 

Nothing is work, but thinking makes it so. 

To Flip Flop or not? A UX question

This week I'm cat-sitting for friends who are in Hawaii. The first night I got to the house, I couldn't figure out how to turn the lights on in the kitchen. Each light switch had a rectangular panel that was either glowing or off. I figured that the glowing switches corresponded to the lights that were currently on, and the not glowing switches corresponded to the lights that were currently off.


Of course I was wrong, and ended up turning all of the lights up and standing in the dark. Standing there in the dar, the design finally made sense to me - of course the lights that are turned off have glowing switches - that's so that you can find the switch in the dark! The switches indicate what you want the light to do (turn on), not what it is currently doing. I ran into a similar problem two months ago while doing UX for a Windows Phone 8 App. It was a GPX tracker and it had 4 buttons in the Application Bar: a , a navigation button, a stats button, play/pause/stop recording button, and a settings button. The play/pause/stop recording button turned out to be the one that caused the problems.

After looking at other apps with "play/pause" buttons I realized that in every single one, when you are "playing" the play button is a pause button, and when you are paused, the button turns into the play button. In User Interaction speak, these are called "flip/flop buttons." This brings up an interesting question: should the label on the button define the action you want to perform pushing it or the state that that button represents?

Besides play/pause buttons, I can only think of a few other flip/flop buttons that I regularly encounter. One would be the TweetDeck "follow" vs "unfollow" button (the button on the normal Twitter interface when you are following someone reads "following" and only says "unfollow" if you hover over it.) In fact, an extremely commonly used binary setting,

 ok, it's in French but you know what it means...

ok, it's in French but you know what it means...


In the UI for "GPX Viewer" I decided to go the route of consistency. Because the play/pause buttons had to show the action you wanted to perform when pushing it, all of the other buttons in the AppBar would have to follow the same rule to avoid confusion. I still felt somewhat uncomfortable with this solution.

In About Face 2.0, Cooper and Reimann (2003, pp. 341-2), arguably the experts on Interaction Design, say

"Flip-flop button controls are very efficient. They save space by controlling two mutually exclusive options with a single control. The problem with flip-flop controls is that they fail to fulfill the second duty of every control - to inform the user of their current state. If the button says ON when the state is off, it is unclear what the setting is. If it is OFF when the state is off, however, where is the ON button? Don't use them. Not on buttons and no on menus!"

So was I wrong to use flip/flop buttons in the AppBar? The exception, as stated by Cooper and Reimann on page 445, is when the current state is obvious. For instance, if you have one minimize/mazimize button on your browser window, when the current state is maximize the button should read "minimize" because it's clear that the browser is already maximized. 

After user testing for 3 years (the app is in the Windows Phone app store), I've received nothing but positive feedback. I take this to mean that I made the correct choice. 


My Favorite Data Viz Links

Note: I wrote this over two years and never published it. I have dozens of draft posts like this just gathering dust because of my crippling perfectionism and self-doubt. I'm going through and posting the ones that are still relevant. Hopefully the links still work. 

I'm a huge data visualization nerd and I've been compiling a list of my favorite data viz sites in a google doc for several years now. Thought I'd share it with the world:

Infographics: (Dutch) (Dutch)


Diagrams and Maps: - science “maps” - statistics


Critiques: - bad maps

Various Data Visualization: - analytics + infographics





The Best of The Listserve's Productivity Advice

On May 1st I was given the opportunity to write about myself to 25,000 people on The Listserve.  I chose to write about my struggle finishing things, and the responses have been amazing. Here are some of the best.

From a guy in NYC:

You have a very defeatist and victim mindset...Listen on Audible to autobiographies from people like Arnold Schwartzennegar, Ted Turner, and T. Boone Pickens for inspiration.

-Oh wait. I said I was going to include the best advice. How did this nugget get in the mix? 

Simple, Beautiful Advice:

- Do fewer things simultaneously. Simply. Just pick one project you love and focus on that every day, if only for a few minutes. Keep a journal/notes on ideas you're "rejecting" - because you're not rejecting them, you're just not doing them right now.

