School Workflow: Triple Full-Time

For the last year, I have been a student who consistently takes at least a double to triple full-time workload. I am not superman, but I do have a 4.0 GPA. I also spend a great deal of my time traveling and having vacations and adventures.

All of this has been an intensely complex effort, but several simple tools have made all the difference.

Three tools in particular have dramatically improved my ability to accomplish this enormous undertaking.

Rate My Professor

I hear a lot of criticism of this platform, and a lot of it is probably true, but it has never steered me wrong. I have a simple rule; I will not take any class where the professor has less than a 4/5 rating.

As we will see, this makes all the difference.

LMS

These days, every college is going to require their teachers to use a learning management system. Any decent professor is going to be able to understand and properly implement their LMS. Canvas has been great, though it’s not perfect. Probably most any modern LMS will work for my system.

An LMS is very helpful but not necessarily critical to managing a large workload.

Organizing The Data

I start by making a bookmarks folder for the semester. Then I put a link in it for each class. The links go to the grades section of each class. This way, I will skip pointless details and go straight to a list of any incomplete assignments whenever I check on a class.

Time Management

Now that it is easy to see all the tasks which I will need to complete, it’s time to put them all in one place. I start by creating an appointment in my calendar every monday morning called “Check for Coursework.”

A good rule of thumb is to start with the first week, and see how long it takes to go through all the classes and find assignments. I usually spend about an hour or two checking every class for any assignments and then entering everything. Once you know how long that will take you, create a recurring calendar event each week for this purpose.

Each class will also require some fairly consistent amount of time to complete all its coursework. I usually assume about two hours per class per week for completing assignments.

It is absolutely critical that time is set aside for each class. Problems and distractions are going to come up. If I ever need to move my coursework time to later in the week, I know how long it’s going to take and whether that’s going to be possible because I have created a block of time for each class.  Here’s what an average week this summer looks like;

In grey is all my classes and the time set aside for completing assignments.

In blue, my personal plans and events I’m going to.

In yellow, tasks I need to complete which are not at a specific time.

In red, I have time set aside for sleep. This is another important thing to remember. Getting enough sleep every night is critical to performing on this level. You’re no good to yourself or anybody else if you’re half asleep.

Triage

Maybe the most important step in my process is creating a fresh to-do list every week for school. I love Trello for this purpose, a great recommendation from Pieter Levels. It’s a great, free tool that lets you make to-do lists. It also features integration with IFTTT which will be super handy in a few minutes.

It’s Monday morning so this is what my Trello board looks like…

 

The first column is titled with the date on which the week starts. The second column contains anything I need to finish today. The third column contains any school tasks which I have not completed yet, but which need to be done this week.

In the past, I would go through all my classes and create entries in Trello for anything I need to finish this week. Then, I will use that time I blocked off in my calendar to work on each class until everything is done.

BUT THERE’S A MAGICAL SHORTCUT!

IFTTT

I love IFTTT. I use it for tons of home automation and other fun projects. But it’s not all fun and games. In this case, it can put all my coursework into my todo list for me!

The Canvas LMS is what both of my colleges are using right now, and it has a feature which most LMS will probably have. It gives you a URL which lets you add your assignment due-dates to your calendar. I added this URL to my Google Calendar, and then connected Trello and Google Calendar to IFTTT. Then it was as simple as creating this applet which automatically adds anything in that calendar to Trello as a new item in my “School” list. Here are the settings I used:

To summarize, any time any of my professors at either college creates an assignment, it is automatically inserted into my school to-do list on Trello.

Note that I left the “Description” field blank because it adds a lot of unnecessary extra information. I just want the name of the assignment and the due date.

With this incredible automation in place, I spend my coursework time on Mondays simply cleaning up complex assignment names and putting things in order of how I want to complete them. Here’s what my Trello board looks like after this process…

Final Thoughts

With these tools in place, I am able to take double and triple full-time workloads without worrying about missing things or whether I will have time to complete the work. I already know exactly how much time I will need and when that time fits into my week. I know everything that’s due and I rank it in order of when I want to get it done.

