In a break from my philosophical focus, here are some tools that helped me build PhotoSugar and SnapButler:


Balsamiq – Rapid wireframing tool to communicate design concepts. $79
HackDesign – Learn-to-Design lessons for non-designers. Free
Adobe Kuler – Generates color palettes, matching hue/saturation/etc. Free


BrowserStack – Test your site in iOS, Andriod, IE7/8/9, FF, Chrome, Mac, etc. $19/m
WebPageTest – Test site speed from multiple locations.  Find slow page components.
Optimizely – A/B test changes and increase conversion.


Campfire – Always-on group chat w/history+attachements. $12/m
Asana – Group To Do list.  Free
Trello – Pinterest-style task board, great for groups. Free


TimerTab – Browser-based countdown timer.  Free
Zirtual – Devoted personal assistant to handle research/everything else. $200/m
30″ Monitor – See two complete documents simultaneously.  Work + communicate.  $1130


GrowthHacker TV – Growth hacking strategy videos.  Freemium
Google Webmaster Tools -  SEO stats for google. Free
HootSuite – Social Media scheduled posts (or Buffer). Freemium

My Presentations

Getting Psych – How to Nurture User Interest. Free
Sucking the Posion Out – Removing Negativity from Interaction. Free


Pingdom – Notifications of site down. $10/m
SendGrid – Sending/tracking email.  Freemium
New Relic – Find bottlenecks/slowness on db-driven site. Freemium
RubyMotion – Build iOS apps in Ruby. $200 – Notifications of errors on db-driven site. $25/m
Pivotal Tracker – powerful developer-focused project coordination. $7/m

Feedback/Additions?  d at

“You know how they say we only use 10% of our brains? I think we only use 10% of our hearts.” -Wedding Crashers

I agree.  Here are some tips on using the rest.

Doing actions with no effort

Sometimes when I’m driving somewhere and thinking deeply about something, I find I arrive at my destination without remembering how I got there.  It feels as if I did it without even thinking about it consciously.  This only seems to happen with place I’ve been regularly, like home or work.

We do other things automatically as well, like brush our teeth, take a shower, prepare common foods, etc.  The interesting thing I’ve discovered is that we can put our minds in this “automatic” mode without the usual distraction of being lost in thought.  It’s quite handy as it greatly lowers the perceived exertion of the action.  And it’s kind of a kick :)

Let’s try it out!

  1. Pick a physical task that you do often.  Food prep, hygiene or just walking somewhere.
  2. Set a deep intention by saying to yourself “I want to [do the task]“
  3. Relax your mind as if you are a spectator at a game.
  4. Let your body act of its own accord.

Did it work?  Sweet.  I know it’s a bit goofy.  Here is where it gets helpful though!

Now repeat with a common physical task you dislike.  Say, washing the dishes, folding laundry, making the bed, etc.  Set the intention, relax and let your body move.

Personally, I’ve found this is a handy way to get minor annoying tasks done when I’m low on energy.  With practice it can be expanded to more complex tasks and used to more easily enter flow states.

Answering questions

A similar technique can be used to very quickly, mostly accurately answer questions.  In <2 seconds answer:

How many lights are in the room you’re in currently?


How many lights in your bedroom growing up?

Did you feel the number come up before the specific thoughts about each light?  If so, you’re doing it: sending your unconscious a question and quickly getting just the final answer.

These gut-feel responses aren’t always exact.  But if you take something that is difficult to know in the first place (“How many houses on my block?”) or personal (“Which piece of furniture do I like most in this room and why?”) they can be helpful and are, at minimum, quick.

Getting people’s advice without them there

Have you ever gone up to someone to ask a question, only to realize the answer just before they started speaking?

I believe this happens because, as we approach the person, we activate the parts of our brain that knows how that person will likely respond.  The same effect can be created by imagining walking up to the person and guessing their response. This is particularly handy if the person isn’t available right now.

The CEO & the Workers

I like to think of the conscious mind as a CEO and the unconscious as the workers.  Delegate, trust-but-verify, and connect regularly and you’ll be amazed what you can do and learn.

This post has some of my deepest/wackiest thinking so far.  I would very much appreciate your feedback.

Fear is the focus on the possible loss of something dear.  The loss could be of life and limb, the respect of friends or simply a treasured possession.  Usually, a fearing person currently has the dear thing.  In other words, someone scared of dying must be alive and someone fearing losing respect must have some.

