Bootstrapping Independence

The Mundane Existence

Celebrate the MundaneWhen I was a child, I used to wonder why adults seemed so foolish. I would look around and wonder why adults did things that were so incomprehensible. Why did they do the same things every day, even though it didn’t make them happy, repeating the same routines day after day. They spent all their time frowning, creating wrinkles, and worrying about this or that, always serious and sad.

Over time, I have become one of those adults. I hardly ever play. I walk around all day with a frown on my face, worrying about one thing or another for no good reason. I do things that don’t make me happy and ensure I won’t get there anytime soon. But even though I am one of those adults, I am still not a whole lot closer to figuring out the why of it, or a different way of living. Although I like to imagine otherwise, my life is not all that different from anyone else’s. I started creating detailed logs of my days, in the hopes it would give me some insight about how to shift my thinking or activities. Each day doesn’t differ substantially from any other. A generalized version of my day:

5:30 AM: Alarm goes off. Hit snooze repeatedly. I had hoped to stretch and meditate for 30 minutes, but I fail to get out of bed.
6:00 AM:
Force myself out of bed. I get up only when I know I will need to rush to make it, and have a good shot at being late to work. Even so, I don’t really start moving until 6:15.
6:45 AM:
Done with shower, and various things surrounding it. Dress for work. Prepare to take out the dogs.
7:00 AM:
Dogs have been out and fed . Make breakfast. Pack lunch. Brew coffee.
7:10 AM:
Eat breakfast. Read a book, the paper, or blogs.
7:30 AM:
Get in the car. Drive to work. Spend ~30 minutes in traffic.
8:00 AM
: Arrive in the office. I might be late, sometimes up to 20 minutes late, sometimes up to 10 minutes early. Walk to my desk, settle in. I usually have 30 minutes to respond to emails and finish work before my first meeting. Plan for meetings at least 3 out of the next 4 hours.
11:45 AM:
Meetings coming to a close. Feeling de-motivated. To-do list has doubled. Projects are behind schedule. The list of things to complete is too much to handle. If I can leave for an early lunch, I will. If I can’t, I piss away my time by reading blogs/news/technology articles for 15-30 minutes.
12:00 PM:
Go to car. Drive to coffee shop, usually caribou or starbucks depending. Buy a coffee even though it won’t make me feel any better. Sit in the parking lot and eat the lunch I packed. Listen to the radio. Try to relax. The hour goes quickly.
1:00 PM:
Back in office just in time for next meeting. Stay on the phone 3-4 of the next 4 hours. When not listening to the meeting, work on to do list. Respond to the 100+ emails that come in during the day. Try to be pro-active instead of reactive. If I can find 20 minutes free on my calendar, sometimes I go for a walk.
5:00 PM:
Meetings are done, so I can get real work done. Start running down the to-do list in terms of priority. Sometimes, I can’t motivate myself to work. My job is just not that interesting most of the time, but I can’t imagine a better one without working for myself.
6:30 PM:
The cleaning people have arrived at the office. I pack up. Go home. Either I pissed away my time reading interesting articles or accomplished something depending on my mood. I feel burnt out.
7:00 PM:
Arrive home assuming no after work errands. Say hello to those living with me. Change out of work clothes.
7:15 PM:
I would like to spend some time unwinding, but I have to be social. Spend time with family. Eat dinner.
8:30 PM:
Dinner is done. I am the only one who doesn’t enjoy TV, but I feel obligated to watch it to be social. One or Two nights a week I will work instead. Occasionally I will work on my startup for an hour. Chances are I will take flak from my family if I don’t spend enough time with them.
10:00 PM:
Everyone else is going to bed. I crack open the laptop to continue work. Either startup or office, depending on the need. Sometimes I write.
11:00 PM:
How am I feeling? If I am groggy, I get ready for bed. If I am ok, I work for one more hour.

My weekends don’t differ much. I will spend more time on my startup, and the rest of it trying to catch up with family, doing errands, yard work, house work, paying bills, or whatever else needs to be done. Relaxing almost never occurs on the weekends. Bonus: I sleep until 8 or 9 in the morning Saturday and Sunday.

