2011

Hey again. I know, I know – it’s been awhile. I didn’t intend to put this off for so long, but there are benefits to having a substantial hiatus between posts; it gives me time to sit on thoughts, and accumulate a number of stories and recommendations that I can share rapid-fire (past examples here and here). This post, while lengthy, is a pretty light read, filled with memories and a few lessons learned during 2011. Enjoy!

[Click the links to jump to different sections]

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UPDATES
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TEDx speech. The positive response to my 17-minute talk reaffirmed that there’s still a lot of demand for this topic, so I’ll continue to write about this stuff throughout the year. And somewhat ironically, the post I wrote about it made this the top search result for my name over the last eight months:

Recession-Proof Graduate. The 30-page ebook that the TEDx speech was based on surprisingly still has legs. Well over 100,000 people have read RPGrad in the two years that it’s been online, with next to zero push. One reader, Alessandro Agostini, was kind enough to put together an Italian translation. Another person sent me a photo of printed copies she was giving away at graduation parties. But the coolest/most bizarre story I heard was about a college professor who recommended RPGrad and the TEDx speech to his class, unaware that my younger sister was in the room. Spooky.

The 4-Hour Body. The book continues to do very well, and is still in the top 100 books on Amazon. It’s helped a ton of people improve their lives, so if you haven’t read it yet, pick up a copy. I promise you’ll find several worthwhile takeaways.

Photoshopping. I had an unflattering mention in ELLE Magazine (here). Funny, but I didn’t spend nine hours photoshopping vulvas; I’m pretty sure I gave up after one miserable hour.

Libros de mis amigos. Big congrats to Ben Casnocha and Ryan Holiday, who both have cool books coming out. Ben co-wrote his book with Reid Hoffman (the co-founder of LinkedIn and one of the most successful angel investors on the planet) and it just debuted at #1 on NYTimes. Ryan received a $500K advance for his book. Also, congrats to Michael Ellsberg on his latest book, and to Tucker Max, who is bringing his series to a close.

The 4-Hour Chef. This is Tim’s next book in the “4-Hour” series. I can’t reveal anything specific at this point, so check out what’s to come here.

Swings in Bolivia. Jeff ended up raising $11K for his project on Kickstarter, and he used the money to hang swings in Bolivia while shooting a documentary. He also gave his own TEDx talk in Sydney (you can see a preview of his documentary @ 18:44).

Travel. I had a chance to take a 10-day trip to Nairobi last June. The best part was going on a safari, which was pretty incredible (photos here). I don’t think I’ll be heading back to Africa anytime soon — I didn’t fall in love with Kenya, though the people were all very friendly. Next stop will likely be in South America.

Economic woes. You might recall from my last post that I was pretty bearish on the economy. That hasn’t changed, but I don’t sweat it nearly as much as I used to. One of the reasons I was able to stop stressing: I tested my assumptions. I thought there might be some big stock opportunities that I was missing out on (despite my total lack of expertise in the market), so I used UpDown.com to make $1,000,000-worth of paper money investments. I placed my bets and monitored the changes every week or so. After several months, I’d lost 0.9% of the money — about break-even. This was oddly liberating. It shattered the idea that I could take advantage of swings in the market. I don’t have the patience or interest to follow the stock market closely anyways, but it was a good experiment that saved me time, money, and stress. I went back to steady, long-term investing (boring, but far less emotionally draining).

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EVENT PLANNING
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Opening the Kimono. I developed a much deeper appreciation for great event planners while I was coordinating Tim’s Opening the Kimono event – the $10K/person book-marketing seminar he hosted in Napa Valley. Apart from the actual content, I was given free reign to design the whole conference, from start to finish. Needless to say, I didn’t have much experience in this department so the task seemed fairly daunting. Luckily, my partner during all of this was Susan Dupré – the queen of event planning. Prior to our event, she’d worked directly with Steve Jobs as Apple’s “Worldwide Event and New Product Producer” (she launched the iPhone, for chrissakes!) She’d also worked with James Cameron, Julia Child, and the cast of The Sopranos. After several weeks of preparation, hammering out the broad strokes while accounting for all the minutiae, the event went off without a hitch, and exceeded everyone’s expectations. Susan was largely to thank for that — it was a serious privilege to work alongside her, and I’m now fortunate enough to have her as a close friend… The biggest takeaway from throwing a big seminar: Take at least two trips to check out each venue and restaurant you’re considering, and meet all the people who will be running things. You shouldn’t depend entirely on email, Yelp, Google Maps, etc. for things that need to be seen and experienced. For instance, I nearly booked the seminar at a great hotel — based on Yelp reviews — that was in the middle of an industrial park. This would have been a disaster. Don’t rely too much on the interwebs.

Parties. Before Kimono, I put together a few private parties Tim held. One thing you can take away from them: our party music. All events need a soundtrack to sustain the positive energy, and I spent a fair amount of time putting together a good playlist, which starts off slow and builds up to dance music. Here you go, kids (or get it on Spotify here). And if you’re in search of a good free mix, try Kid Color’s “Palette One” or (of course) Girl Talk’s “All Day.”

