Browsing posts in: General Life Pro Tips

Say “Yes.” How my mom inspired and changed my life.

This is a photo from my mom's surprise "Bon Voyage" retirement party we threw in 2012. (Please excuse her casual outfit, her friend that brought her to the surprise told her they were going to the greenhouse so she's wearing her work-in-the-yard clothes. There is no excuse for my brother's outfit though.)

This is a photo from my mom’s surprise “Bon Voyage” retirement party we threw in 2012. (Please excuse her casual outfit, her friend that brought her to the surprise told her they were going to the greenhouse so she’s wearing her work-in-the-yard clothes. There is no excuse for my brother’s outfit though.)

One of the people to make the largest impact and influence on my life has been my mother and her focus on always saying, “Yes.”

This may sound like a small or simple thing, but it’s made an exponential impact in my life. It’s really easy for people to say “no,” or be negative and put up barriers in their heads, make up excuses on why they can’t do things, but her focus and indomitable spirit has made me who I am and often opened me up to new adventures and opportunities that my peers passed over.

There’s so many reasons she has been an inspiration to me, but I keep coming back to this key value she instilled in me, along with all the tertiary values of sacrifice, focus, indomitable spirit and hard work that help make saying, “yes,” a possibility.

Her focus on frugality (almost to ridiculous levels) and living well below your means allows you to save and prepare for saying “yes” when the right opportunity presents itself. She raised me to appreciate people and our time with them, not material goods or fancy clothes.

She always said yes to doing things herself, from DIY projects to always taking great care cleaning/maintaining/fixing the things that you do have around things around the house, to gardening and enjoying nature’s bounty, to almost always cooking at home and only going out to eat on special occasions (which is a polar opposite to how most people live in DC, and it still feels weird to me). Even when I go home now, she puts up a fight when I want to take her out to eat. …maybe that’s swinging too far in the other direction, but it’s this mindfulness with her money that has made her financially secure on a public school teacher’s salary. She did her best to learn early about the stock market and how to make your money work for you, by founding an investment club with other teachers, and she passed these skills on to me.

Even when she didn’t want to say yes, she stepped up and did her best at whatever she tried. She didn’t set out to be a teacher, she originally wanted to be an entomologist but back in her day there wasn’t many opportunities for women to do much besides teachers or nurses, especially in the sciences. So she buckled down and became the best teacher she could be, with many awards, degrees and generations of glowing and thankful students. In doing so, she taught me to be the best at whatever you do no matter what it is. Similarly, one of my photographer mentors in Chicago, John H. White always relayed this story from his father:

When John H. White was nine years old, a teacher told him that he would grow up to work on a garbage truck because he was slow in math. At home, his father told him to grow up to be his best, to look for the best in others, and if he were to work on a garbage truck, fine—just be sure he’s the driver. White has said that this was a turning point in his life.

Her focus on public and community service and giving back through your life’s work, spending more than 40 years teaching generations of children also had a huge impact on me as I’ve worked through journalism helping the public good and now in government service. She has been a giving tree her whole life and gave that trait to me.

She also inspired me in saying “yes” to embrace travel as much and as frequently as possible and to seek out interesting and diverse people and events to learn about. In high school, I had a crazy eclectic group of friends from preppy jocks to metalheads to rustbelt gear heads to computer nerds to poets and artists, and looking back on it, I think part of that was founded by her always fostering me to embrace all sorts of different people, places and things to explore the world and understand more.

She seeded in me the intensity and indomitable spirit to say yes and chase my dreams and make them a reality. She also sewed a frank and sometimes cynical/realistic (depending on your perspective) view of the world, but always looking to find the best in people and life.

While she’s a bit more of an extrovert and social butterfly, people often say that we share the same laugh — loud, jovial and infectious; you can always pick us out in a room. I’m proud to carry her likeness, legacy and hope to instill the “say yes” values into the people in my life.

My best advice and lesson from 2015: Cull toxic relationships.

2015 has been a wild ride and major pivot point in my life. It was filled with many new adventures, many amazing successes, a massive career shift and the end to two long-term and toxic relationships that have exponentially changed me. If there’s any advice I could give my past (and future) self, it would be to cut ties with toxic and self destructive things. Life is just far too short.

