“If you ain’t first” – A survey in Natural Language

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Photo by Kolleen Gladden on Unsplash

Story

A few years ago, I surveyed 60 of my colleagues with a set of questions:

“What is the most important number? And why? All answers are acceptable.”

This question simplifies an important aspect of human culture: value. What we find most important shows what we value. I received 67 numbers with corresponding justification. I consolidated the results, which you can see here. What would you answer?

 

Findings

Number Frequency at 67

Number Frequency Raw

The top numbers chosen were #1 and #10. This makes sense because of how our number system has been set up (base 10).

 

Twist

However, I cared less about the numbers. I cared more about how people projected importance onto numbers using their words.

The top words appearing in peoples’ answers: Word Frequency (two or more occurrences)

Here are some simple quirks and explanations from the data.

  • “Most” appears more frequently than “More” and “Many”
  • “All” appears more than “Some”
  • “Always” appears more than “Sometimes”

To match the absoluteness of my question, the answerer had to provide an absolute judgment. Technically, one could say that a number is more of something than the rest. But we don’t see “Than” frequently used.

  • “My” appears more than “We”

This shows how we ultimately judge value through the lens of the self rather than the group. We may rely on group mentality to save time and assimilate, but it’s good that I have the final say.

  • “It” and “Is” and “It’s” appear more than “They” and “Are”
  • “Number” appears more than “Numbers”

This shows that people did a good job of providing one answer rather than many. But sometimes it’s hard to choose a favorite.

  • “And” appears more than “Or”

This could show how people are more decisive about multiple answers to a question. Or, this could show how people are more indecisive about the uniqueness of their answers. The frequency of “Also” could also bring light to this.

  • “Important” appears only one time more than “Favorite”

People hear “important” but think “favorite.” Maybe what we like is most important to us.

  • “First” appears more than “Last”

Often, what’s “last” is not the most important. Sometimes though, it is the most important. But often it’s much easier to define what comes “first” rather than “last” or the rest. So what’s first stands out. We can all agree that both “first” and “last” are more important than “second” because Ricky Bobby said so.

Oddly, the following appear more than once:

  • “Orgasm”
  • “Lebron James”

 

Conclusions

I don’t have any clear conclusions. This sample was not randomly selected and rigorously conducted. But it’s interesting to think about the results.

If I asked a machine, what would it answer? Natural language processing by machines can interpret the word frequencies and sentence structure using data and algorithms to learn patterns. It could easily tell us the number that is associated with success.

But what is the most important number? Maybe it’s the number that appears most often in quarterly earnings’ calls of companies about to grow.

Or maybe it’s the first number that babies say.

I guess we would still have to decide what values are most important first. Or last.

Praying intentionally as a way to gain patience, oneness, and optimism

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Photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash

In April 2018, I began to pray. I had never really tried that hard to pray before. I had learned to pray before meals and pray before bed. Both of which are important. But the words I was reciting felt empty and meaningless. Inspired by Pastor David Platt and my renewed interest in spirituality, I began praying more intentionally. I tried a different approach.

I started to speak from my heart with meaning. I did not ask for things I want, rather I asked for guidance. And before asking for anything, I submitted myself to gratitude. I said, “Thank you, God. I am so grateful for the blessings you’ve given me. I don’t deserve any of this, and yet you’ve chosen me.” When I pray, I hear an echo in reply. I don’t know from where the echo responds. But the voice guides me when I submit my weakness and ask for help. It gives me answers and hard truths.

God is many things to many people. I changed from asking for things I don’t have, to thankfulness for what I already have. This is because I realized who I was talking to: God. Jordan Peterson put it best in his conversation with Sam Harris. I understand the gravity and magnificence of God in these terms:

God is how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence of an action of consciousness across time; as the most real aspects of existence manifest themselves across the longest of time-frames but are not necessarily apprehensible as objects in the here and now…

So God is that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth. That’s a fundamental element of the hero mythology.

