Don’t Hide Your Love Away: An Open Letter About Sex and Communication

This post is for men. Ladies, you’re free to read it, and hopefully you can help the guys learn a little about love and sex. Mostly, it’s for all those fools who think it’s better to withhold their feelings. It’s the 21st century. Men are allowed to have a more refined sense of awareness and expression when it comes to their feelings.

John Lennon was wrong. You don’t have to hide your love away. You can, but you’ll regret it. Sure, it may feel like people are laughing at you, and maybe they are. If they are, it’s because you expect to be immune to suffering, yet you bleed out every day by your own hand. Love is something to be experienced to its fullest. You simply can’t do that if you hide it. Men are taught to keep their feelings inside, never to be shared even with their most intimate lovers. Women are taught to be attracted to men who bury their feelings and never discuss them. I’ve met a lot of really feminine women who seek a sensitive, creative, affectionate man in theory, only to act on naive notions of caveman culture, to be beaten into submission and dragged off and raped. I have actually heard educated women say out loud “I wish he would just come over to my house and rape me. God, that would be so hot!” The first time I heard that, I was horrified.

Do we need an intervention? Show me on the Pikachu doll where the bad man touched you, honey.

Jokes aside, it’s much more complicated than that, and yet simple at the same time. Women are indoctrinated at a young age to compartmentalize their affections. Their fathers were busy building the family foundation, earning money so they could, in point of fact, bring home the bacon. That bacon was what the whole family ate every morning, and without it everyone would suffer. Fatherhood evolved as a form of automata. Mom’s job was to fend off disease, starvation, and boredom. Dad’s job was to keep Mom equipped with a constant supply of food, water, and shelter and defend against attacks from external influence. Mom is a nurturing provider, while Dad is a stoic sentinel. These roles are far more pervasive in modern society than we might want to admit.

With the advent of the first world came a more sensible egalitarian philosophy about the delegation of responsibilities in the household. Since Mom is now allowed to vote and earn money, the lines are blurred. The stay-at-home Dad phenomenon became a viable option when Mom’s skills in the workplace were potentially more lucrative than Dad’s skills. The hardest part happens when Mom and Dad both leave the house to exercise their skills to bring home dinner. Yet we still read in popular media all about how families struggle with gender equality in the natural order of things in the home. Men continue to have the attitude that women cook and clean. Women complain about being treated like live-in maids. Women continue to develop complex sexual fantasies involving the rugged and trustworthy milkman, even though milk hasn’t been delivered to anyone’s home in nearly 50yrs. Men continue to develop inherent mistrust of any other man who might wander within 20m of the house when they’re not home, as if their wives are helpless victims-to-be. That doesn’t sound like a healthy respectful atmosphere to me.

At the root of it all is the core behavior of withholding our feelings about love and sex. American culture is steeped in the doubt and self-loathing of sex as currency. We use competitive metaphors to describe how men “win” sex from women by rounding the bases on a baseball field. Teenage boys brag about “making it to third base” instead of talking about how much they respect the girl next door for her creativity and intelligence. In their minds, they are conning her into “giving it up,” as if she derives no pleasure from the experience. Imagine their confusion when she says frankly “I want to have sex with you now.” Some part buried deep in their caveman brain will think she’s deceiving them, that it can’t be so easy. Instead of having open honest communication resulting in mutual satisfaction, their defenses go up and they label her a lying bitch, thus destroying the moment that would otherwise have led rather quickly to the thing they both wanted in the first place.

Have we all regressed to being insecure children about this most fundamental aspect of humanity?

Communication doesn’t need to be the thing that destroys the mystery. I promise there’s plenty of mystery to go around. Communication is the hardest thing anyone can ever do. It requires mountains of patience, a willingness to be humble and honest, substantial self-worth on all sides, and the tools and training to build trust and chart a path to mutually beneficial outcomes. It all comes down to being confident in your own desires and having the courage to state them clearly.

