2014 was a hard year to be black

To be clear, every year is a hard year in Black America. But I’m not speaking for Black America, I’m speaking for myself, and 2014 was the year I realized that I can't escape the hardship.

I spent my entire life trying to escape the hardship of being black—the poverty, the crime, the general distress of my youth. There was nothing but terribleness all around me when I was growing up and it caused a type of trauma in me. Some people handle this trauma through self medication or other destructive behaviors, I handled it through escapism.

Escapism, in my case, meant leaving Milwaukee for college and a better life, it meant becoming an engineer and, later, an MBA; it meant a fierce and committed drive for success. I always felt I was running towards something—running towards achievement, running towards success, running towards prosperity.

It’s time to wake up

Deep in my psyche I always knew I was, in fact, running away. But running away doesn’t inspire action—it won’t get you through a challenging thermodynamics problem in school, and it won’t embolden your spirit when making a difficult judgement call at work. I consciously chose the narrative that served progress over peril.

My narrative collapsed in 2014. Several realities broke my narrative—the first being the fact that, by almost any measure, I have reached a fairly high level of prosperity. With all that I have, I’m not entirely sure what I’m running towards anymore. But, more somberly, the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and, especially, the death of Eric Garner in New York really shattered anything that was left of my narrative.

To some extent, I believed I could escape. That if I did all the right things, I would reach escape velocity and break free from generations of struggle. On December 3rd, 2014, that hope came crashing down to earth like Space Shuttle Challenger when a grand jury decided not to indict the officer who killed Garner. In that moment, I realized that it was not possible for me to be prosperous on my own—that as long as the police, or anyone else, is genuinely afraid of my face it’s not possible to reach true prosperity.

It’s time for Change

Ta-Nehisi Coates drew an amazingly vivid picture of modern day racism and its historical context in The Case for Reparations. Vestiges of our racist past still play a surprisingly influential role in modern day America. Racism in America does not look like it did in past generations. Today, racism means structural barriers to wealth generation and subtle dog-whistle politics, not public lynchings and burning people on crosses.

Modern day racism is about the neighborhoods you choose to live in, the school districts you seek out, the diversity of your social life, or the diversity of your workplace. There is no explicit negative intent, no one calling you a nigger; you just look around your office and realize there aren’t any faces similar to yours, because it’s rare that someone with your face graduated from college, and for those who did, it’s hard to get a job.

Cotes addresses this dichotomy in The Case for Reparations:

Black families, regardless of income, are significantly less wealthy than white families. The Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth roughly 20 times as much as black households, and that whereas only 15 percent of whites have zero or negative wealth, more than a third of blacks do.

I’ve seen this wealth disparity play out in my own life. Though both my parents were poor, my mother, who is white, graduated from college and had parents who could at least help a little; we owned the house where I grew up and were never evicted due to income uncertainty, like many of my neighbors. My maternal grandparents sold their farm and were able to retire by cashing in the resulting equity. Contrast that with my father, who is black, who was the first person in his family to graduate high school, and was raised by a single mother share cropper (basically a modern day slave). The source of this wealth gap is clear; one half of my family could accrue wealth over generations through land ownership, the other half of my family is only just now generating wealth… that’s me, and it’s not much thanks to fairly large amounts of student loan debt.

What can you do?

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

― Buckminster Fuller

  • Open your eyes
  • Become aware of the systems and structures in place today and try to understand the historical context of these structures
  • Challenge the status quo, specifically around hiring practices
  • Take a risk on an unproven candidate instead of prioritizing employee referrals (if you’re white and a decision maker—which you likely are)
  • Apply for jobs that you think you’re not capable of (if you’re black)
  • Look for opportunities outside of traditional employment (if you’re black)

Structural racism is about a lack of opportunity. A pattern of exclusion persists in our society, much of it driven by fear. We have the tools available to us to invent a new economy, an economy build on information, knowledge, and wisdom. Lets use these tools to take this issue head on.

Posted on February 11, 2015 .

Our Digital Future in 6 Steps

There is a lot of confusion around many of the concepts that make up a digitally driven economy. Even the word digital is met with puzzlement by some and derided as an empty buzzword by others. Digital is simply a mechanical property that allows information to flow at the speed of light. Most of the value humans create comes from the application of the knowledge and wisdom we gain from the above information.

This is how digital transforms our economy:

  1. The digital economy is here, but lives mostly off the books.

  2. Companies like Google and Facebook are a reflection of the digital economy, but it’s a one sided reflection of the value that’s generated. We give them our data, the raw material they use to build on, and we get little in return.

  3. They convert our off the books valuable data into on the books cash (ad sales) and other economic value (machine learning, AI, google translation, etc.).

  4. We should be compensated, financially for this data (beyond the token services that we get to use for free: email, google apps, social graph, etc.).

  5. A new economic model driven by micro payments for our normal internet activity should be created; Codifying the aggregate value we create through our ambient interactions on the web.

  6. This new model could replace the existing (outdated) model of an economy driven by manual labor (obsoleted by continuing automation of output driven by machine learning, AI, etc. from above).

All the building blocks are already in place to make this a reality. Bitcoin and other digital currencies allow for relatively seamless micro transactions. Klout was hilariously imprecise in its measure and scoring of social influence, but it was a sketch for a system in which different forms of currency and value can take shape. Pay With a Tweet is a more concrete example.

Going forward, think about how much your data is worth to the companies you give it to, and how much value you get in return.

Posted on July 5, 2014 .

If You Say Biased things…

If You Say Biased things… Earlier this week I came across a post from Dave Winer titled If you say racist things…. In that post he took issue with a comment made by Brooke Gladstone on On The Media, that “a bunch of principally old white male justices are going to be adjudicating an issue in which there are both gender and racial stakes.”

Winer writes:

It used to be, in my own lifetime and experience, you could say things like that about blacks or Jews and get knowing nods. In all cases, no matter what the excuse, racism is racism and sexism is sexism. It really doesn't matter that the race is white and the gender is male or the people are "old."#

Racism and sexism always come with excuses. However, if you say racist things, you're a racist.

I took issue with his argument and banged out a comment to his post on my phone. Shown below, unedited:

I'm try to determine if you're using hyperbole as a rhetorical tool here or if you genuinely believe this. Do you honestly believe that white men born of a certain generation will have have ZERO biases relative to, say, a Hispanic woman born in a different generation? Or a poor person vs a rich person? You believe that biases don't exist across age or socio-economic status? Race?

