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Talking to Myself

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7th February 2008

9:10am: You Know You're Getting Older When...
You blow your nose.

Without a Kleenex.

9th September 2007

12:37pm: Gratitude
I'm grateful to not be in Toronto anymore. I was originally going to stay till Wednesday, but a few days ago I decided that was no longer realistic. I flew back to Montreal late last night.

There are many things about Toronto that I'm willing to let slide. It's a big city, so I expected the smog and the noise. And complaining about the traffic would be like blaming the brick wall for making your head hurt. I wouldn't live anywhere without a good underground public transport system anyway, and Toronto's is probably better than Montreal's. It's ugly and depressing, but the trains are more frequent.

I'm certainly not averse to the crowds. Heck, bustle is a requirement for any place I would call home. It's not like Toronto is lacking for things to do. The Toronto International Film Festival is going on right now, and I saw some big name stars like George Clooney, Viggo Mortensen, and Naomi Watts. On the geek side of things, it was only a couple years ago that Toronto hosted YAPC, and there does seem to be some beer-related Ruby on Rails gatherings going on there.

Toronto even has some funny quirks, like how pedestrians will wait at completely empty intersections until the little white man lights up to signal that it's safe to cross. In Montreal, people cross the street at the earliest possible opportunity. We'll even cross halfway through a busy intersection because we know how the traffic flows, and we know that the car heading straight at us in the eastbound lane is six seconds away, while the hole in traffic that we can cross through in the westbound lane is only five seconds away.

But what drives me insane about Toronto is how a city of five million people can be so rude, overweight, and lifeless. Torontonians are an unhappy bunch, and the street cart hot dog vendors are making the most of this. Toronto is actually a Huron word meaning "What did I do to deserve this?"

In Montreal, people literally sing in the streets. They wear a smile and look you in the eye when you walk past. They groove to the beat in their headphones. Montrealers aren't afraid to treat clothing as art that you wear, rather than as a way of covering up their McEating habits. They're stylish, sexy, and fluently bilingual. Unless you're from Toronto, in which case they probably "not to speaking much Engleesh".

While you can apply politics to combat environmental issues and recover from urban planning blunders, I don't know what can be done to institute energy, enthusiasm, and cultural flair.

It's good to be home.

6th September 2007

3:35pm: Toronto the Terrible
I came to Toronto a few days ago to check it out. This city sucks.

Toronto wants to be like New York or London, but somehow ends up having all the charm, charisma, and fashion sense of Winnipeg. Even several of the subway stations have the look and feel of London's Tube, only even more dreary. While the trains run remarkably often—every three to five minutes, even during off-peak hours—finding your way out of the stations is not always easy. And the recorded voice that announces each station is the voice of a woman who has just awoken from a coma in a Winnipeg hospital and been told that she's being moved out into the hallway tonight.

It's almost interesting that a city this large can be so introverted and insecure. I was watching some b-boys last night doing a street performance in Dundas Square, and it seemed like I was one of the only 10 spectators who was actually "daring" enough to applaud (?). The lead performer was virtually begging people to make some noise, almost to the point of being patronizing. And, of course, Dundas Square isn't really an expression of Canadian metropolitan personality so much as an attempt to emulate Times Square.

From what I've read, Torontonians are stereotyped as thinking the world revolves around them. If that were true, it would be funny in the same adorable way that an eight-year-old kid truly thinks he's Batman.

17th August 2007

8:27pm: Traffic
Since July 29th, the date I turned my attention to the 30zzz blog and promoting the site "a bit more", 30 sleeps has had over 30,000 unique visitors from more than 135 countries, the vast majority of the interest spent on my writing, though the registered user count is also increasing steadily. I've already set a new traffic record today, and there's still a few hours left till tomorrow. I've been linked to by sites in languages I don't immediately recognize. My Inbox has seen a fair amount of reader feedback, including an email from a popular life hacking blogger expressing interest in an article exchange. The responses—unanimously positive—are, in many ways, the ultimate salary.

I'm currently generating about a quarter of my revenue from Amazon affiliate links, the rest from AdSense. While I've earned barely more than a nice dinner so far, I've easily surpassed my initial expectations. From the start, I considered the blog and the web app to be parallel business interests, so I'm perfectly happy with readers of the blog ignoring the web app, and vice versa.

