Category Archives: Life

Life is…

What do you think life is?

Life is…

Life isn’t anything – might as well rip that band-aid off now. It is what you make of it. And it is still something when you make nothing of it. Life isn’t anything because that’s the closest we can describe it. Which is to say that we aren’t capable of describing it at all. Unless you think that you – just one of billions of people living on one of the hundreds of billions of planets in our galaxy, which is one of 200 billions of galaxies out there – that you can finish the sentence “life is…” at your wise age of 30. Or 50.

To the best of our knowledge, the universe is at least 14 billion years old. Billion. Years. Old. You, who was born to a specific pair of parents in a specific place, who has been to but a handful of places that make up just this planet, having experienced but a tiny fraction of the cultures and ideas that exist on Earth at this specific millisecond of cosmic time – you think you can read “life is <blah>” in someone’s book or speech and either nod in agreement or disagree? You who likely never experienced oppression, or taking a worry-free nap amid breezy grass of Kazakhstan while your flock safely grazes nearby, or carrying the responsibility of employing thousands of people, or risking your life for someone you love or an idea you’re entirely crazy about, or being to outer space, or meeting another sentient species – you think you can read about life with your confirmation bias and limited exposure and attempt to understand?

Life isn’t anything because to say that it is something is to say that we are able to conceptualize that something. In terms of scale, that’s akin to an electron conceptualizing about a human body it is part of. At best, we can say that life is an unknown.

It’s hard to admit we can’t comprehend something. Our egos are hard-wired against it. “But I’m a sentient being! I am capable of abstraction and…” Chill. Everything you’re saying or thinking or conceptualizing is in a language (visual or verbal), a language that has been defined by what has already been seen or experienced within a tiny fraction of time, on a single planet, and by a single species. A language so limited, it can’t even afford us to understand the point of view of other species co-inhabiting our planet, much less the universe or life in general. It’s as impossible to conceptualize something you haven’t experienced as it is for someone from the Middle Ages to suddenly conceptualize gamma rays. And the only reason you and I can conceptualize about Middle Age people conceptualizing about gamma rays is because today we know both about the people and the rays, which provided us with the necessary language to be able to conceptualize about it.

Notice I’m not saying life is nothing. That would be an absolute statement, a statement equating life with void. That would be saying that I know what life is, and that what I know about it is that it is nothing. But we’ve established above that I would be saying if I said that. What I’m saying instead is that life isn’t anything. It is not anything we can currently define or imagine or comprehend. It isn’t any thing we know. Or, in short, it isn’t anything.

Realizing that life isn’t anything can be unsettling. But we do know that life is full of paradoxes, and one of them is that letting go can be more powerful than grabbing on. So if life isn’t anything then there’s no imperative to make it that something. If there’s no imperative to make it something, then we’re free to make it anything.

In other words, if I define life as anything, then inside the microcosm we call Earth and “my life” it truly will be that something. For example, if I am a king who believes that life is nothing but war and struggle, I will try to conquer other kings by force, making life in my kingdoms be about war and struggle.

Every morning, you and I can wake up knowing that life isn’t anything. And every morning, you and I can say what life is. By the evening, our lives will be about that. And by that same evening, life still won’t be anything.

Oh no, I’m 30!

So I just turned 30. Holy shit. It kind of hits you… I mean, 30!! Am I where I wanna be in life? Can I still hang out with college girls without being a creep? Dozens of important questions.

As I look at my twenties, I am proud. And I am lost. But as I look toward 35, I’m inspired.

I started my twenties in Bristol, VA, population ~40k, median age 37. I was in college, just freshly learning sarcasm and struggling to eat asian food above spice level 1. Still a virgin and a “momma’s boy,” I knew little of love outside of family, and even less of life in general. My parents’ honorable efforts to shelter me succeeded wildly, and if you met me then you knew instantly I didn’t belong in a small town. So as I look out at the beautiful skyline of San Francisco from the deck of a gorgeous apartment with my dream motorcycle parked in the garage below, as I reminiscent of intoxicating love and paralyzing loss that made me a grown, independent man, and as I remember the wild experiences of Burning Man 2014 – I am proud. I have grown in many ways.