I just finished doing user interviews around a mobile app with participants ranging from 20's to 60's. There were clear patterns here around preferences and biases. And this was just for an app! Admittedly, this was a sample size where N = anecdote. But I'm honestly surprised by this post. Reads like misguided "color blind" progressive propaganda from the 80's or 90's.

I'm black (actually black & white) & grew up poor. I saw my dad last week & he asked me for money. My wife, who is white & grew up upper-middle-class, genuinely didn't understand this interaction. These differences in experience are real & can shape your world view.

It is absolutely appropriate to question whether a bunch of old white men can objectively adjudicate issues relating to race & gender.

Winer subsequently deleted my comment because he felt I was insinuating… he was racist? I’m not sure.


Most of the comments I've deleted have been of the variety of: "I'm assuming you mean X," where X is something reprehensible which I don't believe. They go forward and explain how wrong I am for saying X. When of course I didn't. I think it's obvious, if you say racist things, you're a racist. If it matters to you what the races are, then you are also a racist. Maybe you don't think being racist is wrong. Okay -- that's worth a blog post, not a comment. Send me a link and I'll read it.

So apparently my point wasn’t clear. Let me try again…

Racism is the prejudgement of a person’s ability, talent, intelligence, etc. on the basis of biological markers of genetic lineage (i.e. skin color). The prejudgement in the case of racism is one of inferiority. The problem with Winer’s argument is that he’s comparing a comment made on the basis of bias vs. a comment made on the basis of race.

Yes, Gladstone made an allusion to race in her statement, but the context is that men, of any age or race, have a very different set of life experiences to women, of any age or race, and these differences lead to very real biases. Furthermore, the experiences of white men, more specifically, lead to a set of biases that will likely lead to an impact on the objectivity of any judgement based on race or gender. Specifically the race and gender that suffers prejudice in the current status quo. I realize I’m making some assumptions relative to Gladstone’s statement, but my argument is that denouncing her comment as sexist, ageist, or racist breaks because:

  1. Bias (prejudgement based on perspective) is not the same as racism (prejudgement based on physical appearance).
  2. Arguing that a rant about old white men and their biases is equivalent to a rant about young black men and their thuggishness is both wrongheaded and dangerously close to the corrupted reverse racism argument. It would also be internally incoherent and the two are not the same fundamental argument.
  3. This approach of claiming any statement that references race is racist, though virtuous in its intent, leads to shutting down dialogue.

The concept of Intersectionality, which explores the intersection of societal systems of oppression across race, gender, class, etc., is important to this discussion. Attempting to censor any criticism of the systemic modes of discrimination (that white men have largely dictated policy for women and minorities of many kinds) rubs me very wrong. Shutting down dialogue around the privileges associated with race, class, ability, gender, etc. risks extending systemic oppression while silencing those who aim to confront it.

In summary, racism is about seeing an entire group of people as inferior based on biological markers. Lamenting the fact that a bunch of old white men are adjudicating issues surrounding race and gender in this country is not the same as claiming those same old white men are inferior. Conflating the two is missing a huge point about biases. I understand Winer’s bias and am very sympathetic to it; that is, he’s subjectively an old white man doing really smart work in an industry that glorifies youth and that he probably legitimately suffers from ageism. I think his work is brilliant, and that any prejudice he may get because of his age is wrong. I just don’t think Gladstone’s augment is one of age (and lack of ability due to age), it’s an argument of bias… of which Winer’s comments, unfortunately, were saturated with.

Posted on June 29, 2014 .

Collaborators vs. Opportunists

We have a tendency to simplify our world into something we can understand. We build models of the world in our mind, mental models, that help us understand this complexity. These mental shortcut save us time and prevent analysis paralysis.

Our brains use these models to establish the default options that give us the ability to make decisions in real-time.

  • Lions are predators that can out run us, quick, hide!
  • Now’s our chance, take the shot!
  • That smells like death, don’t eat that!

These shortcuts help us survive and thrive; they are the mechanism that drives our instincts, and we continue to add to our library of models with each new experience.

Collaborators vs. Opportunists

This is the latest shortcut I’ve added to my arsenal. I was reading the transcript of an interview between Erik Schmidt and Julian Assange when I was introduced to this simplified approach to thinking about human behavior:

Well it's not possible to win this kind of thing. This is a continuous striving that people have done for a long time. Of course, there is many individual battles that we win, but it is the nature of human beings that human beings lie and cheat and deceive and organized groups of people who do not lie and cheat and deceive find each other and get together... and because they have that temperament, are more efficient. Because they are not lying and cheating and deceiving each other. And that is an old, a very old struggle between opportunists and collaborators. And so I don't see that going away. I think we can make some significant advances and it is perhaps, it is the making of these advances and being involved in that struggle that is good for people. So the process is in part the end game. It's not just to get somewhere in the end, rather this process of people feeling that it is worthwhile to be involved in that sort of struggle, is in fact worthwhile for people.

I don’t know if I fully subscribe to Julian Assange’s core principles, as embodied through Wikileaks, but the above quote rings true to my experiences of interacting with people. Yes, it’s an oversimplification, but I think it captures a general truth about human nature and how we organize and behave. I don’t think that collaboration and opportunity seeking are always mutually exclusive, but I know I have seen acts of opportunity seeking at the expense of collaboration.

I find this shortcut to be a handy tool for interpreting the actions of those around me, and a good check on what I’m doing or thinking.

Posted on December 23, 2013 .

Stating the Obvious

One of my favorite aspects of writing is the ability to go back a reference my previous thinking. One theme that recurs each time I revisit previous writing is the notion that my my ideas aren't fresh enough or original enough. It's an insecurity that turns up every time I consider hitting publish. That being said, I want to take a moment to list some quick hit items that feel so obvious that they must be unoriginal:

  • No one wants to do the hard work. It's all there for the taking.
  • You can make a career out of grinding through work that no one else wants to do.
  • On the outside, people will view your successes (cleaning up everyone's ugly, ugly messes) as some sort of bourgeois existence.
  • There is pleasure within that hard work; it comes in the form of empathy for the person who's problem you solved or who's life you made easier.

