Recipes I Like

I live with four other hungry college students. I’ve been cooking for them (and friends that occasionally join us) about once a week. Here are some of my favorite recipes, along with some of my personal notes. I will keep adding to this list on an ongoing basis.

Swiss Chicken Casserole

Recipe: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Swiss-Chicken-Casserole-II/Detail.aspx?evt19=1

I bumped the serving size up to 10. This, along with a side of steamed vegetables, made the perfect amount for a 9-person dinner party. Instead of using cream of chicken soup, I used cream of mushroom soup with garlic. That substitution added a great additional flavor to the dish. With the increased serving size of 10, it took about 75 minutes to bake and probably could have stayed in the oven a little longer.

Side of carrots and broccoli

This went perfectly with the chicken casserole above for a 9-person dinner party. Beware: it takes quite a while to steam enough vegetables for that many people.

I started by boiling a bot of water and putting a colander above it. This is where I put each round of vegetables after they had been steamed to keep them warm until I was ready to serve the meal. (I know this isn’t a conventional use for a colander, but it worked great!) Then I put as many vegetables (baby carrots and broccoli) as I could in a steamer and steamed them for 12 minutes. After steaming, I dumped them into the colander that was above the boiling pot of water. I think I did this 5 times before I had enough.

After all the vegetables were steamed, I dumped them from the colander into a bowl, sprinkled in some freshly ground salt and pepper, and drizzled melted butter into the bowl. Delicious.

Cajun Chicken Pasta

Recipe: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/09/cajun-chicken-pasta/

This one was amazing. However, the serving sizes were totally off. To feed four people, I had to use two chicken breasts and a pound of pasta. I couldn’t find fettuccine at the store so I substituted linguini, which was fine. I also used a bit more spices than called for to balance out the increased chicken and pasta. I didn’t have cayenne pepper, so I used a teaspoon of crushed red pepper. That gave the dish a nice spicy aftertaste that wasn’t too overwhelming.

Turkey and Spinach Pasta Bake

Recipe: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/11/turkey-spinach-pasta-bake/

I don’t have much to say about this one, other than the fact that it was yummy.

Skillet Ground Beef Stew

Recipe: http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/skillet-ground-beef-stew/1fc970ea-5bff-4270-89d1-eff133c4214c

This recipe is the perfect amount for 3 people. Very filling and satisfying.

Pot Roast

I make one of these every week for all 5 of us.

I generally get about 3.5 pounds of stew meat (chuck works great) and throw it in a crock pot. Then chop up 3 carrots, 4 potatoes, half a large onion, 8 mushrooms, and throw that all in the pot. Mix 2.5 teaspoons of pot roast seasoning with 1.5 cups of water and pour into the crock pot. I usually cook on high heat for 2 hours, followed by low heat for 4 hours. This allows me to start cooking the roast at noon and have it ready by 6pm.

The great thing about this is that it can stay warm in the crock pot until everyone comes home to eat dinner.

Lunch salad

This is my go-to lunch. I add arbitrary amounts of the following to a bowl.

  • Chicken breast (which I cooks on the stove while I’m making the rest of the salad.
  • Spring mix
  • Slided mangos
  • Slivered almonds
  • Flax seeds
  • Crumbled feta cheese
  • Cucumbers (only occasionally, because they go bad so damn fast)
  • Vinaigrette dressing

Mix and eat. Yum.

Television As A Shared Experience

This post might seem like it’s about Breaking Bad, but it’s really about television as an art form. There are no spoilers until the end where it’s clearly marked, so most of this post is safe for anyone to read.

I haven’t felt this way in 6 years, 2 months, and 8 days.

I remember the weeks leading up to July 21, 2007. All the theories. All the speculation. Who will live? Who will die? It was the topic of most of my conversations for a brief period of time.

And then Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published. After investing hundreds of hours reading and re-reading the books, watching the movies, and talking about what had happened and what might happen, the series ended. And I, like everyone else, experienced that ending alone. Because that’s how the medium works. With literature, everything surrounding the story can be a shared experience, but the story itself is a personal one.

It was a similar, albeit condensed, experience for me leading up to the finale of Breaking Bad. I started watching the show about two years ago, at which point I binge-watched the first three seasons on Netflix in three days. And, just like when I started reading Harry Potter, I didn’t know many people who had experienced this story yet.

But then, as the series started wrapping up, that all started to change. Many of my friends caught up on the show over the summer and were ready for the final eight episodes. Those people experienced the same thing that I had experienced years before.

