Simulation or multiverse? Doesn't matter

Chuck Klosterman talks about consciousness and our place in the uni…multiverse. He explains the multiverse and has answers from Brian Greene, an expert in the topic. (Who has a TED talk about the multiverse.)

After a few more pages, another big idea doesn’t matter again. He describes traveling at the speed of light but manages to make it seem slow. It would take lifetimes to get to the edge of the galaxy. Forget about the edge of the universe. Even if we confirmed we were in a multiverse it wouldn’t matter.

Ok, another idea: what if we’re in a computer simulation? This was popularized by The New York Times in 2007 and it comes up once in a while when people like Elon Musk are asked about it. Musk talked about the advance from two rectangles and a dot to online multiplayer games in 40 years:

“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable.

“Either we’re going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, or civilization will cease to exist. Those are the two options.”

So what if we’re right about this? You might be able to stop at “So what.” Multiverse or computer simulation, we still couldn’t interact outside of it. It doesn’t affect day to day life.

Such a realization wouldn’t be like Jim Carrey’s character’s recognition of his plight in The Truman Show, because there would be no physical boundary to hit; it would be more like playing Donkey Kong and suddenly seeing Mario turn toward the front of the monitor in order to say, “I know what’s going on here.”

He can’t step out. We can’t stick a crane game arm in there to pull Mario into reality. If we verified that we live in The Sims 28728, the person playing can’t pull us out and into base reality.

So it might not matter. And that’s okay because it’s still fun to think about. Klosterman establishes that and describes some approaches to life, including testing boundaries like it’s GTA.

Klosterman seems to be a magnitude smarter than me. And he interviewed people he’d describe as a magnitude smarter than himself. And he contests that even they probably don’t have it all sorted out.

And that’s fine and leaves some fun things to think through. But What if We’re Wrong has Klosterman guiding readers through these topics. Whether it’s all real or not, I enjoyed the journey.

We're probably wrong and that's okay

In But What if We’re Wrong, Chuck Klosterman looks at the present as if it were the distant past.

In one chapter, he tries sorting out which modern writers will stand the test of time.

You need to write about important things without actually writing about them. I realize this sounds like advice from a fortune cookie.

He uses 9/11 as an example of an important thing. Down the line, though, whatever stands as representative of 9/11 probably won’t be something written directly about it.

One thing that’s stuck with me from listening to Serial is how poor memory is. Without looking it up, I couldn’t tell you details about 5 Thursdays ago. Klosterman brings up the inaccuracy of same-day eyewitness statements. Stretched over centuries, recorded history can’t be very accurate. It’s also missing a lot of pages altogether.

So maybe the past doesn’t matter, because we don’t really know what it was like. What about the future?

Well with computers we’re able to have accurate records of everything. True, but it really means everything. Who’s gonna go through that? It’s not like people hit up day to day. It’s usually a deep dive into one topic.

On a time scale of centuries, many things end up being winner-take-all. We can debate a Mount Rushmore of basketball players, but 500 years from now it’ll probably just be Michael Jordan in one full body mountain sculpture.

One takeaway from But What if We’re Wrong is that a lot of things won’t matter in the far future. Books take years to write. Most won’t be remembered a century from now, much less five centuries from now. Writers can only add a few pages to a book every day.

On an individual level, anything we do in a day or even in a year probably won’t matter in the (very) long run. It’s grim or freeing, or both.

Chances are, aiming to be remembered in the far future isn’t a great goal. Especially because the people who remember you don’t care in the first place:

To matter forever, you need to matter to those who don’t care. And if that strikes you as sad, be sad.

Basketball nerds can debate whoever else is in the top-4 with him, but Jordan will be in there. Of those 4, he’s the one with a global brand. There’s a culture with a foundation built around the popularity of his shoes.

A lot of the kids standing in those lines never watched a single game he was in live. They can’t care about Jordan as much as a Bulls fan in the 90s1. Their emotions aren’t tied to how well Jordan performs in a playoff game.

So the past doesn’t matter and now maybe the future doesn’t matter either. Bringing me to where we’ve always been and always are: the present.

For me, being present was the important thing this book was about that it wasn’t really about. I’m guessing it’s not even on the list of top 1,000 points Klosterman was aiming to make. I only made the connection because it’s top of mind for me right now. I started meditating recently, beginning my transition into the lifestream. Maybe it’s the way out of the simulation.

  1. I may have just talked myself out of this. It might be LeBron. More people worldwide have probably followed his hero’s journey. In a 24-hour news cycle. So it’s gonna be Jordan, unless it’s LeBron. It just won’t be Kobe. You can’t go long thinking about Kobe and where he ranks without thinking about Jordan.

Sunday Journal 08

I tinkered this week. That means there was a mix of design, development, and spinning my tires. I’m at a place where I’m not super embarrassed of the look/layout, just mostly embarrassed. It’s worth sharing and starting the search for my first ten. This week, I’ll get back to creating content.

Site updates

Here are some updates from this week.

Standalone 100 Days, 100 Posts page: I want to set aside the 100 posts as I continue writing and posting beyond the first 100.

Redesigned the homepage

Here’s a timelapse of me struggling HTML/CSS, then struggling in Sketch, then struggling in HTML/CSS again. In potato

Menu and Flickity

I bought a Flickity license, so I’ll be putting carousels everywhere. I started with the header menu, which remains in the previously mentioned super-embarrassed state. Iterations to come. On desktop, the carousel should be disabled and the cards should all just show.

I’ve been brainstorming card sets that might be interesting. One idea was stray book notes. One-off cards with a book highlight and some of my thoughts. For desktop, there should be an option to view the cards laid out next to each other.