Probably a lot of the inspiration for this process came from reading Tim Ferriss, Pieter Levels, and others on similar processes for maximizing impact while minimizing work at startups.

It’s funny to me how much of our time we spend worrying about the workload instead of actually doing the work. When you eliminate that anxiety by building a foolproof structure around your work, it’s easy to maximize what you can get done.

Sacramento Pride 2018

I was very proud this year to march with Sacramento’s Bolt Bar, a gay alternative bar which is a big participant in the leather and fetish communities in the Northern California area. The Bolt also hosts an annual Mr Leather competition whose winner goes on to International Mr Leather.

I carried the Trans pride flag. This is an important and underserved group in the gay community. I am proud to do my part to support them as an ally..

 

The truck that followed behind us as we marched towed a trailer containing a puppy mosh pit! Photo credit to my friend Professor Scott Kirchner. It was very funny to see many dogs in the crowd reacting to the puppy mosh pit as though they were real dogs. I am still looking for photos or videos of those hilarious reactions. :]

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book came highly recommended by my mom. She said she has read it dozens of times. After her many suggestions, I decided to give it a go.
Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert, 2007

It’s basically a rich white lady’s midlife crisis. She embarks on a journey in order to deal with her emotional issues after a divorce. Along the way, she learns to practice several very interesting meditation styles while in  India. These include Kundalini and Vipassana as well as other meditative practices like group chanting, mantra, and other group meditation styles. I have been a practitioner of Kundalini for nearly two decades and I’ve always viewed it as very esoteric, so it’s cool to see popular culture talking about it like this.

She later goes to Bali and studies several very different and more simple styles such as just sitting and smiling, which according to the Indonesian medicine man will bring good energy in and push bad energy out.

The book gets pretty metaphysical, in a good way. She compares and contrasts important concepts such as divinity and non-self through the lenses of India and Indonesia.

All in all, it’s a good book and an interesting read. I will probably recommend it to people who are looking to get into more advanced meditation practices. It is a great primer on several really good traditions.

BQT: Notes From Conversation with J.C.

J.C. suggested a large emphasis on information technology and demographics research in order to drive targeted advertising through existing channels within the communities. Specifically Grindr, Scruff, and the already large Facebook presence of the organization. He has had great success with similar events in the past using demographics-targeted Facebook posts in the past.

He also suggested polling people at the door at each event to see what ZIP code they are coming from and whether they are white or non-white. This would allow much better information about where people are already already coming from. Maybe some large percentage of the existing customers are coming from a particular area, and throwing a party there would be an automatic success, “Maybe a hundred people come from Oakland to every party and you just don’t know it yet.”

J.C. also made the same argument K.A. did; that events need to be held in the communities, rather than just in San Francisco. This will establish trust with these communities which will make people feel more comfortable coming to the larger events in San Francisco.

J.C also noted helpfully that all the recent party themes have been white-culture related holidays. He suggested that we could do parties themed on holidays from other cultures which still fit with the overall aesthetic theme of the organization. For example; Dia De Los Muertos or Sun Ra themes. These could also introduce different musical cultures into the events and organization while making people from these cultures feel more comfortable at the events.

J.C. is a prominent member of the leather community, and suggested collaboration with leaders there. They are already a historically diverse and sex-positive group which is established not only in San Francisco, but throughout the bay-area communities with more diverse demographics as well as across the world in cities which have already addressed these issues.

BQT: Notes From Conversation with K.A.

There are many safe queer spaces in San Francisco which are representative of the demographics of San Francisco. These spaces are largely dominated by caucasian cis-males for several reasons.

These spaces in San Francisco, though relatively representative of the demographics of San Francisco, are not representative of the demographics of the broader bay area because most non-white groups are centered outside of the peninsula.

The biggest challenge for people from other parts of the bay to attend queer events in San Francisco is transportation and lodging, as transit stops running relatively early in the night.

According to K.A., who attended meeting Facebook held in San Francisco about inclusivity issues related to the “real name” policy, several members of the east and south-bay minority communities voiced outrage that the event was held in San Francisco and not in the minority communities. K.A. quoted one member as saying this is how the communities know Facebook is not serious about fixing these problems. Similar comments were made by a member of these communities at a similar meeting which I was present for at another organization.

