Reflections

Yearly Reflection: 2021

Where to begin.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want out of my life. In some ways there is so much time left but in other ways there is not.

How I’ve Lived

The early part of my post college career was focused on accumulating $ quickly so I can let the miracles of compound interest snowball for me. My plan was to get money so I could choose what I want to work on. Quickly I was promoted and then realized what’s the point of that. More money, but more responsibility.

Being a manager or climbing the corporate ladder isn’t all that. At least for me.

So, I quit my job with a vague notion I would work on this blog and try to sell sports data. There wasn’t much of a plan. More of guiding idea, a north star so to speak. That’s how I base most my big decisions. The specifics eventually sort themselves out. Probably a habit I’ve learned from cooking.

Eventually my “north star” didn’t work out and I happened into my old Teo’s Tech Shop habits (I used to fix computers). Have a skill, find someone who needs it, and go do work. I think I do quite well at that. Always room to improve but I think I do well at customer service with clients and understanding their needs. Similar to what I did with Teo’s Tech Shop. Some people want to know what’s wrong and have you explain, some want you to fix it and not say a word. Slowly you figure out the best communication style for each client.

Random tidbit: 1. A big moment for me was when I fixed somebody’s computer who was a DIYer. He was building a computer but couldn’t get it to boot. I came over to his house, with my Mom waiting in the driveway because ocasionally she worried about her 16 old going to strangers’ houses. I saw the problem with how he wired the power supply, fixed it, and was done in <1 minute. I wasn’t sure what to charge and was considering nothing but he insisted. It was then I realized the power of knowledge work. Great for a lazy person like me to make money for what you know and not how hard you work.

Nowadays I don’t fix computers but help with automating data extraction for a few clients. Using my expertise helps justify my rate. I’m quite lazy and do try to be efficient with my time so getting me for an hourly rate is generally a good deal.

That’s gone well for a while and it’s a good job for me. I really bumped up my income and workload during the early days of COVID as mentioned in my last reflection. But again I’m at a point where maximizing income or swimming along in my same lane isn’t all that. If any of my clients do read this, don’t worry, I’m still very happy working with you and plan to continue.

I’ve slowly found a good balance for me where I still make enough yet have time to follow my thoughts and feelings down my endless torment of hobbies I have or restrain from starting until the tide becomes too strong.

How I’d Like To Live

A few years back I went on a reading spree about investment managers. My favorite is George Soros because I think his theory of reflexivity and decision making style is the “realest”. His north star is a backache. But it’s not George Soros who prompted me to re-evaluate my life. It’s Ray Dalio.

Now now, I’ve gotten concerning questions when they saw Jim Cramer on my bookshelf.

“Expert” stock picker Jim Cramer. He’s a lot like Stephen A. Smith. Laughing all the way to the bank

And while Ray Dalio is more obscure he surely is a financial philanderer to some degree. But is full of good things as well. His book Principles about half-way through asks the reader to think about principles to guide their life. Since that moment I’ve thought about that idea. What are my principles? How would I like to live? What’s important to me.

My Old Principles

The old me was concerned with world domination. I was obsessed with Roman history. Especially during the time period of Julius Caesar and Octavian/Augustus.

Geology in Motion: The Environmental Fall of the Roman Empire: Review of an  article
I was definitely inspired by the excellent game, Rome Total War.

I learned about Sealand at one point, basically some guy made an island and called himself a country. My plan was to build nukes and take over an island. It seemed that having the ability to blow up the planet was a good way to get respect. Remember the Iraq war? Nuclear intelligence was a big deal during that.

Over time that seemed ridiculous and I forgot about it. My next plan was to try to be some Steve Jobs type or Bill Gates. We both liked milk and computers and people thought I was smart so why not.

Over the next few years I would read business biographies and soak up as much as I could. But as the late great Junior Kimbrough said, I Done Got Old.

I do think too much is made about “whiz kids”. Countless people accomplish great things when they are older. See Jeff Bezos or Larry Ellison as an example. And even some more much later, like Warren Buffet. But certainly I can no longer be Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

Still, I was on that quest. My freshman year I was picked by some program called the NYC Turing Fellowship and reached peak hubris my sophomore year of college. I still remember getting the call that I was going to be flown out for a big day of interviews at the New York Times building. I asked the president of my fraternity, should I go? I’ll miss my first Unofficial (the biggest drinking day at the University of Illinois). He was like, absolutely are you crazy while I was on hold with this startup guy. So then I said uh sure I’ll go thanks.

My sophomore year I tried a startup of my own, then tried the corporate route starting with my junior year. My manager told me at one point he thought I shared a lot of traits with the president of the division which was flattering. But my first project didn’t quite make it. I had presentations with many people in the organization and even the CIO of Capital One but it didn’t quite have the impact I thought. Some of the presentations I gave for an actual business reason but some I think were more morale based. I still remember receiving a $100 gift card as a reward for my hard work during a significant stretch of the project. I could hardly smile because I was like, are you serious? $100 is such a small amount of money compared to what I was paid yearly. From then on I was slowly disillusioned from the corporate ladder.