But the most interesting observation here, for me, is how much working for someone else will hold you back. I'm referring not just to the time, income, and mobility you lose by being someone else's knowledge butler, but to the accountability structure.

What I love most about the 30zzz project is that my userbase holds the vote over whether what I'm doing is valuable to them. Every aspect of 30 sleeps—concept, design, scope, objectives, even the current trade-offs I'm making on certain things so I can focus on creating quality, original content and spreading the word—is a decision entirely of my own making.

It is a privilege to be accountable directly to the people to whom I want to provide value. For anyone who cares deeply about helping people kick ass, anything else is not only frustrating, but insane.

11th August 2007

3:22pm: "toilet repair" montreal
...was not the Google query with which I hoped to start my morning. But such is life.

In other news, the 30zzz blog saw another surge of traffic yesterday, which continues today. Welcome Stumblers!

2nd August 2007

11:46am: Slashdotted!
Well "reedditted", actually.

My latest life hacking blog article, Social Skydiving: The Art of Talking to Strangers, hit the front page of reddit today, #16 and rising at the moment.

The discussion is entertaining. The server crash is not. :/

29th July 2007

11:18pm: The Joy of Living Dangerously
Regular customers of my personal blog are probably less familiar with my life hacking blog.

I've just put up a new article over there: The Joy of Living Dangerously.

Enjoy.

1st July 2007

11:51am: 30sleeps.com
Steve Pavlina once wrote a great article on 30-day trials. The idea is that making significant life changes becomes a lot easier if you take them one month at a time. In 30 days you can really dig in, without committing to forever.

Enter 30 sleeps:

http://www.30sleeps.com

The goal of the site is to ignite and inspire people to change their life by setting goals and taking action, to build a community of dreamchasers, and to celebrate achievements big and small.

Building 30zzz was a 30 day challenge of its own. My initial goal was only to make it real, to release early and often, and let it grow into the world. My goal now is to make it enchanting.

30zzz will be changing every day, so stay tuned. :)

23rd June 2007

6:45pm: The 4-Hour Workweek
"Work smarter, not harder" is one of the ultimate clichés. And, like most clichés, few people actually do it. The busy outnumber the productive by a wide margin. Here's the difference, from a geek perspective:

BusyProductive
Rolls their ownUses someone else's
Makes it "elegant" and "extensible"Makes it work
Responds to your email within a few minutesResponds to your email within a few days
Ready. Aim. Aim. Aim.Ready. Fire. Aim.
Makes the boss happyMakes the user happy
What else can we add?What else can we remove?
Sees the toolchain as a competitive advantageSees the user-kickassness as a competitive advantage

I recently read an amazing book on working smarter: The 4-Hour Workweek. It's about applying the 80/20 rule to all parts of your life, to get more from doing less, and free up precious time for the pursuit of happiness. (I won't write a proper review of it right now. Just read the book. :) Here are some examples of how I've since refactored my own life:

  • Cut my billable hours by 50%; increased my rate by 60%. Sure, I make a little less overall than before, but I've been using the extra time to build a site that, I hope, will help people realize their potential. And I'm writing a book.

  • Signed up for the CMA's Do Not Contact List and Call Privacy. This eliminates about 10-15 calls I get per week from fax machines and telemarketers.

  • Automated all my bill payments. Switched to paperless accounts. My next action here will be to give power of attorney to my accountant for tax-related payments.

Want a challenge? Do less. Make your product smaller. Cut your deadline in half. Check your email 2 times a day instead of 20. Eliminate half your RSS feeds. Stop making it pluggable and start making it work.

Come up with one action you can take to put less time and/or effort into something you do and still get the same, or better, results. And do it now.

31st May 2007

10:44am: Not Hiring
90% of people live at 10% of their potential, choosing to work at jobs that drain their life force, choosing to be pulled along by the inertia of a bad relationship, choosing to pursue the degree their parents want, choosing to daydream up excuses for not taking action, choosing to zone out to "Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer" on CNN.

