As a coder, college grad, and human that doesn’t live in a cave, naturally the Internet’s affected me a lot. And naturally it sometimes makes me want to beat me head against a wall.

Or a bookshelf. Or a heater if I’m having a bad day. Or the new office white-board if I missed a…the point is it makes my head hurt and costs money to clean.

Looking for a solution to cut down on my cleaning and medical expenses, I found a summary of Bit Literacy on Blinkist. It turned out to be so helpful I bought the actual book. The author’s core message in one line is:

Learn to let the bits go.

Bits refer to all general forms of info online. The common theme in most issues is being overloaded by bits. So people must learn to isolate the important bits and ignore the others.

I encourage anyone who uses computers or smartphones regularly (i.e. everyone not in a cave that lacks wifi) to read the book - Amazon even has a free Kindle version. Otherwise, below are four ways to let the bits go that stuck with me the most.

Get a Strict Media Diet

Imagine a Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet. Great food, a “variety of quality,” and you could never get through it all. Take that and make it a thousand miles long. That’s a highly scientific metaphor for all the information online.

This is only bad when people try to over-stuff themselves with it all. With so many sites selling themselves as being helpful or even essential, it’s tempting to try and read them all.

We rarely remember everything we read online. Pick the sites you forget the least and focus mostly on them and few others.

Do not do this. While lots of information out there is helpful, how helpful differs for each person. Take a few sites you know has content important to you and focus on those. Also gather others that occasionally have useful info and just skim them.

Trying to read and remember everything doesn’t work. It spreads a person’s focus and memory far too thin. Then it doesn’t matter if they’ve found a blog with the recipe for chocolate-covered bunny candies that turn them into sex gods - it’ll be lost in the haze of information overload.

Don’t miss the chance to eat candy and be a sex god. Let the useless articles go and focus on the important ones.

Empty your Inbox

If you have email, there’s a 98% chance you have too much stuff in your inbox. How much is too much? I define it has “anything more than nothing.”

Seem like a strict definition? It’s meant to be. An ideal email inbox is empty whenever possible.

I don’t need to explain how overlooked and bloated email can ruin one’s life. Someone already did in a perfect way for the Internet: a long, scrolling comic.

Thankfully, getting one’s email to zero is simple. Go to each email and answer these questions:

  1. Have you ever read this email? If not, delete it and unsubscribe from future updates if possible.
  2. Have you read it but likely won’t need to again? Put it into an appropriate email folder (or computer folder), delete it, and move on.
  3. Does it have an important attachment? Save it somewhere and delete it.
  4. Does it need an actual response? This is a scary thought, I know. Send a response as soon as you can and then, you guessed it, move or delete the email.

Please don’t use email as a to-do list. Too often it gets forgotten and then emails pile up again. That’s what actual to-do lists like Wunderlist are for. Let the emails go and get back to the clearly productive work on whatever last site you visited.

Use a Text Editor

Unless you have serious info requirements that only an app can meet, like making complex graphs and charts, don’t use them. Most info can be handled with a surprisingly simple tool: a text editor.

Microsoft Word’s main function is making documents print-ready. Word documents that aren’t printed are bulkier for no good reason.

This sounded crazy to me, and I’m a coder that uses a text editor on a regular basis. Use it for writing everyday stuff like articles, lists, work schedules, and all that? Isn’t that what tools like Microsoft Word are for?

But the book made some good arguments against relying on these too much. Take Microsoft Word for example. Much of it’s functions just make documents print-friendly. Have you had to print everything you’ve written on your computer? Likely a few things, yes, but unlikely all of them. Many were then saved to a larger Microsoft Word file for no reason.

Writing in just a text editor is a big shift, but brings flexibility to one’s computer. Text files are lightweight, easier to manage and backup, and can be more easily changed between formats. With information management changing so rapidly, this flexibility really helps. Plus text editors have many awesome functions for editing and removing text if used right.

Already have lots of files saved in Word and don’t want to migrate them all at once? Move them over as you open them instead. It’s a more gradual process that brings more important files over first. Whether it’s fast or slow, let the software go and focus more on the info itself.

Get a Typing Shortcut App

A typing shortcut app recognizes when you type several characters and replaces them with something else. For example, typing “sny” would replace it with “Sincerely Yours,” right away.

