Category Archives: Writing

A Mini Guide to Seattle

What to eat, drink and do in Seattle. Enjoy!

Breakfast & Brunch

Macrina is amazing. The food is delicious and the staff is friendly. It’s small and everything is cooked and baked right there. The aroma will delight you. Brunch is only served on Saturdays and Sundays, and since they don’t accept reservations, be prepared to wait for a table if you get there after 11 AM. Put your name on the list, order a coffee and hang out – this place is worth it. Last time I visited there wasn’t much to see nearby while I waited, so I suggest bringing a book or a friend. (Belltown)

Sweet Iron makes bomb Belgian waffles. Must eat. (Downtown)

Top Pot kicks out the freshest doughnuts in a quiet, peaceful neighborhood atmosphere. Enjoy with a coffee amongst ceiling-high bookshelves full of old texts and a forest of MacBooks planted on tabletops. (Capitol Hill)

Lunch Only

The people at City Soups sure know how to make soup! Open for lunch. I’ve only visited the Bellevue location, but if you’re hanging in Seattle you might want to try the Downtown spot. I’m sure it’s just as good. (Downtown and East Side – Bellevue)

Lunch & Dinner

Dick’s burgers: cheap, local to Seattle and better than In-N-Out. Does waiting in line, eating standing up (or sitting on the curb), watching rowdy people, being panhandled and witnessing a myriad of other entertaining things appeal to you? Then Dick’s is your place. Get a Deluxe, fries and a shake and experience Capitol Hill on the street. For rowdier times, go on a Friday or Saturday after midnight. (Capitol Hill)

It’s worth the journey across the lake to visit Yummy Teriyaki for their spicy chicken teriyaki and gyoza. Don’t even mess around with anything else there. Inexpensive. (East Side – Redmond)

Sichuanese Cuisine is the old favorite Chinese hangout of my college group. I recommend the Mongolian beef and Mongolian chicken. I’ve never had it better anywhere else. Inexpensive. (East Side – Bellevue)

Dinner Only

Olivar is an intimate fine-dining experience with a friendly staff and excellent Spanish food. Their wine selection is great, too. The menu changes often. Reservation recommended, as the dining area seats only a few dozen. (Capitol Hill)

Bring friends to Queen Sheba and share a large platter of assorted Ethiopian dishes. Be sure to order the honey wine. (Capitol Hill)

Coffee & Espresso

The Vivace Sidewalk Bar is the place to get your latte on Broadway, period. It’s classic. Outdoor seating only. Be sure to go to this location, because there is another Vivace on the east side of Broadway, a few blocks north, and it’s not as cool. (Capitol Hill)

Joe Bar is the coffee shop in which I inevitably stop every time I am in town. Come hungry for a crêpe! I like to sit outside and read a copy of The Stranger (the LA Weekly of Seattle, but cooler) while I enjoy the afternoon. (Capitol Hill)

Victrola roasts coffee on-site. Their cafe is aesthetically pleasing and includes lots of natural light. If that isn’t enough for you, consider that they play cool music and have a terribly comfy armchair for sitting. (Capitol Hill)

Tea

Remedy Tea is the place for tea. Great selection, yummy noms, chill music, and you can buy loose tea in bulk. The staff is delightful and knowledgable. A very “modern” tea experience, not like traditional British or Asian tea houses. (Capitol Hill)

Beer

The Stumbling Monk is inconspicuous and hard to find, but damn-well worth the search. Look for a little hanging sign above a dark, plain door at the southwest corner of E Olive Ave and Belmont Ave E. Sit by the window if you go during sunset. (Capitol Hill)

Pike Brewing Company is a great place to visit after exploring Pike Place Market. They have lots of their own microbrews on tap and serve flights. (Downtown)

Visit Elysian Brewing for great microbrews and food. (Capitol Hill)

