Gratitude

An Abundance of Peaches
An Abundance of Peaches

Today I had 11 dollars to spend @ the Farmer’s Market. It was the perfect amount, because I planned to spend $7 on a 1/4 peck of peaches, and the remaining $4 on tomatoes. I was so grateful that I had exactly the right amount to purchase my peaches and tomatoes (black cherry and sungold, my favorites!).

Well, not only did I have enough, but my peach guy threw in some extras and gave me a $2 discount. (Yeah, I have a guy, for peaches.) Two whole dollars! I was then so grateful because I not only had an extra dollar to tip him (he’s a good peach guy), but I also had an extra dollar to tip one of the wonderful groups entertaining the market with their music.

It really did feel like I was having the most wonderful morning. I couldn’t help but smile the entire time I was walking around. And even though people were crowding around me, and it was harder to walk through the throng, it was ok. I felt more peaceful, because of the gratitude. Because it’s hard to feel both anger and gratitude at the same time.

photo credit: Liz West – peaches

Arabic Challenge Results

Well, my first Arabic conversation wasn’t a very long one, but it happened.

Here’s the result:

Basically, I’m saying to him, “Excuse me, do you speak Arabic?” to which he playfully responds, “No!”, and we both get a laugh out of it. There’s some more talk (in English), and a LOT of background noise too. The first 9 seconds covers the entire conversation. That’s it!

This was a fun challenge, and I’m glad I did it. I now have some working knowledge of the language and a (solid?) base from which to continue my Arabic learning.

I really wish I’d invested more time re-learning some lessons over again. I did this with lessons 1-4, but then time just got away from me. I also would have broken it up into 2 – 3 study times per day, e.g. morning, noon/early afternoon, and evening. I believe this would have helped my recall.I intentionally didn’t take notes, which would have helped also, but could have become a crutch.

Still can’t recommend highly-enough going with Pimsleur audio courses, especially to get up on a language fast. No, they don’t pay me, and I don’t have any affiliate links to any of their products. They’re just that effective, as long as you put in the work. (Of course you have do to that – you didn’t expect a magic bullet, did you?)

While I’m on the subject, I’m referring to the older-style Pimsleur courses, just the audio only. Not the new Pimsleur interactive software crap — that’s just them trying to copy Rosetta Stone. Oh yeah, don’t buy the Rosetta Stone software. It’s a waste of money, you get very little value for the cost of the software. I bought it once when learning Spanish. Never again.

One-Week Arabic Challenge

Arabic text. I have no idea what this says.
Arabic text. I have no idea what this says.

I’ve decided to learn Arabic in a week. The entire language. Plus the alphabet. Not really.

But it’s no secret that I’m a language nut. I want to be able to speak 17 languages.

Why Arabic?

Most Saturdays my wife and I make the drive from Bentonville to Fayetteville to buy fresh produce at the farmer’s market. That’s in Arkansas, for any non-local readers. We love the Fayetteville market. Fresh local veggies sold by the farmers themselves, live music from local musicians. Good people. It’s just a great vibe overall.

One of Fayetteville’s maybe not-so-well-kept secrets is the Petra Café. The proprietor is from Jordan, an Arab country, and just a couple days ago we had some fun discussing Jordan and the Arabic language.

The Challenge

I decided to challenge myself to learn as much as I could in one week and to come back next week and see how much we would be able to communicate, just in Arabic. I know almost nothing of Arabic, or any semitic language, so it’s all pretty new to me.

I’m posting this publicly so that I’ll have to go through with it. Next week I’ll be posting a video or audio file of my attempt to speak Arabic with a native speaker this coming Saturday. Sink or swim, succeed or fail, something will be posted. I’m not going to tell my Jordanian friend about the project, until after it’s done. My wife has agreed to secretly record our conversation.

It’s pretty exciting to think that I will be able to communicate in Arabic. My first conversation in any language is always exciting. Not long, but fun anyway. They’re usually no longer than a few polite exchanges.

It might seem difficult, learning to even communicate in a language that I don’t know at all within a week. But I have a secret weapon for quickly getting up to speed on most any major language… .