You might be surprised how exciting it is to express that you’d like to lick something off your partner’s naked body and see them reach for the whipped cream and start slicing berries. The simple act of participation can be orders of magnitude more interesting than the hope of being overpowered. And with the right kind of open expression, you can ask to be roughly handled, bordering on abuse, taking you closer to the edge than you ever thought possible, all without ever losing the trust and safety with your partner. This is possible because of open discussion. In fact, conversation is what brings us all closer together, not just the mingling of slippery body parts. Just remember to agree on a safe word and always respect the safe word. Knowing where the line is and refusing to cross it will help strengthen your bond. When you’re near that line, remind your partner how much you love them. Actually, any time you think of your partner during the day, let them know. Over time, you’ll find those little moments add up to a deeper relationship.

Also remember this: vaginas are tough; testicles are the fragile parts. Think about that next time you call someone a pussy.

Strength in Chaos

Have you ever been so close to the edge that you no longer know how to tell whether you’ve crossed it? It’s a hard thing to live this way, yet this is all I’ve known for years. When your credit cards are maxed out and the only thing you have is the cash in your wallet, it’s a paralyzing feeling just to pay a bar tab. There’s a certain panic in spending 60% of your available wealth on two beers and a stack of potato fries. Sure, you play off the declined credit card as an oversight, but deep down, you know just how close you are to oblivion.

It’s easy to see how such a situation might cripple anyone. Still, there’s a strength to be found in all that chaos and uncertainty. If you can look past the debilitating rejection of having tens of thousands of dollars of credit, all stretched to their full extent, you find yourself in a peace known to few. I imagine it feels something like drowning. Despite the sudden onset of declined credit transactions, there’s a looming catastrophic quality to the experience, like watching the boulder from afar as it tumbles down the hillside toward your imminent demise.

I envision it like kayaking over a waterfall. Sure, I could keep a constant pulse, checking in with the sherpa shouting from the shore, waving his arms madly in a futile attempt to inspire me to paddle toward the dock. Instead, I find solace in the knowledge that there is more to learn in the quick trip over the edge than I could ever hope to encounter in the safety of knowing that there is another force dragging my boat. Whether I measure it or not, I’m going past the event horizon. I can not know the terror that awaits me, nor could I ever embrace its totality. Still, I close my eyes and sing to myself sweet songs of my inevitable victory.

You may call it foolish or even insane, and you’d be right. In describing the audacity of hope, you will inevitably find yourself questioning the basic fundamentals of what it means to live. I promise I don’t have any answers you want to hear. Frankly, there have been as many times as not that I’ve wondered how much easier it would be to flip my boat and drift away in serene aquatic asphyxiation. But I’m not interested in that death. I have far too much to contribute to this world to seek that path.

I’m not done with this life after these 36yrs. I’m doubling down. I’m ready for another 72, and I’m willing to bet that at the end of all those years, I’ll do it again, if for no other reason than to dare the universe to give me a thousand times more hardship than I’ve faced in these 36yrs. If I can survive this chaos and use it as a source of continued strength, another hundred years will only serve to anneal my heart and soul that much more. I no longer believe there is anything the universe could throw at me that I could not use to grow stronger. And that is the most peaceful feeling I could ever hope for.

Breaking Personal Patterns

Years ago, I wrote a post about one-sided relationships. This morning, I went back and read that post again. It rings as true now as it did then, but with different context. As I read it again, I felt myself resonating with my own words, but in a different light. This week, another relationship ended. As I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of things and find closure, I’ve thought back on all the moments we shared together. My goal was to truly identify moments in the past where I put rose-colored glasses on. I wanted to understand better the situations that trigger my ostrich dance, the one where I close my eyes and ignore key aspects of the world around me in favor of my own world view. This is a crippling pattern I must stop.

