Author Archives: Justus

Michael Alexis: International Investor and Philanthropist on Growth Hacking, Mastering Craigslist, and Surviving Chinese Parasites (e001)

Michael Alexis (left) and myself (right) in Georgetown in the Cayman Islands

My first ever podcast features investor and philanthropist Michael Alexis. I’m so glad to start with Michael because we are good friends and he is a master at making people feel at ease.

Michael got started in adult life as a lawyer, but quickly moved into startups and investing (but not investing in startups). Now he is a growth consultant for some of the highest performing startups and an international investor with stakes in places like China.

Michael and I worked together at an award-winning startup and have since built a relationship around challenging one another to do better everyday in life and business.

Our discussion revolves around investing, growth hacking, marketing, security, startups, business, ethics, life hacks, and risk mitigation while gallivanting in foreign countries (travel is a favorite past time for both of us).

You can hear our conversation here:

  • Michael helped Pavlok win the Shopify contest. (1:55)
    • Have a great team + a great product idea
    • Best Practices = Average Results. Test assumptions by challenging existing models
    • Michael discusses specific conversion results.
    • “Build the email list and prioritize getting people on it over prioritizing the sale right away.” – M.A.
    • Trade email address for price information on low-price consumer products.
    • Simple, single column websites can convert 3X better than “flashy” bootstrap-style websites.
  • Michael talks about his investment thesis [15:30]
    • Why he is an Investor / Philanthropist hybrid (hint: Building wealth is not the end-goal)
    • Why he invests in projects that pay dividends and NOT STARTUPS
    • Why he is willing to lose everything.
    • Michael’s ideal emergency fund lasts for years
    • Why Michael invests in competitive markets (because the model is proven)
    • Better Marketing + Better Service = Winning Strategy
    • Why startup employees should be open to equity compensation even though they likely won’t exit
  • Michael talks about the podcast he convinced me to start (31:30)
    • Risks are low
    • Networking opportunities are high
    • Are podcasts the new blogs?
  • What would you do to market Hacker Practice (36:20)
    • Write up guest posts based on the content. Try to get 8-10 posts out of each interview. [For this episode: Growth Hacking, Drastic Changes, Simplicity as a Philosophy]
    • Interview high profile people and retarget ads at their followers (on top of native promotion)
    • Think about SEO: use transcripts and notes etc to capture long tail [POTATO MARKETING]
    • Multiple Win Scenarios
    • Why you should start a podcast
  • Experiments I should try on the podcast [46:30]
    • Connect with someone for intentional practice. (PEN TESTING, NVC, DIFCON)
    • Make a sale on the podcast.
  • What Michael would ask Mr. Big Data, Jesse Anderson [50:00]
    • How did Jesse teach himself complex skills?
    • How did he acquire his big, impressive, clients?
  • What single critical system should I develop to make the Podcast awesome?
    • Have a great process for ensuring that you have an ongoing flow of guests.
  • What does Michael think of 2-factor authentication [54:50]?
    • Most people should use it. Especially for email + banking
    • Using 2 factor auth is difficult across many accounts
  • Other security measures everybody should do[56:45]
    • Make passwords difficult (long 8+ characters)
    • Diversify your passwords
    • Use a password manager (like LastPass, Michael and I both use this)
    • Encrypt your computer and external hard drives.
  • What’s the worst Black Swan event that’s happened to Michael? [59:45]
    • He picked up a vicious parasite in China
    • How to mitigate the risk of terrible sickness in China:
      • Don’t eat from sketchy street vendors (China is especially bad)
      • Look for hygiene markers
  • How does Michael manage Celiac disease that could kill him? [1:50:50]
    • Cook at home. Some restaurants that claim to be gluten-free aren’t concerned with cross contamination because they don’t take the risks of Celiac seriously.
    • Eat the same things every day.
    • Over-communicate the seriousness of your food allergy.
      • As a side note: Seems like there is no such thing as over-communication. Great teams talk more than you think they should.
  • How Michael makes money sleeping on great mattresses [1:08:15]
    • Good mattress = good sleep = high performance
    • Buy a Tempurpedic mattress on craigslist, negotiate the price down
    • Use the mattress
    • Sell the mattress on craigslist when you’re done at a higher price using superior sales writing and copywriting skills.
    • Negotiating heuristic for Craigslist: offer 20% off posted price, accept 10% off.
  • How Michael stole Groupon’s business model for fun and profit [1:14:30]
    • Steal models that are “hot”, resell them on Craigslist.
    • How he improved his programming skills and made money at the same time.
    • Repeat
  • Michael made a podcast because of the Mixergy podcast (see link below for Interviewing your heroes)
  • Michael talks what he learned working with Ramit Sethi [1:22:30]
    • Ethical Persuasion: If your target customer had all the information available, would the buy your product?
    • Reminds me of Simon Sinofsky’s great question: “Am I inspiring you to act, or manipulating you to act?”
    • Create a product that is totally aligned with your audience’s interests
  • Copywriting Resources and Tactics [1:28:10]
    • You should read George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (LINK BELOW)
    • Name dropping works. Soundbites work.
    • Read and re-read everything you plan to publish. Reconsider every single word.
    • Headlines should convey benefit and target market: “Learn Practical Copywriting Tactics from the Masters”
    • Subheader should say HOW you’ll deliver: “This 8-week video course includes ____”
    • WHY > WHO > HOW
  • Michael advises me on my blog strategy [1:38:55]
    • What’s the goal?
    • Systems for blog promotion
      • Syndicate the material everywhere: Medium, LinkedIn
      • Post to aggregators: Reddit, HackerNews, GrowthHacker
      • Post to social: FB, Twitter
  • How does Michael cultivate respect and relationships? [1:43:20]
    • Be authentic and honest with yourself.
    • Be truthful even when it’s to your detriment. In the end, it won’t be.
    • How I improve client relationships by applying honesty to my detriment
    • How I talk to girls by being honest
  • Michael says: interview people who do big things that most people have never heard of.

Links

 Conclusion

If you liked this episode, please subscribe on iTunes and leave us a review!

January 2017 Book Club Recommendations

I believe that we must transcend. We must elevate earthly life beyond this little rock. We must release the rungs of our old paradigms and climb the ladder of progress. We must transcend, we must transcend, we must transcend.

Transcendance starts with learning.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an obsessive reader and learner of things. I want to share my reading habit with you to inspire you to learn and transcend your old ways of thinking.

I also want you to talk about these books with me, so please comment below to discuss if you’ve read or make suggestions for future reading.

These are the books I read in January 2017. I’ve included my top-of-mind notes and comments on whether or not I can recommend the work. The must-reads are marked with an asterisk.

(Must-reads are defined, by me, as books that I will likely re-read.)

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. I will make a very small amount of money if you purchase from this post. If you don’t want me to get paid for the suggestion, Google it yourself.