Do – Music

El Corazón is the definition of dive venue. I go there every time I am in town to catch some random (and not so random) screaming bands play. It’s the stomping grounds of my old favorite, the Schoolyard Heroes. Drink a Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can for me. (Downtown)

Do – Art & Theatre

ACT Theatre produces excellent contemporary plays. (Downtown)

The Seattle Art Museum always has cool stuff going. (Downtown)

Do – Sights

Pike Place Market is the place for fresh meats, fish, flowers, honey, fruits, vegetables, crafts and more. It’s a space of both permanent businesses and farmer’s market-style setup and takedown stands. On the weekends it’ll be crowded with tourists and locals. That fish throwing thing Seattle is known for? This is where it happens. For further exploration, on the east side of Pike Pl are more shops and attractions including cheese making (that’s Beecher’s) and the original Starbucks, if you’re in to that. Finally, stop at Victor Steinbrueck Park for great views of the city and Puget Sound. Go here even if you’re not buying anything – it’s a scene. (Downtown)

The Space Needle is the obvious Seattle tourist attraction, and worth the $20 to ride the elevator to the top. The 360-view is awesome and the top deck has a lot of information about the Needle’s history. The rotating restaurant is a tad pricy, but worth doing once. (Queen Anne)

Do – Neighborhoods

Capitol Hill is my favorite neighborhood in Seattle. It’s comfortable, interesting and full of culture. Take it easy and enjoy watching the people and looking at the houses in this area. My favorite part is the main drag, Broadway. Definitely explore the neighborhood streets to the east and west of Broadway, which are bounded on the north by E Roy St and on the south by E Pike St, to get a feel for life in the neighborhood. There’s also 15th St, which is home to more shops, cafes and restaurants.

Breaking Boundaries

Breaking boundaries is about getting more experience than you perceive you are able to get. It’s about going where you are told you can’t go, pushing the limits and bending the rules to see exactly how much you can get beyond the stated limits. It’s about taking blinders off and widening your perspective. It’s about saying, “There are the edges – but are they fixed? What lies beyond them? Can I redraw them for myself?” In many cases, the answer is yes.

There are different kinds of boundaries, or limits to potential, that exist. I like to imagine them as concentric rings centered around each of us. We each have boundaries that are imposed on us, by ourselves or outside forces, based on many factors, such as skin tone, gender, age, education, skill set, etc. The trick is understanding which boundaries can be bent, which can be broken, by how much, and how to do it. Just like in The Matrix.

I also like to refer to these boundaries by level. First, second, third, enumerated from closest to us to farthest away. So, the first level boundaries occupy the inner-most concentric circles and are nearest to us. These are the boundaries we run into all the time, every day, throughout our whole lives. They are also the easiest the break through, because they don’t actually exist.

A first level boundary is a boundary that only exists in your perception. It isn’t actually present. Examples of this include feeling like you can’t talk to someone, or introduce yourself, or ask someone out on a date, or can’t ask for something, or can’t go through a door because it is labeled “Employees Only.” There is nothing physically preventing you from doing any of these things. If it weren’t for your fear of awkwardness, or being made fun of, or being caught, you’d do it. You won’t be physically injured by attempting any of these things. The boundary is in your mind.

A second level boundary is a boundary that another person or entity places on you. It’s no longer self-imposed. In order to break a second level boundary, you need the permission of an outside authority to do whatever it is you want to do. Breaking a second level boundary is usually best done by doing whatever it is you want and asking for forgiveness, not permission. For example, accessing a restricted area. So long as you don’t get caught, you are implicitly breaking the second level boundary. If you are caught, however, in order to continue breaking the boundary, you need a key to unlock it, a key which the authority holds. If you can’t get past the first level boundary in order to ask forgiveness or make your case for staying, you can’t break that second boundary.

Second level boundaries also involve getting people to do things for you that don’t explicitly cost money. For example, getting extra towels at a hotel, or samples of beer from the tap at a bar, borrowing something from someone, trading something for another thing (trading a weekday off to come in on the weekend). Sometimes you can break level 2 boundaries without asking first, and seeking forgiveness if you are confronted about it after you’ve done it. Other times, you have to ask first.

