I have been fortunate in that I made it through 26 years of life before I lost somebody very close to me. This streak ended yesterday, May 23rd, 2017 when my grandmother passed in her sleep. Death is not something I had spent a great deal of time pondering before now, but sitting here in the aftermath of it all, I have had a great deal of time to think it through.

I think we all realize that death is the unfortunate end we are all moving towards. It is an inevitability, a when and how, not an if. In my experience, most deal with death by way of religion. Many major religions have a concept of a heaven or heaven equivalent, with this, it is easy to find comfort knowing your loved one is in a better place. I have no gripes with this, in fact I have found myself finding comfort through similar ideas since learning of my grandmother’s passing. However, I ultimately identify as an agnostic or atheist depending on the exact context. That said, I have been spending time trying to reconcile my beliefs with my need for comfort in such a difficult time.

In doing this, I read similar anecdotes by other atheists and one in particular caught my eye and truly resonated with me.

While I highly recommend giving the original article a read, the author is posed with a question by friend whose father had passed recently. The friend asks how the author deals with death given he is an atheist. The author discusses this in the form of a letter, during it he highlights this passage by Aaron Freeman:

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly. Amen.

Having never read (or heard) this quote, I was very moved by it. I found it particularly interesting that the ideas conveyed in the passage so easily mirror those that the religious among us rely on during difficult times. When it is broken down, what we truly want to know is that our loved ones mattered, that their existence changed something in the world irrevocably, and through that change they live on.

While I am ultimately not sure if there is a heaven or hell, I do know that my grandmother lived a long, passionate and fulfilling life. She had two children, my mother and my uncle, both went on to have children of their own. My grandmother’s actions have profoundly changed the world, as a nurse she cared for the sick, as a mother she brought new life into this world, and as a grandmother she helped raise the future generations of our family. Her energy and passion live on in her children, her grand-children, and eventually my children, their children and so on.

I am comforted by the fact that, while yes, my grandmother is no longer with us, that her life had meaning. This meaning is not something that will ever die, it lives on in all of us, and in a way, my grandmother lives on too.

Recently, I have spent a great deal of time pondering the nature of what we call gut feelings. Personally, many of my decisions have been primarily guided by what I would describe as a gut feeling - but what is a gut feeling really?

I recently spoke to a woman who posed an interesting idea, that our gut feelings are a mechanism by which the universe communicates with us - an invisible hand attempting to shape our fate and our destiny. There was more that went along with the idea, but the rest was cloaked in fictional ideas based around bona fide creatures that lived within us. I don’t necessarily believe in those ideas, but I do think that the core concept is still valid.

In thinking about this some more I have been reminded of the concept of our “lizard brain” as some affectionately refer to it. Commonly, “lizard brain” refers to our more primal brain, the brain stem and associated areas. This area of the brain is commonly associated with reflexive actions that require little to no processing in the higher orders of the brain. For instance, the heart beat and respiration is largely controlled in this portion of the brain.

Evolutionarily speaking, the brain developed upwards, if you will, from the brain stem, eventually culminating in the frontal cortex that is responsible for much of the logic and reasoning us humans enjoy today.

I find it most curious that there are portions of our brain, that are very much brain in the literal sense, that we are unable to consciously tap in to. For instance, we cannot reason our heart beat down to some desired level, likewise, we cannot override the idea that we are hungry, or thirsty. This has lead me down the path of reasoning that perhaps our gut feelings have something to do with these active, but not consciously accessible portions of the brain.

The lesser brain, as I will refer to it from here on out, was what our earlier ancestors used to accomplish basic tasks. The lesser brain told them when they were hungry, it helped them move around and generally, live the life we see in most other reasonably evolved animals on earth. But there had to have been some sort of complex analysis done in this portion of the brain for our ancestors and animals to accomplish what are inherently complex tasks – intercepting prey, analyzing images provided by the eyes to locate predators, and so on. These tasks likely happen autonomously given that these creatures are not conscious in the human sense. This is all well and good in creatures that only have primitive brains, but for humans there is so much more going on, especially with the frontal cortex and the higher orders of the brain.

So then, I’ve reasoned that as humans, our lesser brains still process information much like what I have described above for animals and our ancestors. While this is no revelation in and of its self (it has been scientifically proven that this is the case), I have also posited that the lesser areas of the brain help us in processing complex situations more than we may realize.

Perhaps, what we describe as a gut feeling, is the lesser brain attempting to help us with our analysis of problems that are typically beyond its wheel house. While the frontal cortex and other higher brain orders act as a sort of central processing unit, picking apart details, perhaps the lesser brain acts as a sort of crude auditor, looking over the previously analyzed facts and drawing a more basic conclusion.

Given the separation, it would make sense that the lesser brain would communicates this information in an inherently vague and sometimes confusing way, in the form of a gut feeling.

