Category Archives: Life and Philosophy

Minecraft – A Software Engineer’s Experience Part 3

You should start at the beginning: Minecraft – A Software Engineer’s Experience Part 1

I started playing Minecraft early this past August. What started as an innocent and fascinating experience in a “real world” simulator eventually took a turn. I spent about a month happy as could be with an extremely limited world view: break down the rocks, harvest the garden, live on, break some more rocks, enjoy the sunset, fish, repeat tomorrow.

Then Andy’s friends joined, right around the time I realized the Minecraft world is in actuality more like the real world than we’d care to admit: It’s a massive massive expansive world with limited resources, but more than enough resources to last several real-life lifetimes of gameplay. What’s more, the “world” we played in was shared by 5 people, rather than 6 billion, and in theory the game limits the world to about 1.4x the surface area of the earth.

Big massive world full of practically unlimited resources, all ours? Go wild. Right? Right. – Just like in real life.

During my first sheltered life of game time, I didn’t know anything more than break down the rocks, harvest the food, and perhaps watch my friend Justin build something magnificent that I could never make on my own.

So, Andy’s friends.

Andy’s friends joined our map in early September, and unlike our other friends Jon and Justin, these guys would play nonstop with every waking hour of freedom – like me. Except, Andy’s friends had played before, and their favorite play style with such experience under the belt closely mirrored mine: They wanted to do things they’d never done before but heard about – such as build a zombie farm in the sky – a so called “mob grinder”.

The theory of a mob grinder goes: The game tries to spawn monsters in a given area, but if the area is covered by water, no monsters will spawn. So, in theory, you could build a slab of concrete in the middle of the ocean, and monsters would spawn on it.

Slight problem: Monsters are dangerous, and they’ll kill you, so building a slab of concrete in the middle of the ocean is a terrible idea.

However, building a slab of concrete 100 blocks in the sky with a long controlled free-fall to another slab at the top of the ocean makes for a excellent monster-farming machine. You simply light up the slab at ocean level with torches so the game will think “Well, can’t spawn monsters here, it’s too bright”, and the game will instead decide to spawn monsters on the slab in the sky. The monsters will wander (or be forced) into the free-fall joyride machine of death, and you’ll collect the loot at the bottom.

Justin and I spent an entire real-life evening building this monstrous, ugly, hideous machine, our amazing mob grinder – just out of sight of the bay.

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Building the grinder was a fun time as a team, except when it ended in failure.

Nothing would spawn on the sky-slab.

Rage quit.

The next day, after a few internet searches and youtube videos later we learned that the game could be spawning monsters under the ocean, in caves in the same area below the ocean floor – the way around this? Build higher into the sky. Forum theory on the subject suggested that the game logic spawns monsters within a 128×128 block radius of a player, so if a player is say 150 blocks above the ocean, the game would never consider putting a monster beyond that ocean under ground.

So, we built taller. We were sure this time that we knew what we were doing, so we built a three-tiered machine with a massive 35×35 slab of concrete at the very top. That slab had water ways forcing monsters down into holes that led down to a 20×20 slab, then to a 10×10 slab, and finally into our joyride free fall chute of monster death. We built so high that we were above the in-game clouds. In game clouds would roll in and through our death machine – it was weird.

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We built the machine, cut a hole in the wall on top of the machine, saw monsters spawning and raced down to see them splatter atop our harvesting zone, below the joyride.

It worked! We e-high fived, and collected our loot. We quickly christened our machine the ‘gun powder machine’ because creepers falling down the joyride would give us an endless supply of gun powder items when they went splat.

We started working on a sign for the gun powder machine when minutes later, the machine stopped working, again.

It stopped working because our players were more than 128 blocks from the slab-in-the-sky. So we went back to the top, idled for a while and got dinner – we came back and went to the bottom to collect riches, only to discover the only riches there were from monsters that had just recently followed us down the ladders (though they took the much faster joyride/splat route).

Our math was bad again – loot only stays spawned if a user is within some 128 blocks of the loot, so we had built ourselves a catch-22 machine, for the machine to work, two players would need to stand by – one in the sky, one at the bottom of the joyride, and waste their time waiting on things to happen.

After that disaster, I rage quit the game for half a week – it was the first serious investment of time that led to failure. What was I doing wasting my free time playing failure simulation games that made me mad? Screw that game.

Meanwhile Andy’s friends, true captains of industry and all things automated, had joined the game and by the next time I logged on they had a working “Iron farm” – which is a “mob grinder” for these monsters called “Iron Golems” that only spawn with very narrow criteria – not only had they crafted a working mob grinder, but part of the mob grinder involved a collection of villager people in a box. The villager-in-the-box ensured where the iron golem spawning zone was, and also kept interested zombies and monsters from killing the villagers.

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So not only was there a working iron farm, but there was a box of villagers that constantly attracted zombie monsters at ground level toward a big pit that then led the zombies down a water way to a holding area where one could use a sword to kill the zombies for easy experience.

I had semi-rage quit, and I think Justin had too, two days earlier. But, when we came back, Andy’s friends had lapped us, twice, with a two-for-one double decker mob grinder that was fun for all ages – churning out an endless supply of both iron and zombies for the taking.

Around this same time, Justin, the artist, decided he would make a huge amazing temple to a fictitious god he called “Ahl” – he’d need tons of stone to do this – and having my first big set back with the failed grinder, I was happy to tear down the failed grinder and mine for a while for Justin’s dream home. He’d build, I’d dig.

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Things were accelerating.

I had joined a world of pristine beauty, with a few holes in walls 5 blocks deep with an occasional door guarding an entrance. At the time, in the beginning, the world’s population of four was bickering about the spoils farmed from 20 pigs and cows without sharing them around.

Now, one real-life month later, we had an ugly machine that did nothing, and another that provided safe zombie ‘farming’ and unlimited iron for faster-digging and faster-fighting iron tools – not to mention iron armor.

A real-life week later, Andy’s friends had built a “trading village”, which is an elaborate huge area walled off and lit very brightly to prevent zombies.

Inside these walls they had built some god-defying machine that tricked the game logic into spawning baby villagers endlessly – this three story high contraption would constantly spawn villagers because the game was trying to get them to do something but a certain circumstance prevented the game from fulfilling its wish, so five minutes later it started again and an endless supply of villagers would generate.

Suddenly, Jason’s greatest hits of fuck ups, the non-working mob grinder and the previously mentioned sheeptopia ghost town were a distant memory. Like Iron, Villagers were no longer a precious resource. They were an animal, in a cage, not unlike our cows and sheep.

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Problem was, too many villagers would spawn and the game would slow down, so what does one do with an infinite regenerating resource in abundance?

The first time I saw this machine I was reminded of one of the most terrible moments of my privileged life – the time I visited the holocaust museum in Washington DC. If you haven’t been, you need to go.

If ever you have an inkling of a thought that humanity is anything other than a godless collection of depravity that from time to time will invent some new previously unthought of terrible evil low, you need to go to that museum.

If ever you think there is a kind and benevolent god, or many gods, and humanity is that kind god’s greatest creation, you need to visit the holocaust museum.

If there is a god, he or she is not kind.

The museum has this tiny scale model of a gas chamber from one of the real camps, the model is terrifying. It’s about 10 feet wide and 3 feet deep, and a about 100 scale model humans fit within an 8 inch square. The model is truly terrifying to behold. For my entire life I had always naively and innocently pictured these world war 2 horror stories as some bank of showers to put perhaps 20 people to death at a time – they weren’t – the scale model shown in DC could have fit 1,000 people at a time with ease.

Six million seems like a large number, some factoid for the history test, until you see just a fraction of reality in tiny scale:

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Anyway. The trader’s village baby creation machine reminded me of the holocaust in a bad way, and this caused me to start thinking a bit deeper about the meaning of our existence.

Are we destined to create brave new world like machines that create children without mothers, with some terrible secondary machine to deal with the excess of a bumper crop? Are we as humans ultimately a resource not unlike common iron ore in the ground? Dust to dust? It’s what plants crave?

The holocaust machine set me to thinking about real life outside of Minecraft.

I had not before in my life ever truly cared to understand how we got from zero to today – the future.

Never had I really given much thought to how incredible it is that so much *stuff* is so easily consumable and usable in modern society – and the sheer complexity and man-lifetimes of work behind these products and advances is astounding when you stop to think about it. For more on that matter, read this.

The game sparked a personal interest in life before the 1980s. I downloaded a book about the edison/tesla/westinghouse electrical rollout and wars of the early 20th century. The book detailed how at the time, American cities ran on gas-powered lamps – a common household chore was to clean the soot and muck out of the inside of the house’s lamps, and bonus: everyone had headaches almost all the time from the gas smell in their claustrophobic living rooms with the gas lamps running.

A hundred years ago there was no such thing as a record album of music. A hundred years ago music was something experienced as a group, and almost everyone knew how to play or sing.

A hundred years ago you did not go to a fancy restaurant downtown, because the streets were covered with horse shit. There were entire industries of workers working to move millions of pounds of manure from New York City streets every night of the year.

This was all just one hundred years ago, never mind a thousand years ago, or 2,000 years pre-roman empire with their world-changing water aqueducts.

The sheer complexity and enormity of many millions of lifetimes of industry is astounding – it is no wonder that younger generations born into a world with google and wikipedia often fail to find a reason to want to try – there’s just so much *stuff* – it’s overwhelming.

Around the time of the holocaust machine, Andy found an ‘automated chicken cooking machine’ recipe online – that is, a series of Minecraft blocks arranged in such a way that some chickens laid eggs, the eggs fell down to become chicks, and when the chicks matured they’d automatically be cooked and stored in a chest for later retrieval. Here was another machine not unlike actual horrors in our waking life, perfectly acceptable machines of industry that lowers the price of chicken and feeds the human race to a greater degree as the years of engineered efficiencies mount.

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It was at this time that Andy also found a schematic for an auto furnace – that is, a furnace that you could prepare fuel and things to cook for, and it would automatically cook those things and deposit them in a chest for you.

In no time, I took Andy’s auto furnace concept to its logical horrible conclusion: a seven-way auto furnace that constantly consumed hundreds of buckets of lava to turn my second, improved “glass factory” into a real life honest-to-unkind-god factory.

I’d spend 5 minutes above ground with a diamond-level shovel enchanted with a magic spell to go fast and fill my 27×64 inventory full of sand in the middle of this desert in the middle of nowhere – then I’d climb underground, collect lava from a nearby lava lake, feed the machines, and go fishing in a manmade pond (not unlike most lakes in my home state) near by that was just big enough to “trick” the game into thinking this 3-block deep body of water deep underground should have fish in it.

Things were still accelerating, except our rate of acceleration was getting out of control.

Justin taught me about the ‘nether’. The nether was this other world area you can warp to using a specially built portal – every block in the nether mapped directly to eight blocks in the “real” (non nether) world. Justin told me a story about how he and Jon had previously built massive cities of buildings, interconnected by a nether highway.

I set out to do the same.

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I first built a couple of portals between our bay and the dark and scary redwoods – a 20 block walk in the nether covered 160 of ocean and put us on solid ground. I then used my easy-to-make-thanks-iron-farm iron armor to protect me from monster attacks and I leveled a large section of the redwoods. Today, there is a massive plain leading into redwoods, and if the game would draw far enough, we would see Andy’s mesa area from our bay. No longer a dark and scary forest, the front visible areas of the redwoods now remind us of something out of bambi, a nice meadow leading into something that grows more treacherous slowly.

I then set out to build more.

I built a nether highway portal to Andy’s mesa area, with the iron farm and what not.

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And a long while later, my nether highway reached all the way out to Justin’s temple that he had built near Jon’s old ‘house on the hill’ in the mountains. No longer would someone have to appreciate the enormity or beauty of the natural minecraft world, much like the real world, we could just walk a few blocks through the subway at a 8block-for-1block speed down a bland grey hallway and be at the mountains in 5 minutes rather than 30.

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Then Justin went on a random adventure 5000 blocks to the east.

Then in half an evening I connected three villages he found during the trek to the nether highway – no need to see THAT beautiful trip again, just walk the bleak grey highway.

5000 blocks was a long way though, so we put in minecart tracks, and now we could travel from the bay to the mountains through nether minetracks inside of two minutes, down from the original 30 – only 2 minutes. Nevermind how bleak and boring the grey subways are, you only have to spend two minutes in them now!

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At the end of the madness, my true glass factory was a moments jog from the iron farm where most of our players were constantly toiling on ever more fantastic machines.

Justin built his temple, I built my nether highway, then we were bored.

A few days later, Justin and Andy and I were recounting the crazy modern self-sufficient world we’ve all built. We were telling Jon, a hermit previously mentioned in previous posts, and he’s intrigued.

Recall that Jon was previously living atop a mountain, then I joked about burning his house down, so he moved to some secret place a thousand miles away.

Jon’s curiosity at our machines got the best of him, and like a fool, he came out of hiding, and told us his coordinates.

We build him a nether highway hook up in the blink of an eye – he then comes and looks around for half an hour, and moves again, almost instantly.

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He builds a little hut for me as thanks for the nether hookup, and another hut he had promised Justin for helping him move and keep his secret a secret, and leaves.

We never saw him again.