God is the highest value in the hierarchy of values; that’s another way of looking at it.

God is what calls and what responds in the eternal call to adventure.

God is the voice of conscience.

God is the source of judgment, mercy, and guilt.

God is the future to which we make sacrifices and something akin to the transcendental repository of reputation.

Here’s a cool one if you’re an evolutionary biologist. God is that which selects among men in the eternal hierarchy of men.

-Jordan Peterson, https://youtu.be/jey_CzIOfYE

Since I’m still early on in my spiritual journey, I am interested in my own relationship with God through prayer. I’m not interested in telling everyone else what to do. In my personal experience, my prayer resulted in newfound patience, self-integration, and optimism.

I became more patient because I stopped asking for things that I wasn’t getting. Instead, I asked for guidance and strength in the face of difficulty. And even then, I knew that the world could crash down on my family and me in an instant. Through it all, I would get what I need, not what I want. This meant that I learned patience. Usually, I demanded results and progress. But I soon discovered that I often don’t know what’s best for me. And I receive what’s best slowly.

I became more self-integrated. As I spoke from my heart, I said whatever came naturally. That is genuinely what we care about – not what we want ourselves to care about. I began to notice the things that bubble up to my thoughts, but I don’t flesh out. Maybe because I’m embarrassed about them. Instead, I give them to God through prayer. And when I put them into words, God accepts them and replies with an answer. In this way, I accept myself as speaking these words, because God accepts me. I could say what I think is the worst thing, but if God responds and accepts me regardless, then I can own this part of me without ignoring or suppressing it. In this way, I can integrate the not-so-good parts of me and control them, instead of suppressing them and risking that they overcome me.

Lastly, I have a newfound optimism. So far, I’ve shared the deepest thoughts of my heart to God, and he still calls me forward. In this way, I know that there’s nothing that I can do that will separate us. Of course, I’ll make mistakes as I search for the best path toward the good life. Calamity will happen and test or break my will. But I can rest assured that I will not be alone through the adventure.

I should pray about the things that I don’t understand because I need help in those areas. If I pray the same way every time, and I ask questions that I know the answer to, I don’t gain anything. By digging deep and intentionally building a relationship to God through prayer, I have more patience, self-integration, and optimism.

Aphorisms from Bali – Part 1

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My wife Sahyli and I honeymooned in Bali for 3 weeks this summer after our wedding. We had an incredible experience. We learned a lot about the world. We learned how to fill the hours in each day with life. We learned how to travel together.

Here are some more knowledge bits from the road:

Look straight ahead, because you’re responsible for what’s ahead of you.

Indonesian driving laws give responsibility to drivers for anything that’s ahead of them. If you’re driving and someone else turns out ahead of you and you two crash, you’re at fault. When surfing, you must look straight ahead, or else you’ll lose your balance.

200 meters or 500 meters, no problem, same thing.

Numbers are often estimations. We received walking maps without distances. 10 minutes until a right turn, 20 more minutes until the waterfall… it’s all the same. You’ll get there.

Honk to show your position.

Honking while driving is not rude. It’s useful to alert others of your position. If you don’t honk, you practically don’t exist. This is crazy to American drivers.

Everyone is brother or sir.

The beach is chill, brothah. And anyone can be sir when there’s a chance for business. Vendors and taxis love to flatter foreigners for a sale.

Hustle to get bargains. Check multiple shops.

If you see it and you want to buy it, you can probably find another one down the street. Or next door. Vendors in a certain area sell similar stuff.

Haggle like you can walk away.

Assume the price they offer is at least 3 times what they’ll sell it for, and 5 times what they bought it for. Offer a low price with respect and kindness. Walk away and then you’ll get that price.

Go where the crowds aren’t.

Bali has gone through the Instagram reactor. More tourists are showing up to the popular photo opportunities throughout the islands. Ask the locals for the little-known spots. Instead of driving, try walking from A to B to see a whole lotta C.

Start early.