I am a lucky, lucky man, and things could be worse. Way, way worse. But I haven’t yet blossomed. Things could also be better. (Stronger. Faster?) Not because I am greedy for anything or think I don’t have enough. I do, and I still spend all I earn because I don’t care for money or power.

Yet I think everyone should attain their full self-expression; the world would be better off for it. And so much of me is not expressed!! I’m torn between my desire to create great software, my pull toward innovations in hardware & business, and my ever-growing fascination of sexual expression & art. I want to build schools in Africa as much as I want to shoot beautiful pornography in Morocco. That’s not a joke – I want all of the above, and I want them all bad. And so I am lost.

I suppose that’s what 30 is about – finding my path. I’m often jealous of people who find their path by age 25. But me… I can’t stop questioning everything – from the custom of marriage, to the concept of being employed for another 30 years while many others retire by age 30, to being a citizen of just one country (why is country more important than the world??). Perhaps I should try it all – software, hardware, LSD, threesomes, intense studying, pushing my body to be the best it can be, going to places I’ve never been.

I’m not a boy in a small town anymore. But I still feel like I don’t exactly belong. This society, this time period – they’re great. But they’re *a* society, *a* time period, set in *a* place; I constantly feel like I’m outside the bounds. I can’t help but think how different everything will be 100 years from now, and if that new way of life will be better (just like we think today’s way of life is in many ways better than 100 years ago), why not try to find that way of life now? And so I try to find that which transcends time, culture, and geography. Love is one such thing, obviously, and it’s incredible (and hard to find). But how many other things are there? I want to find them. I want to live them. And then I want to be an example that inspires others to seek them. And so looking forward, I’m inspired.

Lastly, I am thankful. I’m hella lucky to have met the people I’ve met. Sometimes, your family is the best thing to happen to you, while your friends drag you down. And sometimes, it’s the opposite – your friends are your reprieve, and your family is the altar for your true self. I’ve lived both experiences in the past decade. There are no rules here; sticking with family can be as damaging as sticking with bad friends. Knowing this is one of the most powerful lessons of life. Don’t be limited by tradition or culture; seek people that make you a better human being from day-to-day, and timely abandon those that do not.

Dirty thirty, here we go!

PS: Stretch goal – finally getting a green card this year! OMG this is taking forever.

Freedom, the 2014 edition

Freedom… it ain’t so free.

I’ve been fighting for freedom my whole adult life: from a controlling father (great intentions, questionable methods) to US immigration system that’s hell-bent on deporting you to “daddy issues” to work environments that depress, most of my time was spent on gaining freedom. Freedom to make own decisions, to shape my personality instead of inheriting it, to do what I love and whom I love, to have time to create and delight, to not worry about having to leave the country I call home – the US of A. This fight clinically depressed me, exhausted me, and I’d say reduced my IQ by at least 20-30 points. But at the end of last year I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and on this Independence Day I celebrate it getting brighter and brighter, despite the thick haze still surrounding it.

This year is my year to step the fuck up. Here’s what happened recently and what’s coming up!

New City

San Francisco… just… WOW. I can’t put it any other way. Moving here was the best decision I ever made in my life. The only thing I miss is my best friend Sebastian and I hope he moves here as soon as he’s done with his obligations in Nashville, TN.

New Eyes

On Thursday, June 26 of 2014, I had a LASIK surgery performed on my eyes. A week later, I have near 20/20 vision and barely remember what it was like to not see perfectly. It’s amazing. This July 4th I celebrate my independence from glasses and contact lenses!

New Job

I quit Substantial 3 days ago. They are awesome people and a very capable company, but as far as software engineering goes my only passion now is iOS. So I got an even awesomer [sic] job where I’ll do iOS development all day, every day. I want to get great at it, and I want to have fun doing it. A raise to finally get my salary back to the level I had in Nashville, and a small chance of getting a windfall in case of the startup succeeding don’t hurt either.  This does mean I have to restart my green card process once again… but YOLO.