I've spent the last two weeks working on an application that, I hope, will help change that. I will have a first version out by July 1, at the latest, but hopefully much sooner. I left one of my main contracts this morning, while sipping on a latte in a Vancouver café, to free up time to work on this.

My vision for the kind of company I want to run has, for quite a while, been one of leading a small, one- or two-pizza team, design-centered, nimble, purpose-built for responding to change, radiating our culture of contribution and connectedness to an energetic and social user base. I guess that's a mouthful.

But I now realize that my ideal world company is one with no employees at all. The most important thing in life, to me, is the liberty to live how I want, and that kind of liberty is a function of time, mobility, and income. I don't want to manage or be managed. Authenticity and subordination, as Jean Baker Miller said, are totally incompatible.

26th May 2007

12:31pm: The Left Coast
In a few hours, I'll be on plane headed to Vancouver to spend a week hanging with my longtime buddy, and serial entrepreneur, Mark. I love the Vancouver vibe, and I could use some mountains right about now, so I'm looking forward to it.

Last week, my Mom and Grandma were in town, bringing the grand total of family members who have come to visit me to two. My Mom loves Montreal, and my Grandma called the experience life-changing, so it was a profitable adventure for both of them.

13th May 2007

4:25pm: Have Board, Will Travel
I've been wanting to add some funk to my commutes, so I picked up a longboard yesterday. I love the wood-on-wheels simplicity of a skateboard for transportation.

Speaking of simple, I've recently taken great interest in tiny houses. Though a 96 square foot home is a bit extreme for my tastes, I appreciate how they use great design to get the most from a small space. Less house, less mortgage, less housework, less waste—more time for the pursuit of happiness.

20th April 2007

1:45am: Being in the Moment
I ended up at Au Diable Vert tonight (after a geek party, a vernissage, and some poutine), got talking to a pretty face in the crowd, and ended up losing the people I arrived with. It's interesting how you can be perfect strangers with a girl one minute and, well, not, the next.

Earlier in the evening, a guy I was talking to at Montreal's Ubuntu release party turned out to be a friend of a friend. He invited me to a vernissage afterward. I went.

In the taxi on the way to picking up said mutual friend and his girlfriend we drive past a large crowd of people on Sainte-Catherine, camera flashes going off from every direction. We get closer and see it's some kind of model photo shoot.

"Holy shit, I'm not missing this!", my new buddy says, looking excitedly out the window.

He jumps out of the taxi, cuts across traffic, puts his arm around one of the models, and starts chatting her up and the cameras keep shooting. The cabbie slowly starts pulling away. "Attends! Attends! Il revient!", I say. My buddy finally ejects from the photo shoot, cuts back across traffic, and jumps back into the—now slowly moving—cab.

"They were boring", he concludes, and instructs the cab driver forward.

It was a fucking Jedi moment.

15th April 2007

11:08pm: Above the Rim
I hit up McGill earlier tonight with a buddy to play some bball: 2-on-2, 4-on-4, full court 5-on-5, and a game of 21. A McGill player joined us for the 5-on-5, which was humbling. It's been five or six years since I played, but I can hold my own. I ended up on the winning side in all contests.

And now I ache.

I also watched The Good Shepherd today. It was excruciatingly monotone, too full of trench coats and straight faces. I can almost forgive Angelina Jolie's unconvincing take-me-take-me-now interest in Matt Damon's deadpan character—fiction can be strange. But I hit a roadblock when the actor cast as their full grown son somehow looked only a few years younger than his (fictional) parents. And, in real life, he is.

I won't even bother wasting stars on a rating. My lifespan has, effectively, been reduced by 167 minutes.

12th April 2007

5:34am: Delivery
I'm unslept, as usual.

It's 5:30 AM local time, and we just rolled out the new Williams F1 website.

10th April 2007

1:47am: Sleepless
I can't sleep, so I'll write.

This weekend was perfectly insane. From meeting Jeff and Angie's little Leif, to fondue, lube wrestling, and other not-quite-bloggable misfitry, this was an Easter to remember.

I capped it off tonight with a last-minute party at my place. Originally, my buddy Tej was going to come over and show me how to make a curry. We ended up inviting seven other people along, on very short notice, and they all showed up. It was the kind of good news that stresses me out, but there's no question it made the party seven times more fun. We had a bit of a pot and pan crisis, and a slight seating squeeze—both due to my minimalist nature—but we MacGyvered our way through it.

