100 Days of Writing

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A few months ago I realized there wasn’t a good football blog written by a fan for my alma mater, the Houston Cougars. The feedback and growth of the blog in such a short period of time has been pleasantly surprising.

An Idea Is Born

I’ve been a hardcore fan of the Houston Cougars football team since my freshman year at UH in 2004. Frequently over the years I’ve shared UH news and blog posts on my personal Facebook page, which naturally is limited in scope since it’s private. I’ve always been a bit obsessive with my fandom for the Coogs and football as a whole. I spend countless hours reading about football in my free time. I’m okay with baseball and basketball, but football is an obsession.

In one evening late December of this past year (2014) I started coming across rumors that the head coach of the Cougars football team was going to get fired. I posted that to Facebook and sure enough the next morning he was fired. I then started thinking about it and realized that there really isn’t a good fan blog for the Houston Cougars. We have a local beatwriter covering the team for the Houston Chronicle and occasionally get written about in other local and national publications, but nobody had really done any posts from a fans perspective. I’m by no means a professional journalist, but since I read constantly… everything from books, to articles online, to magazines… I knew that I have enough of a grasp of writing to be a blogger. I also have an insatiable appetite for learning about things. When I get interested in a topic I become obsessive trying to become an expert and wanting to learn every little detail. The Houston Cougars and college football has been one of those topics. Might as well put all of this otherwise useless info to good use!

Since I couldn’t find a good Houston Cougar sports blog out there I decided I needed to start my own. I did some brainstorming about finding a good name and decided on “Cardiac Coogs”. Cardiac Coogs is a nickname people have given the Houston Cougars for having several close games go down to the wire, giving their fans a heart attack or cardiac arrest in the process. I had my idea cemented and then I was off to the races!

Take Off!

When I was starting the blog I was wondering if I’d have enough content on the Houston Cougars football team to write about them during the offseason. I figured I may have a month or two where I scrounge up only one or two blog posts during the dog days of summer before football season kicks off. I had no idea how wrong I was!

Today marks 100 days since I published my first blog post and I’ve already successfully published 88 blog posts in those 100 days. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and a little shocked about how much content is out there about the Cougars. We hired a new head coach, Tom Herman, in January who was the offensive coordinator of the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Since the hiring everything has snowballed. Many national media outlets (Fox Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, to name a few) have written extensive articles about the Cougars. It’s all surreal how much momentum the program has now.

The blog has mirrored the football program’s rise since launching in January. I’ve built up a pretty strong following on Twitter (500+ followers) and every month I’ve had more visitors than the previous month:

CardiacCoogs Traffic Jan-April

Very cool! We’ll see how long I can keep those graphs increasing. It’s a very specific hyperlocal website so there’s definitely a ceiling on how high those numbers can climb; but I intend to keep pushing very hard to see how high I can make that ceiling.

Getting Noticed

I’ve submitted things myself to other websites, like Reddit, to help the blog gain traction. But, I think one of my “holy cow” moments was when I posted a blog article to a small subreddit and it got re-posted by another user to a larger subreddit which in turn drove a lot of traffic to the blog. When your users are sharing your content on their own, you know you’re doing something right!

Another “holy cow” moment happened two weeks ago. I shot an email to the some people within the UH athletics department trying to see I could get a media pass to cover the Houston football spring game. To my pleasant surprise, they approved my media credentials and I was able to go in the press box and onto the field during the spring game. That was probably the highlight of my Cougar fandom so far. I was able to get some awesome photos and videos of the spring game, click here and here to view the two different blog posts where I wrote about the spring game. The picture at the top of this blog is my press pass for the spring game.

What The Future Holds

It’s now been 100 days since I published my first blog post and the feedback and results I’ve gotten has been awesome! I finally have turned a passion of mine into something useful that other people enjoy. I plan on writing more and more and I’ve got a few new ideas up my sleeve for the future.

Let this serve as a lesson for others: Don’t feel bad about your hobbies, passions, or obsessions if they don’t immediately make you money. You may find a way in the future to use those passions to bring value to others who share the same interests.

Finished the Codecademy HTML and CSS course!

code

I finished the Codecademy course on HTML and CSS! I’ve known how to write HTML for nearly 8 or 9 years and never got around to advancing my computer knowledge. I was able to finish the course pretty quickly and was able to pick up some basics of CSS.

I’ll probably take some CSS courses from some other sources before moving on to another programming language. But, this was awesome so far to have finished this course!

