When Life Takes a Left Turn

I don’t have the answers today.

I’ve been meaning to update things here for a while now. Things keep changing, though, and potential topics flutter away in the wind.

2017 approaches. So many goals achieved. So many goals utterly failed.

A girl I had recently been seeing told me she doesn’t “necessarily feel a romantic connection” today. The previous girl faded after 3 weeks. The girls before that? Various shades of nutcase, including the girl of my dreams that whirl-winded through my life in January.

How do you move forward with your goals when the ground shifts from under you?

In January I was set to move to San Diego with a different position at my job. By February I was head over heels for a girl I just happened to hit it off with from Tinder, and decided to stay put here in Santa Barbara. By April my romantic ideals had been turned on their head and my heart broken. In June I rescued a Belgian Malinois puppy and surrendered all of my spare time to cleaning up accidents and protecting shoes from slobber. By September I had decided 8 years at my company was enough, and I switched to another across town. For the last 3 months I’ve been attempting to get up to speed at my new job, date as often as possible, and work with my dog to make sure he doesn’t get taken away for biting.

So much for my plans to write a book – I haven’t even updated this blog!

So much for my plans to get down to 10% body fat – I’ve gained about 20lbs!

My plans to find a girlfriend, get a dog, and change jobs? Done! And undone. And done! And undone!

The bioinformatics course I planned to take? 1 of 6 sessions complete.

It doesn’t seem like a total failure, but, fresh from a romantic rejection, it’s hard to see the upside.

What can I learn from this? I didn’t succeed in everything, but I took action. I didn’t end up where I planned, but I got out of the rut I was in.

Goals Update: 2 Months Later

At the beginning of the year I wrote a post saying New Year’s Resolutions are BS. You should do goals instead.

Soooo…. how’s that going? It’s important to check in on your goals now and then and make sure you’re actually making progress. If not, let’s revise the goal and move forward.

Here were my goals:

  • Write a book
  • Make a major change in my life – move, dog, gf, etc
  • Learn about BioInformatics
  • Get down to 10% body fat

How am I doing?

Make a major change in my life: done! I randomly met an amazing girl. We’re moving so fast it’s scary, but it feels right. I’m going to keep holding on to this roller coaster. This is an awesome change in my life, but it also has downsides…

Write a book: not even started! I can blame this on not having as much free time as I used to (see the above goal), or I can blame it on not having a system in place (write for an hour a day when I get up, for instance). I think I need to revise this goal anyway: the point is to achieve something big and difficult. At the time I wrote this goal, a book seemed like the thing. But it could also work for a large software project, or actually completing several short stories. I’m going to revise this goal: finish a first draft of a short story by April 1st.

Learn about BioInformatics: in progress! I’m planning on starting an online series of courses starting March 9th (The BioInformatics Specialization on Coursera, for those interested).

Get down to 10% body fat: in progress! I’m still tracking my diet daily; still recording my weight daily and my bf% weekly. For those interested, on Jan 1st I was 180lbs, 15.7%bf. Today (Feb 26th) I’m 170.8lbs, 14.3%bf. It seems like a lot of weight lost, but in actual fact I’ve just returned to where I was before Christmas. My challenges here are that I’m working through an injury and am having difficulty exercising, as well as the usual social pressures to eat out and have junk food at parties.

What have I done to stay on track?

This year, I wrote down my goals on a sticky and put them on the mirror in my bathroom! Every time I go in there I’m reminded that I have yet to start writing a book, but I’m also reminded to step on the scale and make my daily diet plan.

What are you doing to stay on track with your goals? Leave a note in the comments.

The Problem With New Year’s Resolutions

Every year, we’re inundated with people telling us what their resolutions are. “I’m going to get up at 7am every day.” “I’m going to drink 6 liters of water every day.” “I’m going to exercise 6 days a week.”

First, I don’t fucking buy it. You’re not going to do those things; why even pretend that they’ll last a week? Why are you sharing with the world these ridiculous goals? If you wanted to get up earlier, just start doing it. Don’t wait until the 1st to start a new habit.

It’s tempting to join the crowd. “Hey, what are your New Year’s Resolutions going to be?” Everyone is doing it. Why not? The holidays are over, you’ve gained some weight, you’re reflecting on how much better you think your life should be.