Here’s a prototype. Three book notes from this week:


I changed my Twitter name @makeshowlearn to @_franciscortez. I still love the spirit behind “make things, show people, and learn more things”. For a little bit, I was wondering how this would be received by others. Then I remembered the immortal words of Don Draper: “I don’t think about you at all.” And I realized that nobody will care.



I’m continuing with the Couch to 5K program. It ramped up pretty quick. I dropped the speed down because my heart rate was getting too high based on science and internet browsing. This seems sustainable. I also bought bands to help work on some knee pain.


I need to get back on this. I still feel like I’m focusing better than before I started meditating. So Iit seems like a really important skill to work on. I’ll make time to do this. I really enjoyed Eric Barker’s post from this week: “Neuroscience Of Meditation: How To Make Your Mind Awesome”. Clear, informative, and fun to read.

Two (hundred) crappy pages

This is it, the 100th post. It’d be great if I could end on a high note. Instead, this post will be a microcosm of the other 99. It’s going to be a hodgepodge.

I’m writing some of it longhand. How do some voice dictation1. I’ll write on the bus. I’ll write in the morning. I’ll write at a park somewhere on the way home. I’ll finish on my laptop and post it tonight2.

I wanted to have stats like total word count, cups of coffee consumed, where I wrote most often, and other meta things like that. Then I realized that’ll take more time than I have free today. I’ll even have a book excerpt. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about finishing his first novel:

But that moment when I first hit the keys to spell out THE END was epochal. I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript. Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew.

Nobody cares. But I care. Right now, I’m high stepping into the end zone. The game breakdown can start after I’m actually finished. You know what, we can start some of that now.

“He’s got a short memory. Bad page after bad page. Miss after miss he just kept at it.”


“He looked gassed at the end. Started paying more attention to the clock than to the blank page in front of him.”

“He lowered his “I Think” Rate through the season but barely moved the needle on Good Sentences Per Page.”

“Voice dictation got to his head. Ditched the old putter for some kind of belly stick and hasn’t learned to use it properly yet.”

“A specimen. His spine is perfectly fit to hunch into a chair for hours.”

“Deceptively quick.”

“Got a few minutes of access to him in the locker room. He just kept saying he heard different things on podcasts.”

Nobody knew Pressfield had finished his first novel. At least for one night. There aren’t trophies for everything, but you can at least relish in telling the neighbor.

Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.”

Tomorrow, I’ll reward myself with another blank page.

  1. (I’ll do some voice dictation.)

  2. Update: I ended up skipping the park. I wrote a little bit on the subway, which is just as representative of places I wrote during the past few months. And I’m currently finishing up on my laptop.

Sunday Journal Issue 07: Stumble and recovery

“I often like working with a hangover because my mind is crackling with energy and I can think very clearly.” — Francis Bacon

I heard that in Daily Rituals about Francis Bacon. So far it seems like artists before 1900 drank a lot and ate with no knowledge of nutrition. Not that there was a ton of knowledge to work off of at the time.

I involuntarily experimented with Bacon’s technique today. My conclusion: I don’t like writing with a hangover because I feel awful and can’t think at all.

There are allegedly benefits to a hangover. Not seeing them right now. I enjoyed Wait But Why’s explanation of the monkey mind. The instant gratification monkey steers us toward procrastinating. According to that article on the benefits, the hangover would put the monkey to sleep for a bit. What’s missed is that some other gibbon takes its place and bangs on your head with a wrench for a few hours.

Last week, I did a lot of catching up and was a little too happy with myself. I was finishing multiple posts in a day and I thought I could keep that up and finish the hundred posts early.

I took a few days off and now I feel like I’m stumbling to the finish line. For the last week I had some posts saved that I wanted to close out the project with. I thought I’d magically have more time to work on certain posts without actually scheduling the time.

I’m determined to finish in the next few days. I will not miss this deadline. Nobody’s watching. Nobody’s going to see if I reach the finish line on time or not. It still feels like it would take away all the work leading up to the day 100.

I finished reading The Ego is the Enemy. I saw Ryan Holiday speak live a couple months ago. Something that stuck out that I remembered while reading the book was the concept of Standards of Performance. It’s rooted in Bill Walsh and his time as the 49ers head coach. Here are a few of Walsh’s standards of performance from The Score Takes Care of Itself:

Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement.

Be deeply committed to learning and teaching, which means increasing my own expertise.

Honor the direct connection between details and improvement

Those come from a much longer list. Many of the items on the list, like these examples, also apply to much more than coaching a football team. I could do much worse than use these three standards to guide my future writing. Here’s another:

Maintain an ongoing level of concentration and focus that is abnormally high

I’ve been practicing meditation and my concentration and focus seem to be improving. I’ll also make sure to take care of the simpler things, like scheduling properly so I don’t end up trying to write with a hangover.

Whether or not anyone’s watching, it’s important that I know I got to the finish line on time.

Friday Links: Issue 09

This will be the last Friday Links post in my 100 Posts, 100 Days project. I want to write pieces that are more well thought out, and I’ll do that through more in-depth book notes posts. I also want to maintain consistency, so I’ll probably continue on with these Friday links.

Links and book notes will always give me a way to share things I find interesting. The built in structure of these links posts will make it easier to write consistently. That lets me have energy for the longer book notes.

I’ve been diving into Wait Buy Why lately and that’s where a lot of the motivation to write longer posts comes from. Tim Urban even gives direct advice on writing in the first edition of the Wait But Why mailbag:

  1. Don’t be a complete perfectionist, but don’t settle for writing you know isn’t working. Even if you’re experimenting, if something you’re trying isn’t working, try to figure out why, rewrite parts, start over and try a new approach, etc.—keep fiddling until it clicks. Each time you go through the hard, painful work of agonizing over writing that isn’t working and eventually get it to click, you become a better writer.

My next step will be working on figuring out what works. That advice is sandwiched between the other common thing you’ll hear: #1 write more and #3 read more. I’ve been writing and reading regularly. Now I need to be more thoughtful about what I write.