- Stop looking at how much others are doing (which probably isn't accurate anyway) and just focus on yourself, being the smallest bit better every day. Might be that you worked a bit longer, or that you didn't have to struggle as much with something or whatever. Celebrate that.

- Not to get too crunchy on you, but there's a quote I ran across from the bhagavad gita that I really love to turn over in my mind. It's basically "You're not entitled to the fruits of your labor, you're only entitled to the labor itself."  Not sure why that resonates so much with me, but it reminds me to concentrate on what I'm doing that day rather than what I think the outcome could or should be.

I'll also recommend reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (but you have to get the Gregory Hays translation). There's a lot of timeless wisdom in there, and the Hays translation is very modern. 

"Tax" Time-wasting activities:

Write down precisely when you start and when you finish distractions.

Before going to Facebook, before checking emails, or before attempting any activities that does not further the project, write down the current time in a (physical) notebook first. Go through with the distraction. And upon finishing the distraction, write the current time down.

Finishing things is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

I think you may have nailed an interesting point without realizing it: you finished this email. That's a thing. That counts. An email to 25,000 people no less! But an email is small -- maybe build on that? Pick small things that you feel confident that you can finish. A wise fellow once told me that finishing things is, in itself, a skill, so consider finishing lots of small things in order to build that muscle so it take on bigger, more ambitious projects.

From a fellow distracted person:

I downloaded some software called self-control when I was writing my dissertation. It doesn't let you away with the incognito mode trick! Maybe it will help.

Maybe you're getting bored because you already understand the problem.

I have also started lot of projects because they give me the chance to learn or figure out something new, and as soon as I think I understand the problem and know what the solution is, it is not that interesting to implement the solution and finish the project (although no project is ever finished, there is always more or better you can do with it, right?).

Listening Recommendations:

Brian Tracy - miracle of self discipline ( - crappy quality but couldn’t find better one) 

David Allen - getting things done -

Back to Work - (Listen from Episode 1, and give it an episode or two)

Overtired - (Awesome, jump in wherever)

Systematic - 

Reading Recommendations:

Read Wait But Why's Post about why procrastinators procrastinate.

Part 2 -

Part 3 -



I recommend 'Understanding Human Design'

If you are into the new age at all check it out. It is a synthesis of a few different things; astrology, Chakra systems, and the I Ching.


Be not deterred by the relatively cheesy title:

"Refuse to Choose: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love"

It re-framed for me my tendency to put a project aside after the first flush was gone.

Read it.

- I had three other recommendations for this book. It's definitely on my list now.

Advice for the unproductive programmer:

- Pick a project. Any project. Work on it until it's finished, no exceptions. Turn off Netflix, turn on your productivity apps. Finish the project, no matter how minor it is, or how little you care to actually finish it. The sense of accomplishment you get from finishing a single project can drive you to complete a handful of others. "Opportunities multiply as they are seized"...

- If you have people you spend time with, it can be extremely detrimental to your projects if they are interrupting your coding flow with normal human things. One of the best ways I have been able to help my friends and family understand what we do is to explain to them how much programming is like dreaming. There's a rather famous essay out there called "Don't wake the programmer", and it will help the people around you to minimize disturbing your flow.

- Speaking of flow, Facebook and the like is my greatest enemy when it comes to flow. It's just muscle memory to alt-tab and F5 Facebook every couple of minutes. This effectively nullifies any flow, or progress towards flow. Still to this day I have to actively work to build up to flow. Headphones are your best bet wherever you code, since there are ways around the productivity-killers (as you mention).

- Every programmer is always fighting yak shaving. Even the most productive programmers spend hours reading the install instructions of some library and fighting their OS and tools. I frequently had anxiety brought on by yak shaving. I always thought to myself how awful it is that other programmers are just banging out code and here I am totally blowing an afternoon on tooling. But the anxiety went away and my life got better when I finally talked to enough of our peers and understood that every one of us shaves yaks for more time than we code.

Shock Yourself.