What I find most intriguing about this idea, is that often, my gut feelings are counterintuitive. I spend a great deal of time analyzing a situation when anything more than a cursory decision is to be made, arguably, too much time. What I find curious, though, is that the conclusion I come to through my analysis is often logically sound and, objectively, a sound decision while my gut feeling is often completely the opposite.

Does this mean our lesser brains are better at processing this information? No, probably not, but then again I am not a brain scientist either. My interpretation of all of this has resulted in the idea that we should carefully consider our decisions, but not too carefully. Perhaps the over analysis that I, and probably some of you, are guilty of is clouding our judgement. Perhaps the logically sound choice isn’t the best choice? As a big fan of logic (I am a programmer after all) it pains me to suggest this, if we can’t trust logic what can we trust? But all in all, I take comfort in the idea that there is likely no “right” choice. With that in mind, we shouldn’t be afraid of taking a chance – if there is no “right” choice, logically, there can be no “wrong” choice either.

It is that time of year again, time to reflect on what has happened over the past year, where I succeeded and where I failed, and more importantly set goals for the coming year.

I, like many of you, had a pretty rough year so I am quite pleased to bid adieu to 2016.

I like to start these posts by covering what I actually did this year before delving into the specifics of last year's goals and how I did there, so here it goes!

  • Started a new business - Last year I started Bitkumo with my friends Lev and Mike. Things didn't work out super well there, but before Bitkumo ended Lev and I started a new business, Statusy. Statusy makes affordable status pages. I've put tons of time into this business and it has grown over the year into a profitable business.

  • Lost a job - I really enjoyed my time at Virtkick, but unfortunately budgetary constraints resulted in me being laid off around the beginning of the summer. While this sucked at the time, I look at it as a blessing in disguise, giving me a chance to relax and work on personal projects for the first time since I was high school.

  • Got a new job - One door closes, another opens. Not long after I departed from Virtkick I started working for Plaid Technologies, a position I have really come to love over the past few months. I feel like this position was made for me and it is allowing me to grow substantially as a developer.

  • Moved - Another year, another move. After I finished my time at Virtkick my then girlfriend and I decided it would be wise to move closer to family, so we packed up our apartment and moved north to Minnesota. When we arrived it wasn't much different than San Antonio, honestly the heat was kind of worse (with humidity stacked in), but I quickly forgot about that as we moved into the winter and sub-zero temperatures. I never understand what -19 meant in terms of temperature, but I do now: pain.

  • Traveled - I had the pleasure of taking a road trip from San Antonio to the Minneapolis area at the beginning of the year so my then girlfriend could attend a friend's wedding. I love road tripping and it is always a joy to see family so that was a good time. I also spent a few weeks in San Francisco, I hadn't been there previously but it was an enjoyable time, thanks Plaid!

  • Ended a relationship - Easily the roughest part of the year was the end of my near nine year relationship with my girlfriend, April. Break ups always suck, but this was especially rough given the time and experiences we had together. Fortunately, many friends and family were there to help me make it through to the other side with relatively minor wounds, thanks guys!

With that out of the way, it is time to look at what I wanted to accomplish this year. In my post from 2015 I listed the following goals for 2016:

  • Grow Bitkumo - This sort of happened. Bitkumo stagnated about four months after the beginning of the year, my good friend and then business partner Lev decided we shouldn't proceed. After some himming and hawing we eventually decided to sell the business to Virtkick, who continues to operate Bitkumo to this day. But hey, a successful exit is still success!

  • Get my code into production - Check! Much of my code eventually went into production at Virtkick. I also have a fair number of things in production with my current employer.

  • Learn RoR - A swing and a miss. I learned what I needed to know during my time at Virtkick, but after moving to a company that didn't utilize Rails I kind of lost interest. I have more than made up for this in my improved JS skills though.

  • Continue growing as a developer - Definitely. I've learned a ton more about Javascript, wrote a React/Redux app and continued expanding my Python knowledge. I have also improved my code reading skills drastically. I never imagined this would be as hard as it is, but it is definitely a skill to be developed.

  • Continue growing as a person - Sure. With the end of the relationship I mentioned above I took a lot of time to do some soul searching and learn a bit more about myself. Through this I've become a better Joe, I think.

Overall I am happy with my progress for the year, especially given the difficulties it has introduced. Now, on to 2017!

  • Continue growing Statusy - I love working on Statusy, I have found a great partner in Wojtek, a former colleague from Virtkick. Together we have made innumerable improvements to the Statusy platform including several major redesigns, improved UI/UX and more features than I can count on my fingers and toes. I want to continue growing this business, it is fun, and I feel it fills a hole in the market.

  • Continue learning about myself - It sounds kind of like BS, but hey it is what it is. Doing my own thing has allowed me to learn more about who I am, what I am, and what I want. I want to continue this adventure in 2017.