Last year, Fast Company also wrote a good breakdown of Wait But Why’s success:

This is all the more impressive considering there just isn’t a lot of content on Wait But Why. Unlike viral churn-and-burn content sites, which posts dozens of articles a day, Wait But Why has only published just over 80 articles in total. That’s an average of just one a week; 63 of them are pieces that stretch to over 2,000 words, with some reaching more than 3,000. The site’s slow schedule, which began as one post a week, is now more erratic. “After a post goes up, the next one might go up two days later or three weeks later,” Urban says.

Now that’s a schedule I can follow. I’m still thinking through exactly what I’ll try next but I’m thinking it’ll be down to one or two posts each week. Longer but not fluffier. Tim Urban provides a great place to start if I’m looking for examples to follow.

Though maybe not in terms of eating. He wrote a great Grub Street journal: Tim Urban Embraces the ‘Dark Late-Night Unhealthy Seamless Order.

There are two great champions of the DLNUSO, and one of them is pizza. Ordering a pizza any time after midnight and eating at least three slices is super-dark. No one is happy in that situation. And the other one is Chinese food. The main reason is: What kind of Chinese places are open at one in the morning to deliver? And it’s the most mysterious kind of food — no one knows what goes on in those kitchens. Who’s there cooking? It’s don’t ask, don’t tell, enjoy yourself.

I’ve had my share of days with multiple Seamless orders. Those aren’t typically good days. Urban enjoys avocados filled with different toppings. He also clearly enjoys writing. Probably to the point of it being something James Altucher describes as “super loves”:

Because you love those 20. But it’s BECAUSE you love them that they will always distract from the top 5 that you SUPER love.

I super love Writing. Podcasting. Comedy. My family. And the remaining businesses that I’m still involved in.

My top 5.

In that post, he describes Warren Buffet’s 5/25 rule. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the technique after hearing Angela Duckworth mention it in Grit. Altucher’s post is more interesting to read. Here are a few reasons why1:

  • He introduces the technique in a more interesting way

  • He gives the technique a straightforward name (“5/25 rule”) to refer to it by

  • He gives many more examples

  • He gives many very personal examples

His closing summary is really powerful:

“No” is how you whittle down and sculpt yourself into a work of art. “Yes” is how burn up and burn out.

I’m finishing up my 100 Posts 100 Days project this week. It was the first step for this blog. Over the next few weeks I’ll be thinking about what the next steps are. Scoping it down to the blog, I’ll evaluate what I loved during this project. I’ll have a better idea of what I want to say “yes” to so I can say “no” to everything else.

  1. Other than “He’s just a better writer”


I’ve been reading through Sprint. I remembered how much I enjoy reading things by the Google Ventures design team.

Book notes were the most valuable thing from this 100 Posts, 100 Days project.

  • Writing notes helped me think through what I learned from each book I read.

  • Notes gave me some built-in structure to follow. It was easier to get going on these posts.

  • Books provide thoughts from authors who have much more expertise on topics. I can pass on their knowledge as I learn to develop my own ideas.

I want to take my book notes posts a step further—with my own thoughts being a little deeper and with some designed layouts to make them more fun to read through. I was inspired by an answer in the Wait But Why mailbag:

5) While you’re experimenting with your writing, keep your mind open to all creative possibilities. The first 290 of the 300 blog posts I wrote in my 20s had no visuals. Only towards the very end did I try drawing something one night. And only then did I realize how much I liked combining hand-drawn visuals with my writing. That could have easily never happened, and if it hadn’t, Wait But Why would be an all-text blog today.

I’ll start with some kind of prototype. There’s a section in Sprint going over examples of different prototypes. Many aren’t constrained to a screen.

  1. You Can Prototype Anything

This statement might sound corny, but here it is. You have to believe.

At orientation at one of my old jobs, we were shown a 60 Minutes segment from 1999. It highlighted the design process at IDEO and how they prototyped a better shopping cart. A lot of ideas in Sprint have roots in IDEO and Stanford’s Reading through the case studies of design sprints reminded me of something I read in Bill Buxton’s Sketching User Experiences:

It is much easier, cheaper, faster, and more reliable to find a little old man, a microphone, and some loud speakers than it is to find a real wizard. So it is with most systems. Fake it before you build it.

Buxton expands this to a chapter called “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. He provides examples of prototypes going beyond digital prototypes on screen. One example involves a giant cardboard screen with people playing out a potential video.

Any of my success with writing things online started with this post about a personal design sprint (2014). Thousands of people read it. Not billions, or even millions, but it’s still cool to me. I’ll be thinking more about why that post was successful. A lot was luck (Jake Knapp shared it then Smashing Magazine shared it). But the content had value and for once I can take a few lessons from myself.

Front Page Sprint: Me in Keynote

This is a GIF of me working in Keynote for an hour. I exported the slides to jpg and am sharing it here. It’s very rough. Everything below this is just an image.

I skipped the storyboard step. It probably would’ve been better to has sketched out the full storyboard. Keynote is pretty fast but there’s still a long way to go for prototyping this. Something I always tell myself is that working in Keynote or anything else were making static mocks that it’s much much faster than it would be if I was trying to code it.

I wasn’t sure if I was even working on front page or if this was a very long post resembling a single page site. So some of the slides looks like one or the other.

I thought some of these modules were pretty cool. There could be some kind of flat map all The different places.

This is less a prototype and more just sketching with Keynote. It’s really just trying to get some ideas down. These next few there closer to along post rather than a front page.

I really want to get the book notes right. They’re probably the most frequent posts. If someone’s jumping from post to post then I would wager on that going to different notes rather than any of the other categories.

I had an animation of this. You would press the button to get the full dated list of posts. The front page is a very long content piece. With the option to see the list as it exists right now.