Crowds gather at destination locations starting at 9:00 am. Book a driver the day before. Get up at 5:00 am and get out by 6:00 am. You get hours of secluded enjoyment by sacrificing a bit of comfort.

Sleep early.

See every sunset you can see. But then after that, get sleep. Maybe a hot stone massage in your room before bed. You’ll value the serenity of the morning light over the mountains more than the bumping and grinding of clubs that you can find anywhere. However, ignore this if you go night diving or sunrise hiking because that stuff is cool.

Befriend your drivers, masseuses, etc.

People are amazing. We met the nicest people by talking and asking about their lives. Local people are much more interesting than tourists.

Say hello.

Do it, even if you’re not buying what they’re selling. Especially the kids. Everyone is so nice and it lifts your spirits. People just want to have a good time.

When in doubt, just ask!

You could find your way, but what better excuse to ask the local people? They know the best ways. Often, those best ways are not coded into Google Maps or Apple Maps just yet. Watch, learn, and ask, and you’ll find some hidden treasures. Hidden beaches, waterfalls, or cuisine.

Get massages. Full body, feet, and reflexology.

If it hurts, it’s working. So worth it.

It’s impossible to clean sand.

Enough said. Separate the sandy clothes from the rest and pray.

Cockroaches aren’t actually deterred by light.

They’ll come out whenever they want. But sleep with the lights on anyway if it makes you feel better. The more you know.

Refill your thermo water bottles.

The tap water is not safe to drink. So, you’ll buy a lot of plastic water bottles. Use every opportunity to refill thermo water bottles with clean water whenever possible. Look out for the environment one sip at a time. Plus, thermo keeps water cooler than plastic.

For every song that exists, there’s a chill, acoustic version that is played in Bali.

The modern island soundtrack includes every song that exists. I mean EVERY song.

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Part 2 coming soon. Terima Kasih!

Stop Browsing Mindless Memes.

In March of 2018, I stopped browsing mindless memes. I realized I wasn’t gaining value by scrolling. So, I stopped. As a result, I spent my time better, and I became more optimistic.

Browsing memes was fun. Memes can reveal hidden parts of culture. They provide fresh points of view on deep issues. They are relatable and viral. Reddit has been the cutting edge platform for meme creation. Usually, the comments in Reddit threads are engaging and strive to push the conversation forward.

Dank memes are something else. Dank memes are often self-referential and pointless, replaying inside jokes for cheap laughs. Others are so ridiculous that they don’t make sense. Dank memes are hilarious, but browsing is a downward spiral.

When I opened the Reddit mobile app, I would lose myself for a while. I stayed awake staring into the bright blue glow scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. My back got sore from slouching over the toilet. Creative users uploaded their new dank memes 24/7. It was addicting.

I don’t remember what made me decide to stop. Maybe it was the final tug of disappointment from waking up tired, again, after staying up too late. Maybe I was becoming cynical. Maybe I heard myself saying the stupidity I was reading.

Operationally, I moved the position of the Reddit app on my phone. I replaced it with the Pocket articles app. Now when I felt like browsing memes, I’d wake up as I opened Pocket instead.

For a week or two, it kinda sucked. But the world didn’t crash down on me. I didn’t need it. Eventually, I uninstalled Reddit altogether.


Today, I use Reddit like I use Facebook: I don’t scroll. If I do scroll, it doesn’t last long, and it’s not too pleasant. Partly this is because I’m not the type of person who scrolls aimlessly anymore. But it’s also because I uninstalled the fancy native mobile apps (the thing you download from the app store). So, I can only access Reddit and Facebook using a mobile internet browser. Both Reddit and Facebook do not optimize their mobile sites on a mobile Internet browser. This makes the user experience on the browser unpleasant. Fortunately, I use that unpleasantness to limit usage.

Maybe there’s an idea for an add-on to apps. Suppose something saps our attention without giving us value. Don’t directly limit the time spent on the app, because this takes a lot of willpower. Instead, reduce the user-friendliness of the app. The add-on would make browsing slower and awkward. Instead, limit the quality and we are less likely to binge. Use that to your advantage!