From time to time he would taunt us with screenshots of so-called “Jontopia” – a wholly separate and different civilization comprised of a population of one. But he’d never give us his coordinates, because, in his opinion, our civilization and ease of Minecraft life “fucked everything up”.

“Whatever”, we thought, “his loss.”

Another player, our friend Nick, played from time to time too – sporadically. He too was a self-proclaimed luddite. We constantly offered him a free hookup to the utopian blight we were so quickly putting together, and for some strange reason, he always declined.

Justin and I were bored, and done. We’d done it all.

There was no point in mining more ore, besides Justin had played this game on and off through several huge maps many times several years before with differing sets of friend – he was done. I was too.

Then we yet again came up with another scheme, a non-holocaust-style safe village incredible in scope and size. Justin had told me in a previous Minecraft map in creative mode (unlimited resources / god mode) he and his friends had dug a massive hole 40 blocks deep – this sounded like a fun challenge to me, so again we were back at it. Just like his temple before, there I was, digging out a ton of stone underground, and he was toiling above ground building massive castle-like walls around this village full of villagers.

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I built a massive 64 block long x 30 block wide underground farm that housed every type of farmable plant or nether plant known to man, and Justin built the walls protecting the village. I helped complete the walls and he built the beautiful turrets at the corners of the walls. I spent some time fertilizing an area of tulip flowers and he spent some time building more homes for our little utopia village to expand into.

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Out of boredom I went on a short trip North and tripped into a ‘Jungle’ biome, which is the only place you can tame a cat.

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The entire time we’d played the game, Justin had gone 5000 blocks in one direction, and I had once gone ten thousand in another – all in search of a Jungle biome – which, of course, all along, was just in our backyard in the other direction.

I was so excited to go catch some cats and show them to my wife – the world’s most crazy cat lady.

I tried my hand at building something beautiful like Justin could build, and yet again found that everything I touched had a great view from the inside, but looked like a giant mistake on the outside.

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In the end I bred some 20+ cats of all three varieties and threw in the towel.

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At the time, Andy and his friends had finished their work, their crowning final achievement? A snowball machine. Some steampunk looking monstrous intertangle of blocks of all sorts that automatically made snow balls and deposited them into chests. They were bored, and done.

Done done. We all were.

This was Jon’s perfect moment to say “I told you so” – our immaculate civilization had outdone itself, everything was too easy, our only option left was to start over again, brand new.

In playing the game I noticed we all had very distinct playing styles.

Justin is an extremely talented artist in real life, so it should come as no surprise that in the video game his aspirations usually leaned toward making something beautiful – something that looked better than any of the rest of us could ever make.

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Andy and his friends do I don’t know what in real life, but for example Andy was happy as could be mining *forever*. Literally the entire time that guy played the game he was mining. We used a third party tool to create a google-maps like view of our world, and there were only two man-made objects visible from space – Justin’s huge temple, and Andy’s expansive mining tunnels.

Jon didn’t play all that much, and when he did, he just fished.

I was so fascinated by the game because in the video game I could make a bed, or a table or a boat – things I could not do in real life. Jon had played several times before, and besides, he can make tables and stuff in real life, so minecraft to him is a bit like a toy computer language is to me – interesting, but probably lame to some degree.

When my wife says “Stop playing that game and make something in real life.”, I cry inside, because I can’t.

When Jon’s wife says the same, Jon doesn’t cry, he’s a craftsman at heart and builds whatever the hell he wants, beautifully, in real life.

Finally, me.

I’m a software engineer by day and over the years I’ve worked on projects both tiny and massive in scale. Most if not all of my career has been like an ongoing repeating game of Minecraft – I set out to accomplish something, accomplish it, get bored, move on.

I’ve hopped around from company to company a few times in my career thus far, sometimes by choice, other times not – but each time, no matter how dire the culture or impossible the goal – I am excited all over again to do something different, to solve some more problems and make something better than I’ve ever made before.

My real-world skills do not translate into being an excellent call of duty twitch-style-precision game player, nor do they translate into an ability to build something beautiful:

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My skills and interests do however translate into the game’s machinery.

Every machine that Andy and his friends found or built, I had to know how they worked, every efficiency they had discovered over thousands of hours of game time was tucked into my memory.

Andy built a chicken farm near the iron farm, so I built a chicken farm twice as large near the skeleton farm – and then I proceeded to feed the chickens until some 500 chickens were running around in the top pen – the game would make glitchy nonstop clicking sounds as it attempted to keep with the occasional cluck sound per chicken – I made a chicken farm that would feed the world forever.

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The next time I visited the farm, the chickens had been cut down to less than 100 – a good choice, the clicking sound stopped.

Andy taught me about the auto furnace and I almost immediately thought about this huge expanse of desert (read: sand resources) we found on our google-map of our world. I nethered it up, built the 7-way auto furnace and almost instantly demolished several picturesque sand dunes, turning them into glass.

I mined and mined and mined 40 levels deep under Justin’s massive castle village, just, more or less, to prove that I could. I was hell bent for several days on end to keep hunting the jungle for cats until I could show my wife all three types, and so on.

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The software engineer in me bled through into the game, just as it does in real life outside of work. I tackled problems with great enthusiasm, and often thought of second or third ways to better solve the problem over again. My wife is forever frustrated at my consistent attempts at finding the ideal furniture arrangement in our home – no configuration is forever, and there’s always something better.

When I got bored in the video game, I’d leave everything behind, go out into the wilderness for a second, third, or fourth time, naked as the day I had spawned – with nothing, and start again, building something from nothing. If that’s not the story of my career, I don’t know what is.

Before I signed off for good I went to our nether highway’s ‘warehouse’. The warehouse was a giant room of storage chests, free stuff for anyone who needed it – as well as one box per player with their name labeled above it. Jon was probably the only one who might log into the game ever again, and that bastard had still been in full hermit mode and sworn off the nether forever. He was still just happy to virtual-fish once in a while, so that was what he did.

I did not know where Jon was, but I knew he’d sworn off the nether forever, so I went over to his specially marked chest and placed a little circle of princess-pink carpet around his box, for Jon, our little luddite hermit princess.

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Weeks later our mutual friend Nathan told me he had been playing Minecraft, I told him to jump on our server and I’d give him a tour of everything. The tour was extremely fast paced, and made good use of our no-time-to-travel nether highway. The tour lasted over two hours in length.

Toward the end of the tour, I led Nathan to my glass house on the plains that once were beautiful redwoods. We exited the nether portal, opened the door, and I stopped cold – laughing in real life.

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There, in the middle of my house’s entry way, was a patch of princess-pink carpet.

Some oddball luddite hermit had taken a trip on the nether highway, and I knew exactly who.

Some fool who for weeks after we were bored and done was still enjoying the game, making progress all alone on his own, without a care in the world. Fishing all the time.

Thanks Jon, you told me so. You were right all along.

The very last day I played, putting the finishing touches on a massive minecart track between the castle village and my “Amanda’s house of cats”, our friend Nick logged on again.

Like Jon, Nick had expressed adamant distaste for the idea of the nether highway. He too had been working on something of his own here and there, and no matter how often we offered to help or said we wanted to see his work, he’d say no.

For the millionth time I offered Nick a nether hookup, expecting no response yet again. He refused, but something strange then happened. He offered for me to come look at his secret getaway.

There were rules – I could only come by boat, no nether highway tricks near his area, and I was not allowed to tell anyone else the coordinates. As I gathered my supplies, he asked if I could bring something to make a bright light – I suggested nether brick, a brick that you can light on fire and it burns eternally. He said that would do and I said I’d be on my way shortly.

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That last day I played I’d been thinking a lot about how strangely Minecraft resembles our real, true, world. It was not surprising to see Justin’s beautiful temple, or hear that Jon the craftsmen could give a fuck about virtual tables and boats. Just as in the real world, a civilization had risen to a certain technological point, and collapsed at that bittersweet moment when every carefree utopia turns into a dire dystopia of boredom and unrest.

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But, unlike in the real world – playing with others was more exciting to me than playing alone. I had purchased a Playstation Vita and had played a fair bit on that, but the Vita always left something to be desired – no friends of mine had a Vita, so there was nobody to show or share triumph with, every triumph on the Vita was just a personal lame triumph nobody else would ever enjoy – and for some strange reason, this bothered me, deeply.

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I take great pride in being a cowboy/lone-wolf/self-sufficient/delusionist. An introvert at heart, I’ve spent this entire day writing about 10K+ words about a virtual world that only exists in my friends and I’s heads – and I’ve been doing this to escape a rather wonderful but kind of fucked up right now every day life.

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As an introvert, I quickly feel over stressed and worn out in the presence of others, and I’ve often worked remotely these past few years. This year in particular I worked from home four days of the week, every week, until around the time Nick asked me to come see what he was building.

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Around the time Nick invited me to his virtual surprise, the year started winding down and other engineers on our team started traveling less, meaning I could work with them in the office more often. I did not want to do that – I was more efficient at home, building bleak real world nether portal highways to nowhere that meant nothing – rather than seeing the countryside or enjoying a bit of fishing like princess-pink Jon.

Anyway, Nick invited me over, and I set out on the way. He was due North of the original spawn island.

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It was bittersweet coming back to the original spawn island. Every player had started here, naked, and afraid. Each and every players started this way, completely alone on an island far too small to sustain life at all. Every player, right out of the gate needed to surmount an impossible body of water before they could even begin.

When you died, if something had happened to the last bed you slept in, you’d respawn back at spawn island rather than in your home where your bed had been. Naturally, when this happened, some monster had just killed us and the game shot us a thousand blocks away to spawn isle – far from everything we were just now carrying around – items and loot we had spent real life time obtaining. Several of us were infuriated to learn our stuff would despawn some thousands of blocks away from us faster than we could build a boat and travel home – so, naturally, we nethered up spawn island.

I took a light jog down the bleak nether highway and portaled out to our more-efficient and now forever safe and easy spawn island.

No longer would one experience fear, dread, or anxiety if their bed blew up. Brand new players would never even know what life was like so many thousands of Minecraft days ago – indeed, our civilization had nicely wrapped up most if not all aspects of life itself in a nice and comfortable world of automation – the lot of us were free to retire and fish all the time like Jon, except instead of enjoying our work, we simply checked out and quit the moment our empire was realized.

I was thinking these bittersweet thoughts that last time on spawn island, on my way to whatever it was Nick had been secretly toiling about on from time to time. I got in my boat and started heading north. The sun was setting, and as I approached his area it began to rain.

As I drew closer I saw a massive grey building that looked not unlike something as beautiful as Justin would make. It was a cylindrical grey column of stone, with glass on top – Nick had built a light house, all alone, on his own – but without someone else, he could not actually light it up.

Nick never logged the hours that Andy and I did – he was much more like Jon in that he was rarely online. Unlike Jon though, he didn’t have to keep escaping technological progress to find harmony. Here he was, just another day on a rocky shore, finishing his master work – a light house, a solitary beacon in the pouring rain.

I gave nick the nether brick and watched him as he put the finishing touches on his masterpiece and for a moment I felt as if I were with a famous artist, watching the final realization of something magnificent.

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I rode out in my boat to take a look, still in the rain. As I looked back to shore at Nick’s magnificent light house – I knew this would truly be the last “playing the game” moment I’d have in this Minecraft world, and like Jon with his fishing, I took it all in, soaking in one of those very rare moments where you know you’re forming a lifelong memory and you’re living it just then.

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Nick’s lighthouse was beautiful, and a testament to his resourcefulness without the blight and easy hand of iron farms and infinite food.

In that beautiful moment I realized that all along what had made the game for me was not digging out stones, or building things, or digging out more stones, or making ever more terrible machinations – what had made the game special was the time spent with my friends, enabling them to realize their visions with some efficiency they would not have had without me – the software engineer who delights in automation and tooling in real life was at his happiest when helping someone with some tool.

It seemed foreign at the time, but after nearly a year of working in self-imposed solitary confinement, telecommuting from home, I realized that though we may be capable of horrific, terrible things; at the end of the day we still need one another, flaws and all.

Without each other we are nothing. Without each other we are Jason flying on a business trip to the middle of nowhere away from friends and family amidst family emergency, playing Minecraft on the Sony Vita, accomplishing incredible virtual triumphs all for naught, accomplishing something we’ll never share with anyone.

I recently realized that life is more than efficiency. Don’t forget to take some time to fish – with your friends.

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Music: Matthew Good – In a Coma (deluxe edition with the acoustic tracks, naturally.)

Cats and Dogs

My wife is a cat person. I am a dog person.

I do not understand why my wife is a cat person. Why be a cat person, right? Cats are neurotic, fiercely independent, super picky, indifferent to your existence, jerkface assholes. Agreed? Good.

Dogs on the other hand are sweet, pleasant and so damn simple. The end.

I despise cats. I wouldn’t say I hate them, but I passionately dislike them at times.

When we got married, we had a 5 year plan to get a dog that delivered in about 1 year. I fell in love with our dog in two seconds and that was that. Amanda took longer to come around. She liked the dog, the dog was cute, or whatever, but she didn’t LOVE the dog until a few months on. It’s ok, don’t count that against my wife, thats how she fell in love with me too – she just takes time to process things.

The point here, really, is, Amanda fell in love with the dog. That is, she was open to something she didn’t really care for earlier in life and gained much happiness and joy as a result. It’s only natural, obviously, because dogs are awesome.