And that’s it. An hour wasn’t really enough to prototype, but it was good to see some ideas come out of this. Hopefully the final version is pretty cool and this becomes a fun look at the rough draft. I’m realizing just how much content I would want on this page. I have some writing to do.

Front page sprint: Crazy 8s

Continuing on with the sprint (part 1) for the front page of the 100 Posts, 100 Days, I did a few rounds of Crazy 8s. I finally broke in one of the Muji storyboard notebooks I picked up in Japan. Still can’t believe they were only about a dollar.

I refined some of the ideas that I came up with in the initial sketches. And I also doodled a few things representing some of the imagery I’d want to include in a post wrapping up the project. The imagery would show the tools I used, places I wrote at, and other things representative of writing during the past 100 days.

Meditation: Take Ten

I started meditating a couple weeks ago. Going back through my posts, I also wrote about wanting to meditate a month ago:

There’s a chapter about meditation, which I really want to start practicing. I’ve done it maybe two or three times in my life. I listened to 10% Happier and thought it was one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. Then I didn’t meditate. Too many smart people meditate and there’s too much science backing it up to ignore it.

I listen to 10% happier again and also got a Headspace membership. Last week I finished up Headspace’s Take 10 series. It’s 10 sessions of 10 minutes guided meditation. Here are some thoughts after finishing. (For more about why I was beginning meditation, check out this post.)


I’ve seen an improvement in focusing on work. Meditation lets me practice recognizing when I’ve gone off track in thought. It’s helpful when working to recognize when I’m distracted. I pull myself back into work the same way I’d pull myself back into focusing on my breath.

In Deep Work, Cal Newport talks about practicing being bored:

To simply wait and be bored has become a novel experience in modern life, but from the perspective of concentration training, it’s incredibly valuable.

One of his examples is not pulling your phone out when you’re standing in line at the grocery store. I tried doing that for a few weeks after reading the book. It’s a useful idea that’s stuck with me. Meditation takes that practice another step.

Sometimes I meditated multiple times in a day. There seems to be a limit right now doing my. When I did two sessions that was really helpful. Three seems like too many.

The Headspace app is great. It takes the friction out of deciding what to do. There is a lot of series to pick from. There are series on focus and creativity, among others. You can’t jump from series to series without losing your progress.

I’m not sure exactly why but I’d guess it’s an exercise and not just jumping to the next shiny thing. They must have received enough complaints—they offer themed one-off ‘singles’ that you can do without losing progress in your current series.

Where I can improve

The app has some gamification, like recording your streaks. I like thinking I’m somewhat resistant to things like this, but it really hooked me this time. There were a couple nights where I was ready for bed and then realized I hadn’t meditated that day. To keep the streak going, I tried meditating while lying down ready to sleep. Not as effective.

As I mentioned, wasn’t having a lot of success with more than 20 minutes in a day. I want to practice until I can sit for 30 minutes. In 10% Happier, Dan Harris says his mom picked up meditation and was able to sit for 30 minutes right off the bat. He was both impressed and jealous. Seems like a pretty good goal to shoot for.


I’ll continue meditating with Headspace. It makes the rest of the day better. The app is nice because it feels like I’m progressing in some way. There are a couple more introductory series that I’m working through. After that, I’ll try the focus series and creativity series.

Couch to 5K: Sessions 1-6

I started running recently. Well, I started doing intervals of walking and jogging with ambitions to run. Eventually. I’m following the Couch to 5K plan. I’m using the first app that showed up in the App Store. so far I’ve been running on a treadmill before work.

I’m 6 sessions in, which is the first 2 weeks:

  • Week 1: 60 seconds of jogging, 90 seconds of walking, repeat for 20 minutes total

  • Week 2: 90 seconds of jogging, 120 seconds of walking, repeat for 20 minutes total

You start and end with 5 minute walks.

On paper it looks pretty easy and probably is for many people. I haven’t run in years and it was never really a regular part of my regimen. It can get hard during the later intervals but I find myself looking forward to running. That’s something I can’t remember feeling in the past.

Good things

  • I decided to start running with the intention of it being as much for the mental benefit as it was for the physical. That’s panned out. On days that I run I’ve felt like I’ve been better able to focus on work.

  • I’m approaching running with the right mindset. I tried running before and boredom took over in the past. This time, though, things will be better and it will be something that sticks. At the very least, I’ll see the Couch to 5K plan all the way through its 9 weeks.

  • I like the clarity of running with a program. When I tried running in the past I was just going out and failing to keep up with friends. Or I would set the speed on a treadmill and things would go well for a few sessions. I wouldn’t know how to change things to ramp up properly and then I’d just lose interest.

Things I can improve on

  • I took one day between weeks and didn’t feel great after the fourth session. I was feeling the ramifications of not taking a proper break before things ramped up. I understand how easy the programming is right now. It’s only going to get more difficult so I’ll need to be more careful to rest properly to recover for successive weeks.

  • I also took 3 days between sessions. That run felt great, but I want to aim for 2 day breaks at most. If I leave room for 3 days that’ll turn to 4 and that can snowball to where I stop running.

  • After my first day of running I felt extreme focus during work. It hasn’t come back since that first session and I’ll make sure not to chase that feeling. If it happens then that’s just a bonus. I’m happy with the smaller levels of focus and cognitive improvement I experience regularly.


  • I’ve been adding weight sessions throughout the weeks. I’ll be skipping leg day for a while. I’m sure there’s literature out there out there explaining why this is the wrong decision. I want my legs to be as fresh as possible during these earlier weeks.

  • I won’t use it as an excuse to house carbs. I’ve been eating piles of fruit in the past few days. There are worse things I can do but it’s not ideal. I don’t want to offset any good I’m doing by sabotaging myself in the kitchen.

