Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Day Without an X

Not Breaking the Chain

Previously, in my blog post Homebrew Daily, I referred to the habit building technique that requires you to keep track of each day that you devote to building the habit.  This can be done by marking an X on the calendar, thereby building a chain of days which you psychologically do not want to break.  It is a great method.

Not stated in that blog post, but something I started on that same day, was learning Norwegian on Duolingo.  According to Duolingo, I'm on a 66 day streak today.  

However, I started this 67 days ago. I missed a day.  

I also missed a day of my Homebrew Daily ritual.  

The Day Without the X

On my last blog post, I wrote about choosing your suffering.  I wrote about how I chose to suffer through a 100 mile bike ride one Saturday.  What I didn't write about, was that on that same day, I couldn't mark an X on the calendar. I missed studying Norwegian. I missed learning anything about homebrewing. 

Somewhere between 20 and 30 miles into the bike ride, my phone died. Even using it in airplane mode, my phone went to the dark side.  Little did I know, it would be for good.  

Upon finishing the bike ride over an hour later than I thought I would (I took a wrong turn at one point that took me 5 miles out of my way), I was not going to make the 6 pm dinner that Erin and I had planned with friends Ed and Mary in Lawrence.  

I was able to shower at the facility where we started the ride, and get on my way.  However, my phone would not charge. Not only could I not contact Erin to let her know I was OK, but I couldn't ask for directions to Ed and Mary's place. Although I had been there twice, and could have probably got myself in the general vicinity, I didn't know exactly where it was. 

Using someone's phone at the first gas station I pulled into in Lawrence, I let them know everything was fine and got directions. 

There was much fun and wine drinking at the dinner party.  Eventually, it was determined that we should stay the night instead of driving back to Topeka.  

Up until that point, I had a plan of working from my iPad or desktop computer as soon as I had arrived back home to complete my daily habit ritual. I began thinking of alternatives. Maybe I could ask to borrow their computer for a little while?  

Or maybe I shouldn't worry about it.  Maybe I've built a great habit, and am going to stick with it, and don't need another X in a calendar day to do that. Maybe I should enjoy the moment that has been dealt to me.  

Perhaps we should allow ourselves a "Weekend Amulet" that can be used to put a temporary freeze on your streak of days.  You remember those days when you did a little extra work building your habit?  Maybe you were earning yourself "lingots" that can be used to purchase "Streak Freeze Amulets" for when they are needed.  

It is important to completely own a great new habit that you have built.  But it is probably just as important for that habit not to own you.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Choose Your Suffering

A pretty view during a recent bike ride around Shawnee Lake

A Subtle Art

In Mark Manson's book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, he presents a counter intuitive approach of looking at life.  For some it may work.  It worked for me last weekend. Here is how it works.

We all suffer on some level. In fact, life can be alternatively viewed as just a long time of unavoidable suffering.  With each decision you make, you choose some level of suffering. 

Earlier last week, I was informed of the Buffalo Bill Century Ride in Leavenworth, KS.  The ride had 25, 60, and 100 mile road options, along with a 50 mile gravel ride. The 60 and 100 mile rides grabbed my interest.  

When the weekend came, I was under no obligation to choose to get up at 5:45am to get ready and travel to Leavenworth to begin riding 60 or 100 miles at 8:00am.  I could have chosen a lesser form of suffering.  Sitting on the couch, reading, studying, or maybe watching some TV could have been my choices.  I only would have suffered my own feeling of guilt for not having taken advantage of such an adventure. 

I chose a higher level of suffering, because that was easier in my mind. I would suffer the open roads of eastern Kansas.  

Along the route, there was a fork in the road. To choose right would mean only 60 miles, and to be done with the ride in a more reasonable time frame. To choose left would mean a commitment to 100 miles, and more suffering.  I chose left.  

The pains that one goes through in a 100 mile ride are really not all that bad when compared to other forms of discomfort. I'll take the swollen underside over a guilty conscience. I will take the sore quads and aching back over the simple discomfort of more decisions that would need to be made in a normal day (like, what beer I should have next? Or, should I leisure read longer or take a break and do some push-ups? Perhaps I should go to the library and rent some movies.) 

For me, framing it in terms of suffering helped me get out there and on my bicycle.  I like to have a full calendar, and to schedule each moment of my day.  This requires a lot of decisions, and as such, a small amount of suffering. I didn't want that suffering.  I wanted the decision free kind of suffering of an increasingly stiffening neck and shoulders as the day wore on.