Spotify Launch. Sean Parker’s launch party for Spotify will likely be the most amazing and lavish event I’ll ever attend. It was held in an abandoned warehouse that had been fully furnished and redecorated. For food and drinks: a 40-foot sushi bar, two pigs roasting on a spit, a deli-slicer cutting up fresh prosciutto, and an open bar. For live music: The Killers opened, followed by Jane’s Addiction, and Snoop Dogg to close… This was a party for less than 400 people. It. Was. Insane.

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RECOMMENDATIONS
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Videos: The 1-minute film below, which was commissioned by STA Travel Australia, was the most memorable video I saw last year. The two other videos that Rick Merecki put together from this 11-country trip are beautifully done and worth watching.

And my second favorite video from last year- The speech from The Great Dictator: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WibmcsEGLKo

Songs:

  1. Miike Snow’s “Black and Blue” (Youtube, iTunes).
  2. Holy Ghost “I Will Come Back” (Youtube, iTunes)
  3. Chromeo “Night by Night” (Youtube, iTunes). I saw Chromeo at the Treasure Island music festival, and this song absolutely destroyed. My new favorite dance song.
  4. Black Keys “Gold on the Ceiling” (Youtube, iTunes). Every song on their new album is fantastic — it restored my faith in pop rock.
  5. Gotye “Somebody That I Used to Know” (Youtube, iTunes). Beautiful song with a Phil Collins-esque chorus. The music video is classic.
  6. Christina Perri “Arms” (Youtube, iTunes). This girl is a fantastic singer; she reminds me of Joni Mitchell. And this song’s build up is flawless for the first 2:40, but the climax gets screwed up with a slow bridge instead of an uptempo instrumental. I’m disappointed and confused every time I hear it — it’s like musical blue balls.
[You can download all of these songs on iTunes here.]
 

Comedy Albums:

  1. David Cross “Bigger and Blackerer” (iTunes). I rarely recommended Cross’ old albums because they were so political. His newest album is great and he keeps the heavy stuff to a minimum. Definitely worth a listen.
  2. Patton Oswalt “Finest Hour” (iTunes). One of my favorite bits — The Dumb Gay Friend.

Movies:

With the exception of Bridesmaids (which was genius), I didn’t see anything in theaters last year that I was particularly crazy about. But a few films I finally got around to watching blew me away:

  1. Gangs of New York (Amazon, iTunes). Holy mother of god, this movie is awesome. It’s insanely brutal and gory (always fun), but I found myself thinking about it for days — it’s such an interesting part of our country’s history. I think I ended up watching it three times in 48 hours. Daniel Day-Lewis, as always, absolutely dominates the screen. If nothing else, watch this movie to have your notions of “great acting” redefined.
  2. Taxi Driver (Amazon, iTunes). Another classic Scorsese, which was more disturbing than any film I’ve seen in recent memory. That might not sound like a positive endorsement, but a film this haunting and memorable is worth seeing. It deserves its place in the top 50 greatest films on imdb.
  3. 127 Hours (Amazon). I had the brilliant idea to watch 127 Hours while I was really sick. I do not recommend doing this. I can’t imagine a more difficult story to tackle, so hats off to Boyle for nailing it.

Documentaries:

  1. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Amazon, iTunes). Even those who have no familiarity with Bansky or the world of street art will love this film. Fascinating, hilarious, and kind of mind-blowing.
  2. 6 Days to Air (Stream). I’m a big fan of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, so finally getting to see their creative process during the making of a South Park episode was amazing. Stone and Parker are two of the most inspiring people in the entertainment industry– they created one of the greatest cartoons of all-time (which has remained both controversial and well-received for 15 years straight), they created two classic blockbuster films, and they dominated Broadway. If you have an ounce of appreciation for their art, watch this documentary.

Books:

Shantaram. This was my favorite book I read last year. I first heard about it from an Australian friend while we were in Argentina (the book has been on the bestseller list in Australia for years). The story is largely based on the author’s life: Gregory Roberts escaped from prison, in broad daylight, two years after he’d received his 19-year sentence. He became Australia’s most-wanted man, and remained a fugitive for the next ten years. The story takes place in Bombay, and Roberts paints a picture of India that’s more vivid, beautiful, and brutal than Slumdog Millionaire. And given the fact that it took the author 13 years to write this book, with two drafts having been destroyed while he was held prisoner in India, it’s a miracle that Shantaram even exists. I strongly suggest that you buy this book, and I’ll leave you with one of the many memorable passages I underlined:

‘The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men… It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men — it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone — the noblest man alive or the most wicked — has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving towards God.’

Television: 

Breaking Bad (Amazon, iTunes). Hands down, the most brilliant TV show I’ve ever seen. The premise: A genius high-school chemistry teacher gets diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. With only a year left to live, he decides to secretly make and sell crystal meth in order to support his family. There are four seasons (with one more to go), each getting progressively more intense and exciting. The series rivals some of the best books I’ve ever read, in terms of gradual character development and slow-burning plots, and I plowed through all 46 episodes at a frantic pace. But no matter how hard I try to sell you on this show, my endorsement pales in comparison to these guys':

Breaking Bad has now surpassed The Sopranos, and, although I love Steve Buscemi, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire isn’t even in the running. Breaking Bad is an American classic.” – Stephen King

“If Hirokazu Koreeda’s right, I hope my afterlife is spent re-experiencing Breaking Bad for the first time, forever.” – Patton Oswalt

“[T]here doesn’t seem to be much debate over what have been the four best television shows of the past 10 years…. The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and/or Breaking Bad… Of the four shows I’ve mentioned, The Wire absolutely exhibited the finest writing; Mad Men has the most fascinating collection of character types, and The Sopranos was the most fully realized (and, it’s important to note, essentially invented this rarified tier of televised drama). But I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that Breaking Bad is the best of the four, or at least the one I like the most.” – Chuck Klosterman

If you don’t take any of the other recommendations in this post, just watch the first episode of Breaking Bad (free at the link). You’re welcome.