Hanging onto my attention gave me back my mindfulness. I followed this thread into my next improvement the following month.

How to Stand Out: “Create Measurable, Marketable Examples of Your Performance, Experience, and Skills”

Throwback to this blog post: https://www.hamilton.edu/news/story/grant-meglis-booz-allen-hamilton-implementation-services-consultant

Growing Your Crop

You wake up. 5:30am. Snowflakes tumble softly through the dark outside. That feeling of anxiety arises: will there be a snow day? How will I know? When should I set my alarm?

We identify and then overlook simple problems constantly, every day. Small problems, like restarting the computer, require similar problem-solving skills to large problems, like codifying machine ethics. A strange dichotomy of productivity emerges, in which the performer is judged by the performance, not the effort.

At Hamilton, you cultivate mind, body, and spirit with great effort. You may be able to talk the talk, but to build your career you must show your crop. I will offer you a few ideas of crops that you can sell in the market. This means that when you are looking for jobs, you need to create measurable, marketable examples of your performance, experience, and skills.

 

Simple Business Similarities

  • Here are examples of conceptually simple things that businesspeople do all the time:
  • We apply our team’s capabilities to client requests, like using one law to prove another.
  • We gather requirements from clients, like clarifying a homework problem with the professor.
  • We design process workflows, like designing a new “button” onto the Google search page.
  • We research best practices, like reading Wolfram Alpha or Wikipedia.
  • We structure information in databases, like building the Statistics test questions.
  • We develop systems through programming computer code, like structuring matrices into operations to produce desired outputs.
  • We test to ensure quality software, like the old “plug and chug” algebra method.
  • We train clients to use our applications, like showing classmates the (process of finding the) answer.

 

The Business Case: Showing Your Crop

I work at Booz Allen Hamilton, supporting the implementation of Capital Planning software for Federal agencies. My job duties vary from training clients and building custom Excel reports to testing application developments and analyzing defects. Thus, the following examples revolve around software development and technology consulting.

Here are some ideas that allow you to show off critical skills and produce the measurable results that businesspeople value. For any or all of the following 11 steps, build things that you can take into an interview and show off, such as documentation, prototypes, or interpretive dance routines.

  1. Plan: Think of a problem you have or a way to improve something. Better yet, ask someone else. This problem does not need to be a new problem. Write down a paragraph or create a PowerPoint deck describing the issue or the enhancement: “Students and professors don’t know if class will be cancelled due to snow the next day. Early in the morning, countless people interrupt sleep cycles unnecessarily or lie awake, disappointed. We can do better.”
  2. Analyze: Imagine if you had $1,000 and two weeks to build a solution. Imagine if you had $250,000 and six months to build a solution. Document similarities and differences between reaching out to your roommate vs. reaching out to the local mayor’s office.
  3. Gather Requirements: Talk to a friend or professor for 15 minutes about what they would need if they were paying you to solve the problem. Document the conversation(s). Generate a list of requirements of the form “As a [user], I want [function], so that I can [goal]:” “As a Hamilton student, I want my alarm to know when to wake me up even on snow days, so that I can party the night before.”
  4. Research: Find a solution. Anything that might work. It does not need to be your own idea – solutions rarely are. Write it down in detail. “I want to build an alarm that directly connects to the Hamilton snow day notification system. If class is on, alarm on. No class, no alarm…”
  5. Design: Create a way of presenting your solution to others. Draw a picture of your alarm clock. Show different pages and screens a user can click on.
  6. Develop: Build or imaging building a basic prototype. How did you build it or how would you build it? Use screenshots and show step-by-step the process.
  7. Track Data: Build a database of important things you would need to track in your solution. Imagine how to organize tables of users, times of day, or alarm sound preferences. Or, determine where to put a “flag” that is set to 0 as a default and then set to 1 when there’s a snow day.
  8. Integrate: Tie your solution to other tools and systems. For example, how would your alarm communicate with the Hamilton snow day notification system? What information would transfer in between the services, how often, and in what form? Imagine and document.
  9. Test: Create test cases that list, step-by-step, reproducible instructions on how to verify that your solution is working as expected. Imagine ways your solution could break and ways of addressing those issues. For example, how could the alarm business logic misinterpret a 1-hour vs. 2-hour delay?
  10. Market: Show off your solution. Magnify the problem or solution by running around throwing snowballs at people at 5:30am to wake them up. Document the results.
  11. Support: Build a training document that demonstrates how your solution works to clients paying for it, team members wanting to help, or a random stranger sitting on the Sadove sunporch.