As with the last time, I am open, able, and ready to nurture a deep spiritual bond. I am hopeful to build a strong emotional connection with another sacred soul. I am inspired to explore a rich intellectual attraction with another open mind. I am excited to play and seek new experiences and adventure with another sexual creature. All these things I feel for my love. All these things I see resonate in her when my heart shines on hers. Still, something holds her back from fully expressing her true self. It’s time for me to accept that she needs time to address her own hurdles. There is simply nothing more I can do. As I swallow my stomach and wipe tears from my eyes, I know this doesn’t need to hurt. There’s no script that says she will never call me again. That’s a script from an old and tired story. This time, we write a new story.

This time, I don’t hide behind fear or pain. Yes, it hurts, but what I lost this week was not my love. I will always have that. Even with all the betrayal from my last great love, I still miss her. I still want the best for her, and I believe maybe one day she will reach out to reconnect. This great love is different. With the last one, I lost hope of even having a friendship. Her betrayal was so painful that it took years to forgive her and move on. With this one, I lost only my rose-colored glasses. I lost the feeling that she and I share a common goal of building a life together. I lost the future I had planned, a future in which I was really happy with her and our children. The glasses had convinced me that she shared that dream. In truth, I never actually asked her what her dream was. It’s time to change that.

So this is my new story. I will not allow her actions to dictate mine. She does not have the tools to express her true self in a way I hear clearly. That means we can not be together romantically, but it doesn’t mean I must say goodbye forever. As I said in the post years ago, I seek vulnerability. I wanted this, so I could grow stronger. Her hurtful words could have inspired me to twist my love into hate. Instead, I choose to further invest in love. I will continue to reach out to her, to be the friend she needs, to help her when she needs help, and to expect nothing in return. It will take time for me to be ready again to seek a new great love. From now on, I follow my new path, and I see the world as it truly is. Most importantly, I know now to stop myself when I feel rosy.

Parenting Is…

Here’s a list of things I feel like parenting must be. I’ve been tragically blocked from parenthood. I feel often the pain of loss of being separated from my son, and I don’t often express it. I hope one day he will read what I’ve written and be better able to understand my struggle.

Parenting is the inevitable catastrophe that will ruin you forever, no longer perfect in the world’s eyes. Even if that means a splinter or a love unrequited, you will feel pain. To a parent, this is the first failure we experience. I could be happily cooking some bacon on a lazy Saturday morning, and you could be bitten by the angry suffering of a bit of airborne grease, destined to ruin your life forever. Or at least 3 minutes.

Parenting is the joy of seeing you take your first steps, seeing you fail for the first time, and realizing there’s so much of that in everyone’s life. We all fail so very many times. Parenting is seeing our children fail, seeing them suffer through the challenges of defeat, and only in rare occasions seeing them triumph. Parenting is the agony of terrible defeat, to gravity, to metal, to lost love. No one can prevent your inevitable crushing defeat, to any of dozens of possible threats. Parenting is gracefully acknowledging the possibility that your children will epically fail. Parenting is knowing you can’t ever stop them from certain strife, that you may not be able to protect them from mortal blade. Parenting is loss from the very start.

For fortunate parents, the experience is seamless, like taking your first steps as a child. For those of us less fortunate souls, it’s the echo in a mirror, the recap in a text message. That’s the best visibility we get into the lives of those we love. I spend my life protecting someone I barely know. I want to know him so much more than I will ever have opportunity to achieve. I still remember the way he smelled as a baby, all those nights when I held him close to me, rocking him and singing to him. No one can ever rob me of the memory of holding my son on my chest as we both slept.

“If I should die this very moment, I wouldn’t fear. For I’ve never known completeness like being here. Wrapped in the warmth of you, loving every breath of you. Still my heart this moment, oh it might burn. Could we stay right here till the end of time, till the earth stops turning? Wanna love you till the seas run dry.”

“All this time I’ve loved you and never known your face. All this time I’ve missed you and searched this human race. Here is true peace. Here, my heart knows calm.”