Looking forward to where this will take me. I’ll try to check back in every 2 or 3 weeks, but will definitely write a recap after the 9 weeks are complete.

Front page sprint: 20 minutes sketching

I’m starting to think about redesigning the front page of this site. At the end of this project, I’ll have 100 posts. I don’t expect that anyone will try reading all the posts. It’s a pool with green water and I wouldn’t expect anyone to dive into it.

However, if you arrive on this site through a specific post I’d like to make it easy to find similar posts. People might arrive on the front page to find out about this hundred posts in 100 days project. The front page should reflect the project as a whole. It should provide a compelling way to at least look through the titles and get a sense of what I was writing about. Then I can direct people to posts I think are generally most interesting.

Book stacks: A lot of posts are book notes. Hopefully, people read a book notes post and are interested in seeing other books I’ve read and written about. I want to make sure to handle this use case well. One idea I had was grouping related books that I’ve written notes on. One stack could be about Essentialism and Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. That covers de-cluttering physically and mentally to focus deeply on important things.

This idea came from a time that I gifted a set of books to a friend. He was refocusing his career and I sent a few books that I read that I found helpful in the past couple years

Categories: Clearly not a groundbreaking idea. If I did categories, I’d like them to be presented in an interesting way.

Dated archive: There should still be some kind of dated archive to show the order that everything was written in. If I continue creating content beyond 100 posts, this would continue being a useful way to navigate the site.

Timeline: I really like this idea. Especially keeping in line with thinking the first hundred posts being a single collective thing. A timeline could create a good sense of what I was thinking at different times during the project. Even if I continue creating content for this blog, the first hundred can always stand as its own stand-alone project.

Friday Links Issue 08: More Rich

Simon Rich Picks His 9 Favorite Obscure Saturday Night Live Sketches He Wrote

With FXX’s Man Seeking Woman returning for its second season last Wednesday, we asked the show’s mastermind Simon Rich to look back on his years as a Saturday Night Live writer and pick the most obscure sketches he penned.

Another set of links, another Simon Rich interview. I read Ant Farm this week, which has some pieces from when he was editor of the Harvard Lampoon. They’re not as polished as the stories in his latest book, and it’s inspiring.

It’s not exactly like looking at work in progress. It’s not a discarded legal pad, but it’s a look into how his storytelling has evolved. In Ant Farm, you’re dropped right into a scene, with the title and a couple sentences explaining the context.

In Spoiled Brats and The Last Girlfriend on Earth, he weaves those jokes into a larger narrative and the payoff is better.

I got a Hulu account to watch his show Man Seeking Woman, and it takes the storytelling even further. Elements of his short stories are put into the scenes, or sometimes brought wholesale into a scene.

Each scene could stand alone as a single sketch but they’re all part of a larger narrative. You get attached to characters. Again, the payoff is even bigger.

Even if that kind of writing ability is decades away for me, it’s great to see the steps he took to get there.

How I Used a Vacation Timer to Write a Book (or, Why I Shut Off the Internet at 9PM)

For years, I tried to start a daily writing habit. See, I had this crazy idea to write a book, and I knew I’d need a lot of time and practice to get it done. But with kids and a full-time job, there was no way I could find big blocks of time during the day.

My trouble lately has been trying to get out of the bed in the morning instead of reading a lot of Internet. I don’t actually have all that much trouble using the laptop at night.

Waking up early isn’t the problem, but reading internet right away is. Maybe I can put my phone in an electric safe and then connect that to a vacation timer.

I can also daisy chain it to all the cardboard cutouts to stave off the wet bandit.

Why Self-Help Guru James Altucher Only Owns 15 Things1

It was around 10 a.m. on a sun-drenched summer morning, and James Altucher, perhaps the world’s least likely success guru, was packing his worldly possessions, about 15 items, into a small canvas carry-on bag. “If I were to die, my kids get this bag,” Mr.

I’m a big fan of James Altucher. I like this idea that biographies are a good way to learn. Not everything will work for everybody, and there’s no point in trying to follow footsteps completely. A lot of luck comes in the play. But you can cherry pick different things as long as you make sure that you try them out and review of that working for you.

I’ve recently started his idea generating system. And it’s giving me a lot of ideas as it should. But it’s true that once you get to ideas seven or eight it starts to get hard and thinking hard to get the last two to finish up at 10 is good daily exercise for your brain. And whatever the creative muscle is.

The Best Fictional Basketball Shots Ever

I pose to you a simple question: What is the most impressive fictional basketball shot that has ever happened? Think of a movie or a TV show or a music video or anything, really, in which you saw fictional basketball being played. Think of all the shots that happened during those scenes.

Shea Serrano is one of my favorite writers. I would love to write things like this. His writing has a distinct voice. It’s just plain fun to read.

  1. I should note that I got this link through Tim Ferriss’s 5-Bullet Friday newsletter. Which of course is where I stole this idea of creating Friday links posts in the first place.

Book note on The Creative Habit: Excuses

In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp shares her journey and gives guidance on building a habit of working on your creativity. One of the key things is getting over some of the fears and excuses you might have for starting and sharing something creative:

  1. People will laugh at me.

  2. Someone has done it before.

  3. I have nothing to say.

  4. I will upset someone I love.

  5. Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind.

My real fear is that people will cringe when they read things I write. I can deal with people laughing at me. It seems like I’ll have to go through both if I want to learn how to get people to laugh with me.

I’m not the first person to blog, and I’m not even the ten thousandth person to try posting every day. In a lot of cases I know that because I’m pretty much taking the exact same premise or method.

I don’t have a fear of having nothing to say, I’m not even worried that I won’t have anything good to say. I know I won’t have anything good to say on some days. The point of establishing a habit is to to keep working through those days because they’ll add up and I’ll learn to start creating something good.

