Essays on Technology and Culture

Just Do The Thing: A Programming Project

I went to college to study Computer Science. It ended badly. I wanted to learn to write code, maybe make computer games. I ended up taking the same math class seven times in three semesters (they were half-semester courses, and one try was a two-week rush session between semesters). I ended up failing out, and refocusing on earning a degree in English.

Back in November, I decided it was high time to get back in the game. Knowing I teach myself best when I have a project to work on, I picked up a couple of eBooks, scoured Google and StackExchange, and began working on an app idea I’ve had bouncing around in my head for probably close to two years. I decided to build it in Vanilla JavaScript, with a little help from jQuery, since I already have solid fundamentals in HTML and CSS.

It’s a simple app: a tool for tracking goal progress. You check in every day, and mark whether you accomplished your daily goal or not. You only get to track one goal at a time, and you get a one-day grace period if you fail to check in. I call it: Just Do The Thing. Since late November, I built it out from a basic prototype into a largely fully-functional in-browser web app. It stores all its data in the browser using Local Storage, and has only two dependencies: jQuery, and calendar-base, ’cause who the hell wants to write their own calendaring system?

Amazingly, a lot of CS 101 came right back to me. I had to adapt a bit to JavaScript—my programming courses were taught in C++, and I hadn’t touched JavaScript as a hobbyist in about fifteen years. Thank goodness for the wealth of programming knowledge on the web. Whenever I hit a roadblock on how to do something, I was only a search away from help. As for roadblocks on program logic—I was on my own. So far, so good.

I’m now ready to show off the fruits of my labors. You can find the code at, and you’re encouraged to poke and prod it to see where it breaks. Just today, I finally cracked (I hope) a long-standing bug based on my incorrect assumptions around date math, which means it actually works the way I intend.

There’s still more to be done. I don’t want to rely on native alerts, and the app itself is still pretty homely. Once it’s feature-complete, I’ll be making it look pretty, adding some responsive layout functionality, and throwing it up at You can expect an announcement here, when that happens.

For Hire

For the past eighteen months, I’ve been working in medical journalism as a Web Producer. It’s an okay job, but I’m starting to get restless. The problem with most publishing, even in the specialities and trades, is that advertising rules everything. I’m just not satisfied with a job that prioritizes advertisers over a more important mission. So, I’m reaching out to my audience, in the hopes that I can find a decent job that lets me grow and learn while accomplishing great things. If you think that might be a job you know about, please read on.

First, a little about me:

If you want a résumé, you can find a PDF at this link, but a résumé doesn’t tell the whole story, only skills. I’m able to sling HTML emails, manage a CMS, organize events, and drive user growth, sure, but it’s all stuff I learned either by myself, or on the job.

That I have the job I’m in now is a testament to years of self-taught skills. I’ve been doing stuff on the Web since I was thirteen—more than half my life. It’s how I got a job with a Fintech startup, Trusted Insight. They took a chance, because I had a blog, a podcast, a social media presence, and I was willing to learn the trade. And learn I can, especially when I have a project. Heck, at my current job, I taught myself some VBA so I could speed up a recurring task in Excel when setting up new email lists.

If you’re in a specialized field, I can learn that quick. I went from no knowledge of institutional investment to managing a 65,000 member institutional investment community inside of a year. I went into medical journalism with no understanding of medicine, and now I know… stuff. Not as much as I learned at Trusted Insight, but I know a bit about the drug approval process with the FDA, about HIPAA guidelines, and the ACA.

Whatever you’re doing, I’ll learn, and pick it up fast.

Just one note: I’m not able to up and relocate right now, so I’d prefer if you’re either located in New York City, or you let people work remote. Either is fine, but I prefer to have an office to go to, if I can.

Second, a little about you.