And then we talked about it. We speculated. Who will live? Who will die? It was the same thing that happened 6 years ago. I’ve had many conversations about Breaking Bad with people I had just met. One of the best ways to start getting to know someone is to use a common bond as the starting point. With anyone who watched Breaking Bad, this was that common bond between us. We were on the same ride together, and we were equally excited for the rest of it.

And then the show went out in one glorious finale. But this time it was different. This time I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by at least a dozen of my friends. We were eating fried chicken, which we pretended was from Los Pollos Hermanos. There were moments when we gasped. There were moments when we cheered. There were moments when our hearts stopped.

We were together through the weeks of endless anticipation, and we were together for the ending.

That’s something you only get with television. Books can certainly build up anticipation, but everyone experiences the story by themselves. Movies certainly have that whole “shared experience” thing going for them, but there’s no way to talk about it throughout the story’s progression.

With television, you get both. I’ve probably spent close to a hundred hours watching the episodes, re-watching them with friends who need to catch up, talking about the show with friends, talking about it with strangers, reading forums online, and coming up with my own theories about what will happen.

Spoilers ahead

And after all that, I watched the finale with people I care about. And we shared the experience together. We gasped as the machine gun in Walt’s trunk killed Jack’s gang. We cheered at the TV as Jesse strangled Todd. Our hearts stopped as Walt fell to his death surrounded by the meth lab that Jesse had built.

Those moments, moments that we all experienced together… that’s what made it all worth watching.

To Vince and the entire cast and crew: Thank you for giving us this shared experience.

A Recap Of My Summer Out West

I wrote this on a plane a couple days ago but forgot to post it until now. Enjoy!

The greatest adventure of my life thus far has come to an end. And with nothing to do for a couple hours in an airplane on its way to Chicago, I’m going to attempt to distill the most amazing thirteen and a half weeks of my life into one blog post. Here we go…

The story begins almost a year ago. I had just gotten back from New York City (where I lived and worked most of that summer), fully intending to return for another round in June. I had just started my junior year at Northwestern, and I wasn’t even close to thinking about which company I was going to work for next summer.

But then, a random email from an NU alum in October 2012 led to a conversation with the CTO of a small startup called Ribbon. I decided to talk to him on a total whim. At the time, it was a three-person company and I knew none of them. They barely had a product and didn’t have much funding yet either. After talking to the CTO for about an hour, I got the sense that they were a bunch of really fun guys who were building something that interested me. They asked me to join the team for the summer, and they offered to pay for my housing in San Francisco along with a pretty nice paycheck. Not a bad deal at all.

Even though summer was 9 months away, I took the offer immediately. I had a good feeling about it so I acted on impulse. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Now, let’s fast forward to the summer.

Week 1 - Arrival in San Francisco

I arrived at SFO on a monday afternoon. Hany, the CEO of Ribbon, picked me up from the airport and drove me to the office. It was beautiful. The office was in the penthouse of a 5-story building with a nice outdoor balcony area and easy access to the roof. I also briefly met the team for the first time… a team of people who would quickly become some of my best friends.

This week wasn’t extremely eventful. I spent most of my time getting situated with the team and the product. We actually started building a new product during my first week, which was exciting. Most of my free time that weekend was spent walking around and exploring the city.

One thing I learned this week is how much I suck at ping pong. Everyone in the office takes it very seriously, going so far as to have an entire whiteboard devoted to ping pong wins and losses. My area of the board, even at the end of the summer, mostly represented losses. Oh well.

image
The roof of the office.

Week 2 - Getting settled

After living in a hostel for a week, I moved into the house where I’d be staying for most of the summer. It was a house in Chinatown with 11 other interns from various companies all over the city. My roommate, Connor, was also an engineer (at Twitter) and we got along really well.

I won my first game of ping pong at the office. Woohoo! I also got stuck in an elevator when the power went out in the building. Boooo! Good thing that day was followed up with some of the best sushi I’ve ever eaten at Sushi In.

That weekend was the pride parade, which was the craziest urban celebration I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

imagePride parade.

Week 3 - 4th of July weekend

All the eventful stuff here took place during the long weekend. I spent most of 4th of July afternoon at Fort Mason with part of the Ribbon team, and then spent the evening walking along The Embarcadero, looping back to Pier 39 to watch the Fireworks.