Living the same way every day makes everyone sadI want to escape what I see as my life prison. This blog is an effort to document my attempts at dis-entangling. A lifestyle business seems to me the best way at this point, but after more than three years of trying and not being materially closer to my goal, I have some concerns about my approach. Other lifestyle designs don’t appeal to me or seem realistic in my current situation. I consume enormous amounts of content and ideas, and though I see examples of people who live differently, I don’t see how to apply their lessons to my own life and situation without sacrificing the few things that make my life worth living.

I have become incomprehensible to myself. I live the mundane existence from which I can find no escape.

Turning Thirty

I turned thirty this month. I was lucky to be surrounded by my family on a relaxing trip out of town. It is a difficult age to turn. Thirty is the bridge between the dreams of youth, and the middle aged responsibility of life. It is still a very young age, and yet feels very old. It may be inevitable that every decade starting at 30, we look inward at our own sense of accomplishment and compare that with what we see others in our age group accomplishing, both the people we know and the celebrities we unconsciously compare ourselves to. Thirty is the first numeric milestone without society explicitly telling us what we should be doing. At ten we are too young to truly understand our own mortality, and at twenty there is college life and the struggle for independence from parental control and for most of us the long wait to 21 to start really living. By thirty we have mostly realized that the lines society fed us from a young age are mostly BS, and the only measure we have anymore is how well we match up to our idealistic youth projections. Did we turn out like we expected, or is the child within us disappointed at what we have become?

My evolution from a feverish dream chaser to a family oriented man was gradual and yet pointed. I realize how good I actually have it at my Big Corporate Job – a set schedule, regular good sized pay checks, decent paid vacation, and other perks. I have good health, a wonderful wife, and an amazing and healthy family. It isn’t everything I ideally want in life, but it’s pretty incredible. Being thankful for what I have is a healthier state of mind than scorning it and looking at the stars for guidance. In that at least, I am progressing.

After several months of making finding my life purpose my life purpose, I believe I have hit on something, not fully fleshed out yet, but enough to get me started. Rightly or wrongly, I feel that by thirty I should have started on my life’s work, though I am not yet sure what my life’s work actually is. Perhaps it will be obvious in retrospect, like the biographies I read where it seems success is inevitable, and the small coincidences critical to eventual success are clearly laid out. For now, life seems open and variable. As I grow older, I have less and less time to pursue personal dreams and work – starting a successful software company seems further and further out of reach.

My father is a lawyer and runs his own law practice. I sometimes wonder how he had the courage to start it. He once told me about the critical moment in his life where his path was determined. He was a young man, recently passed the bar exam, and having just married my mother. They were in their 20’s, without much money at all, and barely scraping by. He was recruited by a prestigious firm to work on contract and corporate law, and he was given a generous offer. When he was driving out to the office for a final discussion, he decided not to take the job, came back home, and started his own litigation practice, where he struggled to make ends meet and make a name for himself for years before becoming a successful small practice. I got the impression that if he had taken the job, he didn’t think he would have ever gone out on his own, as the pressure for regular pay checks only grows stronger as you grow older. Sometimes I wonder if I have missed my opportunity to risk it all the way my father did, or if I am just a coward giving myself excuses for taking the easy way and staying at a good job.

Either way, my life is pretty good, and I am thankful for that every day.

Just as a service to anyone who might hit this issue. Upgrading to Windows 7 can sometimes cause static to erupt on speakers when using a creative card. I found some working drivers, but can no longer find the original link. I believe they are part of the Daniel K driver set, but searching through his releases today facing this problem after upgrading to Windows 7 SP1 and having sound stop working, followed by getting the sound to work but with heavy static. Thankfully, I found these drivers on a backup disk I had and re-installing fixed the issue.

My Card: Creative XFI ExtremeMusic

Problems: Music not working or working with heavy static. No official drivers corrected the issue, including the latest beta drivers.

Solution: Install this driver set. Since I couldn’t find it after much searching, I hosted it here. Please post in comments if there is a more “official” download location. I’ll continue to host assuming it doesn’t take up too much of my monthly bandwidth.

Download: Daniel K Creative Working Windows 7 driver set

I Want to Help People

It’s no secret that I am facing career burn out lately. It isn’t something new to me – I’ve been feeling it in one form or another for years now, but what changed is that I ran out of patience. I also had a critical decision to make regarding my two income producing websites, Golem Technologies and Crossword Puzzle Maker. Neither of them was growing despite a lot of effort, and though Golem became consistently profitable this year, I don’t see it ever being able to replace my day job income for a variety of reasons. So I put both of them in maintenance mode. I support existing customers, I do bug and security fixes, but I stopped actively promoting them and developing them. Giving up a business you love is a painful but necessary decision sometimes.

