Monthly Archives: October 2015

Bypassing Willpower

Mountain PeakIf you want to accomplish something consistently, relying on willpower is the worst thing you can do.  As Jerry Seinfeld points out, your current self doesn’t really care about your future self.   If you want to work out consistently, you can’t rely on if you feel like working out.  Most likely how you are going to feel is too tired, or too busy.  Habits are one good way to bypass your willpower, but changing your environment is a better one.


Never Miss A Workout

Going for a run consistently is important to me.  But more often than not, once I get home from work I’m likely to not go out again.  The way around this is simple, Run Home.  Depending on where I’ve lived, I have had my wife drop me off at work, or taken the bus to work at the beginning of the day, and then changed clothes after work and run home.  When I live farther away from work, and take the bus, I have take the bus part of the way home, and get off on a stop that is 3-4 miles away, and run the rest of the way.  When I do this, I almost never miss a day of running.

The reason this works is that I have changed the value proposition.   Instead of getting home and having a choice between going running or relaxing, the choice is between running home or calling my wife and asking for a pickup.    What’s going to happen there is pretty clear.   I completely skip any opportunity for low willpower to matter.


Get Ready Faster

But changing your environment isn’t just useful to make yourself exercise.   It is useful anytime your motivated planning self wants to make it impossible for your tired lazy self to wuss out or forget something.

For a while I’ve wanted to get ready for work faster in the morning. My previous habit was to wake up and eat breakfast while I use my computer, check email, surf, etc.    This always took a lot of time.  It was easy to do things slowly and waste time when I was groggy in the morning. I marveled at how quickly my wife was able to get ready in the morning.

But when I tried to resolve to either eat faster, or skip going on the computer, I always found myself back sliding.  I could be diligent for a few days, but not long term.   The problem was I was trying to rely on willpower at a time when my willpower was at its lowest.   Even waking up in the morning after getting little sleep due to the baby was a challenge.  Trying to force myself to operate at a higher level in that state was a fool’s game.

The solution was simple, change my environment.   I already routinely pack a lunch to take to work.   Now I also pack some toast and a hard boiled egg & maybe some yogurt to eat as breakfast right when I get to work.   It gives me an immediate energy boost to start the workday, and plugs a 20-30 minute leak in my morning routine.


The Practical Details

If you are going to manipulate your environment to bypass willpower, make sure you focus on the practical details.  For instance, when I run home from work, I want to carry as little in my backpack as possible.   Carrying shoes turned out to be a pain in the ass, so for a long time I just left my work shoes at my desk, and wore running shoes to and back from work.  Eventually I decided to embrace business casual, and just bought a pair of all black running shoes to wear and skipped the dress shoes entirely.


I’ve Never Regretted A Workout

Despite all this planning, there are still times I am forced to rely on willpower to work out at the end of the day.   When that happens, I try to remember   “I’ve never regretted a workout, but I’ve often regretted skipping one”



Photo at top of page from Flickr here

Python Flash Cards

python_flash_cardsI recently decided to buckle down and learn Python.   Python is a programming language that had been on my want list for some time.   It’s easy to use, has a ton of built in modules for things that I am interested in such as data science, and is also widely used at a lot of large tech companies.


After fiddling around with it for a while in 2014, I knew I liked the language, and could learn it, but I could never get over the hump.   You see, the problem was I was already really good at a different programming language.   I hired into a large aerospace company straight out of college, and being an old engineering company, FORTRAN was very ubiquitous.  Not to worry!   I had learned FORTRAN in high school  (along with Basic, Pascal, and C++) and while it was quite rusty after 5 years of little use, the value proposition was clear.   Dust off FORTRAN, and there was a ton of in house software that I could improve on to make my job easier.

As a result I became very good at FORTRAN, at least, very good for a mechanical engineer.  But 6 years later when I decided to update my skills and learn something new the value proposition was different.   Suddenly, for on the job work, the choice wasn’t   “Re-learn this coding language” vs.  “Do all this tedious work manually”  the choice was “Do the job in this new cool language, but one that will take a lot of Googling to get all the syntax”  vs.   “Get er done in the language I already know”

Since I didn’t use Python enough, I never got over the hump of “I need to Google 60-70% of what I need to do this job, and it will just take too long this time”

The solution was to take a page from my high school study techniques, and make Python Flash Cards.



So why did the flash cards help ?  Well for me the problem wasn’t understanding python syntax, I could read a program reasonably well, just not write it, nor was it understanding how to code since I was already fluent in one programming language and had previously known others well.  The problem was simply getting enough vocabulary down that I could do the simple jobs.

