What I learned last week (#40)

Learned last week: The prison economy, we’ve ruined childhood, being a zero, and more.

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.

What I learned last week (#39)

Learned last week: More reasons to minimize email, being a one issue voter and the creator vs victim mindset.

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.

What I learned last week (#35)

Learned last week: The power of perseverance, being disconnected is hard, St Andrews is more than a golf course, and more.

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.

What I learned last week (#34)

Learned last week: The history of beef, fresh perspectives on making software, the history of monopoly, and more.

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

Scottish water and kilted yoga

Between Scottish water and kilted yoga, the sense of pride the Scots have in their country is wholly foreign to this American.

Kilted Yoga. I spotted this among the gift shop items at the great Riverside Museum in Glasgow, one of millions of examples of Scottish culture that is frequently parodied and exploited, by the Scots as much as anyone else, almost always in good fun and always with a strong undercurrent of pride.

See, the Scots are a fiercely proud people, and that’s understating it. They take pride in everything that they do. From their land, food, and water, to their sports, raising cows and even their yoga practice. I experienced this strong sense of pride from the beginning of my visits here, and coming from America, this all seemed a bit much (does Scottish water really make that tea taste better?), but none-the-less I find it endearing and more than that, I sense there is something a bit deeper to be explored.

Since moving here it’s evident that beyond the kitsch touristy stuff, the Scottish people take a lot of pride in the quality of what they do. People are really into their chosen craft, they invest in deeply in their relationships with their co-workers and friends, and they draw a strength from their history (and their antagonistic weather) in a way that’s wholly new to me. You could argue that the taste or aesthetics of what the Scots do could be better (Irn-Bru?), but it’s tough to argue any lack of quality and craftsmanship.

Prior to moving here I didn’t think of myself as having such a strong sense of investment in my home country, let alone have it be a major source of pride from which I can draw strength from. Perhaps it is because the US is so big, or that I’m being ungrateful to my country’s history, or perhaps it’s just that I’m wired differently as an American, a product of my specific time and place. Regardless, I’m loving the glow of small-country pride in Scotland. It is infectious and energizing and, with the exception of kilted yoga, I’m looking forward to participating in it more.

Most things remain to be done

In between the constant doing-stuff/busy-ness of moving there have been many glimpses of why we came here and what awaits us when we pause and look around. Isn’t that the point?

The family and I are in full acquisition mode at the moment. As expected, setting up shop in Scotland has required endless amounts of admin and purchasing and “getting things done”. We are very much trying to keep things small and simple, but there are myriad things that a family of four needs and we’re knocking those off one-by-one in (what seems to me to be) short order. In under two weeks we’ve added a rental house, car and insurance, beds, kitchen table, couch, desk, bikes, new phone numbers, and millions of other tiny things to our list of possessions here. Oh and we’ve probably added a few pounds from stress eating while chasing two little ones down the aisles of you-name-it shop. At times it’s been a grind (example: four hours on the phone trying to get car insurance with no credit history), and there are times where I’ve periodically lost sight of why we moved over in the first place.

A quote seen at Ikea stating most things still remain to be done. A glorious future.

I spotted this while in Ikea yesterday and it has stuck with me. Although it feels like we’re doing stuff to get to an end goal (finally being able to sleep in our new place!), that will be another beginning.

In between the constant doing-stuff/busy-ness of moving there have been many glimpses of why we came here and what awaits us when we pause and look around, like this moment from the road to the farm where we live (the place we are renting is a house converted from a horse stable). It’s stunning.

I came across the following passage while writing this and it fits nicely to the topic. We chose to climb this mountain, and are fortunate to be able to have the means to climb it. Why not enjoy every moment?

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

There is more to do and there always will be. A glorious future indeed!

What I learned last week (#10)

The secret to likely everything, a reminder that most stuff can wait, and the metaverse is coming (or it’s already here).

  • Learning what and how to ignore things just might be the secret to everything:

“Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace.”

Robert J. Sawyer
  • The metaverse beyond the hype: This article clued me into Tim Sweeney (founder of Epic Games, which created Fortnite and the Unreal Engine) and what he hopes Fornite becomes. It’s a fascinating read. 
  • Some useful reinforcement for moving abroad: As I’ve previously described, making the decision to move isn’t easy, but it’s reassuring to hear that part of our rationale is backed up by research showing those who live abroad tend to develop a stronger sense of what’s important to them.  (Hat tip to Marcus Purvis)
  • A reminder that most stuff can wait: Last week was snowy in Seattle, which meant a lot of meetings needed to be canceled, my work time was reduced, and I spent the majority of the week in my long johns. Not surprisingly, the important stuff still got done, and the week felt like a mini-vacation. Removing all the non-essential overhead felt good. It’s surprising how much baggage we all carry around that should be left behind, and I’m grateful for the reminder. On a related note, check out Busy is the New Lazy and aim to get more slack in your days.
Snow in Seattle

Then there was yes

Exploring why and how we decided turn “someday we’ll do this” into today.