Since then, I lost a bit of direction – without the hope of growing my business into a sustainable lifestyle, it is harder than ever to go to work every day. I stopped reading the business blogs I read and I can’t seem to re-invigorate my passion for programming. A couple blogs I did not stop reading, and which helped provide me direction were James Altucher (and his daily practice, which I try to do) and Steve Pavlina – even though the past few years I have not connected with his writing as much. Steve recently wrote that passive income won’t bring you freedom, a concept I wanted to ignore for a long time but it was timely since I recently came to the same conclusion independently. What traps me is not my work – it is the attachment to the lifestyle my work enables, and the attachments my family has built up, and my attachments to the ideals of supporting them in this lifestyle so they do not suffer.

In the end, I concluded that my current path was unsustainable. I am no longer sure I have the fire in me to start another business for a while. Instead, to begin reinvigorating my creative spirit, I decided that my main goal would be simple – to help people however I can. I had a crazy idea of being an IT career coach since I have tons of IT experience and have helped a few people (friends and strangers alike) get jobs in IT, so I posted a note on LinkedIn inviting people to let me coach them for free. I got a huge response and have spent the last week coaching several folks through the process of getting a job. This is rewarding, but already I know I won’t be doing it full time. I also had the opportunity to connect to a few very kind and helpful people. Two of which have offered web consulting opportunities which I am exploring.

So my current path is fluid, undefined. When it remains undefined, it remains free. I am not sure what I will discover or land on, but I feel it is a good choice for me. I am casting about seeing if I can connect with people who I can help with my unique set of technical and business skills. I want to help people with no expectation at all – nothing in it for me other than the satisfaction of knowing I am helping.

Everyone has so much to offer others, but sometimes we don’t even realize it. I spent so much effort trying to package my skills and knowledge into a saleable form I lost sight of the real goal of a business – to help people. My dissatisfaction with the daily grind corrupted my efforts, and made them less than they should be. Rather than building something to escape, I should build something to help. I truly feel that if I can do that successfully, then satisfaction and freedom will come as a natural side effect. When I spend my time actively helping people however I can, I believe that I will eventually hit on the true intersection between my abilities and people’s needs, and ignite true passion. Then, maybe, I will be ready to build my next business, or maybe just take a job for someone else doing that. I am not sure it would matter at that point because the objective would be helping people to the best of my ability. That might be by starting a business, but it might also be by working with someone else who already did.

So, as I reached out in LinkedIn, I am reaching out here. How can I help you or people you know? If you suspect I might be able to help with something, please reach out to me – there is nothing I would rather do than help you in this moment.

My wife is out of town this week, and I am home alone. Recently, I decided to stop doing things to distract myself: I stopped working on startups, talking on the phone, reading anything, watching TV. I stopped doing anything except sitting and being with myself after work. Since I am home alone, this is a rare chance to do it and see what develops, but something crept up on me, a sudden great fear clutching my chest.

There are many ways to avoid being alone, to avoid fear and discomfort. At the beginning of the week, I gardened late into the night, and then focused on cleaning to distract myself. The next night, I told myself I would be silent, but I called my family for hours and watched a movie. The following night, I removed the TV, but read an old favorite book. Tonight I am writing.

When I was a child, I would sometimes feel the same fear. I would go into the woods, camping alone, a few miles from home. When the fire was out, and I was alone in my tent, under the stars, I could hear the crickets chirping and the wind howling overhead, shaking the tent. At first I would sigh in relief and relax, but before long a creeping fear would overcome me. Some darkness out in the woods was watching me, waiting silently for me to relax so it could make its way toward me. My imagination ran wild – a force of nature was outside my door, silently approaching under the cover of wind and darkness, slithering closer on silent wings, standing over the tent. Inside, I would stare at the ceiling, trying not move, trying not to breathe, waiting with a beating heart to see a handprint appear on the tent, push in gently to notify me of its presence, then disappear again, daring me to act – trapped. I was certain it would happen at any moment. The shuffling of an armadillo was the slow pull of his leg, the howling of the wind his laugh, the chirping of the cricket his soft touch on my tent, the darkness of the night waiting to swallow me whole.