This list seems obvious to the point of cliché. I even feel reluctant to post them since they seem better suited in some nouveau Chicken Soup for the Soul. But I like to write because it's part of a necessary process to shatter that insecurity. Not everything is obvious to everyone.

For instance, my co-worker got excited about Elon Musk's announcement of the Hyperloop today. Before the details were released, we both speculated what the technical specifications would be. Because I'm a formally trained mechanical engineer, who also happened to assemble air bearings in my career and study advanced thermodynamics in undergrad, I stated it was obvious that the idea was going to use some combination of a linear motor (think railgun) propulsion system and air bearing levitation system to reduce friction… duh.

Obviousness comes from a combination of literacy, exposure to ideas, and life experience. Not everyone can or will study thermodynamics and user experience like me, or study physics and business like Elon Musk. I'm frankly a poor judge of what's obvious to some and non-obvious others. This is one reason I continue to write.

 "Eph" Sparrow's Hand Written Lecture Notes

"Eph" Sparrow's Hand Written Lecture Notes

Posted on August 12, 2013 .

Google Reader Ruined The Way I Internet


I shared my knowledge workflow in my last post and the general disarray its been in for a while. I've since refined my workflow and I think I'm pretty close to a workable solution.

I only just realized this week why my workflow was so disjointed. It all began when Google Reader "upgraded" their sharing service to only share to Google+ back in 2011. My only tools used to be Google Reader and Instapaper to consume, filter, and share content across the web. I would quick share to my social networks right from Google Reader and I would save longer posts for later with instapaper. I could even post to my design inspired Tumblr right from reader. Life was simple.

I don't think I realized how disruptive the change was until now because I had been slowly modifying my content consumption long before the switch. The big hitter blogs like Tech Crunch, Lifehacker, Ars Technica, et. al. all posted far too frequently to keep up with in an RSS reader, so I began shifting to Flipboard + Twitter Lists to curate and consume higher volume content sources. Fast forward a few years and the monitzation battles of all the big content creators and brokers (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) began to add friction to my content consumption workflow by preventing API access, preventing sharing outside their network etc.

How I'm Overcoming This

I really liked the point made over at theangrydrunk.com about Google Reader shutting down.

The real takeaway from the shut-down of Google Reader is not that free services suck — or that paid services are magically better — it’s that users should always have a backup plan for products and services that they find essential.

This is spot on. I was a really early backer of app.net (seriously, user #481) because Dalton Caldwell made a really compelling case in identifying the fundamental problem every major VC backed web giant has with monitization right now. I still believe in the app.net cause, but I'm not putting all my eggs in any one basket like I used to with google—even if I'm paying for that basket. The key is to build in redundancies.

Building a Robust Workflow

I outlined a five step, tool agnostic flow for consumption, reflection, and publishing in my last post.

  1. Capture
  2. Consume
  3. Synthesize
  4. Archive
  5. Publish

Aside from figuring out how I'm going to replace Google Reader in my workflow (noting that I already heavily utilize Twitter and app.net as content sources), I've built multiple layers of redundancies into how I capture and consume content:

  • When I come across a piece of content I either want to save or read later, I use Pinboard to save and tag
  • I have set up several IFTTT recipes to send pinboard links to both instapaper for consumption and to an archive notebook in Evernote
  • I send the full article to Evernote from Instapaper when it resonates with me
  • I bought an Evernote Moleskine for quick note taking to expand on my thoughts
  • I'm using my domain as the starting point for publishing content and then distributing my content to various social networks using IFTTT
  • I create all my blog posts as journal entries in Day One

This way all the content I create lives on my site, all the content I save is stored in multiple locations (Pinboard, Instapaper, Evernote) and all my notes have a physical artifact as a backup.

Bridging Analog and Digital

Like I said above, I bought an Evernote Moleskine and am doubling down on evernote as the central archive of all my notes. The key is that every source that goes into evernote lives somewhere else as a backup.

I've never been one to romanticize notebooks and have been one of those big "anti-paper" types for a long time, but I've always kept a pocket notebook on me and have always been a note taker even though I rarely reference my notes (writing notes down just helps me remember the topic later). I've also been an Evernote user since it was first released in the app store, but I really only used it for snapping quick shots of wine bottles, whiteboards, and other random notes. Since the notebook comes with a premium subscription I figured I'd give it a try and now it's become fairly central to my workflow.

I'm also challenging myself to be a better visual communicator and pen and paper provides a more freeform medium for quick sketches and doodles. I used it to help me think through this workflow.

 consume | reflect | publish

consume | reflect | publish

I even use it to mock up some quick page layouts while in meetings instead of firing a heavyweight app like Omnigraffle to make full on wireframes.

 layout sketch

layout sketch

It has been really freeing. And I don't worry as much about data integrity or moral integrity of any one of the nodes in my knowledge building network. And I don't worry about losing 5 years worth of journaling in one moment of carelessness either.

Posted on March 17, 2013 .

Conscientious Knowledge Workflow

I'm trying to improve my heavily utilized, but highly disjointed knowledge workflow.

What do I mean by workflow?

By workflow, I mean my purposeful consumption of content for the purpose of building my personal knowledge base and the retrievable archive of said knowledge base.

Here goes my current list of tools (in a various states of active and inactive use), services and content sources for gathering, reading, synthesizing, and recalling the various types of content I consume:

As you can see, that list could use some refinement.

My current workflow typically starts by casually browsing my various feeds and sources, from there:

  • I'll save links/headlines that look interesting directly to instapaper as my catchall.

  • Browse my instapaper queue and either archive items that no longer look interesting or jump into an article and start reading

  • Articles that are non-memorable get archived

  • Articles that are worth referring to later get sent pinboard

  • Articles that blow my mind in some way get "liked" in instapaper and archived

  • I use evernote to snap photo notes from whiteboard sessions or from my pocket notebook

  • I journal using day one

Seems simple enough right? Wrong.

For instance:

  • Why send articles to pinboard instead of just archiving in instapaper?

  • Why pinboard over evernote?

  • Why do I have an IFTTT recipe to auto save my instapaper feed to pocket?

  • Why have stared twitter & app.net posts IFTTT to pinboard instead of just using instapaper? What's the difference between the two?

So many questions, so few answers.

How do others solve these issues?

I've been reading some good articles about other people's workflows.