My Secret Weapon

Anytime someone asks me about language resources, I always point them to the Pimsleur Method audio courses, because they’re so good. It’s actually the best thing to use if you want to start speaking immediately and be understood in your target language. I’ve used it with success when learning both French and Dutch.

This week I will be investing around 30 minutes per day listening to the Pimsleur Eastern Arabic course. That’s mostly all I’ll be doing, maybe going over each lesson twice a day if I feel that I need the practice. I’ve picked up a couple books on how to write the Arabic alphabet, so I may go over those a little.

The Result?

To Be Continued…

The results are in! Check out the results of my Arabic challenge if you’re interested.

Photo by “Dr. Case”

How to Start Every Day Awesomely

Sunrise Over Lake

Another 5-year-old post, but I believe the principle still applies. Routines like this also build discipline, one of my most important virtues.

The last 3 days have started awesomely for me because I follow the steps outlined below.

This is a modified version of “How You Should Start Every Day For The Rest Of Your Life!” by Gary Halbert.

I don’t recommend his steps for a couple of reasons. First, he recommends consuming dairy products, which are poisonous to humans. It’s just that most of us don’t know it yet. Second, he tells us to “scarf” down food a couple of times, and I don’t think “scarfing” is an appropriate way to eat anything unless you’re a dog.

How to start every day awesomely:

1. Set your alarm clock to go off 10 minutes earlier than usual.
2. The first thing, after you get up, is to immediately remake your bed.
3. Go to the kitchen, pour yourself a glass of water and drink it all.
4. Go to the bathroom, take care of “business,” brush your teeth, wash the sleep out of your face and eyes and brush and comb your hair.
5. Next, put on some exercise clothes, but no shoes.
6. Leave the house immediately and take a 20-minute barefoot walk.
7. As soon as you get back, start cooking some steel-cut oats (1/4 cup uncooked). Eat them with 1/4 cup raw almonds, 2 TBSP ground flax seeds and 1/2 cup raisins.
8. Take a shower.
9. Dress in fresh, crisp clothes and go about your day.

10 Ideas to improve your site’s SEO

SEO
SEO

I wrote these ideas for a local photographer that I know, who was asking on Facebook about SEO for her website. But since I think they’re pretty generic, these could apply to just about anyone with a local business. So I’ll just share them on here for everyone, and point her to this post.

SEO is basically broken into 2 things:

1. How relevant is your site’s content to the people searching for it?

You improve this by optimizing your site – content and meta information (e.g. meta tags, internal links to other pages on your site, etc.)

2. How popular is your site? (Sites with the same relevance, but more popular = higher in Google results.) This means how many “backlinks” your site has, which is other people/websites linking back to yours.

You improve this by what’s called “link building”.


Anyway, without further ado, here’s a list of ideas that might help improve any site’s SE rankings.

  1. Ensure your keywords/phrases that you want to rank for are somewhere on your site. Bonus points if in your meta description and in an h1 tag on the page. Keyword phrases are what you type in to google when you want to find your site, e.g. "Northwest Arkansas Photographer", or "Portland Wedding Photography", or whatever. If you know your keywords, you can run a free report here for your site: https://juxseo.zoomshift.com/. But this report will only analyze your page content, not your ranking in the SERPs.

  2. Get lots of (legitimate) links from other sites back to your site. In the SEO industry, we call these "backlinks". The link text should be your keyword phrases mentioned in #1 above.

  3. Have profiles for your business on all social media sites and somehow integrate those with your site, or at least link back to your site.

  4. Make sure you have a responsive theme. This just means that your site is easy to read on a desktop and on a phone, iPad, tablets, etc. Google has started giving preference to sites which have responsive themes, and people viewing your site on mobile devices will appreciate it too.

  5. Make sure your site loads fast. (Google has indicated site loading speed is one of the signals that it uses to rank pages.) Large images/files can be hosted on a CDN. You can see https://moz.com/learn/seo/page-speed for more info.

  6. Make sure your business is registered w/Google business. This will help ensure you’re on the "map" that shows up in the results, and lets Google know you’re around.