The next day was quite possibly the best day of the summer. My roommates two friends from the University of Michigan were in town, and I joined the three of them (along with another housemate, Steph) as we biked across the Golden Gate Bridge and had dinner in Sausalito. After taking a ferry back to San Francisco, we stopped at Trader Joe’s to get a case of Two Buck Chuck. We drank at our house until shortly before midnight, then headed to the bars on Polk St. to ring in my roommate’s 21st birthday.

image
About to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Week 4 - Lake Tahoe

During the week, I spent most of my time at the office. I started becoming really invested in the project I was working on, to the point where I would lose track of time quite frequently.

I also decided to extend my stay in San Francisco by an extra 3 and a half weeks, mostly because I enjoyed working with the Ribbon team so much. And also because San Francisco is pretty fucking sweet.

That weekend, I rented a car and a bunch of us from the house drove up to Lake Tahoe for an insanely fun weekend. Some others joined us the next day, and we ended up fitting 16 people in a beautiful resort house by the lake. We spent the day at the beach and spent the night partying. (Did I mention that the resort house came with a complimentary bottle of wine?) We also spent a good portion of the night drunkenly singing Disney songs at the top of our lungs in a hot tub. It was a weekend well spent.

image
Hot tub at the house we rented.

Week 5 - A big decision

Shortly after I got back from Lake Tahoe, Ribbon gave me an enticing job offer to stay with them full time. So enticing, in fact, that I almost dropped out of school to stay with them.

Not much happened during this week, as I spent most of my free time thinking about this decision I had to make and getting advice from others.

Week 6 - All around The Bay

I finally made the toughest decision of my life. I ultimately decided to ignore most of the advice I had been given and return to school. I still second-guess myself every day, but I’m starting to feel a bit more comfortable with my decision as I get closer to starting my senior year.

I spent my saturday with my friend Travis driving down Highway 1 (along the coast). We drove down to Santa Cruz, then looped back up to San Francisco.

That Sunday, I went paint balling down in San Jose with most of the Ribbon team. Then we had some amazing fried chicken at Bon Chon Chicken in Sunnyvale. Then ice cream sandwiches at CREAM in Berkeley. Then Taqueria Cancun in The Mission. So much food in one day that I couldn’t keep it all in. Literally.

imagePaintball with the guys from work.

Week 7 - Salt Lake City

I discovered an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant called Sushi Hunter in North Beach. I set a personal record by consuming 55 pieces, and the only reason I stopped was because they were closing. Don’t worry, I’ll be come back to this later…

Saturday afternoon, I flew to Salt Lake City to visit my good friend Brian. We spent the night hitting up the bars, and spent the next day hiking on an island in the middle of The Great Salt Lake. It wasn’t quite the land of paradise described in The Book of Mormon (which happens to be my favorite musical), but it was still fun as hell.

image
On an island in the middle of The Great Salt Lake.

Week 8 - Las Vegas

My roommate moved out to go back to Michigan, and I got a new roommate named Thomas. Also an engineer. He’s doing Dev Bootcamp, which was really interesting to hear him talk about.

Thursday night, I consumed 80 pieces of sushi at Sushi Hunter. A record that I haven’t managed to beat yet, although I did try.

The next night, I flew to Vegas to spend a weekend with Brian (who I visited the previous weekend in Salt Lake City), and two other good friends from college. We ate, we drank, we gambled, and I lost way more money that I wanted to. But it was totally worth it.

image
Vegas, baby!

Week 9

Nothing special. Spent the week making cool shit at work, and spent the weekend hanging out with the team plus my friend Jen from school. Had bottomless Mimosas for lunch one day, and watched a ton of Breaking Bad. Also played basketball and ate more fried chicken down in the valley.

Week 10 - Los Angeles

First Giants game! And they won against the Red Sox! Fun experience, even though I’m not super into baseball.

Towards the end of the week, I had dinner with half a dozen of my friends that I met last summer in New York City. It was really great catching up with the cool thing they’re doing with their lives, and also sharing my stories.

I spent the weekend in LA with my friend Taylor. We had some great French food, Mexican food, Korean food, and Cajun food. We walked along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, saw The World’s End in the nicest movie theatre I’ve ever been to (they have assigned seating!) and hit up the bars downtown.

I watched the latest episode of Breaking Bad on the plane from LAX to SFO. Best plane ride ever!

image
Right next to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Week 11 - Northwestern football

I tried breaking my record of 80 pieces of sushi. The friends I was with said they would pay for my meal (which cost $50, so that was kind of a big deal) if I managed to break my record. But I couldn’t do it. I only made it to 79. Bummer.