Common Sense by Thomas Paine*

Given the state of affairs in this country, you are under-informed if you haven’t read this book. It was first published early in 1776 as a pamphlet and explains in simple terms why monarchy wasn’t working.

Here’s the basic rundown of the points I found most interesting:

  • The purpose of government: so society can grow.
  • Why checks-and-balances are a fundamentally flawed design pattern.
  • Why monarchies and hereditary succession don’t work.

This pamphlet helped spark the first American Revolution. Now that we are coming up to the second, it might be a good time to review it.

You can read the entire pamphlet here for free, courtesy of Google.

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb*

I’ve read this book five times in the last three years. It gives me more to chew on every time.

The, very contrarian, idea of Antifragile is that there is a certain category of things that benefit from disorder. These are often ideas, complex systems, and biological systems.

Antifragile is the philosophical manifesto of our time. It explains the underlying mathematics of everything from economics to health in simple terms. It is a long, dense book, that rewards you multiple times over on every page.

Important ideas to consider:

  • Why doctors hurt you more than they help.
  • How public financial markets are currently designed to transfer risk from corporate managers to innocent investors.
  • Why economists are almost always wrong.
  • Why higher education is not necessarily driving wealth creation in this, or any, country.
  • How to live an ethical life.
  • Why a grandmother’s wisdom is more valuable than most books written in the last ten years.
  • Fractal geometry makes for healthier spaces than Euclidean geometry
  • and so much more…

This is a must read for anybody and everybody. You should buy this book today and read it cover to cover.

The Spy: A novel by Paolo Coelho

My little brother got me a signed copy of this book. He knew that I’m a huge fan of the Alchemist so he thought I’d find it interesting.

He was right, but interesting is the extent of it.

The Spy is about Mata Hari, the famous 19th century dancer who took Paris by storm and was executed for espionage. The book’s tagline is: “Her only crime was to be an independent woman”, but the book is mostly lacking any subtle or compelling exploration of this theme.

While I find her story fascinating, I didn’t love the book. It’s boring. Mata Hari is interesting for all the wrong reasons. She uses people and lies to get ahead. Then when she gets wrongfully accused of espionage, it’s hard to feel bad for her. Frankly, I had a hard time finishing the book, and the book is pretty short.

The top critical review (3 stars) on Amazon hits the nail on the head:

I couldn’t see the point of this novel. There are some very good biographies of Mata Hari’s life and my time would have been better spent reading one of those. The novel is written as letters, and somehow I just didn’t care much by the end. In fact, her story is a fascinating and moving one…”  

You’d be better off reading classic Coelho: The Alchemist. It’s one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read and I’ve read a lot of novels.

The House and the Cloud by David Stelzl

The House and the Cloud is a sales handbook for technologists interested in selling managed IT services. Here are some key lessons I took away:

  • How to pique interest initially using what Stelzl called an “Advisory Positioning Statement”
  • How to open sales meetings using a structured Value Proposition
  • How to run sales meetings that convert warm leads into recurring revenue

I certainly learned a lot about Stelzl’s tremendously effective sales process and can recommend this book to anyone working in a tech consulting role.

There are however, a number of gripes I have to mention in case David reads this and gets the chance to address them:

  1. The cover and presentation of the book is very amateurish. This is common with authors who self-publish and is the reason you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.
  2. The style of the book can be described as consultant-marketing-jargon. You have to be prety patient to get to the useful nuggets
  3. There are probably dozens of typos which pisses me off because anybody making six or seven figures should just hire a college student to proofread the book.
  4. The structure of the book also needs work. I was often confused by the organization of material.
  5. It could be at least 20% shorter.

Beyond these nitpicks, the book is excellent. I love the idea of using statistical soundbites to disarm technical questions in sales meetings. Anybody who’s closed deals before knows the importance of frame control (see Pitch Anything) and will immediately understand the significance of soundbites.

Recommend for anybody selling IT products or services.

Small Giants: Companies that Choose to be Great instead of Big by Bo Burlingham

Tim Ferriss recommends this book so often that I figured I’d give it a try.

This book is basically a collection of case studies that examine a few companies that “choose to be great instead of big”. It examines how some companies sacrifice growth in the name of other values and goals. Here are some key elements I took from the book:

  • Authenticity is important (if you want people to like and trust you)
  • Private ownership is important (if you don’t want investors pressuring you to grow)
  • Gross Margin is important (if you don’t want to go out of business)

The lessons might seem obvious, and that’s because they are. This will sound like the height of arrogance, but I had a hard time pulling NEW IDEAS from the book. Mostly because anybody who’s read business literature has already heard the ideas.

The companies Burlingham profiles are interesting. The anecdotes are funny and inspiring. The biggest value proposition of the book is the inspirational quality of the companies involved. However, the biggest lesson to take away is one that people shouldn’t have to learn:

Don’t compromise your core values in the name of growth.

Burlingham talks about small companies that focus on quality over size. He talks about how these companies have “soul” or “mojo”.

Maybe I read it at the wrong time, and perhaps I’ll read it again, but I wasn’t moved by this book like I was by the next book on this list…

Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull*

Creativity Inc. is a great business memoir by the president of Disney Animation and Pixar Animation, Ed Catmull.

Here are the things I took from this book that I will never forget:

  • Have a group of people that you can solicit candid feedback from.
  • Repeatedly iterate on your work based on that feedback to take ugly rough drafts to polished finished products.
  • Steve Jobs wasn’t always a dick.
  • What a successful merger looks like (Disney + Pixar = Success).
  • The importance of humility, egalitarianism, and communication to the creative process.
  • Be aware of second-order problems that exist after the dissolution of first-order problems.
  • Leadership can lead to problem-blindness, so be vigilant.
  • Protect the new.

This book was so good I have a hard time summarizing it. It was so good I reread it immediately after finishing it.  This has only happened to me a handful of times (The Alchemist, Zero to One)

It’s ironic that this book was so much more impactful than the last book, because Pixar has exactly the kind of mojo that Burlingham describes in Small Giants. Maybe I have a bias for lessons from people who do the things I admire over lessons from people who study the things I admire…

Zero to One*

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I’ll catch some flack for recommending this book in the current political climate. I don’t care. It’s a fucking classic.

Blake Masters and Peter Thiel put this book together based on Masters’ notes on Stanford CS183 course. It is a must read for anyone who expects to build a growth-oriented technology startup.

Here’s what you will learn from this book:

  • Why technology is more important than globalization.
  • Why monopolies are not necessarily a bad thing
  • What a secret is.
  • Start with a tiny market.
  • AI will not replace people. It will augment us.
  • Do something that’s never been done.
  • Beat the competition by providing a product that is 10x as good as the next alternative.
  • Why the United States will keep beating China (hint: we are det
  • Great startups are like cults.
  • Good heuristics for venture capital
  • and more.

If you know me, you know that my mission in life is to build a real game-changing, Zero to One technology company. This book might as well be the manual.

I love it so much, I’ll skip the affiliate link and send you right to the source material (arguably better than the book).