Once I had a foundation of vocabulary down, learning additional building blocks was fun and relatively easy.   Oh, should I use a dictionary here instead of a list?  That’s cool.   Is there a built in method of indexing my loop, so I don’t have to keep a separate counter!  What a great improvement to my code!    Once you know the basics, the great thing about learning programming is that since programmers write all of the software tools, and since they have made documentation one of the paragon virtues of their profession, there are just a ton of resources and learning communities out there.

Over the course of approximately a month, Python transitioned from a want to learn language for me, to one I was using for simple jobs, to one I was fluent in and use as my go to programming language.

I recommend using the flash cards in batches.   Instead of printing them all off and trying to learn them all at once, it is better to  work on 10 or 15 at a time and really hit them quite a few times in a short period.   I kept the flash cards at my desk and went through them when I got up to use the restroom or go to a meeting.   After you learn each batch, put it in the big stack of ones that you know, and review the big stack periodically.

Is Python something worth learning for you ?   Well if you already know at least one programming language, I’ll let you answer that for yourself.   But if you don’t know any, and you are someone who spends most of your work day on the computer, I posit that for you the answer is yes.   Simply being able to batch rename files alone saves me a lot of time, and if you work with a lot of text files or blocks of data the value proposition is even more clear.   Hopefully with these flash cards, the pain of starting will be low enough you can give it a go.


Let me know if they worked for you, and if you added improvements !


9 Baby Surprises

9 Biggest Surprises the First Year of Having A Baby




My wife and I thought that we were well prepared for having a baby.  We had read baby books, baby proofed the house, set up the crib and the diaper changing table, and above all, watched countless sitcoms where people have babies   (I’m looking at you  Rachel,  Phoebe, and Pam).   Here are the 9 biggest things that we didn’t know



  1. Back Labor

Back labor was a surprise to us,  although apparently 25% of women experience it.   It was a Tuesday when I got home from work, and my wife said that she was experience back spasms.    I asked, do you think they are contractions ?    And she said she didn’t think so because she wasn’t feeling anything in her stomach.   So I asked her to tell me when the next couple were, and saw that they were spaced pretty evenly at about six minutes apart.     At that point we decided to call the doctor’s office and we got the nurse on call.

“Is this labor “   we asked,  or is it just Braxton Higgs contractions ?       “Well you will know that is is labor when your stomach gets hard like a basketball”    Was the reply.    So I asked my wife,   is your stomach getting hard like a basketball?     “No, it’s all in my back”.    So we waited a couple of hours, and the back spasms kept getting worse, so we decided to go in.

At the hospital, the nurse checked out my wife, and diagnosed her her as having back labor.   This was caused by the baby facing the wrong direction.   His head was facing forward, so the back of his was was pressed against my wife’s tailbone.

So my wife was in labor, but unfortunately was only 1cm dilated, so the hospital wouldn’t check us in.   “Can you give me something for the pain?” my wife asked ?    “Well sure” the nurse replied   “I can give you this muscle relaxant that will help the contractions that you are feeling”     “I’m having back labor though,  will it help me ?”     “Probably not”.      At this point the best advice they could give was to take a warm, relaxing bath.

We asked when we should come back, and the nurse said  “Normally we recommend coming in when your contractions are 3-5 minutes apart, but since yours are already 5 minutes apart, you should come in when they hurt so much you can’t walk or talk during a contraction”.    Which is clearly very unambiguous guidance.


  1. Your Water May Not Break

So my wife was in labor, but not far enough along.    How long would it take to progress ?   Well according to the nurse, it could be anywhere from an hour to a week.    So we were premature going to the hospital, clearly we should have waited for my wife’s water to break.    We had a towel in the car, and that would be a definitive sign right ?    Wrong

We waited throughout the night and eventually decided we had to go back in.   We didn’t see any sign of my wife’s water breaking, but maybe we missed it.     We went in, and sure enough, my wife was at 4 cm and ready to be admitted to the hospital, but her water had not broken.  And in fact  never broke until the doctor assisted in that.     It turns out this was common too.   TV has lied to us


  1. Check the hospital for a snack room

We were in the hospital for 3 days – 2 nights, and it wasn’t until an hour before checking out that I discovered there was a snack room for the mothers literally across the hall from the room we were in.   Up until that point my wife had been eating the hospital food, and food I got from the cafeteria, and asking the nurses to bring us the juice, or cheese or applesauce as a snack.    We didn’t realize it was all in a fridge just across the hall that we could help ourselves to without bothering the nurses.


