Shaping a Political Culture

President Donald Trump and the words that he uses are shaping a political culture that will be here we’ll after he leaves office. New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens writes

Conservatives used to understand the danger. Why care about social formalities, modes of dress, niceties of speech, qualities of restraint? Not simply because manners make the man, although they do, but because manners also shape political cultures. How does a conservative movement that is supposed to believe that every healthy society needs powerful moral guardrails give itself over to a president whose every other utterance cheerfully knocks those guardrails down?

Weight Watchers for our minds

In a New York Times Op-Ed, columnist Frank Bruni talks about how the internet can be a safe have for people looking for communities that support their worst instincts.

He shares a quote from Apple CEO Tim Cook…

Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies.

Information can be as bad for your mind as sugar is bad for you body. Consistently feeding yourself bad info can make you sick, as is evident by Franks column.

We need to be smarter consumers of how we take in information. We almost need Weight Watchers for our minds.

Building companies that build bridges…

I love working on technology that helps people connect with one another and make the world a smaller place.

In his latest New York Times op-ed, Roger Cohen highlights AirBnb as helping to connect the world, regardless of your race or nationality. It’s a seemingly different story than nationalism, which seems to be hitting a fever pitch.

I wonder if we are looking in the wrong places to assess the state of the world. The twilight of an era, as in Vienna a little over a century ago, is always murky. With nationalism and xenophobia resurgent, examples of humanity’s basest instincts abound. They grab the headlines. At the same time, community and sharing, often across national borders, through digital platforms like Airbnb, BlaBlaCar and Facebook, expand. This is the world’s undercurrent.

Certainly makes you more hopeful.

We all need community.

In his most recent column, David Brooks highlighted a Baltimore-based non-profit Thread that provides a family-style community for underperforming school kids.

Thread has taken 415 academically underperforming students in Baltimore schools and built an extended family around them, with about 1,000 volunteers. Each student is given up to five volunteers, who perform the jobs that a family member would perform.

Each volunteer is coached by a more experienced volunteer, called the Head of Family. The Head of Family is coached by a Grandparent, who supports the Head. The Grandparents are coached by Community Managers, who are paid Thread staffers. Circling the whole system are Collaborators, who offer special expertise when called in — legal help, SAT tutoring, mental health counseling, etc.

America needs more organizations like Thread.

Making Pancakes from Scratch with Ruhlman’s Ratios

My kids roll through different breakfast foods that are their favorites. For a while, it was oatmeal. It changed to eggs and then yogurt. They’ve recently been into pancakes. Lauren and I eat a low carb so it’s not something we really ever have or keep pancake mix in the house.

Well, that’s no problem. Food author and commentator Michael Ruhlman wrote an amazing book called Ratio. In many foods, there are common ratios that you use to make them. For example, pancakes are 4 parts flour to 4 parts liquid to 2 parts egg to 1 part butter.

To make it even easier, Ruhlman has a Ratio app that you can use to pull up and calculate the output of the ratios, along with standard cooking instructions.

I looked in our fridge and pantry and I had all of the ingredients. And it’s Saturday. I didn’t have anywhere to be. So, we made pancakes… from scratch. It was easy and the kids LOVED them.

I highly recommend the book Ratio. It covers things like bread and biscuits to mayo and various dressings. It makes cooking increasingly easier. Maybe Saturday morning pancakes will become a thing with the kids. 🙂

My Favorite Coffee Equipment

When I was younger, I’d go grocery shopping with my dad. Before the store, we’d get a coffee. At that point it was sugary coffee drinks. At some point it morphed into a real love of the art of coffee.

I also noticed that with the right coffee gear you can get better flavor out of even mediocre beans.

Here’s the setup that I’d recommend…

  1. Chemex – I make coffee for my wife and I every morning. The Chemex is perfect for both of us.
  2. Chemex Filters
  3. Aeropress – When I need a quick coffee, like right now, I love my Aeropress. Brew time is under 2 minutes.
  4. Capresso Burr Grinder – The burr grinder is pretty key. It gets a more consistent grind than the blade grinder.
  5. Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle – You don’t want a straight boil. You want about 200 degrees. This gets it there easily. It’s pretty slow to get going but works well.
  6. Kitchen Scale – Gotta get the right amount of beans. I still use a 16:1 water to grinds ratio.

What does your coffee setup look like?

When I Almost Quit College

At some point, you get old enough and look at the crazy twists and turns and be like “ahhhhhh” that makes sense. In the moment, you wonder “why is this happening?” Years later bring perspective and the ability to see God’s divine plan in a situation.

One of those turning points is the end of my first quarter of my freshmen year of college. I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). I remember visiting with my dad. Attending felt like it was meant to be.

RIT was on a quarter (10 week) system, although they’ve just switched over to semesters. The academic term went fast and the professors prided themselves on jamming 15 weeks (semester length) of material into 10 weeks. The joke was that if you missed your first week of class you’d be so far behind that you’re too far behind at that point.

Lansing, Michigan isn’t a tiny town by any stretch but it’s not a BIG city. I was always an A/B student or a 3.5 – 3.8 GPA. Everyone was BLOWN away that at 13… 14 years old that I’d learned HTML and was making websites for others. At RIT, my major was Information Technology, which is like applied computer sciences. It’s more application than theory.  Albeit to say, my confidence was REALLY high in my abilities.

Well, I’d gone from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. Everyone was like me and a lot smarter. Plus like I mentioned classes were INTENSE. My first quarter included things like Discrete Mathematics. I swear it didn’t use numbers for the first 4 or 5 weeks. I also had Intro to Java Programming. Programming in Java is VERY different than writing HTML. It came with a bit of learning curve.