‘XXX’ Hobby

Yes, I love sex – doing it, watching it, shooting it. I don’t understand how something so natural, so instinctive, and so necessary to our happiness and survival gets so abused, oppressed, and disrespected in most cultures, religions, and communities around the world and even this country. Sex is life, literally. The human body is a work of art. For a few years I’ve been deliberating learning photography and shooting nudes. It starts this summer. I look forward to meeting beautiful women and exploring my creative side. I couldn’t be more excited!

No More Hiding

I am not a gay or bisexual person. But I am a simultaneously monogamous and polyamorous person. There have been girls that floored me so much, I wanted nothing and no one else (although I wouldn’t say no if she invited other girl(s) to join us for sex). At the same time, I can’t escape the overwhelming feeling that I can, in fact, be in love with two girls at the same time. It’s a very specific, real feeling; for example, three girls is a no-go. I don’t expect most people to understand this. But I also don’t feel like explaining myself or hiding this part of me anymore. This just is, and it’s as real as any other part of me. I am OK with it.

It’s funny how your world changes when you stop hiding. I already met a girl who not only understands, but is similar. If you go to OK Cupid, for example, and search for “poly”, you’ll find that there’s a slice of population that feels the same way. And, like me, they have trouble finding similarly minded people. Poly isn’t about sex and orgies; poly is about removing all jealousy, insecurities, and various cultural restrictions to the point where you feel nothing but purity toward another person. It’s an incredible level of trust; come anything, you won’t betray it. It’s so, so beautiful.

Building Things: Coffee Machine, Apps for Blind/Deaf, Robotics

This year is the year to build – cool iOS applications, an expanded circle of friends, a photo portfolio… but also stuff with Arduino and Raspberry Pi. I don’t know the latter yet, but I want to learn. I have ideas, such as a badass and affordable (read, mass-market) coffee machine. Keurig is cool and all, but omg can we do better than that! I have the next 2-3 weeks all to myself, so I’ll buy some basic components and get the ball rolling.

New Friends

I’ve been working hard in the last month to meet new people. I used to be an ass people didn’t want to hang out with. But despite my rough edges, at heart I always loved people. There’s nothing I want more than to find people I can trust, love, and share an innocent connection with, people who won’t fuck you over for something as unimportant as money, power, or ego. If you are in the same camp – send me a tweet. :)

No Judging

Like this wise man points out, you can’t be truly free if you judge people.

Burning Man

Someone please sell me a ticket! :D Do you want me to beg? I’ll beg. I just know it will be a life-changing experience. Can’t wait!

Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta. Happy Independence Day!

The LASIK experience

I don’t show it, but I am petrified. The papers I signed list “Death” as potential outcome, twice. The numerous other potential side effects listed are arguably more scary than death, at least to a young single man in his prime. What if I am that 0.1%? Is correcting -1.5 diopters worth the risk? What if the laser errors on me because, like all software, it probably has bugs? And what if…

“Common, dear, let’s get you in there, we’re ready,” I hear the nurse saying.

I recognize my doctor and 3 assistants I haven’t seen before. Everyone’s smiling. There’s a leather bed attached to a machine. I lay down, and anesthetic drops go into my eyes. The first ones feel like water and they make me want to blink. But the drops act fast; I can see the second round coming down, but I can’t feel them hitting my eye. Like rain over windshield – they land and wash away without seemingly touching me. Since I can’t feel them, I no longer want to blink as they hit. It’s a strange feeling that, in hindsight, makes sense.

My left eye lids are taped to my cheek and forehead next. Another drop comes down. The doctor brings the flap-creating laser above my eye and presses it down. I feel pressure around the eye socket; it’s uncomfortable, but nothing to write home about. “Try to focus on the dot, Alex, this only takes 14 seconds. Great. We have a lock. Here we go.” says an assistant. “10 seconds left. Your vision should start going out now, yes?” Says another assistant. I murmur “Yep”. “That’s normal. And… done. Now the doctor will lift the flap.”