If you had the same reaction as me, your mind was slightly blown just now.

I didn’t know this software existed but have found it useful ever since. I got Typinator and only have a few shortcuts now, but it has still saved me much time and wrist pain. Add a shortcut for just about anything, save some time, and let the keystrokes go.

In Conclusion

The quote on front of my “Bit Literacy” copy was from Seth Godin, calling it ‘The Elements of Style for the digital age.’ I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s still a great read to at least get better perspective on digital living.

The best takeaway is still the simple lesson to let the bits go. It applies to web content, emails, apps, typing, and many others not mentioned here but are in the book. Get control of the bits flooding our lives so we can let the unimportant ones go and focus on the vital ones.

Keep that in mind when new bits try to enter your life. Are they truly needed? Are there simpler ways to handle this new info? Will it complicate your life too much? Consume too much time to be worth it?

If one is honest enough with those questions, it’s surprising how many bits can be let go.


Like any person with Internet access, I’ve been exposed to the 2016 election. The one I followed the most was Bernie Sander’s surprising success, which made me think of one issue: entitlements.

I wondered, how would an ideal entitlement system work?

Know this isn’t a post advocating one party’s position over another. That’s an overcrowded marketplace and there’s too many requirements for me to succeed in it:

  • Spite
  • A condescending, dickish tone of voice
  • Rage, not limited to four or five-letter words
  • High level of attractiveness
  • Desire to alienate half my friends and family

The market is especially saturated this Election Year, as you’ve noticed.

So in this post, I’m looking at this without any present-day politics. This is pure philosophical pondering, no censors to block thoughts for the sake of the squeamish. Down and dirty free thinking. Let’s get to the action!

So…how to Define Entitlement?

The first question is obvious yet tough: how do we define entitlements? If I can’t do that, this is pointless. First stop: the dictionary.

Google defines “entitlement” as the fact of having a right to something. Seems straightforward, long as we know what it means to have “a right to something.”

So I looked that up and found a problem. Google’s definition of “right” is a moral or legal entitlement to something. Great, an infinite definition loop! It’s hard to define entitlements when it tries to use the same word to define itself.

So the “official” definition of entitlement is unclear. I’ll be using my own.

The first part: entitlements must be given to individuals by the state. If they’re given by family or friends by their choice, I don’t define that as entitlement. I define it as goodwill or charity. Entitlements must be collected by the state from all people (how much from each person is another post), then given to individuals the state choses.

For the sake of argument, entitlements given to people will be anything essential to living. Basics like food, water, shelter, education, health care, security, etc.

Then we’re at the hardest part of my definition: How should we give out entitlements? Make it universal or only to some? Who gets them and who doesn’t? Should anyone get them? Tough questions…

Answering that last part is what I want to answer in this post. I’m aiming for a definition of entitlements that helps everyone while still being moral and fair system. It needs to accomplish two things:

  1. Not waste entitlements on people who wouldn’t use them or could be argued don’t deserve them.
  2. Make sure all people who deserve entitlements get them.

How do we Give Out Entitlements?

First I’ll try a simple way to give out entitlements: people should have them regardless of circumstance. No matter where the person ranks economically, socially, age-wise or whatever, entitlements are something they will always get. Anyone who exists gets entitlements.

But this raises a question: do people deserve entitlements for simply existing?

This raises an obvious problem: people could deliberately do nothing their entire lives, be given all their entitlements, and not making use of them. It’s fair to argue that people who don’t add any value to society wouldn’t deserve anything from society. From through donations and charities, sure, but not the state. So I can quickly discard this way to give out entitlements.

Thankfully, my reason for rejecting this method leads me to my next one: What we’re entitled to is equal to the value we add to society. This is a better definition since the state has plenty reasons to help people making it better.

But there’s one issue I spot right away: What does bringing value to society mean? For the sake of argument, I’ll say it’s when someone consciously makes society better as a whole. Like repairing cars, producing thought-provoking art, informing or teaching the public, cleaning or repairing infrastructure, etc. Anything with a tangible, preferably measurable benefit to society.

Solved, right? No!