It’s kind of honorable, in a naive optimistic sense. It’s the thought that counts, right?

No: the way we approach resolutions is totally wrong.

Don’t fill up your life with meaningless checkboxes.

People seem to want to build more habits. “Every day I’m going to meditate for 30 minutes.” Why are you doing this? Why have you decided to build the perfect morning, or make a certain amount of money, or whatever flavor of the week trick?

Here’s what you should really be doing:

Figure out your goals for the next year. Break those into meaningful chunks of a few weeks or months.

(or don’t. Continue to resolve to go to the gym for the first 2 weeks of every year.)

Here are my goals for this year, since you asked:

  • Write a book. I’ve wanted to; why not? If a book is 100000 words, I can get it done by writing about 275 words per day.
  • Make a major change in my life. Move away from Santa Barbara, get a different job, find a serious girlfriend, get a dog. I don’t know. Wheels are in motion; I’ve got to keep them in motion.
  • Learn enough about BioInformatics to either get a job in it next year, or decide to go back to school in it, or decide its not for me. Stop complaining once and for all about not being on the front lines of cool medical science work and either figure out how to get into it or give it up.
    • As part of this, learn Python
  • Get down to 10% body fat. Last year I got down to 13-14% before the holidays destroyed my progress; I can get down to 10%. Why? 10% is where the abs are visible.

But there you have it. Not a single meaningless resolution.

Roundup: Doing Stuff That Matters, The Diderot Effect, and Evidence Against the Insulin Hypotheses

‘Weekly’ Media Roundup (Oct 26th – Nov 1st)

How do I consume so much stuff? Is it healthy to read this much and listen to this many podcasts? I hope you find something enjoyable in here. This week I’ve been obsessed with nutrition, so I hope I don’t overload you there.




Personal Improvement







Roundup: Habits of Millionaires, Fat Loss Myths, and Selling Everything

‘Weekly’ Media Roundup (Sep 26th – Oct 25th)

Time to kick this one out the door. There’s some good stuff sitting in my queue, but it will have to wait for the next one.



Personal Improvement







Decluttering: The Really Hard Stuff – Personal Documents, Hobby Supplies, & Mementos

If you’ve been following along, my deadline for decluttering my bookshelf was October 11th. I made it!

Last week, I sold my CDs. It was a challenge, because I was attached to the idea of having a physical CD. Ultimately, I prevailed, because I realized there was no reason to keep them around.

This week I dealt with something much harder: personal documents, hobby supplies, and mementos.

Why are these so hard?

One reason is that they are largely irreplaceable. I can go buy another CD if I didn’t mean to get rid of one. But I can’t replace my high school report card. I can’t replace my souvenir from Thailand. I can replace my trumpet and collection of music, but it will take a lot of effort.

Personal Documents

These are simultaneously the easiest and the hardest. Why are they the easiest? Because you can scan them and upload them to Evernote for safe keeping. But they are also the hardest because they are physical reminders of things you have done. Will a scanned copy of my drawings from over the years be a good enough substitute for the paper itself? Will my college acceptance letter have as much meaning if it’s a scanned copy sitting with a bunch of other scanned copies of things? How about my childhood photos – will an uploaded image substitute for a polaroid kept for 30 years?

I compromised with this one. I scanned all the documents, got rid of the ones I didn’t really have an emotional attachment to, and put the rest, along with my photos, in a box under my bed. Anything I put into the box in the future must be scanned first, and I’ll figure out whether some of these things can be made into gifts for my family.

Hobby Supplies

How the heck do you get rid of your unused hobbies? There’s always this feeling in your brain that if only you had time, you would go back and revisit them again. They were fun to do!

A couple of things helped me get through this process. I had the toughest time giving up my trumpet – it gave me a lot of joy while I was playing it, and if not for personal injury, I would still be playing it today. But I had a hard look at it, and realized that it’s unrealistic that I’ll ever return. First, it’s not an instrument that you pick up once a week and play – you have to maintain the strength in your lips to play it. Second, it’s loud! You can’t just casually play it like you might a guitar. Third, to get any skill back, I’ll have to practice every day. Do I really want to practice every day? When I look at my future, I see exercise, working on my career, and pursuing a family as the primary uses of my time. To be honest with myself, I don’t see an hour of trumpet practice every day.