I’m not too worried about upsetting someone I love. I’m not doing any kind of tell-all and I’m not hiding any of this from anyone. My girlfriend was one of the first people I told about this project and she’s been very supportive. Same with my brother and a couple close friends I’ve shared this project with.

As far as not reaching the expectation I have set in my mind, you can beat that by setting the bar very low. Not a great strategy for long-term goals. The long-term goal is to have a hundred posts in 100 days knowing that will get me a good practice. However, it requires a lower bar for each post. And there has to be some kind of balance. My rule that I’ve stuck pretty close to it is to not have cut out those that are two or three sentences just the post for the sake of posting.

Some days I haven’t had a full hour and it’s not enough time to really polish anything of length. In the future, if I’m writing one-day posts I’ll aim to create shorter posts. Otherwise I’ll take multiple days to give myself time to write something of substance.

Magic: The Gathering R&D Principles

Netflix has a documentary about Magic: The Gathering. It’s a great look at the history and current state of MTG. I enjoyed the look at Wizards of the Coast, where the sausage is made. One clip shows a poster with their principles for R&D (clear image on the MTG Tumblr):

We are the stewards of Magic: We want Magic to last forever and be better tomorrow than it is today

We are passionate about Magic: We love Magic. We love playing, talking about it, and reading about it

We believe Magic makes a difference: We cherish that Magic is a meaningful part of people’s lives

We focus on growing Magic’s Audience: We want to remove obstacles to enjoying Magic

We believe in discovery, surprise, and strategy: Magic is a game of exploration, and we believe providing depth is essential.

We listen: We involve and engage our community in what we do.

We improve: We believe in perfecting our processes, our games, and ourselves.

We collaborate: Teams are the basic building blocks of our processes.

We debate: We believe vigorous and constructive disagreement is the most efficient way to discover the best ideas.

We are inclusive and respectful: We never dismiss viewpoints that are different from our own.

We expect greatness: We want teammates who embrace the responsibility of making Magic.

That’s great. I tried picking a few out to see how I can apply them to building this blog up:

We improve

I’ll build systems and processes to focus on writing.

We are passionate about Magic

I’ll write about things I’m passionate about.

We focus on growing Magic’s audience

I’ll work toward creating content that makes people think, makes people laugh, or makes people feel deeply (stolen from the principles Jimmy V lays out in my favorite speech ever). Someday I’ll write things that do all of those things.

Book note on Spoiled Brats: Write lots of jokes

I finished reading Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich. (A couple weeks ago I finished The Last Girlfriend on Earth.) All of this was after listening to his appearance on The James Altucher show. James mentioned that he rarely laughs out loud while reading and Simon’s books got him laughing.

I laughed multiple times while reading The Last Girlfriend on Earth and the same thing happened reading Spoiled Brats. Each of the best stories from the books are available online at The New Yorker:

  • Unprotected: This is written from the perspective of a condom

  • Sell Out: A pickle-factory worker is brined in 1912 and pulled out a century later, where he gets to meet his great-great-great grandson.

The Last Girlfriend on Earth is about love and relationships. Spoiled Brats is mostly about destroying millennials. The stories are absurd and completely relatable. It’s an amazing combination that I imagine is difficult to pull off as a writer.

One of my favorite parts of Spoiled Brats was the interview at the end. (That interview happens to be online also.) He’s worked at a very very high level in professional comedy writing: SNL, Pixar, a weekly TV show, and of course these these short stories published in The New Yorker. It’s encouraging to see Simon say that what he does can be learned.

Even the most experimental abstract expressionists have to stretch a canvas, right? I mean, there’s a lot of technical busywork that goes into the construction of any creative medium. But it’s learnable. It’s not that hard. I’ve got about five or ten rules of thumb that I keep in my brain as I’m writing.

It’s encouraging because comedy is a field that people probably thinks comes naturally. Everyone has a few funny friends in mind and it just seems natural to them. But writing it down and working it over and over to make sure it’s funny to a wider audience is hard. You have to work at it:

I occasionally will suddenly have an idea out of nowhere—in the stereotypical Hollywood way, inspiration will strike—but that probably accounts for 5 or 10 percent of all my published work. The rest is the result of brute force.

He writes every day and generates a lot of material that doesn’t make it to the final piece:

How many pages do you think you wrote that didn’t end up in the final piece?

Oh, hundreds. But that’s typical for me. I throw out most of what I write. But percentage-wise, what I kept for “Sell Out” was definitely the lowest.

Like many other crafts, you create and create and most of it gets tossed until you’re left with something good.

I’m writing 100 posts in 100 days—I don’t expect any to be good yet. A few feel okay. And that’s fine, as long as I’m improving. Compared to when I started, I’m more disciplined and actually finish posts before starting new ones. I learned how important this was to make sure I don’t get buried in unfinished drafts.

Sunday Journal Issue 05

Where I write about writing.

Saturday — August 6: The past couple weeks involved a lot of social events that I was happy to put aside writing for. I was falling behind but I didn’t worry too much about getting in too deep a hole to write myself out of. I knew the upcoming weekend and week would be pretty free. Slowly I’ve settled on a routine that’s working. I can finish posts.

I’m still keeping my goal of 100 posts in 100 days, ending on August 23rd. Today was one of the big catch up days. I worked through a backlog of posts that were in (very) rough draft states and finished them.

Sunday — August 7

9:40 AM: Yesterday was really good so I want to try to get similar results today to make sure I can reach 100 posts. Right now, I just came back from the laundromat and put clothes in the washer. It’s been a couple years since I washed my own clothes in New York. Since I’m starting meditation, washing my own clothes will probably bring me a step closer to transforming into a beam of energy.