I was just reading about this productivity tool that electrically shocks you before I got your listserve. A bit more medieval but I wonder how effective it'd be:

Documentation is Key.

It’s a good habit to document ideas, actions and results since it does give a sense of achievement in the long run. It also provides a larger picture a year down the line. Its annoying cause I always thought I could do without spending time on such documentation but that strategy is clearly failing. So for now, I try my best to write it down so that I can at least revisit and complete it when I am lacking ideas.

Find your productive time of day and break that time into manageable chunks.

For me, finding the time of day that I actually find myself productive (regardless of when I want to be) has been helpful. For some reason when I get up early and there's no prepping for something (i.e. showering for work, eating breakfast, etc.), I get stuff done. It's the preparing process that I take my time with and enjoy so much (I will spend a whole Saturday cleaning my apartment) that it ends up taking over the task I'm prepping for. A 4:30 wake-up kills this. I am too early to be hungry, I don't need coffee, it's still dark in my apartment and most importantly it's quiet. Somehow the internet isn't calling to me just yet.

I also limit myself to little ten minute stretches of time where I'll get things done. 10 minutes to pick up my living room, 10 minutes to do dishes, that sort of thing. I find that it's just enough time to get something done and just little enough time that I don't mentally allow myself to get distracted.

I read somewhere that the average person greatly overestimates how much they can get done in a day, but grossly underestimates how much they can get done in a year. I take great solace and comfort in that thought. But then the years pass.

We're very hard on ourselves. But it's hard not to be when we know that we're filled with so much potential. All of us are. But some of us know it more than others. And that in itself can be maddening.

I recently finished my doctorate thesis and it took me longer than others on my course. I finally got it done in the end, but it nearly killed my spirit. I wouldn't have finished it only for the fact that doing it allows me to practice as a clinical psychologist, something that I do enjoy. But I'm not sure I would do it again if I could go back and choose.

So if you feel pressured to finish a project you started, also remember that you don't have to, your happiness and health is more important!

Be Methodical.

Do a 1-pager every morning with an actual pen and paper, first thing, before you even open your computer. Write down:

The top 3-5 things you want done today

Then, within those things, each task that needs to be done in order to finish that thing.

Then, you write a list of people that you might be waiting on in order to complete a task

Then a list of people you need to contact to complete a task.

Final step: go into your calendar and input every single task that you're going to do based on that list.

Notice you only go into your email to either search for an email you were waiting for, or write one. There is no "checking email" slot that goes on for hours.


  1. 7:30-7:35 email Steve re: UI bugs
  2. 7:35-7:40 email Karen re: legal question
  3. 7:40-8:40 draft copy for homepage
  4. 8:40-8:45 break

Etc with reminders at the time and 1 minute before.

For some reason, just having even the simplest of tasks in there with reminders, means you see it flash up and you just DO it. There is no decision to be made of "shall I send that email or write that copy or read that article?"

It's already decided and so you expend zero mental energy and willpower choosing between what to do next.

Trauma and Adrenaline are ADHD Killers.

So I guess my advice would be to take at least a few months and go somewhere actually terrible things are happening in the world, and experience the struggle to improve some of the most basic things in life for people who don't have everything like we do in America. Longer would probably be better, but I know most people aren't willing to sign on for 4 years like I was (3.5 years ago, now. As someone leaving the military, i can't recommend it as an option for this sort of personal journey. Most members of the military that i know don't treat it this way- it's just a job.).

It's definitely not the sort of ADD or ADHD hack you read about on lifehacker. But it's certainly done wonders for me. I'm sure there are other ways to address the problem, but it is a fact that historically there are few cultures which have exhibited anything resembling what we call attention deficit disorders, and they are characterized by a constant detachment from the sorts of traumatic experiences that are very stressful, but perhaps necessary for balanced attention.

Don't Work.
"Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world...."

Focus on Friendship, Not Productivity

After almost ten years working for nonprofits I can tell you that work, regardless of how many you help, will never be as important as the ones you love. It's also true you should work at your friendships. And no, networking event participation does not count.