The femtolaser is removed, and all I can see are blurry lights. I can tell the doctor is moving some small instrument over my eye to lift the flap, but I don’t feel it. Vision clears up a bit once the flap is lifted. “Try to focus on the green dot.” The bigger machine’s arm, the main laser, comes down, and I focus on the dot. “Just 4 seconds, Alex,” I hear someone saying. “We have a lock,” says another voice. I faintly hear the machine kick in, and a second later I smell burnt… something. But 4 seconds is over fast. “That’s it. We’re putting the flap back on.” More drops come down. “We’ll keep this eye open for a few more seconds, and then move on to the next one.” 10 seconds later the tapes on eye lids are removed, I can blink, and I’m asked to close my left eye and open the right one.

Another minute and the right eye is done. I’m asked to open both eyes and am helped off the bed. Expecting to be temporarily blind, I instead find myself being able to see better than I did before I walked in. “Don’t be so surprised,” says my coordinator who appeared just on time, “Your vision is fixed now; all that’s left is for the flap to heal.” Technology – isn’t it fucking amazing?

I’m given a Vicodin and a sleeping pill; the Vicodin will kick in right about the time the eye anesthetic drops start wearing out. Perfect. A friend drives me home, I take a 4-hour nap (I’m told the first 4-6 hours are most important to keep eyes closed). I get up for an hour to snack (noticing that I can see just fine), and go back to bed for a full night’s sleep.

The next morning I don’t even feel I had surgery, and my eyesight is nearly 20/20. My eye doctor says he can barely see where the flap was cut; it’s a faint line even under magnification. “It’s crazy what they do these days,” he murmurs.

In the next post I’ll share what I learned about the type of lasers you want to find for your own surgery and why it’s important to get 2nd and 3rd opinions, so stay posted!

29 Years of Awesome, and Why YOU Rock

I’m 29 today! Naturally, I’ll take this opportunity to explain why you are awesome, even if it has nothing to do with my birthday. Keep on reading, fellow life traveler.

But first – wow, what a roller coaster ride it’s been! I mean, holy cow – from a tiny village full of mud and livestock (mooo) to an American suburban “dream” with luxury cars, motorcycles, and good friends. I’ve been the love of my family and I’ve been the outcast. I’ve been betrayed, and I’ve been forgiven; I found true love, and I lost it. Some knew me as over-confident, unstoppable, and hyper-productive and some – as depressed, lonely, and continually sick. I’ve both made 6 figures per year and teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. I helped change lives and I’ve desperately needed help myself. And in a few weeks, I’m about to change location for the 13th time in my life, despite still not having 100% certainty whether the destination will be San Francisco or Canada (99% certain for SF, it’s just not under my control).

Today, I once again find myself staring into the face of uncertainty. It’s been 11 years since I moved to the U.S. of America, and I am still a nonresident alien (read: no ‘green card’). That’s despite earning my college education here, working many jobs, and being an exemplary citizen who pays a ton in taxes. But you know what? Fuck it. I’ve studied brain science, psychology, and philosophy for years and let me tell you that “fuck it” is the best wisdom I will ever be able to give you. Because it’s all in our heads, my friend. All of it.

Real stuff happens in the world, and absolutely we should react to it with reason and evidence-based judgement. But our attitude towards it all? Our motivation? Our psychological well-being? It’s all in our heads. We have automatic responses to things we’re been forcefully attached to – parents’ approval, love connections, definitions of success or what’s good and bad, social expectations, religious beliefs, etc. – but all of those things can be changed, morphed, or even entirely dissolved with but a single switch in your head. A switch you can flip.

How do you find the switch? By realizing that the world isn’t magically “better” than you are and other people are not smarter – like you, they all just are. Everything around you has been built by folks that are as smart or dumber than you are (credit: my dad). They were all just trying to figure out what the fuck was going on and how to co-exist amid it all, and all of them, without a single exception, made a lot of mistakes, too. Even the figures we’re taught to idealize, like Gandhi, MLK, and Mother Theresa, were just people who stopped listening to the noise and started sending out their own signal into the world. One day, they simply said, this is who I am from now on and I don’t need anyone’s approval for it – I’ll start being that today. And the rest of us, just as capable and great, huddled around them not because they were better than us, or somehow stronger – we did it because they became a constant, a rare constant amidst the chaos that is the rest of the world. And I’m here to tell you – you are Gandhi. You are MLK. You are Mother Theresa. You are everything and everyone, and the only difference between you who is all-capable and you who is meek and weak is your decision to be so.

