Category Archive: Life

Why Edward Snowden Is a Hero

I can’t stand the overused and ridiculous use of the word “hero” in the US media.  With that said, Edward Snowden is a hero that has done the US and the world an incredible service.  Will it matter?  I sure hope so.  If you haven’t seen it, watch this interview he gave the Guardian.

I’ve been a big proponent of freedom and privacy for a long time, and it’s often disappointing to me that many others just don’t seem to care.  But the reason they don’t is understandable.  They don’t get it because they don’t see it.  Although I’ve never worked for the US government, I have seen (better than most) what big organizations with massive spying capability and data collection can and will do.  I’ve watched as Google has wiped out countless businesses without even a shred of caring.  In their fight against “spammers” they actively penalize websites and small businesses for past actions, actions that are beyond the control of the website/business owners.  The businesses that get destroyed are simply “collateral damage”.

(Before anyone objects that there is no other way for them to fight this fight, there is.  The difference between rewarding sites for positive signals and punishing sites for negative signals, particularly when those signals can be provided by less ethical competitors, is the difference between being responsible and careless, if not pathological.  And additionally, business owners who don’t have cutting edge information can inadvertently run afoul of Google, or can get nailed when Google changes their standards for what is and was acceptable.)

Where does this tie in with Edward Snowden and what the US government has been doing?  The US government is similarly (but on a far greater scale and with far more potential for much worse “collateral damage”) collecting comprehensive data on everyone.  As Snowden said, it’s not only what is being done now, but everything you’ve ever done in the past.  What you’ve bought, who you’ve talked to on the phone, who you’ve emailed, what you’ve said.  It’s all being stored.

But you’re not doing anything bad, so you don’t have to worry, right?  Tell that to the small businesses that have been wiped out by Google for going against guidelines or algorithmic mumbo jumbo they’ve never even heard of.  How about the Jews in Europe?  They weren’t doing anything bad until the Nazis decided they were.  What happens if or when Google, Apple, or the US government decides that you or someone you know is connected to someone who is “bad”?  And what happens if they’re just wrong?  You may just be acceptable collateral damage.

Combine that with secret courts, renditions, secret prisons, and unmanned drones blowing people (and anyone that happens to be near them) into minced meat, and you’ve got a pretty nasty picture forming.  In the west we often hear about the surveillance state in countries like China.  Is the US really all that different?  Or, are we just so addicted to the technology, so brainwashed by the propaganda, that we don’t realize that our government is no different?

Hopefully, people will listen to what Edward Snowden has to say, broadcast it to all their friends via their constantly monitored social networks and smart devices, where Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google, and countless others will log and save your communications in case they want to punish you later.  Is this really the world we want to live in?

Edward Snowden is a fucking hero.  Sign the WhiteHouse.gov petition to have him pardoned, here.

The 4-Hour Workweek Review: Lessons and Comments

4-Hour Work Week

The 4-Hour Workweek

I recently read “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferris.  Obviously, I’m late to the party here as the book has been popular for years.  I’ve seen plenty recommendations for it, but a friend that read it (and said he really enjoyed it) had told me there was no point in reading it as I already live it.  However, I was walking through a book store a couple of months ago, passed the newest version, and figured I’d give it a shot.

First, I’m not exactly living it.  I work a lot more than 4 hours each week.  And actually I think the chance of you working 4 hours a week and making enough money to survive is highly unlikely.  I also seriously doubt Tim Ferris works anywhere near as little as 4 hours a week.

Apparently Tim built an e-commerce site in 2001 or so, selling nutritional supplements.  Back in 2001, if you were so lucky as to have realized that possibility, you could have made a ton of money with relative ease too.  I started my e-commerce site in 2005, and there was nearly no competition compared to these days.  Anyway, Tim was able to outsource most of the operation of his site.  Doing that, I can see how it’s possible to work 4 hours a week.  But that would require you to be lucky…to have seen, had the time and knowledge for, and seized an opportunity very early on.  Most of us aren’t quite so lucky.  Most of us, if not all, did not start an e-commerce site where all operations could be effectively outsourced back in 2001.

For Tim to suggest that because he did it so early on, you can do it NOW…is a little misleading in my opinion.  He’s written at least 2 books since then, promoted them everywhere, etc.  There is no way he’s doing that and working only 4 hours per week!  So that’s my primary complaint about the book.  The main premise is misleading or not applicable to the vast majority of people.  However, there are some excellent lessons in the book.

Retirement Is A Worst Case Scenario

This may have been the most valuable concept in the book.  Most people (particularly in the US) spend their best years working hard as hell, taking only two weeks vacation each year, in order to enjoy themselves when they retire.  But this thinking is really backwards.