These dear and treasured things are usually sources of joy and engender love.  We love basking in our friends’ respect or having our possessions reflect back our care and attention.

So if each fear has a possible loss and the loss would be of something we currently have and love, then each fear is connected to a love.  A fear of death can be a reminder of the enjoyment of life’s moments.  A fear of loss of respect can remind us of earning and enjoying that respect.

Focusing on the love behind the fear can make daily life more fun.

When I have an appointment, I often fear being late:

  1. “I don’t want to be late”
  2. “Being late makes me look incompetent in front of my friends”
  3. “Looking incompetent makes me feel terrible”
  4. “I don’t want to feel terrible”
  5. “Daaah, better not be late…!”

But instead, I could love being on time:

  1. “I don’t want to be late”
  2. “I love being on time”
  3. “I’m usually on time”
  4. “I can be on time today and that will be awesome.”

So the technique is to “expand the thing you love” rather than “avoid the thing you fear”.  I’ve had a lot of fun applying this technique and I hope you do too.

Bonus: Loving From Zero

Now, let’s take this deeper.

Why do we fear in the first place?  I think it is to help us mentally explore what actions we could take on something important.

Normally, our love of things doesn’t create deep thinking the way fear does.  But I think we can create a more powerful love that would help us think deeply.  The way to do that is something I call “Loving from Zero”.  Let me explain.

Fear is usually focused on abject loss.

  • “If I come home late, my dad will kill me.”
  • “If I don’t get the project done, I won’t get the raise… I might even get fired.”

Thus fear is often done “to zero”, ie comparing the current situation to having nothing. This is quite motivating.

Love is often focused on more minor differences in the moment:

  • “I really like the way my room puts me at ease.”
  • “It felt so nice to go somewhere for Valentine’s Day.”
  • “I like getting stuff done at work.”

I think the trick to powerful love is comparing having nothing to the current situation.  In essence, reversing the fear comparison above. Happy people I know do this all the time.

  • “I hope we land the contract, but even if not, this is better than being in my home country.”
  • “Spare some change?  Thanks.  How am I doing?  I’m just happy to be breathing, man.”

This “Loving from Zero” makes the mind just as insightful as fear would, but with added benefits.  Focusing on “what I have loved” rather than “what I stand to lose” lets people be more relaxed and flexible and thus keep perspective.  Also, I find it’s often easier to see others’ needs which allows for a more balanced solution.

I’ve found starting with fear, seeking what’s loved and exploring the depth of that love is a powerful thought chain.   Thanks for your time and comments.

Sometimes I want to sell people their own best life, for free. But this idea is hard to fund ads for. Advertisements commonly are designed and paid for to drive product purchase. How might campaigns change if advertising agencies switched from selling products to promoting great choices?

Drink Tasty Soda ⇒ Drink Tap Water

Tastes great, no calories, and nearly-free!
#1 Weight loss supplement for over 1,000 years!
Hot or cold, it heals headaches and fevers!
Goes great with any food!
The idea that the default beverage should have nearly half the calories of the meal itself without any nutrients doesn’t make much sense from a health perspective. Water doesn’t give you the taste and sugar rush of soda but I find it results in more happiness after the first hour.

Watch the Season Premier ⇒ Look at Old Photos

Going through memories gives one a sense of place, reminders of positive emotions and distracts from current problems and issues. Maybe they’d even inspire you to call and reconnect with friends and relatives, gaining you the close connections that happy people have. Note: Facebook actually does this, filling some ad space with old friends’ photos.

Buy Clothes ⇒ Exercise

Makes you feel great and look better whatever you wear. Also prolongs life and costs less than a monthly shopping trip.

Be Connected Anywhere/Anytime ⇒ Limit Checking Email to a Few Times a Day

An electronic fast can have similar benefits to a food one: a sense of distance and control, more time/focus for other things, better planning, and more thoughtful action.

Drive in Style ⇒ Bike Exhilarated, Relax on Public Transportation

If your commute route permits, either pedaling a bike or sitting back on public transportation can be a better option than driving an expensive car to an elusive parking spot.

Buy This to Be Cool ⇒ Don’t Give a Fig to Be Cool

No matter how many cool gadgets someone has, if they don’t have an iNewest they are behind. However, somehow magically, if you just don’t care to begin with, you devalue all the possessions and appear cooler! Who knew. This approach is quite scalable as indifference can be applied to everything except fundamental, physical needs.