I still fancied myself a potential ladder climber or whiz kid but eventually came to terms that that is not me, or at least not who I want to be. It’s funny though, the less you want something the more you get it…

My New Principles

So what now?

I’ve come to realize better what I want. I’ll never be quite happy as a startup founder I don’t think. The effort and focus required for conventional startups isn’t what I’m after. Being a solopreneur is interesting but still I’d like to think beyond money.

I’d like to have an impact in my life. Shape the world to be more how I’d like it to be. It doesn’t mean that I have to do everything. But empowering people to do more in areas I care about would be great! I really enjoy 1-1 teaching and learning new things.

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of agency. And motivation. My dad instilled in me, “follow the money” if you want to know why someone did something. Now I apply that but extended it to “follow the motivation”. It’s why I wanted to acquire $ first, that way I could be free-er from the impacts of money on my decision making.

Back on agency. If people have their basic needs met for life what would they do? Rather than choose for people to empower them to choose for themselves. And granted this is idealistic, too much choice can be a bad thing. But for some it works.

Financially, pilot programs for something called Universal basic income – Wikipedia seem successful so far and it’s an interesting concept. Many think without money people won’t work but I think people kid themselves when they pretend to be purely money driven. Most people need a sense of purpose and a job gives them power, status, and importance.

What would people do if they have tools at their disposal to do it? It could be exciting! And I’d like to try further that idea.

Open Source is Cool

The Secrets of Successful Open Source Business Models | by Imran Ghory |  Blossom | Medium

Many of my ideas have been stalled by anti-competitive tech companies. Google created a great maps platform, then jacked the rates to use it, and also prohibits you from doing anything they consider competition in their terms of service. The problem is… they have the best map and people are accustomed to that quality. So making your own is harder now than ever. Other map providers are similar besides OpenStreetMap (use them if you can).

What if that map was free and the best quality for people to use? Then so many people could create great things based on maps. My old project that helped you decide the best time to drive when your plans are somewhat flexible is not commercially viable with the 2 leading map creators terms of service, Google Maps or Mapbox.

What if there was an Amazon that existed for local businesses? All you need is an inventory registry and you can get <1 hour shipping by driving to the store. Can’t beat that. Open data is really cool.
That’s the hard part about many startup ideas. It’s not the tech, it’s the data. It’s the network.

Even further printers. Now I understand most people don’t have to print things as much as I do but why are printers still ~$100 and still not able to connect to Wi-Fi reliably and stay up without problems. That seems inefficient. Printers should work easily, be stable, and have affordable ink. Yet oligopolies stop that and create a lot of junk in the process. Microchip id’ed parts like what HP, John Deere, Apple, Keurig, and many more all stop generic parts. It’s really not efficient, nor is it good for the environment. Those companies can also make it hard to work with suppliers to get parts in the first place!

I think the world would be better with open source ideas. Efficient as you can get printers. A public Facebook. A public Twitter. And by public I don’t mean government run. Elon Musk is exactly right when he said governments are corporations with a monopoly on violence.

There is nothing novel about Twitter or Facebook today. It’s a boring marketplace that has network effects causing them to have the main amount of users. At the time their scale and distributed processing was impressive. Not so much necessary today.

Why do websites rule their own domains? When you use a website today it’s like walking into a club. You have to check in with the bouncer, lookup your reservation/for a table, and then can enter if let in. Why can’t we flip the switch and make visiting a website like inviting someone over to your house? Your rules.

I think the web experience is too controlled. A bit of anarchy could help spruce things up now that mobile versions of sites are cleaner than desktop versions. A pity since larger screens with a mouse have more potential, but wouldn’t you know, Google penalizes sites for not being mobile friendly.

Thoughts on Crypto

There’s some hope with what people call Web3 these days. A more decentralized web. Though I worry that the main applications of Web3 seem to be creating networks like The Bored Ape Yacht Club. Proponents say it’s decentralized. But still, it’s actually run by a company, Yuga Labs LLC. The market is also ripe with fraud concerns. What stops you from selling to yourself? The SEC is far from perfect but I think it needs to exist.

A blockchain car sharing network could be cool too but then again, what happens if a driver murders someone? Are people OK with having no one ultimately responsible?

Blockchain is an interesting structure. I like how most are generally open and seem to be pushing other industries to compete and improve themselves like with fintech. A good example is real-time payments being introduced as Bitcoin hit 6K USD. Blockchain works by using a different mechanism for trust. Generally proof of work (some form of processing power ) or proof of stake (they who hold the tokens hold the ledger). Proof of work seems grossly inefficient and proof of stake seems like changing terminology rather than a pure innovation. The physical world functions by proof of stake. Still, it’s exciting that blockchain allows for rapid iteration in a standardized format. So it will be interesting to see if a new form of governance competes with governments. Society as we know it is built on trust.

Anyways back to non-crypto things

EDIT: See this more informed take on crypto that goes deeper on centralization and also read those Twitter comments

A New Web?

You could have each web user use Google Maps behind the scenes and automatically create the output needed for that travel times app I created. Without requiring anyone to use their API and worry about terms as much. Another interesting one is you could create a singular social network that runs Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and everything.