The next time you need to make a decision on doing something difficult, you might give this method of framing your decision in terms of suffering a try. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pushing a 2 Ton Baby Giant on a Swing

You can't push all at once. Use the momentum of the swing, silly!

Imagine a 2 ton baby giant on a swing, and it is crying at you to push her.  You feel obliged since it could possibly crush you with a swat of her arm.

Although difficult, when your hard pushes are timed just right, the giant will begin to swing higher and higher. However, it takes quite a mighty push, and it takes a mighty push at a specific time during the swing. Specifically, on the apex of its back swing. 

Learning Something New and Very Difficult

When you are first learning something that is really hard to grasp, it will take a lot of your time. In fact, it better take some of your time every day. Otherwise, you will lose what you've gained. 

Say you want to pass a class with an A. That is equivalent to getting the baby giant up to some high level on her swing. Trying to cram everything in the night before the test is like pushing the baby giant to that level with one push.  It isn't going to happen.  

If we think as each swing forward and back as a day, then we can reach that A level with a timely push every day. Skipping a push, and the giant will quickly lose its momentum and it will take an extra day to get back on track.  

A quick review of notes is the equivalent of giving a simple maintenance push, that will keep the giant at her same level. Anything extra, and you can gain a little more toward your goal. 

This idea came to me while listening to a similar analogy in Mind Hacking by Sir John Hargrave on my way back and forth to work. I hope it provides an avenue for you to hack your own mind, and perhaps conquer that difficult challenge that looms in front of you. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


As an avid reader, I often ask myself what is the purpose of reading so much if I'm not going to apply what I read.  For example, the book Give and Take by Adam Grant outlines the benefits of giving to others. Here are a few ways in which you can give:

  • Nominate someone for an award.
  • Download all the birthdays of friends into your phone and set reminders to send physical birthday cards.  
  • When traveling, send postcards to friends and family.
  • Volunteer for duties that need done.  
  • Follow through with friendly inquiries.  
When books are read that are not in a personal improvement category, look for parts that you can write about and share with others. This is how one can "apply" that knowledge. 

Books of fiction are for entertainment. You can "apply" these books by smiling, laughing, or simply being amazed.  Then one can tell of their experience to others. If this application isn't possible, then the book should probably not be finished.  

Application may not be that important to you. There are a few camps of mathematicians: those that enjoy the pureness of mathematics, and those that don't see the point unless it can be applied.  Even the purest of mathematics will have an application someday in the distant future.  It is good to keep that in mind when you're reading, even if you're enjoying it for enjoyment's sake. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Drama is Resistance

Erin and I about to enjoy solar eclipse totality in Highland. We are shooting this picture blind, as many of you know.

The Email

One of the forms of The Resistance, as defined by Steven Pressfield in his amazing book, The War of Art, is drama. Our species is so addicted to it that we can become a prisoner of our own self inflicted version of it.

Let me give you an example. 

A student emails me about what I'm going to do about class for the solar eclipse, which is on the first day of class, a Monday. 

The class to which he is referring is a Tuesday, Thursday class.  I slap my forehead.  Literally. 

Now, prior Jason would have been so beyond disturbed about the stupidity of this. Prior Jason would have written an email that would be littered with hidden sarcasm. He would have spent perhaps 30 minutes to an hour trying to wrap his mind around how someone could bring themselves to make such an error. 

Eventually, any email that was created would be edited down to this: 

Dear Student,
Our class meets on Tuesday and Thursday, so you don't have to worry. 
-Dr. Shaw

That's it.  That's the email.

Yet I would spend more than a half hour of my time stewing about it. I would be angry about the fact that I couldn't, as a professional, send the more snarky email.  Even getting back to work, I may have to take a break and visit a colleague's office just to tell them the story about it (now wasting TWO people's time). 

However, I am not prior Jason. This time around, I literally did slap my forehead. However, I followed that up by closing my eyes, taking a few deep breaths while thinking to myself how much time I could waste with this individual if I let The Resistance take its course.  I pulled the solar glasses over my eyes, so to speak, and shut all of that other stuff out.

After a few deep breaths, the above email is produced and I move on, because I've got stuff to do (don't we all).  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Google ABC's

"Everybody lies." - Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

New Way of Getting Data

Polling people doesn't reveal what's true anymore. We all found that out when Trump became our president. The reason behind this is explained very well in the new book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.  