A recap of 2014 and looking towards the future

I haven’t done a recap of my 2014 yet and February is almost over but no is as good as time as any. I’m very proud of myself and what I’ve been able to accomplish. I don’t write this to brag but if it motivates one person to go out there and kick some ass then it’s worth it!

Loving the Bookworm Life

Last year I had a goal to read more books and I was able to finish 29 of them! I read constantly and I’m almost obsessed with learning more about the world and things I know nothing about. Reading is very relaxing and if I didn’t have to work, I’d probably spend the majority of my days reading.

A special thanks to the Houston Public Library and their excellent selection of books.

The Push Towards Fluency

I also wanted to learn as much Spanish as possible. I got started practicing with Duolingo consistently in November 2013 and got hooked and fell in love with studying and seeing incremental improvements. I was able to study for over 350 days during 2014. The progress I’ve made in the Spanish language is monumental compared to when I started. I’m a long way from fluent, but I’m now super motivated to continue my studies.

In the first two months of 2015 I was able to complete the Spanish Duolingo tree and I recently started the reverse tree (English for Spanish speakers) to keep my knowledge fresh.

Another Blog

As 2015 got underway the Houston Cougars football team hired Tom Herman to be the new head coach. I’ve been a rabid Cougar supporter since I came to UH in 2004 and I frequently post many things about the Coogs to my Facebook friends. I soon realized that there aren’t any good Cougar fan blogs out there so I decided to start my own. I named my blog CardiacCoogs.com and I’ve been cranking out posts since then. The new blog is also one of the reasons why my 2014 recap took so long for me to write. It’s fun writing just for fun and for friends and not having any expectations of making money; it’s really liberating.

Looking Forward for the Rest of 2015

For the rest of 2015 one of my biggest goals is to be more consistent at the gym and keep pushing myself physically and mentally. I probably won’t finish 29 books in 2015 due to spending more time weight-lifting, still doing my Spanish lessons, and the new blog, but I’m okay with that. Thank you for reading this far and I’ll leave you with an awesome quote and video from Arnold to keep you motivated:

“When you’re out there partying, horsing around, someone at the same time is working hard, someone is getting smarter and someone is winning, just remember that”

Duolingo Completed!

Duolingo Trophy 2-17-2015

Hooray! After fifteen months of consistently studying Spanish via Duolingo I finally finished the program! It took a lot of hard work and consistency but it paid off in the end.

Doing Duolingo every day helped me stay focused in other areas of my life: Working out, eating healthy food, and reading lots of books. Turn off your TV and get busy accomplishing your dreams!

More posts about my journey with Duolingo:

How To Stay Motivated With Duolingo

After consistently studying Duolingo Spanish since November 2013, I finally was able to reach the 200 consecutive day mark a few weeks ago. Along the way I’ve picked up some good tips and hints to stay motivated, organized, and increase my success rate learning.

Early Frustrations While Studying

After doing my Duolingo lessons for a few months I began to plateau and feel frustrated at the increasing complexity of the lessons. New words were being introduced very fast but I was having a hard time remembering all of them and staying focused and motivated.  I knew that I needed to use some sort of flash card system to keep those new words fresh in my mind and to help me memorize them. I tried using old school index cards like back in high school, but those soon became too numerous and they aren’t exactly convenient for quick and easy travel. There also isn’t a good way to organize them or make quick changes on the fly.  :: cue the dramatic voice-over :: There has to be a better way!

Finding An Awesome Solution

I figured with all of the advances in technology and learning in the past several years there had to be some convenient app that I could use to digitally make flash cards.  I did some research online and tried out a few different study apps before settling on a pretty cool one called StudyBlue.

StudyBlue is awesome because there is a web version, tablet, and mobile allowing me to create flash cards quickly and study whenever is convenient for me. Stuck waiting on someone (like in a doctor’s office)?  I simply whip out my phone and do a quick 20 question quiz to jog my memory. Anytime I come across a new word in my Duolingo lessons I add it to my StudyBlue deck for review later. This has helped me memorize countless vocab words and keep them fresh in my mind. Because I’m reviewing flashcards outside of my Duolingo lessons, it also has helped me stay motivated with the Duolingo lessons and progress faster.

In addition to the awesome level of convenience, StudyBlue also allows you to group your flash cards into separate folders based on different topics.  My folders are based around each section of my Duolingo lessons (ex: adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, etc.).  Any time I come across a new word I don’t know I simply make a flash card of it to review later.  StudyBlue also has quizzes for each folder you make so you can test yourself to he how you’re progressing with your learning.