This mode wouldn’t work for everyone but it’s shocking it doesn’t exist easily. Of course it used to exist until Google bought it and killed the project. From a technical standpoint there’s this thing called iframes that allow you to have multiple websites displayed on one page. You could even have one frame talk to another but this is disabled by major browsers due to “security reasons” that are difficult to disable even if you are OK with the risks.

There are countless examples of Google using Chrome and their seat on the web standards board to further their company. Also read up on AMP — can’t believe I almost fell for that.

Anyways.

With more browser freedom you could change the display of a website to suit your liking (it’s ridiculous Spotify doesn’t let desktop users sort playlists by name or do a true shuffle. But why can’t someone make that for you?). I am aware that extensions exist but one that changes the way web pages are displayed on a browser is beyond the reasonable scope. (Note I mean on a browser not simply rearranging a single page. Why can’t a web browser be a graph showing you mobile versions of sites all on one page? Screen sizes will support it. Maybe I’ll be forced to make this and see.)

Picture of bots being stopped

We can’t let companies build moats and make the world inefficient once their moat squashes competition. Google attempted this with reCaptcha but thankfully HCaptcha exists (notice how using reCaptcha subjects you and your users to Google’s data collection, privacy policy, and terms of service.) hCaptcha promises to be better in that regard.

Back on Open Source

These ideas I have are still pretty loose and being reformed. I’m not sure I’ve found my “killer application” yet but I think I have a new north star. Empowering people and seriously considering open-source projects.

If you aren’t sure about what open source is, I’ll try to break it down.

Essentially people create projects you are free to use, change, make your own, make a competing project, and sell while holding the original project creators harmless from liability of their creation.

Some licenses restrict your ability to add more onerous terms or even require you to make your source code freely available to all users. Essentially forcing you to only be able to make open source from their open source.

These open source projects help people make things quickly and just about every software engineer in the world uses open source. Common things like data analysis, websites, game engines, are all freely available for developers to use in a project. This lets people create things rapidly and saves a lot of time.

I think this is a very noble aim. Earlier in my career I thought open source was silly and wondered why anyone would do it but now I really appreciate it.

I attempted to work on an open source project founded by an old co-worker and man is it tough. If you’ve ever worked on a thesis it’s like that. Pioneering into the unknown and always searching for motivation. And I only worked a total of 40 hours or so on it. Lots of open source projects get run down by tired out stewards.

I’m definitely more open to creating open source now but need to be careful what I work on so I don’t get bogged down on one project.

But still, it’s something to think about and really fits in with my goal of empowering people. I think you can influence so many more people that way instead of trying to do it all yourself. Or thinking that you must do everything.

Financial Planning is Cool Too

The number one question I would get when people find out I’m self-employed is health insurance. Especially from older folks. And that’s a shame.

Too many people overvalue benefits from their job. Self employed people also can have a lot of benefits.

Healthcare is a problem, it’s a shame people feel trapped into being employees for fear of losing benefits. Why should someone with diabetes or a treatable disease but only feasible with good insurance be limited in their career? Or even those that are perfectly healthy worry about a catastrophic marketplace plan.

It’s because of that I got into financial planning and am planning on opening a firm next year. I think finance is a big issue for people. Many don’t or can’t understand things like interest rates and lose some of their potential through poor financial decisions. It can be complicated but I think I’m well suited for it.

Simple things like budgeting, having a long-term plan, can help you use your money more effectively to live a happy and fulfilling life. It’s not always saving but also spending. After all, rethinking retirement and working in a job longer is one of the best things you can do for your retirement. It gives you “optionality” in case your investments tank, keeps you active (good for health and happiness), and gives you more money. Spending more on your well-being so you stay working longer can be a great investment in that case.

Money issues are some of the biggest problems for people and I hope I can help with that and empower people to live a fulfilling life.

Please don’t take this section as a solicitation 🙂 I’m still ideating on what type of firm I want, who I want to help, and how. I do need to make some money but am keeping in mind my overall goal of impact. Some of the people who could benefit most by financial planning are excluded from financial planners due to the nature of the fees charged and how they are charged.

Perhaps I won’t even do it but refer people to financial planners I respect. After all I don’t need to do everything.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. Wow! Writing things like this really helps me explore my ideas further. I’m always left with a better understanding of why or why not my thought works. And where I have gaps in my reasoning. There are countless unpublished drafts on this blog of “great ideas” that didn’t pan out when pen struck paper.

Perhaps I should say they didn’t pen out? No that wouldn’t be write.

Anyways. Thanks again for reading, or even if you scrolled. Hell thanks for clicking the link.

One of my friends encouraged me to write more things like this and it’s something I’ve thought more about because of that. I quite enjoy writing, philosophy, and economics so may delve deeper there and write code less. Ideas are exciting to explore.

I used to think my ideas wouldn’t stand well on their own but am gaining more confidence as a writer. Appealing to all is less engaging than bold opinions that alienate some readers. So watch out!

2 thoughts on “Yearly Reflection: 2021

  1. I love reading anything you “write”. It always leads to more reading:) -I remember sitting in the car on that dark deserted dead end dirt street thinking it was one of my bad mom moments. Looking forward to 2022!

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