Now I know the fear well. It has been a long time since it has visited me. Perhaps because I have silenced my mind with a plethora of work and distraction. Now that I have awoken somewhat, there is something lurking inside, a truth I know but do not yet see. I fear to see the truth waiting in my heart – but tonight I am sitting by the fire, I will put down my laptop, and I will invite the darkness in for a chat.

I have to define my yearly goals for my company today. Every year I go through a cycle where I define my own personal goals, which has always been easy for me. This year, I barely have the motivation to accomplish even this simple task. What are my goals? To leave this job behind me. The only problem is – every path I have tried so far has not led me materially closer to that goal, so I remain stuck.

Recently, I have been feeling that perhaps there is a reason all my efforts fail to bear fruit – maybe I am just pushing myself down the wrong road. I’ve been meaning to write a post detailing all the methods I have discovered about leading an alternate lifestyle, ones which have worked for others and what I have adopted from each, but that post is for another day.

Instead, I have been thinking that I need to reset. Stop working on my side businesses, stop producing new products, or considering freelancing. I no longer know the answer to the question “If you had a billion dollars, what would you do with life?” The way I once did. The ideal life has changed. I no longer dream of starting and running a company.  In fact, I don’t really dream of anything.

What I really need is a nice long break, a break from the day to day. My job wears me down constantly, and leaves me barely any energy for myself. I keep trying to change, but every other job looks the same to me. Even my vacation is used up. I have 4 weeks now, but all of it will go to visiting family overseas, up north, or family events like weddings I feel obligated to attend. I can’t just quit – I am the only one working now and I barely have enough savings for a month of bill paying. So maybe next year I can take a week off to recharge, but it seems so far away.

Instead, I am setting aside time this weekend to find a new direction. Perhaps after this, I will forego IT or even technical work all together. It was once my passion, but I am no longer sure. Unless I redefine my dream and feel passionate about it, I don’t think I will be able to make any forward motion. At least if I had a long term goal to work for, like becoming a master craftsman, I would know if any given step would bring me closer or not.

A Normal Life

Get a job. Go to work. Get married. Have children, Follow fashion. Act normal. Walk on the pavement. Watch TV. Obey the law. Save for your old age. Now repeat after me: "I AM FREE"Like most people, I have tried my hand at a variety of jobs. While planning my career in college, I dabbled in University research (robotics and motion), market research, programming, sales, and IT. At the end of my junior year of college, the best offer came from a Fortune 10 IT department – it paid well, had a good career track, was a respected company, and would help me avoid the senior year job search stress. So I took it, knowing at the time that although it wasn’t the ideal job, it had much to say for it. Nothing else had inspired me either way anyway, so why not?

Over the following years, I grew in my business and technology skills. I moved several times for the company – away from my friends, away from my family, away from my girlfriend at the time – always away. I was promoted several times, eventually becoming a manager. My salary doubled every few years. I could buy a new Prius in cash. I lived in nice apartments. I ate out a lot. My hours increased accordingly, taking up some evenings and weekends, though in the past year I have eliminated that.

As a result of this lifestyle, I slowly, almost without noticing, became estranged from the people around me and different from the man I once was and the man I had hoped to become. I stopped talking to my friends on a regular basis, and didn’t find time or space for new ones in new locales. My girlfriend moved in, then moved out and we went our separate ways. I entered into a weekly rhythm talking to my parents over video every Sunday. It was clockwork, and destiny. My energy went into the company and my career. For what, I was never certain but it seemed that if I could move up the ladder, I should. I came home tired, and wanted to relax in quiet ways – reading books, reading the news, watching movies, or going out to eat with my new girlfriend and soon to be wife. Those times were the best times, but they were all too rare – an hour a day perhaps. Sometimes less.

I came to realize after my first year of work that work-life was no life at all. Perhaps some people are lucky, and they find work that is part of them, flows with their personality, and improves them. But not so for me, and I could see no evidence of such in my friends, co-workers, or people I met on the street or read about in books or papers. It seemed everyone was the same – we all worked for something, but none of us were quite sure just what it might be. Houses, cars, food, or wealth? I don’t think anyone works for those things. I certainly don’t, though they become a byproduct. Like a drug, once you have them, trying to eliminate them becomes life changingly hard. We become entangled.