Even with my current definition has a big issue: the Problem of Opportunity.

The Problem of Opportunity

I’ve gotten as far as “people are entitled to how much they help society.” Leaving the specifics of how measure this aside for now (another blog post), there’s a huge issue: what if people aren’t able to contribute to society, even if they wanted to?

Lets say someone is born into a harsh life. They have little food and water, shelter is sporadic, and can’t treat common health issues. This person must work extremely hard just to stay alive, leaving next to no energy to contribute to society. The society they want to add value too makes it real hard to do just that.

To make my entitlement system work, people who want to add to society must be covered somehow.

Under my current definition, this person wouldn’t be entitled to anything and be left to struggle. My second criteria of “no risk of deserving people having no entitlements” is broken.

I’ll call this the Problem of Opportunity. Like I said, this problem makes my current way of giving out entitlements unworkable. Thankfully I don’t need to think of something different entirely, just adjust my current idea.

Three Kinds of Opportunity Issues

Thinking it over, there are three times when this lack of opportunity is an issue:

  1. The previous example, when someone is struggling so much for life necessities, they can’t add value to society.
  2. When someone who previously could add value to society no longer can, due to an injury or otherwise, and requires too much entitlements for their recovery. For example, they added X amount of value to society, but require more than X value of entitlements before they can improve society again.
  3. When someone is too young to add to society. These would be babies, toddlers, children, etc. People need time to develop before they can be independent, contributing members of society.

Thankfully, I’ve got a few solutions to address these three.

Fixing the Lack of Opportunity for the Young

This is a tough yet simple one. I’m assuming all people need to reach a certain age before they can consistently contribute to society. Up until that age they’re an exception to my rule. If their family and friends can’t give them the basics to survive, the state should make sure everyone in this age range (deciding that is another post) has access to the essentials, especially education. The better the education, the better a person can contribute, so it better be good.

I know the “giving children a good childhood education” position doesn’t seem controversial, but surprisingly it is. Likely because people in power don’t want citizens smart enough to question them. But once again, that’s another blog post.

Fixing Opportunity for the Older

The more complicated issue is a lack of opportunity for the other two groups. People who are in such bad circumstances, they’re too focused on surviving to contribute. These would be people in very poor communities, the homeless, the severely injured, or those in violent areas. How to fix this?

The “exception to the rule” solution I used for the young won’t work here. That only worked because there’s no other circumstances where the young could consistently contribute. People in these two groups could but can’t through circumstance. The solution here has to make sure people who can’t contribute through circumstance get their entitlements, and those who don’t through choice do not.

My answer is thankfully very simple: public work programs.

I’m taking a page from the New Deal, mainly the Public Works Administration. Citizens who lost their jobs were hired by the government to build infrastructure and do other jobs for the public good. My solution would make this a constant option for everyone. People in bad circumstances would always have the opportunity for a job, as long as they meet these criteria:

  • The job is either given directly by the state, or indirectly through another company that the state helps pay for.
  • People would always be able to get this kind of job, regardless of age or circumstance.

Public Works Programs must ensure everyone has a chance to work fairly for entitlements.

  • The job must add directly and substantially to society. Maintaining roads and bridges, for example, helps lots of people and is well-worth the investment.
  • People who can’t do certain kinds of jobs, like those with disabilities or recovering from serious illnesses, should still be offered ways to work. For example, someone with a physical disability could work in an area focused on intelligence or information gathering if needed.
  • It gives minimum entitlements for the person to keep living and working, including needed education to do it. I say the minimum since it would give an incentive to leave the job and independently add to society later on.

These would give people who couldn’t otherwise add to society a chance to, solving the Problem of Opportunity. If someone still chose not to, despite having the opportunity, they wouldn’t receive any. They wouldn’t be adding any value to society despite the opportunity to do so, and again I’d argue wouldn’t deserve entitlements anyway.

Entitlement Defined

This all seems to give me a solid definition. A quick recap of my points so far on my ideal way to give out entitlements:

  • Entitlements are only given based on how much value someone adds to society.
  • Those without the opportunity to do this must be provided a job by the state that gives them a minimum level of entitlements.
  • People who still chose not to add to society, despite these opportunities, receive nothing.
  • The only exception is people too young to add to society, and are entitled to life’s essentials until they’re old enough to do so.