Now, some have talents – music, quicker math, etc. – but that’s not what gives strength or greatness. Hell, I’m smart – used to be real smart – and I’ve spent many a month in depression. And no, you won’t magically become rich just by thinking you will. But you will be strong because it’s not a thing you get from outside of you. And you will be on the path to having your inner greatness expressed in the real, outside world. And you will be happy. You will be happy because you will know that the only thing you need to be happy is your own approval and definition of happy. Whether you’re trying to create a piece of software or you’re trying to find food and shelter for the night, the only two possible outcomes are identical – you’ll either succeed or you won’t. But who you are during that process, while on that journey, is entirely up to you.

See, no matter how damn good your life is, there’ll always be shit to worry about – will my baby get sick and die in her sleep tonight? Will the boss approve my idea tomorrow? Will US adopt communism next year? And if it’s a reasonable concern then make reasonable plans and steps to counter it. But in the process – give up the idea of control. Have both the humility and faith to say, “I can’t know the future. Ever. But until that future arrives, I can choose what to believe about it.” Choose to believe that it will all turn out. Why?

Because life, my dear reader, is the biggest joke ever played on you. Life, you see, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe life sucks, and bad shit happens – our attitudes make us feel down and depressed, the world is less willing to interact with us, and everything that does happen is interpreted as crap, and we often choose overly defensive and safe actions that lead to less win and more suckiness. Or, we choose to believe that life rocks and our attitude goes up, people want to hang out with us more so we meet more people and build a better network, and we end up taking more risks that lead to bigger rewards, and so once again the results confirm our initial bias about life. But in the end, no one will tell you which way was right and which way was wrong. Nor will you be able to judge b/c, from your perspective, your results will confirm whatever bias you starting with! And that’s the joke of life – I hope you laughed.

So separate yourself from the noise, confusion, and the pain of the rest of the world. The world doesn’t know any better. Your parents made mistakes. Your friends made mistakes. Don’t spend your life proving them right or wrong, or earning their love or approval. Don’t spend your lives being afraid of being ashamed or stressing over every achievement to prove someone wrong. Fuck it, fuck all of their opinions. Their opinions are just as biased, as imperfect, and mean as nothing as your opinions. (See what I did there with that ‘nothing’ word? I’m proud of it. No, I don’t care what you think – I’m still proud of it.)

Define yourself. Obviously, don’t do illegal shit – that’s another topic. But choose to believe that life will turn out. Choose to believe that you’re great and amazing. Choose to believe that you’re loved. (Do you love yourself? See, told you. Wait, you don’t? Well start today. See, now you’re loved.) Choose to believe that you don’t need to be loved by everyone (even if it’s someone you really want to be loved by). You don’t need approval, you don’t need direction. You just need you. Find friends who support you in that manner, who will stand for who you really, truly are (as defined by you). Ditch the friends who lead you astray (seriously, fuck them, you owe them nothing). Ditch all of your friends if none of them support you in being stronger.

Because I tell you – you’re goddamn amazing. You’re beautiful. And you were so even before I just said it. This life, I don’t think it means what you think it means… it means nothing. It means what you make it mean. So make it mean whatever makes you happy. Enjoy it. Go play with your kids, or go ride that bicycle, or go solve malaria or poverty.

Pick the direction of your self-fulfilling prophecy, Captain. You need no look at others, you need no approval or praise – you are the highest praise you can get. That said, just FYI, I have full faith in you. You rock!

And to myself I say – happy birthday, Alex! You are alright, too. I’ve so, so missed you.

Why are you still here?? Go be awesome.

How to Rent a Car for Less than Half

No, this isn’t a promoted post; I just had to rent a car several times in the past 3 months and learned this from experience. Caveat: I rent from airports only so far, but definitely try it with other locations also.

Step 1: Reserve from Enterprise (or your favorite company, but I’ll explain why Enterprise in a bit) with carrentals.com – they have some sort of backdoor deals with all major car rental companies and make reservations for half the price (or less, normally) than what you get at the counter.