And in other TV news everyone’s heard already, Arrested Development is coming back. God bless Netflix.

Experiments: 

There were two body experiments from last year that are worth sharing: going gluten-free, and trying nootropics. The first was somewhat difficult (so many foods contain gluten), but truly transformative. After 40 days of no gluten, I had more energy than I’d felt since I was a little kid. I felt amazing and was nearly bouncing off the walls. If you have the discipline, I’d suggest giving 4-6 weeks of going gluten-free a shot. You’ll have to give up a lot of delicious stuff (bread, pasta, beer, ice cream, etc.), but you’ll be astonished at how you feel after the first month.

The second experiment was smart drugs. If you haven’t heard of nootropics, you’re not alone — they’re only just beginning to go mainstream. Basically, nootropics are drugs that improve your mental performance: cognition, clarity, recall, etc. I first discovered them while doing research for The 4-Hour Body. After reading a bunch of stuff online to make sure they were safe (here and here were the most useful) and talking to a few friends who had experimented on their own, I decided to give nootropics a shot. By no means am I an expert on this subject (nor am I a physician or nutritionist — before taking any of the below, consult your doctor and do your own research), but for those who are curious, here are a few of my thoughts and suggestions on smart drugs…

  • Quality fish oil. It’s good for your brain, your skin, your joints, your overall mood, and there aren’t really any drawbacks. I do 10,000 mg of Carlson salmon oil — 3 pills, 3 times per day.
  • CreatineI was hesitant to take this stuff while I was playing baseball in high school — creatine’s reputation was a little shaky back in the day. Now I take 5 grams every morning. Not only is creatine a safe supplement for increasing muscle mass, it’s also useful for mitigating against neurodegenerative diseases and is even being used to treat Parkinson’s. And it’s super cheap.
  • Alpha Brain. This is a solid stack from a reputable vendor. If you want to give nootropics a shot, start with Alpha Brain. I had to take 3 pills at once before I noticed any difference in mental clarity.
  • Adderall. Honestly, this stuff sucks. I first tried it with a friend who was studying for her MCAT, and the side effects (not wanting to interact with others, total lack of creativity) outstripped the benefits. Sure, it allowed me to sit down and read non-stop for hours. But it made me feel uninterested in people and not at all myself. Developing artists shouldn’t be allowed to take this stuff.
  • Provigil. Also known as Modafinil. This is prescribed to people with narcolepsy. The military also uses it to keep fighter pilots awake during multi-day missions. By far the most powerful nootropic I tried — I actually don’t know if there’s anything stronger than this. My experience with Provigil was ridiculous: I functioned at a high mental level with little fatigue, for nearly four days, on less than 10 hours of sleep. I cannot fully endorse this drug, as my head constantly felt like there was a fair amount of pressure building inside (not a desirable side effect). If you want to learn more, start here, but best of luck finding a non-sketchy online provider.
  • Final thought. The promise of smart drugs is exciting, but with the exception of Provigil, I never noticed enough of a difference in my mental output to really justify using these drugs (creatine and fish oil are the only two I continue to take daily). We all want our brains to perform on a higher level, but nootropics didn’t move the needle that much for me, as far as I can tell. But maybe they will for you…

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SAN FRANCISCO
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Moving. On February 1st last year, I left Denver and moved to San Francisco. For two months, I stayed at a friend’s house while searching for an apartment in a good neighborhood. This was a bigger hassle than I thought it’d be; decent listings were typically getting 100+ responses in less than 24 hours. Even when I got a response to see an apartment, I often found myself competing with the roommates’ friends for the open room (hint: friends will always win over a random person from Craigslist). Time after time, offers fell through for countless reasons. After weeks of fruitless searching, my dignity and self-worth were replaced with restrained desperation and a frightening willingness to compromise (“I hardly noticed the methadone clinic across the street.”)

After a lot of trial and error, I ended up in a great spot with awesome roommates. And while the hunt for a San Francisco apartment will always be fiercely competitive and fairly miserable, I found several helpful resources along the way that lessened the pain. So here are my pointers for those in their 20’s who are considering a move to SF:

1. To start, use NabeWise.com to get an idea of where you might want to live in the city. Your neighborhood can make or break your willingness to explore, so give yourself an honest assessment of what you want. Neighborhoods I like: The Mission (dirty and riddled with hipsters, yes, but the place has flava), Nob Hill, Duboce Triangle, Castro, North Beach, Lower Pac Heights, Lower Haight. I’m not a huge fan of the Marina or SOMA, though they’re both popular.