Don’t Forget a Good Translation App

Another tool I realized I soon needed was a good translation book or app.  Again, I prefer something online for ease of access and Google Translate is one of the most popular ones online. But I soon found Google Translate isn’t as accurate as I want. I remembered using a site called FreeTranslation.com over ten years ago back in high school. Luckily enough, not only is FreeTranslation.com still up and running but it seems far more accurate then Google Translate.

When I’m using Duolingo, often times I’ll type out an answer to a Duolingo lesson and run it through FreeTranslation to see how close I am to the accurate translation. FT has helped me realize where my sentences are very close to being accurate or very far off.

Conclusion

Since incorporating both StudyBlue and FreeTranslations.com into my Duolingo lessons I’ve found myself much more motivated and I’m moving much closer to completing the course.  The flash cards have helped me keep new words Duolingo is throwing at me fresh in my mind.  I’m still a ways off from being fluent but I’m so much further along in my understanding of the language than when I started.

Notes

The above tools work for me, but they are by no means the definitive answer to how to stay motivated and succeed at Duolingo.  If you have any suggestions or other ideas leave a comment!  My other posts on trying to learn Spanish via Duolingo are here, here, and here.

Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter… just let me know you found me via this post.  🙂

New Duolingo Record!

144 Days Duolingo

Yesterday my Duolingo streak reached 144 days, surpassing my previous record of 143 days I had reached back in March.  I was really sick for a week back then so my streak stopped because I was too weak to do my Spanish lessons.  Hard to believe that I was able to build it back up already.  Now I have to keep it going and continue to improve on my skills. 🙂

 

A Good Life

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A beautiful day in San Francisco (click to embiggen)

I always wanted to be an entrepreneur.  It’s been a dream of mine to run my own business since I was a kid.  I had it all planned out:  I would build my business, make millions (if not billions) of dollars, and eventually retire young.

I believed so much that running my own business and making lots of money was the highest priority that I moved to Silicon Valley two and a half years ago to follow my dream of being a tech startup founder.  My fiancé (now wife) and I left our friends and family behind and made the 2,000 mile move to Mountain View from Houston.

I networked like crazy upon arriving in the Valley and soon landed a gig at a cool startup.  Over the next two and a half years I worked at that little company.  I was the 8th employee there and we would eventually grow to 15 people during my tenure.  I wrote about the move here.

Startup Reality

Working at the startup was fun.  I got to work alongside with some very cool people and learned a lot.  I made some friends along the way and created lots of great memories.  I also grew an incredible amount professionally, learning how to manage handling hundreds of emails and several thousand accounts all at once.

But I wont lie, a startup is incredibly stressful.  Not every Silicon Valley startup is making money hand over fist.  Quite a few are struggling to survive in spite of their funding, crippled by having expenditures much greater than revenue.  It’s easy to read about ‘xyz hot startup’ getting the latest round of venture money and assume all is well.  The truth is vc funding isn’t revenue and shouldn’t be taken as a true measure of a startup’s success.  [Note: I make those statements not referring to the company I worked for, but about the Valley as a whole to give people outside of the Valley a bit of a reality check].

Did I make the wrong choice?

A few months after arriving in California, a personal family event brought me back to Houston for a few days.  My brief trip back in Houston coincided with Fourth of July weekend.  We celebrated with my wife’s family and relatives BBQ’ing in their backyard and enjoying some beers.  Everyone was having a great time and I remember wondering what was so wrong with living a simple life with friends and family nearby?  Had I made the wrong decision?  Perhaps making lots of money and running a business doesn’t really matter on the long run. Perhaps what’s really important is the time we spend with the people we care about and the memories with them.  I started to re-think my decision to leave all of this behind in the pursuit of making money.

The Pull Towards Home

A year and a half of working at the startup I was let go.  Business strategies change fast in that type of environment and my position was no longer needed.  I spent three months unsuccessfully looking for work in SF before my wife and I eventually decided to move back home.

Our apartment lease in Mountain View was nearing renewal and for the second straight year our rents were going up.  We decided as we got near the end of our lease that being broke in Mountain View was fun for a bit while we were newlyweds, but now it was time to live cheaply again.  We had left Houston on good terms and always told ourselves that we’d be more than fine eventually returning home.

Today

Once we got settled back home, I felt a lot more relaxed.  Even though we were initially getting by thanks to some help from the State of California, my stress levels were gone and mentally I was in a much better place.  I did my own startup with my buddy Rex, a former co-worker, for a few months.  We made some good progress but I decided to get a full-time job because we we’re making enough money.