I always feel joy when thinking of children. I don’t always feel it when thinking of my own child, but the idea of children always fills my heart with warmth. In this way, parenting is the never-ending quest of the paladin. The white knight seeks justice and peace for all. In many ways, that is the calling of the parent, ever vigilant in the futile attempt to protect our children from themselves and the world.

Face The Bear Or Die In Obscurity

Most of our lives, we coast through, thinking how great we have it. Occasionally, we hit a bump. Some of us react to bumps with panic, grasping for the first opportunity to seek solace in the barely-certain. Some react with grace, bending in the wind of inevitability. Those folks who seek graceful ends certainly survive, whether through terror- or courage- or maybe foolish-driven courage. Still, there is a place for the resolute. It isn’t for the faint of heart. Weak-willed folks should seek an early exit, as this road is fraught with treachery and doubt. If you can not survive the uncertainty of everyday life, you will not reach the summit. You will not defeat the bear. And you must if you’re to defeat the avalanche. If you’re unprepared, you’ll beg to trade the unrelenting avalanche for a chance to tango with a yeti. His company lends much better company than the embarrassment of dying like a bitch.

This may seem like a negative way of looking at the world, but I offer you this perspective. At the right time, overwhelming confidence can be exactly what the world needs. Without leaders willing to risk everything they are, everything they have, we are lost. We rally behind the unrelenting commitment to glory our leaders show us. And with that direction, with that vision, we find ourselves willing to leap over certain death to strike at the bear, even when everything we know says we’re doomed to that death. We find some way to trounce the bear. It’s never something we plan to encounter. We don’t sit in a conference room and define a strategy for this. It jumps over the wall and stabs your brother in the neck, and you’re left to command your forces while he bleeds out in your arms. Still, you must make the choice. Will you honor his memory with glory or hide in anonymity? What will you say to the bear when it threatens you? Will you draw your blade or your running shoes? Make your mark.

Dawn of the Parallel Entrepreneur

We’ve heard a lot over the years about entrepreneurs. They change the world, one product at a time. They deliver huge value to vast communities of consumers. Their crazy ideas seem like a passing cultural whim until seemingly all at once, they’ve accumulated 10mil followers and Wall Street is starting to notice.

Beyond that, we’ve heard about this idea of a serial entrepreneur. This is a person who starts with a dream, builds a company, sells it to another company, and re-invests the gains in a subsequent venture. This person is always working on one goal, building one product or making that one product better in some way. There is much innovation, but the path is linear.

I propose an alternative. Instead of slow-burn long-form projects that take 15+ iterations to see the public eye, I say we focus on lots of sprints, all at once, all in parallel. Work on only one project at a time, but carry several parallel ventures. As one venture’s needs grow, hire new employees to match. One skilled engineering VP can address the needs of many ventures by overseeing the efforts of whatever resources are allocated to the various ventures.

A wise professor of mine once said, “the ideal number of projects an engineer should carry concurrently is five.” At times in my life, I’ve thought him a fool, both for under- and over-estimating the ideal. Now, I think he’s spot-on. It’s no surprise that I’m juggling five projects at the moment and loving every minute of it.

I don’t want to downplay the significance of the efforts of those who choose to focus on a single project at a time. What I propose is not meant for everyone, and I have great respect for those who seek the serial path. However, for the select few who choose to seek to work in short bursts on a diverse set of projects, all concurrently, as project needs dictate, I present to you the path of the parallel entrepreneur.

I have previously written about the perils of what at the time seemed like biting off more than I could chew, being everything to everyone, and what an impossible task that is to undertake. I have since come to understand I was simply ill-prepared for the stresses of managing multiple fledgling businesses at the same time. It’s not like they teach that in high school or college. My mother did many things for me, but none of them was even close to sufficient to prepare me for the herculean task that is overseeing the operations of one startup company. I’m running five such companies right now, so I’d say she did a pretty good job.