By using any or all 11 of these ideas, you can structure your vast knowledge, experience, and skills into a crop that you can sell by pointing at it. Just like a normal day pales in comparison to the fresh, exhilarating giddiness of a snow day, you want to walk into interviews and rip open the curtains, as the interviewee’s eyes lift wide to gaze upon the mountains of fluffy snow… metaphorically of course.

Intermittent Fasting and One Big Lesson

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Photo by Lachlan Gowen on Unsplash

In the second month of 2018, I spent a month practicing intermittent fasting (IF) during weekdays. I fasted through breakfast. I only drank water and coffee (black) until about 12 pm for lunch.

There’s a lot of research and commentary on IF. Some say it has benefits to mind, body, and spirit. For example, apparently, the most effective cell reproduction takes place after 12 to 16 hours without food. Others are skeptical. I decided to try it for one month.

At first, it was hard to say “no” to my aching stomach. But with disciplined practice, I separated myself from my hunger. I still felt the aches of hunger. But I simply ignored it as best I could. I focused on higher objectives: fasting till 12 pm. Athletes feel pain as we do when training, but they can look past it.

As a result, I lost 6 pounds in a month. I gained energy while eating fewer calories. I ate fewer calories in two large meals than if I had eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My mood, which usually wavered throughout the day, stayed consistently calm while I was fasting.

The process of living through IF further reinforced in me that I could tweak my habits to improve my well-being.

I learned many things in that month. I internalized one.

1. Place trust in an external structure to guide you forward into the unknown to become better.

If we listened to our bodies, we would eat whenever we are hungry. Listening to this hunger was good when we were pre-agricultural animals who relied on bodily drives to motivate us to hunt, eat, and survive.

Now that many humans have an abundance of food, those of us who do must surpass our hunger habits to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Fasting as a structure of being is outside of ourselves because it goes against our bodily hunger. Similarly, saying “no” to dessert as a structure of being also goes beyond ourselves.

We can choose to trust in intermittent fasting. We should trust in such an external structure of being because we believe that we will benefit more by adhering to it rather than to the structure of being that is driven by our own desires. Specifically, if we fast, then we believe we can achieve something: weight loss, energy increase, mood stabilization. Anecdotally, I achieved these things. Maybe not everyone can; maybe I wouldn’t again. But believing in this external structure of intermittent fasting was good to me and seems good for many others.

That Awkward Elephant in the Room

Flight of Man – Jackson Pollock – from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Serious post covering some sensitive topics here.

I needed to reset. Pornography had slowly taken control of my life. In January 2018, I finally decided to fight back.

Initially, my relationship with pornography was exciting. It energized me to get up in the morning. It empowered me to tap into deep desires. It distracted me from pain and worry. It relieved my stress. And it taught me things about myself and the world.

As I grew up, my old habits stayed the same. My relationship with porn habituated. We kept secrets to ourselves. I longed for it whenever I had a few minutes. Fantasies of blue-lit screens stung me and swarmed my attention. I planned my days around when we could spend time together.

But it was hindering me from the rest of my life. I often regretted surrendering control so willingly. I was fiending for a release instead of tapping into my desires. I was prioritizing porn over loved ones and ambitions. The spark of excitement had gone out.