I finally feel a lot more relaxed and am doing more to enjoy every single day and spend more time with friends and family.  I eventually got a good job and am happy to spend no more than forty hours per week thinking about work.  The rest of the time I can focus on whatever I like.

We love Houston and are more than happy to be back home.  Our rent is 1/4 of what we would’ve been paying had we stayed in Mountain View and we’re living in the heart of Houston’s East End.

Reversal

Just because I’ve taken a break from Silicon Valley and also from trying to do my own startup doesn’t mean I’ve gotten lazy and stopped having the drive to improve myself.  I’ve simply changed my philosophy and goals:  I’m now spending my free time learning a foreign language, reading lots of books, learning to cook new meals, and improving myself through rigorous exercise… not to mention I now have quality time with friends and family.

I still may end up back in Silicon Valley someplace new like New York or Austin and I still love startups, but sometimes it’s good to get away from the bubble for awhile.  I’ve also realized that one doesn’t need to be being rich and retired by thirty; just working and enjoying every day is very satisfying and I don’t need to be wealthy to enjoy the little things.

Five Years Without TV

Photo from Flickr user ‘batintherain’ under a Creative Commons license.

It’s been five years since I cut the cord and stopped paying for television.  I used to get home from a long day of school/work and plop down on the couch and spend a few hours mindlessly flipping channels.  I used to watch the cable news shows and get riled up about things out of my control.

Now, I feel a lot less stressed out.  In addition to stopping watching the news on cable tv, I also stopped spending too much time reading about news online.  I still stay informed, sources like The Economist give me a detailed overview of current world events.  I just spend a lot less time stuck in the minutae.

I still watch some tv shows, but instead of watching them on cable I’ll catch them on Netflix or another streaming service.  Most sports events that I want to watch I can go to a friends’ house or down to a bar if I want the event in good quality.

If more sports leagues would allow the networks to stream their events live online (for free) in addition to the tv broadcast, I don’t even mind the commercials.

Have a Plan

I wish I could tell you I’ve accomplished a crazy amount since cutting the cord, but it took me until about 6-9 months ago to get really focused on how I spend my free time.  It’s very easy to cancel your cable subscription but still spend hours mindlessly browsing the internet.  I used to do that, but now I have a hard plan for myself everyday: My goal is to do at least one Duolingo lesson each day and to read a few pages of a book.  I often do more than the bare minimum but my biggest goal is to not have a day where I don’t accompish anything towards my goals.  Having a concrete plan keeps me moving towards accomplishing my goals (learning a foreign language & reading more books) while still having a bit of time each day to unwind and browse Reddit, HackerNews, or something else.

I thought for a while that I might be ADD but I realized I just needed to cut out distractions and have more quiet time reading or listening to music.  TV was proving too distracting with the constant channel flipping and hours I’d spend not doing anything I considered productive.  Now I feel like my mind is a lot clearer and a lot less cluttered.  Sort of like a mininalist approach to the mind.

Reversal

There’s nothing wrong of course if you want to spend all of your free time watching trashy tv shows or looking through hundreds of cat memes every day, but if you want to accomplish other things it’s important to set goals so you don’t lose focus.  Doing a little bit every day towards your goals will put you on the path towards accomplishing them.

Having something to watch and unwind after a hard day of work is certainly an enjoyable experience.  And while there seems to be more crap than ever on TV, the medium certainly has improved their best content over the past 15 years, putting some shows (The Wire, Sopranos, Breaking Bad, etc.) on the same artistic level as the great movies or novels of our time.

Conclusion

I hope this little post helps others who are wondering what life without tv is like.  At the end of the day do whatever you feel comfortable with and if you want to have goals, don’t let outside forces distract y’all from accomplishing them.

The Power of Non-Zero Days

From r/GetMotivated

I’ve done it.  I’ve extended my Duolingo streak to over 100 consecutive days!  114 and counting as of today.  It wasn’t too long ago I blogged about crossing the 50 day threshold.  As I wrote in that post I inadvertently got a streak going and soon the number kept climbing and I didn’t want to break the streak.   Over the past 100+ days of practicing my Spanish I’ve learned far more about the language than I ever thought was possible.  I was always procrastinating about learning the language and now I’ve got the confidence that comes with progress.