Click here to read Blake Master’s notes on startups from CS183 at Stanford.

In case my recommendation isn’t enough, maybe the site’s tagline will motivate you:

Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it. Extinction is approaching. Fight it.

Data Engineering Teams

This free ebook from my friend, Mr. Big Data a.k.a Jesse Anderson, is a great primer on Big Data and how to build teams around it. It’s a short read and I highly recommend it for anybody curious about this trend.

Here’s what I took from it:

  • Big Data teams should be multidisciplinary
  • How to identify a big data problem
  • What a typical pipeline might look like from a tech standpoint.

Here’s the thing: don’t wait to read it. It’s really short, but it will give you an idea of what to look out for as your company grows. If you get to the point where you need to start building big data pipelines and you still haven’t read it, you’re basically burning money.

Every day you have the wrong people working on the pipeline is a day you’re throwing money into a hole.

If you are a startup founder, learn to understand the problem before you have to deal with it.

Click here to get your free copy of Data Engineering Teams today.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek*

This book has had me journalling like a madman for the last four days. Ever since I finished it I’ve been obsessed with figuring out how to clearly and concisely spell out my life’s purpose.

The gist of it is simple:

  • People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
  • How you do what you do is just proof that you really believe in your why.
  • Start every internal and external communication by reiterating why your company exists

Sinek goes into a lot more detail about his Golden Circle model and Golden Cone model. He references Apple a lot, which is great because I really admire the work they do and strive to match their dedication to quality. He also examines Martin Luther King’s leadership during the civil rights movement, the Wright Brothers, and Wal-Mart’s inspirational founder, Sam Walton.

As I write this, Start with Why is the #62 best selling book on Amazon.

Get it today.

For a quick primer on the concept, see Sinek’s ridiculously popular Ted Talk.

“What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why do you exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning?”

Bonus: He goes into how you can use his ideas while dating.

Conclusion

Do you want to know what I read every month? Leave a comment and let me know what I should read in February 😀

Reflecting on 2016: The Ideas that Influenced Me

The most important learning comes in the evolution of our ideas. Good thinkers maintain darwinian belief selection processes. Strong ideas survive debate, scrutiny, and the test of time.

The most important ideas I’ve developed this year include a complex systems theory that provides for inverse utility over time via increased structural overhead. Basically, as a complex system passes peak utility, latent consequences of running the system cause a utility inversion function to emerge.

I’ve also been toying with this idea of a Grand Biological Abstraction. This event happening at present in the relationship between humans and technology.

An abstraction is a symbol that represents a unit of complexity. Every word is an abstraction of deliberate ideas and various connotations. “Car” is an abstraction that represents the sum function of a complex piece of physical machinery with many moving and electric parts.

“Human Being” is an abstraction of a single instance of a biological species. That instance serves as the host ecosystem for a variety of microbial life that could it could not live without nor could the microbes survive without it.

In other words, the sword of biology cuts these species apart, viewing them through different lenses. Reality’s sword is more subtle. The scalpel of nature is more nuanced than the sword of academic and intellectual theorizing.

Furthermore, it is not simply the relationship between humans and our microbiome that traditional biology hacks to pieces. It is the relationship between humans and pets, humans and livestock, humans and their homes, birds and their nests.

In fact, the bird cannot exist without the nest. Nor can the nest exist without the bird. The bird loses feathers and she loses her nest but you would never think that the feathers were not part of the bird.

In other words the category “Bird” abstracts away the concept of “nest”. But the nest is still there, even when you cannot see it. Even if it’s been destroyed. There is a nest soon to be born.

Of course, on human scale, the nest is a metaphor for our own technology. Our clothes and our computers are a part of us. The neural mesh is here Mr. Musk, and it has been for a long time.

The same way wheat manipulated humans into its global propagation. So has artificial intelligence prompted us into her development. Whether it’s the invisible hand of god or the invisible hand of the market. These unique by-products of our existence are no byproducts at all.

They are the fruits of our Grand Biological Abstraction.

Any multicellular organism is an abstraction of it’s parts. Soon human beings meshed with each other via technology will converge into a transcendent new form of life. Others call it the singularity, but in fact I suspect it will be a multiplicity.

Markets diverge, ecologies diverge. The universe is diverging. There is no reason to believe in a “singularity”.

There will, however, be a grand biological abstraction. Our understandings of the individual and the collective will warp immensely as our ability to reproduce and iterate informatically develops. The progression of artificial intelligence and biological technologies will unify many times in countless parallel instances eventually diverging into different protocols of super-life.

This is already evident. Different cars running on different fuels sources with onboard computers that have different operating systems. Each of which has different vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses.

Humans tend to simplify complexity behind abstractions. We think all planes are fundamentally the same. The perform similar functions for us. Their parts seem to appear similar. The underlying physical laws are similar. But in fact, over many instances all of these variables fluctuate with different degrees of volatility. We can rely on physical laws of the universe to be mostly predictable at given scale with very little variance in the single scale. However, no two flights are alike. No two wings are alike. No two airplanes, even manufactured to the same specification are really the same thing.

The act of creation is so singular, and also, so iterative, that we have to be satisfied with a paradox of multiplicity emerging from singularity. Futurism should not end at the Singularity.

Futurism should not end at the singularity.

Other ideas that were important to me this year came from books. I was especially moved by Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The only other authors that earned multiple reads from me this year were Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Dan Ariely, Will Durant, Tim Ferriss, Malcolm Gladwell and perhaps Anders Ericsson.

My day-to-day intellectual curiosity has been largely influenced by Taleb’s discussion on optionality, heuristics, hubris, and uncertainty. My moral and ethical philosophy is heavily weighted toward individual creativity and interpersonal compassionate love. I’m constantly struck by the convergence of ascetic thinking across religions and worldviews. Ascetics from all over the world converge at a sort of supra-humanist solitary enlightenment.

Invoke your own teleological ideal of a Tibetan Monk. Does your stereotypical Tibetan Buddhist Monk differ greatly from your stereotypical Catholic Monk in temperament?

Both sit quietly in contemplation or prayer as a means to achieve salvation or enlightenment. Humility is a central tenet to both. Compassionate love is an elevated quality in both cultures.

You will find the same convergent quality in ascetics from Islamic, Hindu, and Jewish traditions.

Travelling extensively around the world has taught me the universal value of life. I have seen the interconnectedness of things. How the reality in a place informs the outside perspective of it. How the outside conception and the inside reality have some overlap but also much divergence. For example, yes, croissants are delicious in France, but so are the kebaps. By the way, kebaps in France don’t come on a stick, they come in a wrap. And maybe French people are rude to tourists in Paris, but in Nice they are very nice. The red wine is good like you’d expect but the Rosè is transcendent.

Information =/= Truth

Truth is the subset of all information that actually reflects reality. There is discovered information and undiscovered information. Some undiscovered information may not be discoverable.