Friendship is more than bringing a case of beer to the barbecue or standing as a Godparent and failing miserably to even attempt to fill the role. It's being present and contributing to your peoples lives. It's not just making them laugh but also making sure they know you will be there to make them smile when they're too weak to laugh. It's holding their hand through the divorce and helping them get back into the dating pool when they're ready.

If people only wanna hang but completely disappear when sh*t hits the fan and you consider them a friend. You are selling yourself short. Lower the emotional investment you are making into that person and fill that space doing something for a friend that showed up for you.

Some people are meant to be associates and that's fine too. Invite them to the parties and barbecues and have drinks with them on their birthday and have great evening dinners together. But stop expecting more from people than they are willing to give. It's such a waste of time. And for the people who show up, do something BIG. They have earned it after all.

Since I've been out of the country for the past few years I have plans to execute my own personal friend appreciation week this Summer where I will dedicate myself to my friends for a full week, helping them out, sharing my big projects with them and overall showing that now that i'm back in town physically that I am back all those other ways friends are too. The vulnerability makes me anxious, but, hey, that's what drives me.

Thought from and old person

maybe you could just get comfortable with being an "idea person" ?- we need as many of those in the world, as the people that take them forward - productivity is way over-rated - especially when most worthwhile endings in life are really about the journey

Productivity is a Trap - My TheListserve Email

On June 1st, I got an email telling me that I'd won the listserve. This is what I wrote. In a future blog posts, I hope to share some of the great advice and comments I received.

I wake up at 7am because I’m so excited about working on the app that I had started writing the night before and I want to get a few hours of work in before my "real" work. I click the pomodoro timer in the upper left hand corner of Google Chrome to start the 25 minute count down. While it’s running, the pomodoro app blocks gmail, facebook and youtube. Ingenious, right? I love productivity apps.

In fact, I love productivity tricks so much that my friends ask me for productivity advice.


There’s a new productivity app that uses binaural beats that I signed up for...what was it called? I don’t remember, so I open my email. The timer is running so I can’t open gmail because it's blocked. No worries - I simply switch to incognito window in chrome and open gmail there. I search for the activation notice in my email. Ah, it was called Focus@will.

I open it up and try to start the music. It doesn’t work. I try different browsers and different buttons for about ten minutes before filing a support ticket.


Now that I’m not being blocked by my pomodoro extension, I decide to check facebook. Staring me in the face is an opinion piece on the New York Times about why women wear heals. Ok, I’ll take that bait. I read it. Then I see a link to another article in Fashion and Style that sounds interesting, so I start reading without finishing the first article.

The timer rings, reminding me of why I’m working already at 7:30am. I just wasted an entire pomodoro doing things besides writing that app. Facepalm.


I have trouble finishing things.

Two years ago, I made a list of my unfinished projects. I hoped that seeing what I hadn’t finished would give me the kick in the pants that I needed to be more productive. The final list had over 100 projects on it. Rather than help me, reviewing this list discouraged me.

Why did I start projects at all if I wasn’t going to finish them? Why wake up early, miss out on sleep, give up relationships, and then fail to finish?


I feel like I’ve been stuck in an uncreative slump ever since. I don’t want to start something that I won’t finish, so I don’t start it at all. This has been good for my relationships, and maybe even my job, but I feel like part of me is missing. As I keep rejecting the ideas as they pop into my head, they stop coming.

The funny thing is that reading over the list of unfinished projects, I did eventually finish most of them. It just took me longer than it might have taken someone else. I finished the relevant parts of the Design Patterns book. I learned to play poker. I went through all of Lady Ada's tutorials.  


It’s not that I don’t finish things, it’s that I finish them on my own timeline. I know that if I start washing the dishes this morning, I’ll finish them by tomorrow night (which is frustrating for my boyfriend). I wish that I wasn’t like this. I wish that I had better self-control and finished projects in four hours instead of four months. But according to modern science, ADHD cannot be cured. So for now, I’ll keep using my productivity apps to help me. Also, I’ll start lots of things and eventually I’ll finish them.


See, I finished this email :)