Jobs, Grants, and Everything Else

This is a blog post about jobs, work, getting grants, writing books, watching movies, the state of the Maker culture, and everything Elon Musk is doing nowadays. It started with a conversation I had last night with my wife’s cousin’s husband about these things. This is a summary of that conversation and of my current interests and this blog in general.

How to Be Happy at Work

Erich Stauffer Jobs, Grants, and Everything ElseHappiness at your job comes from being really good at what you do. Being really good requires deliberate practice to rise above the performance plateau that most people reach at their jobs. Once you’re really good you’ll be able to look back at all the good work you’ve done, all of the people you’ve helped, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and happiness.

Ultimately, you are in control of your own emotions. No one else can make you feel a certain way. You always have a choice of how you react to external factors. The hard part is changing the habits that cause these reactions, but if you can replace the action within the habit, you’re one step closer to managing your own actions.

How to Apply for a Government Grant

Anyone can apply for a government grant, but for most people the process is too long, complicated, and shrouded in mystery, so this is brief introduction to the grant application process. First you’ll need an EIN (employer identification number) from your state’s IRS and a DUNS number from Dunn and Bradstreet. Once you have these, you can start applying for government grants.

How to Travel the Glory Trail Across America

There is a path across America that strings together some of the most scenic parts of the western United States. If you’re starting in Indiana, you first go to Chicago, then Madison, Wisconsin, through Minnesota, across South Dakota into Mount Rushmore. From there you continue heading west to Yellowstone in Wyoming and up through Montana and Idaho into Seattle, Washington. From there you head south through Portland, Oregon to Sacremento, San Francisco, and Los Angelas, California. After driving through Las Vegas you finally reach the Grand Canyon in Arizona. At that point you can either choose to go back through Denver, Colorado and Kansas City, Missouri or keep south through New Mexico and Texas. I recently did the first leg of this trail in a tw0-day trip, but expect to spend at least two weeks to do the whole thing.

One recommendation my wife’s cousin’s husband had was to buy a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass that gets your vehicle into any national park for one annual fee. You don’t have to buy it in advance, just make sure you buy it at the first park you come to so you can take full advantage of the price benefits. One other tip is to rent a vehicle for this trip rather than to use your own vehicle. It will cost you between $30 and $50 a day depending on the vehicle and any current specials, but considering the amount of miles you’ll be traveling, the wear on your vehicle, and the amount of things that could go wrong along the way, it makes sense to rent a vehicle that you can swap out if something happens rather than face a big repair bill on your own vehicle while in a remote location.

How to Write, Publish, and Sell a Book Online

You may have heard that books are the new business cards or that it’s a great way to make passive income on the side and it’s both of those, but just knowing that doesn’t make it happen. You still have to do the work. If you’re not used to writing, you might consider starting a blog and writing a few blog posts first. Once you have several blog posts written you could consider rolling these up into a chapter or even a short ebook or white paper. This is called repurposing content and is just one of the ways to get started writing a book.

The easiest way to write a book is to start writing it in secret – don’t tell anyone what you’re doing. You may not know what to write at first, so just start writing about anything and the clarity will come later. Sometimes I find it helps if I start out pretending I’m writing a letter to someone I know. However, you eventually want to let people know about the book if you intend to sell it. While it’s best to finish the book first, there can be some advantages to letting people know you’re about to publish a book.

Imagine if when you were half-way through writing the book that you put up a landing page that let people sign up to get notified about the book when it comes out. In the meantime you start blogging about the book and asking for more email sign-ups. By the time you’re ready to publish the book you’ve got a list of people ready to buy and you’ve established authority and trust from a series of blog posts that are similar to the future book’s material. This is exactly what Nathan Barry did with his iPhone book.

Alternatively you could do the more traditional approach and publish your paper book on Amazon using Createspace or on Kindle using Kindle Direct Publishing, but each of these models has two stark differences to Nathan Barry’s model. First, when a customer purchases a book from Amazon that customer belongs to Amazon, not you. You have no idea who that customer is and you can never contact them unless they contact you first. Second, Amazon takes at least a 15% commission, compared to 5% from your own credit card processing company.

How to Find Good Movies on Netflix

I subscribe to Netflix and have used it to watch everything from Glee to 10 Items or Less, but every since Starz left the movie selection has been left wanting. However, last weekend I watched Primer and this weekend I plan on watching Expendables 2. I knew Primer was good because I’d watched it before once, but since I didn’t understand it the first time I watched it again. I still didn’t fully understand it until I read this blog post explaining Primer. That movie is so hard to explain that when you start typing “what happened in…”, Google autocomplete displays “what happened in Primer” first above the next highest, “what happened in Benghazi”.