In short, we’re entitled to nothing but opportunity. In my perfect world, this would be how entitlements would work (although I’ll likely revise it later).

Funnily enough, the current President (sort of) agrees with me. Democratic President Frank Underwood’s speech in House of Cards gave basically the same position (admittedly with a better accent and a sinister undertone).


If I chose my least favorite effect the Internet has on people, it’s the fear of self-expression.

I don’t believe a person’s identity means much if they can’t express it, at least a little. Expressing views and ideas to others and seeing their effects make them meaningful. An identity based on helping the poor means nothing if you don’t actually help the poor. Even if that’s as small as increase awareness.

One would think the Internet, with so many ways to share ideas, would help. But for many it can have the opposite effect. Part of human nature is people will always disagree with a viewpoint. This itself isn’t bad, but is when disagreement gets so public, vicious, and commonplace. Express a view that people disagree with enough, regardless of logic, and risk massive harassment. There’s endless examples of people sending tweets that got them fired or created international scandal. Sharing views that did more harm than just a few people disagreeing. It can happen to anyone, myself included.

But is this really bad? Some expressed views deserve genuine outrage. Entitlement, blatant ignorance, racism or prejudice shouldn’t go unchallenged just because they’re sincerely held. It’s like saying a sincerely held belief that only black people get AIDs should be left alone. Even if it’s shared by a major US official.

Is there a balance? A rule for when to let expressions be and when to question them?

Maybe not. This statement implies some expressions should always be questioned and some never should. But are there expressions that should never be questioned? Claims we should never ask someone to back up? Religious beliefs to ask if they inspire morality or are outdated dogma? Political views to see if they just want to mislead or control people? Personal views to see if they’re reasonable or narcissistic?

George Carlin said people should be raised to question everything. Everything we accept without questioning gives someone a chance to exert control. Even things we were raised to accept, things we grow up loving or made to just accept as they are, deserve some skepticism.

Let’s bring this back to my original issue: the Internet creating a fear of self-expression. From my own reasoning it looks like there’s no way around this. Fear of excessive criticism and consequence will always be there.

The truth is there’s no way around this. Part of being an adult is accepting greater consequences for one’s actions. How one speaks is part of that. Kids can get away with offensive speech more often since they’re seen as “still learning” or “don’t understand what they’re saying.” Adults are expected to know what and what not to say. A freedom of speech comes with a responsibility for informed speech.

It’s also a responsibility I feel is important to accept and live up to.

In the end, damage done by standing by principles isn’t as bad as the damage done by not having any. I would rather be hurt by people disagreeing with my character than being an empty shell saying what others want to hear.


A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an app I’d wished for for years. It’s Blinkist, and you should try it too. Please. It’s for your own good.

Blinkist summarizes popular nonfiction books down to 15-minute summaries of their key points. Topics range from economics, current events, marketing and communications, motivation and self-improvement, and others. One day I jumped around from social engineering, the rise and fall of Yahoo, and the principles of essentialism.

Like many people, my reading list is far too long. Blinkist summarizes many books on that list so I can take their best lessons right away.

Naturally, as a person with a website who likes something, I’m writing about it. A basic breakdown of the good and bad qualities I’ve found so farm and if you should try it too. This is because I’ve mentioned Blinkist to many people and they always ask for more info. That’s a good sign I should just write a damn review.

The Short Version

If your time is valuable and you don’t want to read this whole post, here’s the short version: Everyone should at least try Blinkist. If you want more productive reading than mindless Internet fluff or the news cycle, this is your best bet.

The biggest sign this app is for you: If you’re dying to read lots of books but can never find the time. I would see great non-fiction titles on a shelf and not know where to start. If that’s you too, get Blinkist. If you’re excited by all these books but just settle on a few specific titles, it may not be for you. There’s a difference between wanting to read all the non-fiction, and liking some non-fiction. If you’re in the first group, Blinkist is a must. If you’re not, it’s worth a shot but many not fit.