The best part about parallelism, if you can keep yourself sane in the process, is that everything you do contributes to growth, positive change, and significant social impact. One need not rely solely on one Facebook-sized hail mary play for salvation. One need only invest in discrete efforts, each of which pushes the ball down the field for its associated project, and retain some equity in the process. Eventually, that ball reaches the endzone, and the project experiences a liquidity event. If you only have one ball in play at any given time, you limit your successes to a max of 100%. With five balls running down five fields, we have a max of 500% chance of success. The only thing we have to do is five times more work.

Sometimes, we fail. I might go so far as to say that failure is the goal. In a parallel system, though, each project can benefit, not only from its own failure, but also from the perspective gained through the failure of other parallel efforts. This effect is especially pronounced in projects with common infrastructure requirements. As architectural obstacles are encountered, and solutions engineered, those solutions can be applied across multiple ventures suffering similar effects. This is all made possible through collective vision at the top management level. Without a cohesive perspective, parallel efforts fail to leverage each other’s strengths, to meet in the middle, as it were, and everyone is left high and dry.

The Rock Star Curse

The last two years have been a struggle, but just when I thought I was finally starting to see the rain subside and the clouds part to reveal the sun, I now find myself with too much opportunity. The light is blinding, so much so that I find myself at a crossroads. After the company I worked for made $1B on work I produced (not alone, but on a team of less than ten people), I found myself feeling the inequity of corporate slavery. I gave up a low six figure income for the chance to get a much bigger piece of each of many smaller pies. So I started my own company and began offering consulting services to start-up companies with big ideas and shallow pockets. One of the projects I accepted was Tour Wrist (, which has seen incredible success, due in large part to my contribution. I can’t divulge any details here, but let’s just say they are well on their way to spectacular life-changing good fortune, and I’m really proud of what we’ve built together and what they’ve done with our baby since my departure.

I feel kinda like an asshole to single out Tour Wrist, as that seems to downplay the significance of the other ventures I’ve invested my sweat equity in over the last 2yrs. That’s mainly because the others have yet to start along the path of fully realizing their potential. I can tell you from personal experience that anyone who tells you they’re certain to convert a dream into an 18mo acquisition is a con artist (except maybe the folks at Instagram). Companies take time to build, nurture, and take flight. I should know. In addition to my entrepreneurial ambitions, I’m also a rocket scientist, so I know a thing or two about what’s involved with actual flight. Despite Douglas Adams’ brilliant notion that flying is all about throwing yourself at the ground and missing, it ain’t that easy.

It’s equally difficult to build a company, doubly so in a short time. And yet, I’ve managed to sow the seeds of greatness in no fewer than five ventures over the past few years. This, naturally, has made me extremely valuable to my venture partners. At the same time, though, I’ve found myself stretched hopelessly thin, making commitments I can’t honor and generally being a dick about it. For that, I am truly sorry. It was never my intention to leave anyone high and dry. So far, I’ve been lucky that the ventures I’ve taken on have required a finite initial effort and small-to-medium maintenance effort. The beauty of a 1.0 product is that as long as you focus on the minimum viable features, the task is surprisingly well bounded and in some cases can be achieved in a few weeks of focused effort. The curse of a 1.0 product is the inevitable follow-on effort required once the product gains traction and begins to demand new features. This is a natural evolution of any successful product, and I was a fool to believe I could incubate the eggs and then let the hens take over the actual raising of the chicks. That path is wrought with disappointment.

To make matters worse, other companies have begun to notice my capabilities and are beating down my door with opportunities. I’m forced to make a choice between honoring my commitments to my existing ventures and breaking new ground with other clients. I have been operating under the single premise that I can deliver minor miracles, one at a time and usually in a week or two, for a while now. While that’s true, I’m leaving a trail of disappointed clients in my wake. At the risk of sounding immodest, there is no way these companies can replace me without crippling their budgets. I’ve done such herculean deeds for them that their disappointment lies not in my failing to meet expectations, but rather my dazzling them with talent they can’t retain. In short, I’ve set the bar so high, they can’t even hope to hire three people to do what I can do alone.