I know people say this a lot because it will just infect you like a cancer and it almost becomes white noise. I tended to ignore it sometimes because I always wanted to hold tight and work through challenges and try to make things better than I’ve found them. My whole career has been focused on improving organizations that are in trouble or lost on digital — and we *have* made things better and achieved a lot, most of the time.

But along with that, you also need to know that some things you just can’t fix and if you don’t let them go, they will pull you into the quicksand with them. I’m still reeling from how much Stockholm Syndrome I had, how much I invested to try and fix an unfixable thing, and how much I wish I had cut ties so much earlier. …But such is life. Now I have a new, much more positive one and am seeking out and surrounding myself with more diverse, positive, high-achievers that will challenge me in good ways and help me become more excellent.

Onward and upward, to 2016!

Pocket pro-tips — how to get the most of the read-it-later service from an addict

A Pocket Full of stuff

This year I’ve been working on managing my digital collections and consumption and trying to get more efficient and strategic about it. I’m addicted to Pocket, the read it for later saving service, and one of the dragons I had to slay was my insane 1,600-article Pocket archive that I built up over the years. (I’m floating around 200 articles now, most which are long-reads and videos, so getting through that will take some time.)

Here are some processes and tricks I learned from going through this massive de-cluttering and how I’m going to proceed in the future:

  • Don’t bother ‘Pocket-ing’ tech news unless you’re committed to frequently staying on top of your archive. I can’t believe how many articles on now-antiquated technologies I saved and only half read or didn’t read at all and no one died. Commit to reading it in the moment or commit to batching these sometime in the week. I was also shocked by how many dead links were in the archive. Digital decay is a huge problem not many people are talking about. Even institutions like Charlie Rose changed their CMS or archive process and broke a ton of links I’d saved.
  • Use some sort of system for tagging. Tagging and memorizing a complicated taxonomy can have diminishing returns on time saving when you’re on the run and just want to save something quick for later. So I say use as minimal tags as necessary. I’m trying out these currently (I might might modify them to tag a non-existing word so when I search the results will be more narrow):
    • “Soon” (Timely reading I need to finish this week, like tech and current news)
    • “Weekend” (Longer reads and such, ideal for Sunday mornings with coffee on the patio)
    • “Fun” (Non-deep stuff for lighter reading time, like on the metro)
    • “Work” (Jobbie job stuff)
    • “xHobby” (Topical around my current hobbies and interests)
    • “xMood” (For when you need happy/funny/emotional stuff and want to sort by the mood)
  • Use reverse chronological order mass batch your reading from the back forward. This also helps you move quickly, especially if you have an archive that’s half a decade old. Some things are just going to be out of date. The article about the launch of the Nexus One is nostalgia and not adding a lot of value.
  • Use multiselect and commit to finishing articles. On the web version, you can long click to multiselect several articles, when I knew I had an hour or so to dig through some of the archive, I’d batch about a dozen at at time, command-clicking them into different tabs for reading/watching and then multi-select archiving them. It’s kind of a Pomodoro for Pocket reading.
  • Search for topical keywords and then focus on chomping through that archive when you’re in a certain mood/focus. For instance, I was able to do all the background reading on responsive web design much more easily in this search mode. Rather than getting the randomness of my straight feed with an article about RWD, then relationships, then science, then Lifehacker, etc. The focused, topical reading list helped keep me in the zone. This can be used to sort by year fairly nicely too if you are looking for random ordering, but to clean up the older stuff in your archive.
  • Commit to dedicating weekly time to reading. The biggest factor in staying on top of Pocket and making sure your archive is manageable is finding regular, committed time to reading. Make it a habit. Either before bed, on the metro or Sunday mornings with breakfast. If you neglect and just keep piling up things to save it becomes a junkyard of randomness and you *think* you’re getting value when you’re just deferring learning to ‘sometime’ in the future (or more likely, never).
  • Backup / save your archive somewhere that’s searchable. I use and pay for Pinboard to keep archives of sites and web pages I want to save. Pocket offers a premium version that will do this for you too (I haven’t tried it since I have Pinboard, but if I ever lost Pinboard I would do it). I have an IFTTTT recipe that automatically saves new Pocket items to my Pinboard.
  • Automate an army of Pocket robots to help you out. IFTTT offers a lot of Pocket integrations that you can use to track topics, RSS feeds, social media and automatically save things to your Pocket for review. This can be dangerous and lead to careless overload, so I’m very targeted about this, but I definitely have Youtube “Watch Later” videos and keyword-driven RSS feeds from a few favorite blogs like auto added to my Pocket.