2. Spend at least two weeks staying with a friend, or at places on AirBNB.com. Walk all around the neighborhoods you like, taking note of the distance between your desired block and nearby grocery stores, pharmacies, good restaurants, bars, parks, bus routes, BART stations, and other fun neighborhoods. You can also use WalkScore to get an idea of what’s nearby, but it will be better for you to experience it yourself. It’s a pain to have a car out here (parking can be a nightmare, depending on the neighborhood), so plan on walking and commuting a fair amount. Get a Clipper card to save yourself the hassle of paying cash every time you take the bus or train. You might also consider buying a scooter or signing up for Zipcar (I use the latter on a regular basis, it’s a life saver).

3. Once you have a short list of good neighborhoods, use Padmapper.com to find available apartments in your desired areas. As a general rule, you want to be looking at apartments where rent is 1/3, or less, of your monthly income (i.e. If you make $2,500/month, you’ll need to search for listings around $800 per month or less). Flats can be nice, but they’re usually way too small to justify the cost. Unless you’re frighteningly introverted or despise having roommates, it’s better to look at apartments with 3+ bedrooms — you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck. Check Padmapper 2-3 times a day, and immediately email any new listings that look good. Below is a template you can use, which had the best response rate of all the variations I tried. And yes, I know it seems ridiculous for me to offer an apartment email template in this post, but remember — the apartment hunt is absurdly competitive out here. Writing a decent email greatly boosts your chances for getting a meeting and securing a spot. The biggest takeaway: Change your subject line to reveal your age and gender – that’s what matters to most people, and it will improve the odds of your message being opened.

SUBJ: 25-year old male roommate for [Title of listing]

I’m Charlie from Colorado, in search of a nice place in [desired neighborhood] with fun & outgoing roommates. Your apartment looks great, and you all sound like good people. If the room is still available, I’d love to drop in, meet you all, and check the place out.

A bit more about me:

  • [1-sentence description of what you do to make money (i.e. show you can pay the bills)]
  • [1-sentence description of what you do for fun, or what you have in common with them (i.e. show you’re not a weirdo)]
  • [1-sentence about something fun/amusing/memorable that you’ve done or would like to do in San Francisco]
  • [Link to Facebook] 

If the above sounds like a good fit, I can come by this week between 3p and 7p. Does Thursday @ 5:30 work for you guys?

Charlie
[Phone number]
[Link to personal website, if any]

4. Follow up ONCE with each listing you haven’t heard from in 48 hours (BCC “2days@nudgemail.com” in the original email to remind yourself). Just send a brief message saying you wanted to ensure that your email didn’t slip through the cracks. They occasionally will, as you’re usually amongst 100+ other emails.

5. Check out the apartments you receive good responses from, and dismiss any that CC you and a dozen other applicants. If you’re going to an open house, you’ll want to arrive early with your credit report, a past pay-stub, and a checkbook (I stopped going to open houses because they’re a collective nightmare). Do not sign anything until you’re confident you love the place, the neighborhood, and the people you’ll be living with. If you’re doing a one-on-one interview with your prospective future roommates, have a mental checklist prepared of what you’re looking for (this article is a solid starting point). On a basic level, you’ll want to know what the landlord is like (strict or laid back), whether the place is furnished (can definitely make your life easier), whether the apartment has a washer/dryer, how good the water pressure is in the shower, whether your roommates smoke, how much total closet space is available, and the length of the lease (I highly suggest going month-to-month in your first apartment). Finally, just relax and be yourself. Don’t give in to people who try to make you feel like they have all the power – they should be happy to meet you, and shouldn’t make you do a song-and-dance to decide whether you’re worthy of living there. Remember: You get to judge these people, too, and can walk away if they don’t seem friendly enough or easy to live with. Most importantly, listen to your gut. If you get even mildly sketched out or feel uneasy about anything, PASS. It’s a hassle to continually search for a place, but it’s far worse to commit to an apartment you don’t feel comfortable in.

Once you’ve found a place and are all settled in, you’ll want to keep an eye on these sites for random fun stuff to do around the city:

“Random fun stuff” is where San Francisco really shines. Everyone gets dressed up, drinks, and has a ton of fun. If you don’t get a chance to experience some of their annual events, you’ll miss out on a big part of what makes this city unique. To name a few:
 
[For a much more comprehensive list, check out Outdoor Daytime Drinking Season.]
 
 
There are also a handful of apps that I think everyone in San Francisco should have on their phones. Here are my favorites, which have all helped me tremendously in a variety of scenarios:
 