“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.”

Benjamin Disraeli Former prime minister of the United Kingdom

In about six months we are moving our family from our home in Seattle across the ocean to Scotland. It’s a pretty big life change. That being said, I want to try to attempt to explain why we’re doing this, and, I’ll let you know right now, this explanation might be a letdown. Just when I think I have a pretty solid handle on the reasons, they turn into marbles on an uneven table. My wife Kav and I have been talking about this for awhile, but it was always a “someday we should…” conversation. Then something shifted, but I’m not quite sure how or why, it’s still kind of a mystery.

A few years ago, I would have found it unlikely to know I would be moving out of the country. I’ve always lived in the US. Although I’ve moved houses and I moved schools a bunch as a kid, I’ve really only lived in two states: Washington and Wyoming. I’ve worked at Microsoft for almost 13 years. Not only that, but I’ve been working in gaming for 6 years, and my latest assignment is with Minecraft. I am LITERALLY doing what I dreamed of doing as a kid, making video games. And now I’m saying the fact I have my dream job isn’t as important as this opportunity. This strikes me as a profound leap, and I want to know how to to re-create it, mass produce it (in pill form preferably), and do it more.

But before I fumble around explaining how I got to my yes on the decision, let me try explain why we want to to do this.

First off, we’re making the big move by choice, independent of a job offer or citizenship concerns or any other forcing factor. Both my wife and I feel strongly that it’s time for a change and we want to raise our kids closer to family (or at least a part of it). This is what we say outwardly at least. It’s definitely more complicated than that, but those are the easy reasons to explain. There are plenty more.

We’re moving so that our kids will know (some) of their family more and so that we’ll have a support network while raising our kids. We’re moving for all the new connections to people, in work and in school and in life, that we’ll all make. We’re moving so we can experience a new country and way of life, and so we can go through a big project (and the challenges we’ll face along the way) together, as a family. We’re moving because there are more guns than people in the US. We’re moving so we can have weekends away in Paris (and so I can go on excursions to Belgium for beer…shh, don’t tell Kav). We’re moving to shake things up and ensure we don’t get too comfortable. We’re moving because “we’d like to someday” could very well never happen, and it certainly won’t unless we act.

The magnitude of the shift that this will make in all of our lives cannot be understated, which is ultimately the point (and also the source of our fears).

What’s so difficult to explain, and what I’d like to articulate in some beautiful way so that others can benefit, is what pushed us over the edge to make the decision. What made us both get to the point where we like, “Yup, let’s get rid of our new house right next to a great school in one of the most beautiful places in the planet and our six figure salary and beautiful cars and stock options and crazy comfortable life and shake the dice and start over with NO STUFF doing something else that probably isn’t going to be worse and potentially could be AMAZING and maybe never come back”?

At the end of all the worries, I realized (and maybe Kav has know this all along), that the likely upside is much greater than the unlikely downside.

The decision seems obvious to me now but how’d I get to this point? Kav has already touched on her thoughts. For me, I think the factors that led me to feeling so comfortable with it come down to:

  • Simplifying my life and trying to reduce material needs/desires
  • Carefully curating the inputs I pay attention to (feeds, screen time, friends, books, etc)
  • Being more present with my kids and wife, and (trying to) be as intentional and tuned-in as I can in every moment

I wasn’t expecting this. Kav and I argued over her desire to move and my interpretation of her reasons, although I always knew I wanted to live in another country eventually, I didn’t think I wanted to do it this soon. Now it’s hard to imagine why I was opposed.

I’d like to think that by focusing on the seemingly small and simple things, I was receptive and open to a big decision as it came around.

At first there was a no, and then there was a yes.

Wife here!

I’m Kav.  I’m 41 years old, Wife of my soulmate Nick, and Mama to our 2 beautiful kids.  I was born in Trinidad, raised mostly in Scotland, and live in the greater Seattle area of the USA.

My husband loves to write.  I love to think, and then occasionally blurt out a whole load of stuff in one big mass.  We are about to uproot the family and move to the UK from America so finding a constructive way to put it all down, organize our thoughts well and capture all of our excitement, fears and hesitations ALONG the way MAKES SENSE.

I join my husband on this writing journey 🙂  

Maybe one day, our kids will read this.  And instead of being mad of us for making such big changes in their lives, they might appreciate the thought and emotion that went into our decisions.

We love you Vivian and Sam.  x