Later, we had a neighborhood cat who got injured and became an inside kitty. She was a feral cat, very wild and scared. I love our cat, I do, but man she can be a huge jerk. We have some other cats and her favorite game in the entire world is to stalk and hunt the other cats. There is no higher level of joy than to surprise one of her siblings and scare the shit of them. I dislike cats, obviously, because cats suck.

The only argument I’ve *ever* heard for cats has been that they’re easier to maintain – they manage themselves just fine and won’t eat themselves to death, they usually use the litter box, and so on. My counterargument is that unlike cats, dogs do not do anything out of malice. I’ll take a sweet dog with a trash can habit any day over a cat that’ll eye me funny and plan for a month of sadistic horrors after every vet visit.

For years I’ve been trying to convince my wife that cats are evil. After six years of marriage and a few more of dating, I realize now that trying to make the crazy cat lady dislike cats is impossible. I learned this from the ‘All marketers are liars’ book that mentioned how people believe what they want to believe and it’s nigh impossible to change that, no matter how irrational the belief.

I’d call our situation a standoff – I grow weary of cats attacking each other and anger-marking territory, and Amanda grows weary of me using internet pictures to convince her that cats are the devil. Ignore the fact that Amanda still loves the dog very much, that just makes her a better person than me.

My youngest brother is exhausting. He has everlasting go-go-go power. He’s getting married soon. He’s getting married while working a full time job, and doing an MBA program. He’s extremely busy, but he found about 15 minutes of spare time a week between wedding plans and school, which is good news. 15 minutes a week to relax, right? Nope, he decided to buy a house and work on that small project during those 15 minutes, for grins, I guess?

He’s high energy. Intimidating, super, high energy. Youth.

Steve Jobs has a famous quote/mantra about making every day count. This sounds excellent on paper. My brother actually lives this, the kid has plans until 2020 in spreadsheets, and spreadsheets to manage those spreadsheets.

In high school some of my buddies gave me a nickname of slacker. I resented the label, because it just didn’t fit! I’m an awesome guy, I like dogs, and I’m, awesome! Seeing my kid brother shoot for the stars without slowing down has shown me that my high school friends were completely right – I am a child.

My youngest brother, like my wife, believes cats are not evil. For whatever reason I’m surrounded by fools.

Meanwhile my brother’s fiance is awesome. Clearly out of everyone’s league by a factor of 10. Partly because she teaches calculus and enjoys it non-ironically. It’s going to be so nice having someone at my brother’s house who understands what an HDMI cable is. She’s also awesome because she likes dogs.

She has this cute little dog who’s super high energy and all he wants to do is ALL OF THE THINGS always. When we visit, he wants pets for precisely 5 seconds, then its time for fetch, then its time to run around outside, but in 2.5 minutes we need to come back in to the couch for pets again. The dog, like my brother, doesn’t waste any time.

For whatever reason, my brother is not a dog person. A future sci-fi brain scan will reveal a damaged area in his brain, but until then he’s just going to continue believing cats are worthwhile. He likes my dog for about 15 minutes to an hour every time he visits, then he’s done. He’ll waste the rest of his weekend visit trying to convince one of our three asshole cats to give a shit about him for 30 seconds, and go home disappointed – when our dog was ready to jump on his lap and wiggle around 24/7 the whole time. Cat people.

My brother likes his dog-by-marriage about like he likes our dog – in very small doses. The high energy jumping around and following him around is super annoying to him. It’s so sad, I’ll visit and the dog will be so happy to see me and my brother’s fiance – he’ll visit us for a minute and let us pet him, but he constantly watches my brother – he wants nothing else in the world more than playing fetch for 15 seconds then petting for 15 seconds and so on, forever, with my bro. I throw a ball for him, he grabs it, and takes it to the window to try and figure out how he can drop it at my brother’s feet.

Cat people.

My brother has been very vocal about his displeasure at owning a dog. This has been really upsetting to me, because I don’t have a leg to stand on to tell him to be nice. In some ways, my brother patterns after me, and after hearing the rants against dogs I only recently realized how often I’ve done the very same. Except, previously, when I ranted about cats, it was always a self-justified “blowing off steam” or “funny, right?” kind of thing. Being on the receiving end of these rants was not as funny as I thought it was all these years, and I’m surprised my wife has not punched me in the face for all of the anti-cat bullshit.

Seeing my brother follow in my footsteps with the anti-dog rants has been supremely frustrating – it’s like looking in the mirror, except the mirror shows the me I prefer to pretend nonexistent. What’s the saying, if you hate something, don’t you do it too?

I don’t think my wife will ever be a ‘dog person’, and I’m almost certain my brother won’t be. I’ve learned, finally, to accept that over the past few months – we are who we are, and part of who we are is our passions, our likes and dislikes.

So, I accepted it. Until brain-scans can properly diagnose cat people’s mental disorder, at least.

A funny thing about letting something go is that you free your brain up to spend a little less time wasting cycles on pointless pain. When you let it go, you’ve got another puzzle piece in place and you’ve got some time for something else. My brother’s way better than I at this, obviously, he and his dog use every 15 second window of time extremely efficiently.

That was something I noticed, actually – during my brief moment of not considering why cats are dumb. Instead, for a split second I considered my wife and brother’s point of views – why do they like cats so much? How can there be any benefit in the world to liking a cat? What was I missing?

I was considering this a few evenings ago when my wife met my brother’s new dog for the first time really. He was 10 times more wiggly than our dog and all over all of us – jumping back and forth manicly, he was in heaven. I loved it, and my wife was kind and friendly to him, but she didn’t ‘get it’. Dog’s jumping up and down in her lap just isn’t her thing. Shortly after this, I had to half-jokingly (i think?!) tell her not to kidnap my brother’s new cat as a carryon for her flight home.

Cat people.

While the dog was bouncing around, I mused to myself that my brother’s fiance must have a thing for high-energy types, what with the superman high-energy husband to be and his sidekick dog tornado.

It was that moment that caused everything to unwind in slow motion – like the end of ‘a day in the life’ – where everything starts coming out in reverse and speeding up all the while.

It was then that everything came to me in machine-gun fire: Wait, my brother is like the dog, super neurotic and high energy and demanding, and his fiance loves them both; my wife is like my dog – cool, calm, just wants to enjoy life and get along; my brother’s fiance is like his cat very friendly and affectionate to everyone (he’s actually a dog, i think..); and, wait for it.. I am just like my wife’s cats – aloof, independent, self-centered, mildly-self-sufficient, neurotic, and all of those other amazing qualities I think we can all agree are awesome in cats.

Cats are awesome, now that I think about it. Agreed? Good.

It took a long *long* time for me to realize that there can be pros and cons to everything, even yet-to-be-diagnosed brain disorders causing chronic affection for cats and other similar species of jerks.

If my wife wasn’t just how she is, super tolerant and patient with lost-cause feral animals and super-forgiving, then she wouldn’t have ever given me a chance, or a second chance, or another chance on a daily basis depending on my behavior at times. 🙂 Our cat/dog preferences are just a small component of the yin/yang experience we share. To change her love for cats would be to make her into someone fundamentally different than who she is, someone who quite possibly would not have been a perfect match for me. She’s a great partner for me, because she is a rare specimen who is both awesome and for some reason has just the right amount of brain damage to see aloof robot-like independent quirky neurotic immature me as marriage material.

I really should hug my wife more often, and be less of a goddamn cat.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see someone else’s point of view. We believe what we believe, and it’s very hard to change or see past those beliefs. This works beautifully evolutionarily speaking – if we see someone jump off a cliff and die, we quickly learn to believe that’s not a good idea for ourselves and we don’t bother challenging the belief. Belief is less fun when we disagree – in those times belief can behave as a cloud – a smoke screen making obvious truth invisible. When we set the smoke screen of belief aside, we open ourselves to the seeing a new and better version of the truth.

The Fall From Grace (Life & Career Lessons, 2013)

2013, for me, sucked. The overly-simplistic way to summarize would be to say that I simply made a bad career move. It’s more than that, though.

The person I had become leading into 2013 was not who I want to be – to be clear, I did not say it’s not who I wanted to be, rather, who I was aiming for becoming is no longer who I wish to be. For me, if nothing else, that’s the main takeaway from 2013: people can (and do) change who they are and who they want to be – and that’s ok, it happens. The trick is remembering how much impact our choices can affect others.

It’s as if I’ve come full circle – a few years ago I left a steady-paying, somewhat interesting corporate programming career that started at Visa and ended at PayPal; and now, three years later, I’m ready to go back.

The younger, cockier version of me from three years ago would almost certainly want to kick my modern-day ass and call me a sellout.

Younger Jason had his future ahead of him, and viewed his life’s worth in terms of career. Younger Jason would not settle for ‘wasting time’.

Younger Jason was certain there was a perfect opportunity out there for him to be both productive and satisfied.

But, older Jason’s got some mileage on the younger version, and I’m happy to report that it’s true, you can be both productive and satisfied – but often at great cost. You may reach greater heights of personal success than imagined, only to turn around and see all that you’ve missed in trade for said success.

I took a somewhat risky path heading into 2013, by accepting a ground-floor ‘partner’-level position at a small mobile consultancy. The job was great. We worked 30-35 hours a week; which often meant 4 day work weeks. We telecommuted all we wanted, and I had the opportunity to work with one of my closest friends. Working at the consultancy was as close as I’ll likely ever get to a high-paying position with complete autonomy.

Life was incredible at the mobile firm, until it wasn’t. I started the year super-strong, spending four days a week slinging code for our clients, and one day a week starting 4 or 5 small projects of my own. My friends and I had big could-not-fail plans for our semi-successful Tumblr app, and I felt there was nothing that could stop me.

There was just one wrinkle – I had to be an account manager.

Lesson #1: The customer’s always right.

As a teenager, I worked at a Best Buy in the music and software department. I had seen Empire Records, and sadly, Best Buy, was and still is the closest thing to a record store that existed in my personality-free hometown suburb.

The music department, in those days, was huge. It was also the #1 source of stolen products, and for that reason, it was placed toward the front/middle of the store, where security, cashiers, and even managers could assist with eyeballs-on for the department. An upside to this arrangement was that I was able to witness many examples of customer service, often with not-so-happy customers, without actually directly interacting in such situations.

One morning a gentleman walked into the store extremely angered from the very start. He had his son with him, and his son looked fairly upset too. His son was clearly underage and he had a cd with a parental-advisory sticker in his hands. Bonus: the manager who wouldn’t take shit from *anyone* *ever* was on duty.

For context, this was late 90s big box retail – where the customer was always wrong and returns/exchanges factored into a bullshit store metric that would hurt your store when compared to others in the region; so, you might say our manager was incentivized to prove customers wrong.

This was one of those juicy dramatic situations where half of the media department just happened to be suspiciously loitering around and half-heartedly organizing the very front of the department within ear shot by the time the customer and his son reached the desk.

The customer surprised us, he was not there to complain about selling inappropriate content to a minor; instead, he was livid that his son’s cd was defective. The CD had twelve tracks of short silence, and the first real song started on track 13.

The man’s son really enjoyed the cd, aside from the obvious defect, and he simply wanted to exchange it. The CSR on hand called our favorite manager over to approve the exchange, and our manager helpfully noticed that the album’s backside artwork listed the first track with the #13 beside it – it appeared the track 13 thing was intentional. The customer immediately declared that the manager’s suggestion was ludicrous and started a round of fireworks unmatched before or after that day – ending with the manager verbally screaming the guy out of the building.

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The weird thing about the experience was, the customer was, in fact, technically-speaking: wrong.

In time, that customer interaction became the stuff of legend in our little media department. In some ways, it boosted our little insignificant egos to know we were somehow just a tad smarter or with-it than these occasionally idiotic customers we interfaced with, and, for better or for worse, it was nice knowing we had management with backbone to back us up if a customer demanded something unreasonable.

The thing is though, we all have egos, we’re all self-justified; and we all have different levels of experience this way or that. Veterans from Nirvana cds with one too many tracks (with a ‘secret’ track) would call the Korn cd that started at 13 a clever or amusing move, but clearly someone without our specific background could be frustrated that their way of understanding things did not apply – and, it’s never fun being wrong.

The shitty thing about customers is, they’re not always experienced, but they’re always right. This can be especially hard when you’re in consulting, where every move you make can be the last, and you’re expected to ‘be the expert’.

It is not easy being ‘the expert’, when someone is utilizing your services and paying you more than average precisely because they cannot do something as well you do. This is particularly sticky when you’re talking software engineering, because engineers are, generally speaking, not a group to take being wrong lightly.

Sadly, more often than not, my generation of software engineers tend to be fiercely competitive for no logical reason, myself included. At the first sign of disagreement, everything’s about being the #1 gold star sticker honor student engineer who bested someone else.

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For someone who prides himself on being insightful and clever, it’s slightly humiliating to admit that this year, for the first time ever, I understand the “my job is to take the schematics from the engineers to the managers” guy in the movie Office Space. For the longest time I thought the joke at hand was that the guy was the perfect personification of useless bureaucracy. That is precisely what he is, but the thing is, he’s necessary – because engineers are not socially gracious, to put it mildly.

