Category: Writing


Reshaping How to Memorize…Gaining a new Superpower

Comment I wrote in response to Derek Siver’s article on Memorizing a programming language using spaced repetition software (Go read that now.)

This is incredible. Scratch that. This is life changing. Thank you so much for sharing Derek.

I was skeptical that Spaced Repetition Software would work for me and my terrible memory. I’ve tried plenty of techniques in the past. For instance, I spent a while learning the peg system in an effort to be able to memorize dates, numbers and lists. While it worked, it serves me more as a party trick than an actual life changing approach to memory.

What I particularly love about using Anki, which I’ve been doing for a half an hour a day on the bus since reading this article, is I feel the information is actually sticking. Because of that, I want to spend more time learning, and because of that my memory muscle is actually growing stronger. My ability to memorize quicker and quicker is already improving. I’ve gone from hating the very idea of memorizing to getting excited about learning more. I’ve always been frustrated wasting time memorizing because I knew it was facts I’d just forget in another couple months. This doesn’t feel like that. This feels like I’m gaining a super power.

I did a small test over the course of the last three weeks to see if Anki would really work for me. I didn’t want to jump into something ambitious like a programming language before seeing if it actually worked for a small data set. I challenged myself to use it to learn the names of all of the countries in the world. There’s less then 200. If Anki could teach me those, I had faith I could then go on to more ambitious challenges.

I loaded a shared deck, and three weeks later, I feel confident I know them all. It took half an hour on the bus every day, but that’s a small sacrifice. In a few more weeks it will be cemented for life. That’s incredible. Now I’m excited for what I’ll be taking on next.

In this order

  • Bones of the body
  • Muscle systems
  • Names of all of my facebook acquaintances
  • Street names in San Francisco
  • Biblical Hebrew
  • Music Theory
  • WordPress tags

That should take me well into next year.

Life changing Derek. Life changing. Thank you.


Sketching Sitcoms

A few pages of “notes” from the UCLA Extension class I took on half hour sitcom writing. There are plenty of others filled with words, but I figured I’d limit myself to the important pages.



Some sketching over sketches in a UCB class I took on sketch comedy. For instance, the one below is day one to remember everyone’s name.

And the rest are just because.

I swear I was listening. For real.



Reading is Fun!

In theory, I work as a teacher.

2,000 people a day go to my site, watch my videos, and a couple of them even pay me for it. I get questions, compliments, and comments on a daily basis. It’s a great feeling, but there’s a disconnect.

I forget that I’m helping others, and it gets hard to keep creating. Something’s needed from time to time to spark inspiration.

My regular outings to a room full of business types wanting to learn about marketing or comedy types watching their 3rd show that week has become a routine. I love doing both of those things, but they’re not special. One’s my job and the other my hobby.

That’s why it was such an amazing feeling to head over to a good friend, Meg’s, 3rd grade classroom a couple weeks ago with Andrew, her fiancee, and read to her class.

It was National Reading Day, and Meg was under some misconception that we were doing her the favor and not the other way around.

I left the room inspired and amazed that Meg was with these kids on a daily basis, putting together a new lesson plan every day.

They hung on her every word and were fascinated by everything she threw at them. It was a great experience.

A big thanks to Meg. But also to Vanessa, Isaiah, Lindsay, Alondra, Antonio, Jade, Aiden, Jesse, Emmanuel, and everyone else in the classroom for the cards and the love.

Let’s do this again soon, Meg. Art project next time?

(Images are from the cards her kids sent me, in case that wasn’t clear.)


The Flow State when Writing

Last Sunday I hit a flow state. I hadn’t reached one in a while, and had forgotten just how amazing of a feeling it is. It started when Urgent Genius inspired me to quickly finish an article. They were running a 48 hour contest that I saw 3 hours before the deadline. The contest revolved around newsjacking something popular. To enter you needed a team of 3 to 8 people willing to work the weekend to create something brilliant. In other words, I wasn’t planning to enter the contest, but it felt like a good arbitrary deadline to work towards.

It was due at 6pm, so at 3pm I headed to a coffee shop and spent the next few hours writing an article responding to Stop Stealing Dreams (a book released the week previous). I was hoping to reach a point where it was worth linking to, but wasn’t happy with how it turned out when I pressed submit at 5:57.

It felt more like trolling then a reasoned argument on the subject, so I wrote a far more researched follow up: Learning Math through Programming.

Still not happy, I headed home and ate.

Trying to think up a decent article, I listed out the classes he thought should be taught in schools. I didn’t see how those classes could be taught without losing far too much of our current curriculum. However, writing an article  combining the 28 standard high school classes in relation to his classes seemed like a lot of mental juggling. That’s probably why he never did it in the book. I decided I could sort it out with a reasonable infographic. Doing that by computer would mean spending more time staring at a screen, so instead I took out some construction paper, a sharpie, and a poster board and ended up with this:

I got lost in creating the video, and when I put the finishing touches on the third article of the night, Adjusting the High School Curriculum, it was 2:30 and I wasn’t tired. I had energy from creating at a level of output I wasn’t used to. It ended up as 1800 words in 3 articles, a 3 minute video, and a collection of charts to boot.