  1. No Sleep

Before having the baby, my friends and coworkers joked about   “Get your sleep in now”     but you really never know how serious people are.     After all, people complain about changing diapers, but we’ve never found them to be a problem.    The lack of sleep is real though.   My son is 13 months old now, and he literally has not slept a full night more than 5 nights so far.    Fortunately, at 13 months he’s getting up 1-2 times every night, which means we can actually survive.   For the first several months when he was getting up every 2 hours we were barely getting by

Sadly, even knowing this, there is not much to do about it.   If someone invents a way to store sleep for later, let me know and I will buy one.


  1. Ear Infections Are Almost Impossible to Identify

In months 5-9 our son had ear infections 3-4 times, and he was put on amoxicillin and they cleared up nicely.   But despite the fact that we recognized all 4 ear infections for what they were, we probably had 8 or so false alarms.  The symptoms which we thought were sure fire indicators of the ear infection, such as ear tugging, crying when set on one side, waking up continuously through the night turned out to be very hit or miss.   So we had quite a few times taking a fussy baby to the doctors only to be told he was teething or there was nothing obviously the matter.

The doctors advised us that the ear infections were most likely to be associated with a cold, but we never really saw a cold any of the times, so really never got good at identifying the ear infections.


  1. Both the baby and the mom need to learn how to nurse

I guess we expected that nursing would be instinctual.  But right from the beginning our son had trouble nursing.  With the help of the lactation consultant at the hospital, there were times when it went well, but we had a lot of trouble.  So much so, that after day 3 when our son had lost more than the recommended amount of birth weight  (lost 11%, greater than the 10% cutoff) the doctor recommended that we start using the finger & tube method for supplemental feeding.   I did that for a few weeks until we were able to get a working system with nursing and bottle feeding.

Although with the help of the lactation nurse at the hospital, our son was able to latch onto the bare nipple, we had a lot of trouble with that.  What eventually worked for us was using a nipple shield for the first 2-3 months, since that made it a lot easier for him to latch onto.   Eventually our son got the hang of it, and we stopped using the nipple shield since it was a hassle to wash it after every feeding.       –  Side Note –  If you use them, see if the hospital will give you a few spare ones before you go!


  1. Kids can decide they hate to be spoon fed

Right around month 6-7, my son was eating a wide array of different baby food, and a very small assortment of cut up real food.   Well, quickly after he started eating the cut up real food, he decided that he was not interested in the baby food at all, and absolutely would not allow himself to be spoon fed by mommy or daddy.    And while he was happy enough to have the spoon himself, this did not result in eating so much as decorating the floors.

As a result, we fairly abruptly switched over to all sliced up real foods and ended up with a couple of weeks worth of cans of baby food that we had to give away.


  1. Kids develop their favorite foods early

I’m not sure if my son had a favorite canned baby food, but as soon as we switched over to real food he had a clear favorite.  Blueberries.   Basically, he would eat most food pretty well, if he was hungry.  Some days he would eat a lot, some days not so much, but on any day he could eat basically unlimited numbers of blueberries.   We eventually starting making sure to wait until the end of the meal to get the blueberries out of the fridge, because once he saw them he would not eat anything else.

Nowadays, he definitely has some favorites, like plain, no sauce pasta, or sliced grapes, but no favorites that are quite as strong as blueberries


  1. Some milestones are very fuzzy, others happen very quickly

When you hear your parents talk about first words you think one day you weren’t speaking, and the next you had a very definitive word.   With the baby, it’s clear that’s a much more fuzzy line.   Grandma & Grandpa have been quick to attribute many sounds to a first word.   ( Yes, he said “Da” when he saw me, but he says “Da” when he sees anyone, and babbles it all the time.  Can we count that ?)

For us, we settled on “Bir“ being his first word.   Sure it’s missing the “D” at the end, but he will repeatedly and consistently say it when looking at birds out the window, or pointing to birds in a book.

But as fuzzy as the talking milestone was, the walking milestone was crystal clear.   One day he was only cruising along the couch and tables, and the next he was taking a few steps, and within 3 days he was perfectly happy walking across the entire room.    This was surprising to me given how slow the crawling milestone was.   Around month 4-5 we had been consistently predicting that he would crawl any day now, and in fact he could move himself forward by month 3 provided you put your fists behind his feet to push off of.   But the crawling took a long time of slow progress until he was good at it, unlike the walking.



So that’s our top 9 surprises for the first year.   Undoubtedly he’ll find 9 or 99 new ones for year number 2.