Assume the goal is to create more inclusive queer party spaces in the larger bay area and in San Francisco.

One excellent strategy outlined by K.A. would be to hold smaller parties in these minority communities and cross-promote for the larger parties in San Francisco once these communities learn to trust the organization and its intentions. These parties should be thrown in conjunction with established and trusted organizations which are already leading in each of these communities.

K.A. also reiterated earlier recommendations I had made that at these and other events in the minority communities, evangelism should take place such that local leaders are empowered to hand out discounted tickets to trusted local leaders so that they can participate and spread the word about the event and its intentions.

K.A. also recommended we reach out to Michelle Meow, president of San Francisco Pride, radio personality, and POC activist who is very hands-on engaged with issues like this.

 

I set up several meetings with SF Pride board members and other community leaders related to these points.

Micro-Gigs

Today in America and across much of the world, there exist predatory lending institutions which are happy to give short-term loans at high interest rates to essentially anyone. The most common and obvious example is the payday loan. If you drive through “the wrong part of town,” you will see these on at least as many corners as there are convenience stores of cafes. They are everywhere and they are delighted to give short-term high-interest loans of a couple-hundred dollars to literally anyone regardless of the person’s credit or personal history.

I read an article about how bad these places are for their customers and for civilization, and it made me think of The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.

What if it was possible to reliably beat predatory interest rates with smart investments? This idea could turn these predatory loans into widely available venture funding for small-scale projects like the ones Chris Guillebeau describes in his book. I call this idea, the micro-gig rather than Guillebeau’s term micro-business because this isn’t necessarily a business. The idea is to beat the predatory loan, not necessarily to build something sustainable that you want to keep doing in the long-term. I have always enjoyed projects more than businesses. It’s easy to pick projects up and set them down when you get bored. This makes the process a lot more interesting.

The biggest challenge is the timeline. In California, a payday loan of $300 gets you $245 cash but you only have a couple weeks to pay it back. This means that a successful project needs to generate a 20% return in a very short time. Luckily, this is actually relatively easy. Those levels of returns are much harder with larger dollar amounts than they are with these smaller amounts.

Here are a few initial ideas…

Flipping

There are huge online communities dedicated to the art of flipping. This means buying something and then immediately selling it for a profit. Personally, I have had great success with flipping.

It is super easy to find trendy things like Ikea furniture for very cheap and then sell it for more. Several times, I’ve been able to sell Ikea furniture for more than I paid for it new, even months or years later. This is especially true if you check out Ikea’s As-Is section where you can regularly find floor models and returns that are half-off. It’s super easy to flip these for their regular price or even more within a short time.

Another easy type of product is consumer electronics. I have found expensive and perfectly functional consumer electronics at thrift stores for just a dollar or two, then flipped them for a hundred times that. An easy example is Apple products.

Flipping: Appraisal

It is critical to know you can get a return before buying something to flip. Local sales through sites like Craigslist are usually going to give you the best return, but don’t forget ebay. This makes appraisal easy because you can check ebay for sold listings.

Here’s a true example from my flipping experience. I saw an Apple bluetooth keyboard with magic mouse at a thrift store for $5. I tested it on my phone to make sure it was working. Then I checked ebay’s sold listings for that device. They were going for close to a hundred dollars in “fair” condition. It was a no brainer! I bought it and flipped in the same weekend on Craigslist. About twenty minutes of work earned me $120.

Flipping: Just In Time

Another great tactic is using just in time inventory and specializing in a particular item. For example, I could work towards getting really good at selling “my amazon alexa that I never use.” Voice assistants regularly go for as much as half-off on ebay. So if I expect to sell it quickly, I might buy one to keep on hand. Once I start getting offers, I might buy a few more. As long as I can sell them at the same rate that I am buying them, my profits will continue to increase. If sales slow down, all I have to do is stop ordering them off ebay and wait to sell through my inventory.

