Synthesis : Scott Becker

2012 Review

2012 was a big year, packed with travel, new business ventures, new experiences, and challenges along the way. I certainly didn’t stand still long.

In January I gave myself a 30 day challenge to eat healthier. It was tough, but fun being forced to think and do things differently. Making an arbitrary rule and sticking to it can highlight your patterns and break you out of well-worn grooves.

That was good preparation for February, when I would really need discipline. I set up Olio Apps and started working for myself again, splitting time between consulting and product development.

In March, O and I travelled to Hawaii, where we lived and worked remotely for a month. It was awesome to be in the warm sun and skip some of the cold and gray back home.

In April I travelled to Scottsdale Arizona for JSConf, which was full of brilliant people and ideas. Scottsdale was quite pleasant, but super dry. Your skin needs moisturizer in the south west, or you will rapidly turn to dust.

Late April through May we headed out again, this time living and working near the beach in St. Pete, Florida. It was great to spend some decent time with family and friends in the area I grew up, versus the momentary visits I generally have back home for holidays.

June was spent back in Portland, when the weather starts to get consistently nice again and all the fair weather cyclists come out for group rides and Pedalpalooza. I also spent part of the time preparing the two talks I gave at a technical conference.

In July I made up another silly month long challenge for myself, to write on this blog once a day, and run every other day. This time a friend decided to join me and proposed making a bet with actual money on the line if either of us failed. I accepted. We both managed to finish without losing the dough. Committing to blog every day is tough. Some days I’ll admit I had to just pull something out of my ass in order to win the bet. Doing a project or challenge like that is way more fun with a friend. Suddenly you’re accountable, pushing each other, and watching how the other is doing, instead of just talking yourself into it.

August found us white water rafting down the Rogue River and camping among the giant, ancient trees in the Redwood forest of California. So glad I got a chance to see them and hope to get back there again sometime soon.

September took us to Atlanta and the northern reaches of Georgia for my cousin’s wedding. This was the second wedding on my father’s side in the last couple years, and each time it’s like a big family reunion, because everyone lives so spread out now that rarely is everyone in one place. It was awesome to get to see everyone again.

In October, O surprised me with a weekend trip to Florida for my birthday, so we could attend my good friend’s annual haunted house / halloween blowout. It’s been happening nearly every year since I’ve moved to Portland and I finally got to go. It was terrifyingly amazing.

In November, I went to another tech conference, this time in Denver Colorado to attend my forth RubyConf, with my friends at The Clymb. After that I was back for a couple days before we took off to explore Japan and South Korea for 3 weeks.

In December, after all the travel we decided to stay put in Portland and enjoy being home for Christmas and New Years.

Lessons

I successfully got a consulting business off the ground last year. I’ve done this before in ’05-’07 with Electro Interactive, so getting started again was fairly familiar. Once up and running, it was pretty much on autopilot, just finding clients and working diligently. I initially loaded up on client projects, but quickly decided that more than 3-4 is too much to juggle. I need to keep it simple if I expect to launch products in 2013. I’ve whittled it down to two active client projects at any one time. More is possible if full time consulting was the plan, but my end goal is to use consulting to bootstrap a product-focused business, so I’ve tried to hold consulting down to 50% of the time. Lately I’ve been doing more to make up for time off, and I plan to cut it back a bit.

I wanted to do more public speaking last year. I gave two talks at Open Source Bridge, an annual conference held in Portland. One talk was an intro to web development with Clojure, a language I started learning earlier in the year, and the other on building developer platforms, and my experiences while helping to do that at Jive Software. Presentations are hard to quantify in terms of a pay off – it takes a lot of preparation time, and a fair amount of stress, but it’s worth pushing yourself. It was great to have two of my proposals accepted, though in the future, I’ll only give one talk per conference. Better to keep it simple, focus on less things and do them better.

Travel was obviously part of the plan last year, and I think we knocked that one well out of the park.  I also visited two new countries this past fall, fulfilling an ongoing goal to explore the rest of the world. Travel reminds you of the open possibilities beyond the microcosm of your everyday life and breaks you out of your routine.

2013

Top of the agenda for this year is launching projects initially started in 2012, both business-wise and creatively. There are a couple product ideas I intend to get launched by Q1. I plan to complete and release atleast one album with one of the musical projects I’m a part of. I plan to write here at a more regular cadence, either monthly or bi-monthly. In 2013 we haven’t made solid plans yet, but we may travel further and for longer stretches of time. The overall goal to simplify and focus more time on less things is paramount.