You do work with a greater purpose—something that solves problems and makes the world better. Not just for people with money to burn and no patience (looking at you, “sharing economy” startups). I’ve got bigger picture stuff in mind: putting technology and the skill of how to use it in the hands of the disadvantaged—and getting them jobs—working to fix climate change, a broken government, or you just have a really cool app that helps a people in ways more interesting than summoning food, laundry, or a taxicab. You don’t have to be saving the world, just making people’s lives measurably better.

You’re also dedicated to solving problems and to making something truly awesome. You have people who show the passion they have for their work, and inspire each other to do better. I’ve been in too many offices where the work is just drudgery, and while every day can’t be one where you innovate, break through, and accomplish miracles, it would if we’re all in it together when there’s drudgery to be done. I’ve worked for a six-person startup, a multi-thousand employee international publishing company, a 25-person telesales and fundraising team, and in a 100-person government office. As long as I’m on a team that works tightly together, I can handle pretty much any size organization.

Think we can make something awesome together?

I hope so too. If you’ve got a lead, get in touch. There’s contact info in my résumé, but my contact page is right here, and you can even select “I want to hire you” as an option, if you want.

A Few Words of Explanation

It appears I touched a nerve with my previous piece, “Productivity Über Alles.” I was wary of posting it, worried that it would be taken the wrong way by Internet friends who are entrepreneurs, or that it would be a seen as a giant flameout, akin to Merlin Mann’s (in)famous “Merlin Labs!” video. It took some coaxing from said Internet friends, entrepreneur and corporate stooge alike, to convince me otherwise.

The post came in a burst of sheer frustration—a tough day at my corporate stooge job, combined with frustration about the sheer volume of crap that had been flowing into my inboxes about working for oneself, finding focus, doing your best independent work, and so much other stuff. When I read that article on people listening to audiobooks at 2x to better cram more information in, well, I snapped. Nothing against Shawn Blanc, and Mike Vardy, of course. They work hard, and I’m sure someone will get value out of their stuff. I just can’t mentally justify dropping $250 on a course on how to focus—and that’s probably cheap, really. The reason why is personal—I did blow $400 on a goddamn smartwatch, after all—but I’m sure it’s not exclusive to me.

So much of the rhetoric around “do what you love,” “work for yourself,” and anything that puts independence above everything else rings painfully shallow and hollow to my ears. My natural cynicism is to assume that someone has something to sell me, usually because they do. It feels like “make-believe help,” to borrow a phrase from Merlin. Something something “Facebook group about creative productivity,” am I right? There’s no shortage of a market for various panaceas to assuage the frustrated cubicle-dweller that they too can be an entrepreneur and, if not make it rich, at least be more fulfilled in life, by working for themselves. Hell, even those scummy “sharing economy” companies use the “entrepreneur” thing to justify having a giant pool of contract workers with no benefits and shitty pay. That alone should be a clue as to how bullshit the term “entrepreneur” is these days.

At least in the giant swimming pool called “technology” upon which I have been sitting on the edge of the shallow end of, with my toes in the water, the entrepreneur is lionized out of proportion. The only people in technology who get multiple hagiographic biographies and docudramas are the rich, white men who started companies and got successful. Not every startup CEO wants to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, but every VC wants to find the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, so hey, if you can’t be Steve or Mark, at least look and act the part, and maybe the VC gods will shine down upon you. From my perspective, it feels like if you’re not working 80 hours a week for equity and the promise of a payday, or pulling down six figures at an established startup for the same amount of hours, you’re nothing.

Few things appeal to me less than the idea of working more than 40 hours a week, by the way. I held down two jobs for 52 hours a week, for a couple years, and it was killing me. But that’s what I had to do to keep my head above water, and pay down my student loans. I’m keeping afloat now, but I also had the luxury of my parents paying off a chunk when they sold their house. Even if I had been doing “something I love” for both of those jobs (and I wasn’t, by any stretch), I would still be exhausted at the end of each work week, ready to find some distraction to make me forget my misery. I certainly wouldn’t be working on the next thing. It takes a certain type of personality to make that work, and that ain’t mine.