On Saturday, I headed up to Berkeley to hang out with over a dozen of my friends from Northwestern and watch the Wildcats beat the Golden Bears. It felt pretty awesome to wear purple again.

My friend Laksh came to visit the city so I spent a lot the three-day Labor Day weekend with him. I also spent a fair amount of time hanging out with Gabe and Kashif, two friends who just moved to the city and started working at Google and Disqus, respectively. Gabe lives in The Mission, which is definitely somewhere I’ll consider living when I’m here more permanently.

image
Northwestern wins!!!

Week 12 - Seattle

My housing in the intern house ended since I wasn’t originally supposed to stay this long, so I moved in with Hany, the CEO of Ribbon. The house in Chinatown was a ton of fun, but it got a little cramped after a while so it felt good to move into a more spacious place.

That weekend, I went to Seattle to visit Mo and Natalie, two friends from school who are working at Boeing. I ate at Paseo, went to the top of the Space Needle, saw the Chihuly glass exhibit, and partied all night long. I also read a book (All My Friends Are Dead) to a bunch of drunk NU alumni in a Gilbert Gottfried voice. The next morning, a bunch of us made brunch and built IKEA furniture.

Then, it was back to SFO for my last couple days out west.

image
Outside Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Week 13 - Farewell

I only worked Monday and Tuesday. Most of that time, I couldn’t stop thinking about how difficult it was going to be to leave this job, these people, and this city. My biggest consolation is that I’m not leaving. Not really. Even though I’m spending the next 9 months near Chicago, I decided to keep working with them from Chicago until I become too busy to do my job effectively. And even after that, I fully intend on re-joining them in June, this time without an expiration date.

I wrote a year ago about how last summer was the greatest summer of my life. I’m happy to say that this one blew it out of the water. I just spent three months building interesting products with a team of people I genuinely care about. It doesn’t get much better than this, and I’m incredibly grateful for this experience.

I’ll be back soon enough. In the meantime, don’t have too much fun without me :)

image
The entire Ribbon team at of the end of the summer.

I Almost Dropped Out Of School

I just made the biggest decision of my life thus far.

Sure, there are decisions I’ve made that seemed like big ones at the time. But they weren’t. Where to go to college? That wasn’t a decision. My dream school was the first one I got accepted into, so the choice was clear. What to study? There was only one career that I wanted to pursue at the time, so that wasn’t much of a decision either. It wasn’t until I was faced with the prospect of dropping out of school that I really had to take a good, hard look at myself and decide what’s best for me.

Let’s take a step back and look at my academic career up to this point. Three years ago, I entered Northwestern as a film major. I wasn’t too passionate about the academics, and my grades were pretty bad. The next year, I discovered my passion for programming and my grades shot upwards during my first year as a computer science major. But it’s been a steep decline ever since. Sure, I still do fine in my CS classes. But the unrelated requirements don’t motivate me at all. I was on the verge of failing 3 classes my junior year simply because I couldn’t motivate myself to care about learning things that didn’t relate to my life or my interests.

The academics at Northwestern don’t align at all with my life goals. I’ve always been more successful outside the classroom than inside it. For this reason, I had always thought I would stay in school only until a better opportunity came about.

And then it did.

I’ve been working all summer in San Francisco with a small 10-person startup, and I’m having the time of my life. Many people on the team became close friends in a matter of weeks, and I’m passionate about the product I spend most of my time building. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing with my life right now. Nothing.

One day, someone at the company asked me if I’d like to stay with them full time when the summer ends. I was overjoyed, and I told him I’d strongly consider it.

This was my shot. This is what I had been waiting for all along.

What I didn’t realize is that this would be the start of a 2-week roller coaster ride inside my own head.

For a little while, I was on the verge of dropping out of school. At one point, I was literally on Northwestern’s website, ready to download the form I needed to withdraw from the university. Why wouldn’t I? I had the opportunity to never take another exam again. I had the opportunity, as a 21 year old, to make a starting salary higher than most people ever reach in their entire career.

Not wanting to jump to a hasty decision, I decided to talk to people just to make sure I wasn’t crazy. I talked to people that I trust, as well as people that I don’t know very well. People inside and outside of the tech industry. People who graduated college and people who dropped out.

