Monthly Archives: March 2014

26Mar

Controlling Your Excitement Level

I have a tendency to jump head first on projects.

I read in the book Executive Toughness, in order to stay and remain tough, you have to control your “ideal arousal state”.

I know it sounds dirty, but in reality, it’s about excitement level.  When you are easily excited about things, this can be majorly distracting.

Imagine if you were trying to bake a cake.  Normally you would follow a very set course of actions, X cups of flour, Y cups of sugar, Z cups of water and so forth.  Then imagine as you are in the process of adding the ingredients, a friend runs by and tells you add in vanilla, as it would make it really special.  Being easily excited, you agree and add vanilla.  Then as you continue to mix your ingredients another friend comes by and says peanuts in cake are the secret to cake bliss.  You are again convinced, and proceed to drive to the store to find peanuts.  These interruptions go on and on as more friends spawn more side missions.  Before you know it, the cake doesn’t even fit in the oven anymore, and likely won’t bake properly.

The above is an extreme case of weak control of your excitement level, or “ideal arousal state”.  You jump from item to item, loosing track of what is really vital.  Abandoning the original plan as soon as something “better” comes along.

When we work on startups, “extra chefs” as I call them, will show up and tell you all sorts of great ideas.  The problem is often times though these ideas sound great, they end up distracting you from the main event.  The main recipe you were following for your business.

I’m not saying work in isolation, but I am saying keep in mind, ideas and advice are good even necessary sometimes.  Just keep your insides stable, be steady on what you yourself are trying to do.

 

25Mar

Not as good at problem solving as you think

Lately, I’ve been trying to my eat lunch with either a friend of coworker each day.  I got this advice from a great book called “Never eat alone“, my good friend Rollin recommended to me a few years ago. I only recently listened to the audiobook.

The book is about how to create and maintain business relationships.  It has some hard and fast rules on how you should engage with business partners, ranging from throwing dinner parties, to positioning yourself in their line of travel.

Today while having lunch with my friend Alex, former artist for TOBlender.com. I was telling him about my next venture.  In particular, I was complaining to him.  I don’t usually complain, but since Alex is a world class problem solver, I decided to vent some of the frustrations I’ve been having in my businesses.

I think of myself as one of the best initiators I know.  If I have an idea I just go with it.  I can always think my way around obstacles of any size.  I went on to say, that often times the only thing in my way is the lack of a motivated team to help execute the idea, and carry the ball when I get tired.

The moment I said this out loud to Alex, I came to the realization, that I was actually not as good at solving problems as I thought.  The problem of forming a good reliable team is one I am unable to overcome to this date.

I’ve started over a dozen companies, ranging from 1 to 8 members.  Every single time these ventures have ended up in failure.  I either get tired of the venture and quit, sell it, or kick people off the team who were not pulling their weight.  It feels like I am unable to find anyone who shares the same motivation and passion to get things done like me.

The founder of Wattpad.com, Allen Lau, actually gave me some good advice about partnerships.  He told me that if you expect your partners to push and work as hard as you.  You will only be disappointed.  There is no such thing as equal partners, and measuring someone by your own standards is unrealistic.  You just have to take what you can get, and make it work.

Though I know this advice, its quite hard for me to be this vulnerable.  I don’t want to be taken advantage of, I really don’t like that feeling.

I’m reminded however of my other mentor Edwin Lun’s words.  You may feel that your partners are not pulling their weight.  But at the same time, your partners can be thinking the exact same thing of you.  Everyone gets the feeling that things are unfair at some point.  It’s impossible to please anyone 100% of the time.  It is therefore vital to vent your feelings or you can rage out of the partnership.

As a result of my lunch today, I’ve decided to work on this aspect of myself.  I have all the technical skills I need to start any company.  I just need to get better at handling my insides.  Build up security and once I have that security, I can share it with a good team.

My first steps towards getting more secure is to find a good book.  I’m currently reading Daring Greatly.

Hopefully this is able to give me a framework I can use.

 

 

24Mar

Access Google Docs with PHP

Spent almost 2 hours today trying to figure out how to access Google docs using PHP.  Specifically, using a spreadsheet as a way to store data.  Quick and dirty.

On the web you’ll see using the ZEND framework.  At first I was trying hard not to use this, as most shared hosting will not allow you to install frameworks.

Turns out this was an unwarranted fear.   Simply do the following:

1.