I like the some of the tasks and activities Gabe Weatherhead and others have identified for their workflows:

  • capture

  • recovery

  • logging (incomplete thoughts, record of events)

  • notes (complete thoughts)

  • journaling (record of events, milestones, etc)

  • time shifting (for other audiences later in life)

David Sparks has a nice summary as well:

  1. Therapy for myself. It seems a good way to collect and deal with my thoughts about whatever is happening in my life. This is particularly true if I create the entries before ending my day.

  2. Nostalgia. It may be interesting in a few years to go back and see where my head was in 2011.

Short and sweet.

I like the idea of re-designing my workflow around specific purposes and adapting the various tools I'm using to fit the different buckets and workflows for those purposes.

Relating this back to my workflow

I can't help but feel like this is all just a compulsion for me. I just did the Strength Finder assessment at the suggestion of a co-worker. In a past life I would have rolled my eyes at a personality assessment, but I've since had a good experience with the myers briggs assessment (I'm an ENTP btw) so I figured I'd give it a shot. It turns out one of my top 5 themes (pdf) is learner:

you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you.

You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence.

Nailed it.

Retooling my workflow

I need to optimize my workflow. I need to think about which stage I'm in in the learning process and re-tool accordingly. A possible approach:

  1. Capture

    • I need to think about my workflow as a funnel. Perhaps use pinboard to save all my links that I come across.

    • Use evernote to capture half conceived thoughts and random visual notes from whiteboards and notebooks.

  2. Consume

    • Browse my pinboard queue for items truly worth reading
  3. Synthesize

    • Save content that resonates using the like function instapaper

    • Write fully thought out ideas in day one

  4. Archive

    • Arctive: Send liked articles from instapaper to specific notebook in evernote

    • Passive: pinboard & instapaper will have a stored versions of all the content and can act as a secondary backup

  5. Publish

    • That workflow is a post for another day. But it's about when to journal, when to post to social, when to post my primary website.

I haven't pulled the trigger yet because I'm still thinking through whether I want all these tools in my life, or if I'd rather consolidate (and put my full trust) into a smaller sub-set of tools. I don't know why I agonize over this stuff so much.

Posted on January 22, 2013 and filed under wisdom, creativity.

Abduction, Synthesis and Lean UX

What is Lean UX?

I was fortunate enough to be invited to a Lean UX workshop, hosted by 3M featuring Jeff Gothelf. Jeff is releasing a book soon and the first chapter is a free read. Check it out. In summary, Lean UX is built off many of the tenets of Lean Startup and agile development to build the right product for the right market.

One of the core practices that is supposed to make Lean UX a successful approach to product design is the generation of hypotheses and the subsequent testing of those hypotheses through experimentation/prototypes with real users in market. I've been following the Lean UX movement from afar for quite some time, largely because the experimental nature of it really resonates with my approach to work and life as a whole. I've always worked with a "move fast and break things" approach, which caused a lot of tension in my early career as a manufacturing engineer—it's usually not a good idea to move fast and break equipment that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars—but is very well suited for digital products. Lean UX provides a framework to move even faster and to break less things. That's the aim in any case.

After participating in the workshop I was driven to further investigate the concepts that Jeff was promoting. Fortunately for me, I went on a two-week vacation right after the workshop, giving me room to read and reflect. I have always been interested in the concepts of abduction and synthesis, but have always felt that I didn't fully comprehend them for myself so I got deep into some fairly heavy academic reading. I'm still very much in study mode, but was encouraged to share what I've learned so far.


Abduction is a somewhat difficult concept to grasp, not because of any cognitive complexity to it, but because it is so similar to induction. I find that I more easily understand complicated concepts by drawing clear contrasts and by creating a mental model using a spectrum to convey either end of the contrasting concepts. You can think of abduction and induction as being on either end of a certainty spectrum—from low certainty to high certainty—where they are both methods of inferential discovery. It all comes down to probabilities, where abduction is essentially drawing intelligent guesses or hypotheses about a given situation and induction is making a similar guess but with a higher probability or certainty (we can guess the sun will rise based on a lifetime of seeing the sun rise, a fairly certain theory of gravity, etc.).


If abduction is simply guessing in a way that makes you look like a boffin instead of a buffoon, how is it that this practice is supposed to lead to any successful discoveries or products? Enter synthesis. Abduction isn't about making wild guesses, it's about generating sound, contextually relevant hypotheses. Synthesis is the beginning of contextualizing your guess-work.

All knowing is inferring and that knowing is done through the comparison of different mental models. I can share a concrete example of this through some of my own experiences. As I stated above, I started my career as a manufacturing engineer in a lean manufacturing environment. Before I knew anything about UX or software development, I was doing Kaizen exercises with our machinists, setting up Kanban inventory systems, and doing blue yarn analyses for material flows. As my career trajectory started to move towards software consulting and product design I had to quickly adapt my training, experience, and education to a new context. But I didn't have to start from scratch, I had abduction and synthesis on my side and could make the connections between the mental model of manufacturing physical products and apply those lessons to digital products and workflows.

Conclusion // tl;dr

Jeffery Zeldman and Khoi Vinh made an important point about the importance of learning through writing. That's what I'm aiming to do with this post.

  • Lean UX is about creating a repeatable process for finding product/market fit.
  • Generate hypotheses and test those hypotheses with as short a feedback-loop as possible (aka Minimum Viable Product—MVP).
  • Use abductive reasoning and synthesis to make your hypotheses as contextually relevant as possible by comparing models you've experienced in the past that share similar attributes.
  • … profit.
Posted on January 5, 2013 and filed under career, design, Strategy, UX.

Time for a reset

I've been busy since I was last active on my blog. There's a saying that is apt: "The cobblers children have no shoes."

I spent a lot of time scheming my exit when I was still working as a mechanical engineer and this used to be the venue for me to think out loud. I pondered grad school & ultimately went on to finish a MBA. I started consulting (while still in grad school) and my life became a bit of a wreck. I finished school just as things were starting to slow down in the consulting world, at least for me, so I reached out to an old classmate for an informational interview.

That led to my next gig, and where I continue to work today.


It's been an amazing experience so far, but also very demanding. It's completely consuming of all of my best cognitive ability. I will most likely expand on this more in the future, but today is about refocusing on getting some content posted.