A lot of discovered information is untrue. All truth is a kind of information. Not all information is truth. Information derived from reality tends to be true. Things can be true in different ways. Fiction can be partially true if the message reflects reality.

We try to verify truthiness using logic. We slice assertions apart and test their component parts. We produce categories within categories to produce immense complexity with deception hidden in every crevice. Perhaps nothing can be 100% true because interpretation can always layer a bit of falseness on any truth and a bit of truth on any lie.

All of these ideas are wholly impractical until they are tested in the real world. Even writing about them solicits various critiques that will hopefully strengthen the core idea. Or break it.

If I can break these ideas that occupy my mind, I can essentially mark them as untrue. Then I can dispose of them. I can talk about them at the dinner table but I really need the best minds in the world to stress-test these concepts.

Or maybe they aren’t really that important.

The problem with examining popular viewpoints and looking for contrarian truth is that a lot of popular beliefs are worthless. As in they don’t have any positive value. It may be that the contrarian truth is also worthless.

Even if I am right about the Grand Biological Abstraction, I gain nothing from it. There is no stock market to bet on the abstraction away from our biology. I will gain no years, accolades, or financial success for espousing such an idea. I will simply be right in a small prediction about the future.

I might make money by betting on political events and business outcomes. I get no physical reward from exposing personal philosophical theorizing. The skin I put into the game is reputational. Not physical or financial.

And truthfully, it’s asymmetrical risk proposition. I can make up an idea. If I’m right, I win happiness and perhaps admiration from others. Maybe some formal business opportunities arise as a result.

If I’m wrong. Nobody cares. Nothing is lost.

These are some of the ideas that I obsessed over in 2016. Since 2017 is the Year of Vulnerability I am sharing them publicly to hopefully have them voraciously ridiculed for some substantive reason that I can later rectify or use as justification for dropping the idea.

15 Negotiation Habits to Build Better Deals and Relationships

The last five years have seen my dollar per hour revenue skyrocket from about $10 / hr to now hovering just around $300 / hour on average, and as high as $500 / hour on some projects.

Charging this amount allows me to focus half of my working hours on personal development. It also allows me to live nomadically, taking on passion projects as I see fit. I spent the last four months working this way: travelling around Europe and the Caribbean, studying art and architecture, working on 2-3 projects part-time for clients I really like.

I don’t believe success comes as a result of one single skill. However, there are “first order” skills that will consistently be useful in personal and professional settings.

Negotiation is a first order skill, useful in all walks of life.

I’ve spent last week working on a thorough review of 2016. In doing so, I’ve reviewed goals, notes, and materials I have from as far back as 2014.

In this review, I found my 2014 notes from Professor Deepak Malhotra’s video on negotiating a job offer.

14 of the following points come from that video. I’ve expanded on them based on my real-world practice.

Here are my notes on negotiation, summarized into a handy list of 15 points.

1. They need to like you.

AND YOU NEED TO LIKE THEM.

This is a no-brainer. The most important failed negotiation of my career was the result of several parties deciding that they simply did not like the opposition.

They had righteous cause for their assessment, but that does not matter. There needs to be an implicit desire to work together on both sides of the table or else the negotiation will be lose-lose.

2. They need to believe you deserve it.

Simple. I practice this by selling only to referral business. I do not do outbound sales because convincing an non-believer is much more difficult than doing great work with people who are already 100% on board.

3. You need to be able to do the work.

Duh. I never promise someone: “I can deliver you an MVP”. Because it’s impossible to know if I can build a minimally viable product in a given domain without giving it the old college try. I can promise a prototype. Prototypes are contained. Prototypes have a binary spec sheet. Either the prototype is or is not completed. The prototype either fulfills the spec or it doesn’t. The spec is either feasible or it isn’t.

Promising someone a market response is false prophecy.

4. You should be flexible regarding currency.

What do I want out of a job? Well, it’s mostly the same as three years ago:

  1. The work should be morally compatible with my worldview.
  2. Cash.
  3. Equity / Profit-share
  4. Respect.
  5. Learning.
  6. Mobility.

These are all forms of currency that I consider when looking at a job. When I’m considering a job, these are all on the table as compensation. I’ll take $100 / hour job if it means I get equity in an awesome product I can work on from anywhere with a great team I can respect and learn from.

On the flip side, there is no money in the world that would convince me to work on something that has demonstrable harm to human life or the environment with people I don’t like.

5. They have to believe they can get you.

If I quote too high a number, the other side might walk away thinking there is no way they could afford me. This is why it’s important to discuss the above issue of currency openly so they know that there are levers they can pull to help me engage in the project happily.

6. Do not negotiate for the sake of negotiating.

If they offer you precisely what you want, don’t negotiate just to get a bit more. Sure, you’ll see financial upside. But you’ll get it by taking advantage of the other party. I’ve killed client deals by getting greedy. I should’ve stuck it out and seen about long-term upside with a more positive relationship outcome.

7. You have to understand them.

Think in terms of the other person’s interests. I have to work at this every day in a variety of contexts. It’s an exhausting, laborious mental effort. And it’s worth it every single time.

8. Negotiate multiple issues simultaneously. (Don’t waste anyone’s time).

This should be obvious. A lot of novice negotiators take some terms of a deal for granted. It’s best to get everything you can nailed down the first time. Otherwise you’ll find difficult and distracting negotiations right around the corner.

9. Ask why the answer is “No”.

This helps you understand the other person (see #7) and counter objections. It’s something I need to remind myself of all the time. You’ll also learn a lot about your market by frequently asking “Why?”

10. Stay at the table.

Sometimes negotiations get exhausting. Don’t walk away from deals because of fatigue, anger, or boredom. Take breaks but always set a time to reconvene. Emphasize the importance of resolution to the other party so they take the matter seriously.

11. Prepare for the most difficult questions.

You already know the honest responses to easy questions. It’s the difficult questions that you should prepare for. Prep for negotiations by considering their interests and extrapolating which questions might arise that will make you squeamish. Lean into that discomfort and prepare honest responses that leave you authentic and confident.

12. Everybody has a plan until they’re punched in the face.

I write scripts for just about every single important meeting or conversation I walk into. I do this as an exercise in rehearsal. I don’t expect the conversation to go the way I scripted. The real difficult questions will come up that you did not predict. The other person’s interests will be different than you thought.

Do not rely on your powers of foresight to have a positive outcome. Rely on optionality to capture upside because you can never be certain that you have a useful informational asymmetry.

13. The person who needs it the least, usually wins.

Tim Ferriss talks about this a lot. I used to enter a lot of negotiations where I needed a “Yes” more than the other party. It was a constant uphill battle. It wasn’t until my abilities lined up with my expectations that I started going to negotiations that were simply “nice-to-have”.

In other words, if your basic needs are covered, then winning the deal is “nice-to-have”. Any deal should be gravy on the steak of life.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring passion to the table. I don’t even show up if I’m not super excited about the deal. Why would I?