The World is our Audience

When I would decide to watch porn, there was usually one point of “no return,” during which I decided to go all-in. At that point, I would ask myself:

"Do I want to be the person who did what I'm about to do?"

I thought that I only answered for myself. So, each time I answered, “sure, it’s fine.” If I chose it and approved of it, then my actions were good. I wasn’t hurting anyone. No one else was watching.

But my friends, the world is our audience. The habits, thoughts, and desires that we cultivate in private are those that emerge in public. Our private and public lives take place in the same story. No one else might know what I did in private, but they would soon interact with the person who did. They did not participate in the act, but they would see the direct effects on my mind, body, and soul.

If I crave lustfully in private, I am likely to crave lustfully in public. This is not the person I wanted to be.

I had two options: Whine about the world and pity myself as a victim. Or, change my behavior.

"You reap what you sow."
-Galatians (paraphrased)

Deciding to Stop

I decided to stop watching porn for six months. Six months turned into 14 months, to this day. The fight is not over, and I must stay vigilant. But I have regained control of my addiction.

I also did not masturbate for those 6 months. From January until July 2018, I reset my brain. I ripped apart its reliance on these habits so I could rebuild from the ground up.

For month five of six, my girlfriend (now fiancee) and I abstained from all sexual activity to reconnect with our faith. Even though I was with a partner when I decided to stop watching porn, “porn-induced masturbation” and “sex with a partner” are in different categories to me. The desire for porn is a unique and powerful category of addiction with many dangerous side effects.

My friends, removing pornography from my life was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

Results

I accomplished my goal and more. I am no longer a person who watches porn. And I was able to reestablish a healthy relationship with masturbation that does not rely on porn.

This was one of the hardest things that I’ve done. I faced severe cravings and flashbacks, especially in the first month. I doubted and second-guessed and lied to myself and struggled with moving forward. But after that first intense month, things started to balance out. The intensity of cravings and the frequency of flashbacks steadily decreased.

After six months, my body and mind stopped relying on pornography as a release. I completely transformed. Chemical imbalances evened out. I increased testosterone, energy, ambition, focus, sex drive, and stamina. God opened up to me spiritually, and my heart was ready to listen.

That inner voice now speaks clearly: “Do I want to be the person who did what I’m about to do?” I now answer, “No.”

I think porn is dangerous and addicting. Some people can handle it. But for many people who struggle with addiction, the first step is admitting that it’s a problem.

Need help? Send me a note and we can chat about my experience.

"You should be able to do things that you wouldn't do."
-Jordan Peterson

Have you ever seen the same car twice?

 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-14,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Northern Virginia, 2018

Have you ever seen the same car twice? How did you know? It’s likely you remembered the license plate.

License plates have great marketing potential. It’s only around $30 a month to maintain a custom 6-8 digit message on a license plate.

You can bring awareness to your personal or business brand at a low cost.

Which would I pick?

BEAWOLF
B3AW0LF
B3AW07F
133AW07F

I’ll think of something.

License plates are awesome.

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May 20, 2017 — Cruising to the (west) coast

I really like license plates. They give cars a fun extra bit of uniqueness.

I often imagine what states people come from, why they’re here, and where they’re going. Especially if they seem out of place.

How is a Hawaii plate in the continental US? Or a European plate? Some questions don’t have answers.

But this one does. Did you know: I recently discovered that rental car agencies will often have cars with out-of-state license plates. Agencies re-allocate their supply due to shifting demand for certain car models in certain areas and times of the year. This explains why I get the impression of more out-of-state drivers driving to and from the airport…

Gratitude to the heroes

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“Grandpa’s 104th”

Heroes deserve encouragement and love before, during, and after their journeys. Veterans are examples of such heroes. They often leave the safety of home to seek out the unknown and bring order to chaos.

When we spend most of our lives stationary and digitized, we often forget how fast life moves around us. How quickly a fire can spread or an ambush can explode.

Check in on someone who may need you today.

Thank you to veterans everywhere.