This morning I finished Simon Rich’s Spoiled Brats. A few weeks ago I also finished The Last Girlfriend on Earth. I’ll write a book note post on this today. Particularly on an interview at the end of Spoiled Brats that I thought was one of the best parts of the book that also happens to be from an online interview. He gives some thoughts on writing, like how he started taking writing seriously:

But I think it sort of shifted around when I was 17. That’s when I started writing every single day, whether or not I had an idea. Until then, I would only sit down and write a story if one occurred to me, and then I started to wake up every single day and write for a few hours whether or not I had anything worthwhile to say.

Along with that book notes post, here are the other things I want to finish today1:

  • Friday Links Issue 7: I picked the links out and have written a few passages. This is probably about halfway finished.

  • Japan trip – More as seen on: It’s the last of the ten posts I wanted to write about my trip to Japan. It’s been sitting in my drafts, haunting me.

  • Vomit draft: I was listening to Mike Brubiglia on the Tim Ferriss podcast and they talk about the “vomit draft”. Where people take turns selecting their favorite vomits to build a team of best vomits. Of course, it’s another name for two crappy pages and other phrases people use. I always find it interesting how different writers approach their first drafts.

  • *Book note #3 on *Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV: I’ve written a couple so far and I want to finish the book and write a third post today.

And I also have the rest of this post to write.

10:43 AM: I finished the post about the Japan trip: More as seen on TV. Back to the laundromat to take the clothes out of the dryer and fold them.

11:58 AM: Jesus that took long. Took clothes out, folded, brought them home, put them away. I’ll stick to dropping off my laundry and I’ll let my brother know I won’t be entering the energy stream after all.

12:55 PM: Ordered food and banked on the delivery taking at least 45 minutes to get some writing in. Turned Focus@Will on, started a 25-minute timer, started writing. Then a couple minutes in, the door buzzer went off. Time to eat.

Actually. Hot soup should stay hot for a good amount of time. I’ll power through this time block.

Post-time block update: That post was more complete than I thought and I finished it — Friday Links Issue 07: Write themselves.

Now time to eat.

9:55 PM: I ate, then I napped for a very long time. I eventually got up and went to The Bean to read more of Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV. I’m really enjoying being more deliberate about reading. I wrote and finished a post—Book note on Comedy Writing: Semi-scripted.

Including this post, I’ll have finished four posts today. (I didn’t get around to finishing writing about the “vomit draft”.)

I still have some drafts that are more than halfway done, so finishing 2-3 posts in the next few days should be possible.

100 posts in 100 days, still on track.

  1. If the links are working on the posts, then I actually did finish the post today.

Friday Links Issue 07a: Write themselves

Somewhere inside, I partially expected these posts to write themselves. Save a link. Grab an excerpt. Write a paragraph on the train. Repeat throughout the week. The key to that system is following that system. I guess that’s the key to any system.

Guide to mindfulness and meditation — meditationSHIFT

I found this on reddit while reading comments about Headspace. Some people think apps or even guided meditation itself isn’t the way to start. (I’ll leave a rant about people that are vehemently against Headspace in the footnotes1.)

If you are an athlete, you practice so you can perform well in the game. “Practice” is meditation. “Performing” is mindfulness. “The game” is daily life.

I’ve told a few friends that I’m trying out meditation. I told my brother I’m beginning my journey and I’ll see him when he re-joins the mana stream with me.

I’m overcoming the idea that meditation is sitting in a room doing nothing. Slowly. I’m not sure I believed myself the first couple sessions. But then I noticed how focused I was in the following hours. It’s practice.

One of the better analogies I read related it to exercise. You don’t just say you’ll start exercising regularly then quit after three sessions and say it isn’t for you.

Ok plenty of people do that. Couch to n/m I’m OK.

Still, most people that quit exercising understand there would be benefits if they kept it up. It takes more than a few sessions to get used to and then more than a few to see the benefits.

How to Think About Your Career — Julie Zhuo

I was particularly interested in Julie describing her affirmations:

Many years ago, when I was frustrated by all the things I struggled with and felt unequipped or scared to do in my job, I started a list of what I wished a future me would one day be able to waltz in and easily accomplish. This list is titled One Day, I will…

She’s kept her list updated through the years. Earlier ones, like being comfortable speaking in bigger meetings, are complete. These are some incomplete items she has:

Succinctly and clearly be able to make the point I want to make in 3 bullets.

Regularly be able to weave compelling stories and analogies into verbal explanations.

Host large events where people have fun and I am not really stressed out.

Julie’s better able to explain her goals than me. I’d like to be succinct and clear but it’d take me a page to explain that. And I’d also like to be a better storyteller. I’ll try to do that by following her advice in her post “Write in 2016”.

Set a writing goal that is purely about the mechanical act of doing. Maybe, like me, it’s Hit the publish button every third Tuesday, Maybe it’s Write 3 journal entries a week. Or maybe it’s Write 500 words a day. (In case you wonder how all your favorite authors complete their novels, I have it on good information that pretty much all of them do it via daily word-count/time-spent-writing goals.)

One post each day.

List of Tips from The Pragmatic Programmer

It’s a giant list of directives for programmers to follow. I’m interested in how some of them can apply to the crafts I’m pursuing: design (at work) and writing (here).

Prototype to Learn: Prototyping is a learning experience. Its value lies not in the code you produce, but in the lessons you learn.

Prototyping is pretty embedded in design culture. As for writing, I’d like to write longer pieces and tell better stories. Each of these daily posts acts as a prototype to learn from. I’ll see what I find the most value writing about and then I can go deeper on that.

It’s Both What You Say and the Way You Say It: There’s no point in having great ideas if you don’t communicate them effectively.

I’m working on communicating effectively, but how do I start thinking about those great ideas? Reading more and writing more seem like good steps to get there. We’ll see.

Don’t Live with Broken Windows: Fix bad designs, wrong decisions, and poor code when you see them.