Step 2: Go to their lot to pick up the car, and as the rep is taking you down the car lot, ask (nicely) if it’s okay to get something better, like mid-size or full-size (if you want fuel-efficient options, mention it). Very likely, they’ll show you to a full-size car; if they don’t have any, they’ll at least offer you a mid-size car or even an SUV. THEN ask, “Oh, but is that still the same price?” You will hear a yes. This is why I pick Enterprise – their reps servicing the car lot are trained to do what it takes to make the customer happy. And so far, they never made me feel guilty or awkward – truly excellent customer service.

Step 3: Enjoy your full-size sedan for half the price of compact you’d get from the counter!


FURTHER SAVINGS: if you need a car for more than a week, try weekly increments first (1-week rates are cheapest). Ex: if you need it for a week and 2 days then reserve for one week, and call on the last day to extend. Similarly, if you need it for a month, try quotes for one week, two weeks, three weeks, and a month. Reserve whichever is the cheapest weekly rate, and call to extend if needed. When you call on the last day to extend, make sure to ask for the same daily rate. If not, drive the car to them and ask there – the folks who service the car lots are most customer service friendly and are yet to deny any of my requests.

So why Enterprise? CarRentals makes them as cheap or cheaper than others. But even when they are a few dollars per day more, their service is fantastic, which means you can reserve compact and ask for an upgrade; I am yet to be denied. So in reality they’re just as cheap as others because you get a full-size car for compact price. This summer, I got $13/day + tax deal on CarRentals for a full-size car with Enterprise for 3 weeks. That’s about $20 with taxes and fees. I extended it to 1 month, and then again for another 3 weeks. And when computer auto-raised price on me for 2nd month, an Enterprise rep fixed it retroactively. AND, I even went back twice to swap cars for fun (got tired of Kia Optima) – all for free, and without hassle.

Another example – yesterday I went to the counter at Enterprise and was quoted $560 for a week for Compact, “cheapest rate” he could do for me. I pulled out my iPhone, went to CarRentals.com and made a reservation for $280/week for Compact in front of the rep. He immediately saw it in the system and processed me no problem. Once at the car lot, I asked (humbly) the guy showing me to my car if I could have a larger car – ended up with a Chevy Malibu, same price. Awesome!

(I did try Advantage and Dollar counters – Dollar was cheapest, but still couldn’t beat CarRentals’ Enterprise deal. Interestingly, Dollar was more expensive than Enterprise on CarRentals.com)

I also tried Payless – horrible, horrible experience. Then I tried Advantage one time in San Francisco – much better, but still not the same (and their off-site location is a real pain). Also, for Advantage you often have to pre-pay on CarRentals site to get the best deal (w/o a right to refund); with Enterprise, you don’t. So you’re not locked in to any car type and have more negotiating power.

Final tip: if you’re only renting for a few days, try different return dates – after 1 day, after 2 days, etc. Book the cheapest daily deal, then call to extend after the fact.

This should save you a lot of dough. Enjoy!!

The Most Beautiful Thing in the World

…is when two minds strip naked for each other. When two people vow to never hurt one another. When two silent promises are made so strong that no ideology, belief, or person is stronger. Promises not of specific things or plans or actions, but of truth, transparency, and honesty; to never lie, or block, think less of; to believe, to see the best in, to support.

They could be friends. They could be lovers. They could be temporary in meeting, but they’ll be permanent in this special connection.  They keep each other honest. They have no secrets or agendas, no room for trickery. There is no anger, no blame – only short-lived misunderstandings. No other person, event, or politics can drive a wedge between them – for all that is made by human is secondary, subservient to what it is to be human. The only thing holy, sacred, and infallible is the purity of this connection, the devotion to each other’s happiness. Dirt can be spilled, but it can’t leave a stain. Otherwise, it would mean a grudge, an inability to forgive – and the desire to stay pure, connected to each other trumps all that. It’s real friendship.

This is love for the sake of love. Love not romantic – just love of another human being. If there be one religion worth worshipping, I’d say this is it. It is the most beautiful thing in the world.

(Special thanks to Olya, Sebastian, Dennis, Larry (both), Craig, Adam, and Jillian)