My goal is to wrestle back some of that cognition and start making a stronger effort to write. To share some of my experiences and some of the lesons learned in the trenches of the digital battle field.

I want to update the content as much as the focus and the visual design. So, in the coming weeks, I'll be do some rearranging or even self hosting. I haven't decided yet.

I also want to try posting shorter entries so that this can be easier to keep up with.

Stay tuned.

Posted on August 3, 2011 and filed under blogging, career, professional.

Pwning Life

My brother, miltownkid, is infamously known from a video he posted to youtube of his xbox dying back when he still lived in Taiwan. It has since blown up (+2 million views!) and has become a pivotal point in his life even. He went from being a general jokester, to uploading one video, to becoming a mini-youtube celebrity  seemingly overnight (even though its actually been a multi-year process, more on that later). It's been a blessing and a curse because, although gaming is big on his list of things to do, my brother is much more multifaceted than a one-line descriptor of gamer. Casey, my brother, originally moved to Taiwan to master Mandarin and Taichi as well as general wisdom and sagedom (not a word, I know). However, ever since kind of blowing up on youtube he has had to adopt the title of gamer as an evermore sentient part of his identity. These "clashing" identity attributes have culminated into a new project, pwninglife.com, a personal development blog/vlog for the gamer generation.

The term “pwning life” is an idea that popped into my (miltownkid‘s) head January 18th, 2008. The next day I made a video trying my best to capture the feeling of this idea.

Pwning Life is “personal development for the gamer generation.” A skill we gamers learn at a very young age is how to put forth enough effort in a video game to get better at it. Put in enough effort and we eventually PWN. This exact same formula is as true in life as it is in video games. Put forth enough effort and you will PWN any aspect of life (health, finances, spirituality, relationships or work/career).

The only problem is making the leap from using this skill in video games to using it in life. In video games the objectives are clear (save the princess) and the methods are well documented (don’t get hit by the fireballs). Objectives in life are not so clear and the methods are often times overly complex, vague or confusing. This website will help bridge that gap by both documenting my objectives and sharing my methods, sharing methods which have been successful to others and helping YOU do the same with yours.

Start Pwning Life Today

One of the first steps miltownkid suggests is to come up with your vision by using a number of thought exercises:

  • You Just Won The Lottery
  • Your Perfect Day
  • A Conversation With God
  • Make An “I Want” List

I think the method that works best for me is the "Your Perfect Day" exercise. I actually have a blog post saved in the que on the topic of process vs. outcome. I'll get into more detail  about that once I post on that topic, but the synapsis is that I'm currently waging an internal philosophical battle with myself about whether the process you take is more important than the end result you're looking for. I don't have this figured out yet (which is why I haven't posted it yet), but my intuition tells me the process is much more important; maybe the outcome is a good tool to focus the direction of your process?

What's my perfect day?

If you haven't already guessed it, this is a really difficult exercise. I'll just start listing some things and I guess I'll just have to circle back and update as I get a better understanding.

A perfect day involves:

  • This first one is easy as it's been something I've been saying since I was a kid: a perfect day starts by waking up without an alarm; whether it's due to having a flexible work life or my circadian rhythm in check
  • Some form of physical activity, preferably play but I'll take a nice long walk as well
  • Eat really good, high quality food
  • At least one form of creative expression
  • Experience a genuine loving connection
  • At least one challenging problem that needs to be solved and a resulting solution (see creative expression above)
  • Have at least one experience a day that elicits a novelty response
  • Have scheduled time to read

That's all I can think of right now. I know they're really general and I'm sure it would be helpful, if not more beneficial, to detail more specifics, but I'll take a general list that's published over a specific list that sits in the purgatory of the blog que right now.

Posted on July 27, 2010 and filed under happiness, pwning life, wisdom.


It's been a long road, but I've finally made it!

I go to a graduate dinner on Saturday & I walk on Monday. I've read a lot of choice words about what different peoples' take on the MBA is over the three and a half years it took me to finish and I have to say, I have no regrets. I've met really great classmates, landed a job that I love, and learned some profound things that have given me new perspectives on life.

Now that I'm finished, I hope to contribute a little more to this website and maybe even do a redesign. For now, I'm just going to enjoy my newfound free time and play with this lovely iPad I'm typing this post on.

In the mean time, stay tuned here or check out some of my more creative influences over at my Tumblr blog and follow me on Twitter @elliott_payne.

Posted on May 14, 2010 and filed under career.

Entrepreneurship Social-Media and Skeptics Oh My! (Prt. 3)

This is the final part of a three part series I wrote in 2008. It was my take on the developing web 2.0 landscape. Now that the fall semester has come to a close, I'll be able to dedicate a little more mindshare to this website. I want to put a capstone on this, revisited, 3 part series and this year by offering my thoughts on a book I read about a month ago - Guy Kawasaki's Rules For Revolutionaries. I offered some brief thoughts over on my "short-form" tumblr blog, but I really want to expand on those thoughts here. Check back within the next week or two for that. =====

In my last post on this subject, I spoke to the benefits I've experienced thus far with social-media, where I think social-media is heading, and how social-media is all in all a good thing. I'm going to try to address some of the concerns present with current day social-media as I see them and also try to cover some of the criticisms skeptics have raised pertaining to social-media and maybe a rebuttal to them.

Time to wrap this thing up.

The Skeptics

The internet, since its inception, has been criticized for its lack of credibility and rightly so; the internet and its predecessor has been a hotbed of piracy, copy write infringement, porn, and all things sinister and evil. Services such as Apple TV, Netflix, and iTunes have only been around for a few years and those services have only recently become widely accepted mediums for utilizing the internet as a legal source of media. The long and skinny of it is that the internet is still a very unrefined place - the wild wild west of our generation.

There is no clear model of how to generate revenue from the internet; although many have profited greatly from the internet thus far, those successes are few and far between and there are no clear answers why some have succeeded and others have failed miserably. Furthermore, there is no sign of what will and won't work in the future of the internet. We're all pulling at straws, hoping that something sticks and this is the very reason there are so many skeptics of web 2.0.