I remember getting my first grades for my first quarter and it was a 2.7 GPA. I was DEVASTATED. I’d really felt like I was at RIT for a reason. This was my career path. Why wasn’t school coming more naturally to me?  I paced up and down the academic quad for hours questioning everything. Should I stay? Should I quit? I could always get a job at CompUSA (remember those?) or Best Buy back in Michigan.

I  made the decision to stick it out.

How’d I get through it? I had the grace of God and… I put in the work. I trusted that God had put me at RIT for a reason. So if I put in the work, it’d pay off.

So thankful for the love, support, and encouragement from my parents. They’re amazing and the best parents ever.

I also sat in every professors’ office hours that I could find. Most college students avoid office hours. I went to ALL of them.  It was free help. If others weren’t gonna use them, I was. Ha!

I ended up graduating with honors and a 3.75 GPA.

On the whole, college was hard. School was a 60-70 hour a week job, if not even more. It taught me…

  1. Hard work – I’m sure it sucked for my parents to see their boy face adversity but I’m so glad I did. It’s impossible to know what it means to work hard and overcome something until you face a hardship, which is going to be painful. Life is going throw you situations where you’ll have to work hard. In all those future situations I’ve felt so much more equipped.
  2. Working smarter – When you have a million things to do and it feels like the water is quickly going past your head, you have to think differently about how you work. It’s not about working harder. It’s about working smarter. You have to find new ways to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of the day.
  3. Getting thrown into the deep end – So much of school was learning something new. In one of my programming capstone classes, the final project was learning a new programming language in 3 weeks and then teaching it to the class. You just had to figure it out. RIT taught me how to learn and love being in situations that forced me to learn.

When I left college, I sought out people that shared these values.  After searching for jobs, I moved to DC to work at the Library of Congress. The first people that I looked for were people that wanted more than a 9-5. I looked for people that if a problem popped up, they’d find a creative solution to conquer it. I hung out with programmers, nerds, and entrepreneurs and it changed the rest of my life.

Life Lessons from Doing Puzzles with My 3 Year Old

For the last week-ish, I’ve been on winter break. We get off the week between Christmas and New Years. It’s been really fun to spend extra time with my family.

For Christmas, my 3.5-year-old Miles got some puzzles. They were really simple… maybe 12 pieces. But he’d never really been into puzzles before. I didn’t know how he’d react.

At first, Miles was really skeptical. As I showed him some tips for evaluating pieces and patterns, he got really into it. I got up from the kitchen table for a minute and I heard “I’m almost done.” I rushed back over to the table. He was so excited and I was being with pride.

He had two pieces left. He looked at each piece. He turned them around. He studied the surrounding pieces. He tried one way. It didn’t work. He flipped the piece around and tried it again. And it worked. He plopped in the final piece and he was done!

The experience got me thinking. How much better would life be if more of us approached our challenges in the way that Miles approached puzzles? He was skeptical at first but jumped in with both feet. He looked at what was in front of him. He assessed the situation. He tried something. Did it work? If not, he tried something different… over and over again.

Too often, we won’t even try. Or we’ll try putting two pieces together and then quit. We’re afraid of failure. We’re afraid of being wrong. We’re afraid of being judged by other people when we’re wrong. So, we don’t even try.

This attitude or mentality just doesn’t work. Life is going to throw new challenges at you daily… hourly. If you live your life afraid to try, you won’t get out of bed in the morning. I’m wrong ALL THE TIME but I don’t let that stop me. When I make mistakes, I look at what happened, why it happened, and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s really all you can ask.

We all just need to be a bit more like Miles 🙂 or really just like a child. Children don’t have the same base of experience. They’re so willing to take a leap without knowing what’s going to happen on the other end. As a parent, this is terrifying but at times admirable.

Sometimes naivete can be an advantage. When you know too much about something, you’re held back by those experiences and less likely to try something new. You need to be able to look at issues with a fresh set of eyes and take a risk.

Building Habits — Reminders & Tracking Progress

I think a lot about the habits that I want to build. Habits are something automatic. They’re muscle memory. When an action becomes a habit, you don’t have to think about it. You just do it.

There’s a bunch of activities that I want to turn into habits. I want to be consistent about reading the Bible every day, drinking more water, picking up house at the end of the night, and reading a least 10 pages of a physical book.

There’s a number of iPhone apps that’ll track your progress and give you reminders for building your habits that I’ve found to be really helpful. I’m currently using Productivity but I’ve also used Coach.me. I know that I’ve heard of others. They’re great!

I’ve been using Productivity for several months. First thing when I wake up in the morning is to read the bible on the He Reads Truth app. Throughout the day, I’m filling up a massive reusable water bottle. I barely think about it.  Now, I need to think about what are the next habits that I want to build.

Time is a precious commodity. If we turn daily actions into habits, we can spend our time actively thinking about other things and not that.

The only kind of stupid question

So, for most of my adult life, I’ve been the young guy. I’ve been on the bottom of the ladder. Those above me have always gotten to know me really well because I ask a lot of questions.

In college, I learned quickly the magic of office hours. You could ask any and every question and soak up the answers. Suffice it to say I was a fixture. 🙂

Now I’m a little bit older and have the distinct privilege of managing an incredible team of marketers. So, now I’m the guy who gets the questions and I love it.

Something that I’m trying to blot of existence is someone saying “can I ask a stupid question?”

You should never be ashamed to ask for help or inquire about something. It’s when you don’t ask questions or assume the answer that you’re so much more prone to make mistakes.

I usually say back that “the only stupid questions are the ones that don’t get asked.”

Now when the actual question inevitably gets asked, I may not give you the answer you’re looking for. I may just point you in the direction of where to look. But you always need to feel comfortable to ask the question.

We live in an era where you ALWAYS have to be learning. That means you always need to feel comfortable asking questions.