The irony is I wasn’t a huge fan of the book. It felt like he watched:

which inspired him to read about a dozen books (listed in his bibliography) and then write a series of blog posts strung together in a ‘manifesto.’ Writing three posts on the subject made it seem like I had a disproportionate amount of passion for his book. It’s just that I am a huge geek when it comes to school policy reform, and this gave me an excuse to write about it.

I loved watching one article idea inspire 12 hours of work. It’s nice to hit that flow state from time to time. It reminds me of why I do this.

The trick is making it happen more often.

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Dear Seth Godin, Stop Dealing Steam

Hi Seth,

Last week I read your book, Stop Stealing Dreams, and very much enjoyed it. You’re a great writer. I’m not sure if anyone has told you this before, but your writing is almost as good as your speaking. And your speaking is terrific. I’m a big fan.

In your book, if you recall, you picked apart the problems with America’s school system and said the way to fix it is by changing what topics are covered and how we cover them. In your own words:

As long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership and most of all, bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble.

I emphatically agree. And so does every single teacher I’ve ever talked to. And there’s a reason we agree. It’s obvious.

Looking at responses to the book, the general reaction was one of, “I nodded my head in agreement the whole time. This is exactly how I’ve felt for years.”

However, the difficulty in changing our school systems is more than figuring out better end goals and better curriculums. There are 1,000’s of charter schools experimenting with alternative curriculums. The flipped classroom is just one of hundreds of ideas floating around.

And while the standard curriculum in most public schools is awful, it’s hard to say the curriculum is the root of the  problem.

I’d love if you could expand just a wee bit further on three of your ideas.

3 Fairly Impossible Problems with Schools


1. What are the actionable steps to get rid of standardized testing?

You talked about  how schools are stuck teaching to the test and that’s a generally agreed upon problem. To stop that, colleges would need to judge students in some other way.

On what metric should colleges judge students?
If it’s portfolios, how do we convince all universities to judge students on portfolios?
And what accomplishments should these portfolios include?
Or, do you propose getting rid of the college system in general?

2. How do we improve the quality of teachers?

If I read you right, the crux of your argument was to make learning more project based, as well as making it deal with more current  subjects such as programming and negotiating.

If this is the goal, is the problem the curriculum or the teachers teaching the current curriculum?

Can a fantastic curriculum help a poor teacher make his students care?

To rephrase that, how can we get lousy teachers to successfully teach in a project based manner?

Or to rephrase again, how can we make lousy teachers get better?

One answer is by providing extended one on one mentorship programs for the teachers or just firing the bad ones, but that brings us to our final problem:

3. What’s the best way to increase school budgets?

But somehow I’m sure you guessed this was where I was headed.


There’s a good chance those aren’t fair questions. Any thoughts?

Absolutely not expecting an answer,



Overheard Conversations: 4 Died. And I’m Not 15 anymore

A lady who looks to be in her mid 30’s was speaking with her friend.

Here’s a couple pull aways.


My boyfriend calls me up saying, ‘You want $400?’

‘Doing what?’ I ask.

It’s real sketchy. Do you remember his friend with the Carnival? He does the county fairs. All that. Dave doesn’t tell me what it is.

He just tells me ‘You’re going to be on your feet a lot. And you’re going to be up all night.’

That’s all I know. So I get there, and I see these girls. And I’m like, ‘No way.’ They’re wearing like these crazy stripper boots and pink and they’re 15. It’s this rave scene.

So what happens is 4 people end up dying that night.

So he has me there. He has me literally in this get up while he does the beverages and some other guys do something else. For 15 hours.

I was like, ‘Dude – No one’s putting money in my pocket. 4 people died. A 14 year old girl died.

Remember? It was the Daisy Carnival. I didn’t know the scene either.

And I say to Dave – you know….

My boyfriend is cute. But why do I want to pretend that I value and respect him?

I’m like, wild voices couldn’t convince me and drag me out to where you are.


Her friend sat there slack jawed throughout the five minute story, unable to quite register the monologue. After a moment’s silence her friend responded with, “So you told me you fixed up the house?”


Extreme Media Fasting

I told myself this week I’d go on a media fast and only check my email once a day. Freeing myself of distractions isn’t a new concept. I first heard of extreme media fasting from Timothy Ferriss in the Four Hour Work Week. I read Tim’s approach of completely disconnecting well over three years ago, but it was only two weeks ago when the concept finally sunk in.

I was staffing a birthright trip and unable to check my email. Over the course of 10 days I had a grand total of 10 minutes to check my email in two 5 minute sessions. And I did. There were two or three pressing emails that needed responses and everything else could wait.

When I got to my sister’s place on the eleventh day, I spent three straight hours and successfully got through 10 day’s worth of email. While 4 or 5 needed to be tabled for later (tonight) I got through all of the rest. Rather than spending five minutes every hour of every day wasting time on them, hoping to not miss anything important, I did 10 days in a single three hour session.

It was amazing.