First, it takes a LOT of money to retire and maintain or increase your quality of life.  When most people retire, they downgrade their lifestyles due to having less money to live off rather than more.  Second, when most people do retire they’re not in the shape they were in earlier in life…where they can physically enjoy what they missed in their younger years.  They’re not as likely to fly as far, walk as far, or even able to eat and drink as much as they previously could.  If you wait, you may not get the chance, both due to your finances and your health.

Retirement also assumes that you want to retire, that you don’t like your work.  And that begs the question, why are you doing something you don’t like?!?!  You should strive to do something for work that you enjoy.  If you’re doing that, then there will be no reason to retire, other than being physically or mentally incapable.  And that, as Tim writes, leaves retirement as a “worst case scenario”.

Instead, he advocates what he calls “mini-retirements”.  These are 1-3 month vacations you take every few months.  Although I very much agree with this concept, and my wife and I do it, I do have a couple of issues with it.  Some people won’t be able to take 1-3 months off regularly because of the type of work they do.  And some people won’t want to do it even if they can.  I can take 3 months off, almost anytime I like.  But I really don’t like to be on vacation for more than a month.  My preference is to take one or two month-long vacations each year, with a couple of week-long vacations here and there.  People with kids will also have more trouble with this than single people.  But it’s a great concept.  Enjoy yourself NOW.  You only live once, and if you wait, you may not get the chance.

Time Management

Tim writes a lot about the 80/20 rule, where 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers or 20% of the work you do.  If you can cut the 80% that’s responsible for only 20% of your profits, you free up 80% of your time and keep 80% of your profits.  Then, you can either not work during that time (which is the only way you could even come close to 4 hours per week!), or you can focus more of that time on the 20% of activities that are bringing in most of your profits…dramatically increasing your earnings.  It’s a nice idea, and you may be able to apply it to your work to some degree.

Obviously though, most people, from doctors and dentists to street sweepers and house maids, cannot cut out 80% of their work…because their time is in large part all spent on equal value/necessary pursuits.  But if you’re working on the web, it’s likely you are working on things that don’t really make you much money…things that you can cut out in order to be more productive.

The difficult thing here is that we don’t always know what efforts will produce profits.  For example, I have one site I made in a single day, four years ago, that makes $10K per year in Adsense income, every year.  I do no work on that site, whatsoever.  But I have other sites I spent weeks building that make nothing at all.

Sometimes it’s true that 20% of your work is responsible for 80% of your profits.  But you don’t know which 20% that will be until it’s all said and done!  So apply the concept where you can.

Email Management

This is a part of the book that has already improved my life.  I’ve wasted a lot of time with poor email management.

For years, I wrote the same responses to the same 10 or 20 questions I’d get from my e-commerce customers, over and over and over again.  I knew I should create template responses.  I kept telling myself I was going to do it.  But I never got around to it.  Until I read “The 4-Hour Workweek”.  As soon as I got to the part of the book about standardizing email responses, I wrote about 20 different email templates.  Now, when I get these common questions, all I have to do is select the template and click send.  Over.  It’s already saving me lots of time and mental effort.  If you’re running a business where you have customers or users asking the same questions regularly, minimize this window, install something like Quick Text (I use Quick Text with Thunderbird), and make your templates.  Do it right now.

The other advice Tim gave on email management, is to only check your email twice a day, once at 11AM and once at 4PM.  He then goes on to say you should minimize that to once a week if possible (by outsourcing work email responses).  That’s another great lesson for me.  I used to check my email first thing in the morning, and I’d often get bogged down with it.  Hitting my to-do list first, without even reading my emails, makes me about 10x more productive.  In addition, I no longer leave Thunderbird open.  So I don’t get notifications every minute that I’ve gotten a new email.  If you’ve got 20+ email addresses you monitor, believe me, this is HUGE.  The lack of interruption is really nice on your quality of work and life!  I wish I had taken that advice years ago.

Multi-tasking & Working In Batches

No matter how much you think you can, you cannot multi-task.  Or, maybe you can, but the quality of your work is going to suffer, along with your mental state.  I’ve known this for a long time, but I don’t always practice it.  Tim writes about the problems with multi-tasking, and why we shouldn’t do it.  He’s right.  Do not multi-task.  Do one thing at a time, and don’t allow yourself to be interrupted.

Doing repetitive tasks in batches is another great idea in the book.  If you do some repetitive task regularly, decreasing the number of times you do it, doing it less frequently but in longer bursts, is going to save you time.  It also takes our minds time to shift from one task to another.  So you’ll spend less time in total by batching a single repetitive task, and the quality of your work will be better.

Should You Get The Book?

There are several more great points in the book.  While I did disagree with the premise, and I’m not sure how applicable many of the concepts will be to most people, I do think it’s valuable and worthwhile especially if you’re working online, working for yourself, or would like to.