We’re all mortal.

What is stopping you from becoming everything you want to be?

The exceptions and the outliers that you admire only became exceptions and outliers because they took the initiative to do so.

Everyone who you admire, and don’t admire, is a mortal.

We’re all mortal.

Even though some of us are born in a worse place than others, most of the greats you admire have no genetic reason why they became great. It was their own choices and their priorities that led to them changing their part of the world.

They’re mortal, just like you.

They’re mortal, just like me.

If we’re all mortal, then what’s stopping you from changing your part of the world?

What is really stopping you from becoming everything you want to be?

Remember, time is passing, regardless of whether or not you’re on the right path.

So, get on the right path.

Reflections on MOOCs

In late 2013, I took on some online courses as an experiment. I was in public online school before, but MOOCs are much different than that closed, dumbed-down system I was in. I had certain biases towards the system (I already hated online learning programs like KhanAcademy and Codecademy), but I had never actually taken these courses, so I asked around. People seemed to genuinely like these MOOCs, so I got involved in Coursera, Udacity, and Udemy. I felt that edX was too similar to Coursera for me to try out, maybe I was wrong. Maybe that was the only good platform and I missed it. In the end, I completed zero courses. I chose some that had interesting, intellectual masturbation-type premises, and I chose others with technical rigor. I tried quite hard. I got through at least half of most of them, but I couldn’t complete any of them. I wasn’t impressed.

What Worked

Even though I did not like any of these platforms, there’s still some potential hidden deep in these first tests.

    • Coursera had a very clean interface. As a platform itself, it worked well. There was accessibility, flexibility, adaptability for a wide range of courses, and the forums system was never dead, like most online courses.
    • There is credibility. The professors at each Coursera, Udacity, and Udemy seemed to be experts. None of them were just no-names who could throw something up like Wikiversity.
    • They’re popular. Although each of these courses has an absurdly low graduation rate, there are devoted fans. There’s a devoted following of people who already have an adult education. I guess they have fun with their intellectual masturbation.
    • They’re something. A chance for a free education is still a chance for a free education. They’re experiments, and the hype around them is a positive rather than a negative at this point. The results of these experiments pave the road for positive change, to finally turn online education into something real. I like what Udacity’s doing in 2014, and that’s the result of a few failed experiments.

What Didn’t Work

    • Why are we trying to recreate a college lecture? Online education is the chance to do something different. At this stage in MOOCs, we’re trying to adapt the online world to education. We can go so much farther if we do the exact opposite. I’ve learned 99% of what I know from the internet. What if we adopted that kind of model to a more accessible form, instead of being scattered and not being user-friendly? That would be a true online education platform. (Some courses which attempt to teach students to code are doing this well.)
    • Why do we have to do video? There are so many problems with trying to use video as the main form of learning. Scott Young, who’s blog primarily revolves around alternative education and learning, puts forth a great argument against the video fad. To add to that, video’s expensive and hasn’t been successfully made into an open, accessible platform like text. On the other end, for the user, video is absolutely passive. It also forces a speed (no, YouTube’s speed-control option doesn’t help), and isn’t compatible with students who want to learn at their own pace, which is the most interesting possibility online.
    • The community isn’t great. I really tried participating in the forums and stuff, but there’s a different issue for each of the three platforms. Coursera is too bloated. No one’s really contributing valuable conversation, other than the local meetup talk. Udacity had stuff very sporadically. Since it’s self-paced, there are just a bunch of old questions. (This is an issue with KhanAcademy and Codecademy, as well.) Udemy had barely any participation. I did not feel like I could get value out of any of them.
    • These courses are dumbed down. This was my biggest issue with MOOCs. Udemy and Udacity (at least the intro courses here, I couldn’t get further) were in 2-5 minute segments, which were too short to feel like a real commitment. I understand that their goal was to push participation by making it as easy as possible to come back day after day, but I never get into the flow from a 5-minute video. Coursera constantly pushed at me “If you want more information, read [professor's book.]” Why am I taking this course if it’s just a summary of the book? Each video was similar to some summary I could find on YouTube, or the entire week’s videos put together could be a PBS documentary. I was frustrated with these intellectual masturbation courses, so I signed up for a technical, university-equivalent class. I found complaints in the forums about how this was a cut down version of the real class, and the responses from the staff were that the medium didn’t allow the detail that a university classroom would allow. I dropped that class immediately.