  1. Taxi Magic. When you go out at night, you’ll usually find yourself taking a cab. You can either call Luxor (the only cab company that doesn’t hassle you for paying with credit card), or you can tap a few buttons in this app to order one.
  2. Uber Cab. There will come a time when you just cannot find a cab. You’ll be running late to the airport, or you’ll be stranded in the Wharf at 3am. Whatever the case, you’ll want Uber on your phone. A sleek black car will pick you up within a few minutes, and payment will be sent automatically through the app — no tipping or fumbling around with cash required. Uber costs about double the price of a normal cab, but it’s absolutely worth it when you need it.
  3. Zipcar (optional). Obviously you’ll need a membership first, which costs $25 to apply and $60 per year to retain. Gas is free and cars start at $7.75/hour, with day rates around $80 at the lowest end. Might seem a bit high, but bear in mind: You’re no longer paying for all of the fringe costs (repairs, maintenance, gas) that come with actually owning a car. You can usually find Zipcars within a few blocks from wherever you are standing, unless it’s the weekend or a holiday, when most cars will be reserved. Bonus that they forget to mention: Free parking! You can park in any open Zipcar space in the city while you’re out and about, but you’ll obviously still have to return the car to its original spot.
  4. Venmo. Quickly exchange cash with your friends, with zero fees when it’s linked to your checking account. My roommates and I use this to pay each other back for random stuff (getting take out, concert tickets, etc.) Super easy to use and extremely practical.
  5. TaskRabbit. If nothing else, TaskRabbit runners can help you move in to your new apartment. More likely, you’ll occasionally find yourself with a bunch of random tasks at hand and not enough time to complete them. That’s where this app comes in.
  6. Yard Sale. I usually use this instead of Craigslist to sell stuff. It’s easier, faster, and enough people actually use it to ensure buyers. You can also find some sweet deals nearby.
  7. ScoutMob. Take a glance at this app every now and then while you’re walking around the city. You’ll find a ton of deals for 50-100% off food, coffee, and more.
Finally, the most useful app to have on your phone in SF is…
 

YelpIf you’re not using it constantly already, get comfortable with Yelp for finding quality places to eat, local services, etc. The Yelp community is insanely active in SF, and I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t use it regularly out here. There are an endless number of great restaurants in the city (see here and here), but these are a few of my favorites, which aren’t overrated and won’t leave your bank account in ruins:

  1. El Farolito (Mission). Cheap and amazing burritos. Expect a line if you come late at night. [Close runner-up: Taqueria Cancún]
  2. Nick’s Crispy Tacos (Polk). Solid tacos, and a cool spot to grab a drink.
  3. Pearl’s Burgers (Civic Center, Lower Nob Hill). Best burgers in the city, by far. Everything on the menu is delicious.
  4. Gracias Madre (Mission). An all-vegan Mexican restaurant. They serve things like butternut squash quesadillas with cashew cheese. I’m far from vegan, and I’m far from Mexican, but this place is miraculously delicious.
  5. Swan Oyster Depot (Polk). Don’t judge a book by its cover- if you love seafood and family-owned restaurants, you have to experience this hole-in-the-wall on Polk St. There’s always a line out the door, so don’t expect to be seated right away.
  6. San Tung (Inner Sunset). The chicken wings at this restaurant are out of this world. Again, expect a line out the door.
  7. City View Restaurant (Financial District). City View can be a bit pricier than the rest of the places on this list, but dim sum is so damn good. Yank Sing is better but too expensive.

[Sidenote: If you’re a small business owner (especially in San Francisco), you should divert your energy from Facebook/Twitter and focus more on optimizing your Yelp page. It will yield a far better return, and will likely continue to pay off indefinitely (unlike Likes and Retweets, which will literally have zero measurable impact on your bottom line). Yelp disrupted and replaced the Yellow Pages (and arguably Google Places), and the site gets more than 60 million unique visitors per month. The amount of new customers the site can drive in a big city is astounding… Amazingly, a ton of major businesses, hotels, and restaurants have few quality photos or substantive reviews on their pages. Most businesses won’t encourage repeat customers to leave reviews, and/or they fail to respond to negative reviews. This is low-hanging fruit for every business on the site, yet most of them won’t have time or see the value. So it’s a bit surprising to me that there aren’t any social media companies or freelancers offering services in Yelp page optimization. Granted, the service is a difficult sell, will only apply to specific businesses, and is almost impossible to measure with any degree of accuracy.

Update: There are, in fact, a handful of (apparently shady) companies offering “reputation management” for Yelp pages. I may be off base here, but I don’t think I’m suggesting a service that’s unethical: making quality/relevant photos and substantive reviews more prominent (both positive and negative), and addressing upset customers with legitimate complaints. The truth is that a lot of reviewers on Yelp simply enjoy whining, and those with stupid complaints which are outside of a company’s control (“The table next to us was so loud!”) shouldn’t be engaged in a discussion. However, customers who’ve had legitimately bad experiences should be addressed with basic human decency (“We understand where you’re coming from, and there are people on the other side who are working to improve things”). I’m not suggesting gaming the system, nor am I proposing anything radical; I’m talking about basic customer service, and improving the signal on the page. Of course, this “signal” is relative to the company and the customer, so any service that offers to do this may always be viewed as shady.]

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DATING IN SF
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The dating scene in San Francisco is strange. There are a lot of cool interesting people in the area, and the desire to meet/date them is palpable. Yet both sexes complain about there being no one to date in the city (see: Why There are No Girls in San Francisco, Does the SF Dating Scene Need to Freshen Up?, and my personal favorite, Girl Game).

The facilitator that a surprisingly large number of young people rely upon is OkCupid, which is basically a free dating service for those whose ship hasn’t sailed. The site is extremely polished and supposedly effective: for instance, it shows the specific percentage of you being a match, a friend, or an enemy with every profile you visit. The most surprising part about OkCupid is how many young/attractive/normal girls are regularly using the service — a feat no other dating site, to my knowledge, has achieved with the mid-20’s demographic. Spend a few minutes browsing around and you’ll see what I mean.