A third level boundary is where money begins to get involved. Examples of third level boundaries involve getting a hotel room upgrade, a free replacement for a stolen item, paying a lower price than normal for a cell phone contract. Getting your drinks bought at a bar is another example of breaking a 3rd level boundary.

One of the best ways to break through boundaries in an effective, sustainable way is to treat people well. Treating people poorly can work, sometimes, but it works against you in the long run, and often the short-term, too.

Breaking second and third level boundaries often involve negotiation. You may find that a lot more in life is negotiable than you previously thought if you approach everything from the perspective that deals can be worked out in a way that isn’t always as you assume, or as is first presented to you. You have the power to say “Let’s start from scratch and work out our own deal.”

So go out and start breaking boundaries. Free yourself. You can’t always break second and third level boundaries, but first level boundaries are completely under your control. You may not start getting favors and free things every-which-way, but the first step towards that is realizing it’s possible. All you have to do is not be afraid to try.

Backgammon

Background

I moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 2008. I met Rick soon after. He ran a coffee shop in the same building where I worked, and since I visited his shop every day, I quickly got to know him. He was always playing backgammon with the other regular patrons. It looked fast and exciting, and they gambled when they played. I was intrigued.

How I Came to Play

Rick was involved in a motorcycle accident in October 2009. His left leg was broken and he was unable to walk. When he was released from the hospital he was confined to sit on the couch in his living room. It would be many months before he would walk again.

I suggested that we start playing backgammon together. I saw this as a great opportunity to cultivate our friendship, keep him company during recovery, and learn a fun, new skill. He agreed, and in November, my tutelage began.

First Games

Our early games were slow. I started playing with no experience and Rick had a lot to teach. It took me a long time to make plays as I counted spaces and analyzed the board. Rick would frequently offer advice on the moves I should be making. He took time to explain various strategies, play styles and schools of thought. After a few weeks I had a workable understanding of the mechanics and my game began to evolve.

Points and Sessions

Backgammon can be played with or without the gambling cube. When using the cube, each game begins with a value of 1 point, and the value of the game can increase during play. A typical session lasts for 2-3 hours and we play many games.

During the first few weeks we did not play with the cube or with points. Once I understood the mechanics, the cube was introduced, and soon we were tracking points as well. Rick won the majority of games and I always had fewer points than him at the end of our sessions. Despite this trend, I was learning and improving, and it wasn’t long before the points became worth something tangible: 25 cents each.

Speeding Up

For a long time I was not satisfied with the speed of my game. Rick would always take his turns quickly, and I slowed the pace. One afternoon I simply decided to play faster, and it worked. By taking my turns with less scrutiny, I allowed myself to move more quickly. Our games flowed, and despite occasionally missing some good moves due to lack of attention, the quickened pace allowed us to play more games in less time. I acquired experience more rapidly and my familiarity offset the negatives of playing a faster game.

Using the Cube

My game was speeding up, but I still didn’t know how to use the cube very well. It took time for me to become comfortable with this dimension of the game. I had to learn to see the right time to double, to recognize bluffs and make predictions about how the game might evolve. I proposed and accepted many bad bets, but through experience I began to understand how to use the cube.

Learning from Mistakes

In the beginning, Rick would offer plenty of advice and analysis of the moves I made, explaining what I should do and could have done differently. Over time this gradually decreased, and he would only point out large blunders. This was a good sign that I needed less guidance and was making good plays on my own.

Luck

Luck plays a large role in backgammon. Try as you might, you are never totally in control of what will happen. Like life, you must do everything you can to give yourself an advantageous position, to setup for success, and after that you have to let go. The rest is out of your hands. Life plays out in each game of backgammon. You have to learn to role with the dice.