In the past, the most effective way to make money on the web was through banner ads. But banner ads have been just a piss poor attempt at digitizing traditional advertising formats, producing abysmal performance per dollar spend in comparison to their traditional counterparts. Furthermore, it's been argued that people don't want to be marketed to while online - that they want to get in and get out and move on while surfing the web. Others claim social-networking is superficial, too time consuming, dilutes your personal brand, and is no replacement for face to face contact

I can't help but think of Guy Kawasaki when discussing this topic because he seems to have been on the forefront of some of the trends brought on by the internet, if not create some trends, but I asked my business formation professor about what he thought of him (since he referenced him in one of his lecture notes) and my professor had one simple question: What successful ventures has he created or financed?

The question floored me to an extent, mostly because of the sheer simplicity of it. He had a way of cutting straight to the chase in his lecture style and he definitely delivered in this razor sharp questioning. He continued (and I'm paraphrasing here):

He [Guy Kawasaki] seems to have written some books on the subject of business formation and have had some success there, but be careful about what you read and really vet your sources because anyone can write anything they want, especially on the internet. Look into what they have actually accomplished and always take everything with a grain of salt.

Fairly basic advice, but for some reason it really resonated for me: So I asked myself "I like Guy Kawasaki, what ventures of his do I know of that have been wildly successful?" Well, I can't really say for sure. I can only assume his "Alignment of Interests" section on his blog indicates some of the ventures he's involved in and that his venture capital firm Garage Tech has a pretty impressive portfolio of companies listed (at least I'm impressed by the fact that one of my favorite finance sites, Motley Fool, is listed).

Like I said before, I came across an article in the WSJ about Penelope Trunk and through her blog found out about Guy Kawasaki, then alltop, then all kinds of super relevant and informative blogs and people like Zen Habits, Unclutterer, Life Hacker, Chris Brogan, Problogger and on and on. I kind of got so enthralled in all this new and intriguing information, I think I kind of lost a little bit of my analytical and usually skeptical approach to new or untested information. Once you start clicking through a lot of these links, you'll notice that a lot of information will end up getting reused and recycled in a flurry of almost circle jerk proportions - not necessarily a bad thing in its own right when the information is relevant, useful, and legitimate. But very dangerous when one blogger makes baseless claims that get substantiated by multiple bloggers who may find that stance convenient to what ever world view they promote. Copyblogger speaks to the "circle-jerk" nature of bloggrolling I'm referring to here as a barrier to success for social-media as a means of revenue generation.

One of my close friends is very much anti social-networking. The irony here is that he's a programmer who spent a significant amount of time in the bay area during the mid to late nineties who worked with a lot of start ups (even to the level of being the CTO for one). His gripe? He wants to spend less time on the internet not more. He shares the sentiments of social-networking being too much of a time commitment for little personal gain. He also argues that every time he logs onto what little sites he's a member of (a fairly infrequent occurrence), one site falls out of light in favor of another. There's really no keeping up with who uses what site and to what end, leaving you with a disconnected network of friends in different circles spread throughout the internet.

Look, I get it... I get that the "true" utility of social-media has yet to be defined, I get that no one wants to be pitched wares by their "friends" every time they log-in and check their messages, I get that legitimacy is in question every time you open google reader to check out what's happening in the your world, I really do. But look, there is a new landscape out there, and I'm not talking about technology, I'm talking about new attitudes to and expectations of the internet.

Web 1.0 didn't look any different from web 2.0 (well, maybe there were less annoyingly flashy websites in web 1.0), no one really knew what to do with it or what to think of it. We were still used to very limited sources of news and opinion at that time, and for that reason, those sources had to be highly scrutinized, editorialized, and legitimized through a systematic source of checks and balances. That process lead to a centralized monopoly of information providers simply out of the necessity to develop and maintain the resources needed to maintain the infrastructure of information. Web 2.0 isn't about new internet technologies, it's about new ways of generating and processing information, it's about new attitudes towards an open channel of information that democratizes our most precious asset - knowledge.

Entrepreneurship Social-Media and Skeptics Oh My! (Prt. 2)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series that I originally posted in 2008. I'm revisiting this series because I feel like I've come a long way since originally drafting these ideas and so has the web 2.0 landscape. I'm using this to reaccess whether my ideas may have been right or wrong and to further refine my hypotheses about this dynamic market. ========


I think I ended cutting the last bit a little short because my brain tends to start running in circles the more I think about something. I'll try to tighten up any loose ends as I continue on to part 2 of this 3 part series.

Social-Media (Web 2.0?)

The first thing that I should say on this topic is that none of what is considered Web 2.0 is really very new. Blogging (writing crap and digitally publishing it) has been around for ages, same with web forums, and a slew of other internet technologies that have been widely accessible and used for nearly a decade. Hell, if we want to step out of the context of the internet, move over youtube, public access tv has been around since at least the 80's. But I'll get into this in more detail in part 3 of this series. Just know that I've considered these concepts as we continue along. Shall we?

There are two main points I want to address (not that I won't tangent off into more, but these are the main 2). First, and in my opinion, anyone who takes the time to create a blog should, at the bear minimum, put some thought into their role as a content creator on the internets, if not speak directly to it on their blog. There's a lot of clutter on the internet and people should put a little consideration as to whether or not their contributions add more clutter, or actually add useful information (a point I really want to drive home, another time). Otherwise one can get stuck at point 2 of the "blog life cycle," where you end up just regurgitating tired revelations over and over again.

Second, as an early "millennial," I grew up with an Apple IIe in my classroom in elementary school (number crunchers and oregon trail FTW), remember getting our first PC at home which was a big deal, remember getting our first CD-ROM drive and installing it ourselves (again, this was a big deal in the early 90's), and I remember using BBS's before the internet. Long story short, I've spent most of my life around computers and depending on them, but I also remember a time when I didn't have that sort of relationship... a simpler time, if you will.

I'm by no means an early adopter (this blog is proof of that), but I tend to stay ahead of trends and I think I have an eye for visionary ideas when I see them. But I remember reluctantly signing up for hot-or-not when my friend hassled me until I did, I always hated that site and its entire concept but it was a primer for sites like friendster which I also reluctantly signed up for back in 2003 when that same friend kept on pestering me to sign up. That was back when I was in L.A. for an internship and didn't really know that many people, that was also when I saw the value in social-media for the first time. If you've ever lived in a city like L.A., you know that you meet people left and right like crazy because everyone is so friendly (or fake for those that don't like L.A., I don't believe it though) and because everyone is so social (ie parties, a lot). You would meet all these people at a party for a fleeting moment and then you'd log into friendster (and later myspace when friendsters servers couldn't take the traffic and all around sucked at that time) find those people through your one or two friends who introduced you and bam! - you had this huge network of people who you found a real connection with and created real relationships with when, in the past, you would have one evening of drunken fun and never even remember their names ever again. I've still got really good friends that I keep up with to this day through that medium.