Sell Food To Drunk People

When I had my cafe in Chico, I had an idea. I borrowed a push cart and food warmer from a dorm and ordered a bunch of pizzas. I got 30 day terms, so I didn’t have to pay for the pizzas until a month later. I spent no money to do this. When the pizzas came, I wrapped each slice in aluminum foil and put them  in the warmer on the cart. I had no trouble selling as much pizza as I could fit in the warmer, at 400% markup. I expanded to offer bottled water and energy drinks. People loved it, and it didn’t cost me anything.

Thinking back to this, I am reminded of how many people I see selling “homemade” tamales out of their trunk outside the bars downtown. I can’t help but wonder if these are actually coming from those enormous bags of tamales that Costco sells for just a few dollars. How many other bulk food items could you sell out of a trunk for more than you paid for them?

Hundreds of percent of markup is expected and normal with food products, especially when the customers are drunk people. Those ten dollar salads at Starbucks cost less than a dollar to make.

Arbitrage

In many cases, companies have online sales with crazy low prices. So flip it before you buy it. I have often listed things for sale on Craigslist which I haven’t even bought yet. If someone wants it, I will buy it and then sell it to them for a nice markup.

There are great online communities dedicated to things like extreme couponing or general frugality which can help you find these amazing deals. Selling before you buy, or at the same time is called arbitrage. And it’s a huge part of price-equalization in every industry and market from foreign exchange to retail. Cash in!

Outsource It

Get someone else to do the work for you once you sell the product. Why do you think infomercials need eight weeks to deliver their products? Because they don’t manufacture the products until after they’ve been paid for. This is called just in time manufacturing, and though it is technically illegal, it is standard practice in the industry. This idea is very much in the vein of The Four Hour Work Week. Author Tim Ferriss would argue you should test any business idea this way.

There are so many examples you could do in your own town without needing to invest anything. Find a business where employees aren’t wearing branded shirts and sell the manager a batch. Then go order them from a local shop. They don’t want to pay up front? That’s fine. You know where to get a quick loan for a few hundred dollars.

Final Thoughts

All of these micro-gig ideas I’ve discussed here are basically foolproof, with very minimal risk. There are lots of other ideas with slightly higher risk and more potential rewards. I would love to hear about related ideas that are working for people, or feedback about the ones I’ve mentioned here.

Drop me a line at chris.j.trowbridge@gmail.com.

Startup 12: Smart Mailer

SmartMailer.io

I built a tool very similar to this one as an experiment to see how much money I could bring in to a previous workplace by sending automated emails based on various criteria. The answer turned out to be millions and millions of dollars. This was a very exciting surprise which largely led to the direction I decided to go with my career and my choice to quit that job and get my MBA so I can get funding and start a large project around this idea.

It would be very easy to accidentally use this product in a way which violates laws all over the world. You MUST research the legal requirements in your jurisdiction before using any part of this product, and make sure you have unambiguous and clear consent as required by law before sending any emails to anyone.

I accept no responsibility for the misuse of this code, accidental or deliberate by anyone.

That Time I Found Millions of Dollars Under The Cushion…

Lots of businesses have lots of data. They may not know how to access the data or how to analyze it, or even that it could be valuable to analyze it, but businesses keep track of things like what customers buy and when. They keep track of things like how frequently a customer uses their services. They keep track of things like which products have particular behaviors and lifecycles.

They can’t help but keep track of these things. The question if whether it is possible to extract value from this data.

You’re Customers Are Getting Older.

Customers age. In business terms, this sometimes means that a customer has not been seen in a while or has not purchased any products for some time. A previous employer of mine had all the contact information for these people, but no free labor to perform outreach.

The answer was obvious. Send all of those people an email every few months, automatically. And it worked spectacularly. The percentage of customers who disappeared each month dropped right away, and kept dropping as more and more customers converted for new services.

Your Product’s Are Getting Older.

Lots of products have life cycles. Nothing lasts forever. If it did, there wouldn’t be opportunities for businesses. Analyzing past customer data and behavior can illuminate likely durations after the purchase of particular products when a customer may need another product.