I’m not that impressed. I don’t like TED Talks (unless I already like the speaker), I don’t think Sal Khan is a good math teacher, I don’t think MOOCs have anything going for them other than intellectual masturbation. I think the “interactive learning” right now is absolutely horrid, so I’m going to keep on reading books to learn.

When there’s a better option, I will be open and willing to try it out. I am entitled to these opinions because I pushed aside my biases and tried it out. You may not agree with me, and if you have any criticism or recommendations to change my mind, leave a comment below or email me at [email protected].

I failed.

On April 4th, 2014, I quietly took on the challenge to publish every day for 30 days at the end of a post. The goal was to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone and get comfortable with publishing stuff that isn’t just my multi-thousand word how-to guides.

In the 30 days, I would’ve posted twice as many essays as the last six months combined.

However, yesterday, I wasn’t able to post.

I had an idea in mind and I had a nice outline in my head. The post would have been easy to write. My access to wifi at home is now back, so I wouldn’t have to step far.

Yet, I didn’t publish.

I don’t regret it.

I didn’t do it out of fear of failure or fear of publishing my thoughts to the world. I think I’ve posted some pretty bad stuff in the past 8 days, and no one has told me that I’m a terrible person for forcing it upon people who read this site.

During the time without wifi, I injured myself and aggravated the injury further by forcing myself out of the house for the ability to publish.

I made myself go through more pain than I needed to and made the recovery process longer than I had to.

Yesterday, I spent the day resting in my bed. I’m now 99% recovered.

I don’t regret it. I did a good thing.

I’m not going to stop the 30-day challenge. The challenge would’ve ended on May 3rd, now it’ll simply end on May 4th.

I’m considering yesterday to be what Fabian Kruse calls a Cheat Day.

The thing is, I failed for a good reason. I’m not going to use that as an excuse to stop the work now. It’s a daily fight, and my mind would love for me to stop. That’s why I can’t.

I struggle with accountability a lot. Since I believe I’m constantly growing, I believe it’s okay to change my mind. However, I’m growing at such a constant rate, finishing something is almost rare. I’ve received backlash for that, and I think it’s crippled something inside. I feel bad about changing my mind, which I know is wrong, because I know my thought process isn’t just a rationalization. I’m exchanging priorities, not just dropping them.

I don’t believe I failed with these commitments because I’m a failure, I believe I failed because my priorities changed. It could also just be lusting for the new, but I don’t think so. I truly believe I take on challenges and commitments as rationally as I can, and that with each one, I’m moving up.

Yesterday, I failed because my priority was with my health.  I believe that the amount of recovery I received from taking yesterday off was worth more than publishing the post I had in mind.

I may not be perfect, as you can see today, but I believe it will remain in my priorities to finish this challenge.

Yes, the access to wifi at home is back. You can contact me on IRC again. However, I am still resting and staying offline for most of the day, so if I’m not there, you are always free to email me at [email protected].

“You won’t be understood once you step off into the abyss.”

Sebastian Marshall has a post titled “The Million Dollar Question.” Beyond being the most popular post on his site, it acts as the intro to his book, Ikigai, which is currently standing at the best book I’ve read in 2014. I seriously doubt anything in the next 8 months will beat it.

In order to understand what I address in this post, I recommend you click through and read The Million Dollar Question. It isn’t long and it’s incredibly powerful.

The Million Dollar Question Sebastian Marshall speaks of is “Why don’t people do what matters to them?”

One answer is that what people say matters to them isn’t the same as what truly matters to them. For the sake of this post, let’s assume we know what truly matters to us.

Sebastian’s answer is that “You won’t be understood once you step off into the abyss.”

If you want to downgrade from a house to an apartment, why aren’t you doing it? Is it because it’s hard to sell a house? Is it because you have too much stuff? Those are all details, and if this really mattered to you, you would’ve had them solved already, or at least put forth a plan to do so.

The truth is, you won’t be understood once you step off into the abyss.

When you invite your friends over to the new apartment, you know they’ll ask, “Are you in financial trouble? Is that why you had to sell the house?

You’re not in financial trouble, you just wanted to get out of that big house.

“Why? What’s the point?”

You don’t want to own so much stuff, and the electric bills were quite high, and you only use one bedroom out of the five that were in that house…

“But you’re a prominent young professional. You need a house.”

There you have it. You won’t be understood once you step off into the abyss.

Let’s do another example. If you want to begin publishing your writing, as I do on this site, why aren’t you doing it yet? Is it because you think you can only do so through gatekeepers like magazine editors? Is it because it’s expensive? I can guarantee that it’s not expensive. Those are all details, and if this really mattered to you, you would already be doing it, or had a step-by-step plan to do so.