Fast forward to 2008 and now we all have a profile on over a dozen websites: friendster, myspace, facebook, delicious, flickr, linkedin, digg, twitter, and on and on and on. Privacy and secrecy is basically a thing of the past, we're all connected, and connected in very intimate ways. But what does this all mean, and what does it/can it do for you? Well, it doesn't mean a whole lot... yet.

The way to make money on the internet is not an exact science today; this is still the wild frontier. But as we become more connected, we're going to see more relevant content on the web. For instance, I've been reading a lot of blogs on alltop (an aggregation of blogs across an array of topics that I came across from reading one of the creator's blogs). I was specifically reading a lot of blogs under the topic of design when I kept on finding a bunch of clothing brands and other nick-knacks that I really liked. I think I ended up spending a couple hundred bucks on stuff that month. The point is that the more you know about your market (segment, niche, etc.), the better you can service that market through your offerings whether product or service. Furthermore, the socially connected web is a lot more informal and personal, so you don't feel like a lemming targeted by corporate America to exploit because the product or service being marketed towards you is something that might be passed on by a friend who thought it would be a good fit for you based on a conversation you were just having vs. the "spray and pray" method of putting a bunch of corny ads all over the place a hoping someone actually buys.

Another trend I've been noticing is that people are beginning to shy away from the mega sites like ebay and taking their business to more community based sites like etsy for buying and selling stuff like trinkets and crafts because they are better served by that medium because they are more closely connected (and because people are sick of getting scammed). I think you're going to continue to see smaller web-based communities pop up to fill the gaps where the original mega sites like ebay and amazon left off, but you're going to see this trend across the board whether you're buying products and services or just looking for relevant information.

But as many of you know, not everyone sees things things this way. Stay tuned for part 3 as I cover the skeptics and their criticisms of this web 2.0 craze.

Posted on November 12, 2009 and filed under marketing, Social-Media (Web 2-0).

Entrepreneurship Social-Media and Skeptics Oh My! (Prt. 1)

I've come a long way since starting this blog almost two years ago. I'm going to re-post this series of posts because I want to re-litigate some of my ideas on web 2.0 and see if they need a refresh and try to determine where my ideas need refining. =====

Before I get ahead of myself, I should say that I just updated my about page. There isn't much there, but you'll notice I'm in school for an MBA (about half way through at this point). You'll also notice that I've got quite a few different interests across a fairly wide spectrum (i.e. engineering and photography & DJing aren't exactly 2 peas in a pod). So as I continue to explore various career paths and try to align my experience (and dare I say, expertise) up to this point with my relatively diverse interests to create a career where I don't feel like shooting myself in the face with a shotgun every time I show up for work, the more I realize I'm pigeonholed into the kind of jobs that my academic background would suggest I take. On paper, I'm a one-dimensional number cruncher, deployed as a specialized cog in a large convoluted and disorganized system of industrial inputs and outputs.

The above lays the groundwork for the following post. I might have to break this up into several sections to keep things organized and on point.

Entrepreneurship and New Venture Development

For the sake of maintaining my beautiful face (what with all the shotgun blasts), I'm finding that I'm most likely going to have to start my own venture, or at least highly consider this option in lieu of the mythical perfect job where everyone has an oversized beanbag of an office chair, lunch is catered daily, and there's a whole arsenal of nurf paraphernalia in the board room. And cold beer on tap in the cafeteria. Oh, and your to-do list has cure world hunger. And... well, you get the point. Basically a place like IDO, not that they have beer on tap, but it's basically the kind of place I'd like to work if I could work anywhere I wanted. Last semester I had probably the best class that I'll have in the entire program. As much as I like Porter's 5-forces and to use terms such as paradigm shift and functional frameworks in my daily vernacular of BS MBA mumbo jumbo, a lot of the shit thrown at MBA programs and MBA candidates is pretty fair: Great business leaders business school does not make. But last semester, I took a class on business formation and new venture development. My professor was a seasoned venture capital manager and financier as well as an accomplished entrepreneur; this class was almost more about life than it was about business. The key take home message, at least for me, was that you can't be taught entrepreneurship as much as you can learn from other peoples entrepreneurial exploits. Basically, you get to learn about all the myriad of ways a financier/partner/your own mother will screw you when it comes to starting a venture - I'm being dramatic, but you can really get the idea of how wisdom comes with age when you've got old timers telling how many times and ways they've been duped (or even how they did it on sending end).

We had a speaker every week who shared all their war stories. I'm not going to get into too many details about the stereotypes associated with the personalities of entrepreneurs and the details debunking those stereotypes - like everything else, they come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. I'm also not going to cover how they they were all pretty smart, creative, and so on. However, I will note that, in almost every case, these entrepreneurs all made their mints through impeccable timing. One rode the telecom deregulation wave of 70's the, another got great deals on some real estate in the 80's. The point? Timing is everything.

I think I'll continue on this topic sometime in the future, but for now, this is a good segue into the next part of this three part series. Social-media, Web 2.0, whatever you want to call it, the timing is right for this whole thing to make a mint for some people.

Stay tuned and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Posted on October 26, 2009 and filed under career, entrepreneurship.

Do You Suck at Doing What You Love?

What if you were just plain not good at some passion or hobby that you love? It's a question that came to mind recently. Especially with my last blog post. My intention with that last post was to build momentum behind some ideas I (and some friends of mine) had; a sort of rally cry.

But here I am months later, school semester fully underway, and work rapidly picking up steam. I can't help but to look back at that and ask myself, am I too ambitious? Or is the reality that I just lack good ideas worth executing?

I feel like pursuing entrepreneurship would be tantamount to "finding my calling."

But what if I'm no good at it? What if I can't think of any good ideas?

Given the knowledge that you're a "sucky entrepreneur," do you push on anyway?

If it brings fulfillment, maybe you should...

Posted on October 15, 2009 and filed under career, entrepreneurship, happiness, wisdom.

