Cleaning Up, Clearing Out

Podcasts are becoming increasingly validated as a medium. They were before, in smaller circles, but the broad success of podcasts like Serial have pushed the medium to new listeners, new listener numbers, and therefore new boundaries. High-profile individuals have started reaching out to appear on podcasts. Phil Schiller of Apple went on The Talk Show with John Gruber where he knew he could be asked some tough questions, but wanted to show that he was one of us. Even the POTUS (or his team) thinks that being on a podcast is worthwhile.

When I first started getting into podcasts, I listened to topics I enjoyed; but the playlist was heavily dominated with tech podcasts. I had somewhere between 10-15 of them [footnote]I wish I was joking[/footnote] a week that I would listen to. I would use Overcast and use its Smart Speed® functionality in addition to playing them at 1.5x-2x the normal speed to increase my intake [footnote]playing catch-up, really[/footnote]; but after a while, they became dull and boring. They didn't move and excite my brain like they used to.

I started discussing with several of my friends, and we all seem to agree: the tech podcast space has become repetitive, too filled with the same things being regurgitated across multiple places. What's being said on one podcast is being said on another; often times, there would be a discussion by the same person on different podcasts. This isn't to say that they aren't good: there are a lot of amazing technology focused podcasts out there. For myself and others, it was simply becoming overwhelming to keep up on a regular basis, and too repetitive show-to-show.

Out of those discussions, I started to develop some questions to gauge how I to listen to podcasts:

  1. Am I learning anything new?
  2. Do I always enjoy listening to the topics, hosts, and guests?
  3. Do I enjoy listening at 1x? Or, maybe better said: Do I feel like I need to speed up the podcast?
  4. How do I feel when I am done listening to the podcast? Happy? Sad? Meh?

If the podcast doesn't give me the positive answers to those questions, it gets deleted. This may seem harsh, but it really makes a difference in de-cluttering my headspace. If I feel “meh” after a podcast, it likely isn't worth listening to. I would be better off playing music or checking out something new.

What I really want from podcasts – and tech podcasts in particular – is a fresh take on topics, saying things others aren't and looking for new angles; I also want interesting ideas and subjects to keep me engaged. I still listen to a few tech podcasts, but only subscribe to a couple; the rest are selected based on guests and/or topics.

I've had a lot of recommendations in the past few months that have been providing me with just the thing I want to hear, even if I didn't know I wanted to hear it. Here are some of the podcasts I've been enjoying as of late:

  • 99% Invisible by Roman Mars is a great show about the history of design, and all the little things you tend to miss or overlook.

  • You cannot go wrong with the absolutely terrifying Lore by Aaron Mahnke. The episode entitled “The Castle” was horrifying, sick, and extremely twisted, but a great episode that was very well produced. [footnote]Lore is one of the few podcasts for which I have a notification set – it's great.[/footnote]

  • Front to Back is about 3 dads raising their daughters, but having a daughter of your own is hardly a prerequisite. They have many great insights to parenting that I have found useful.

  • Criminal contains fascinating stories of people that are or have been viewed as criminals; some of them have been unbelievable and heart-wrenching. The exit guide episode is a good place to start.

  • The Mystery Show is a wonderful podcast about mysteries that can't be solved by looking online. Beat reporter-style investigation and interviews tackling small mysteries. The Belt Buckle was quite possibly the single greatest podcast episode I've ever heard.

  • Undisclosed is a follow-on to (but not associated with) Serial, which highlights more and more errors in the case. If you were a fan of Serial, this is a must-listen podcast.[footnote]Fair warning – I get upset every week at this case. It's a disaster that I cannot believe was this poorly handled – the prosecution handle this whole trial wrong, and the initial defense was ineffective. I'm hoping there is a new trial opened.[/footnote]

I'm always in search of other quality podcasts: if you have some other suggestions, let me know what you think I should be listening to. I will give them a chance, but I will be applying the rules to those as well — so make them good!

Cleaning up and clearing out my podcast playlist has lead me to a more fulfilling experience; I highly suggest you take a look at doing the same. It's time to give your podcast listening a more personal human touch.