On the blog side, there are some things I still need to fix. Typography is a mess right now. On the writing side, I’ve done a pretty good job of fixing my blog workflow so I can focus on writing.

Finish What You Start: Where possible, the routine or object that allocates a resource should be responsible for deallocating it.

One major form of a broken window with writing is the unfinished draft. Or the collection of them. Really tracking things in a spreadsheet made a big difference. I have a good sense of which unfinished drafts will actually be finished. Then I can jump in and finish them up if I have extra time in a day.

Happiness Formula (2007) — Scott Adams

Scott Adams talks about writing a book about happiness:

On page one would be this top formula.

Happiness = health + money + social life + meaning

The rest of the book would be nested formulas that further explain each component of happiness. For example…

Health = sleep + diet + exercise

And then down another level…

Sleep = schedule + technique

And down another level until it starts getting practical…

Sleep Technique = consistent bedtime and waking time + no reading or TV in bed + no booze or caffeine…

And so on.

He ended up pretty much writing that book and releasing How to Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big in 20132. His formula didn’t change much — here it is in a New York Post article:

To get to where you want to be, try this sequence: Eat right. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Imagine an incredible future (even if you don’t believe it). Work toward a flexible schedule. Do things you can steadily improve at. Help others (if you’ve already helped yourself). And reduce daily decisions to routine.

Take care of yourself, practice affirmations, continually learn things, help others, and use systems where you can to do all of these things.

  1. Headspace appears to be polarizing. Some people disagree with people making money (?) creating a product that teaches meditation principles. And the odd thing in those cases is one of their points is that Andy Puddicombe, Headspace’s founder, is already rich so he shouldn’t “cash-in” on meditation. It’s a great product. I’m actually meditating. There’s a part of the app that shows how many people are currently using Headspace. I’ve usually seen it around 27,000. It’s a great onboarding to meditation.

  2. I’ll write notes on this before my 100 posts are complete. It was one of the first books I read where I really actively applied learnings from.

Beginning meditation

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m giving meditation another shot. I first really got interested in actually meditating after listening to the 10% Happier audiobook.

10% Happier by Dan Harris

I’m listening to it again this week. As a meta point, it’s the best narrated audiobook I’ve listened to. It also happened to be one of my first Audible purchases. I mistakenly thought all audiobooks were of that quality. Dan Harris speaks for a living at a very high level.

I’m bookmarking and writing notes as I listen this time around. His perspective is shared by a lot of others. He was skeptical of meditation and waded through different types and communities to come find a practice that works.


I’m going through the introductory Take 10 series on Headspace. Ten minutes for ten days. I tried it last year, fell asleep the first day, and quit after the second. This time I’m acknowledging that meditation needs to be practiced.

I read Cal Newport’s Deep Work to start this year and it made me think about how uneasy we are with being bored these days. Boredom can’t go where our phones go. The same goes with focus. Cal Newport talks about is practicing focus so that you can focus deeply on whatever problem you’re working on.

I believe in growth mindsets and deliberate practice. If meditation can be practiced, then I’ll can approach it that way. 10 minutes each day.

I used to think: Time meditating is literally doing nothing. Is that better spent elsewhere?

The answer: Probably. That’s if you think time meditating really is literally doing nothing.

This time around, I’m thinking about it as brain training. People don’t question the benefits of exercise and the benefits outside of the actual time spent working out. I’m hoping meditation will be similar. With 10 or 20 minutes every day, I’ll see the benefits during the entire rest of the day.

Early session impressions

I’m improving on focusing on single tasks. I tried time blocking in the past. Focusing for 25 minutes shouldn’t be hard. Still, I’d end many sessions with the timer ringing and me realizing I trailed off into the internet somewhere in the last few minutes of the work session.

It’s been really helpful on days when I didn’t have enough sleep the night before. Healthwise, it’d be a trap to think it’s really making up for lost sleep. But it’ll be a good tool to have if it can make those days feel less zombie-like.

This week of focus has been great. If it’s from some kind of placebo effect1, that’s fine. If meditating makes me think meditating works, then, I mean, that’s enough. it’s literally all in the mind.

The brain is weird.

  1. Creating a placebo for meditation for meditation studies has its own complications.

Book note on Originals

In Originals, Adam Grant talks about creating many ideas to get to the good ideas1:

“Original thinkers,” Stanford professor Robert Sutton notes, “will come up with many ideas that are strange mutations, dead ends, and utter failures. The cost is worthwhile because they also generate a larger pool of ideas—especially novel ideas.”

It reminded me of the story of the pottery class being graded either on 1.) quantity of completed pieces or 2.) quality of a single final piece. I don’t know where I originally read it. It might have been from Jason Kottke or Derek Sivers.

My best guess, though is that I read it on Coding Horror. Jeff Atwood blogged about the story from the book Art & Fear. Digging into his other posts, he gives some advice on blogging consistently:

My schedule was six posts per week, and I kept jabbing, kept shipping, kept firing. Not every post was that great, but I invested a reasonable effort in each one. Every time I wrote, I got a little better at writing.

As for subjects, Jeff tried to avoid blogging about blogging:

I’ve avoided the incestuous nature of blogging about blogging until now […]

I haven’t!

Thinking of it as a single quantity/quality scale doesn’t quite work. I can’t arbitrarily move to the quality end—I’m not a good enough writer. More time spent on the quantity side lets me slowly get further on the quality side.

There’s a better metaphor, but feel free to read this bad one. Let’s say you arrive at a canyon. One side is quantity and the other is quality. At first you spend most of your time in the quantity end to gather materials. Once in a while, you’ll build part of the bridge out toward quality. And you can get further and further out to the quality side, but it still requires quantity. As the bridge goes out, you can then pick and choose exactly where you want to spend your time.

I’ll continue chopping trees down on this side of the canyon.

  1. This excerpt is pretty much a quote from someone else.