Walter: “Am I wrong, Dude?! AM I WRONG?!”

The Dude: “No, you’re not wrong, Walter, you’re just an asshole.”

This is my life. I am the VP of Engineering of at least two companies. I can’t define my job on a resume/CV because it’s so fucking nebulous. On top of that, I keep accepting new gigs because the companies I’m running are still in the fledgling pre-funded state, and I have mouths to feed. Murphy’s Law dictates that while last year was an exercise in six-pack abs resulting from abject poverty, I made more money this quarter than I made last year, and the rest of the year looks like it’ll be even better still. The problem is that all the ventures I’ve poured my heart and soul into are blowing up at the same time, but not in a way that would allow me to hire three people to deal with their collective day-to-day requirements. That means they’re all suffering from a talent vacuum, but haven’t enough resources to hire the talent they need to grow.

I feel like someone is holding out a fan of cards, asking me to choose one, and I know all of them are winners, but I will disappoint all but one. I want to be the old bull in the parable, but I’m beginning to feel like the heifer.

Life Lessons Learned Through Gaming

I’m a gamer. I’ve always loved games. There’s something about the natural exhilaration of competition, whatever the stakes, that motivates the soul. It’s also great for the ego. Games give us the ability to tell our loves ones “I am your superior” in a harmless and well-bounded context. When the game is over, everyone goes back to the real world, where we’re all equals. All the hateful, spiteful, vengeful energy is checked at the door on the way off the battlefield. All that negative energy is easily switched off because the context of the game as a distinctly different universe with different rules gives our brains clear boundaries for the factual and emotional memories we develop in-game. This allows us to be civil, even friendly, with our fellow gamers, despite the intensely negative trash talking that happens frequently in social gaming.

This boundary, though, represents a rule that itself can be broken. Sometimes, folks take offense to things said in-game, thus breaking the boundary by allowing their personal identity to be assaulted. Social gaming is every bit as cruel as elementary and middle school. Ad hominem reigns supreme in the world of results-based ego identity. For those without a healthy respect for the identity boundary and a thick skin in general, it can be challenging to remember it’s just a game. At the other end of the spectrum, there are many benefits we can derive from gaming. We can learn valuable skills, anything from time management to logistics planning to resource allocation and beyond. In fact, many of the skills required to be a successful entrepreneur have direct analogs in the gaming world. Here are some highlights.

Tactic: Misdirection

Analog: Corporate Espionage

In a poker game, misleading your opponents to believe you have cards you don’t have is a central focus of most winning strategies. The same applies to public relations with rival companies. When two companies compete for share of a polarized market, it’s often important for each company to know what the other is planning before the public knows about it. This can be done through social engineering – calling the company posing as a news representative, asking about upcoming technology, or posing as a candidate for an interview in order to gain access to sensitive information. Counter offensive strategies might include advertising open positions that indicate shift in corporate culture or development focus, but never actually filling the positions.

Tactic: Bottleneck

Analog: Simulated Demand

Spies call this a choke point. It’s a physical barrier that prevents or dramatically reduces freedom of movement and/or clear line of sight of the disadvantaged party (them) without affecting that of the advantaged party (you). A good example of this is a hallway. Hallways are defensive disasters in a gunfight. All the shooter needs to do is stand at the end of the hallway, and they can pretty much guarantee a clear shot of anyone who enters the other end. Hallways are also bad for escape from a gunfight, for similar reasons. Once you enter the hallway, you must reach the end before your pursuer reaches the beginning, or you get shot in the back. Savvy business owners use this effect to profit from the desperate. For example, the cost of plywood tends to spike when the news warns of an imminent hurricane, just as the per-night cost of a hotel spikes during an annual conference. Business leaders go one step further, by manipulating the market to create the bottleneck, thus driving customers into the net. Apple, by asserting through advertising that people wanted mobile digital music players, created the demand for a product that otherwise had no existing market, and the iPod was born.

