My Original Almanac (2016)

This is page is part of my almanac. This page was my original Almanac from 2006. At the time it was my entire website.

My Original Almanac

After a number of years pretending that I was going to blog, I decided to put up a website of cool tools that you might find useful. I’m using the term “cool tool” as anything that is tried and true to make your life better. Kevin Kelly coined the term on his Cool Tools website that is a more modern and digital version of the Whole Earth Catalog. The Whole Earth Catalog might have the best motto ever — Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish which Steve Jobs quote in his famous Stanford Commencement Address.

To start off with, let me tell you about myself. I’m a devoted father and husband to an awesome family, and work at Citigroup in the Transaction and Trade Services group in my off hours (daytime Monday to Friday). For more information about me, please visit my linked profile or my Facebook page.

Some things I’ve written

Life Management

  • Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture) — Randy Pausch was a brilliant computer science professor at Carnegie Melon who gave “The Last Lecture” a year before he died. The Last Lecture is a conceit at Universities with the premise that speakers give a presentation like it were the last lecture they ever would give. Pausch hits is out of the park with a talk called Achieving Your Childhood Dreams., This fantastic and heartfelt lecture is meant as final communication for his children after his death. After The Last Lecture he also gave a great talk on Time Management, pulling from Stephen Covey and David Allen.
  • Make sure you are in the right Mindset. Carol Dweck is a university professor with probably the single biggest finding that can change your life. She has learned that how you think about challenges and failure can have a huge impact on your life. She classifies people into those that have a fixed mindset and those that have a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time proving their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. The Growth Mindset is significantly more helpful but most people are in the Fixed Mindset. She has a website and wrote a book on the topic. Another take on this is Brene Brown who talks about Guilt (I’ve done something bad — a growth mindset) and Shame (I am bad — a fixed mindset). Listen to her great speech and at about 17:20 she discusses this. Po Bronson wrote a great magazine article on how this applies to child rearing. It’s also a great and short introduction to the Mindset concept. The upshot from Po’s article is that you should praise children for how hard they try, not their innate qualities like how smart or pretty they are. Po expands upon this in the book Nurtureshock. He’s also wrote other great books like Nudist on the Late Shift where he convinces people to join the internet boom at the turn of the century and What Should I Do With My Life? Where he apologies and attempts to help people figure out what to do after the crash.
  • Allow Yourself to be Vulnerable: Brene Brown gave a number of very powerful presentations about how to listen to others. Check out these animated shorts on Empathy and Blame that are taken from her presentation at the Royal Society of the Arts. She also gave some great TED talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame.
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People (Audiobook). This was the FAVORITE book of Barney Liebman, my mother’s father. When I listen to it, I can hear him giving me the same advice. It’s a surprisingly good book that’s still relevant and not nearly as manipulative as the title makes it sound. On the audiobook the narrator is great – providing a strong a wise tone – my grandfather would be proud.
  • David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is the current standard on life and time management. Almost everything that David recommends is powerful and useful. I find the most powerful tool to be the Weekly Review. I try to do one every Friday. I found the GTD methodology a bit overwhelming at first but found the Getting Started on the GTD Path extremely useful.
  • Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Audiobook) is a great book. Many of the ideas may seem cliche but at a minimum they are a wonderful reminder to focus on what’s important in life — both to yourself and those that you love and work with. At it’s best, they provide you with tools to live a better life.
  • The Sunscreen Song. If you were in college or thereabouts in the late 90’s, no doubt you’d seen the fictitious MIT commencement address by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s simple, humble advice for everyone and only a few minutes long. It actually wasn’t by Kurt Vonnegut but a hypothetical address (if she were to give one) by a Chicago writer named Mary Schmich. It was later turned into an international hit song by Baz Luhrmann. I like to listen to it for advice every so often. Remember that many things in this site are my opinion, trust me on the sunscreen.
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is one of the earliest books to describe the quintessential American. It also has a nice little bit on self improvement. Franklin listed 13 virtues that he thought were the most important and focused on one each week. He would write in his notebook each time he lapsed on the focus virtue. My grandfather Norman Schlaff was a big fan of Benjamin Franklin the entrepreneur and scientist.