A Primer On Regretting Your Online Prescense

This topic has been coming up a lot lately as the use of twitter and, especially, facebook is becoming more and more ubiquitous. A lot of people are becoming concerned about how their constant updating will be perceived and whether or not they will look back and regret some of their past contributions to the public sphere. I recently watched Primer, a movie about a group of young entrepreneurs who mistakenly invent a machine that allows you to travel back in time. Once they realized what they invented, they tried to determine how to monitize or sell this important technology. They soon realize that it would be too difficult to sell and potentially dangerous for other people to know about. So they decide to use the technology to game the stock market & become rich (in a nutshell, of course there's more to the story).

What does this have to do with your internet persona & over sharing? Well, a lot of the decisions we make & ideas we harbor are a product of our life experience and our assumptions of our realities based on our understanding of the world. This is inherently a dynamic process and we gain new perspectives of how the world works everyday. So it goes without saying that many of our approaches to life can fundamentally change as new information and understanding come to light, changing our assumptions and ultimately our ideas and philosophies. In the case of Primer, their understand of the world changed in such a drastic way that they were forced to re-evaluate their ethics & morals. Do you tell your angel investor? Do you pitch the technology to VC's or DARPA? Or do you "cheat" the market, become rich and buy a private island in the Caribbean (the whole reason you got into entrepreneurship in the first place)? Does the end justify the means?

This an exciting process that is really interesting to watch unfold. Why should we feel regret? What new experience has reshaped your reality today?

Posted on August 25, 2009 and filed under entrepreneurship, Gen-Y, Social-Media (Web 2-0), wisdom.

Calculated Inexperience

This thought is a bit of a follow up from the previous post. I'm a not a very traditional engineer in a lot of ways. I suck at simple arithmetic, I'm very extroverted, I get bored by tedious & repetitive tasks, and I'm very into artistic expression. But one trait that fits the bill is that I'm a very analytical person. I follow a very stoic and logical philosophy when it comes to my approach to life. But I'm also a hypocrite in that I'm a very emotional being... more on that later.

I've been spending a lot of mental capital on figuring out what my next step should be and a lot of that debate is centered around the contrast between instinct & advice or common wisdom. I have a strong interest in starting a venture; of course, the right way to go about doing this is to study up on how business are funded, how venture capital works, get an MBA, analyze the prevailing market trends and, of course, drink from the firehouse of information that's out there about current or formerly successful entrepreneurs.  Like I said, I'm going to do this thing right if I'm going to do it.

But here goes the problem, there is no "right." There's only did, or didn't. Logic follows that startups fail more than they succeed and any analysis of the situation will always bring you to the same logical conclusion. Don't.

So I return where I left off at the part about being a creature of emotion. I love my job right now. In fact, it's my dream job. It's very challenging, very dynamic, offers endless learning opportunities, and I'm highly respected by my colleagues. As I write this, I'm 27 years old and am blessed with such an amazing life; but, if I just work for the rest of my life, I've basically reached my peak. Sure, I'll finish grad school and make more money and gain more responsibility, but I've cleared a lot of the greatest hurtles to success.  I have to stop thinking through this so much and I have to start getting emotional!

I recently watched this video from my youth again and realized that success isn't enough, I have to do great things. I had suppressed my memories from my childhood so much that I forgot how much of a fighter and survivor I was and had to be to make it through that crap. I can't waste all that effort on complacency & a BMW M3, I have to act! I need to be young, stupid, bold and naive. I need to try to reinvent the world and be so ignorant that I think I can!

Let's go! 

Posted on July 16, 2009 and filed under wisdom, entrepreneurship.

Limitations On The Wisdom of Elders

One of the topics that I keep revisiting in my mind is the concept of reinventing the wheel. On the one hand, I want to use whatever ground work that has been laid before me and I want to learn from other peoples mistakes; on the other hand, I want to trust my instincts and work through problems my own way so that I can foster creativity & innovation. Sometimes we need to challenge the convensional way of doing things because those methods were developed under a different set of constaints and, therefore, had different limitations build in. Othertimes, we can work & think more efficiently if we use solutions to problems that were created through generations of iterations of trial and error.

What's the best approach?

Posted on July 14, 2009 and filed under career, entrepreneurship, wisdom.

Quick Update

It's been a long time since I posted an update. The beginning of this year ended up being a whirl-wind of events and it just didn't provide the kind of environment for me to keep on top of the website. Don't worry though, I still have long term goals for this as a placeholder for a lot of new thoughts and ideas. So don't give up on me yet. In the mean time, keep up with me on twitter by clicking on my feed to right, and stay tuned because I'm going to be opening up some time to put some of my thoughts here soon.

Posted on June 5, 2009 and filed under Uncategorized.

Stress as a Motivator

Somewhere along the line, I’ve been labeled as a pretty calm and collective guy buy my friends, and people who are generally close to me. I always chocked it up to the fact that I’m kind of a science guy who likes to take a Spock-like logic and reason based approach to life. But I came across a thought recently while talking with my partner, about relative levels of stress (her baseline ability to be stressed out is a bit higher than mine). The conversation came to light while talking about focus. She’s at that point where a lot of things are beginning to converge; mainly keeping up with matters of career, health, relationship and just life in general. There are so many things going on in life right now that things can get really overwhelming very quickly.

So the question came up about how am I able stay focused even though I spend the entire week away from home and I spend all day Saturday in school? I hadn’t really thought of it because my life was so busy, I was just going with the flow (so it seemed). But it was at that point where I fully realized how stressed out I was (am). See, it’s not that I’m a too cool fool, it’s that I’m so sensitive to stress that I employ all of my essence to extinguishing whatever in my life is causing me stress.

So what’s the take home message?

I’ve always had this belief that stress should be avoided at all costs and that somehow, if you ever got stressed out, you were less of a person for not being able to “handle your shit.” Maybe we shouldn’t be so averse to stress, maybe that’s the way our bodies and minds let us know what we should be working on and striving for. Let’s embrace our stress, acknowledge its existence, determine its cause, and channel its power to extinguish the root cause. Let’s use it to give us focus and to accomplish our goals.

Stress can be the fire under your ass that pushes you to do great things.

Posted on March 17, 2009 and filed under career, happiness, professional, Uncategorized, wisdom.