My not-Facebook is off to a good start. This week, and next, I intend to add more seating space and kitchen supplies.

6th April 2007

9:07pm: Lube Wrestling
I've been invited to a gay and lesbian lube wrestling party tonight.

Yes, really.

I'd hate myself not to attend. I will flickr it, if permitted.

3rd April 2007

4:14pm: F__st_ation _r_hi_ect
Do you often complain that your users keep changing their minds?

F_ust_ation _r_hi_ect

Do you take pride in your comprehensive and well-maintained FAQ?

F_ust_ation _rchi_ect

Do you produce code that is extremely modular/extensible/pluggable before it's even being used by your customers?

F_ust_ation _rchitect

Do you cite the language and/or framework in which your product is written as one of its features?

F_ustration _rchitect

When a customer asks you if you've fixed a certain bug, do you ever mention things like log output, cron jobs, funky SQL joins, or proxy caching?

Frustration _rchitect

Do you spend less than five percent of your time on a project watching over the shoulders of your users to see how they actually use your product?

Frustration Architect

2nd April 2007

7:50am: The Pareto Project
I'm working on a social networking project.

It's not like MySpace, Twitter, or Facebook. It isn't Ajax-enabled and has no RSS feed. It won't compete for your partial attention or contribute to your RSI. It's not even web-based.

It's rooted in three dimensional reality. Real, face-to-face connectedness. I'm tentatively calling it The Pareto Project, dedicating it to the 20% of people in my life that are responsible for 90% of my social well-being. My blog is fairly unknown outside my social circles, so if you're reading this, that probably includes you.

The idea is simple: I want to have people over more often—way more often—even to have company when I'm in the middle of something else. I want my friends to feel like they can come chill out here whenever they feel like, to write code, watch movies, play online Poker, eat dinner, drink wine, read, study, play music, draw, throw a party, do a photo shoot, whatever. Just ring me up and drop by. This doesn't mean I won't phone you too, or that I'll be home more. I just want to encourage a flow of social traffic and help introduce people.

I'll also be hosting a few larger gatherings over the next few months, 20-40 people perhaps. I've got some themes in mind and have done some thinking about optimizing for fun, but I'm open to suggestions.

And finally, you might end up on film. A couple months ago, I started working on a "social documentary", which will probably continue until the end of this year. I'm collecting candid moments, memorable stupidity, laughter, makeouts, rejection, fearlessness, and everything else that makes life worth living.

25th March 2007

10:32am: Bankroll Management
I've always painted in broad financial strokes. Spending an extra half hour to save $20 is a net loss. Choosing to pay much less rent than I can afford, to have more flexibility to start a company, or spending an extra day or two to save $15K on a property purchase is worth my while. A penny saved is—literally—two pennies earned.

I also build my bankroll by increasing my hourly rate. As a hacker-for-hire, I shock and awe. I send out hundreds of CVs, if needed, to land gigs that hit that sweet spot between fun and profit. It's been several years since I've settled for anything less than getting paid well to do what interests me, in the comfort of my own home.

When you've got savings, you've got options. You can take time out to explore and try new things. You can choose what you work on and your boss becomes replaceable. You can Just Say No to bullshit.

21st March 2007

7:30pm: No Small Talk
A stream of consciousness follows.



My email voice is informative and concise. I need every word I write.

My spoken voice is sometimes prolix and distracted.

This disparity intrigues me.



I was rung out of bed yesterday morning at 5h45. I didn't answer the first call, to be honest, because it was "Inconnu". But the second one had a UK country code. By 7h00, I had committed a lot of working code.

Instant deadlines are healthy, in some ways.



I've lived in Montreal for nearly three years; Quebec City a year before that. Strangely, I prefer the French sound of the Québécois accent, and the English sound of the French accent.

I'm not sure that I'll ever choose marriage but, if I do, she will probably be Montréalaise or British.



"Free Software" works really well for some things, and really poorly for others.

The difference between me and your average Free Software geek is that, while they consider "freedom" to be a moral imperative, I consider a mind-blowing user experience to be a moral imperative.