There was a pretty overwhelming consensus about what I should do. Most people thought I should take this opportunity. This is clearly what I’m more passionate about and this is clearly what I’m more successful at. So why not go for it?

But there was something holding me back. For some reason, I still couldn’t take the leap.

A couple nights before I made my decision, the CEO of the company told me about his own experience dropping out. About how he believed it was the best decision given his situation. And then he said something really powerful to me.

"Everything you’ve been doing in the past few years has been leading up to this moment."

It’s true. I had entered an industry where most of the relevant skills aren’t taught in a classroom. An industry where skills and work experience far outweigh a degree. An industry that glorifies dropouts.

Successful entrepreneurs always say that the vision and the culture of a company is set by the first 10 people. I had the opportunity to be one of those first 10 people. I had the opportunity to make more than enough money to live a very comfortable life in San Francisco. Even if the company went under, I could easily get another software engineering job or go back to school. I win no matter what.

It all made sense. It was the perfect chance. I just needed to talk to one more person before I made this decision. Someone who I knew would give me the opposite perspective. Someone who would make sure I’ve considered absolutely everything. I needed to talk to the person who brought me into the startup world in the first place.

I went into that conversation pretty certain how it would end. He was going to convince me to go back and finish school. He was going to say that I’ll regret it if I drop out.

But he didn’t.

He admitted that he went into the conversation with the intention of pointing me back towards school. But, after hearing my whole situation, he said that staying in San Francisco sounded like the best option for me.

That should have made this decision the easiest one I’ve ever made. But somehow, it didn’t. After that conversation, I only felt worse.

Almost everyone I talked to was telling me to drop out of school. All the logic in my head was telling me to drop out. If I still couldn’t make a decision, something was holding me back. There must be something in a dark corner of my mind that I was missing.

Then I thought back on a conversation I had with a very good friend who still goes to Northwestern. She was one of only two people whose opinion I value who didn’t think I should drop out of school even after I explained my whole situation. I didn’t agree with any of her arguments, but still, it was enough to get me to consider what my life would be like if I went back to school. It got the ball rolling.

A couple days later, one of my fraternity brothers drove me down the coast in his car, and we spent the entire day talking about my decision. Even though he fully supported my idea of dropping out, he got me thinking even more about all the great times I’ll miss out on if I cut my Northwestern experience a year short. That wasn’t enough to sway me, but it got the ball rolling even faster.

And then it hit me. I realized what was holding me back from dropping out. I realized why I couldn’t go for what seemed to be the clear winner out of these two choices.

There’s been a trend in the past couple years in my life. I constantly get passionate about things, but a ton of effort into them, and then get excited about something else before I can finish. I jump from project to project, from organization to organization, frequently with nothing to show for it. My life has turned into a series of unfinished projects because I’m awesome at starting things but terrible at finishing them.

I don’t want college to be my biggest unfinished project. And for that reason alone, I’m going back to school.

I didn’t choose the best career move. Spending the next year working will benefit me way more than another year in school will. I didn’t choose the more enjoyable option. Doing work I’m passionate about is much more enjoyable than doing homework. I didn’t choose the logical option, and I didn’t choose the suggested option.

I chose the option that would develop me the most as a person.

Working for a startup in San Francisco is one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. But it’s not the best. Northwestern University is the best thing I have ever experienced.

I hate the academics. I always have. But that never stopped Northwestern from being the best three years of my life. I didn’t let the things I hate stop me from having an amazing time. Instead, I worked around them. I made the most of the experience. I wanted college to be awesome, and I made it awesome.

I want to do that for another year.

I want to finish what I started.

I’m going back to Northwestern in the fall.

The 51-minute OkCupid experiment

I’ve never done online dating before, but I’ve always been curious to see what kind of messages people are sending girls on those sites. Especially the really attractive ones. So I did a little experiment.

I created two identical OkCupid profiles with photos I found on Google Images and text from other profiles. One has a picture of an average-looking girl and an “average” body type. The other has a picture of a very attractive girl and a “thin” body type. Other than that, the two profiles are exactly the same.

Here’s what the first profile looks like:image

And here’s the second one:image

Now comes the exciting part, which is seeing what people are messaging these fake girls. All of these messages were sent within the exact same timespan of 51 minutes. The results are not at all surprising, but fun to read nonetheless. Enjoy!

Average girl’s messages:
(18 profile views, 3 messages)

hi

You sound so cool. Just wish Iw as 15yrs younger.

wana fuck right now?