Tactic: Resource Balance

Analog: Hiring Policy

Many games use a system of economy, promoting certain key items as standard currency. In various combinations, much like atoms joining together in specific ratios to form molecules, these resources can be traded for other valuable things. The winner of the game is often the player who acquires and spends resources most effectively. In the card game, Gin, the object is to take turns drawing a card and discarding one. The winner is the player who accumulates a valid complete set of cards, plus one card to discard. By thinking ahead, weighing the possibilities of certain combinations, and discarding a card that contributes least to a winning hand, a player can gain advantage. In real-time strategy games, like Starcraft, players must have harvested resources ready before buildings and units can be made. Those buildings and units provide offensive and defensive capabilities, such as point defense, unit creation, or upgrades. The winner is the player who harvests and spends resources most effectively, allowing them to attack the enemy base before they have adequate defenses. The analog in the business world is hiring policy. Sometimes, when you know the situation calls for lots of unskilled labor, it’s better to hire the cheapest available workers. Other times, a small group of experts can run circles around an army of beginners.

Tactic: Fluidity

Analog: Market Pivoting

Often, competition brings out a “fight to the last man” mentality. We can use that to our advantage. Any martial artist will tell you that pulling when your enemy is pushing is an easy way to gain advantage. A well-trained judoku can convert an incoming punch into an opportunity for a devastating hip throw, leaving their attacker on their back with a knee on their throat. Revisiting the Starcraft analogy, when your opponent’s army is at your doorstep, attacking your base, it is sometimes best to counter by attacking their base. This forces them to make a choice – either stay and attempt to destroy your base at the risk of the loss of theirs or retreat to protect their base. Staying means a damage race, where both sides hope to destroy all enemy buildings first. Retreating means they lose the time it takes to move their army back to their base, but they stand a better chance of keeping their base. In cases where the attacker has superior forces, defense is a poor choice, and it’s better to counter. The analog here is the decision to pivot and adjust product development strategy to target a different market. When an aggressive challenger enters a market, it is sometimes better for the existing vendors in that market to pivot toward a less crowded market, rather than ramping up production in hopes of fending off the challenger. The number one lesson I’ve learned through gaming was acknowledging when you’ve lost long before the game is actually over.

Games can teach us a lot about real world dynamics, giving us advantages in project management, contract negotiation, strategic planning, and more. It’s important that we remember that the skills we learn in games can apply to real situations, but that we must be careful to decouple our in-game identity from our real identity. I’ll leave you with two quotes:

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” -Sun Tsu

“Lose your first fifty games quickly.” -Unknown, an old proverb describing the game of Go

Maximum Wage – A Thought Experiment

I had a crazy idea this morning. With all the talk about deficit spending and growing national debt, I thought maybe we should simply introduce an upper bound on the annual income any individual is allowed to be paid. Instead of a law forbidding any employer from paying above a certain amount, I think it makes more sense to say employers can pay anything they want to their employees, but every dollar above a threshold is taxed at 100%. Here’s a thought experiment.

According to Mother Jones, the top 0.01% of household income is about $27.3M. If there are roughly 140M tax payers, that means there are about 14k people earning over $25M/yr. If all of those people paid 100% tax on every dollar above $5M, that works out to $280B annually. That’s a staggering number.

Let’s compare that to the amount of tax revenue we would gain by eliminating the cap on income that is taxed for social security. For 2011, the cap is $106,800, which is less than the average income for the top 1-10%. If we eliminate the cap, we would collect an additional $39B from the top 0.01% alone, $157B from the top 1%, and $210B from the top 10%. That’s $406B in total.