The few girls I’ve gone on dates with were good people, but I’m not convinced OkCupid is worth the time or effort. Approaching girls in person (in my experience) is 100X more efficient. In real life, what you see is what you get. On OKC, photos can be flattering and sometimes deceptive. In real life, you can quickly tell if there’s chemistry. On OKC, some might seem really outgoing in their messages, but are more reserved in-person. The opposite holds true, as well: Some send brief unenthused messages, but are awesome face-to-face. There are a host of other problems with the site that make it difficult (many of which are better outlined here), so meeting people through OKC doesn’t hold the appeal it used to.

In any case, here’s a quick story of my first OkCupid encounter. Near the end of last year, a few friends kept raving about the site, so I decided to give it a crack. After awhile, it dawned on me that almost everyone on OkCupid – myself included – was projecting this weird, semi-desperate “I’m an ideal mate!”-version of themselves. It was sad realizing how much we were all trying so hard, expending more effort than just going out and meeting people in real life. Once I recognized this, I deactivated my account.

The next night, I went to a crowded local bar with my roommate. As I walked out of the bathroom, I noticed a gorgeous Chicana standing by herself, looking around the room. I walked up and had this exchange:

Me: “Did you lose your OkCupid date or what?”

Her: “Actually… I am here on an OkCupid date. I can’t find him.”

Me: “Really. This is a terrible place to go on a blind date.”

Her: “I wouldn’t disagree.”

We had a nice chat for a few minutes, then she spotted her date. She gave me her number before she left, and we met a couple nights later for drinks.

For a completely random girl I met in a bar, I was kind of blown away. Not only were her looks distracting, she was a genius who was very sweet, very normal, and very fun. And she grew on me much faster than I expected: she was really affectionate, uber-close with her family, got along with everyone she met, top of her class at Johns Hopkins… I’ll stop before I put her on too much of a pedestal, but the truth is that she was a great girl – the kind that’s rarely on the market for more than a few minutes.

One night while we were on the phone, she asked me:

Her: “Was your username _____ on Okcupid?”

Me: “…Whoa. How’d you know that?”

Her: “I knew I’d seen you before! You sent me a message, but you deleted your account before I could respond.”

I logged back onto OkCupid and checked my old outgoing messages. Sure enough, she was the last girl I’d written before leaving the site. We met each other less than 24 hours later.

That story is a little bizarre, in a “This would make a terrible Jennifer Aniston movie” kind of way. But I suppose it’s probably not that uncommon. Given the sheer number of people using the site, I’m positive there are plenty of “We interacted on OkCupid then met in real life” stories. And while we MIGHT have eventually met through the site, it was far more gratifying to meet each other randomly in person. Point being: Don’t rely too much on the interwebs. Spontaneous real life interactions are always more fun…

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FACEBOOK
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Most of us downplay the amount of time we spend on Facebook. I’ve had an active account for seven years, and I was growing increasingly embarrassed with the number of hours spent on the site each week, watching my friends and pseudo-friends turning their daily minutiae into my personal tabloid. The more I thought about it, the more I hated it. I disliked the false sense of staying in touch with people. I disliked how both meaningful and trivial real-life experiences were opportunities to brag with a cleverly written quip… I still can’t imagine how Facebook is affecting people in their formative years, who are viewing this as normal human behavior before they develop any degree of self-awareness. The site cultivates and encourages self-absorption, and it screws up the way you think about yourself. You’re in a state of constant self-analysis because, for the first time in your life (unless you’re a charming blogger), you have an audience at your disposal!

Facebook clearly isn’t going to disappear or become culturally irrelevant for a loooong time, so I wanted to make it more manageable and less counter-productive. A few things helped me curb the compulsive checking:

  1. I unsubscribed from everyone who popped up in the mini-feed who wasn’t family, a close friend, or someone I’d seen in the last three months. This includes all companies, band pages, etc. If they aren’t relevant to your daily life, their updates are a distraction. “But I find so many interesting articles/great deals from people’s updates!” So what? How many can you remember that have made a substantial impact on your daily routine? Exactly. If it’s truly important to you and your social circle, you’ll eventually hear about it from someone directly.
  2. I deleted the Facebook app from my iPhone. If you’re not going to leave the site entirely, just reserve Facebook for when you’re sitting at a computer.
  3. I deactivated my account for a month. Doing a Facebook fast was good, as it made me realize what little impact it actually has on my life. But next time, I’m going to do a month off of email, the internet, and my iPhone. “Impossible!” Maybe, but taking a month off of all digital stimulation is a worthwhile experiment.

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FINAL THOUGHTS
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What I remember from 2011 was being tired. Sleep wasn’t a priority and I deprived myself for months, ignoring the fatigue as my sanity and disposition slowly eroded. My desire to interact with people was blunted, I had less and less energy for creating, and I stopped being my regular lively self. When a few things outside of my control went awry all at once, I broke down. It was a condition I hadn’t really experienced before, and I wanted to crawl out of it immediately. That wasn’t possible, so I spent a long time getting back to normal. I still am, in fact.