Sometimes I imagine a world where most of advertising is done by Consumer Reports, a non-proft that provides scientific, unbiased reviews of many products. I think their aggressive pursuit of truth, to the degree that they don’t accept gifts or advertisements to maintain impartiality, is something unique and special and deserving of replication.

I’ve realized a centralizing theme of my dissents is this: All these ads try to exchange money for feelings. But the tough reality is that you often have to exchange effort for feelings if you want them to last.

Ah, there’s the rub.

Or some of it. What am I missing?

My most recent blog post was co-authored with Brian Yeung and is posted to his blog here:

Should I have the Conversation?

I’ve always wondered how to split my resources between my own happiness and others’ happiness. One tangible metric for this is donation percentage.

Let’s start with some benchmarks:

  • 10% tithe, standard with Mormons and expected of some Christians groups
  • 2.2% average American in 2008
  • 2.5% zakat for Muslim’s (on total wealth, not yearly income)
  • 10% recommendation, 20% max for tzedakah in Judaism
  • 10% of income over $100,000 from by founder of HotOrNot
  • 50% for billionaires as per Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge
  • “whatever can be given freely and without resentment, through a feeling of sympathy for those who are in need” from Buddist teachings
  • 1% under $105,000, 5% over from The Life You Can Save
  • $150-750 estimated cost to save 1 life from TB
  • 1,157 – lives I could save if I gave 10% for the rest of my life
  • 50% of US donation goes to religious institutions
  • 95% more – the amount over the average that the poor donate in the US

In my brief research, the “give until equal” approach, the most stringent, is philosophically backed by two Peters, Singer and Unger. The thought experiment they use to support this perspective is contrasting an immediate, personal need with a global, impersonal need. For instance, if there was a man drowning in a lake and you had to destroy your $500 shoes to save him, would you be morally obligated to? Yes, most say. However, if you get an envelope from Oxfam asking for $500 to save a life in a foreign country, are you obligated to? No, most agree. At the end of the day, these philosophers seem to practically encourage 10-20% themselves.

There is an enjoyment of giving communicated by large percentage givers I find interesting. This may be simply the surface words of a deep moral commitment, however I feel there is a real way in which they somehow derive more pleasure from the gift than they might if they spent the money on themselves.

This small amount of research has led me to this advice for those interested in aggressively achieving a generous donation percentage:

  • Donate what you feel
  • Start at 2.2%, if possible
  • Aim for 10% (esp of income over $100k)
  • Focus on enjoyment of your donation. The more you understand the process and appreciate the result, the more you will naturally give.

Myself, I started donating 10% of income when Bebo sold in 2008. It’s large enough to keep me from drowning in guilt and small enough I can relax and work on giving in greater ways. I put the money in a donor-advised fund because I wanted the tax benefit without distributing it immediately. So now the value slowly grows at AEF Online and gets sent out in regularly yearly donations to charities I believe in.

To be honest, I find it quite heartening that most people advocate 10% donation and very, very few advocate >20% donation for anything but the estates of the super-rich. Perhaps there is space to both give and enjoy in this crazy world.


Note: This post examines common donation percentages. Later, I may more deeply explore justifications.
PS. I found my inner debate echo’d here: How can I justify having luxuries while others lack necessities?
Also, I now plan to read: The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer

I’ve never been able to get over the stark contrast of my 1st world life and the desperation of many abroad. Or, perhaps my issue is that I could fix so much in their lives but I don’t. “Then why not help more?” is the clear question, but equally clear is the next difficulty: “How much is enough?”. If one mouthful of happiness and one night of peace is worth the same in my life as anyone else’s on the planet, then the logical, generous thing to do is shift spending into donation until I’m down to subsistence levels and a number of others are raised to subsistence levels. The massive disconnect between that life path and my own is something I carry with me.

I think it all started on a family trip to India when I was 13. Beggars without legs rolled up to me and I found it heart wrenching. My parents said amputee beggars often had their limbs removed just to make more money.   I reflected on this as I fell asleep in 3-4 star hotels, digested heavy Indian curries and waddled through temples. Where was the logic?  How could it make sense for me to enjoy while they suffered when the same dollar amount could buy more happiness for them?
I tried on this optimization, the most marginal happiness per dollar, and quickly felt overwhelming complexity and fear enter my mind. Everywhere I turned it felt like the good things in my life had no justification. It’s as if the supporting waters keeping my happy life afloat was a sea of justifications, unfathomably deep, and considering this optimization had pulled the cork out of the drain on the sea floor and water was rushing away. First my frivolous purchases where beached and inaccessible, then my very travel to this place was on dry land and now unjustifiable. I could see most of the rest of my life sinking fast and so I quickly replaced the stopper and let my life and its premises float freely again, albeit at a slightly lower level.