Attractive girl’s messages:
(51 profile views, 29 messages)

Hey! What’s your favorite Disney movie? For me, it would definitely be Pinocchio. Also, favorite turtle? Mikey for me, but I feel like he’s everybody’s favorite so maybe Donatello…

Hey, are you into bi guys? We’re more fun and open minded :)

Hello, my name is Max, what’s yours? Which actor is your favorite Doctor Who?

Hey what’s going on? How was your weekend? You look really cute and I’d love to chat if you’re interested.

Smart ass here too. What’s going on?

TMNT probably raised more children than orphanages ever could, sup

well hello there…fellow smart-ass adventurer! So how’s your weekend so far? Causing any mischief? Wreaking any havoc? Need any assistance? :) Oh I know I know, it says you are looking for someone a bit younger, annnnd you are the age of the college girls I teach, but I’m saying hi anyway…can you handle that??? :)

Hi; nice to meet you :)

Hi my names Rich, welcome to the wonderful world of online dating. How are you?

Hi there how are you? How’s your weekend going so far? Did you do anything fun last night?

hi

;)

i’m James, nice to meet you :) not to sound corny, and I apologize in advance, but you are extremely beautiful. just putting that out there lol

hey cutie! What is your name?

Hey, how’s your weekend been? You have a great smile.

Would you like to play a game? (Not in a creepy voice like that dude from saw, fyi haha!)

if your a mermaid im a prince, my nameee is eric after all

Hey, What was more exciting, the fact the TMNT came back or they just had a parade for you in Brooklyn?

Hello, how are you doing?

So I don’t know what to say, but I think you are pretty, so I’d figure I would say hi :)

Hey, what’s going on?

hey! my name’s Jon :) what kind of music are you into?

looking for someone to spoil, interested?

What’s your go to drink at Starbucks?

Hey Cutie!

Hey your really hot!

What made you start at a community college? I’m in the east village. Would love to talk more!

Hey I’m Mike, how are you? Without sounding rude… I liked your profile and i think you’re hot, would you be up for a NSA casual sex situation? I hope you don’t read this in instantly assume that I’m a creep or an asshole, i mean I’m open to meeting up and seeing where things go without sex being an assumed inevitability. Please give me a chance and ACTUALLY read my profile and i guess i hope you message me back, I’d love to meet you. =]

How is your weekend going so far? :) You seem kind of awesome by the way lol

Goodbye

I don’t think I’ve ever truly said goodbye before.

Sure, I’ve said plenty of goodbyes in the past. But none like this. None of the others felt as real as this. Or as sudden.

I guess the first time I had to say goodbye to people was right before going to college. Goodbye to all my high school friends. But that was more of a “see ya later” to anyone I really cared about. We all come home for the holidays, and I’m still able to see any of those people if I really want to. Plus, my best friend from high school ended up going to school a couple miles south of me. No real goodbyes there.

College is the first time I ever had to say goodbye to a bunch of people and know that I might never see them again. But freshman and sophomore year, that didn’t matter too much. Sure, I had some good friends who graduated both of those years, most of whom I never saw again. But I wasn’t extremely close with them.

This year, I’ve formed the closest friendships I’ve ever had in my life. Some of them came from living in a fraternity house and spending time with these people day in and day out. Some of it came from partnering on homework for some very challenging classes. As lame as that sounds, it got me very close with a select group of people.

And now, I’m realizing that I will probably never consistently spend time with these people again. Sure, I might see them once or twice if they come back to visit their alma mater. But after that, after I move away from Chicago, it’s entirely possible that these people will be nothing but a series of great memories.

I don’t want that to happen. Facebook makes it easy, in theory, to stay in touch with these types of people. But in practice, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Our lives are constantly changing and evolving. New people enter as others leave.

I guess that’s just life.

People

This is the broadest subject I could possibly write about. I’m not going to attempt to do it justice. Instead, I’m going to reflect on a very special night.

This night wasn’t particularly memorable. Nothing spectacular happened. But it involved a lot of people, which is what made it special. Not any more special than countless other nights involving lots of people, but special nonetheless.

It started after a week of near-isolation. I decided to go back home for spring break and catch up on some projects I’d been meaning to tackle. Sure, I spent some quality time with some awesome people. But not much. The week was mostly spent hunched over a glowing computer monitor.

Then I came back to campus. Shortly after, I got dinner with some good friends. We chatted, we had a great time, and two of us came up with a hilarious new idea. It was an awesome time.

