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Moving to Scotland

Deep roots

I read the rest of this interview with James Baldwin from The Paris Review this morning, and aside from there being many segments on writing, racism, and figuring out what life is about , the following section really struck me and I thought about it all during my morning run.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#40)

Playing tourist last week: Family in town meant we got to play tourist! The city bus tour, the museums, eating out, it was all in play this week. Also received my first bottle of Scotch (how was this the first?), in a bottle of Balblair 12 year. Next week will mark two months in Scotland!


Quote I’ve been thinking about:

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

John Wooden

How the Prison Economy Works:

To make a large cash payment, a prisoner asks a friend on the outside to buy a MoneyPak and to pass on the dots once they have done so. These 14 digits can then be exchanged with a guard or another prisoner for something in the prison, including drugs. By exchanging dots instead of cash, the prisoners keep their hands clean. The free people on the outside – one buying the MoneyPak, the other receiving its value on a Green Dot card – do not need to meet each other, know each other or link bank accounts. Using prepaid cards in this way creates an informal currency that is durable, divisible into payments as small as the MoneyPak minimum of $20, and is accepted everywhere.


How I Wrote Shape Up: I shared the Shape Up e-book before and this is the story of how it was written.

“I didn’t know how to write a book. But I knew how to give a workshop.”

It’s an inspiring read from a process and tools perspective. But I love the idea that it’s OK to not know how to do something and still trying anyway. A good place to start is with the closest thing that you do know how to do. Build from there. You can do it.


Something from the fs.blog newsletter that I made me think: We Have Ruined Childhood.

…kids today “have fewer opportunities to practice social-emotional skills, whether it’s because they live in a violent community where they can’t go outside, or whether it’s because there’s overprotection of kids and they don’t get the independence to walk down to the corner store.” They don’t learn “how to start a friendship, how to start a relationship, what to do when someone’s bothering you, how to solve a problem.”

Many parents and pediatricians speculate about the role that screen time and social media might play in this social deficit. But it’s important to acknowledge that simply taking away or limiting screens is not enough. Children turn to screens because opportunities for real-life human interaction have vanished; the public places and spaces where kids used to learn to be people have been decimated or deemed too dangerous for those under 18.


Favorite book excerpt:

“Over the years, I’ve realized that in any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value.

Everyone wants to be a plus one, of course. But proclaiming your plus-oneness at the outset almost guarantees you’ll be perceived as a minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table. This might seem self evident, but it can’t be, because so many people do it.”

Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

You have to be a zero before you can be a plus one.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#39)

New life continued: First week on the full time work train and overall I’m loving it, but it is an adjustment to be working from home all day every day. I’ve been doing daily walks but let’s just say I’m going to need to have a system for getting out more. Otherwise life now is moving quickly as the days are full of work and full of beauty. It’s hard to go anywhere and not run into a castle or a long winding trail inevitably leading past one. Hard to beat that!


Book excerpt that resonated last week:

“…people rarely succeed at anything unless they have fun doing it.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Loved this New Yorker article from Cal Newport, Was Email A Mistake?

Something to give us all pause:

Last year, the software company RescueTime gathered and aggregated anonymized computer-usage logs from tens of thousands of people. When its data scientists crunched the numbers, they found that, on average, users were checking e-mail or instant-messenger services like Slack once every six minutes. Not long before, a team led by Gloria Mark, the U.C. Irvine professor, had installed similar logging software on the computers of employees at a large corporation; the study found that the employees checked their in-boxes an average of seventy-seven times a day. Although we shifted toward asynchronous communication so that we could stop wasting time playing phone tag or arranging meetings, communicating in the workplace had become more onerous than it used to be. Work has become something we do in the small slivers of time that remain amid our Sisyphean skirmishes with our in-boxes.

Plenty have figured it out though, there is hope:

…the software-development firm Basecamp now allows employees to set professor-style office hours: if you need to talk to an expert on a given subject, you can sign up for her office hours instead of shooting her an e-mail. “You get that person’s full, undivided attention,” Jason Fried, the company’s co-founder and C.E.O., said, on the podcast Curious Minds. “It’s such a calmer way of doing this.” If something is urgent and the expert’s office hours aren’t for another few days, then, Fried explained, “that’s just how it goes.”