My job this past year was partially to be that account managing/team-lead socially gracious guy, and, for better or worse, I learned that is not what I am. I am a strong engineer, a strong planner, and an perhaps an adequate team-lead with proper backing management behind me, but I am not an account manager. I do not relish the idea of screaming some fool out of the building, or justifying my firm’s participation for the millionth time – I like being a heads-down worker bee, and letting someone else handle the justifications and conflicts.

Fortunately, in software engineering, with a large enough team, being a heads-down worker bee is just fine. So don’t fret if that sounds like you.

Lesson #2: It’s not you.

As 2013 unfolded into a series of escalating, humiliating, embarrassing and painful personal career failures – I discovered a personal boundary, and I discovered a little nugget of wisdom that feels like what I’ve been searching for all along, ever since leaving my corporate cushy job three years ago: I’m only as good as those around me.

I did not know going into 2013 that I was a shitty account manager. Likewise, I did not know that I had inadequate visual design skills, or that startups were not for me.

I came into 2013 on a bit of a high, the popular iOS Tumblr app that two of my friends and I put together was racking up $150 a day in sales and growing, and I was fairly sure I was a god among men.

Or, well .. I thought I was a rockstar visual design communicator when I started the year, but then I worked with designers who taught me that in fact it wasn’t me who was good, it was someone else.

Our designer on the Tumblr product is fantastically amazing at what she does – this I knew. What I did not know was that she was so amazingly over-the-top awesome that she made the rest of us feel like we were pretty smart and good at it too.

That’s one of the life’s funny little quirks, sometimes you don’t know what you had until it’s gone or too late. The very best among us make us feel like we’re somehow good at something too, even when we’re truly not. The very best of our coworkers, friends, and family, will bring out the very best in us, sometimes without us ever catching on.

In my case, it was too late – I’d signed up for a job, thinking myself a badass visual design communicator as well as potentially badass account manager, when in reality I’m fairly horrid at both of these things. It took the better part of a year of working with some peers and superiors that didn’t just *click* with me to realize that I’ve had some pretty badass and amazingly talented peers and bosses in my past that I owe a lot of credit.

Lesson #3: Test your boundaries.

When I left my boring corporate big-co job years ago, I wanted to know exactly how or why things come to be the way they are. For better or for worse, I truly viewed my career up to that point as mostly insignificant – all of my peers and I were coattail riders in a sea of other coattail riders. Someone N years ago started a credit card company, someone N years ago started a online payment website, whatever it was – I wasn’t there at the beginning and I wondered how what that must have been like.

I wouldn’t say that my short tenure in a small mobile consulting in a firm at the ground-level is 100% proof of how the entire world works, but for me, the experience answered a number of lingering curiosities I could not have answered any other way – nobody I knew was willing to take the risk or had taken the risk I had with this job opportunity; so reading a thousand hacker news stories about wantrapreneurs was about as close as I’d ever come to fully understanding what ground-floor looks and feels like.

I’ll say this for it: ground-floor was easily the most fun I’ve ever had in my career.

It was also pretty god damn stressful – too much so for my taste. The firm I joined was already profitable, as only a client services startup can be – so I had no reason to worry about financials or the future of the company and the 4 or 5 of us employed there. And yet, that’s what I did – endlessly.

I’d always *wanted* to know how company financials work, how much profit was there, really? What I had not been curious about was the mental responsibility involved with knowing these pseudo-secret numbers – I couldn’t handle it – and we were profitable!

Part of the stress involved there was the fact that mobile projects are both great and terrible, in that they’re short-lived. You can kick out a fairly complex mobile app with a team of five people working 30 hour weeks in two months. This is good, as you’re never bored, there’s always something new – but it’s also bad, because you’re always supposed to be on the lookout for that next big client to help out when the current project’s 1.0 or 3.0 ships. Like the financials, our pipeline of clients was always healthy, mostly because the founder of the firm was a rockstar – always calm in all situations, and always ready to upsell without the customer realizing they were being upsold – he simply provided customers with what they needed, seemingly at the moment they would discover what they wanted.

It may sound strange, but even though we were both profitable and healthy, there was a significant seemingly unconscious mental burden that I could not escape when I was in that position with a bit of power to mold the company’s future. I stressed myself out quite often at the thought of being the one responsible for making the wrong move that’d put my friends and peers out of a job. I didn’t worry for my own job in the slightest because I always land on my feet, but being quasi-responsible for others well-being was too much.

I managed the stress easily enough for a while, but things started going not-as-expected fairly early. The founder of the company was making his own business moves that I didn’t completely agree with b/c I thought them risky, while I was making some differing but super-safe moves with our Tumblr product on the side. In the end, one of us is still a founder, single-handedly paying 4 or 5 salaries, and let’s just say the Tumblr product isn’t making $150 a day anymore – the wave of Tumblr hype settled down, briefly before they were acquired.

It was at this time that I began to seriously consider my differing motivations and style of taking on risk.

Things really started falling over for me when I actually started fucking up – getting caught in account management 101 stuff where a normally happy customer suddenly wasn’t happy without reason – what do you do then? Me? I panic, and here’s a pro-tip: that’s not what you’re supposed to do.

When a customer wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, you’re supposed to listen, ask questions, and above-all, keep your cool – and to put it nicely, in that back-against-the-wall/cornered situation, that’s not my first instinct. Pro-tip #2: Customers don’t really care for hearing how everything up until yesterday was going smoothly, and frankly, they don’t care to hear much of anything other than “you know what, you’re right!” …

After the first incident of this, I was pretty shaken up – I sought some career counseling and my counselor’s advice was to do my best to learn from my mistake, but keep on being me. She advised that things have a way of working their way out, and the only way I could determine if the ground-floor scene was my long-term career would be to stick it out and try to learn without compromising my core values.

I tried to stick it out, then a few months later the next eventual hot situation came along, and I couldn’t control my instincts. Nice-guy working it out calmly worked to a certain extent, until an unworkable situation recurred continually despite our continual guidance and I lost it.

When it was all over with, I learned a fair bit about how ground-floor works, or at least enough to understand a lot of ups and downs of that situation.

I also learned about a few boundaries that in previous years were sort of hazy concerns I wasn’t sure of – maybe I’m decent at visual design?! – maybe I can handle accounts?! – now those hazy curiosities are crystal clear.

I would not characterize my year of personal career failures as something I enjoyed, but the upside to the experience is that I finally experienced the logical conclusion to my curiosities from years ago – I have answers that work for me.

I feel, in a few short years I’ve had a severely simplified / fast-paced view of how businesses come to exist and grow – and, knowing what I now know, I’m now finally comfortable with the idea of contributing anywhere, big or small, as long as I don’t have to manage clients or be responsible for people’s salaries.

Lesson #3: Know when to quit.

I suppose the hardest part of this past year was screwing up the second time. It was humiliating, and embarrassing to be on the losing end of something I felt fairly justified in. Sometime around round #6 or #7 of fighting this worn-out repeat-disagreement with a developer, I just started throwing in the towel and losing my cool, Mr Nice-Guy Jason went on vacation and “Keeping it Real” Jason started to come out to play.

I wanted to win that last little battle, and until it exploded in my face, I honestly didn’t think it was anything other than an average engineering disagreement – “we’re all sarcastic and funny and biting on the chat” – this is what I told myself.

What I did not realize was: It’s okay to get along with your customer, but always remember they are your customer.

When things settled from that second fiasco, I knew what the mobile consultancy needed was another competent account manager, and there was an expectation in place for that person to be me. As long as I worked there, on salary, it would have been a risky situation to take on a full-time account manager to compensate for my inadequacies in that arena.

I wished there was some way I could continue as is – but I found I couldn’t. There were only two options I could come up with, and so I offered them both to the founder…

Option A was that I’d continue as a non-salaried contractor without account management responsibilities. This would free the founder up if times got tight financially without me in that role sucking up salary, and it would free me from stresses I was no longer interested in bearing. Option B would be that we’d part ways.

I printed up my terms – 8 or 9 large-font statements on a single piece of paper, and presented them. We discussed the terms, and we amended our agreement to be that I’d finish up a client’s work for another month, and then part ways.

It probably sounds silly, but one small saving grace in the career story of 2013 for me was the fact that I had the balls to type up my simple list of needs and actually present them, rather than quitting outright, or waiting to be fired, or just secretly interviewing around and leave the guy hanging.

Lesson #4: It’s not a new year’s resolution, it’s a bucket list.

I set out in 2013 to conquer the world – as the kickass know-it-all super talented guy. I had a super long list of ideas to turn into little apps, and big plans for resuscitating our fading Tumblr app.

One personal goal I remember was that I set out to publish 4 or 5 small apps on the side. I wound up outright canceling participation in one of the projects, and publishing only one of the five. And, bonus, the one we actually published did so poorly that we wound up pulling it a few months later rather than rev it.

When I was feeling top of my game, working ceaselessly on the small apps was my everything, it was what defined me. I was dedicated to spending that friday, every friday, building my own thing – until things started crumbling: the free version of the tumblr app didn’t do well; our users became hostile and trashed our ratings when we made changes they asked for; our second attempt at a small little app failed outright; and front and center, this was about the same time I was beginning to learn how shitty at account management I was.

Still, stubbornly, I marched forward for a good long while, tethering myself to my work like it was a lifeline – more important than oxygen itself.

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I kept marching, until I just couldn’t anymore. Sometime in the summer I asked my buddy if he was growing tired of the making-apps-on-the-side game and ever felt like quitting. He mentioned that he’d felt like that for a decent amount of time already. We decided to put the projects to bed for a while (or forever?) and try something else.

Something else turned out to be borderlands – a great video game on the PS3. Both my friend and I take a certain amount of pride in being productive and talented, and we both let our pride take over so much of our lives that we couldn’t see anything else from time to time. This all works perfectly swell when your sales charts are track up and to the right, but not so much when the dice roll the other way.

For the fourth quarter of the year we played the shit out of borderlands and even started playing basketball (a sport, outside, in the sun, would not recommend) together from time to time. I can’t speak for him, but somehow I’ve felt as fulfilled and entertained with the video games as I did when we first had the spark in us to make the Tumblr app – I suppose that’s how life goes, sometime’s you’re a mad scientist cooking something beautiful in xcode, and sometimes you’re playing video games without a care in the world.

Toward the end of the year, there was a fair amount of dread in me for failing my personal goals of you know, doing well at my job, and publishing some apps. I made list XYZ and none of it was done. Today my wife mentioned something she heard recently: “It’s not a new years resolution, it’s a bucket list.” – that is, it may be best to think of one’s goals in terms of eventually rather than time-bound. Thinking of things this way sounds easier to me, and it seems it may fit – I’m not going into 2014 expecting anything fantastic in terms of goals, in fact, I just hope to follow up on a few of the apps I set out to finish in 2013.

The point of life is not to be productive, it’s okay to play borderlands if you need to.

Lesson #5: Life is better than the movies.

My wife and I celebrated our fifth anniversary in November. Naturally, I set out early in 2013 to come up with an epic personalized gift to look back on with fondness. It took me a while, but I finally settled on making a picture book.

The picture book was, in some ways, the biggest failure of my entire terrible year.

I set out to sort 8 years of photos into two sets: good enough, and not good enough. Like all major projects, it started out strong, but as I went on sorting, I started to feel guilty about my photo choices. I felt there was a dual purpose to the photo book idea, and I let my demons get the better of me. I felt the book idea was not ‘pure’ in some sense, because it would be showboating some of my photography skills in this little coffee table book you see at everyone’s house; I also felt less ‘pure’ because I had a dual motive of trimming the photo fat and organizing my photo collection better.

The more I went on, the more confused and terrible I felt about the project – it was cliche, I was topsy turvy about my job situation, blah blah. At the end of it all, our anniversary arrived and I had nothing – no gift at all.

Neither my wife or I are ones to expect gifts, it’s just a nice thought, you know? And in previous years we have both come up with some pretty great ideas.

Our anniversary rolled around, and she and a couple of my friends made this epic music box that was wired up with a mini speaker and ipod to play one of the songs from our wedding. It was so perfect, definitely a treasure I hope to keep for as long as I live.

And, I had nothing.

I had nothing because I got my panties in a wad about overanalyzing myself and my motives. I had nothing because I would not settle for not-good-enough and I’d rather fail outright than compromise. I had nothing because I knew she deserved more than generic, more than cliche – and I was spiraling on this dramatic emo journey into questioning who or what I was as a man/husband/whatever – so focused on self that by the time the end of my job situation rolled around part of my spectacular failure at life for the year was to just say “I’ll come up with something” – and never actually come up with something.

A few weeks later a friend of mine was visiting. He was going through a bizarre rough spot in life and he point blank asked me if my life was like the movies. He asked me these weird little questions like ‘What do your wife and you talk about normally over dinner?’. He was getting at a fundamental failing of our advertising-soaked culture, I think, and I didn’t realize it until that moment. He was genuinely curious to know if anyones life was better than a movie.

He asked me these questions and I thought for a moment. I thought, and I remembered the other reason I stopped the photo book project – there was too much. When I set out to make the book, I figured a 100 page book, with perhaps 4 or 5 photos per page on most pages – so a ballpark limit of 500 photos in the book.