Download and extract the following into the same folder:
Zend Framework 1.12.5 Minimal
Zend_Gdata
This is the link to download the frameworks.

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 6.06.55 PM

you can use the commands

cp -r “Zend Framework 1.12.5 Minial” “Zend_Gdata”

2.

Grab the sample php code from this site:

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 6.05.19 PM
Get the Google_Spreadsheet.php form this link.

Change:

“$_SERVER[DOCUMENT_ROOT]/ZendGdata-1.8.1/library”)”

“$_SERVER[DOCUMENT_ROOT]/{Change this to where you extracted the above zend framework}/library”

3.

Change the following to match your google login credentials and the spreadsheet you made:

$u=”[email protected]
$p=”somepassword”
$ss->useSpreadsheet(“test”)

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 6.08.03 PM

4.

Add the column names to that spreadsheet:
name, email, comments

5.

Run the page, and see the new values added.  Credits to : www.farinspace.com, just trying to keep track of how to do things my way.

23Mar

Relationship Golf

I spent the evening at an MBA graduation formal.

Normally being surrounding by MBA graduates and their type A personalities for 6 hours would be a bit overwhelming for me. But I decided it was a good way to take me out of my comfort zone, and move me towards my goal of building more relationships.  My goal for this event, was to try some advice in an article I read many months ago, about treating relationships like a game of golf, keeping your numbers low.

The idea behind relationship golf is to focus on making 1 or 2 very good connections instead of just running around trying to meet everyone.

When trying to connect with someone in a short period of time.  I learnt that you should focus 90% of the conversation on them.  People love to talk about themselves.  Ask them what they are up to, what they have done and where they plan to go.  Listen carefully to the conversation, as they generally will give you openings to continue down different lines of conversation.

For example, if you ask a person what they do for a living.  They may say accountant at XYZ firm.  My follow up question would then be, what type of accounting?  If they say tax accounting, I would ask them about any interesting stories of tax savings or tricks they did.

People generally are very interested in their craft, if you dig deep and listen carefully you can find countless things for them to talk about within their domain.  For example, any new laws passed by the government that they are affected by.  Or how they see the craft advancing or regressing.

I may not know anything about accounting, but if you take the position of the student, you can learn much from someone who takes pride in what they do.

As a side effect, by actively listening to the person you would have paid them a subtle complement.  Getting someone’s attention in the world has gotten much harder, with all the media we are constantly bombarded with. It is rare for someone to give something as valuable as attention away.  People notice this gift, and are more than likely going to return the favour when it’s your time to speak.

During the formal I ended up having good conversations with 3 people, and we will likely meet again to chat further to see how we can be of use to each other in the future.

Aim for small numbers of meaningful interactions, instead of spreading your time and attention far and wide.

 

22Mar

Automobile University

Often times I will recommend a book to a friend to help solve a problem they are facing.  9 out of 10 times they will reply with some excuse about not having the time.

I used to reply the same way.  Until I discovered audiobooks.  Audiobooks are awesome, because I am a slow reader, and it takes me weeks to finish a book.  But with an audiobook, it only takes a few hours.

Lately I’ve been doing 3 hour drives to visit my friend on the weekends.  It’s a total of 6 hours there and back.  Normally this is a lot of wasted time.  Now I can use this time to finish a short book.

I’ve also found that audiobooks can be great for training a new language as well.  I’ve been using the Pimsleur system to learn mandarin.  I went from practically no mandarin to conversational in about 6 months.  Just half an hour a day during my morning commute was all I needed.

When I graduated university I had the impression I was done learning.  I thought I had all the knowledge needed for the rest of my life.  It took almost 2 and a half years for me to realize that I didn’t know anything.

Having a degree doesn’t mean you can stop learning.  I can safely say that all of my recent accomplishments had little to do with my university education.  In fact, if I had spent those 4 years just reading books that would help me get to where I needed to be, I could have saved thousands of dollars.

If you want to get anywhere in life, you have to read.  I’m going to paraphrase Will Smith’s quote, there have been billions people before you.  It is highly unlikely the problem you are facing right now is completely original.  If there is a solution to that problem, it is likely in a book.

Do what it takes to get the education you need, as it is the only thing you truly own.

21Mar

Your Mood is in Your Food

For the last 4 weeks, I’ve been on a slow carb diet.  Basically this is eating any meats, vegetables, nuts and legumes.  So far I’ve lost about 2% body fat and dropped 5 pounds.