Why Expendables 2? While I had reluctantly seen Expendables 1, my wife’s cousin’s husband reminded me that this movie is really a parody of itself and just a over-the-top 80’s action movie complete with all of the 80’s action movie stars. When I say complete I mean Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Seriously? Anyone from the 8-bit generation who grew up watching Saturday-morning cartoons will appreciate this movie even if you don’t like action movies. With a giant wink and a nod, Expendables 2 guarantees a Primer-like trip back to a time when guns were bigger and times were simpler.

To help you find better movies, Netflix has invested heavily in algorithms that help you find movies you might like but this doesn’t always work when one account is used for a whole family. In fact I know it doesn’t work because I don’t actually want to watch My Little Pony despite Netflix’s constant insistence that I do. Thankfully they’ve recently came out with profiles that allow each family member to have their own likes and dislikes. It was with this method that I was able to see Primer after answering a series of questions like, “Do you like mind-bending movies?” I can say with confidence that I was happy to deselect all horror films and children’s films so that I could focus on what I like.

How to Build Anything

We live in an amazing time where we are only limited by our own imaginations and willingness to make things happen. Strictly speaking, we have the Internet which gives us access to more information than we could ever consume, hardware that is both cheap, powerful, and extensible, programming platforms that let us use hardware however we like, credit card processing and ecommerce tools that let us sell anything we could possible choose to make, and a world-wide audience plugged in and ready to be marketed to on Google and Facebook. There is literally nothing stopping you from taking an idea to market with the right amount of dedication and effort.

My greatest fear is that 10 years from now my son or daughter is going to ask me why I didn’t do more with this time I had back then. They will have seen evidence of those who did take advantage of these tools and built something great, something sustainable, or something life changing. In 10 years we will have our next Facebook, our next Google, and our next Microsoft. They will be born out of Arduino boards, iPhone apps, and 3D printing technologies. But by then someone will already have done it and by then it will be too late. The time to act is now – be that person in your child’s past that built that thing that you can look back on with fondness and see how you helped people.

How Elon Musk Builds Things

Elon Musk, co-founder of Paypal, founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors builds things using Physics’ first principles, which as Musk explains it, “boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy.” One of his latest projects is the Grasshopper  which is a test rocket that can take off and land vertically, allowing the rocket to be re-used on this planet or others. The other project is called Hyperloop, which is a new form of city-to-city mass transit that involves using tubes and cartridges instead of rails and trains to carry people and property quickly between cities. Elon Musk children will look back 10 years from now and know their dad helped make our world a better place. If you like Elon Musk, you might also like Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and founder of Square.

Are Common Sayings Useful?

When something hasn’t been accomplished, a common saying is:

We can land a man on the moon, but we can’t…”

What would we be saying if this had never happened?
When something new is released, a common saying is:

The best thing since sliced bread.”

Before sliced bread you had to slice your own bread. Was this a bad thing?
When the work you’re doing ultimately doesn’t matter, a common saying is that you are

Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”

What would we be saying if we had never lost the Titanic? No one makes sayings about space shuttle accidents, but they do like to say:

Houston we have a problem.”

Are common sayings useful?

In a world where we are more and more connected, but have less and less in common, maybe we need these old sayings. Of course my opinion is USA-centric and to an extent, generation-centric. While shows like Friends and Seinfeld are like cannon for my generation, they have little relevance with anyone who has graduated high school in the last 8 years. It’s been almost 18 years since I graduated high school, to give you context.

Are Internet memes and viral videos useful?

While there are gigantic swaths of the Internet that can avoid the gaze of a majority of the world, the closest thing to a chance for commonality is going to be the most “viral” elements, which are Internet memes and viral videos who can garner more eyeballs than even the most popular television show, movie, or video games. And since you brought up video games, while “Mario” was the Mickey Mouse of my 8-bit generation that title has since been replaced by Angry Birds. For perspective, my daughter has an Angry Birds t-shirt and plays it far more than Super Mario on her Wii, but she plays Minecraft more by far.