Maybe it’s the same thing they bought before. Maybe some kind of tuneup. Maybe it’s something complementary. Find those patterns and determine when it’s the right time to remind the customer that you’re thinking about them, and don’t be afraid to send them a coupon. I literally wrote an automated email for one such pattern which simply said, “We’re thinking of you. Here’s a coupon.” It was one of the most successful campaigns we ever tried.

At my last workplace, this larger strategy of analyzing trends and incentivizing them when they’re coming up brought in tens of thousands of dollars a month in new revenue at absolutely no cost whatsoever. You write the queries and emails once and then they send automatically every day.

Your Employees Are Imperfect.

Employees make mistakes. Sometimes they try to cheat and steal. It can be easy to find these kinds of things in the data and automatically alert supervisors so they can look into it. This saves an enormous amount unnecessary oversight and regular inspections and investigations to make sure procedures are followed correctly. Simply write a query which finds the problem, and then have it send an email to a manager.

This simple concept eliminated multiple entire management positions at my last workplace and allowed those managers to work on more important things like growing sales and developing the team.

 

The Future

There are a lot of exciting directions this product can go in the future. This concept within my various projects has been under constant development for almost five years in one form or another. I am very excited to be able to share this concept as a product and to give others the opportunity to find the missing millions under the cushions like I did.

Group Meditation: Othering Is The Root Of Most Evil

This week’s topic is based on an interview which you can listen to, here. I recommend listening to it, it’s a great interview! I have condensed the main points for discussion here;

Philip Zimbardo is the former president of the American Psychological Association. From the interview, “[Zimbardo] is one of the most distinguished psychologists in the world and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He is arguably best known for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which students were turned into mock prisoners and guards for a continuous 24-hour-a-day study. The experiment was planned for two weeks but terminated after just six days.”

Key Terms

Evil: (Zimbardo’s definition) The exercise of power to intentionally harm (psychologically), hurt (physically), and/or kill innocent people.

Othering: using language to dehumanize groups of people. Common examples include “druggies,” “stupid people,”the homeless,” and the use of racial or other slurs. Othering makes groups of people into abstract concepts, deserving any evil thing said or done to them. According to Zimbardo, this is the number one cause for people or groups of people doing evil things.

Delegation of Authority: Examples include “I was just following orders,” or “it’s my job.” These phrases are used to release one’s responsibility for doing the right thing by delegating the responsibility of one’s behavior to an authority. According to Zimbardo, this is the number two cause for people or groups of people doing evil things, and it often reinforces and compounds the effects of othering.

Key Points

  • According to an overwhelming amount of evidence from many experiments done over the course of the last century, Othering is the number one cause for ordinary people or groups of people saying or doing evil things. It is usually accompanied by the delegation of authority which reinforces its effects.
  • Especially in groups, people are far more likely to do evil if othering is taking place and goes unchallenged.
  • Challenging othering in a group setting is one of the best ways to change a group’s tone and direction from evil to heroic.

Examples and Research

-The Milgram Experiment

Milgram Experiment

In The Milgram Experiment, a normal and psychologically healthy volunteer was placed in front of a control panel and asked to read a list of questions to a “subject” who was in another room, via an intercom.

Researchers explained to the volunteer that the subject in the other room was hooked up to electrodes and that each time the subject responded incorrectly to one of the volunteer’s questions, the volunteer should flip another switch on the control panel. The switches would electrocute the subject as punishment for the incorrect answer. Each successive switch increased in voltage to the point of being potentially lethal. They were labeled as such.

Before the experiment, Milgram asked psychologists to predict how many volunteers would go all the way to the end and deliver the potentially lethal shocks to the subject. The consensus was that 1% of the volunteers would do so, since one would have to be a psychopath to potentially endanger the life of another during the course of the experiment.

In fact, though the subject would scream and beg for the test to stop because they had a heart condition, more than two thirds of volunteers went all the way to the most lethal dose of electricity.

Zimbardo, who was one of the researchers working on this experiment, attributes this result to the deliberate dehumanization of the subject by putting them in another room and referring to them with the abstract term subject rather than person. In this case, the effects of othering are compounded by Zimbardo’s number two cause of evil, the delegation of authority.