Graduation

So we played and played. I learned the mechanics, the cube was introduced and we started playing for points. The points quickly became worth a quarter each. I began to have a more intuitive understanding of the game, and I got faster and learned how to use the cube. After playing for 6 months and losing money to Rick in every session, I reached a milestone.

We tied! For the first time, we completed a session and I did not lose any money. Rick did not point out any major blunders. I played fast and smart and was confident. I now consider myself a backgammon player, and as a way to celebrate this achievement, our games in the future will be worth 50 cents per point.

The Burden of Ownership

“The things you own, end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Everything we own costs us something. We pay costs when acquiring, storing, maintaining and moving our possessions. These costs are not always obvious, but they are always present. While the idea of having something for free sounds great, it’s never true. This is an illusion we create when we only associate cost with money, but the reality is that money is not the only currency we trade in exchange for things. Space, time and energy are also resources consumed by ownership.

Monetary Cost

Money is the most obvious cost of ownership. The things we own cost us money in a variety of ways. We exchange money in order to acquire, store, maintain and move our possessions. Not every possession costs us money in all of these ways, but for most things we own we incur some type of monetary cost. The idea of getting something for free refers to a monetary acquisition cost of zero. This popular sales pitch says nothing about the other currencies that might be required for acquisition, nor does it say anything about costs incurred after acquisition.

Spacial Cost

Spacial cost is incurred when storing and moving our possessions. Our things take up space. The more things we own, the more space we need to store them. When we chose to exchange empty space for a possession, presumably we do so because we believe that the possession is at least as valuable as the space it fills. We all value our space differently, and so have different criteria we use to determine how much space we wish to have and if a thing is worth the space it occupies. Nevertheless, space is something we must have in order to exchange for owning something.

Energy Cost

Energy cost can be incurred during all stages of ownership. It takes energy to go shopping for things. If our possessions require maintenance, someone has to do it, and our things don’t just move themselves. Energy cost during storage isn’t as obvious, but it’s there. Simply being in the same place as something requires some amount of our energy. Our minds and bodys have to process and be aware of whatever is in our presence. The more objects in our environment, the more complex it is. Complex surroundings require more energy to parse and organize.

Temporal Cost

Shopping for new things takes time. Organizing our things takes time. Maintaining and moving our things also takes time. We get to choose how much time we invest in our belongings, but the more we own, the more time we invest in our possessions.

Flexibility = Money * Space * Energy * Time

The more things we own, the more money, space, energy and time we invest in our possessions. All of these currencies are limited resources that are ours to allocate. When we invest our resources in possessions we have fewer resources left over for experiences. Placing constraints on our resources limits our flexibility to do things.

Maximizing Flexibility

How do we know if something is worth owning? We must each answer this question for ourselves. We all make a different valuation of our limited resources of money, space, energy and time. Our possessions always require us to trade some amount of at least one of these currencies through acquisition, storage, maintenance and transit. This is the burden of ownership. When we chose to own something, we should do so with the aim of increasing the value of our lives as efficiently as possible, keeping in mind the value we place on our resources. Unfortunately, many of us are bogged down, held back and limited by possessions that aren’t adding value to our lives.

An Analogy

When a company hires an employee, the employee does work for the company and receives compensation in return. The work done is worth something to the employee and the company (i.e. the work has value), as is the compensation the employee receives. If the value of the work done is not at least equal to the value of the employee’s compensation, the employee is a net loss for the company. The company is not increasing in value. It is foolish for a company to hire an employee that will not produce work that is at least as valuable as the compensation.

Our lives are our companies, we are the bosses, and our possessions are the employees. Just as a company can hire employees to do some work to further the success of the company, we can acquire possessions to add value in our lives. Would you hire an employee, pay them for their work, and accept work from them that didn’t match the value of what you paid them? Why, then, would you acquire and keep a possession that didn’t work for you? If an employee isn’t pulling his weight, you fire him. Why not fire the possessions in your life that aren’t pulling their weight?