When I first started sorting the photos, 500 seemed like too much – oh god, how can I find 500 good photos – right? Right. But then, a curious thing happened, I sorted the first year and I had 1000 ‘good’ (subjectively, for the target book..) photos.

I sorted another year and had 1200 photos, another had more than 700. As I sorted and sorted I had to stop for another reason beyond my ‘unpure’ existential bullshit motivational questions – I had to stop because there were far more than 500 photos of great moments to choose from, there were thousands, and thousands, and thousands.

It’s so easy to remember our pains, our failures, and perhaps a dozen great moments in our life – but the failures, for me, always sting the most. I always overanalyze the terrible moments the most, and the beautiful moments just come and go – appreciated for a glimpse, and moments later – gone.

My friend asked me if my life were better than a movie, and this was after the job drama of the year, this was on the way toward mending myself and prepping for the next great thing, this was in the midst of troubling times for both he and I in our own lives. He asked me what we talked about over dinner, and I didn’t skip a beat.

I told my friend about how our lives are better than tv shows, our lives are more than that. I mentioned how it’s curious how many multi-hour movies we love are essentially about half a dozen moments strung together, and yet they seem larger than life – better than reality, as another friend of mine may put it. Truth is, though, our lives are better than the movies, we only have to take a moment to see it.

Even in the midst of the worst year of my career on record, there are a thousand beautiful moments to be found, like, the time we discovered the missing neighborhood tomcat with all the perpetual scrapes and bruises had been taken in by a neighbor and was in great health:

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or, the time my brother proposed to his girlfriend after a 36-step carefully planned 8 hour adventure driven by spreadsheet lists:

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the times my wife and I found comfortable solace in listening to vinyl records in our bedroom:

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the time we had the beauty of a cold washington morning all to ourselves:

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the time she was about to kill me because I would not stop taking photos of red leaves on the trail:

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the time we played our friend’s home made board game that I swear I will one day turn into an IOS game:

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the time my best friend smiled a smile he hadn’t in a thousand years:

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the times I worked with my friends and had the most god damn fun of my entire career:

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the time our app passed 1 billion photos viewed:

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the time we saw sigur ros – the best concert of my life:

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and the time we discovered caspian at the one late night show mid-week in a surprisingly cathartic moment – the moment when everything seemed to finally be sorted, for better or worse:

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the list goes on and on.

Career-wise, professionally speaking, this past year was not a highlight for me; but even so, my life, just like yours, is way better than a movie – I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

Funny images from tumblr, many of them reblogged w/ links to original sources on my tumblr.

Written while listening to Caspian’s latest EP, hymn for the greatest generation – it’s awesome, check it out.

Creative Bankruptcy

Commiting to a rambling blog entry at 7a without sleep is always a good place to start.

Music: Matthew Good – Non Populous

TLDR: When it feels topsy-turvy, it’s time for a break. It’s okay to take a break.

Thursday, August 22: “Man, this stuff + work drama makes me so want to quit all of this crap. ever feel that way?” .. “Yes.”

I spent a large part of the year working on a half-dozen personal projects in my spare time, enjoying myself quite a bit – until I didn’t. I could have been stretching myself too thin, it could have been that my latest career move was a bad one, it could have been that the projects I’d kicked out earlier in the year didn’t bring results, it was probably all of the above. Truth is, the reasons, the who and why – they don’t matter. The thing that matters is that I wasn’t enjoying myself or these personal projects anymore.

A few years ago, a coworker I knew would regularly declare “social bankruptcy”. Like most software engineers (myself included), he was an introverted type – perfectly happy to sit at home alone for a full weekend. The problem was, he also enjoyed hanging out with his friends, and he couldn’t seem to find the balance between social and non-social personal time. His solution to the problem was social bankruptcy. When he felt overwhelmed by his social life, he’d tell his friends he’s declaring bankruptcy on social life for a little while, he’d promise to be back, but he’d make it clear that he was going underground for a while. He’d go underground, seemingly dropping into non-existence while he recharged his batteries on his own, and a month later he’d be back at it – ready for another 3 months or so of a busy social schedule.

For me, my creative efforts and interests have always been cyclic. There are definitive high and low tide moments from time to time – be it code, music, photography, whatever. When the tide’s growing towards a peak, I’m intensely prolific to an almost maniacal and occasionally intimidating degree. As the cycle wanes, my heart’s no longer in it, and at some point it feels I’m investing time into something that no longer makes sense.

This, for me, is one of those times.

My friends and I have collectively spent the past few years pumping out quite a few apps, websites, novels, albums, and so on – and it seems for many of us that 2013 is a very low-tide year. There will be another prolific creative cycle, and I will again feel my heart accelerating in excitement over some idea or another. But, it can’t be forced.

The downside to the low-tide is that it often feels as if something is wrong, something’s broken. Even though I logically know that my life runs in cyclic patterns, I worry that the last high-tide was the last there will be. In my experience, there’s no cure to the worry, except to stop everything, and wait it out.

Large, successful companies take a yearly inventory and figure out what’s next. This voodoo magic looks great to stockholders and gives c-level executives something to do besides fight PR fires. The important thing about the inventory is that it’s a self-assessment, it’s taking a little time to reflect on what was planned, what was done, what worked out, what needs a little help or a change, and what’s next.

I’d love to say that taking inventory is the solution to skip over the “wait it out” phase of the creative doldrums, but in my experience, trying to logic it out just makes things worse. There are some things that just take time.

There aren’t too many lightweight first world problems such as these that an occasional cocktail won’t help even out for a moment or two. Here’s my favorite recipe, or at least the one I’ve been trying of late:

  • Playing video games with friends, and on my own. Of late, borderlands and the ps3 edition of diablo 3 with friends, as well as diablo 2, luigi’s mansion 3ds, and pikmin 3 on my own.
  • Getting out of the house, vacation style – visiting friends and family both nearby and afar.
  • Dropping the to-do lists a few days a week and just being.
  • Taking long walks with my spouse and our dog.
  • Watching all of breaking bad in two weeks.
  • Exercise.
  • Listening to music or watching movies that help break the emotional dam for a moment, recent recommendations: into the wild, black rebel motorcycle club’s latest, anything matthew good, and/or a douglas coupland novel.
  • Experiencing a place with manic weather, like Seattle, better yet, camp in it.

The general idea is to relax the personal commitments and goals for a little while, minimizing the to-do list to only things that *must* be done, and taking some room to breathe. It’s not a cure, but it helps minimize the stress until the next worthwhile idea comes along.

It doesn’t matter.

I haven’t been taking many photographs recently.

When I analyze it, the story goes: I started sorting through years of photos, trimming the fat, collecting the better bits into something worthwhile. Sorting years of photos proved such a daunting task that at one point early on I was able to calculate how long it would take to finish this personal project. I determined it would take a long time – too long, really. So, why shoot more? Why bother?

My grandfather was a photographer too. Always with the camera. Every family get together, several photos a day. He always promised us that if we made a funny face, the photo would be printed at 8×10 size. I saw dozens of hilarious/embarassing 8x10s of various relatives over the years.

I’m halfway decent at photography – that is, I’m good enough to know it would take a whole lot of money and time I don’t have to buy equipment and learn about lighting and photoshop curves, and tweak tweak tweak tweak tweak.

I bought a DSLR a few years back, a Nikon D90 and some cheap lenses. Putting a piece of hardware like that in your hand teaches you *real* fast that you have no idea what you’re doing. The D90 practically killed my interest in expanding my photographic ability, until a few years later .. when the iPod touch had a little camera in it.

My grandfather was really a pretty amazing photographer. When he passed away around the turn of 2004, I had the opportunity to flip through tens of thousands of old photographs he took. For a while there I told myself I’d select the very best thousand or so and scan them for future-proofing. I had more than a few photo albums of his and diligently scanned and scanned for a while.

Problem was, there weren’t 1,000 good photos, there were tens of thousands. For every photo that meant something to me, there were 100 I’d skip on by that my father or an aunt would consider precious – snapshots of moments foreign and meaningless to me.

Photography’s a funny thing, as they say, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. A photo may hold a lot of sentimental value to you and have a hold on your heart that will never let go. The very same photo may mean nothing to anyone else, hell, some of your favorite photos of your spouse will never be their favorites of themselves.

Once in a very long while you’ll shoot something and know in that very moment that you’ve captured something eternal – some little moment that transcends the family reunion you’re standing in.

I didn’t start shooting until digital cameras became affordable. I never had to wait 3 days for a batch of exposures to come back and teach me. I’ve almost never had to wonder if I got the shot or not. Further, I’m able to shoot 1,000 photos in an afternoon without paying a cent for any of them.

I don’t think I’ve ever shot 1,000 photos in a day, but I could.

We had two photographers at our wedding. A few weeks after the event, we received 8 dvds with 5000+ raw images on them. Scrolling through the photos was more like watching a bit of a movie in slow motion than looking at a collection of photos. Several minutes worth of burst shots, 3 takes of the same shot – trying to get the one person to stop blinking.

Rewind to my grandfather in the 60s or 70s, or my father in the 80s waiting for the exact right moment to take some of those timeless, perfect, shots of a child or a bit of landscape. I sometimes wonder if my grandfather was experienced enough with his film-based camera to know he got the shot – could he tell he had captured something eternal?

If he could, is he the sucker, having to wait 3 days for that print to come back, or am I? Did he rush to open his envelope photos and have a second little transcendent moment when he confirmed he really did, indeed, get the shot?

There was a time in my life when I didn’t want to participate, and the camera became a weird extension of myself. In an odd way, it felt like the photographs would prove that I was living, after the moment had faded and passed.

There were more than a few moments where the camera got in the way of the experience. I’ve got great photos to show anyone who’d care to see – at the expense of missing more than a few ‘eternal moments’.

Every time I look through my photos of the past, a million memories flood in, many seemingly long forgotten. My photos remind me of scanning my grandfather’s photos in my shitty post-college apartment, wasting days and days of time. They remind me of the time the dog found a bag of powdered sugar and behaved like a high addict for a number of hours. The time I kept the shutter on long-exposure while my wife drove us home in a thunderstorm at night. The times I spent a whole summer walking our family dogs around the park with my father.

My photos, like my grandfathers, will fade. I know this, and you should too. At times it seems to take a monumental amount of effort to pick yourself up off the floor, and just keep on going – and photography, for me, occasionally feels very similar.

But, the photos remind me, when the timing’s right, that life’s for living – rather than archiving or proving something. This is why I continue shooting.

I never once asked my grandfather why he took photos – that was just who he was, what he did. I wonder if photography was both timeless and secretly tragic in his mind, as it is in mine. I wonder what he thought would happen to those ten thousand slides of random landscapes and buildings, I wonder if he cared.

Time is both finite and infinite. It’s finite for you and I, but infinite going forward. I think, – I think it takes equal parts courage and crazy to snap the shutter to capture that eternal moment that you know will fade.

Loss is a sickness.

We lose stuff all the time, our keys, loose change forever embedded into secret areas of the couch, occasionally, our wallet. Some stuff matters a little, most doesn’t matter at all. What we do not lose so often, for better or for worse, are the things that matter.

It may seem good fortune to live a pristine life of luck, free from true loss, but in a sense, a life without house fires, theft, or death, is a heavier tragedy than a life with those experiences. A life without loss, is a life unlived – a life of innocence and ignorance, a blissful experience missing the bigger picture of truth: the simultaneously tragedy and beauty of the human experience and mortality.

Everyone experiences loss and reacts differently, some people hoard or collect, some detach from others, some become health nuts, some install 85 fire alarms, some click backup buttons.

When you have the sickness, it presents in a million weird little ways. Some, extreme.

A well-adjusted soul would backup their data fairly often, after losing the wedding photos forever. Someone with a touch of OCD (myself) would have a big red button to backup at any time – and click that button all the time.

“If those files are duplicated now, I will feel better, and sleep easier.” – this is how it starts. The big red button is clicked, and for a few moments you hold your breath, wondering if today will be the day the hard drive failure happens between ‘save’ and ‘copy’. Inside yourself, a small insane voice somewhere between the concious and subconcious screams “Click the button now, because I’d rather know I’ve lost something, than wait in fear of the inevitable.”

After experiencing loss, every successful moment without further loss feels, in some small way, like a high point of your life – especially when you can get just a little more mileage out of your delusion of control over your life and existence.

The thing about loss, the sickness, is that it ebbs and flows, like the ocean. Some days you’re hitting that big red button frantically, like a maniac, and some days it’s just not on your mind.

Like all things, when it hits, it hits hard.

You lay with your spouse in bed one morning, one of those rare days you wake before her, and because you’ve experienced loss before, you both appreciate and loathe the moment, because you know that this moment, too, will pass.

Not until you’ve truly experienced loss, and wasted far too many brain cycles on the topic, does this become clear: Nothing is forever.

Time moves forward, endlessly, and, after loss, after gaining the sickness, mortality becomes more than a word – your inner immortal superhero delusion gives way to a truer, bleaker world view – you realize that you are, truly, finite. As is your dog, your job, your friends, your family, your spouse, your children, your story, their story, our story, the human race, the earth – down and down you go, there is no bottom – all is finite, except, of course: star wars.

You will spiral down, down, down. You’ll checkmark your stages-of-grief list, with an optimistic hope that these stages being experienced are a sign of progress and this will be over.