Like Derek Sivers says: “If it isn’t a hell-yes, it’s a hell-no!”

14. Ask yourself why they’re asking the question they’re asking.

Again: this will help you understand the other person and their interests.

One time, I sat at the table with three executives and the CEO of a startup. The negotiation had a bad ending and after the fact I said to the three (former) executives: “I would have done the same thing in his position.”

In that case, I recognized the CEO’s interests after the fact. If I had more carefully considered them before the negotiation, I wouldn’t have wasted my time sitting at the table to begin with.

15. Avoid making ultimatums (and ignore them if they come from the other party)

I’ve fortunately never dealt with such a situation in a business environment. If you follow rule #1, then this shouldn’t become a problem.

Ultimatums do, however, rear their ugly head in all sorts of personal situations. In this case, ignoring the ultimatum will serve you well. Just move forward, because people who try to coerce you via ultimatum are generally not worth being in a relationship with.

A new year of negotiation

Already this year I’ve been lucky enough to sit at the table with TWO potential clients I would be excited to work with. I’m glad to say I’ve followed most of these rules and can expect positive outcomes and relationships from these folks no matter the result of current negotiations.

I wish you the best possible 2017 as you go about your career and personal lives. If you can think of additional negotiations tips and tactics I’d love to hear about them.

How to Be a Zen Master while Spending the Holidays with Your Dysfunctional Family

When you leave home for the first time, you discover yourself. Or, as in my case, you can engineer yourself with the help of some brilliant professionals. This is a simple matter of applying principles of behavior change to your environment to make desired behaviors effortless.

When you cannot control the environment, ideal behavior becomes a taller order.

Periodic visits are mandatory in most families and every homecoming reminds me of the strength of old habits and interpersonal dynamics. Every tendency I have eliminated through careful environmental controls rears it’s ugly head once I’ve returned to the family farm. I only win these battles with a combination of preparation, vigilance, and reflection.

I want to share with you my strategies for dealing with the uncontrollable home environment we all encounter when we return to our parents and siblings for the holiday season. You don’t have to become a child just because you’re in your childhood environment.

Continue reading

The Beauty of Self-Education

Questioning your assumptions is a good thing. It fosters critical, logical thought. It is the cognitive manifestation of natural selection. A Darwinian ecology of ideas — in your head.

A good strategy for questioning your assumptions is to engage in debate. It gives you opportunities to voice your opinions and challenge them with opposing ideas. Those opposing ideas usually come from other people who disagree.*

If two people hold contradictory ideas to be true, at least one of them must be wrong.

Today’s liberal arts universities preach to students, advocating that they “think for themselves”. This is ironic, because the structure of American schooling generally fosters the opposite of independent thought. When your teacher tells you to “think for yourself” what they actually are saying is “think about yourself”.

Young people often get into trouble with their friends. They will justify themselves by saying “Everybody was doing it”. The authority’s response will be: “why don’t you think for yourself?”

What they are really saying is: “Ignore your friends, think about your own well-being.”

To map it out: herd mentality is an instinct. Young people following an imprudent trend is the result of a natural inclination towards social activity. The counter-argument is to “think for yourself” or  “think about your own well being” or really just “THINK“.

This isn’t really advice at all, since for most people, thinking isn’t optional.

Traditional education seeks to educate us so that we can think for ourselves, but only succeeds in preventing us from thinking at all. This is why we have universities with strict safe-space policies and required coursework that is totally irrelevant to the student’s chosen area of study.

In The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Howard Roark is expelled from architecture school for thinking independently and challenging existing architectural paradigms. The novel is fiction, but in reality people are expelled from institutions for all sorts of reasons all the time. Often, the reason is not academic, but ideological.

“What am I going to do after high school?” – Average students everywhere.

If you don’t want to think too hard about it, just go to college. It’s the safe bet, says your every single one of your advisors, counselors, teachers, parents, and mentors, ever.

They all advise the same thing, because they have invested heavily in traditional education structures. To advise otherwise would basically be admitting that there was a better investment to be made and that the advisor invested incorrectly. Consistency bias is the University-system’s greatest free marketing tool ever.

One effect of traditional education is that it relinquishes you from responsibility over your own beliefs. If you are a liberal, it is because you went to an Ivy League school. If you are a conservative, it’s because you were in a Greek Organization in the south. It makes sense that we are a nation of conformists, since we are all taught the same mantra: Think about yourself. And whatever you think, just remember, it’s not your fault if you’re wrong.

The beauty of being self-educated, is that you are liberated from the group-think. You are free to pursue whatever ideas you like, in whatever order you choose. This forces the student to be intrinsically motivated.

Individuals are outliers. Individuality produces the Mahatma Gandhis, the Elon Musks, and the Buddhas of the world. The United States has a culture of ambition which provides the most prolific breeding ground of individualists in the world. Unfortunately, the Soviet-Harvard mission is to enhance collectivism and raise the average as opposed to support the individual.

You’ll often hear liberal philosophasters wax about the superior education systems of Scandinavia and south-east Asia. They will tell you about “average test scores” being higher in these cultures.

Here I will state unequivocally that I am unconcerned with average results. I am only concerned with extraordinary results, which is what the United States is really good at. We are really good at it, because of individualism and a culture of ambition. We are good at it despite the constant collectivist morality-warp.

How to Autodidact

Hopping from topic to topic on a whim fosters creative connections that most students never get. It is a joy for myself to write this essay based on my independent research and reasoning for my own purposes. 

When I attended schools, I wrote other people’s papers for money. Papers on economics and sociology and anthropology. Papers on altruism for cheaters in theology courses. Most of the time I wasn’t in the course I was writing the paper for. I was in school to learn whatever I wanted — or whatever I was paid to. I thought the advised course requirements were silly so I strategically declared majors that had fewer first and second year requirements.

The system is a game, so game the system.

Even now, when my primary areas of study are human behavior and computer science, I have a simple framework for determining my daily study:

Identify, research, plan, synthesis.

Identify

I ask myself questions like: What will the next game-changing technology be? What do I know, at the highest level about this technology? What domains am I especially weak at? What is sparking my excitement to learn at this precise moment?

Sometimes the answer is obvious. Today, I am rereading Antifragile  by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I was reminded of a letter I wrote to my inner circle on education and I decided to revisit the idea.

When I’ve completed this essay, I will move to a new context and begin some technical pursuit. Lately I’ve been exploring the automation of organic 3D models. This satisfies the engineer in me.

Research

[Warning: Super Unpopular Position)

Research is continual and virtually passive. Normal scholastics would consider the process lazy. Frequently neglect to cite many sources. Simply don’t maintain that sort of trivia. The important learning is a learning of principle not a learning of source.

I derive great enjoyment from the flow of reading and exploration sans maintaining a bibliography.

Planning

Most interesting projects take a proportionate level of planning. Designing  a better calendar takes years of calendar use, sketching, math, analysis, knowledge of various tools and principles of design.