After dinner, we went to my room to work on our idea. What was the idea? Doesn’t matter. We laughed, we learned, and we had a good time. Another friend joined in on the fun. It was awesome.

Then I got a call from someone I’ve recently become very close with. She invited me to hang out with a bunch of her friends. Another good friend of mine grabbed the phone and echoed the sentiment that I should join them. They’re both awesome people.

So I went out with them later that night. I finally got to see one of my best friends after he had been gone for three months. That was awesome. I had a deeply personal conversation with another friend about some issues I was finally starting to overcome. That was awesome.

I ran into two good friends of the guy that lives down the hall from me. I don’t know either of them very well, but we had no problem carrying on multiple conversations. They’re both awesome.

I ran into someone I used to intern with. We caught up and shared future plans. He’s pretty awesome.

I met someone new. Someone who told funny jokes and had what sounds like an exciting future ahead of him. Although we didn’t meet under the best circumstances (don’t ask), it was still an awesome part of my night.

After all this was over, I came back to my house to find a half dozen people that I usually see all the time but hadn’t seen in a week. It was awesome.

If you’ve made it this far, you just read the worst story in the world. There were no descriptions. There were no details. There were no names. Everything was intentionally vague. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters are the different groups of people I connected with tonight, as anonymous as they may be.

As I went to bed that night, a thought that had been inside my head for years grew stronger than ever: people are fucking awesome.

Watch the news, and people suck. Go on the internet, and people suck. Read a magazine, and people suck. People get a bad rap in non-personal media. We love to watch all the bad things that people do. That’s what sells.

But go out and have meaningful interactions with people, and people are awesome.

People are the reason I’m happy. People have gotten me to where I am today. People are the reason I am who I am. I’ve never done anything meaningful on my own. Everything I do, I do alongside awesome people.

People are worth spending time with. People are worth sharing moments with, even if those moments are the most mundane thing in the world. People are worth making sacrifices for. People are worth wasting time with.

People are fucking awesome.

The Feedback Bias

I know I’m not a fantastic writer. But if I actually paid attention to all the feedback I hear about my writing, I’d totally think I am.

In an personal, informal setting, most feedback is crap. It’s heavily biased to be positive towards the receiver. Most people want to make others feel good about the work they do. While this isn’t a bad thing by any means, it’s definitely something to be aware of.

I don’t consider myself an active blogger, although I do blog from time to time. Every time I write a post, I get a few face-to-face comments that go something like this:

“I read your blog post. It was really good. You’re a really good writer.”

Translation:
“I read your blog post.”

There are two things that could be happening here:

  1. The only people who actually read what I write and then tell me what they think are people with a genuine interest in what I have to say, and therefore they will always love it.
  2. Nobody wants to disagree with or attack anything I write to my face, and it’s much easier to just pretend to like everything.

It’s probably some combination of both.

Generic positive feedback is great to some extent because it provides encouragement to keep going. Beyond that, however, it’s not very helpful.

I’ve only ever had one friend point out some serious flaws in one of my blog posts. Aside from that, all the constructive feedback I’ve ever received has happened online.

From what I’ve seen, online anonymous feedback has a bias toward the negative. When names and identities are optional, the fear of personally offending someone is greatly reduced. Thus, people tend to be a bit more honest.

It’s easy to dismiss everyone who posts something negative online as being a “troll”. But for every trollish comment, there’s an attempt at constructive criticism, even if most people don’t read it that way. (Okay, maybe it’s not even close to a 1:1 ratio, but bear with me.)

A great example of a community that thrives off negative feedback is Hacker News. Any time there’s even the slightest flaw in anything that’s posted, you bet there’s going to be a comment about it. Would people be getting that constructive, actionable criticism if all the feedback they received was from people they knew? I don’t want to speak for everyone, but my guess is probably not.

Over the summer when I lived in New York City, I chatted with Chris Poole (creator of the infamous 4chan) for a bit about online identity. Poole (who goes by “moot” on the web) runs a website where posts are all anonymous. He believes that the truth comes out when your remarks aren’t attached to your identity. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, pushes strongly for an authentic online identity that’s inseparable from your real self. (Interesting fact: they’re actually friends, despite their strongly opposing views.)

So, who’s right? I think they both are, especially when feedback is involved. It’s important to hear from a mix of both close friends and anonymous bystanders, and everyone in between. That way, the feedback biases balance out and you have the encouragement to keep going while knowing where your flaws are.