And at some point, 10 leagues beyond what you thought was the bottom of the spiral, it feels over, and grey gives way to color and you’re alive again. At that point, the point where you’ve redefined what pitch black truly is, for the tenth time, you’ll come back up and out. You will find structure, and your life will move on.

For some, like an alcoholic unable to take the reigns, religion, the idea of heaven, will provide the scaffolding, the ruleset for structure in life moving forward. God bless you, if it’s that easy for you.

For others, unable to put a levee up to block curiousity, imagination, empathy, and thought, structure comes with greater effort and cost.

Regardless of your faith or lack thereof, your structure in life after your moment of loss may always feel like a house of cards. Where before there stood a rose-coloured castle of ignorant bliss that was impervious to common sense, now you’re rebuilding castles made of sand, all the while watching the tide rise.

You will still have those days, those moments, awake before your love, alone with birds chirping some morning – where it all comes back with lightning speed. For those moments, like all moments, we make a choice of interpretation, a choice of perception. “Should I dwell on the tragedy of existence, or use this as a catalyst, a reminder to maximize my personal experience – to let that which does not matter, slide?”

The other side of loss, and the spiraling plunge that follows, besides these little OCD quirks about the fire alarms or backup buttons, may be a hard-to-swallow realization. You may come to understand why utopia and heaven cannot exist without a dark secret or hell. There is beauty in tragedy, failure, and loss – a terrible, horrible, necessary beauty. Without your personal hell, without your tragic loss, your moments of bliss just wouldn’t mean as much.

After loss, a new, better, you will rise like a phoenix from ashes, with a fuller, truer, understanding of what is and always will be. Without your personal tragedy, turning that corner from immortal superhero delusion would not happen. Indeed, your loss would never become the catalyst for your next beautiful chapter – those magical moments that will be just a little brighter and more vivid than those that came before.

Without this terrible moment of your past, a million amazing and fantastic moments to come would be missed. Without your loss, you would not today be able to see and experience your personal story as clearly, deeply, and vividly – you’d still have those silly rose-coloured glasses, and be missing the whole point.

All photos are my own. I highly recommend the following works, to anyone who has experienced or hopes to understand the beauty and the tragedy of loss and the human experience: The Watchmen, The Tree Of Life, Safety Not Guaranteed, Lateralus, Mer De Noms, and the song Big Machine.

Oh, you think meritocracy exists? Tell me more about how you’re always overlooked.

So you want to talk about meritocracy, and how hard work will pay off, and justice will come your way someday? Cool story, bro.

My turn, let me start with a little story that’s slightly less crazy than your imaginary meritocracy pipe dream – something ridiculous about growing up religious.

I grew up being an ungrateful little shit, coming from a long line of ungrateful little shits, growing up religious in Texas.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have to be an ungrateful little shit – after all, I was born a white male, in America. A lot of my first-world-problems complaints in life have never really amounted to more than this:

Religious in the South should be qualified, because down here religion can sometimes (or sadly, often..) be different than religion may be in other, more sane, areas of the world. Our god was the god of perpetual disappointment, the god of lifelong imaginary toil and punishment, always teaching us some lesson or another through some perverse self-deluded belief that things not always going your way was god’s way of saying you’re not good enough.

In many ways, our god was the “God of America”, that is, the god of the american dream – the god behind all those oddballs out there thinking if they stick to the rat race long enough, work hard, pray, and get along more often than not, they’ll win the lottery and be rich. – the very same oddballs who vote republican against their own self-interest and the interest of their country and brothers, because if they win that lottery, a high tax rate for the betterment of others sounds like it’s really going to hurt. In other words, our god was the god of irony, never you mind the bits of scripture about helping your fellow man, let’s get rich!

If you can’t tell by this point, our god was the southern baptist god, the god against fun, and, basically – against everyone, it seemed. Generally speaking, life under our god was a struggle, for no good reason. Even when things were amazing, enjoying anything, ever, felt like some sort of sin. When you lost, god was punishing you, and when you won, it was because god did it, there was no such thing as personal achievement – it was weird.

To put it lightly, I learned some really wacky belief and faith systems early on in life.

It’s wasn’t all bad, not at all. Growing up religious meant I learned a whole lot about having structure in life, and to think about the big picture, a lot. When your god is the god of keeping score, you think a whole lot about every little misdeed, and wonder if the last will be the one to do you in for good.

Another positive: my parents and religious friends were not only religious, they, like me, were also human! That means they weren’t perfect, which means they slipped up from time to time.

Fortunately, and, paradoxically, the god of brimstone and hellfire and eternal punishment is also conveniently eternally forgiving whenever you feel like he should be. Convenience god for the win!

You just say a little prayer at night, asking god to help you be better next time, and because he’s in charge of you and everything ever, you dont really have to actually put in the effort to change yourself for the better tomorrow, because whatever happens is god’s plan, right?

Instead of putting in the effort, you say your part, chant your dogmatic little bit for the millionth time, brush the feeling of guilt off your shoulders, and wake up with a smile the next day, ready to point your finger of blame and play the church version of keeping up with the jones’ another day.

Back then, life was, seriously, quite easy. Especially with such a nice little loophole as a corner stone to our wacky warped little way of seeing the world. You chew your charcoal teeth, judging everyone else’s pearly whites, and continue the cycle until the reckoning (day of final judgement, which you’ve been practicing for for your entire life..) comes. All the while, so happy to be in the exclusive hip little club of ungrateful judgmental white people on god’s side.

At some point, the hypocritical paradox of religion in ‘Merica began to bother me, and, I discovered rock and roll. True story.

I found the rock and roll tunes more relatable and honest than a thousand pages of whatever-you’d-like-them-to-mean/revised-by-imperialistic-kings parables. The tunes’ lyrics seemed to come from an ironically cleaner, purer, and truer place of wisdom – this make sense in retrospect, because, you know, every band’s really good stuff is the stuff that comes from a place of honesty, before they make it big.

The heavily-revised modern version of the bible is alot like those other tunes, you know, the ones written by committee and evaluated for chart metrics. In other words, discovering rock and roll for me was a lot like spending your whole life listening to Nickelback, and then discovering Tool.

Some really great rock tunes planted the seed – and in time a great inner turmoil sprouted – believing in a cowards’ god was easy. If life sucked, we blamed god and were oh-so-helpless to change anything about our lot in life, because, gosh, god just wanted things to always be the way they were. But, when I thought about it quite a bit, believing in a god of convenience was easy, but it was a cop-out, and false.

Our god was the god of shifting the blame.

Our god was the god of shifting the responsibility.

Our god was the god of cowardice, the god of a spineless fool, too scared to ever try and be something or make something happen.

Sound familiar?

From that point onward, it was the same old boring story you’ve seen a million times before. I started asking a whole lot of “why?”, and bickering with my friends and family about our god getting ten thousand prayers about the football game on sunday, but a smaller percentage about world hunger.

Eventually, I was born again.. again. To anyone who’s been through something of the same, I highly recommend just about anything MJK has ever done, you’ll enjoy it, because his personal story is the same as yours.

I decided to ditch my parent’s twisted merit-based belief system from hell, and decided to embrace the random chaotic universe – and find another way of looking at things.

Starting a long journey towards a different personal belief system that worked better for me was not easy. There was a whole lot of “if there’s a god, why would he do such and such, so there must not be one”, then as I grew older, I learned that sometimes beauty is hidden in tragedy, and that there’s a lot more to life than everything always going perfectly. Without a rainy day, you’d never notice the sun.

.. So maybe there’s a god, or gods, after all? – I just, personally, don’t really care for any of them if this is the divine design. I’ve seen software written better than this.

In time, I settled into a live-and-let-live style belief system. Identifying as agnostic to some extent- that is, I don’t really care who’s right or wrong, or if there is or isn’t a god or gods.

To me, everyone has a right to their own personal belief system, even if it does them more bad than good – every man’s story is his own journey, and you’re free to find your own way and happiness in this existence, I think. If you want to believe in the rat race and that hard work with minimal fun & enjoyment pays off in the end because you get a gold star sticker from god for being better than everyone, knock yourself out, doesn’t bother me. If you want to actually follow the teachings of your christ, or the buddha, or whoever, or whatever – cool.

Turning a corner in terms of personal belief did not automatically make me a better person, hell, I’d argue I became a worse person, for a good long while. I, like any good christian, or former-christian, took the parts that worked for me right along to my ‘new life’, and left out a lot of the harder parts.

I found the lifestyle choice of being a pessimistic self-involved little asshole easier than putting the thought time in to *why* I was so pessimistic, so I brought that right along with me. Calling myself, cutely, a “realist”, and rejecting silly optimists as silly.

Another thing I brought along with me from before was that more often than not, I rode proudly onward on a bullshit high horse of self-delusional judgement and holier-than-thou. I had everything in life figured out, and was kicking ass and taking names. I knew the politics game, and had seen the other side of dogma. I knew ALL ABOUT life (right?..), and that being a good person, or at least better than others, was, truly, just telling a good story – just marketing.

The self-marketing lifestyle worked really well for me, and still does, more or less. I learned early on that, sadly, life can be a lot more about spin, than truth or hard work. You can run with this, and learn from this bitter truth, or spend a whole lot of time decrying it and being upset over it – and find yourself in the same place in the end. Spin works wonders for you, as long as its grounded, to some degree, in truth – until someone calls your shit.

Growing up white male american, with nothing more than first world problems, I didn’t really understand what it was to truly want something. Not just want something, but want to truly DESERVE what you want.

I didn’t know what ‘want’ was.

I had good-enough grades, I got into college, I skidded along, and landed a really amazing job in the big bad corporate world of big-brand software. My biggest fear in life, ever, was having to make it on my own if my ever-disappointed parents ever made good on any of their good-christian promises to disown me for this grade or that.

Then, I met my wife.

I went into meeting my wife pretty confident and arrogantly – still riding my high-horse of convenience, constantly feeling a hot-shot for this or that. I was still a software engineer, of course, so, predictably, I wasn’t really a hot shot with the ladies, but I felt like one anyway.

Here’s how it happened: I wrote up some random missive for the Nth time on craigslist, utilizing my gift of spin. Dudes, let me tell you, if you have a heart, a brain, and can write, craigslist is a guaranteed-win – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel when every other post on there is just aiming at the predictable cliches. The problem is, there aren’t a lot of winners out there – so you go on some dates with some of these people and your mighty steed, that high horse, gets bigger and bigger. By the time I met Amanda, I felt like god’s gift. By that point I had convinced myself I was ready for the real big leagues, no more N-year girlfriends, no more half-in/half-out bullshit, just ready for something real.

Then I met her.

You’ll never understand what I mean here until it happens to you, and man, I hope this has or will happen to you – I’m just like you, and everyone else, all I really want is to love, and to be loved. I fall in love easily, and just like every true american, I’m the best thing ever – so who the fuck is so and so to say my shit stinks, right? Then you meet a real, genuine, responsible, honest person – and, if you have any goddamn wits about you at all, you feel like you hit a brick wall at highway speeds – who the fuck am I? Right? Right.

Before I met my wife, I had *never*, never met anyone worth a damn. I say that with absolute honesty, and let me tell you, I am fortunate enough to have more than a few amazing people as life-long friends, *all* worth more than a damn – but this kid was in another league. Before her, I had told myself I was ready for something real, ready for “the one”, and then, on the very first date, I met “the one” – and immediately had an unexpected reality check.

Never before her had I had this primal fear in the pit of my stomach, this sickening understanding of how false, fake, shallow, and immature I truly was. And, here’s the thing – Amanda, my wife, is the sweetest person in the world – she didn’t say a damn thing to make me feel that way, and, well, that’s kind of the point. I’d done the longterm he-said/she-said girlfriends before where you’re both judgy mcjudgerson and too prideful to truly give a shit – I’d had the girl who checks your shit all the time to make herself feel better, and really, that’s okay, because you know you do it to her too – it just feels good in this really horrible way, right? Right. Amanda wasn’t that.

Amanda and I didn’t meet to become husband and wife, in fact, she was convinced we weren’t each other’s types – it was just a casual coffee, and after that very first date I went home with my head aflame in paranoid fear. Here was someone worth hanging on to, someone worth a damn – and immediately the self-delusional spin and hype of ‘being ready’ for something like that collapsed. Suddenly I knew what desire truly was, what it was to not just want something, but deserve it. Suddenly, instead of being the sure-of-himself yet-another-asshole – I was the guy who needed to grow up real fucking fast, and do my damned best to ever be 10% of what a woman like that deserved.

I’m still trying, and failing all the time, nearly 5 years of marriage later 🙂 Fooled her!

Meeting Amanda felt like losing my religion, all over again. It was immediately clear that I needed to be next-level, and leave the asshole-me behind.

A few weeks after meeting Amanda, I met her parents. My future father-in-law, Dennis, was this really funny and awesome guy. He’s the kind of guy that when he tells you something, you have this feeling it’s 90% bullshit, but somehow, deep down, you completely believe him and every little story he tells. I can promise you that I truly believed him, very deeply, when the first thing he mentioned to me upon meeting me was that Amanda grew up in the desert in California, and that there’s a whole lot of desert out there. He told me that I needed to go see it sometime, so I could understand just how much there really is – he said people go missing out there all the time, and that, if I ever mistreated his daughter, I would really understand just how that happens. Then, he winked at me, and laughed.