There are many points made in the book (so far, I'm not yet half way) that are not surprising, but a few that are.  For example, one of the depressing but not surprising realities that surface from Google searches are that

  • "Parents are two and a half times as likely to ask "Is my son gifted?" than "Is my daughter gifted?"" (Reality: Girls are 9 percent more likely to be in gifted programs than boys in school). 
  • "Parents Google "Is my daughter overweight?" roughly twice as frequently as they Google "Is my son overweight?"" (Reality: 28% of girls and 35% of boys are overweight).
  • "Areas that supported Trump in the largest numbers were those that made the most Google searches for "nigger.""

There were a few surprising findings in this enlightening book.  Here is one example.  Select two people at random from any given news site, whether that be Fox News or ThinkProgress.  What would you think the probability would be that the two have different political views?  

My idea of the internet led me to think that it is segregated in the sense that conservatives tend to mainly view conservative sites while liberals view more liberal sites. This led to a guess that would be closer to 0% (a perfectly desegregated site would give close to 50%).  

The result: 45.2%.  


My ABCs of Google Searches

This idea of Google searching providing an avenue of who we really are gave me the idea of finding out who I really was by looking at my Google search history. Simply by typing each letter individually into Google, Google will fill in "suggestions" for you based on what you have searched for in the past.  

Here is a glimpse of my Google ABCs: 

a. amazon music
b. beersmith podcasts
c. cyanide and happiness
d. duolingo norwegian
e. eagle statue washburn campus
f. fractional reserve system
g. great taste of the midwest
h. homebrewing podcasts
i. international monetary fund
j. jse data sets and stories
k. kansas v. board of education
l. loop de loop decorah
m. mirepoix pronounce 
n. nonparametric statistical methods
o. ordering prints online
p. public service announcement vertical videos
q. quantasia sharpton
r. rgb for washburn university
s. sagbraw
t. top paying statistics jobs
u. us news and world report statistician
v. videos not coming up on gopro mtp client disk volume
w. wings of freedom washburn
x. xkcd
y. yo
z. zillow

This speaks very highly about how big of a dork I am.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Homebrew Daily

The beginning of Not Breaking the Chain

As I read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, I eventually found myself wondering where I was giving into the Resistance. It takes his entire Book One (pages 5-57) to define the Resistance. Generally speaking, it is anything and everything that keeps you from harnessing your creative side.

My Creative Side

Along with the occasional blog post (writing), I think my creative expression is most prominent in my home brewing.  I like to make really good beer, and I've always wanted to gain the knowledge it takes to create my own recipes.  It does not take much to create a recipe.  Make sure some malts, hops, yeast, and water are included and you have a recipe. 

That is not what I'm talking about, though. I want to create recipes that make outstanding beer. I want to become a better brewer. 

However, I've been fighting the Resistance without even realizing it. It was telling me things like
  • "There's plenty of craft beers out there to choose from. There really is no need to brew your own beer."
  • "It takes several hours to brew a batch, and you don't have that kind of time."
  • "You're probably never going to make a pilsner-lager, so there is no need to read that email from Brad Smith."
So I made a game plan on how to fight this Resistance. A while ago, I commented on Jonathan Vieker's wonderful blog post, The Secret to Doing Hard Things Daily.  In that comment, I vowed to "use this method of not breaking the chain to achieve the next big goal, whatever that may be."  

The chain to which I was referring is the streak of days in which you have devoted to building the habit or skill you want to build. Once a solid streak is in place, you don't want to break that chain. 

The reason it works is as Jonathan says,
It substitutes a highly specific, immediate goal (avoid the psychological pain of seeing the chain broken) for a vague, long-term goal (develop a new skill or habit). 

How I'm Going to Do It

Obviously, I cannot brew every day.  I do not have the time, money, or the desire to do such a thing. The good thing is, that you don't have to brew every day to get better at brewing.  There is plenty of literature out there about brewing, and there is always something that needs cleaned, measured, or manipulated in the brewing process.  

My plan is to devote some block of time to the following every day.
  • Brewing better beer
  • Pre- and post-brewing related activities (yeast starters, dry hopping, racking, cleaning, etc.)
  • Learning about brewing (reading literature or newsletters, listening to podcasts, attending conferences, etc.)
  • Writing about brewing
Last night, I began reading the book For the Love of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus. Today, I have a keg and tap to clean since I just cashed my Mosaic IPA.  There are home brewing podcasts that I can download for when I'm traveling or walking back and forth to work. I have 54 emails in a folder labeled "Home Brewing" from Brad Smith (his Beer Smith Home Brewing Newsletter).  

In other words, there are things I can choose to do that will take 5 minutes, and some that will take 5 hours.  Whatever I choose, I'm not going to break the chain.