Value Assessment

Make sure the things you own are adding value to your life. If they’re not, get rid of them. Once you admit that something isn’t making your life better, you take the first step towards releasing that non-value-adding possession. You take back your valuable resources of money, space, energy and time and increase your flexibility to do what you want.

Stage Exchange

Here is a submission I made to the Stage Exchange project. I chose to write about the “Understanding what is really important to you” stage:

This is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure that you live the life you love. It can be scary to be totally honest with yourself about what you want most, but once you are, you’ll feel more liberated and free than you’ve ever felt before. It’s worth the time and energy it takes to figure out what is most important to you because it’s an investment – it’ll make your whole life better from that point forward. I am telling you this because I recently did it and my life has been so much better than it’s ever been before – better than I thought it could be. I am filled with so much hope, confidence, openness, acceptance, positivity, energy, motivation, determination and love that I can’t contain it – I want to share this with everyone. That’s why I am writing to you. I want you to be able to feel this, too.

Essays

I like the essay. It is a low-commitment format that forces you to follow a thread of thought (so you have to put some effort into it) but only for a little while (so you don’t have to spend too much time on it). It’s easy to digest and more likely to be read because it is smaller than a novel, and usually presented stand-alone, unlike articles in a paper. Obviously, essays can be really long, but I’m talking specifically about essays that take no more than 10 to 20 minutes to read.

This resembles how a lot of writing on the web is done. The entire article can’t be too long or it looks daunting, as if it will take forever to finish. Discreet sections allow the reader to digest the essay in managable pieces. Those sections are divided even further into minute-sized paragraphs; the amount that the average reader can process in 30 to 60 seconds.

I think if I practice writing this way it will help me get better at organizing and articulating my thoughts. Better organizational processes will make me more effective at work when writing emails and explaining things to my coworkers, and more effective in my personal life when deciding what to do and how to do it. These exercises should reduce the amount of time I spend organizing what I have to do and allow me to get to the fun part of actually doing those things.

Becoming a Writer

In my mind, I’ve never been much of a writer. In school, I was always told that I wrote well. But I wasn’t satisfied with my writing. Frankly, I didn’t see what my teachers liked about it. I never wanted to write for school assignments, and other than school, I had no reason to write. So, I didn’t.

In elementary school, I read books like Goosebumps. In intermediate school, I read Dragonlance. At the time I didn’t know it, but looking back, these were not very well-written books. I didn’t know what good writing was. I stopped reading books in high school, so I wasn’t exposed to better writing, except for the few assigned readings I was given in English classes.

It wasn’t until college that I realized that there is a difference between good and bad writing. I had this realization when I was presented with the need for good writing. Prior to college, none of the subjects I studied had any complexity in their explanation. However, in college I studied math, programming, and physics. These subjects are not easy to explain, even for experienced people. Communicating these ideas requires the precise use of language. This, I realized, was a skill that I did not possess.

The difference between good and bad writing is easy to see in non-technical writing, but I think it is even more easily deduced in technical writing. It is so easy to skip a necessary detail or phrase a sentence in such a way that the reader is lost entirely. The utmost care must be given to every line. When I am reading documentation or technical books and the writing is hard to follow, I know there is no way that I will understand the material. The writing should make the material easier to digest, not get in the way.

During college I didn’t have many writing courses. The realization that my expressive skills were lacking came when I had to write or talk about technical subjects. My experience as a teacher and as a programmer, both jobs requiring me to communicate with other people, showed me where my skills were lacking. These experiences made it clear that writing is very applicable, and to truly excel I would have to master it.

So, now I find myself embarking on this journey to become a writer. I don’t know where the end of this journey is. I don’t even know if the goal, to become a writer, is a measurable, achievable goal. What is the metric I will use to determine my success? I don’t know, but I assume that I’ll know when I get there. For now, my strategy is simply to write when a subject interests me. I will keep in mind the principles that I hope to practice (the discussion of which is reserved for later essays), and do my best.