Human Reach

Image Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI

This week, we have hit the mark on the nine-year journey to research and photograph the last main celestial body in our solar system, Pluto.[1] We have discovered particles that have only existed in theory. We are extending our human reach from the infinitesimal to the extent of our multiverse as a species, even if we don’t know yet where we are heading or for what we are searching. We truly live in wonderful times.

And yet, with all of our advancements, we on Earth often times are still horrible as a species; we are flawed beings that are capable of doing many great, wonderful, terrible things. Over the course of the last six years alone, there have been countless stories around the world of brutal violence, hate crimes, and heinous acts. Racial divides, human inequality, religious ideals, and the need to survive push people to their worst. And although we have made some advancements in recent months to right those wrongs, we still have a long way to go.

Being our best and worst was really well encapsulated within Interstellar, which I happened to watch this week. The basic premise of the movie: the planet is dying, we are dying due to lack of food and climate changes, and there is a fight for our survival. In an effort to save the human race, a team is sent on a long journey to go find another home; the initial team was selected to represent us on this journey.[2] Not much is heard from the team, and a second team is sent in the same direction. In one of the many of the many climactic scenes of the movie, there is a conflict where one astronaut attacks another in an effort to save himself. Even in the vastness of space with the fate of the human race on the line, we were shown to be horrible to each other; we would choose ourselves and our own ideals rather than working together to survive.

Humans been this way for a long time. We’ve had thousands of years of hate, bigotry, and inequality. We kill in the name of our deities or ideals. We persecute those that are not the same as us with hatred and without due process. We hold back people from having basic human rights and needs because we fail to empathize with them. We make strides to overcome the wrongs in our past, but then in mere moments it can be taken away with cowardly acts of a select few. People dissent or raise up symbols of injustice against ideals that differ from our own because of what they personally think is right, and not what is right for the sake of all humanity. Being different makes us human: but living despite those differences makes us humane.

In Interstellar, there was discussion of a “more evolved being” that lived in the fifth dimension that is trying to help us. It was later revealed that the beings were our decedents reaching backward to help us find the right path.[3] We are all looking for something more than ourselves, whether that be a higher power or something greater than ourselves, even if we don’t know it; it is part of our human nature. Often times we just want to communicate with others and feel like we belong in this world. We seek out others to journey with us, to help us along our way, to stand with us as one people.

Whilst we are looking ever towards the heavens for the answers of our universe, my mind can’t help but wonder and hope that maybe some day we can look back at our past atrocities here on Earth, evolve, and help each other become better humans.

  1. It will always be a planet to me.  ↩
  2. There is a common theme in the space exploration genre that sends the “best of us” as representation.  ↩
  3. I know future me would love to go back and smack past or current me for some of the mistakes I’ve made.  ↩

Not Yet Fully Set

My friend Seth Clifford has written an articulate piece on how we become defined over time as humans.

We all have our own issues that we are facing that cause massive amounts of stress. Not all of us share them publicly. Some of us choose to eschew the issues instead of facing them.[1] Anticipating issues, enduring the stress, and returning to a state of stability make us who we are. The analogy Seth used in his post is perfect:

It’s like breaking a bone: it’ll set, it’ll heal, and you’ll go back to the way things were, but it won’t ever be exactly the same. … but there are small variations and flaws that weren’t there before.

The notion that we as human beings are flawed & broken is something that we as a society struggle with often. Both conventional and social media can paint pictures of the perfect life, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth: life can be rough and smooth, amazing and cruel, and/or any other set of dichotomies that come to mind. What causes you to struggle may cause others to thrive. Perseverance in the face of adversity can define you just as much as a life full of stress fractures. Once we have been broken, we work on healing; but – for better or worse – we aren’t the same.

I personally have at least some level of stress on a daily basis in my life. I constantly have people and projects to juggle, at both work and home. At times, I feel very broken, ill-equipped to handle the stress; I just want it to go away. I feel like I am a huge letdown to those around me, and feel like giving up. But I’m an adult[2], and I don’t have an option to give up. I have to remain confident and steadfast in the wake of the emotional collapse that stares me in the face. An important point:

At times like this, I try to remember that all those bones I’ve broken have made me the person I am today, and I’m (mostly) pretty satisfied with how I’ve “set”.