That’s one of the things that irked me the most, and lead to my piece, the one-size-fits-all advice of “WORK FOR YOURSELF OR BE A MISERABLE FAILURE” mantra that runs through way too much of the tech-focused media I consume. It’s in my inbox, it’s in my podcast app, it’s in the various websites I check during downtime at work. It manifests itself as “THE ROBOTS ARE COMING FOR YOUR JOBS” on the one end, and “BE FULFILLED AND MAYBE GET RICH” on the other. Neither is compelling. if I cared about making money, I wouldn’t have gotten a degree in English.

And that’s the other problem. The demand for more. Life hacks, and efficiency, and ways to crank out more widgets, book more clients, maximize income, maximize shareholder value, maximize all of it. I don’t care. I wouldn’t say no to more money. I am $36,000 in debt, and have a small problem with buying gizmos with pictures of fruit on them (and concert tickets), after all. But I don’t want more money if it means more agony: chasing down invoices, pushing for the next client, marketing yourself, paying taxes on 1099 income. None of this appeals to me, and I can see it tainting the work I ostensibly want to do and love. Okay, fine, all things in life come with stuff you don’t like. My corporate stooge job isn’t a walk in the park, but the agony is manageable, and it usually ends at 5:00 every day. In the calculus of the life I want for myself, A boring desk job for The Man, with moderate agony looks preferable to a job working for Myself, with increased agony.

This isn’t exactly a new struggle on my part, just one thrown into sharper focus after a bad day and some frustrating timing. I’ve long struggled to figure out just what the hell I want out of my life. All I’ve got so far is just a huge, and growing, list of what I don’t want. Maybe some of those things on that list will fall off and I’ll re-evaluate them, but that’s a ways away. In the meantime, I just want a little less agony, and a lot less people screaming in my ears about how I shouldn’t be chained to someone else’s desk for 40 hours a week, and instead be working for myself… and buying their how-to guide to maximize every hour I spend doing it.

Eight hours for Work, Eight hours for Rest, Eight Hours for What We Will

I’m Afraid

I’ve been thinking a lot about unpleasant things in my past, and unpleasant things in my present, and how they all relate. Not all of it has been the healthiest kind of thinking, either. But, as is the nature of the human mind, we dwell on the unpleasantries of our past, and the things we cannot change. This is the stuff that keeps so many of us up at night. Through all the thinking, I’ve found a common thread to unite the dark moments in my past, and explain the situations of my present—fear.

A while back, there was a small Twitter meme on determining your “burlesque name.” Your first name is your favorite drink, your last name: your greatest fear. I couldn’t decide whether I would be Bourbon Failure or Bourbon Success. The only thing I was sure of was bourbon.

Fear of failure is easy to explain. In the aftermath of failure, things are often measurably worse. You’re our time, money, possibly a home, or friends, or even your entire way of life. “They can’t eat you,” the saying goes. That’s true. I’ve failed many times, and I’ve managed to survive each time, but I always worry that the next one will be the end. I worry, no matter how many times I remind myself that there are nets to catch me when I fall.. I worry that the nets will fail. That I’ll be falling so fast, carrying so much dead weight, that each and every last net will snap as I hit it. And where does that leave me?

Fear of success? That’s a harder one to explain. The thing about success is that it means the expectations get higher with each success you had. The higher the bar is set, the harder you have to work to reach it, the more ends up at stake. There’s more to lose, and then we’re back to fear of failure. I hate the push to compete. The most immediate experience of this came in my first full-time job out of college, working for an abysmal B2B telemarketing firm. The attitude when I walked in every morning was “What have you done for me today?” Even if you managed to hit your expected lead count for the day, or for the week, or for the month, each day the slate was wiped clean, and everyone knew it.

I’m afraid when I’m not in control, because the unknown force of the universe’s apathy could choose to destroy all I’ve built. I’m afraid when I am in control, because I could just as easily destroy it all through my own action. Or inaction.