Combining both figures, it stands to reason we would have an additional $686B in the annual budget with two very simple changes to the tax code.

Sure, folks are going to complain that they’re being treated unfairly and that such a policy would stifle growth by eliminating the natural incentive to acquire more wealth. The way I see it, those people are greedy, selfish assholes. No one person could hope to spend $425k/mo on living expenses. Instead, they buy solid gold toilets, million-dollar cars to gather dust in a garage, and myriad other frivolous things. Meanwhile, 90% of the population is struggling to pay the mortgage on their modest house, feed their families, and live sustainably. I know this is America, land of the fat and greedy, but at some point, even the super rich must feel bad about wasting money on luxury while others starve to death.

Pair Programming as a Mentoring Tool

I’ve been using various pair programming techniques for many years to collaborate with team members, both in-person and remotely. In almost all those situations, though, I was working closely with someone well skilled in the art, or at least having a few years of practice in college or in the workplace. Recently, I started working with clients/partners as a mentor. Most of my clients have historically asked me to deliver a product, but they don’t want to know how it works. As I’ve gone further down the dark path working intimately with start-up companies, I’ve encountered more and more people who are not only interested in building a great concept, but also want to learn as much as they can in the process. In these unique and somewhat rare circumstances, I am finding many of the same pair programming techniques I used for remote collaboration and code review are well-suited to this situation.

One of the concerns I’ve been finding as I read more about pair programming is the challenge presented by a substantial difference in the skill levels of the participants. In many cases, if one person is much more experienced than the other, the tendency appears to be to have the expert building while the novice watches. This is good for productivity in the short term, but does little to expand the novice’s skill set. I find the best strategy to avoiding this is to swap people, allowing the expert to guide the novice without actually typing anything. This can be tedious, as it can come down to the expert verbally expressing command line statements. Still, I think this sort of scenario does much more to exercise the novice’s creativity and problem-solving abilities. Plus, it can’t hurt that the less experienced person does all the typing. That way, there’s a tactile component, so muscle memory can help form the foundation connections that are essential to the learning process.

As I watch people interacting with their computer, I can see patterns in their behavior, mostly subtle things like typing filenames out manually instead of using tab completion shortcuts. Often, these situations are presentations of missing information in the active consciousness of the person. When I see them, I can offer suggestions that save time and frustration in the long term. Tab completion is a big one. That, and effective use of navigation hotkeys. Even after a dozen times in some cases, folks still hunt for files by scrolling through a tree, when they could use cmd-T to find a file by name. I’ll say “let’s look at the routes file” and they’ll immediately start scrolling through looking for the config directory that contains the routes.rb file, and I’ll smile. After 10-15sec of watching their bewildered scanning, I’ll say “since you know the name of the file you want to find, isn’t it easier to use the hotkey?” and they almost always say “oh, right… duh” and then the file immediately pops up on the screen.

My goal is to teach them something useful, something that can save them time in the future. I’d probably be amazed at the number of keystrokes I have avoided by using shortcuts and hotkeys, over the total sum of my career. I imagine it’s a very big number.

So far, it’s going really well. It’s exhausting, and really after two hours or so, it’s easy to lose focus, but I’m finding it extremely rewarding. We’ve been able to strike a great balance. I teach some of the basics as we build the most common components in an app. Once we hit the point where the bulk of the remaining work is repeating efforts from the first phase, we switch roles, and I build and talk about what I’m doing while they watch. In some cases, it makes sense to even skip the pairing entirely, especially when the driver isn’t doing anything that the observer/navigator hasn’t already seen. Also, in cases where the subject matter is too advanced for the client to grasp or more detail than they want/need to know, pairing makes less sense. Finally, since this is a for-profit endeavor where I’m billing hourly, it’s more cost effective for the client to be involved less, as the progress tends to be 3-5x slower with the client driving and 1.5-2x slower with the client observing.