Small Gains and Consistency

I used to think to myself that I didn’t have the time to learn another language or to accomplish all of the other things I wanted to.  I kept procrastinating, using excuses that I was too tired at the end of the day, the time wasn’t right, and on and on.  What finally clicked for me with Duolingo is that the app continues your streak by only completing one lesson.  That one lesson typically takes me about ten minutes to complete.  Instead of trying to fit in an hour or more of time into my day, all I needed to keep the streak going was to simply complete a minimum of one lesson per day.  Ten minutes out of even the busiest schedules is nothing!  I started my streak at the beginning of November last year and kept it going through travelling for Thanksgiving, family visiting during Christmas, New Years, and plenty of nights where I was exhausted from work and/or went to hung out with friends.  In all of these instances I’ve kept the streak going and constantly surprise myself in how much I’ve learned.

Stumbling upon this Duolingo streak has led to a dramatic world-changing view for myself and how I view self-improvement, mastery, and the art of learning anything.  I realized that small incremental improvements every single day can lead to huge improvements in the long run.  I soon started applying this idea to other areas of my life:  I’m now reading many more books than I’ve ever read in my life.  Even at the pace of 10 pages per day, one could complete a 300 page book in a month.  That’s twelve books per year!  Not a huge amount for true bookworms, but much more than I’d assume the average person reads.  Want to read more than that?  Just bump it up to a few more pages per day!

In addition to doing my Spanish every day and reading more, I’ve started consistently working out again and cooking most of my meals at home while trying to avoid eating out.  Even if I only spend thirty minutes lifting weights, it’s still more than I would’ve accomplished than by doing nothing.  By doing these things daily, even in small increments, I’m positioning myself for success in the long run.  [Note:  No, I don’t workout every single day. I take rest days for proper recovery.]

The Non-Zero Day

A few weeks after my streak got started I stumbled upon this Reddit comment in the GetDisciplined subreddit and it articulated some of these early thoughts that were kicking around in my head.  The idea a redditor named Ryans01 spoke of was the power of the Non-Zero Day.  Every day counts, even if you only write a few sentences in that novel you’re trying to write, do ten push-ups, or run one mile… you’re still putting yourself on the path towards success.  The key here is do something everyday towards your goal, no matter how small.  Doing a little something everyday will get you closer to your goals.  It’s much easier than you think.

Need more proof?  Read this awesome Lifehacker article about how comedian Jerry Seinfeld says to form a habit.  He says to get a calendar and mark an “X” on each day you do that one thing you’re wanting to do… like an “X” for each day he wrote a new joke.  Do this every day for several days and you’ll soon have a long enough “X” marks in a row on your calendar that you won’t want to break the chain.

Get Started!

Get started, what are you waiting for?!?!  Remember the key here is: small incremental improvements every day will lead to amazing long-term results!  Here’s that Reddit post again… seriously read that shit!

50 Consecutive Days of Duolingo

One of my goals for the past several years has been to learn Spanish.  I’ve tried many different methods to learn the language and hadn’t found a method or program worth sticking with.  Stuff like Rosetta Stone is too tedious and boring, in spite of the crazy amounts of hype.

A few months back I started playing around with the Duolingo iPad app.  Duolingo is a free program that uses spaced repetition to help users memorize words and better learn a foreign language.  To my pleasant surprise, I got hooked using the app and really enjoyed their simple interface and didn’t find learning with their program boring at all.

Duolingo has a counter on the program so you can keep track of how many consecutive days you’ve used the program.  At first I didn’t really pay much attention to my consecutive day streak.  I would use the program for a little bit for two or three days and then take a day off.  I didn’t really have much of a plan.  Then one week two months ago my streak got to 8 days, then 10, and then I thought to myself, “Man, I can’t stop this streak now!”  Soon enough I kept my streak going and now (as of yesterday) I hit the 50 consecutive day mark.  Pretty friggin’ awesome if you ask me.

Imagine what you could accomplish if you did something for 10 straight days.  Or twenty.  Or fifty.  Sure, you would probably completely suck (like me) when you’re starting out, but eventually you’d start to suck a little bit less.  Each day you’d progressively be improving and learning a new skill.  It doesn’t even need to be a new language, it could be cooking, computer programming, or even playing a musical instrument.  The possibilities are endless.

The biggest thing to remember is a program like Duolingo can help you with your learning, but ultimately the motivation has to come from within yourself.  The consecutive day streak means nothing without the desire to accomplish learning that new skill.  The big picture is that after 50 consecutive days I’m now picking up more and more Spanish words in conversation and feel more confident that eventually I’ll know enough to be fluent.  It’s not easy, but by doing a little bit of work every day I know I can get there.

BAM!  Now get off your ass and get to work!

Duolingo - 50 Days