The typical user—and by "typical" I mean astronauts, physicists, chemists, nurses, strippers, grandparents, professors, rugby players, and anyone else for whom computing is not a core skill—is much more likely to feel taken hostage by poor usability than by the license of the software.



If you ever hear your UI designer say "...yeah, but I think any reasonably intelligent person will figure it out..." fire them. It's not that users are "smart" or "stupid". They're stressed, time-limited, and uninterested in your architecture, you fucking twat.

I'm lucky. I spent two years working with a usability genius.



You'd think that after three years of "working from home", I'd take it for granted. I don't. It's bliss. There are no cubicles and no small talk. No strangely-patterned carpet or false attire.

I can barely imagine working in an office space.

17th March 2007

7:59pm: Obsession
I'm happy, but unsatisfied. I accept what I can't change—relationships that sour and dental work, for example—and otherwise live as intended. But there remains so much still to assimilate and experience. When I was about 12 years old, I figured out that all I had to do in life was decide what I wanted to do and then pursue it fully and completely. A rage to master gets results. The people I respect most are fucking animals.

I've been a slightly distant workaholic lately, fully absorbed by a change of direction, trimming from my schedule everything that isn't contributing to the end result. I cut Poker from my day-to-day because I feel like I have more important things to focus on at present than bluffing, check-raising, and table talking, though it's a puzzle of imperfect information that I may come back to later.

Right now, I need to design and build stuff. To ungeek technology. To help people forget they're using a computer. I'm on a mission to create pleasurable experiences.

My current gig is working on the new version of the AT&T Williams F1 team's website. I feel like by-the-hour consulting is the best use of my time right now, learning everything I can about Ruby on Rails and user experience. I'm evolving towards selling something other than my time. More on that in a few months.

12th March 2007

4:18am: Benchpressing My Eyelids
It's 4:18 AM, and I've been working since 7:30.

AM.

Yesterday morning.

I'm beat and bedbound. 'Nite.

30th January 2007

3:19pm: Close Encounters...of the Brief Kind
Life update, with pictures.

I'm a long-term guy, but I can't figure out how to do relationships. I've never been a fan of "flings", but you can't avoid them sometimes.

Shannon

Shannon


It was Tanya's birthday on Sunday, so I decided we should paint.

Tayna painting

Tanya painting


Every girl should play with paint on her birthday at least once.

Tanya painting harder

Tanya painting harder


My buddy Mathieu and I are discussing merging our bankrolls. The idea is to team up with a few guys and share the risk. It's a morale thing too. Poker is tough.

Mathieu looking studly

Matt looking studly


A few nights ago, Matt managed to rip his jeans on the dance floor. He asked if I could notice. I didn't want to look too hard at his crotch, so I said no.

Matt looking less studly

Matt looking less studly


I should have said yes.

Ty is thinking of going out one night with makeup on, as a social experiment. A few weeks ago, at Hurley's, I asked some girls what they would think. Be careful what you wish for.

Ty getting makeuped

Ty getting makeuped

30th December 2006

11:21pm: No Direction Home
Saturday night, chilling out to Bob Dylan and a beer. Might meet some friends later, though staying in and charging up for tomorrow night—New Year's Eve—is also a sound option.

I spent the past week in Winnipeg, visiting family and hanging with friends while Santa Claus was in town. It's weird—I lived the first 23 years of my life (I'm 28 now) in Winnipeg but I feel so completely out of place every time I go back there. My entire family lives there, but my own connection to the city is lost, if it was ever there to begin with.

There is no bustle or beat. It's lifeless, complacent, deserted.



I've been playing Poker for a year now. I started out playing little $5.50 buy-in tournaments and have since moved up to the $33's. If all goes well, I'll soon be rolled for the $55's. I've been playing more live lately too. I've got a while to go before my Poker hourly rate will eclipse my consulting hourly rate, but that's all the more motivation.

Poker, for me, is the new chess.



I am focussed on three things right now:

* Work (as a Ruby on Rails consultant)
* Poker
* Friends and girls

I've made some good friends through Poker, and found my way into various social circles.

And I've taken a gene-level interest in the way people interact with one another.

And the world changes completely when you make a habit of talking to strangers.
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