The truth is, you won’t be understood once you step off into the abyss.

You know it inside. It’s weird to publish thoughts to a website and it’s weird to have a following and it’s weird to try something new.

(By the way, if anyone’s struggling with this, the only people from “the real world” who read my site are people I’ve explicitly told. No one else cares.)

I think this is a useless excuse.

Those of us who have stepped off into the abyss don’t understand those who are teetering on the edge. It’s so nice here. You get to meet extraordinary people and have amazing opportunities come your way.

You will lose the world you are in right now, sure, but when you jump and reach the bottom of the abyss, you’ll realize you’re not so alone after all.

You’ll relate to these people and be totally understood, because these are your people. These are your fellows who understand because they stepped off into the abyss as well.

You won’t be understood by your current peers once you step off into the abyss, but don’t you want the kinds of peers who do step off into the abyss?

This is just some food for thought. If you have any questions, leave a comment below or email me at [email protected].

Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues

Ben Franklin is famous for creating his thirteen virtues, which he hoped to use to have a bulletproof morality. He compiled other moral rules, from religions and other books, and ultimately came up with his thirteen virtues.

They’re very strict, and although you may not agree with them all (I certainly don’t), they’re worth contemplating. Look at how far they got Benjamin Franklin in life.

The goal was to “use rather more names, with fewer ideas annex’d to each, than a few names with more ideas.” The virtues are as follows, along with my own interpretation of the rules:

1. Temperance

  • When eating, stop before the food’s taste becomes dull.
  • When drinking, stop before there’s no more room.

2. Silence

  • Don’t speak unless it is beneficial to yourself or others.
  • Avoid petty arguments.

3. Order

  • Make sure each of your possessions has its place.
  • Make sure each part of your business (work, taxes, getting the mail, etc.) has time to get completed.

4. Resolution

  • Plan to complete what you are responsible for.
  • Complete what you are responsible for.

5. Frugality

  • Don’t spend any money unless it does good to yourself or others. (eg. Waste nothing.)

6. Industry

  • Don’t find yourself looking back and going “Oh! Where did the hours go?”
  • Always be doing something useful.
  • Get rid of every unnecessary action, either through outsourcing or outright removal.

7. Sincerity

  • Don’t be deceitful unless there is a non-hurtful gain.
  • Don’t have judgments placed prematurely.
  • Speak without premature judgments and biases.

8. Justice

  • Don’t hurt people by injuring them or not giving them the benefits that you’re supposed to provide.

9. Moderation

  • Avoid extremes.
  • Don’t resent wrongs as much as you think they deserve.

10. Cleanliness

  • Clean your body regularly and well.
  • Clean your clothes regularly and well.
  • Clean your home regularly and well.

11. Tranquility

  • Don’t take arguments personally.
  • Don’t take common or unavoidable accidents personally.

12. Chastity

  • Don’t have sex unless it’s for health or children.
  • Never have sex to the point of satisfaction.
  • Never have sex out of weakness.
  • Never have sex if it would injure your’s or another’s reputation.

13. Humility

  • Imitate the humility that Socrates and Jesus constantly showed.

How do I put these virtues into action?

Ben Franklin focused on one each week and trying to make a habit out of each. I say no to that. If you’re focusing only on one of the virtues, you can easily break any of the other twelve. Treat this list of virtues as a list of values, instead. With a list of values, you ask yourself if the decisions you are making (and everything is a decision) aligns with your values. If so, keep going. If not, adjust accordingly.

I hope you found this interesting. I don’t advocate following all of these by any means. I mean, “Avoid extremes,” and “Always be doing something useful?” Those don’t seem to be very healthy in the long run.

Benjamin Franklin is still an incredibly inspiring individual, and it’d be absurd to disregard his impact on the world, or at least, the USA. Remember, Benjamin Franklin was the first one to suggest absolute independence from Britain. He came from a middle-class space in a time that was much less equal than it is today. (Most of the founding fathers were aristocratic, regardless of the equality that the USA represents.) Look at how far he came, and it all started with these thirteen virtues.

Have any questions or want to share your own values and virtues? Leave a comment below or email me at [email protected].

[NOTE: I still don't have access to the internet at home. I'm keeping well with responding to email within a 24-48 hours, but IRC is still out of the question. I apologize. I hope it'll be fixed by next week.]