I’ve left that stopper in, using phrases like:

“It’s their life, I can’t be responsible for everyone.”
“It’s impossible to be happy if one considers others’ happiness co-equal.”
“Will my friends call my a hypocrite or worse if I live differently or raise questions?”
“If I can be considered generous by my peers, that is enough.”
“Some of us need to be rich so we can innovate for everyone, poor included.”

I look around and everyone else seems to have many happy things floating on their seas and things are going great. It makes me wonder what possessed me to pull the cork at all.  Perhaps it’s something wrong with me. Maybe the inadequacy complex of western society combined with my family’s survivalist, never-quite-okay approach has resulted in me finding a complex external problem with which to justify my internal disconnection. That is certainly a component J. Yet still I feel there is a truth and a logic in these feelings when one takes what we hold dear to a natural conclusion.

I think the difficulty is in finding a middle.  Optimizing for self and close connections is natural.  Giving self totally to the needs of others has a quiet, logical wholeness to it.  However, considering the needs of self, those close and those far is overwhelming.  At least with the tools currently at our disposal.  But I’ve gone on long enough and can post on new emotional tools next time.  What are your thoughts on this stark contrast?

In every complaint there is a success. The success is having had the resources, competence, or luck to arrive at a place in which this is your biggest problem, rather than something more sinister.

“God, it’ll take all night to finish this paper” is a statement that commonly assumes:
1) That you can finish the paper in a night
2) That the paper thus finished will be adequate
3) That there is nothing more pressing than finishing this paper

If all those are true, then you have 3 impressive successes that this complaint relies on. Something to reflect happily on as you get the 3rd cup of coffee.

The order complaints come up can be telling and I often use it to rate business ideas. Nearly any business idea I float to friends results in one of the following phrases:

1) “Customers won’t use it”
2) “We can’t build it”
3) “It won’t make money”
4) “Some people will dislike it”
5) “It wouldn’t really help the world”
6) “Something else would help the world more”

Interestingly, I think people start from the top of that list and then reply with the first complaint that seems valid. This means I can instantly know that if a friend says “It won’t make money,” then the friend things it will be buildable and usable! I also find this a handy way to rank business ideas with the higher numbers being better for the world.

For example: dreamers just satisfy level 1 and struggling businesses satisfy level 2. Payday loan companies satisfy level 3 but fall victim to 4. Many businesses are happy teetering on level 4: making money with few detractors. Google purports to “Do No Evil” and satisfy level 5. Social entrepreneurs try to satisfy level 6 and beat all the complaints.

Current, pressing complaints are what most people focus on. It is somehow easy to forget about having overcome all one’s previous hardships. However, there are two kinds of people that I have noticed don’t forget: happy people and entrepreneurs. I have noticed that any person who is generally happy often has a painful complaint in the past that they are now safe from. Whenever they get down, they remind themselves of this stark contrast and are positive again. I’ve also seen a seemingly-hypocritical way that successful entrepreneurs can be satisfied with little yet desirous of more at the same time. They freely shift between deriving peace from the complaints of the past they’ve beaten and getting worked up over complaints about “how much better” something could be and striving for it. It would seem that a focus on both of these issues would provide a centering calm and I think for many an old soul it does, but successful entrepreneurs freely switch between them, mixing calm and excitement to their taste.

What hierarchies of complaints have you experienced? Are there any successes hiding within your complaints?

We all try to convince.  But some people use techniques that later make the listener feel like “I was told one thing, but the reality is something else.”  These aren’t lies, per say.  Lies are outright false statements, known to be untrue by the speaker and, often, verifiably untrue with some research.  The type of manipulations I’m talking about are “true” in the strict legal definition, a fact which hides their deeper miscommunication.

“You could make millions!”
“Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!”

Some of the most common lies are by percentage chance.  Lotteries, casinos, CEO’s, and anyone selling you on upside will tell that there is amazing potential and a good-enough chance of getting it.  The excitement for the result often overwhelms the consideration of likelihood.  To avoid this trap: determine the past success ratio, ie how many people started the process vs got the advertised result and assume your fate will be statistically similar.