I was looking for some new books and referenced Derek Siver’s book list (who BTW has three new books coming out). I’m reading The Lessons of History and A Guide to the Good Life at the moment.


Speaking of new books, Ultralearning caught my attention


But who needs a book when there is a new Wait But Why series? If you haven’t read Wait But Why Year 1 you should.


Why Austin Kleon is a one issue voter and after reading that I think I am to.


Quote I have been thinking about:

“There is only one person who could ever make you happy, and that person is you.”

David Burns

Podcast I enjoyed that’s related to that quote: Jim Dethmer on the Knowledge Project. Some gems in here, for example:

“Be impeccable with your agreements.”

“Are you living in a victim mindset or a creator mindset?”

For example, when you get upset or annoyed because of someone’s actions are not what you wanted them to be, do you think “That is making me really angry…” or do you say “I am making myself angry over/because of…”. It’s a subtle shift, but has been helping me recently. Subject or object. Are you subject to something (like the weather) or is something object to you (it’s raining, who cares)?


Something that stuck out as strange but is normal in the UK/Scotland: Driving like a bat out of hell. I mean, I like driving fast, but there is no reason to be going 50 MPH on a twisty lane barely wide enough for two cars in the rain when it’s pitch black. People here love their cars (“motors”) and take driving more seriously than we do in the US (a plus for sure!) but it can be a little extreme at times. Oh, and if you are a pedestrian you are taking your life into your own hands by the roads here.

Wish me luck.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#35)

Nope, we’ve not settled yet: Most of the last week was spent partially connected, having no internet service at home yet (along with somewhat spotty plumping service). That’s made for lots of reading and traveling around local spots, which is mostly great despite being spiked with the frequent unnerving feeling of not being able to do something that requires a connection. It’s been a good lesson in accepting and appreciating reality instead of worrying about expectations…hard to do consistently.

Other proof of our settling is the fact that I’ve amassed the following set of Allen keys as a full-time builder of basic home furnishings.

But a few of the tools I’ve amassed from furniture boxes.

Quote I am thinking about:

“Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in your life.”

Tony Robbins

Book excerpt(s) that I loved:
Here are a couple from last week’s read, Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.

At age eighteen, I had absolutely no gifts. I could not sing or dance, and the only acting I did was really just shouting. Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent.

I related to this to how I’ve been successful in certain areas of my life and career, which I think has been through sheer persistence in doing what I’m interested in rather than any given talent.

Consistent work enhanced my act. I learned a lesson: It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical: Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.

The sheer amount of work (we talkin’ about practice) that Steve Martin did being a musician/magician/comedian prior to becoming known for it is both reassuring and intimidating. He spent years doing 2-3 shows a day when he was working, in every kind of condition imaginable. Talk about becoming bulletproof (an leaving a lot of lessons to learn from).

As I finished So Good They Can’t Ignore You and think more about my habits and attitudes towards what I do next in terms of work, the underlying ethos of consistent work, deliberate practice, and (as everyone from Seth Godin to Steven Pressfield writes about), being a professional and a craftsman are what I’m most reading and thinking about at the moment.


Purchase I’m most enjoying since moving: Having a place to write at in the morning, and having the Jarivs adjustable height desk, has had a big impact on my daily routine. Even though I have little structured time to work there (and no internet), having the space primed for standing and writing in quiet is something I didn’t have in our old home and am surprised how much I value it.


New music: The Circle Remains Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, picked up from a reference in Born Standing Up, is, I learned, a heralded country blues (triple!!) album from the seventies and superb with morning coffee, evening dinners, and setting up life in another country.


Thing I learned about Scotland: St Andrews is more than a golf course. My wife took us all for a day trip last week and it was spectacular. The cooperative weather certainly played it’s part by providing full sun, but the combination of the bustling restaurants and shops, the castle, the beaches, the university (founded in 1413!) and the golf courses made for one of the most memorable outings since we’ve arrived.