We must endure getting “broken bones” from time-to-time along the journey and hope that in the end, we’ll end up ok. We will heal, and that we can endure the next challenge. Perhaps now that we’ve broken a bone once, we know how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.[3] We might not be able to protect ourselves from other breaks, but we will be better equipped to handle the recognizable stresses in our lives.

I’m really thankful that Seth shared what he did; I’ve been thinking about the same thing for a bit now myself, but hadn’t yet shared how I felt. Sharing anything personal can be unnerving, but can also be immensely helpful to others; judging from the responses to his post, he’s not alone, which means neither am I. Having these conversations allows us all to grow, help ourselves, and help others.

Personally, I am slowly getting more self-aware, happier with where I’m headed and can look back at what I’ve endured with both humility and pride. I’m not yet fully set, but I can see the cast coming off soon; I look forward to when I can start down the path of rehabilitation towards the goal of healing. This is all just part of my journey in becoming more human.

  1. An important aside: you will occasionally find yourself needing some outside help. Talking about your stresses is a wonderful thing, whether it be with a close individual in your life or a professional. We aren’t in this life alone, and you shouldn’t endure it without having a support structure. There is zero shame in needing support to heal. If you feel like you cannot handle the stress, I urge you to reach out to someone you trust and get the appropriate help you need.  ↩
  2. really a big kid  ↩
  3. at least not the same way  ↩

Lesson Learned

Earlier this year, I set out with a goal in mind to have a new domain to call my own. And last weekend, I did just that, and updated my blog. I had wanted to try a few things, so I started looking around and asking others questions about how to do things.

That’s when I realized that I spent last weekend wasting my time and this wasn’t going to work the way I wanted it to. Lesson learned. Time for plan B.

The previous version of this site was on And while it’s good for most people, I really wanted to tweak a few key things to have it fit the personality of my writing. I wanted the formatting of the site to come from my voice, as if you could hear me writing it.

In my daily conversations, I have small asides that are relevant[1] and add to the conversation. They don’t take away from the conversation when talking[2], but that is hard to convey in written form. Using footnotes is a great way of doing them, but for how I speak, they generally aren’t good for my own use.

Enter Bigfoot. No, not the mysterious creature pictured in hundreds of blurry images around the world[3], but the popular footnote format used most famously in Instapaper.

This is exactly what I wanted to use to convey how I speak. And that is simply not available on; I checked with a Happiness Engineer (seriously, this is what they are called) and he confirmed that was indeed the case. So it looked like I was giving up on that convention on my site.

I’ve been told a number of times that if I’m going to write, I need to write for myself and write in my own voice. I need to have that as part of of my style with my blog. Sure, I could get by with the footnotes, or changing my writing style. But that wouldn’t be me. That wouldn’t be my voice. That wouldn’t make me happy.

So that’s when it hit me: I wasted my time last weekend setting this up all wrong. Is a site easier to manage? Yes. But does it do/look/feel like what I want? No.

So after some research — and admittedly not enough of it — I decided to try to a self-hosted install of WordPress. The install was smooth,and installing the necessary plugins was a breeze. I chose a new theme and published.

I decided to stick to this for a bit until I started reading up on installing the footnotes I want. Reading code is like reading another language for me.[4] I couldn’t find a helpful post to save my life: everything was verbose in the language of CSS, PHP, JS, jQuery, etc. But thanks to this plugin, it was a breeze.[5]

And so now that the site has been revamped again, I’ve learned my lesson. Hopefully now I can settle into the rhythm of writing.

The upkeep of the site will be different, and there’s sure to be a learning curve[6], but at the end of the day, this is what is good for me. And while you don’t have to live with me on a daily basis, it’s going to be better for all of us going forward.[7] This writing style is better suited to sharing my voice, and makes me feel just a bit more human.

  1. Debatable  ↩
  2. Oh look, a bird!!!  ↩
  3. Seriously, why the hell are they always blurry?  ↩
  4. And I suck at English enough.  ↩
  5. Do you know how long it took me to find this? So out of my league here…  ↩
  6. I still have to figure out removing the footnotes from the bottom of the page. If you know how, get in touch. (Update: I figured it out.)  ↩
  7. Kudos to my family and friends for putting up with my shit. I don’t know how they do it, because I can’t stand it.  ↩