  • Resume pilot training - A few years back I started developing a love of aviation. This manifested its self in the pursuit of my private pilots certificate. Unfortunately, things didn't work out financially so I ultimately stopped this pursuit, but now that I am where I am, it seems like a great time to pick this up again.

  • Have fun - Another thing I have learned throughout the year is that working all the time is simply no fun. I've had several very productive years, but working all the time has started to have an impact on myself today, my previous relationship and relationships with friends and family. I don't intend to become a bum, but I do want to take it easy this year and enjoy myself a bit more.

With that, good bye 2016, hello 2017. I hope you all have a great 2017!

Another year is coming to an end, thankfully. Like most others, I have had a rather dreadful year, bidding 2016 farewell will be quite satisfying. The end of the year always makes me reflect on how things went over the course of the year. This year I have been thinking quite a bit about pivotal moments.

Looking back, there are a number of moments in my life that drastically altered where I am today. At the time, these decisions did not feel like they would be pivotal. In some cases, the outcome was disappointing, in others, indifference, and in some I fought tooth and nail to prevent that outcome.

But, despite my efforts, things ended up happening this way, this specific way and I am where I am because of each and every one of those minute decisions.

This got me thinking, what was the first pivotal decision that I made? Was it deciding not to play soccer in middle school? Picking to sit next to X or Y at lunch? At some point in my past there was a moment that created this particular path through life. I don't know what this moment was, but I wish I did.

After thinking about this extensively lately I've decided that I need to start living in the now more often, rather than the future. The decisions we make today can be the pivotal decisions we look back on in a few year's time. Taking time to live in the moment and ultimately make yourself susceptible to these pivotal moments can shape your future in a big way.

Think before you act, but not too much. Happy New Years everybody!

I mentioned in my other post about some events that fundamentally changed my view on the world. Here, I wanted to dive into one event in particular, the break in I experienced in early August this year.

Not long after I moved from Texas to Minnesota to be with my girlfriend's family I headed out to San Francisco for a couple weeks to do onboarding for a new position I had just secured. The onboarding went great, I loved (and still do) my new company and the expereince overall was exemplary. It was the last weekend I would be in San Francisco, I remember snapping awake around 8 AM. I rolled over and grabbed my phone, as I usually do in the morning, to see what had happened while I slept. I saw one message from my girlfriend "Dude, look at the camera".

I had purchased a "smart" security camera and set it up in the apartment before I left. The camera had an app that notified you of movement, or in this case, an "Unknown Face". I looked at the other notifications on my phone and my heart dropped, I saw several "Unknown Face" notifications in a row.

I quickly opened the app and started watching the videos. The first shows a man kicking down our door, walking in and looking around. The others showed two other men carrying things out of our apartment. One video showed our TV sitting in the hallway before one of the burglars swept it up into what I assume was a waiting vehicle. I looked at the live view on the camera to see the now shattered door to our apartment hanging about half open with nobody to be seen.

The feeling was devestating - sitting a thousand some odd miles away, in an Airbnb watching your apartment being robbed.

My girlfriend, who was still in Minnesota at the time, but away with family handled the event like a true champ. She managed to call the police (for the record, if you need to call the police in another area, just dial 911 and they can connect you to the police department where the crime is happening) and not long after I watched the videos I saw more "Unknown Face" notifications as the police had arrived.

After I arrived home, my girlfriend and I combed through the apartment to see what had been taken. We found our TV missing, a box of credit cards and other personal documents missing, all of my girlfriend's jewelery, an iPad and some other miscellaneous things were all nowhere to be found. This sucked, especially my girlfriend's jewelry (which included a number of sentimental pieces), but the coming days would make it clear this was not the primary loss.

We stayed with my girlfriend's family for about a week after I returned from San Francisco while we made improvements to the security of the apartment. When we were satisfied, we hesitantly moved our things back into the apartment and spent our first night there. Neither of us slept, every little creak and whisp of wind made us roll over and check our security camera for invaders. This continued, unfortunately, for months.

When I thought of what a burglary was in the past, I always thought about losing things. Things like laptops, jewelry, TV's and such, just like the things we lost. But what I never thought about is the emotional and psychological impact something like this has on you. An event like this kind of introduces fear as a regular emotion in your life. Will they come back? If they do will they hurt us? Should we move?

I am fortunate in that I have never really felt true fear, but having it forcefully added as a regular feeling in your life is very traumatic.

Despite how bad this experience was, it does have a silver lining. It has made me realize that physical security is a very real thing, and it goes beyond a lock on the door. True security should exist in layers. Introduce redundancies to ensure an invader is caught before they have the opportunity to enter your home, and if they do enter, make sure you can watch their every move.

Beyond the security implications, I also wanted to mention that should something like this happen to you, go find yourself a therapist to talk about it. My girlfriend and I did not do this, but looking back on it and our experience since I really wish we had. This is very much a traumatic experience, it isn't something you should just sweep under the carpet and move on with. Deal with it while it is fresh and you will probably suffer much less in the months after.