Reasoning by analogy versus the First Principles reasoning

In a TED talk on Tesla, SpaceX, and Solarcity, Elon Musk was asked by Chris Anderson, “How have you [built all of these companies]? These projects are so — Paypal, SolarCity, Tesla, SpaceX, they’re so spectacularly different, they’re such ambitious projects at scale. How on Earth has one person been able to innovate in this way? What is it about you?” and this was Musk’s response:

I work a lot. I mean, a lot…I do think there’s a good framework for thinking. It is physics. You know, the sort of first principles reasoning. Generally I think there are — what I mean by that is, boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy. Through most of our life, we get through life by reasoning by analogy, which essentially means copying what other people do with slight variations. And you have to do that. Otherwise, mentally, you wouldn’t be able to get through the day. But when you want to do something new, you have to apply the physics approach. Physics is really figuring out how to discover new things that are counterintuitive, like quantum mechanics. It’s really counterintuitive. So I think that’s an important thing to do, and then also to really pay attention to negative feedback, and solicit it, particularly from friends. This may sound like simple advice, but hardly anyone does that, and it’s incredibly helpful.”

When we speak and relate in metaphors, we may be helping communicate with each other, but we are not creating anything new. So are common sayings useful? Yes, if you want to communicate, but not if you want to create something new.

My CEO Heroes

I am going to write about a couple of my CEO heroes, Howard Schultz of Starbucks and Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla Motors.  Previously I wrote about my media heroes, which included two CEOs, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg, but when I classify ‘CEO’ heroes I value the entrepreneurial spirit and management style of Schultz and Musk in the same way I value the media empires of Murdoch and Zuckerberg.

Howard Schultz

Starbucks CEO and former owner of the Seattle SuperSonics, Schultz joined Starbucks in 1982 as director of Marketing after a sales trip to Seattle as a general manager for Hammarplast drip coffee makers, which Starbucks was buying at the time.  While working at Starbucks, Schultz travelled to Italy to buy coffee and noticed not only were they selling coffee, but espresso too.  He also noticed a new dynamic, one he would later embrace, “The third place,” after noticing Italians ‘hanging out’ at coffee shops all over the country.

The Third Place

The ‘third place’ is a phrase coined by contemporary sociologist Ray Oldenburg.  Oldenburg in 1990 that postulates that the third place is a term referring to a public place where people gather for the social satisfaction that they can’t get from the first two domains of the home and the workplace.  Oldenburg argued that the availability of such gathering places in America was lacking and so, inspired by Oldenburg’s observations, Schultz turned America’s ‘lack of place’ into a business opportunity encouraging loitering and turning Starbucks into a cozy home-away-from-home.

The Great Experiment

When Schultz got back from Italy he convinced the management team to add espresso to the menu.  They agreed to try it out in one store and although it went over well, the management refused to roll it out explaining that they didn’t want to get into the ‘restaurant business’.  Frustratated, Schultz started his own company to serve coffee, Il Giornale, in 1985.  Two years later the original Starbucks management team decided to focus on their Peet’s Coffee & Tea brand and sold the Starbucks name to Schultz and Il Giornale for 3.8 million.  Schultz renamed Il Giornale to Starbucks and aggressively expanded the brand across the United States.  In 2000 Schultz left the company, but rejoined as CEO in 2008, taking the company to new records in profitability.

Elon Musk

Co-founder of Paypal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, Musk is currently CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors in addition to being chairman of SolarCity.  Musk was inspired by Thomas Edison to solve three “important problems”: the Internet, space, and clean energy.

His first company was Zip2, which Musk cofounded with his brother, Kimbal Musk. Zip2 was acquired by Alta Vista in 1999.  That same year Elon Musk cofounded X.com, which later merged with Confinity, which owned the domain, paypal.com. This helped him solve his first problem, the Internet.

Paypal.com was originally used by Confinity for email payments by Palm users, but after 2001 became known for what it is today and X.com changed its name to PayPal.  Just one year later, in 2002, Ebay acquired PayPal and that same year Musk founded his third company, SpaceX. This helped him solve his second problem, space.

Musk was still building SpaceX when he cofounded Tesla Motors in 2004.  He later became CEO in 2008.  Tesla Motors make all-electric cars, which use much less energy than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.  Lyndon Rive, Musk’s cousin, founded SolarCity in 2006 of which Musk is chairman of the board.  Together with Tesla Motors, Solar City helped him solve his third problem, clean energy.

In 2007 Musk won Inc.’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and his fortune is estimated at over 300 million dollars. This serial entrepreneur and father of five works 100-hour weeks and is passionate about what he does.  His passion is an encouragement to me and that is why is one of my CEO heroes.