The second thing that helped me: The Outbox

There are some rules for the Outbox, but the gist of it is this:

  • put anything you’re unsure of in the Outbox
  • take anything you want to keep out of the Outbox, but only after a week
  • at some point, your attachment to items will fade, and it will get easier to get rid of them

The nice thing about the Outbox is that it breaks apart the tasks of sorting and disposing. So you can easily put things in the Outbox without having to make a decision as to whether it should go immediately – you’ve only decided that this is a thing that you’re undecided about for now. You can organize your space first, and decide what to do with things later.

(Later, you’ll revisit the Outbox and wonder why you didn’t get rid of things years ago!)

Here’s where I stand with my hobbies: all of them (my drawing supplies, my trumpet, my guitars, my harmonicas, etc) go into the outbox. I’ve set a reminder for myself: in 1 month, if I haven’t done a particular hobby, I’ll get rid of it. Done.


Some mementos are easy. That souvenir that your relative gave you from their trip 10 years ago? That can go. Some are a little harder: the boxed set from your favorite band, your friends’ wedding invitations, race bibs and medals – what do you do with these?

First, I took pictures of all of it and put them on a Tumblr blog. This is a blog I set up specifically for mementos. I don’t want to forget about these things, and I don’t want to file them in some giant pile of pictures along with everything else.

Having these things in a blog gives me a little bit of a mental freedom: I can get rid of things that I’m not particularly attached to anymore, while not being handcuffed to keeping these things around forever. Now I can post the valuable things on eBay and toss the rest!


I learned a ton – I’ll try to summarize my experience and share my next goals in a future post!

Decluttering: The Hard Stuff – CDs

If you haven’t been following along, I’m in the middle of a decluttering project.

This week I tackled my CD collection.


I’ve had to overcome a few mental barriers in defeating this foe.

First: my car stereo was built before iPhones were common. It has a CD changer and tape deck.

I used the 6 hats method to figure out what to do. TL;DR: when trying to think through a problem, imagine wearing 6 hats which encourage you to explore the facts, your emotions, creative solutions, best case scenarios, doubts, and meta thoughts about the decision.

I’ve been struggling with this issue for a while, because the only solution I could think of was to either keep my CDs (which are taking over my house) or switch my radio (I can’t stand the after-market options).

Wearing the green hat, I realized I already had a new tape deck convertor (which I had dismissed as too distorted), and decided to give it another try. Good news: the sound is perfect – I can’t even tell it’s not a CD.

The second barrier to getting rid of my CDs was my mental model of the cost of my collection. Of the 650 CDs I have, roughly 350 are music CDs I purchased. At $12 a CD, this is about $4,200 I’ve spent on my collection! How can I justify getting rid of such a huge investment?

$4200 seems like a big number – but think of it this way: over 19 years I’ve been buying CDs, that’s about $220 per year, or $18.50 per month.

How much is Spotify? $10 per month.

But what if I missed ripping a CD? Big deal – I can buy another for $10. What if there’s something in there I’ll really miss? Again – I can buy it again for $10! What if my tape deck in my car breaks? I can always replace my stereo for $100.

I thought briefly about keeping just my favorites – gather 10% of my CDs, and keep them for the car. Then I realized there is literally no reason to keep them! If my tape player is good enough for all of my other music, why wouldn’t it be good enough for my favorites?

There’s no reason to keep any of my CDs.

I suppose there’s an argument for higher quality music (like a FLAC conversion), but I can’t hear the difference.

So I started to categorize my CDs for Ebay, removing any that are burned copies.

One thing you learn when you’re decluttering is how little your previous efforts can mean in the long term. I remember spending so much time pulling CD books out of the jacket and putting them into my CD case; now, it doesn’t matter at all. Any of these I find are going straight into the garbage.

Listing them on eBay caused me a lot of anxiety. Here are the listings (they’ll be active for another 5-6 days):

Jazz CDs
Christian CDs
Indie Rock/Alternative CDs
Rock/Metal/Grunge CDs

But that’s done! I should have plenty of time to get rid of these (if they don’t sell on eBay, I’ll take them down to Goodwill) before my October 11th deadline!

Remaining things to deal with on my bookshelf: knick-knacks, musical instrument tablature/song notation, and special items (boxed sets, etc). Onward!