The view of St Andrews castle from one of the beaches.
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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#34)

The move is feeling real now: I’m writing this after just having spent a week in our new house (first few weeks we stayed with my mother-in-law), and I’m starting to feel like the first wave of change is over, something new is starting now or about to start. I now have the start of an office going and I also got my first haul of craft beer from The Wee Beer Shop, so that’s helping settle me down as well.


How Basecamp works: Basecamp recently published a complete guide to how they do software development. Although it is definitely dual-purposed to encourage people to try Basecamp (and for good reason, it looks and feels awesome), the guide is really cool if you are interested in process and planning and tools as I am. There is SO MUCH here, so here are a couple of things that stand out (at least from my experience at Microsoft):

Writing the pitch (this is a nice framework, although I still prefer the approach of writing the press release first, used at Automattic and Amazon, among others):

There are five ingredients that we always want to include in a pitch:
1. Problem — The raw idea, a use case, or something we’ve seen that motivates us to work on this
2. Appetite — How much time we want to spend and how that constrains the solution
3. Solution — The core elements we came up with, presented in a form that’s easy for people to immediately understand
4. Rabbit holes — Details about the solution worth calling out to avoid problems
5. No-gos — Anything specifically excluded from the concept: functionality or use cases we intentionally aren’t covering to fit the appetite or make the problem tractable

No backlogs:

Backlogs are a big weight we don’t need to carry. Dozens and eventually hundreds of tasks pile up that we all know we’ll never have time for. The growing pile gives us a feeling like we’re always behind even though we’re not. Just because somebody thought some idea was important a quarter ago doesn’t mean we need to keep looking at it again and again.

Backlogs are big time wasters too. The time spent constantly reviewing, grooming and organizing old ideas prevents everyone from moving forward on the timely projects that really matter right now.

Six week cycles:

Some companies use two-week cycles (aka “sprints”). We learned that two weeks is too short to get anything meaningful done. Worse than that, two-week cycles are extremely costly due to the planning overhead. The amount of work you get out of two weeks isn’t worth the collective hours around the table to “sprint plan” or the opportunity cost of breaking everyone’s momentum to re-group.

This led us to try longer cycles. We wanted a cycle that would be long enough to finish a whole project, start to end. At the same time, cycles need to be short enough to see the end from the beginning. People need to feel the deadline looming in order to make trade-offs. If the deadline is too distant and abstract at the start, teams will naturally wander and use time inefficiently until the deadline starts to get closer and feel real.

After years of experimentation we arrived at six weeks. Six weeks is long enough to finish something meaningful and still short enough to see the end from the beginning.


How the beef business was built: I’m a vegetarian that sometimes eats seafood and I do it for a few reasons, one of them is environmental. A Once and Future Beef was a really interesting read in that regard.

Half of the world’s habitable landmass is used for agriculture. Of this, just more than two-thirds is used for grazing. Of the remaining third, a third of that is used for animal feed, and a fifth for biofuels. In short, a downright incredible amount of the world’s land is used for animal agriculture.

In speaking about the myth that beef is a economic source of protein:

Then as now, there were always cheaper proteins available — you won’t be shocked to learn that the cost per calorie of almost all beans and nuts, as well as eggs and a lot of dairy products, is massively less than that of nearly all meats, including relatively cheap ground beef. Yet, the world over, the hunger for beef is growing.


Something I learned about Scotland: There is so much to see (and sketch)! We’re off to visit St. Andrews this weekend, but the famous bucket list on Isle of Skye is high on the list (where over 70% of all tourists are from the UK, less than 30% international, not what I would have thought). Also, in the castle-porn bucket goes Kilchurn Castle:


The origins of a loved and hated game: The History of Monopoly was a great little read. Almost every family member I’ve played Monopoly with has wanted to kill me after, despite my not winning very often. This especially includes my wife.


Favorite quote from last week:

He who doesn’t lose his wits over certain things has no wits to lose.
– Gotthold Ephraim Lessing