Strategies and best solutions for moving your personal music, photo, video and ebook library archives to the cloud


After a RIDONKULOUS coffee spill on my laptop (R.I.P) this Fall (Seriously it was a “where did the soda go” scene… full cup, right in the center of the keyboard), I’m rethinking my personal computing strategy (Do I need 2 TB HD for all my personal photos, music, movies, etc.? How can I do this while staying on SSDs for their awesome speed? How much intense video editing (and high RAM, CPU and GPU specs do I need) now that I don’t really work in multimedia anymore? Do I really need the full Adobe Suite?) and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time:

I’m finally surrendering and moving just about everything to the cloud. I’m not going to scorch and burn my hard drive backups, but I’m going to try and rely on them much less, only as emergency archives.

The four biggest hard drive hogs that need to be moved are: 

  • Photos. Especially my digital archive that goes back to … well, the start of digital photography and beyond throughout my career as a journalist back to when I used to do a lot of multimedia and photography. Thousands of travel photos too.
  • Music. Ditto… There’s a lot here since the beginning of digital. Especially a lot of really poor quality mp3s ripped at 96kb from long ago when ripping cds started.
  • Movies/TV/Personal Videos. This is a very random mix of family/friend videos, various Louis CK comedy standup specials I bought for $5 (even those are in the cloud from his site, but he limits how many times you can listen) and other assorted stuff.
  • Books (audio and ebooks). I have hundreds of these and for the most part file sizes are small, but they add up. I’ve wrestled with this challenge before; my digital book library is not very well organized except by high level topics like “Management & Business,” “Design,” “Development,” “Personal Improvement,” etc. I use search for the most part to seek things out.

My strategy and solutions for going to the cloud, trying to manage security, privacy, cost and future-proofness:

  • Music – I already use streaming services for music and most movies/tv video, so … I’m not sure how productive it would be to move everything to a cloud server. I have uploaded specific playlists and curated collections for offline saving into Google Play Music (that allows for offline saving) and so far it’s working well. They seem to be building this platform out to compete with the very intense streaming music market, and add new awesome features like how this year they raised the song upload limit to 50,000 songs up to 300 mb each (great for audio books that sometimes are just 1 big file). They’ve also announced they’re adding support for Podcasts. It will take a lot to tear me away from PocketCasts for podcasts, but if Google adds podcasts, allows playback speed control, AND allows up to 50,000 audiobooks and music, it would be hard to turn that down. (PocketCasts does allow you to upload audio books only through a custom folder on a MicroSD card though, so that kills the feature for about 90% of the mobile phone user base.) 
  • Movies/TV/Personal Videos – Similar to music, I stream most movies/tv now, so there’s not much value to uploading about 100 GB of video. For personal/family movies I’m going to move those to private channels on Youtube. Google keeps building the platform, offer so many data portability and streaming options, it seems pretty future proof and free.
  • Books (audio and ebooks) – I’ve already moved a large portion of my actively read/referenced books to Google Play Books, which allows you up to 1,000 ePubs or PDFs (up to 100 mb each) with pretty decent search, so that covers me. Audio books, I will probably move to Google Music (as previously mentioned) if they add variable speed playback when they add Podcasts to the product.
  • Photos – This brings me to the one area of moving life to “the cloud” that I haven’t really dove deep into — my photo archive. I have a mish-mash on Instagram and Facebook, and auto backups on Dropbox, but my full photo archive is humongous and not organized extremely well (largely around periods of my life based on where I was living, i.e. “St. Louis,” “Chicago,” “Florida,” etc.). Not having my photo archive on some sort of cloud service has probably been the biggest pain point of all of these digital content archives; being able to pull pictures when you need to explain something quickly, like show photos from my epic Halloween party, or remember the name of that Kenya campsite where we saw the elephant outside of our tent in the morning, would be revolutionary! I’ve had all these digital archives that I should have been enjoying, but they’ve essentially ‘been in a shoebox’ (on a hard drive elsewhere) like the photo prison most people’s memories were subjected to before the digital revolution. :) I’ve been shopping around for different options, but I think I’m going to go with Google Photos (I know, it’s kind of ridiculous… I’m handing my entire life over to them!); after reviewing the other options Google Photos is pretty exceptional for a bunch of reasons:

I may regret this, and I’m not throwing away my backup/external hard drives anytime soon. But it’s time I joined everyone in the future and embrace the cloud.


To the cloud!

Schedule Spring and Fall third-party social media app access clean-ups

LinkedIn Third-Party Apps

Some of the LinkedIn Third-Party Apps that have access to my LinkedIn profile info. This list on someone who doesn’t maintain a vigilant watch or at least semi-frequent cleaning could easily have more than 100 apps accessing their personal information.

Along with backing up my hard drive of photos/music/memories, one of the Spring and Fall (Thanksgiving weekend usually) digital cleaning efforts I always try to knock out for myself is reviewing what third-party apps I’ve given permission to my various social media network information.

Cleaning this up takes just minutes and can make a HUGE impact on not only your personal information and security, but also for your friends, family and other social media connections. (So also make sure they’re doing this frequently too and not giving away your personal info!)

I’ve often allowed access to one specific thing like mutual Facebook connections, or tried out a new app and never used it again, but with these persistent apps still having access, they can do a lot of not awesome things with your info. Especially if you granted access to one company, and then they were bought out by another, there’s all sorts of data danger, so it’s best to just go through and regularly clean them out. (And remind your friends/family to do the same, they’ll be surprised by what has access.)

It doesn’t take long at all — maybe a minute per social media account and will help secure your — and your friends and family’s data. Here’s some of the most popular social apps third party apps sections to revoke permissions:


(These links frequently change so if you’ve come to this post and they’re dead, look in the Settings of your accounts and seek out “Third Party” “Authorized External Applications” or anything related to “Apps” and “Privacy” for the ability to revoke third party permissions.)

Use a positive mantra for your password root to secure and inspire yourself

Iamfulfilled mantra

One security and life hack I’ve been doing for years is changing my passwords to be more secure with non-consecutive words by integrating a new mantra a few times a year. You can do this by using the first words of a memorable and meaningful mantra to say it out loud to yourself as you type it in frequently.

Mantras can seem kind of hokie and whatnot, but they definitely help, in my experience. Here’s a handful of ideas.

For instance, the mantra, “I am fulfilled. I am fearless.” becomes “IAFIAF” (then use some sort of mixed letter or number combination before or after or in between, depending on what works for you to keep it more secure and beyond 8 total characters).


Turn off “Unread message icon” in Gmail to be more productive

Unread messages

Gmail has an awesome, but deadly “Labs” feature (under Settings) available to turn on the favicon for showing the new message count on your email. I’ve used this for years but recently decided to turn it off and haven’t looked back to try and triage the amount of time I spend in email, and instead focus on batching emails at selective times throughout the day. I highly suggest if you turned it on and find yourself too distracted by the hundreds of emails that pour into your inbox, turn it off. The email can wait until you have a time-boxed time to knock it out.




The Iron and The Soul

Henry Rollins The Iron and the Soul

Henry Rollins was one of my life’s biggest inspirations and passive mentors, especially in my late teens and early 20s after I lost my father. From his music, to spoken word, to books and other writing, Rollins made a humongous impact on my character and life (more on this later).

While doing some summer cleaning of my Pocket (formerly known as Read It Later) archive, I found a reminder of one of Rollins’ most popular pieces of mainstream writing from Details magazine back in the 90s about growing up, self esteem, discipline, physical fitness and life, entitled, “The Iron and The Soul.” This piece doesn’t appear to exist on Details anymore (the media is the worst when it comes to digital archives… more on this later too.) but it has become a legend among many — photo copied, cloned, reposted all over blogs, message boards and gyms around the world because of it’s impact, especially on developing minds and bodies. Here’s a passage:

It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn’t want to come off the mat, it’s the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn’t teach you anything. That’s the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can’t be as bad as that workout.

