Be The First

So many founders want to be the next Steve Jobs.

So many startups want to be the next Facebook.

Every VC is hunting for the next Uber.

Are these worthy aspirations?

Why are we so fixated on following in someone else’s path, rather than carving our own?

Instead of trying to be the next anything, focus on being the first you.

Books Of Mentors

I’ve recently discovered a book genre that I love: collections of advice from a large number of mentors, experts, or people otherwise considered to be the best at what they do.

My first exposure to this format was Getting There: A Book of Mentors by Gillian Zoe Segal, which features essays from Warren Buffett, Anderson Cooper, Jillian Michaels, Michael Bloomberg, and dozens of other luminaries, each sharing their challenges, obstacles, and lessons learned along the way.

After that, I had to check out Tim Ferriss’s famed bestseller Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World, which, so far, does not disappoint. Ferriss takes a question-based approach to the concept, and it’s interesting to see so many varying perspectives on the same set of thoughtfully chosen questions.

Not all advice is good advice for all people—but the right advice at the right time for the right person can be life-altering.

Backups

I have become rather obsessive about backing up my data, and I tend to evangelize about it.

What if you lost your computer today, along with all of your most important files and treasured family photos? Hard drives die, phones go missing, laptops get stolen—and these things can be devastating if you’re not prepared.

Thankfully, backing up is easier than it’s ever been. Here’s a glimpse into my current system:

  • I use Time Machine to back up the files on my Mac to an external drive. Time Machine is amazing—it’s a total “set it and forget it” solution. It automatically keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months.
  • I use iCloud Drive to sync my Documents folder to the cloud, adding some extra peace of mind for my most important work files.
  • My iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch are automatically backed up to iCloud as well—which makes it quick and easy to load up a new device when it’s time to upgrade or replace.
  • Nearly every digital photo I’ve ever taken is stored in my iCloud Photo Library, which makes photo organization (and rediscovery) a genuinely pleasant experience.
  • Most of my web projects are powered by WordPress, and I use VaultPress for those. Hands-off, automatic offsite backups and security from Automattic, the company behind WordPress itself.
  • I manually back up my static websites, because they don’t change much. (My web hosts also have their own backup systems in place, but I try not to depend on those.)

I didn’t realize until I made this list just how Apple-heavy my backup regimen is. It wasn’t always that way—I used to be a Windows guy—but it all really does just work.

Whatever solutions you go with, make sure you have something in place to save you from disaster. And don’t wait! Today could be the day you lose all those precious photos, or your tax documents, or that novel you’re working on.

Back it up!

Brief Candle In The Dark

As a long-time admirer of biologist Richard Dawkins, I thoroughly enjoyed his autobiography, Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science. The book is structured as a series of stories and anecdotes, ordered by subject matter rather than chronology. It was fascinating to take a peak behind the curtain and get to know the man behind the science.

After reading several of Dawkins’s previous books, Brief Candle in the Dark offers context about how they fit into the bigger picture of his life and career. It also provides a rather candid look at his experiences, inspirations, and personal philosophies surrounding science, religion, education, the public debate format, and many other topics.

Dawkins is clearly one of the great minds of his generation, but what I think truly sets him apart is his ability to communicate scientific ideas to the general public with excitement and eloquence, instilling in millions a sense of intellectual curiosity.

If you’re a fan as well, you don’t want to miss this book.

Graduation

She did it! ??‍?

I could not be more proud of this lovely lady as she graduates from one of the best (and most challenging) universities in the country. I’m lucky to have such an ambitious, hard-working woman of science as my partner in crime and in life. I love you.

My New Favorite Way To Read

When it comes to books, I often bounce between audiobooks and ebooks (I rarely read physical books these days). Audiobooks are great when I’m out and about and looking for passive consumption, whereas ebooks feel more appropriate when I’m sitting down and focusing on reading.

A few days ago, something compelled me to combine the two. I opened up a book in iBooks, started playing its audio counterpart in Audible, and in that moment I knew I’d just discovered my favorite way to read.

With the text in front of me and the narration chugging along (at 2x speed), I’m forced to keep up. And because I’m consuming the content in two different formats simultaneously, I’ve noticed a marked boost in comprehension—even with the increased pace.

So far, this seems like a great way to read more efficiently and attentively. I recommend giving it a try!

Critical Close-Up: Metal Gear Solid 2

Last night I was enthralled by this brilliant, 35-minute breakdown of what made Metal Gear Solid 2, one of my favorite games of all time, such a unique piece of art. I’m stunned by how well-made this video is. One of the top comments on YouTube: “I wanted to watch an interesting video, wound up having an existential crisis.” ?

Worth a watch if you’ve ever played MGS2—or if you haven’t!

My Course Creation Workflow & Tools

I just finished producing a new video course, and I decided to document my process here for any geeks or creatives who may be interested.

When I’m creating a course, I tend to work as a jack of all trades: I write, record, animate, edit, and produce everything myself. This is not the most efficient approach, but it’s how I prefer to operate.

My workflow can be broken down into four distinct stages: planning, writing, recording, and animation.

Planning

The planning stage begins as a chaotic mess of notes and ideas that I’ve accumulated over many months. Often these ideas pre-date my intention to create a course—they’re just things I jot down because I feel they may be useful.

When I decide the course is actually going to be a thing, I start collecting these notes into a central location, like a Google doc. I make a list of things I’d like to cover in the course, and then I start doing research.

The research phase tells me what’s out there—what’s been done, what hasn’t; what’s good, what’s not; what people want to know about the topic, what doesn’t matter; etc. I also invariably learn more about the topic during this process, which I enjoy.

When the course transforms from a vague concept to an actual project, it’s time to start outlining.

The way I do this varies. In the past, I would create a long and convuluted bullet list in Google Docs, but that gets messy fast.

While outlining my latest course, I found that I really like the mind map format. I used FreeMind, a Java app, and despite some weird graphics issues on my MacBook Pro, it worked well enough.

Next time I’ll likely go with a native Mac app, though, as there are plenty.

I try to do the majority of the thinking work during the outlining process. By the time I have a completed outline, I feel I should be able to deliver coherent lectures on the spot, if prompted.

Writing

From there, I begin the writing process. Some people are surprised to learn that I write every word of my lectures in advance (though I often go off-script). I value preparation.

I do all of my writing in Google Docs, mainly for the convenience of cross-platform editing, not to mention the peace of mind that every change I make is saved automatically—revisions and all.

Writing, for me, is the most intensive part of the process. I’m obsessed with the details: articulating clearly, avoiding fluff and filler, packing in as much value as possible.

Recording

Once I’ve got a script, it’s time to record.

I record audio in Audacity with my trusty Audio Technica ATR2100. My tools and processes are almost exactly the same today as in my podcasting days.

Now, you would think four hours of content would equate to four hours of recording—but you would be wrong. Again, I’m obsessed with the details. I’ll often do six or seven takes on a single lecture, and I follow up with a meticulous post-production process. I don’t think I want to know the ratio of recording/editing time to finished content, but delivering an outstanding product is very important to me.

Animation

My last two courses have been animated, as opposed to the traditional slide deck format. I think it helps to keep people engaged.

This part is a lot more fun and laid-back, though I’m still very detail-oriented.

My animation software of choice is VideoScribe. It’s pretty easy to pick up if you’ve never used it before, but it still offers plenty of advanced functionality.

I also use Screenflow for screencasts and some post-production work, and I’ve been quite happy with it.

So, that’s my process in a nutshell. Definitely an oversimplification, but it shows what I’m actually doing when I disappear to work on one of these projects.