I learned each of these, except math, from my own self-study. The basic math I used to turn 365 days into almost-a-perfect-square is something that could be taught in one day of concentrated study. And that’s the worst case.

All great works require planning to synthesize.

Synthesis

Doing the work. This is where at least half of my learning comes from. I wouldn’t understand square roots as well as I do if I never put 365 days into  square blog. I wouldn’t understand web technologies if I hadn’t built a few apps. I wouldn’t understand design if I had never mocked a product design.

Centrally Planned Education Kills Creativity, Begets “Normal”

The most popular Ted Talk of all time agrees with me here.

The trouble with a homogenous nationwide curriculum is the same with a homogeneous nationwide food system: quality suffers. If most people grew up learning cookie-cutter ideas, most people will have cookie-cutter minds and cookie-cutter aspirations.

“I want to have a house with a big yard. Two kids, a refrigerator, and two cars…”

You’ve all heard that refrain, it’s the “American Dream”. By now, we’re all tired of hearing it. An American dream only comes about through an American Indoctrination, or, an American Dogma. When I was in school we would say the pledge of allegiance to our flag every day. This is a “blue ribbon” public education. Yet, I frequently hear of my classmates OD’ing, dying in preventable accidents, committing acts of violence, or spending their lives on “average” pursuits (An interesting effect of a gaussian distribution: a disproportionate number of outliers in one direction will pull the bell-curve in that direction).

What many don’t realize, is that even as they’ve architected their lives to be “normal” but what is “normal” for them is a Black Swan in the universe. Life will change and one day their ideas will become abnormal.

The self-educated person does not fear abnormality. They have not been conditioned (or were resistant to the conditioning) to see failure as a bad thing. When the self-educated person discovers that they were wrong, they adjust their premise. They do not cling to beliefs that are objectively untrue when faced with incontrovertible evidence. They are free from self-consciousness and free from self-doubt. Failure is a good thing because it equates with additional education. In traditional systems, failure equates with less education: “If you fail, you’ve learned less.”.

When the self-educated person is wrong there is no one to blame but herself. She can never rationalize away her own responsibility. She selected her curriculum, if it turns out to be false, it’s because she did not consider the alternative. She cannot blame society, her teachers, or anyone else for the falseness or her beliefs.

So, not only does the self-educated person gain more from their failures. They also get to take responsibility for them. The most successful people take responsibility as much as they can. The least successful people avoid responsibility as much as possible.

* I challenge you to comment and disagree with any of my assertions. It is one of the ways I learn and if I am found to be wrong I will learn much from the experience.

The five kinds of friends and how they will impact your business.

To change your social habits in 2017, try out the 2017 ONE CAL wall calendar that I made specifically to help with habit tracking in my own life.

These are some of my best friends.

The average angel-backed startup is running on one thing: Trust.

They’re mostly comprised of 20-somethings. They don’t have wives or kids. They have friends. They live with them, they hire them, they eat their breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them. Their co-founders are their oldest friends. They share studio apartments paid for up-front on maxed-out Amex’s. They invest in each other’s companies and they cover each other’s bar tabs.

Now that I work with startups around the clock, I’ve seen how friendships can affect business: How college roommates can become effective leaders in the private sector. How starting up with your family can tank the company in six months. The nature of the relationship makes all the difference.

There are 5 kinds of friends when you’re involved with a startup. They can exist within your organization or come from other places. They can be family members, mentors, or some combination.

They are, in no particular order:

1. Bad Friends
2. Good Friends
3. Best Friends
4. Imaginary Friends
5. Demons

The differences lie in the costs and benefits as well as the corporeal existence of the entity in question.

Bad Friends (Waste time, waste energy)

Bad friends are toxic. They take up time and energy. They have bad habits. They are bad friends to you, and to themselves. They make you feel judged. They are not in alignment with your goals. They have expectations that can’t be managed. If you don’t spend time together, they stop being friends.

You should stop spending time with these people. They consume your time and your energy. There’s a compound effect for every toxic relationship you maintain.

Sometimes, bad friends are extravagant. They convince you to spend precious time and money on toxic behaviors. They want to party. You want to work. They want to eat fancy, you want to eat healthy.

They’re fun, but they’re bad for you.

If you’re wondering if a specific person is a bad friend, they probably are.

Drop these people from the team. Simply stop communicating with them. With they text, ignore them. When they call, ignore them. When they email, ignore them.

Some people will say you’re a being a bad friend. I contend that you’re saving everybody time and energy and being a good friend to yourself.

Good Friends (Spend time, gain energy)

You might spend most of your free time stressing about the things you’re not getting done. Good friends get you to forget about the to-do list for a while. The best entrepreneurs are present in the moment and soak up this time together.

You should get energy and insight from your friends. This is what separates the good friends from the bad. They both take up time. Good friends give you something in return: energy.

Good friends have different goals from you. They are working towards a different end.

Good friends are good people. They feed your soul. They don’t cost you any money. They barely cost you any time. They are supportive, understanding, and considerate. You have to spend time on good friends. You have to keep in touch and hang out together. If you weren’t regularly in contact, you’d drift apart. This is a sad but necessary fact of friendships. Drifting apart doesn’t have to be painful. A good friendship can be rekindled without hard feelings as long the mutual energy transaction is still present.

Best Friends (Save time,  gain energy)

The best friends take up no time at all. Every moment spent with your best friends is a moment spent on the cause. They are working towards the same goal you are. These are the people you found companies with. People who you partner with for 10 years to achieve the moonshot that is your life’s work. They come around once or twice in your lifetime if you’re lucky.

These relationships are not strategically planned. They are serendipitous.

You gain energy from these people. You save time by knowing them. They are the ultimate force-multiplier. They are your secret weapon, your competitive advantage.

Imaginary Friends (Save time, spend energy)

In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill suggests the formation of a personal cabinet. This is a set of imaginary friends that you consult regularly to get advice. These are usually role models and icons that live in your head and help you think from the perspective of a genius you admire. Here are mine:

1. Jesus
2. Gandhi
3. Elon Musk
4. Tim Ferriss
5. Steve Jobs
6. My future self

I go to these people with different issues. Jesus reminds me to love my fellow man. Gandhi reminds me that the truth will set me free and that I have to be the change I want to see in the world. Elon reminds me to focus on big problems. Tim asks me if I’m working on the right things. Steve keeps me focused on quality, because if it isn’t quality it’s shit.

My future self is on the cabinet as a reminder to check in. How am I treating myself 12 months from now? How about 12 years? How am I treating the person I should (ostensibly) care the most about?

Maybe you haven’t put together an imaginary cabinet.

That’s fine, I’m kind of a freak.

But, you certainly have mental schemas and representations about people in your head. One of my portfolio CEO’ssays, “I just ask myself what my mother would think of what I’m doing”.

That’s the same thing. Those mental representations require energy, but they can save you a ton of time by giving you an outside perspective.