Happy new year and good luck with your own goals and plans for 2013.

Scott

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July: Blog every day. Run every other.

As a guy who’s fond of personal challenges and setting goals for myself, I started thinking about what the theme for July would be a couple weeks ago. I’ve decided to make July “improve personal communication” month, and to that end, I’m going to try to blog every day this month. Maybe it’ll become a habit, maybe I’ll fail after a week. But I’m going to give it a shot. Yesterday I sat down and brainstormed a bunch of ideas and content planned the first week. It’s going to be a mixture of personal, tech, business, music, travel, how-tos, and whatever else comes up.

I’m also going to incorporate one fitness goal into this month: start running again! Not that I’ve ever been a huge runner, but I get into it now and then. While I was in Hawaii, the weather was so nice and there was a marsh near the house with a long running trail, and it was so easy to just go out for a couple miles. The beaches in both Hawaii and Florida were also great places to run.

Once I got back to Portland, I planned to get running shoes at some point. And then a month passed! So today I went to Portland Running Company, where they really took the time to help me out and had me try on like 4 pairs of shoes. After checking my stride, they said I’m a slight over pronator, which is normal for runners with low arches. Pronation is where the foot rolls inward after the heel strikes the ground. About 15 degrees of roll is normal. More than that and you’re over pronating. Less than that, you guessed it – under pronating. So, you get shoes which help compensate for that. The shoes I bought (“Brooks” is the brand) felt awesome at the store, massive improvement over what I had been running with. Feels like I’m just gliding over the ground. Tomorrow I’ll give them the field test.

The dude at the shoe store suggested running every other day to get back into it, and try to aim for time, not distance, so that’s what I’ll do. 25 minutes every other day.

But I haven’t gone running yet, instead this evening I went on a 15 mile bike ride around the Portland waterfront, down the springwater corridor and back. We also stopped by the Doug Fir Lounge for “Pickin’ on Sundays” on the Back Patio. NodeConf is starting tomorrow at the Jupiter Hotel here, and though I don’t have a ticket to this one, it was funny to see the telltale signs of a tech conference underway – dudes sitting around staring at Mac laptops in the bar / lounge area. Normal at a coffee shop, not an everyday occurance at the Doug Fir. Having just gone to and presented at Open Source Bridge last week, I’m all nerd-conferenced out at the moment, so I’m fine with not going to NodeConf. Might stop by the evening parties though.

Other goals for July: Go camping atleast once. Bike to Hood River and back with a group. Possibly combine the previous two things. Fix some issues with my FL house and my car. Do lots and lots of client work. And not fail to post every day. Until tomorrow…

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A Fresh Start and a One Month Challenge

It’s January 1st, 2012! According to some wackos, this might be the year the world ends. It probably won’t, since from the beginning of mankind there have been countless predictions of the end of the world and so far they’ve all been wrong, so I’m gonna guess this year follows that pattern. On the off chance that they’re right, or that it might be my last year personally, I’ve decided to make it count. This year will be my “year of hustle“, as shall soon be further detailed.

A challenge

It’s the season for resolutions and fresh starts, so in that spirit, one of the first things I’m doing is a “cleanse” of my own design for the month of January. I’m actually calling this cleanse a “challenge” since that sounds more fun and I enjoy challenges. This challenge isn’t forever. No new years resolution of “from now on, I’ll never _____ again!” because that’s unrealistic and doomed to fail. This is a rational one month challenge that any person with self control ought to be able to achieve.

The challenge includes

I got this idea from an article I read online called the “Argon Challenge“, where a guy who goes by the name of Argon takes an even more extreme approach than what I outline here, eliminating many other things I have not listed. He’s been doing it for years, and each year he adds another element to his challenge. This is my first year, so I’m starting from a different place. I’ll call it the Becker Challenge.

Feel free to play along. My girlfriend has decided to do most of this along with me, which makes things easier, as we’ll both be helping to motivate the other and cook meals together. She’s foregoing the recreational internet challenge, as she actually has to use Facebook and Twitter as part of her job. This is comforting, since if something actually important happens to scroll past Facebook she can be my liaison to the social web through which I can communicate for the month.