-The Stanford Prison Experiment

Stanford Prison Experiment

Decades later, Zimbardo conducted The Stanford Prison Experiment. He put normal and psychologically healthy student volunteers into groups of “guards” and “prisoners.” Prisoners had their faces covered and were only allowed to use a prisoner number instead of their names. The goal was to see what would happen when one group was given power over another group which had been deliberately dehumanized.

The groups were told to play out their roles in the simulated prison for two weeks while their behavior was recorded by researchers. Many of the participants had complete emotional and psychological breakdowns in just a matter of days. The behavior of the guards became both physically and psychologically evil to such an extreme degree that the researchers were forced to cancel the experiment after just six days.

When the researchers told the prisoners the experiment was over, the prisoners didn’t understand. They had to go through extensive counselling and therapy before reclaiming their real identities and rejoining the outside world. Several movies and many books have been made about these events.

Decades later, almost the exact same scenario played out in a real prison, Abu Ghraib. Guards covered the prisoners’ faces, gave them numbers instead of names, and committed acts of evil ranging from pointless physical violence to sexual assault.

 

Conclusion

Because of these examples and lots of other research done by Zimbardo, he has concluded that dehumanizing people is the most effective way for a normal person or group of people to do evil things.

Conversely, he concludes that an awareness of this fact can allow someone to be heroic versus evil by discouraging othering and nipping evil in the bud.

Startup 11: PHP TTS Webhooks

Smart Homes Are Pretty Great

I have very much jumped on the bandwagon with smart home products. I have smart lights, a smart fan, a virtual assistant in every room; mine is a very smart house. I have also gotten very into IFTTT and related functional services which integrate with these smart devices to make them even smarter and more interconnected.

Example; my lights turn red at sunset automatically each day. This is actually a very exciting and new possibility which confers enormous health benefits. With cheap commodity products and running no servers or custom hardware or software, I can easily create triggers in IFTTT which pull the sunset time from weather services automatically, and then toggle my lights to red exactly at sunset each day. (Hopefully it goes without saying that sunset is at a different time each day.) Imagine trying to do this a decade ago. It would have been ridiculously complex. Just look at my Arduino smart plug project for example, where I do it from relative scratch.

A Problem

There is one thing that still is not possible with any of the popular virtual assistants and smart home devices such as Google Home or Amazon Echo.

I can talk to Google Home or Amazon Echo all day, and they are happy to acknowledge me and do whatever I ask of them. But there is absolutely no way to make them reach out to me in response to some external trigger.

Example; my Ring Doorbell detects motion in the front yard, and I have my phone on silent. I will not know until I next check my phone that motion was detected. There is absolutely no built-in way to make my army of virtual assistants notify me of something like this. I could buy Ring’s official plug-in chime (which I did) but this should not be necessary when I already have little computers in every room which should be able to just talk to me. Thinking about this problem gave me lots of other interesting ideas about things I would like to be notified about. For example problems at work, time-sensitive emails from teachers, or any number of potentially important issues.

A Solution

I have a whole box of Raspberry Pi’s from old projects. With one simple command, I can make them say anything I want. I just need to install Say;

sudo apt-get install say

Then I created a simple PHP script which accepts webhooks and calls the say command. This is a little complicated to set up, but I have included all the directions on the Github page.

There is also a beta feature which saves the speech as an mp3 file, then casts it to the virtual assistants around the house. This means I can use IFTTT or other functional-paradigm cloud services to trigger my virtual assistants to speak to me based on external commands. It does mean I have to run a single piece of hardware; the Raspberry Pi. But I had to struggle to remember where I even plugged it in. It’s hard to notice.

There are all kinds of exciting directions this project can go in the future. There is no reason it shouldn’t be able to cast tv shows or movies from my NAS for example. The potential of this product is very exciting. I look forward to future versions, and I think this is one of the few cases where the product will outlive my Levels Challenge.

Money doesn’t change men, it merely unmasks them. If a man is naturally selfish or arrogant or greedy, the money brings that out, that’s all.

Henry Ford