Oh boy, the feedback on this one is gonna be pretty ironic.

Why I Believe JavaScript is the Best First Programming Language to Learn

If you’ve never programmed before and want to start building that skill, I think JavaScript is the best place to start. I’m not claiming this to be the absolute truth, since it really depends on why you want to start and what you want to do with your programming skills. These are just my opinions and reasons why I believe JavaScript the best place to start for the average person who wants to start coding.

Universality

Until a few years ago, JavaScript was primarily a language for front-end web programming. Nowadays, it works pretty nicely for doing backend development, native iOS and Android development, scripting, and possibly more that I haven’t discovered. While it may not be the best choice for most of these use-cases, it can be used for all of these, and that’s hugely important for a newbie programmer. While it’s easy for experienced programmers to pick up new languages on the fly and choose the best tool for the job, this probably isn’t the case for someone who’s just starting out. JavaScript allows a novice to dabble in many different areas without the overhead of learning many different languages and syntaxes.

I’ve used PHP, Ruby, and Python to create the backend of web applications. Someone who knows JavaScript can do the same with Node.js. I’ve used Python quite a bit to write scripts to manipulate and analyze data. Someone who knows JavaScript can do the same, also with Node, without even touching anything web-related. Native iOS and Android apps are written in Objective-C and Java, respectively. Appcelerator Titanium lets you write native apps with JavaScript. Knowing JavaScript lets you get started in many different areas, and from there you can learn the languages that are best suited to what you’re trying to do.

Jeff Atwood takes this to the extreme when he says that any application that can be written in JavaScript, will eventually be written in JavaScript. I don’t fully subscribe to that idea, but I think it does say something about JavaScript’s usefulness.

Little to no setup

Want to write some code and see what it does? Hop on any computer, and there’s an interactive environment right there in the web browser. No packages to install, nothing to set up. You don’t have to deal with the terminal, which can be intimidating for someone who’s never worked outside a graphical environment before. Google Chrome even has debugging tools built right in.

Even if you’ve never programmed before, you can go to www.google.com, type the following snippet into the JavaScript console, and press enter.

document.gbqf.q.value = "I entered this with JavaScript!"; 

The search box will then populate with the text “I entered this with JavaScript”. You might not understand what you did and why it worked, but at least you were able to run a piece of code and make it do something. That’s far more accessible to a beginner than installing packages, setting up an environment, possibly importing libraries, and then finally being able to write code that actually does something.

Want to learn how a for loop works? Run the following code in the browser’s JavaScript console to count from 1 to 50.

for(var i = 1; i <= 50; i++) { 
 console.log(i); 
} 

Congratulations! You just used one of the most important concepts in programming using the same software you’re likely using to read this post (unless you’re on a mobile device).

JSON

JSON, or JavaScript Object Notation, is widely used nowadays to transmit data between different services. Want to pull data from some API? You’ll likely need to understand JSON. Each language has its own way of representing data, but if you understand how JavaScript does it, you’ve got JSON covered with no extra effort.

C-style syntax

While I actually prefer coding in languages that are more space-based than brace-based, C is an important language to know. Many popular high-level languages are implemented in C, so doing some C coding can give you a much better understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes. While knowing JavaScript does little to teach you about how things are actually implemented, coding in a language with C-style syntax makes for an easier transition to something like C or C++ if you want to go down that route in the future. I don’t mean to say it will be an easy transition, but I think going from JavaScript to C would be easier than going from Python or Ruby to C.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts where you think is the best place for a new programmer to start.

UPDATE: I just came across this excellent Quora post: What’s a good first programming language to learn? which addresses different reasons to get into programming and which languages are best suited for each of them.

Catching up with 2012 hackNY Fellow Sean Gransee

I wasn’t always a hacker.

There are some people who have always had it in them. Programmer by age 12. Software development internships in high school. A moderately successful business under their belt halfway through college.

I am not one of those people. I wasn’t a programmer in high school. Not even at the start of college. In fact, I went through my first year of college as a film major. Computer science? That was for the people much smarter than me.

My life has since taken a huge turn. I am now diving head first into the tech startup community. In less than half a year, I’ve developed a few small apps that have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people and gotten press ranging from Lifehacker to NBC. I’m now working on an idea that I hope to convert into a sustainable business, something that I wouldn’t have even dreamed of doing a little while ago.

Read the rest of this post on the hackNY blog.