Blinkist’s Features

Blinkist’s app is thankfully very simple. You can search through a library of hundreds of nonfiction books by category, new, trending, keywords, or custom collections. Finding new or related content is easy, so expect your “books to read” library to fill up fast. New books let you see a basic summary, people who’d find the book useful (such as philosophy nerds or marketing pros), and their different sections.

The books are split into 10-20 minute-long summaries. Each section has a main point or lesson to it. You can highlight specific passages and review them later, so taking notes is easy. The book’s last section is usually a quick review, action steps you can take, related titles, and a link to buy the whole book if you want more.

When you sign up you get three free days of full features. This includes premium features like:

  • Syncing your book notes to Evernote for fast reference
  • Sending books to a Kindle device
  • Biggest of all, access to the audiobook version of many books.

After your free trial’s up, you have to choose between $50 a year for a regular account, or $80 a month for a premium one.

You read that right: if you really want Blinkist, there’s no long-term free option. While it may cost less than a year of Netflix or Spotify, you need to pay the whole year in advance. So make sure you’re a real Blinkist fan.

With the basic stuff done, let’s get to the good and bad of my Blinkist experience so far.

The Good

  • Effective summaries do isolate main points. Some may be skeptical if Blinkist can really summarize 200-400 page books so well. Don’t worry, it delivers. Its reads are concise, to-the-point, and almost always the major takeaways you’d want the most. It doesn’t sacrifice quality for speed, it has an excellent balance of both.

  • Huge selection of varied and useful topics. Blinkist’s premise would fall apart if it didn’t have a massive, current library. Thankfully there are weekly releases, plus finding new content is easy. Just looking through a category will yield some eye-catching titles. Thankfully you can add them to a “Read Later” section to look at later.

  • Easy to review favorite highlights, especially with Premium. After a while your “finished reading” library can get huge. It’s hard to remember everything you’ve learned from all your books. The Highlights feature makes it easy to refresh your memory and fast. Premium puts them all in an Evernote notebook, which is even more organized and convenient but is just a bonus.

  • Very nice audiobook library for Premium. For me, premium’s best feature is the audiobook option for many books. Quality is great and are still fast listens. This lets you use Blinkist in even more circumstances, like driving or doing boring tasks. Folding laundry was more enjoyable while listening to a summary of Syria’s history. The bigger Blinkist fans like me will see this as a must-have.

  • Good for all devices. Blinkist works well on desktop, tablet and mobile. No matter where you’re reading Blinkist will have you covered.

The Bad

  • Lacks the depth whole books give. The biggest criticism I’ve heard from coworkers is that summaries aren’t as good as the whole book. I totally agree with this. I’ve read both the full and Blinkist version of several books - the full versions always win. They have more detail, give more action steps, and have more examples, studies, and memorable stories. That’s why Blinkist is limited to people who are more idea-hungry in general, not people focused on one or two specific areas. Otherwise the summaries will likely leave them unsatisfied.

  • Not expensive, but not free either. My biggest personal criticism is the lack of a long-term free option. I understand why there isn’t one, as summarizing so many long books isn’t cheap labor. I would still appreciate a free option with some limits, such as daily reading limits or ads between sections. This would mainly be so people have more time to try Blinkist before deciding to pay or not. The three day trial period feels way too short.

  • Some books start sounding similar. Books in a few categories can feel repetitive after some reading. Many motivation and self-help books I’ve read can be boiled down to taking personal responsibility, living by core values, not living by other’s standards, improving your physical health,to-do lists, and sleeping well. This applies to other topics like entrepreneurship and marketing, and likely others. This doesn’t mean Blinkist gets useless overtime. Just that you’ll need to look harder for newer reads.

In Conclusion

My main recommendation at the start is the same: if you’re a naturally curious reader with too much on your reading list, Blinkist is perfect. If your tastes are more selective and in-depth, be cautious before signing up.

Regardles, Blinkist is worth a look for any reading-lover and is a great app. Please check it out!

November 29, 2015

Why I Switched to Jekyll

Even though I remade my personal website twice in the last six months, I did it again with Jekyll. Its benefits were too good to pass up.

It wasn’t an easy decision. My old WordPress sites each took weeks to develop. The styles, frameworks, loops, custom fields, and experience sucked up much of my free time. Why throw all this away for Jekyll?