The thing about my father in law is, he’s just like his daughter, he’s the nicest guy in the entire world, and there’s just something about him, and his kin, that when they say something, or you meet them – you just get this primal intuition that they’re the real thing, in all ways. Whether it be being the most amazing woman in the world, or the not-bullshitting-you-at-all-about-that-desert-thing father of that woman, these people are legit. You look at these people and you see right down into their soul – there’s a real honesty there – to a terrifying degree, in more than one way.

Almost immediately, Dennis and I became good friends, both having this super-serious on-edge slightly-off-the-rocker intensity, and the gift of telling stories, the gift of spin. He was this really great, genuine, down to earth blue-collar guy – and I loved that about him, but I was also confused.

When I met Dennis, he was a bus driver. He didn’t have any goals or aspirations it seemed, and that seemed good enough for him. Coming from a long line of overachievers with constant guilt and disappointment in one’s self as a way of life, I was extremely interested in how Dennis, the bus driver, was so happy in life, when all the white collar american-dream sell-outs I knew, and was, weren’t.

How could one look at one’s self in the mirror, as a bus driver, and be happy? Impossible.

As time wore on, I spent a lot of time chatting with Dennis, and I learned that in actuality, he’s seen it all, he’s been there and back – and to my great fortune, he tripped into my life early enough to tell me all about it.

Dennis didn’t go to college, and he married himself a polish wife who could cook. His wife was one of 12 children in a catholic household in the truest sense. To his wife, religion isn’t something you shove in everyone else’s face and one-up everyone with, it’s a personal, private thing that’s really quite beautiful – had I been her son instead, I probably would have had the very same genuine, sincere, honest, and kind demeanor that both of her kids have. Having 11 siblings, several who die as a matter of statistical probability, teaches one early on in life the difference between ‘Merican “want”, and reality.

Somehow, somewhere, Dennis picked this same understanding up along the way – though I’m not sure where.

He may have picked up his kind and gentle understanding of the way things are when he was doing EMS for a number of years around southern California, rushing babies to the hospital to be born, and scraping some unfortunate soul off the highway after a horrendous accident the very same day. Driving EMS, he saw it all, truly, all of it. That first real career opportunity opened his eyes, at a very young age, to the reality that the world is both beautiful, and tragic, all at once. I can’t say for sure, but I’d wager those experiences also taught him early on that life is what you make of it.

A few years later, Dennis started his own small business, repairing and customizing wheelchairs – also a humbling experience, working with and improving the lives of the less fortunate. Dennis was rewarded, well, for his entrepreneurial spirit, for taking the risks you have to take to go make something from scratch. Years, later, at the height of his career he was making several hundred thousand dollars a year, as a primary vendor for several prominent southern California hospitals. His risk, and enduring kindness was paying off in big ways – until it didn’t. Sometimes someone bigger moves in with an inferior product, but has the right political muscle, or price, or chinese knock-off supplier, or whatever – and capitalism rains on another parade.

For a time, Dennis had it all, then he didn’t. And I’m sure that stung like a motherfucker, but when I met him, years and years later after the fact – he’d learned a really hard lesson from his rise and fall from fame – life is, truly, what you make of it. Being there and back, Dennis doesn’t give a shit what you think about the fact that he drives a bus now. He has a part time gig, not a whole lot of money to his name, and he lives a happier life than a whole lot of other people I’ve known. Dennis made his mark on the world, and improved thousands of lives in the process, and he’s put in his dues. Nobody can take that from him, the sense of making something from nothing, doing a whole hell lot of a good with it, and being okay with it all when the spotlight moves on.

In recent years, I’ve been a bit of a risk-taker myself career-wise, again setting out on a journey into the unknown to figure out what’s just right for me, when what I fell into before wasn’t working out quite right. In many ways I’ve been quite successful myself, thanks, in part, to hard work, but more-so, thanks to dumb luck. There have been ups and downs in my own personal story, and a stupid amount of time invested in thinking on what success is or isn’t, until I came to the conclusion this past summer that success, for me, is making the world a better place than it would have been without me.

I think, in a lot of ways, that’s Dennis’ personal metric of success as well. The banks may not give much of a shit about Dennis’ retirement account, and if he gave a shit about keeping up with the jones’, he’d have a struggle, but, that’s the thing – he doesn’t. He’s already lapped the rest of us, so self-deluded in our score-keeping game like our popular vengeful god – Dennis has seen the other side, kicked ass, taken names, and, I’d argue, done the world more good with his own short-lived career than the whole of any church I attended as a child.

I’ve found, one of the finer points in life, is being able to look at yourself, and your accomplishments, with pride. This sounds easier than it is. Finding a point of pride can be *incredibly* difficult when you believe in some false god equation of merit equaling success. If you limit yourself to an overly strict, and detrimental, belief system that hinges on merit with some big pay-off at the end- you’re going to be let down, over, and over, and over again.

Often times we are taught pride is a ‘sin’, or bad thing. Indeed, growing up in a religious household, I felt fairly often that one should be kind, and humble in all things, always – and never prideful. But, in time, that was one bit about our religious views that really bothered me – there was never room to celebrate an achievement – because acknowledgement of an achievement was to turn from the one-true vengeful god. Our reward was, always, waiting, in heaven – or so I’m told.

Insane, right? Waiting on a silly achievement trophy, never taking a breath to appreciate or celebrate personal success. Madness – and yet, some variant of this sickness is in so many of us that we don’t even think it odd. Many people downplay their personal achievements, rather than celebrate them – because they never got the credit they were due, because their version of ‘reward in heaven’ didn’t play out the way they thought it would.

If you’re waiting for a reward, you’re wasting your life.

So many coders I’ve met have these weird hang-ups about the one that got away – the one time they were right about some big project decision, and were unheard, and then vindicated in the end – without credit. Sometimes the story ends there, sometimes it’s even more perverse, with a massively successful product going well, with a whole bunch of credit-takers (or, perhaps, people with a sense of pride?) putting their name in the blank for who deserves the credit. These guys without the pat-on-the-back they always wanted can never see themselves as worthwhile, or take pride in their personal accomplishments and contributions, because they’re waiting on a gold-star-sticker to come down that they’ve always been told will come.

I’ve seen it over and over again, it’s always some guy with jaw-dropping talent and amazing personal achievements, who can never be convinced his efforts are good enough. Nevermind convincing him that his achievements are more than good enough, they’re usually better than good, they’re fantastic – but, it’s impossible to get through. Someone always took the credit, or someone had the idea, or someone worked harder, or was in the right place at the right time, there’s a thousand reasons, and they all boil down to one simple common coder fault:

Coders *love* the idea of a meritocracy, that is, hard work equates good fortune.

Hard work does not equal good fortune.

Trapping yourself in a self-limiting belief system of meritocracy is only going to disappoint you, regularly. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a great manager, or friend, who will see achievement and let you know about it, but no amount of praise from those who count will be heard if all you care about is receiving that pat-on-the-back from the assholes who don’t acknowledge you.

Never grabbing a hold of your own life, and achieving your true potential, because you’re waiting for your pat-on-the-back from some credit-taking scumbag is just about as crazy, and certainly as lazy, as believing in a coward’s cruel god.

When the credit-takers increase, and your 2 man project turns into a 5 man project with a dozen other management-types billing the same account, and you don’t get credit – it’s time to reward yourself – it’s times like those when you need to sit back for a minute, and think about where you came from, the good fortune you’ve had, take great pride in your achievements (or failures!), and plan where you’re going next.


(above photo by Morgan Elizabeth)

Sure, it feels great to tell yourself that you deserve better, and whine about how you’re always overlooked for the promotion because you don’t kiss the right asses. That stuff feels great – but it’s a disservice to yourself, your team, and your company. Instead, I suggest you drop the false god of shifting the blame, your false god of convenience, and grow a pair.

When you’re ready, you’ll need to spend some time thinking about yourself, and what you want, and find a little place in the world that matches those goals. You’ll have to endure conflict and the reality that when you face conflict, sometimes you lose, but remember, you’re likely a white male american, who sits in an air conditioned building, with great computer equipment, reading hacker news all day – your company’s political “conflicts” are a joke, and weathering a few of them rather than shying away like a coward with the blame-finger will strengthen your character.

Having a hard time growing a pair? I understand, I was an lazy asshole on a high horse too – until I learned the difference between wanting something and deserving it. Do you want a better life story, or, do you deserve it?

Dennis has this great piece of advice that he calls ‘the five second rule’. It’s not the five second rule you know – Dennis five second rule: “your whole life can change in 5 seconds, that’s all it takes.”.

My corollary/addendum to Dennis’ rule is this: “Some things happen because they will, and some things happen because you make them happen.” You can let life come at you, passive-aggressively complaining all the while, blaming some god or silly idea of merit when things don’t work out the way you wanted, or you can make your life your own.

Leave the meritocracy that may, or may not, exist behind, take a breath and celebrate your personal achievements as well as those of your friends and family. Don’t wait up or waste your life worrying about some lifetime achievement reward that may or may not come for your poor little white male american soul with so much suffering – make your story your own, and make a dent.

Music: Puscifer – The Humbling River

A Trillion Dollars & E.T.

Music: Blonde Redhead – 23 (the song)

This is one of those fun, or, perhaps, overwhelming number games. It’s going to be like the drake equation, where we’re throwing numbers around, stacking assumption on assumption on assumption, and surely several assumptions will be wrong, and the number of zeros will get quite insane, but in the end the point will be: there’s life out there.

The other day I was at a concert with my wife, for this phenomenal one-man-country-blues-band called ‘Shakey Graves‘. This guy’s amazing to see live, super intense, and supremely talented. He left his guitar behind at the last show a town or three over, so he had to rent some equipment that night. Naturally, his rental equipment popped a string or two during the very first song, so he took some down time between songs to fix the situation.

While he was switching instruments, I took a look around the venue (The parish, aka the best sounding venue in Austin, ever). The place was packed, probably 500 people, easy. Lots of people for the amount of space.

I got to thinking about how different people might look at a crowd of 500. I wondered what an economist would think of this situation, and that’s where our story really begins.

An economist might try to guesstimate the total net worth or yearly income of such a crowd, I thought. Not everyone works, sometimes someone’s a stay-at-home-spouse, sometimes someone’s unemployed, and so on, but what if, on average, each of our 500 people made $50K a year. How much yearly income would we be tossing around for the crowd?

$50K * 500 = $25 million dollars, per year.

Not everyone earns 50K per year, for example, poor Bill Gates only makes 25 million dollars every 3 days or so. Certainly many people earn more or less than $50K per year, but we’ll just call 50K a decent average.

$25 million dollars, for 500 people, per year, every year. If we do the math, assuming a 40 year consistent career, this crowd of 500 people with zero unemployment or non-working fathers or children in the headcount would collectively earn $1 billion dollars over the span of 40 years.

A billion dollars of total lifetime net worth, in that little room of 500 people. Think about that for a moment.

Of course, Bill will earn this much in about 120 days – 20,000 man years of decent-wage income in 120 days, not bad.

Still, even with all of his massive wealth, Bill couldn’t buy New York City, with our idealized ballpark math, 10 million New Yorkers bring in $500 billion per year in personal income, more than 10x Bill’s total worth – every year. Throw in Los Angeles and we’re at $1 trillion dollars per year in income, for two cities, 20 million hard-working citizens.

The math sounds all wrong because we’re not accounting for unemployment, or families with one income, and so on, but remember, the United States has about 300 million people. In an ideal simple math 50K per head world with 100% of the population working, thats 15 trillion dollars a year in personal income.

Coming back down toward reality, there’s a whole lot of people who aren’t working: children, elderly, disabled, stay-at-home-hobbyists, and so on. Some families have 4 children, some have none, and such. For 2011, an estimated 150 million taxable households existed, with 70 million paying no income taxes that year, if we say each of those households had our 50K estimate that’s 7.5 trillion dollars of income per year, or 300 trillion dollars over a collective 40 year career.

With a flat 20% tax rate (if only..) for that 300 trillion, the United States would have 60 trillion dollars to work with over 40 years, or $1.5 trillion per year, which is, about right.

$300 trillion dollars in lifetime income, with 1/300,000th (or, $1 billion) of that income represented by a sardine-tin venue packed with only 500 people.

The world is sometimes both very large and very small, all at once. I think Drake was right, there’s a lot of life out there.

Waking With The Sun

Music: Blink 182 – Pretty Little Girl

.. It’s time to switch from our designer’s credit card to the LLC’s, because, we’re lucky enough to have enough income that our LLC credit card can cover that no-longer-free Amazon VM.

Adam tries his best to convert non-straight-forward AWS pricing structures into toddler level english, so idiot peer, me, can understand what the hell we’re looking at. He repeats himself 3 or 4 times, switching back and forth between 3 tables that might as well read ‘lorem ipsum..’ on them – it’s all greek to me, when he switches to hard numbers from our past month’s hosting to translate gigabytes to dollars – we both stop talking.

That’s not right, 90 gigabytes in transfer last month?

What the hell. We’re being hacked, or trolled somehow, I’m sure.