Here are some fascinating people who bring amazing insight to the world.

Life Hacking (Meditation). By far the best way to hack your life is through meditation. Over the last few years I’ve found Meditation and Mindfulness as one of the keys to maintaining stability and happiness:

  • Headspace. The is my favorite and I use it everyday. The Silicon Valley version of meditation. Overall it does a great job of providing slightly different meditations that all structure around the same techniques. You can try it for 10 days to get a good feeling of how it all works.
  • Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation — The first 12 or so lectures on Mindfulness from the Great Courses is the best introduction to mindfulness that I’ve seen. After lecture 12 it gets a bit too Zen for me. Get it for to get for $15 with an Audible membership.
  • Stop, Breathe &Think is a nice little app that has a number of different meditations (like Headspace) and also does some good “Mood Check ins” to suggest medications. I tend to use it when I want a quick meditation on a specific topic like gratitude or a quick walking meditation but not something I use everyday.
  • AM Yoga by Rodney Yee is a great Yoga series for waking up. It’s the most effective way of transitioning from sleep to the day.
  • On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz is a wonderful escape into mindfulness — especially if you listen to it on Audiobook while walking around a city. When the author talks about signage or how a blind person walks down the street it’s quite a surreal experience to focus on those specific items.
  • Meditation Oasis. This company has a number of very interesting apps. My favorite ones are Walking Meditation and Sleep Meditation.
  • One Moment Meditation. It’s a bit silly and corny but the overall point is helpful. Meditate for a minute in the middle of the day and you’ll feel better. And there’s helpfully a free app called OMM that helps you do it.
  • The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep. Bedtime meditation for children. I have this on audiobook and the kids listen to it each night.

Life Hacking (Not Meditation)

  • Fitness Hacking: Fitstar is a wonderful app that keeps me doing 20 minutes of exercise each day. Since starting with Fitstar I’m much stronger and am in much better shape than I’ve been in for years.
  • Mood Hacking: Mood Notes is a wonderful app to easily change your mood and reduce anxiety through mindfulness.
  • Memory Hacking: It’s not as hard to build up a great memory as you would think. For a narrative talk about how a reporter became the US Memory Champion, take a read through Moonwalking with Einstein. If you want some more hardcore advice on memory building check out The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne.
  • Creativity Hacking: Creative Whack Pack is a wonderful tool to help break through barriers. I found that when I ask it a question, answers seam to arise out of nowhere. It’s amazing what can happen when you look at the world from a slightly different perspective. It’s worth noting that I’ve found it very useful to take step back and ask myself a question like “What should I be focusing on?” and “What’s really upsetting me?”
  • Weather Hacking: Dark Sky is a “Hyperlocal” weather app. It basically tells you if it will be raining in your exact location within the next hour. It’s most useful in the middle of a rainstorm when you don’t have an umbrella. The app can tell you “Is it worth it to make a run for it or wait 5 minutes?”
  • Other Tools for Lifehacking: Cool Tools is a great site to check out as is the site Lifehacker. Though I’ve spent many hours on the Lifehacker site learning (read: procrastinating) about being “more productive.”

Books and Audiobooks. Running down the streets of New York, I tend to listen to audiobooks more than I read books. Apparently, many others are doing the same thing. Some of my favorite books and audiobooks:

Podcasts. Most of my favorite podcasts (with the exception of Marc Maron) kind of clump together as This American Life-Like (no pun intended). I like a lot of podcasts but these are the ones that I tend to listen to every week and have gone deeply into the archives on:

  • This American Life – There’s no point in explaining This American Life. It’s the father of all modern podcasts. If you haven’t listened to it you should. You can start here. I’ll let the TV Show “The O.C” describe it as “Is that that show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are? Ekhh. God.” I remember first hearing This American Life on the radio in college but I didn’t know the name. Then I heard it again in a cab in Chicago and listed to all of the archives online. The show spawned a number of other This American Life-Like Podcasts:
    • Planet Money. A business podcast started by two contributors from This American Life – originally a joint project between This American Life and NPR.
    • Startup. A podcast about starting a company called Gimlet to create more podcasts like This American Life.
    • Invisibilia. A podcast about human behavior created by alumnae from This American Life and RadioLab.
  • Radiolab is a more sciency take on podcasts (“lab” is short for laboratory). They do episodes on hard topics like logarithms and chirality. They’ve also done more lighthearted bits like the transformation of Professional Wrestling. They also did a great episode on a man who took a very different approach to the prisoner’s dilemma (for anyone who loves game theory, you’ll really love this!) Abigail and I saw them live. It was amazing. I learned about Radiolab from This American Life – Ira really likes them.
  • 99 Percent Invisible — This is a phenomenal podcast about design all around us. You can start here for a sampling. I learned about 99 Percent Invisible from Radiolab.
  • WTF with Marc Maron — This is the oddball in the bunch. A great podcast by a great interviewer who’s a bit of a troubled soul. His interview with Louis CK is one of the best podcasts ever. He’s also done the only interview of Terry Gross from Fresh Air. Oh, and he interviewed The President. The Obama recap also shows how nutty Maron really is. Unfortunately most of his archive requires a subscription.

Other Miscellany:

Resources for Kids

Some Pretty Cool Videos.

Almanac — some randomly useful things for your life. I stole this idea from Mark Hurst, Benjamin Franklin and many others:

  • Plugging in conference code numbers for a call can be annoying. On an iPhone, you can put the conference code in after in dial-in number. You add a PAUSE in between by holding down the # key. You can also be more clever with IVR systems by plugging in a 3 second WAIT by holding down the * key. Here’s some more ideas on how to use these tricks. For some other phone tricks, check out this short talk from David Pogue.
  • We spend a lot of time running from place to place trying to get things done. It’s worth it to take a minute every so often to rebalance in the middle of the day. One Moment Meditation is a fun silly app to help do that. I also heard some good advice from Only Human on WNYC. They advise that before doing something important, like picking up the kids or going into an important meeting, take three minutes of silence to emotionally transition and prepare — you’ll get a lot more out of the experience. And remember that picking up the kids is actually an important experience.
  • You’re probably tying your shoes wrong. Watch this 3 minute video to figure out how. For the courageous, take a look at how to properly tie running shoes. And if you want to learn more about knots in general, there’s a site for that as well.
  • You’re probably eating your food wrong as well. In Why Not? (video summary) Barry Nalebuff explains that you should be peeling your bananas form the other end (as Gorillas do) and eating your ice cream with the spoon upside down (which will let you taste the ice cream much better).
  • Thank people for the little things in life that have made a difference. Watch this 6 minute talk and hear about a truly inspiring Thank You.
  • Give yourself fewer choices, you’ll be happier. You’d think that having the ability to choose would make you happier. Oddly enough, as shown by happiness researcher Dan Gilbert, having more choices often makes you unhappy as you can rethink the choices you’ve made. I wrote up a fictional debate on this topic on the value of choice between Malcolm Gladwell and Barry Schwartz a few years ago. The upshot of my fabricated debate is that a few choices are great; however, there is a point when too many choices become detrimental.
  • Only pay for things you use. When buying a subscription on an iPhone or App Store, they often default to auto-recurring. This means you can be paying for things forever and never use them. What I do is immediately turn off the recurring subscription. Then, when I need to use the subscribed service again, I renew it.
  • On an iPhone you can have Siri remind you of something at a certain time just by speaking the sentence. For instance, just say “Remind me at 8AM tomorrow that I need to file my taxes.” The reminder will come up tomorrow and you’ll have it right on your phone.
  • Never be stuck without an umbrella. This one is from Mark Hurst. Buy two umbrellas, and keep one at home and the other at work or school. (Perhaps store another in the car.) Then grab an umbrella whenever it’s raining, and – this is the only hard part – remember to put the umbrella back in its place afterward. I find it best to leave the umbrella with my bag or whatever I’m taking back in the other direction.
  • You’re probably overconfident in your predictive abilities. Take this test and see how you do.