Jekyll logo

Simply put, WordPress’s worst weaknesses were Jekyll’s best strengths. While I still love WordPress, it’s not the best fit for a personal website. The transition was worth it.

How are WordPress and Jekyll Different?

I can’t count the number of articles I’ve read comparing WordPress and Jekyll, so I recommend reading some first. If I had to chose one, it’d be this one by Hugo Giraudel. As with everything, he explains it better than me.

The short version is Jekyll is static while WordPress is dynamic. Jekyll takes code, creates some webpages, and gives that as a site. When you visit a Jekyll site, you’re reading pages made ahead of time. Whereas on a WordPress site, it stores important info like titles or post content in a database. The site pulls data from the database as you load the page, not ahead of time.

Each has their benefits and drawbacks, so choosing one should be done case-by-case. I even asked the author of the above article how he’d chose. His final point was Jekyll is better for smaller, simpler sites, while more complex ones with frequently changing data may be better for WordPress or another database-driven CMS.

Back to the point, why throw away a WordPress site I spent so long on in favor of a simplified Jekyll one? I have three main reasons. People who know both CMSs likely know what many are already.

Jekyll is Faster

This is the clearest perk: static sites run faster than database-driven ones. Requesting all that data from different parts of a database takes time. Getting info from a few static files is much simpler and faster.

It was clear right away this new site’s MUCH faster. From what I’ve read, websites should aim for load times lower than 3 seconds or risk visitors leaving. I’m ashamed to say the average load time for my old site was 8-10 seconds. This was not good, and happened for many reasons:

  • Requesting external dependencies
  • Lots of image requests
  • Getting web fonts
  • Custom loops, with some pages having more than one

For my Jekyll site, the average page load time is half a second. This is longer for pages with a few images, but is still around 2.5 seconds. At worst, my new site is 300% faster than my old one. At best it’s 2000% faster.

In terms of speed, it’s hard to argue with Jekyll.

Jekyll is Easier to Maintain

If I have one complaint about WordPress, it’s that managing the MySQL database is a huge pain. It’s another login to record, another code structure and language to remember, and making backups and/or restoring it’s either very confusing or time-consuming. Plus hacks can compromise the whole site, and the lengthy restoring process begins. Assuming someone remembers to back up their site. There are plugins to make all this easier, but the good ones often aren’t free and the free ones often aren’t good.

As Giraudel also mentioned, Jekyll doesn’t have these issues. There’s no database to back up or risk with hacks. No new complex languages to sift through. There’s HTML for the pages, Sass and CSS for the styles, and maybe some Javascript. There’s small touches of YAML and Liquid for adding WordPress logic, like loops and custom fields, but they’re easy to learn and manage. WordPress needs extra plugins or more complex PHP. Jekyll just needs another file or two.

For a personal site, this simplicity and ease of management is great. My own site is something I make in my free time, away from the stress of full-time work. The easier it is to control, backup and customize, the better. If it’s too much like work, I’ll be less likely to give it the work it needs.

My New Site is Less Serious

The big reason I put so much time in my old sites was I saw them as testaments to my work. A good-looking website means a good front-end developer, right?

Turns out I was wrong for two reasons:

  1. The sites looked good, but ran poorly. A site can have all the bells and whistles, but if they don’t load and function well then it doesn’t matter. So they did damage instead of good. It can even seem I’m over-compensating for weakness in other areas, like web performance.
  2. I should let the rest of my work speak for itself. A front-end web developer shouldn’t be judged mainly on their personal website. To some degree they should, since making sites is what we do. But it should mostly be by the rest of our professional work. By the work we make for clients and employers, not ourselves in our free time.

So hopefully with this new site, I’ll better balance taking myself less seriously while still putting a good face forward.

In Conclusion

I won’t pretend my new site’s perfect. I have to do the things WordPress used to automate, like SEO meta fields. Plus there’s the usual domain name issues I deal with in any new website.

But weighing the good against the bad, I stand by Jekyll. Like most sites it’s actively changing, but this way making them will be simpler, faster, and safer. For a small personal site, these are the most important traits that Jekyll has in spades.

You likely didn’t know, but today’s the start of Asexual Awareness Week! If this confuses you, please read on to learn all the essential info.