I say all this because my life is not a smooth, steady path of conquered opportunities. I’ve handled many situations poorly, and have a handful of glaring weaknesses. I often feel frustrated, uncertain, and confused. Like everyone else, I work towards becoming a stronger person, but often fall short of the man I want to be. This is a normal progression for any adult, I suppose, but it felt especially pronounced last year.

I’ll be writing more about this, as these internal battles seem to be taking place among many of my peers. But in the meantime, I hope you can find comfort in some of the things I’d continually remind myself while restoring sanity. These are thoughts and beliefs that have helped me regain my footing…

First, not one person on this planet chose to be here. None of us made the decision to exist, and none of us were born with an inherent desire to succeed in the realm of capitalism. We were all thrust into this chaos, and we’re all pretending to understand our existence. No one fully understands it (anyone who claims to is a liar), and it’s likely that we never will. That’s okay — it’s not a bad thing; it’s amazing. The wisdom we are given is distilled from countless generations and their experiences on this planet. The way we are told to live has been shaped and colored by those people’s understanding of their times, along with their flaws and biases. Some of what they’ve told us won’t make sense in our reality, because the world changes, and we are constantly changing it. But the people who came before us made this world into what it is now, and we all have the same opportunity to improve upon it. The reality we’ve created has its problems, but living in an indifferent universe means the rules — for anything and everything we’ve made — can always be rewritten. You can either view this as a daunting task, or you can take it as a chance to contribute and make things better. Choose the latter.

Second, it’s all a front: we are hardwired to reproduce and everything we do, say, or feel is a representation of that purpose. Our bodies simply want us to protect our genes so we can successfully pass them on. That’s all. Your body was on auto-pilot during the first part of your life, asking and calculating its way into being effectively cared for. Your parents/family/teachers either did the best they could, or things got messed up along the way. Whatever conditions you grew up around shaped the way you now view and interact with the world. You wish that you could totally think for yourself, but it’s hard to not believe that you are just a very complex animal. The simple act of maintaining eye contact with another person is a delicate art, which can rapidly accelerate intimacy or create confusion and hostility. Ultimately, you take your cues from the people around you whom you respect, and avoid those who appear to threaten your reality. Sometimes your fears are difficult to rationalize, and are inherent to your nature or instilled in you… You see how much we can affect each other’s thoughts and behaviors. You see everyone’s constant drive to have everything in accordance to the reality they desire. It’s crazy how similar we all are, and incredible how different… Humans are just so complex that it’s easy to forget how much of our behavior has been, and always is, dictated by something so simple and obvious: sex. If you can’t find the humor in this, you’re taking life too seriously. If you can’t find the beauty in this, you’re not appreciating how privileged we are as a species because of it.

Third, memento mori: you are going to die. This is not a bad thing, either. Apart from certain things that are outside of your control, your days can be as meaningful and beautiful and fun as you want them to be. Life is a ride and, fortunately, there are a lot of other people experiencing it with you. They all want to be loved, and they’re trying as best as they can to be accepted. Help them feel this way, and your love will be reciprocated.

2012 is a new year. There are many ideas I’ve put on hold and, going forward, I’ll start bringing more of them to light. They will be announced on this blog when the time is right.

If you’re new here and want to receive (very) infrequent updates from me, I’d suggest subscribing via RSS or email. You can also follow me on Twitter. Either way, thanks for reading.

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Comments

  1. says

    Damn Charlie. That was long as fuck. Read it all though, good overall recap of 2011. Ordered a copy of Shantaram. Not that I give a shit, but what’s the deal with directly linking to torrents? Is that a subtle scratch at your beliefs about the internet or an accident?

    -Dilanka

  2. says

    Charlie, great post. Glad I got the chance to hang out a bit this summer in SF.

    I’ve been having a lot of the internal battles as well lately – any books/authors you suggest that really helped shape your thinking? I found reading Seneca helped me put things in perspective, but at the same time am not a fan of the writing style.

    Hope things are well dude,

    Justin

  3. says

    Ha – I’ve been pitching doing websites & marketing for restaurants or offline businesses, it’s funny how many want to get on the “facebooks or twitters”. I still haven’t found the best way to educate them on why they shouldn’t worry about those. Yelp optimization is a great idea, going to test that.

    • says

      I used yelp for every restaurant I would eat at in California, so worth while! I’d always talk to these companies too, and it seems they got at least 1/3 more traffic after using yelp (given I only go to the high ranked restaurants). I always suggest to restauraunt/ other business owners to use this, but don’t think anyone has changed. May be an easier sale to create a page for the company and charge them for traffic/ sales?

      Charlie- Love how your mind is always working, and am excited to check out these new ideas to be released. No doubt in my mind you aren’t going to have some craziness.

      I’m surprised you don’t have Yerba Mate as one of your brain stimulants after being down to Argentina and working with Tim. 8 hours of sleep and some mate brewed in my coffe pot, and I’m cracked out all day haha! I’ll check out creatine and a gluten free diet too though.

      Keep rockin it man!

  4. says

    Nice post.
    I actually don’t quite remember how I stumbled upon you blog, but now I see I was right, anyway.

    Good material, kee coming.
    Cheers

  5. says

    YESSSS you weren’t lying about the blog comeback (longest. absence. ever.)