Demons (Waste time, lose energy)

Demons are your internal saboteurs. Positive Intelligence lists the ten saboteurs as follows:

  1. The Avoider
  2. The Controller
  3. The Hyper-Achiever
  4. The Hyper-Rationalizer
  5. The Hyper-Vigilant
  6. The Pleaser
  7. The Restless
  8. The Stickler
  9. The Victim
  10. The Judge

These have been described in depth in Positive Intelligence (which, yes, you should read). They all affect us in some capacity at different times.

I’m certainly a victim of my own demons. I tend to judge others harshly. I tend to be restless, bouncing from task to task. I frequently wonder if the task at hand is the most important task I could be doing. A regular mindfulness practice has helped me be aware of and address these tendencies in a constructive way.

Demons waste our time and our energy. Whenever you catch yourself engaging with your demons, you should consult with your cabinet instead.

Understanding your friends, real and imaginary.
The real Tim Ferriss once said that if he could put anything on a billboard, anywhere, he would put it on the campus of the country’s biggest college. It would read: “You are the average of the five people with whom you associate the most.”

This a popular concept and really potent one. It’s critical to professional and personal growth to accept that our social circle is individually formative.

I include our good and bad imaginary friends on this list to emphasize that time spent in reflection is at least as important as the time spent in action.

High performers are good at asking: “What am I spending my time doing?”

The question I’m suggesting we ask is: “Who am I spending my time with?”

Start + Up

(This piece was originally distributed in my email newsletter. Thanks to everyone who contributed feedback.)

My first business venture was a lemonade stand. Cliché I know, but worth exploration because I did things a little differently…

My grandmother cared for me through my elementary school years.  She lived in a tiny apartment with a public swimming pool right across the yard. At the pool was a beautiful woman named Jamie who worked there as a lifeguard. She would babysit me regularly and I referred to her affectionately as “my girlfriend”.

During the summer months, I would impatiently wait for precisely 12:00 PM. Then I’d sprint out my grandmother’s back door, across the green grass to the gate of the pool. Jamie would be there testing chlorine levels and doing whatever lifeguards do to prepare for their day. I would help her in whatever way I could and she would teach me how to swim and hold my breath under water.

I’d stay from noon when the pool opened to 8pm when it closed. This was my summertime routine for years.

At some point, I became aware of lemonade stands as a rite of passage.

My first attempt was a stand right in front of my parent’s house. This was in autumn and the setting was a quiet suburban street. Nobody bought my lemonade.

I was bored and broke. I quickly gave up on selling lemonade after school in front of our old 1950’s-style rancher.

Then summer rolled around and an idea struck me.

I took my family’s lemonade stash to Grandma’s pool, set-up shop by a table with an empty tin to collect cash, and increased my prices from a quarter to a buck fifty. The apartment complex supplied a steady stream of thirsty pool goers and we quickly burnt through the first tub of lemonade.

We increased prices and I convinced Jamie to buy me some Maryland crabs so I could sell steamed them for several dollars a piece.

Of course, all good things come to an end, as my lemonade stand did when the fall came around. That was ok though, because we’d be back next year.

Boy, did that tiny business change my life.

I learned resilience, perseverance, and how to reinvest in a profitable process. I learned how to count change and how to handle customers. I knew how to get a loan (thanks Jamie) and manage inventory.

I learned how to iterate on a model. I learned that timing and location matters. I learned that there is seasonality in every market. I learned that a business doesn’t have to be an app with hockey stick growth. It can be a plastic table and a pool umbrella with some cool beverages and ice borrowed from the community club’s freezer.

It was my first business, but not my last. Since elementary school, I’ve been a freelancer, a CEO at a design firm, and the head of software at one of those hockey-stick startups.

Now I’m in the process of starting again. This time, I’m building the first Zombie Strategy FPS for SteamVR. The VR ecosystem is on the verge of a massive explosion in popularity. I love games and designing for new paradigms. This platform affords a litany of frontiers from interface to engineering. I can’t imagine a more dynamic industry.

If you have an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, please sign up for SURVIVE: VR now to be the first to play it when we launch our beta in the next few weeks.

Expressionism and Jugendstil in Northern Germany [A Week in Bremen]

I stayed in northern Germany, just outside of Bremen city with a friend and his host family for a week. The family was kind enough to show me the most important artistic works in the area.

The movement that most contributed to the culture of this part of Germany is apparently expressionism. Expressionism was inspired by works done by German artists like Heinrich Vogeler and Edvard Munch at the end of the 19th century.

To my untrained eyes, much of the work was similar to impressionism. However, after a bit of study, it became clear that this is far from the case.

Expressionism, is dark and abstract compared to impressionism. Impressionism is what the world looks like when your eyesight starts to go. Expressionism is what the world looks like when your mind and emotions start to go.

Impressionism is positive and French. Expressionism is dark and German.

The works of Vogeler may have inspired the expressionists, or they might have only been a precursor to them.

Let’s look at Heinrich Vogeler and his home in the Worpswede to see how this might have unfolded. Also, you might begin to understand the entanglements that all these European artists had with one another during the time period in question.

Heinrich Vogeler and Barkenhoff

These artists were all friends :D

This bust, found at the Barkenhoff, was sculpted by Clara Westhoff, the wife of famous German poet Rainier Maria Rilke

Heinrich Vogeler is the best known artist from Bremen that I’ve been able to find. His works and ideas seem more realistic and more idealistic than the movement that would emerge after his prime.

Vogeler was born in Bremen in 1872 and studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1890 to 1895. His early work was considered Art Nouveau which I am especially attracted to. There is a fantastical precision in the style that draws the eye and captures the imagination. It requires little effort to appreciate excellent Art Nouveau works like this incredible mural found in Vogeler’s Barkenhoff:

Boy did they love their peacocks...This mural at Barkenhoff is a tremendous example of Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau)

Mural with Sketch in Foreground

What is the Barkenhoff?

The Barkenhoff is Vogeler’s residence at the Worpswede. It was designed by Vogeler. He also designed all of the furniture inside while his brother constructed the pieces. The house is featured prominently in some of Vogeler’s most impressive works. The most famous view of the Barkenhoff can be see here:

barkenhoff

What is the Worpswede?

The Worpswede is an artist colony just outside Bremen City. It’s basically a small town created by and for artists. There are a number of interesting museums and galleries presently in the Worpswede. Two of which I’ve visited and will describe in this post: the Barkenhoff and the Museum at Kaffee Worpswede, which is a terrific café and museum designed by Bernhard Hoetger who I will discuss later.