“Payday loans help poor people get needed credit.”
“My proposal creates jobs”

One powerful way to convince people is to focus only on the parts of reality that support your argument.  For instance, there are a small number of people who responsibly use payday loans and pay them off before they accumulate high interest fees.  The defenders of payday loans highlight this case yet, in reality, payday loans have proven so destructive that the military has banned them <>.  To avoid: Write down the opposite of the given statement, separately attempt to prove each is true, and examine the balance of believability.

“This is what most people in your job make”
“Our recon indicated the attack was justified.”

Saying something that the person can’t verify (or would have to risk the entire relationship to verify) forces people to accept the statement because it’s too much psychological energy to distrust someone without a solid reason. To avoid: investigate claims and doubt unverifiable statements.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
“We’re a leading company.”

Redefining terms is a way to say something defensible while giving someone else a very different idea.  Bill Clinton later said that “sexual relations” meant intercourse however most people would think of it as “any sexual contact” which he had been denying.  To avoid: know the speakers’ and the laws’ definitions and replace words with accurate terms before you judge a statement.

“You won’t have to worry about free time once this company goes public!”
“This injustice will be solved as part of the Glorious Revolution”

Making personal goals dependent on a shared goal puts the drive usually reserved for personal goals into the shared goal. This can be a powerful force for good and ill.  Most revolutions and companies are powered by these dependent goals.  However, sometimes an authority figure encourages this behavior when it isn’t in the persons’ interest.   To avoid: consider whether doing this increases or decreases the chance of your personal goal getting fulfilled.  Handy trick: when you’re tired in bed in the morning, think of everything in your day depending on putting two feet on the floor now.

“I agree it’s not perfect, but we’re running a company/country/etc here and it’s the best we can do.”
“If we made the change you suggest, it would actually make things worse.”

An insidious manipulation is the idea that something better cannot be achieved, or even hoped for.  There are constraints and compromises in the world but removing someone’s hope for something better is a common way of quashing dissent. To avoid: watch similar companies/countries; if others do it, it’s possible.

Thoughts?  Comments?

I find it fascinating how people turn the frustration of failure into success.

Reading about business people, especially Richard Branson, I realized that successful people will try something, fail, try something else, fail, learn, try something else and then succeed.

As I’d read this, I’d think to myself “That sounds exhausting! Failing constantly! It must be frustrating.” As I continued reading and growing in my professional life, I reached a conclusion: successful people still feel frustration from failure, but they do something different with it, and this is part of why they (later) succeed.

Originally, when something in my life didn’t work as expected, I would feel:
“That didn’t work.” “Man, what happened?” “I suck.” “I shouldn’t even be trying to do this.” “How does everyone else do this? Dah.” “I give up, for now at least.”

With more reflection, I broke it down into sequential feelings, which I’ll call a “thought chain”. Mine was:

I failed… so..

  • I made a mistake so…
    • I’m not good at this so
      • I’m a bad person so
        • I feel bad so
          • I want to distract myself
          • I don’t want to feel this way again so
            • I don’t want to fail at this again so
              • I don’t want to try again

As I read about CEOs and big thinking types, I saw in their actions a different thought chain:

I failed… so..

  • I didn’t understand something about this process
    • I need to learn something to get it right next time
      • I’ll examine others who got it right
      • I’ll read the directions/books about how to do this
  • Some other person lead to this not work
    • Identify and talk to that person
  • Some random event made this not work
    • Try again
  • I made a mistake
    • IF: Others make this same mistake and eventually succeed
      • Then this seems doable
        • See what others are doing and emulate
      • Simply try again
    • IF: Others don’t make this mistake
      • Check again what differences exist between myself and those correctly performing (assumption: same situation-> same result)
        • IF: there isn’t a clear difference between them and I
          • Feel I am not good at XXX
            • Decide to do something I am good at
            • (very low probability) Decide that I am a bad person (and thus: feel bad, distract myself, stop trying)

I like to think of the frustration as emotional energy that is then routed along one of the above thought chains and eventually results in an action being taken. The resulting action will likely make you more successful (ie trying again, examining others, etc) or less successful (ie distracting oneself, avoiding failure by not trying again, etc).

So how do we turn frustration into success? By re-routing the energy that comes from frustration. Whenever you feel a thought chain leading to “I’m a bad person” you should probably turn it around and route that energy into something more likely to succeed. Look at others, re-evaluating if the current task is the best way to achieve the given aim, and simply trying again are much better places to set your mind. It isn’t easy, but I do find it works. What do you think?