I climb the ladder because there is only one path laid out for us by society, a straight and narrow path with cliffs on both sides. One step out of line and you risk losing everything your life has led to – being ostracized and labeled immoral. But when I stop to rest along the way, and gaze up at the mountain top of corporate achievement in front of me, at the people who made the climb to the very end, I don’t see happiness or fulfillment. It seems to me that the people who have gone the farthest – the business leaders, CEO’s, movie stars – look the most unhappy of all. I can see it in their eyes and the way they act. The black hole inside of them has gnawed away the humanity, and all they can do to feel alive anymore is drive a fast car, buy a speedboat, or have sex with a beautiful young person.

Is that what everyone is working towards?

I stopped being an honest person within one week of starting my life as a corporate lineman. Long ago I had a MySpace page with a blog that I wrote in pretty regularly. I kept a journal. I didn’t do things I thought were foolish just because other people did them, like watch sports and drink alcohol. I had opinions about many things, and was interested to hear others thoughts. My first week on the job, someone found my MySpace page and point blank told me I should not be writing anything there. So I didn’t. Later on, my girlfriend read my journal and we had a bunch of big fights about it. So I stopped doing that too. We broke up, but the habit I started when I was 12 never returned.

My interests never changed, but my behavior did, so if you asked someone who knew me what I was interested in, they probably couldn’t tell you anything. I take an unusual interest in other people’s interests. My boss likes football, so I browse the game notes and scores so we can talk about it. I find football completely boring and a waste of time, but to him I am a fan of an opposing team. I don’t drink alcohol ever, but at company events the big man up top jests at my iced tea, so I carry around a glass of fine red wine occasionally, sipping it from time to time without joy but a smile upon my face that even my wife can’t always tell is forced.

Over time, the lack of honesty in my exterior has leaked inside of me, polluting once clear waters. I have such a lack of personality now I don’t have anything interesting to say to anyone. My friends have drifted off into their own paths and I have not replaced them. To escape, I have floundered like a drowning man, trying one thing after another. A series of escape attempts each ending with little to show for it but a notch on my belt of failures. I can talk business and startups and technology and marketing and management all day long. I am better at those things than most people, though every company I start turns to dust in my mouth. But they don’t matter to me anymore and they haven’t brought me anything worth having. I thought they mattered once, but they don’t. What matters to me more now than ever is authenticity and freedom, two things I have been lacking for many years. I want my life to align in all its spheres. Today it is a fractured picture made up of many small decisions and life currents I never swam against, or perhaps only swam without direction.

This blog is no different. Until today, it was largely a collection of highly moderated pieces loosely relating to startups, technology, or my life, with the only exception being the Mundane Existence.

I am making a change, and I no longer care if anyone likes it. From now on, I will be honest here if nowhere else. I won’t commit to writing more frequently. I have proved over the past 2 odd years of hosting this that even when I try I have trouble writing regularly, though maybe honesty will alter that. No one really reads this blog – my name is mostly anonymous, and my family only tunes in when I encourage them to. Feedburner shows 133 subscribers, and I get about 1500 visits a month, though 85% go to read about Drupal Performance or startup launches.

I am done self-promoting for awhile.

Recently, when my new website security scanning startup site launched, I was inundated with traffic – receiving several thousand hits in the space of a few hours. Coupled with several  website security scans my site was running, and the load was more than my server could handle, forcing me to restart Apache several times. After this, I decided to focus on tuning my application performance, based on number of requests served per second, and page load time. In this post, I’ll cover how I tuned the following tech stack components to improve results:

  1. Infrastructure (Hardware) improvements
  2. Apache Settings
  3. PHP
  4. Application performance

Prepare yourself – this is a very in depth tuning article, so grab a cup of coffee and get your tuning hat on!

[click to continue…]

After many months of work, I have finally officially launched Golem Technologies, a website and web application security scanning SAAS application. This is designed to be the world’s easiest security scanner, offering one click scanning (only enter a URL and you’re off) as well as in depth and easy to understand security analysis.

I encourage you to check out the site, and let me know if you have any feedback. I have begun executing the link building and PR campaign I wrote about in my pre-launch checklist. In a few weeks, I’ll report back the results here.

Newer Posts → ← Older Posts