I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn’t ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you’re not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.

I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone’s shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character. It is the difference between bouncers who get off strong-arming people and Mr. Pepperman.

Read the whole thing including the backstory on Mr. Pepperman.


Use a child bike seat on your velocipede for gear, safety and theft prevention

I had a crazy idea this week when I saw a guy truckin’ down Pennsylvania Ave. through traffic on his road bike with a rare accessory: Get a baby bike seat to make your ride more handy.

Here are four major reasons this might be brilliant and useful:

1- Carry gear easily and securely.
If you’re bike commuting or traveling with groceries or some treats for a party, you need somewhere do secure your cargo of various sizes. There’s a lot of racks and saddles and options for storing bike gear, but a kid seat has built in seat belts, can hold up to 30-50 pounds of various sizes and shapes! Plus, you can use it for it’s intended use and carry a kid, if you need to.

#2- Theft protection.
Let’s say you’re a scumbag bike thief and you roll up to a rack of bikes looking for your next victim — are you more likely to steal the dozen without the baby carrier or the one with? Of course you’re not going to steal the baby carrier bike. Also, what parent is going to have a super expensive, fancy or high-value bike? He/she has to save their money for diapers. The dad/ mom-bike thing totally melts away any sexiness of a bike.

#3 – Safety.
If someone sees you* with a kid’s bike seat and they’re not total jerks** I would wager that they might be a little more mindful driving around you and passing you. From behind, they usually can’t see if you have a baby in there, so it has a magical way to get a safety bubble of protection.

* = If someone sees you is the sticking point there since folks in DC often don’t see bicyclists, especially cabbies who often don’t care or tourists who are lost and/or oblivious looking at monuments and not the road.

** = I can’t help you there. Jerks be jerkin’. Maybe put a funny sticker on the back or something to lighten their mood.

Also, I think having the actual seat up high on the back of the bike helps you get more visibility and be a larger thing to see for others (more than one of those kid bike trailers, which is another option). You can load it up with reflectors too — who cares you’re a dad/mom with a baby! You’re not sexy anymore!

#4 – Use it for its intended use and carry a kid to have fun, make memories and inspire a new generation of cyclists.
Get some exercise and adventure and instill a love of biking and respect for bikers with our next generation. My parents weren’t zealots about biking but I do remember riding in my dad’s bike seat as a kid with the cool wind blowing through my hair and sights of our neighborhood and nature whizzing by. That eventually instilled a love of family bike rides and an adult life-long love of biking.

Decluttering your home using the Kondo method

This week I came across an excellent article about a popular decluttering and organizing strategist, Marie Kondo, in Business Insider:

She also has clients in Japan that seek her out to help them tidy their homes. She encourages them to clean everything in one fell swoop and only keep the objects and clothes that they truly love.

“There is an order to follow: 1. clothes, 2. books, 3. documents, 4. miscellaneous items, 5. mementos,” Kondo told Business Insider about her method. “Working in this order, you can improve your judgement and determine which items spark joy.”

She told BI that you can tell when something sparks joy when you “feel your body go upward.” If something doesn’t make you happy when you touch it, Kondo said you should “thank it for its service” and get rid of it.

A lot of her strategies I’ve been employing for years, including the sock balling method but there’s a few pieces of her advice I’m going to pick up and use now — like the shirt stacking strategies.

One thing that wasn’t mentioned, which I think is critical is to only buy/rent enough apartment/house to serve what you need. I find a lot of people are like goldfish and will fill/grow their possessions to whatever space is available. So if you buy a big house, they’ll buy tons of stuff to fill it. The Tiny House movement has been an interesting cultural shift pushing in the opposite direction, and while I’m not that extreme, I do admire and dig learning from their efficiency and living strategies.

Much of her strategies echo a maxim from Ghandi I’ve tried to live by since my teenage years, “Live simply so that others may simply live.”