There were 600 unread articles in my blog queue. I went through Daring Fireball, as I’m just enough of a nerd to need to check up on why Gruber loves Apple this week, and then decided it wasn’t worth it. I’d just spent a week traveling across a country, answering spiritual questions, partying by night, and actually inspiring a couple of people. Compared to that, checking blogs just seemed to be a waste of time.

So I decided I wouldn’t. We’ll see how this experiment ends up going. Check email once a day and blogs as little as physically possible. I’m at a loss for what I’m supposed to do without those two time wasters filling my time. Read real books? Actually write? Play a video game or two? Watch worthwhile movies? Point being, I have no idea.

I’m told 28 days makes a habit. Meaning, this should prove to be an interesting month. Let the fast begin.

Featured Image via French Toast Girl

How I Ended Up Traveling The U.S. Getting Paid To Draw, Write & Teach: Part 13

I stuck to teaching the class on Social Media Marketing, and it was another two months before I was sent out again. I’d remembered the Friday class from two months ago, and was confident I’d do all right. My slides were in order. I knew the answers.

I was wrong. It was just as bad as the first time out, and this week rather than the inspired go-to I will improve this class every night, and it will become great, I accepted the mediocrity. I was in a depressed state that week, and saw that the class was serviceably mediocre. Unlike the first week where it was I-will-get-fired-awful, the class was now just mediocre enough to work. I let it be, and for a week I carried on with that.

When I got home after those five days out, I hunkered down and completely reworked the fourth hour. Then I went through, and hour by hour came up with new examples for each. I redesigned the slides, and scoured the web for more relevant examples. Three weeks later, I was back on the road, this time feeling good. The class continued to improve.

What I found was the act of talking with hundreds of different companies, hearing their individual stories, and workshopping as a classroom, got us to grow. On any given day there would be 2 or 3 people who were far more experienced in some aspect of marketing or social media, and I’d let them talk. Of the five hours, I’d give those people a half hour over the course of the day and hear what they did in their own experience. The next day I’d incorporate those lessons into my class. It took another two dozen classes, but I’m finally confident. I believe in my class. I start the day excited. It took hell to get through, but I can’t imagine a better way to learn it all.

My students leave the class now energized, excited to start applying everything that I’ve showed them. I leave the class excited to do the same. It’s forced me to start a blog. It’s forced me to become active. It’s forced me to write.

And I return back to that initial question – am I part of the New Rich or am I just employed? With enough money to sustain me, it becomes a question of what I’m doing on the days when I’m not teaching. So I write. And I draw. And I improvise. I host dinners. I see friends. I travel. I live the life I’ve only dreamed, excited to see where this all takes me.

And more than anything, I search for that next moment of absolute terror where I know there’s a chance to fail. For that’s the moment where real growth happens. As long as I keep pushing, I’m exactly where I need to be.

Read Part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Featured Image via Michael Heiss


How I Ended Up Traveling The U.S. Getting Paid To Draw, Write & Teach: Part 12

My first week out, every night I turned to my traveling partner, telling her what a mistake I’d made trying to teach this class.

“I’m not a teacher. This is a soft skill. They’re looking for someone like you – a public speaker who does marketing professionally. I’m quitting after this week.”

She reassured me that I’d be all right.

On the comment forms that first day the general consensus was, ‘He’s definitely an expert over the material, but a complete mess as far as teaching style,’ and an overall negative rating of the class itself. For me, that was a major accomplishment.

‘Really? I’m an expert on the material?’ I thought about it. I spend an hour or two every day reading the latest trends in the industry. I listen to half a dozen podcasts on the subject. I’d read a couple dozen books tracing out all the latest trends. I’d talked with various people knee deep in this full time. I guess I did know a thing or two. But only second hand.

People asked me questions the first day, and I didn’t have a clue where to start. I had no idea what an iframe was or how to sync youtube with twitter with facebook, or the professional options for tracking results. Those were actually the easy questions. The hard questions were, “How does this apply to non-profits?” or government agencies or schools where nothing can be posted online or a large corporation where no one actually lets them post. Etc. I didn’t know. It was that simple. I’d geared the class towards independent artists wanting to use social media to make it on their own. Not this crowd. A bunch of corporate types looking for something between a couple of tips and tricks to total online salvation.

That night I went back to my hotel room, and for four hours worked through answering all of the questions that I couldn’t answer in class. I modified the lesson plan to include those questions before they were even asked. I spent another hour listening to TED talks and the soothing voice of Seth Godin as I worked out.

The second day was still a disaster, but a slightly calmer one. No one cared about the questions from yesterday. They had their own set. A completely different set.

And that night I did the same thing. I spent four hours revising the lesson plan. Again. Answering the questions that I didn’t know the answer to – tightening up the places where people appeared bored.

The third day went a little better. The ritual continued, and on the fourth day people had a good time. I’d improved.

It was a trial by fire. Even with that, I told my travel partner, “There’s no way I’m ever teaching this class again.”

Next Week: Part 13. Which Brings us to the Present

Read Part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Featured Image via gadl

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