A lot of people ask me why I’m even on a diet, as I am at a healthy weight for my height.  The reason, I am doing the diet to reach a life long goal of mine, which is to have 6 pack abs.

Your only given one shot with your body, and I figure I’d see how far I can take it.  In addition to dieting I’ve been doing Kickboxing 3 times a week to speed up the process.

Unfortunately, I am unable to maintain my discipline each and everyday.  I find that trying to be social, one of my other goals, is coming into conflict with working out and eating slow carb.  In Canada, at least in Toronto, being social often involve food and drink.  The drink is often beer.  Beer has lots of carbs, not to mention causes dehydration and all sorts of other negative health attributes.  The problem is I love beer and hanging out.  I can reject the food, but the drinks are much harder to deny.  I’ve tried to have whisky instead, but it’s just not the same.  When I cave for the booze, I end up missing the workout the following days.  Double negative :(

In addition to occasionally cheating on my diet, I would have bouts of redoubled efforts.  What ends up happening is I would go low carb the next few days, completely restrict all sugary intake.  However, as I found out yesterday, this has many negative side effects as well.  Yesterday I was very moody, and found it hard to focus, as well as blurred vision.  I looked up some of the symptoms and it seems that low blood sugar was the cause.  I immediately popped some candies, and immediately started to feel better.  Too bad it was already at the end of the workday.  My colleagues had already taken the blunt of my sugar induced mood swing.

The lesson here is to consult a doctor before trying to do something so extreme to your diet.  As mood swings and other health risk can be a factor.

What would be great is if we had a device that monitors all the levels of your nutritional intake.  Just a simple thing you spit into to and it just tells you if you are deficient in anything.  Heck, even a clear plan on what to eat each day, in order to get all the nutrients you need would be nice.

 

 

 

20Mar

How to create kick ass invoices for free

I started to create my own invoices about 7 years ago.  I remember the first invoice I made was with Excel.  I downloaded a template online, and filled it in with the utmost care.

Now a days, due to my mobile nature, I am rarely in one spot.  Access across all my different computers is key, so I’ve moved on to using Google Docs instead, currently named Google Drive.  Same idea as the Excel version, but allows me to save as PDF on all platforms without custom software.  It also saves all the files into one place where it’s easy to sort and find things.

This however was not a perfect solution either.  I found myself fumbling through many sheets for tallies, and also losing track of invoices.  Often time, it would just be the same invoice, so I would clone it, and miss some key fields, such as the correct billing dates.

This lead me to discover Invoice Machine, this web application does a great job tallying up your invoices and keeping them organized.  It looks like a mac application, and is pretty easy to use.  My only complaint is the cost.  I felt it was a good app, but I felt it wasn’t solving that big of a pain point to justify the reoccurring cost.

Today I discovered Invoice Ninja, this is an equally polished invoice application and it’s completely FREE.

I question how Invoice Ninja makes money.  Also is my client data private?  I think this could be an awesome way for someone to gather the running total of all the cost of contracts, and the average cost of a task.  Though one may argue that Elance, an outsourcing site, would have just as good of a picture.

8Mar

An easy way to write better

I struggle to write clear manner. When I write it feels like I miss some of the things I am saying in my head. On other occasions I write run on sentences.

I found a mini solution to this problem. There is a neat little online application called Hemingway. It’s a tiny editor that lets you type, then go into editing mode.

In edit mode it actually tells you how hard it is to read your passage. Also does a bunch of other checks, such as adverb usage or passive voice.

Check it out at hemingwayapp.com.

7Mar

Speed reading app

There is a great application called “Spritz” that increases your reading speed exponentially.

I have always struggled to read anything quickly.  I average about 10 pages per hour or 83 hours per minute.  I find I have to say the word out loud in my head before I can process it.

Using the app I was able to read at 500 words per minute.  Over 5 times increase in speed.

Often when I tired other speed reading techniques or programs, I don’t actually retain anything I have read.  But with Spritz, I find I can actually recall the content.

You can try the app out on their website.  I went to the science page and was able to read the entire thing in under a minute, and could spew the facts of the page to a co-worker.

Eventually they will have this app running on wrist watches, eye wear like google glass, or even rings like the smarty ring.

Though I question how comfortable it is to read text with only one eye.

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