Adam’s smarter than I, so he starts poking at something more realistic – that damn hip mongo db instance we have running for another side project – the hip shit always goes out of control when it matters, doesn’t it? I ask him, “remind me again how we convert hipster cred cool points from two years ago into actual cash to pay for this POS going out of control on us?”

He kills mongo, and brings it back up, does some unix kung-fu that makes me look like a toddler, in 3 seconds he’s determined it isn’t mongo, but something is pushing 60+gbits per second somewhere, what the hell is going on?

I’m out of my league, I dont even understand what magic command Adam just used to ascertain XYZ bandwidth is going somewhere, so I open up chrome and start poking around at websites. Damn, our website, the one for the pretty picture viewer for iPad and iPhone, has a lot of pictures on it, in PNG, and is a 1.1MB splash page – that can’t be it.

Our designer hears this and picks up on something she can fix – converting to JPG because perhaps, for the first time in our personal hobby careers, that matters. Adam and I tell her thanks, but shrug her off, because we’re smart developers and already know its more than that 1.1MB splash page. Thanks anyway, silly designer.

Adam pokes more, odd that there’s a constant 60gbps flow going over imaginary pipes. He does some mental math, wait a minute, 60gbps would translate to a monthly usage of terabytes upon terabytes. Wait, what?

Turns out Adam’s not as immaculate as he seems, we were accidentally looking at localhost traffic, imaginary bits moving really REALLY fast from one file to another on our box, consistently. This is weird, but not what translates to a transmission usage bill at AWS, so that’s not it.

We do some math on spotlight’s shortcut for calculators, fighting with each other over putting more parenthesis into the equation so we dont have to worry about operator precedence (I want more, he wants less).

Meanwhile, the designer’s cut the big graphic down to 1/4 the size without any visual quality loss, thanks much designer, we’re busy doing real work here, leave us be!

We poke more, tail the apache log, sorry, not apache, Adam’s got that hip nginx in there. I think of another hipster cred one liner here but keep it to myself, opting instead to be marginally helpful. We tail it, and watch – we don’t see anything funny, after a couple of minutes all we see is 4 hits on our webpage. 4 MB out that way, mongo’s down, what is going on here?

Two senior software engineers are stumped. We poke at ‘top’ for a minute or so, nothing crazy on the usage – where is this 90 gigs of traffic coming from?

Now we’re both getting to the paranoid point, throwing grand/insane/impractical theories around – most of these assuming someone gives a shit enough to try to hack our little webserver with nothing of value on it.

The designer pitches in, the website splash page size is down by half, in, what, 5 minutes? That’s good news, I guess.

Then it hits us, wait a minute. We’re clocking 3K hits a day now, thats 90K a month, 90K at a megabyte a hit, that’s right around 90 gig.. isn’t it?

Adam and I catch our breath, well, we figured that one out, didn’t we? Classic too-smart-for-any-good engineering, blaming all kinds of weird super technical imaginary beasts for something we’re sure can’t be right.

Suddenly I realize how software gets the way it gets, in ten minutes the designer has done something super useful, and the two senior software engineers have mentally engineered half a dozen highly complex and completely wrong solutions to a non-problem.

We laugh at ourselves, and thank our designer for actually doing something useful – which was more than we had done, clearly.

Later, we spend less time scheming our next month’s work than we did worrying about imaginary hackers – we’re a well-oiled, highly performant little machine at this point.

We show the designer the elaborate fancy software tricks we’ve pulled off in the next little product, and she’s unimpressed – immediately pointing out half a dozen idiot-level flaws in the usability of our immaculate designs.

We all immediately agree on every point she makes, not because she’s hard to work with or anything like that, because she’s the best designer on the damn planet – it’s not her fault she’s always right – it’s just a shame she has to work with peanut gallery morons like us, with our fancy software degrees and enterprise experience and so on.

If designers could code, well, it’s like if women could create babies without men. It’s exactly like that, actually.

We finish up and I drive home, thinking how it’s funny, this is another first, the first time any optimization made to my own personal software actually makes a difference. A dozen failed self-published software experiments before, and generally acceptable performance built in as a standard, but never has success grown so large that any of us have had the choice of “hey, we could save half our hosting cost by optimizing some jpgs” – this is cool.

It reminds me of the time we stayed up all night in July, just after releasing the app on iPhone, free for the first week.

We hit the app store release button, and immediately all three of us were glued to our phones, searching “tumbleon”, and for more than an hour receiving an app store default response of “did you mean tumble?” – for some reason this cracked us up.

All three of us, we were so excited to launch this thing, sure we’d be insta-success, just like we were sure the time before and the time before that, and not to mention the one other time – we were beside ourselves, almost delirious. It was probably 8pm.

An hour or so later, the auto-synch script somewhere on the app store servers kicked over and the word “tumbleon” started meaning something on iPhones. Adam logs onto the server, curious to see if any one gives a shit.

“Jason, you should look at this.”

.. The logs are rolling with activations. Every 30 seconds someone’s downloading our baby and discovering something amazing – at this point delerium has given way to pure insanity.

At this point marketing, if marketing existed, would be telling us to shut the computers off and race downtown for a celebratory night of drinking – we don’t have marketing, and do things our own way when we party:

I (the not-amazing-unix part of the amazing duo) put together a small bash mess to remotely tail access logs and automatically play a super mario “power up” sound when an activation hit, and play the chorus to that “party rock” tune when a paid activation hit. Every few minutes something’d hit and our skype conf call would echo cyclicly as each of our computers caught the hit and made us smile.

I can’t remember how many years I’d thought of having a moment to actually write and appreciate a script like that, but for years and years I’ve secretly wanted to have that moment, and that night, we did.

That was also the night we discovered Google Analytic’s neat real time feature. For the first time ever, something we put out was tracking enough traffic that we could almost always see 5 people on the site from different areas around the world.

We stayed up through the night, or at least Adam and I did – I’d waited too long for this day to come, and I knew, in my gut, this may very well be a once-in-a-lifetime moment that would not come again. Skyping beyond the delirious hours, into patent insanity territory – and somehow, Adam, the machine, was still cranking code on something or another – I was just proud of myself for making something (the sound script) kick over at all while being so excited – so I stopped there, and soaked in the glow.

Adam was using the excitement as fuel for his next big whatever, and I just sat back, distracting adam with random hilarious whatevers and watching two windows on my second screen – google analytics, and the logs, rolling.

6 or 7am hit and we finally called it – that was it, one of those rare moments you’ve dreamed of for years – and when it hits it’s just as good as you imagined – you just soak it in and let it unfold, as if in slow motion, for hours.

A week later, the sale was over. Some 2,000 people downloaded the app, and the logs and google analytics died, predictably. That was it, our moment, our delirious insane ‘this is it!’ moment – just like that it was gone.

A few crummy, grumpy weeks later, we’re coming out the backside of yet another of our cycles – at heart we’re optimists, even the king of grumpy grumps, my good friend Adam, is really a dreamer at heart. We theorize something new and give it another go, this way or that, rinse wash repeat and teach ourselves to appreciate the good fortune we’ve already experienced. We are so lucky – and we realize that.

And yet, human nature kicks in from time to time, and we’re wanting more and more – and despite our dirty little contemptuous/greedy hearts, it just keeps on coming.

A few months later we’re posting that 100 million photos have been viewed in the app in 6 months, up from about 100K a day in early jan.

A few days later out little ticker hits another milestone – one million photos viewed in a day, the same day the budget cuts hit and I’m laid off.

Again with the delirium – it had been that part of the cycle, we didnt know our next move and when the layoff news came I couldnt think of even 20 hours to drain into TumbleOn version next.

I text my friend Adam: “we hit a million today, and also, I got laid off, let’s go do coffee.”

We do coffee, and Adam’s a good friend, he’s not into it anymore, just like I’m not – but the layoff sucks and the upside is extra time to do something useful, so he tries to help distract me. He pitches me for the millionth time on the next big idea that I’m always shutting him down on, but this time I say let’s do it. The day started with < 20 hours on the docket, and ended with months of scheduled hobby time we're still eating at to this day. --- I fly to Seattle, I visit my friend, and I tell myself I can be an independent little worker bee for a few weeks, and for a few weeks I am - until I'm not and the reality sets in - the app is no substitute for a steady paycheck - and even if it were, we had one month of ideas, not a year. That's part of it, but the other part of it is that my friend in Seattle had this kid. Man, I hate kids. This three year old terror could scream happily at the top of his lungs for hours on end, and could NOT understand why I spent so much time being frustrated looking in front of my laptop rather than playing the one level of castle crashers he loves to play for hours (the weapon select warehouse area). Peaceful, it was not. While out there, my buddy tells me he's halfway interested in doing some apps and we have some really good times those first few days talking about almost anything other than the layoff situation. Two days later, I'm sitting there, grumping at my computer, up early - because when I'm messed up, I'm waking up before 10am - and I hear the sweetest sound in the world. Wait, context, here's the thing, my friend - he's an optimist at heart, a really great guy, but there's a certain sadness about him. I'm not sure what it is, but forever he's been one of those guys - he's so kind, loving, and basically - fucking amazing - but something's missing there - you just feel it, most everyone does. This is a grade A amazing person, and yet, there's some hole. Back to the sound, Mom's up and around, and my buddy is dead asleep. The three year old terror's up with mom and he runs and jumps into his dad's bed, rolling and jumping around until he wakes. At this point, I'm already rubbing my temples, grumping at my computer screen. This goes on and on, and I feel for my friend with this tornado waking him this way - and then I hear it... My friend wakes to the day with a smile. I can't see him - but you hear it the timbre of his voice, his eyes aren't even open and the love oscillating through his home and permeating every cubic inch of air is lifting him from slumber to some higher plain I had completely forgotten existed. God, I think, how many years have I been grumping at this fucking screen? how many million moments have I missed the love and life oscillating in the air, the simple presence of being and seeing the sun rise once more? My buddy drives me to his work, to drop me at a coffee shop nearby and I watch him as he drives, to him the job isn't it, the job is temporary - a reprieve at times from three year old lungs, but mostly, a waste of time - my buddy with the 'certain sadness' is someone else now - my buddy has his direction, and place in life, and there is nothing, NOTHING more important than waking up to a new sunrise filled with three year old giggles and screams. The sadness is gone. It takes me a long while to digest the thing I witnessed that morning. The sound. --- A few weeks later, I'm back home, and bored out of my mind - realizing I don't have what it takes to stick with any project of my own that isn't paying salary+ rates for my time. Hobby time, sure, but it was time - time to get back to getting a job - a great job. The job was important, but God, the moment I noticed my buddy was whole and had a house bursting at the seems so full of love - the job wasn't going to be enough this time around, that's what I kept thinking. Thanksgiving hits, and we put TumbleOn on sale, there's a moderate amount of coverage (which for us, is 2 articles a month..) - 35,000 users download it in two days - incredible, and yet, it doesn't matter. Adam, our designer, and I are all with our respective families and the sale is a ploy - we're winging it, seeing if getting the word out more will lift sales afterward. It doesn't, and it doesn't matter - because we're all spending the holiday in our own little version of my friend in Seattle's world - those two or three holiday days where the adults all put the calendars down and take the time to actually live and soak it all in. A few days later, I've got a new great job, and Adam's just finished up at his. At this point, Adam had elaborate plans that I laughed at, like the asshole friend that I am. He's going to spend 6 months really trying to make something happen. Self-involved me failed at that dream after about 2 weeks, so I couldnt' see how he'd do any better. Christmas rolls through, Tumblr iPad is release, cutting our sales in half or so - worst christmas present ever? We feel sorry for ourselves for a number of days, until the optimistic cycle kicks over again. We post our new year post - 100 million in those first 6 months, another 200 million in the 2 or 3 months since - it's growing, what are we doing feeling sorry for ourselves? And we come full circle, confused by 90 gigabytes of transfer, ignoring our google analytics altogether, which regularly clocks 10 visitors on the site any given time of any day - and the fun little mario sound script, that stupid thing is useless now, b/c we'll be adding thousands of users a day when our ad-supported version hits in a few weeks - had we had the thing on during our free experiment back when, we would have been scrambling to turn our speakers off, because, you know, 20K users in a day is about 13 chimes a minute.. --- Before I went out the door to drive home, I asked Adam- 'how much are you working on your 6 month dream?' He opens this funny little insane-person's plugin on his browser, he clocked 56 hours last week, for fun. Damn, maybe Adam's not me after all, maybe this kid's got it - I really hope he does, he deserves the damn world. I drive home and think on my friend from Seattle, the guy with perpetual loving sunrises, maybe he's not me either, maybe he's got it too, he, too, deserves the world. Maybe we all have a little flame inside ourselves, some little switch that's going to flip over - some little moment or series of moments that's going to catalyze the next great chapter, our truly golden years. For some of us, that may be a three year old noise box to wake us with the sun, for others, our ambition, drive, dedication, and the big pay-off. I'm not sure what my little flame is, but I know this. For so many years I wanted to write that script and hear mario singing my success - I just wanted to hear that little cash register sound, heralding my 15 minutes. For all of those years I had completely forgotten about those sounds that truly mattered, the sound of a three year old thrashing his father to conciousness with all of his little might. Once you empty your so-important little bucket list, hit your number, your dollar amount, whatever, there's still a whole lot of life to live - I think for my next trick I'll figure out how to wake with the sun.