    Two things:

    1. How do you feel about having “Scary as shit” and “Douchebags wearing Ed Hardy shirts snatch up all the hotties” being the first words that pop up next to your name on Google? (Proud, I hope.)

    2. I went on a “technology fast” just before the new year began, and it was amazing. I highly recommend it… although a month? Damn, that’s a long time.

    That is all. Nice to hear your internet-voice again :)

  6. Tess says

    Nice post! I also moved to SF last year so it was great to read your recommendations. And that’s the second time in a day I’ve heard about both Shantaram and Breaking Bad, do clearly I’ll have to check those out.

    One quibble, though – you say “You can park in any open Zipcar space in the city while you’re out and about” – I’m also a Zipcar member and I’m pretty sure this isn’t right?!? I was under the impression that you could only park in the “home” zipcar space – otherwise, what happens when someone goes to return their zipcar and the spaces are filled by visiting zipcars?

    Happy to be corrected about this…

    • says

      Technically yes, that’s correct. But I’m not parking the car for hours at a time, and the majority of those spaces are usually empty (the cars are being rented out constantly). if you’re driving around the city making a bunch of pit stops, finding a spot can take up a decent chunk of time. Sometimes it’s faster to just find a nearby empty lot.

  7. Christian says

    Hey Charlie,
    We exchanged an email or 2 a few months ago. Just happened to randomly see your twitter post and read this post. Stud post my friend. You dropped some knowledge. Well played.

    Peace,
    Christian

  8. Sean says

    How do you like SF compared to Colorado? More enjoyable? Less? I also went to Colorado State, lived in Fort Collins and now in the Denver area.

    From all of the books I have read about places in California it seems like there is a greater sense of community out there, which I feel is missing in the suburbs of Denver (could be the suburbs of anywhere though)

  9. says

    Kay read it all. Your blog posts are the only ones I’ll consistently read in entirety. So as mentioned before <3 the music. Danke. Stoked to watch the South Park creator doc. That traveling vid was inspiring. Really been digging the "Day in the Life" series on Hulu. Saw "Exit Through…" Loved it. Got to go to the graffiti exhibit here in LA. Was incredible. "Shantaram" sounds wicked. The part about his losing drafts is insane. It's so tough to get the words out in the first place, I can't imagine having to keep starting over. Just today finished reading "The Dream" by Gurbaksh Chahal who sold 2 companies in excess of $40 million before 25. Thought it may be lame. Was refreshingly honest and a quick read. Got rid of my cell last year all of October. Life was better. Don't know why I still have it. Deactivate facebook about 7 months out of the year and never miss it. It's deactivated now. Guy I am seeing I met on OKCupid. He's pretty awesome, but I'm not rushing anything. Friend gave me Adderal. Really want to try it to get this one project done, but I'm nervous. Lastly and most important – you are brave to be so candid toward the end of your post. Thank you for that. Been reading "How to Cure Depression Naturally" by Stephan Ilardi to help me break out of my funk (this is me being brave) and he talks about key ingredients like sunlight and omega 3. Luckily because I live in LaLa Land I get access to lot of sunlight, just need to step away from the computer and found a bottle of Omega 3s from Athletic Greens. Supposedly their capsules are the most legit. Hmmm…. marketing. He also says our bodies and minds weren't built to be so sedentary lost in technology all the time which caters to a weakened mental mood. No wonder I enjoyed life more without a cell phone, rollerblading at the beach and daily hot yoga with limited time on the computer. I get an A plus in sleep deprivation as well. Gotta work on that. I'm filled with guilt every moment I'm not working away until my eyes can't physically stay open. #entreprenuerproblems Makes me want to run away to Byron Bay, Australia and work in a surf shack. Oh yea Aaron Paul who plays the drug dealer on that show you like is a childhood friend. He's great. I'm proud of him for "making it" in this tough town. Now I gotta discover what "making it" really means for me because this obsession with capitalism isn't getting me to any happy place.

    • says

      Wow, not sure how I missed this comment. Thanks so much, Espree, again for your very kind words :) And crazy to hear your friends with Aaron Paul. That dude is a champ. I feel so bad for his character… Much love!

  10. Tyler says

    Cool post Charlie – love the honesty. After reading your paragraph titled “Second, it’s all a front” I’m wondering if you have read “The Social Animal” by David Brooks (NYT Writer) because some of your points are similar to the concepts described in the book. I just finished the book myself and it is an impressively readable research project on the human subconscious. The book maps out the subconscious through a narrative story of the full life story of 2 fictional individuals. The various chapters aim to describe the in-life-phase implications of scientific research of the un-measurable complexity of the human subconscious, its strengths (which in turn are also weaknesses in our modern fabricated reality that you described) and tendencies. I’m very interested in marketing as well and I found it to be illuminating when applying the principles described in the book to marketing concepts – eg. connecting with consumers on a subconscious level is categorically more fruitful than connecting to the conscious brain. I love to read about evolution, behavioral psychology, and (now) the subconscious to learn more about myself. On a science fiction level, I feel that it’s like a computer application becoming more self aware by studying its own kernel code. Anyway, I recommend the book and from reading your posts I think you would enjoy it tremendously and probably add it to your recommendations list after completing it. Ill go as far to say that if you don’t like it, Ill buy it off of you ;) (ok, I like marketing, but I’m actually in sales…)

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