Vogeler’s Product Design

I was especially struck by Vogelers quaint application of Jugendstil to product design. You can see his imagination at work in these household items he designed for the Barkenhoff:

Vogeler Tea Set Fucking peacocks man... Vogeler Chair Me in the Vogeler Mirror

For additional reading on Heinrich Vogeler, see the following:

ODD MAN OUT: HEINRICH VOGELER AND FIN-DE-SIÈCLE WORPSWEDE, Lionel Grossman, 2016, Princeton University

A Biography of Heinrich Vogeler found in the Barkenhoff Museum:

Bernhard Hoetger, Kaffee Worpswede, and Böttcherstraße

Bernhard Hoetger Portrait

Hoetger is possibly the most interesting artistic figure from Northern Germany. His ideas about civilization were so warped and fantastic that even the Nazis laughed him out of the party. Simply put, he thought the Germans were a super race descended from — wait for it — Atlantis.

I guess his ideas were put to the test in WWII.

Anyway, his architecture was a stunning example of expressionism in three-dimensional space. His sculpture work was artfully done and heavily inspired by classical work from all over the world: Egypt, Greece, and the Orient. You can one of my favorite pieces below:

img_3454

And here you can see the café/museum he architected in the Worpwede:

He pioneered expressionist brickwork and was influenced even by native american culture. You can see evidence in the Café above and also in the Niedersachsenstein pictured below:

niedersachsenstein_worpswede

Hoetger also architected a famous street in Bremen called Böttcherstraße. Böttcherstraße is a small alley with art shops and impressive architecture. It’s most interesting feature is a golden sculpture embedded above the entrance. This piece is called Lichtbringer and is meant to “glorify the fuhrer” and his victory over darkness.

The entrance to Böttcherstraße with Lichtbringer

The entrance to Böttcherstraße with Lichtbringer

Note the intricate brickwork. This is a rare example of expressionist architecture that Hoetger pioneered.

Hoetger was kind of a nut. He believed some insane ideas about Germans being descended from Atlantis. He developed a unified theory that involved German superhumans and a common birth point of all world belief systems. Today, we’d call him a conspiracy theorist. You can see the symbolism of his unified theory below:

Additional Artists

There are some additional interesting artists that I learned about while in Bremen.

Paula Modersohn-Becker is a famous painter from the region. She is known as one of the first female artists to convey the female figure nude. While I did not survey her entire ouvré, I was not particularly attracted to what I saw.

Rainer Maria Rilke is a famous German poet who lived in the Worpswede for sometime. He was friends with Modersohn-Becker and Vogeler. His story is crazy. He traveled all over Europe and was a lover to Lou Andreas Salomé who apparently hooked up with half the Germanic intelligentsia of the time (see Nietzsche and Freud). Rainer was born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef but changed his name to Rainier because Salomé convinced him that it was more masculine.

Eventually he married Clara Westhoff. Westhoff was a tremendous sculptor (see her bronze cast of Heinrich Vogeler above.)

Clara Westhoff was an incredible beauty as well. Although you might not be able to tell by this portrait done by her friend Paula Modersohn-Becker:

A portrait of Clara Rilke-Westhoff by Paula Modersohn-Becker

A portrait of Clara Rilke-Westhoff by Paula Modersohn-Becker

Other Tips for Visiting Bremen

To get around, use a bike. There is a tram system too, but I never really understood it. My host family let me borrow a bike, and that was all I needed. Make sure you use a light when it’s dark.

Wi-Fi

Cafés in Bremen don’t have Wi-Fi. I heard it’s because establishments are responsible for what guests do on their internet network. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes working out of cafés quite inconvenient. The only place with internet was Starbucks, which is fortunately quite centrally located.

Eating

Eat with locals. The older generation eats a huge lunch. They’re quite good at cooking and know where to find local, responsibly sourced ingredients. This was my habit in Bremen.

There is a pretty restaurant downtown called Alex. It’s tempting because of the location, but don’t go there. The food is shit. I got the fish special for lunch my last day in Bremen. It was cold. Just take my word for it.

Instead, go to the nearby Cafe and Bar Celona on the river. It’s a chain but very nice. Get a small plate of Datteln im Speckmantel (literally: Dates in a Bacon Coat). It’s divine.

Partying

Just ask locals about The Bermuda Triangle. It’s a small square with several freaky bars. There is even one dressed to look like a cave. There is also a bar called Heartbreak Hotel where you should go after every other place closes down because that’s where the last desperate singles go to hook up.

At least, that’s what my friends told me. You’d never find me at such a place XD.

There is a nearby movie theater that does sneak peeks every Monday night. It gets quite busy. We went there but the movie wasn’t in English or even German, so we decided not to see it.

Tips for Traveling to Boston

I lived in Boston for three years, and during that time I ate every single cheeseburger the city had to offer. I’m kind of a foodie. People know this about me.

So when a Dutch friend was going to Boston for a visit, they asked me if I would write some tips for them. I was glad to oblige. Here is what I sent to them:

First of all, the best coffee can be found at one of three places:
  1. Nero on Washington. Go here if you want to sit down and work in a comfortable atmosphere.
  2. Gracenote. Zen. Fast. Quality. Get the Nitro Cold Brew in the summer or the Mocha in the winter.
  3. Wired Puppy. Get anything here. Talk to the Baristas. They know the deal. Perfect for taking a break from your Newbury St. shopping spree.
The best cheap Chinese restaurant is called The Gourmet Dumpling House. It’s in Chinatown. There are pictures of Michael Douglas on the wall.
The best food in Chinatown is found at a restaurant called Shojo. They do fusion American-Asian served tapas style. They play hip hop and have graffiti on the walls. Its fucking awesome. The shojonator burger is incredible.
The best burger in the city is at a cocktail bar called Drink in the seaport. Get there between 5-6pm or you’ll have to wait in line or worse: they’ll run out of the incredible Colorado Wagyu they import just for that burger.
The best brunch is at The Paramount on Charles street. Get there around eight in the morning to avoid an hour or longer wait. It’s very reasonably priced and worth the wait.
Another great brunch option is at Back Bay Social Club. I think they have dollar oysters on Sunday.
Also, try the lemon ricotta French toast at Trident Café. It’s to die for. Trident is an awesome café-bookstore. They even serve wine until midnight on the weekends.
The best Irish meal is the full Irish breakfast at Emmets.
If you like shopping: Charles Street, Newbury Street, Boyleston street, and the prudential center are all hot spots and fairly expensive.
If you like Art, the Museum of Fine Arts is reasonably priced and big enough to take a full day or more to see.
Personally I like the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum even more. Its collection is frozen in time, its story is eccentric, and the building is completely out of place: an old
Italian villa in downtown Boston. So dope.
Visit Harvard and MIT if you want. I don’t think they are that interesting. Unless you go to the MIT museum. I recommend the MIT museum while tripping on some hallucinogenic drug.
Just kidding. Don’t do that. You’ll have a bad time.
If you like karaoke: go to Wild Rover on Friday or Saturday ($10 cover). Or go to Osaka in Brookline for hibachi, sushi, and karaoke. What a great combination.
For a cheap day: walk along the esplanade. Its beautiful and you could sit out with a picnic. Not advisable in the winter.
If you’re in Boston in the winter: sucks to be you.