So I’m afraid. Because of the fear, I’m overly cautious. I often don’t make a change until the way to go is either obvious, or when there’s no other choice. I cling for dear life to whatever handhold I can find. It’s easier than fighting the fear. I’m even afraid as I write this piece. I’m afraid that it’s too honest in a social media age where one is expected to project unwavering confidence at all times, the better to attract whatever metric you want to grow. I’m afraid that it’ll be seen as disingenuous, that I’m faking it to earn sympathy. I’m afraid, as I often am, that it’s the last thing I’ll ever write, and that when I sit down to write again, there will be nothing to say.

There’s solidarity in fear, I suppose. Before I wrote this, I re-watched Merlin Mann’s “Scared Shitless” talk from Webstock 2011. It’s worth a watch for all of us. Even people who have succeeded by some measure are afraid—often of their success, or the potential to fail again. There’s always something to keep us up at night, worrying, wondering, angry, miserable, or some combination thereof. We’re all scared little animals in the dark, and I’m trying to take some solace in that.

The Great Unburdening

In the waning days of 2014, I seized upon two words for 2015: “Simplification” and “Focus.” They’re concepts that are intertwined. It’s easier to focus on something simple, and the more simple I make my life, the easier it will be to focus on what’s important. Simplification is a process, and focus is the desired result of undergoing said process. I know that my life has become much busier and fraught than I would prefer—and this is coming from a full-time employed, thirty-one year old man in a long-term relationship with no children. It wouldn’t be so bad of those things that make life fraught were things I chose to undertake. Instead, it’s often a lot of stuff I’ve fallen into, or baggage I’ve carried from my past. Time to unburden.

The process begins with unloading (some of) the piles of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. I’m not about to go all Minimalist Hipster here, choosing to live with some arbitrarily low number of things just to say I can. That way lies madness, and frankly, I don’t want to part with my collection of books, music, and DEVO Memorabilia. These things make my life measurably better to have, as I discovered during two years living with all of that stuff in storage. [1] But there’s other piles of stuff I could get rid of: clothes in my closet I don’t wear (or are so worn out that I can’t wear them), DVDs of movies and TV shows I’ll never watch or can stream, CDs of computer games I’ll never play again, and empty notebooks I’ll never write in—ones that I bought in college.

Okay, it’s largely symbolic, but I’m beginning the process of simplification by just unloading as much of this extra crap as I can. Every single physical thing in my life that doesn’t belong is taking up clock cycles in my brain that are keeping it from other, more important things to think about. This includes my work, my relationships, and even my health. No, the extra, cheap plastic shoehorn that came with a pair of dress shoes isn’t going to kill me, but how many shoehorns does someone even need, anyway? [2] My goal is to have a greater degree of intentionality about the stuff I allow into my life, not just to get rid of stuff I don’t want for its own sake. Honestly, until now, I didn’t even see myself as much of a pack rat. I’m not like those nuts who keep all their old iPhones—and the boxes.

Part of the inspiration to simplify came from Patrick Rhone’s recent talk at SimpleREV. In short, there’s three questions one should ask themselves about the things in their life: “What problem does this solve?”, “How little can I get away with?”, and “Where does this belong?” These go a long way into sorting out the stuff we have in our lives, physical and otherwise. I’m also asking myself a fourth question: “Is this making my life better?” It’s why I’m not parting with any physical media—save for DVDs and old computer games. Having music in a tangible form makes my life better.

What’s not making my life better is what I’m getting rid of. These are the burdens on my back that I’ve carried with my through a decade-plus of adult life. The physical ones are the easiest to remove: hock it, donate it, or trash it. But there’s other burdens I’ve been carrying, and for a lot longer that I have to deal with. That step comes next. Wish me luck.

  1. To that point, I just purchased a new record player, since the one I kept in storage died a brutish death due to being a cheap piece of crap. I could just buy all my music digitally, like I did when I had most of my things in storage, but there’s something wonderful about tangible records and CDs.  ↩

  2. Answer: two. One for home, and one for travel.  ↩