To go into a bit more detail:

No eating out

My girlfriend and I have become a little shall we say, “dependent” on restaurants, food carts, and drive throughs for about 80% of our dietary needs. One could argue this is primarily my influence, being the lazier of the two in the kitchen, but she loves to try new places and eat out, so it’s a perfect storm. This is a) expensive, and b) not so healthy. Food at restaurants is generally very rich and fatty, to maximize the deliciousness, which is understandable. I want to challenge myself ┬áto pay better attention to what I eat and take more responsibility for being healthy. There’s no better way to do this than making your own food. It’s a skill I obtained as a teenager working as a food prep in the kitchens of various restaurants, but slowly neglected over time since leaving the food service industry. I hope to regain and hone my chef skills this month and add a few new recipes to my limited repertoire. My girlfriend’s pro kitchen skills will ease the transition a bit, but doing this the entire month might get a bit extreme, so we’ll have one restaurant outing a week as a reward for our cook-at-home / eat-healthy efforts.

No meat

I once challenged myself to be vegetarian, in order to eat healthier, and also just to see if I had the willpower. Turns out I do. I lasted a year. Eventually I gave in to my cravings for chicken and fish, and then the flood gates opened and I was back to eating burgers, steak, bacon, and anything else from the animal kingdom that found its way on to my plate. I am most definitely an omnivore, but that year taught me a few things. A) If you’re only eating vegetables, you’re going to eat ALL your vegetables, because you need sustenance and a feeling of “fullness”, and anything on your plate that counts as food will be eaten in order to get closer to that aim. B) Vegetarian dishes can be way more colorful, creative, spicy, and delicious than your typical meat and potatoes dish. To be vegetarian is to buck the status quo, and force yourself to think outside the box. That alone is worth doing for a month, to force yourself to think different.

No excess sugar

Refined sugar makes things taste sweeter, and provides a quick energy and mood boost. The problem is it provides an equally fast energy and mood crash. I’m not much of a sugar addict now. I don’t drink soda, but I love chocolate, such as an occasional cafe mocha or chocolate chip cookie. I’m stepping off the sweets train for the month. This should help level out my moods and allow me to sleep better.

No alcohol

I live in Portland Oregon, which has a thousand awesome drinking establishments, which I quite enjoy. I don’t drink to excess on any particular night, typically having a max of two drinks, but I estimate I’ve had at least one drink per day for probably 75% of last year. I don’t have a highly addictive personality, and I don’t drink at home alone, only socially with friends, or sharing a couple glasses of wine with my girlfriend. I don’t think I have an alcohol problem. But I’m curious to see what happens. If I eliminate it for a month, will I crave it? Will I not miss it at all? Sometimes you don’t know if you’ve become dependent on something until its gone.

No coffee

There’s no question with this one. I have a coffee dependency. In the last few years I’ve gone from drinking 0-1 cups of coffee a day to 3-4, refilling at breakfast a few times, or getting a late afternoon latte. Many of these being outings to Portland’s numerous amazing coffee shops. I can’t get enough of that delicious espresso. Like sugar, coffee gives us an energy boost and corresponding crash. I’m not going to strictly cut out caffeine though, just minimize it. I’m allowing myself 1-2 cups of black tea a day. This is to ease off the caffeine, without causing headaches. I’ll need to drink twice as much tea to get the same effect as a cup of coffee. This too should help the sleep cycle.

No recreational internet

This one is huge. I have a slight internet addiction. As a software engineer, I work on the internet every day, and I need it to search for solutions to issues and questions that come up, but in between those times, I’ve allowed myself quite a bit of free reign to read interesting articles, blog posts, friend’s updates on Facebook and Twitter, and other things that aren’t really contributing to my productivity. It’s become my substitute for TV, which I don’t watch, but this is just as bad as channel surfing. It is a muscle memory reflex I do without thinking whenever I start getting bored. I love Hacker News, and there’s tons of good information on there, but there comes a time when you need to stop consuming and start producing. The internet is a two-way communication medium, so this month I’m focusing on trying to produce more and consume less. After this month I’ll resume reading blogs and social networking sites, and hopefully find a more healthy balance.

That about wraps it up. I’m already experiencing the positive benefits of this challenge. We made our own breakfast today, planned our meals and shopped for groceries for the week. Normally I would have then hopped on the internet and read a bunch of blogs and news sites. Instead of surfing the internet, I freed up the time in order to write this blog post. I’ll update as we go along, and announce a few other things happening soon as well.

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