  7. Add your site to Google webmaster tools.

  8. Make sure your robots.txt allows indexing (this is easy and can be done from Google webmaster tools).

  9. Create a sitemap for search engines if you don’t already have one.

  10. Are you publishing content to your site on a regular basis? If so, this would result in more frequent search engine visits.

  11. Another suggestion – submit articles to high-profile sites like medium.com & link back to your site

  12. Along the same lines, guest posting to other people’s sites (e.g. other photographers who get a lot of readers) helps, as you get a link back to your site (this is part of link building). All links back to your site are good as long as they’re genuine and not spammy.

Most SEO consultants/services will offer some suggestions like the above, they might do it for you, and they’ll probably deliver ranking and content reports as well. They’re probably just buying these white-label from moz.com, which is the de-facto authority (besides Google themselves) on SEO.

Of course, I’m probably forgetting some things, but this should cover the basics.

Ok, bye.

Photo by Steve Rotman

DIY hand-roasted coffee

Or… “that one time I hand-roasted coffee on the stove…”.

A couple of weeks ago, I was inspired by Jeff Goins’ post on how he basically “created” a coffee company in 48 hours. Since his site and email list are kinda aggressive on the marketing side, I’m not going to link to it. You can find it via Google if you want. (Jeff, if you’re reading this, no offense intended. And don’t hesitate to get in touch for ideas on how your marketing could be improved.)

Anyway, this is the video that he linked to, and I watched it myself. You can see that it’s so simple to roast your own green coffee by hand on the stove, if you happen to have some green coffee beans on hand. Which I did. 😉

Since I don’t have a copper pan, I used a wok instead, which transfers heat really well. Here are some images from the roasting process:

A couple minutes after starting
A couple minutes after starting
Getting yellow/brown
Getting yellow/brown
Now we're between light brown and dark brown
Now we’re between light brown and dark brown
About midway
About midway
Mostly dark
Mostly dark
Finished - Roasted!
Finished – Roasted!
Green vs Brown Coffee Beans
Green vs Brown Coffee Beans

Since we don’t have a coffee/spice grinder, I just used the Vitamix to grind it. It worked perfectly. The texture of the grind is about the same as the Gevalia ground coffee that you can purchase at many grocery stores.

It seems like so many things that we think are “complicated” or just “too hard” really aren’t. Not that anyone really thinks much about roasting coffee themselves.

I know what I used to think. Spending thousands of dollars on equipment. Probably a small building to house the roaster. Spending hundreds of dollars just having green coffee shipped in 100 LB bags. All that, just to be able to play at roasting coffee.

But that’s not the case at all. You can probably buy green coffee at your local coffee roastery, for the price of roasted coffee and some strange looks when you ask for it green.

As for the taste… it’s surprisingly good! It’s actually similar in taste to the Gevalia coffee that I mentioned earlier, as well. If you’re into trying new things, I recommend at least giving it a try.

How to Do Anything at All in Life

The Urban Ninja

Note: I originally wrote this in July 2010, 5 years ago, but never posted it. Five years! That’s crazy. Obviously a lot has changed since then, and I wish that I’d posted this waaay back then. But the point I was trying to make still holds true, even more now, since it’s like I was writing for myself. My future self. It’s like a time machine, but in reverse. Crazy, man.

Last weekend at American Rendezvous 2k10, I met another participant named Ozzi Quintero from Hawaii (originally from Venezuela). This guy was probably the most hardcore guy at the event, is responsible for Hawaii Parkour (aka HIpk), and has some videos on youtube. I was quite impressed with Ozzi’s abilities, (one of which includes a handstand initiated from a standing position without kicking himself up). He’s also got a well-built physique.

In short, Ozzi is awesome. But he wasn’t born awesome, he had to work for it. He had to work his ass off to develop the stability, balance, physique, etc. that makes him a great traceur. He has been in the proverbial trenches, spending time in the weight room, performing exercises to develop balance, quadrupedal movement, etc., and the awesomeness shows through as a result.

I’d like to be like Ozzi, but I wasn’t born with his genetics, so I can’t. It’s too bad.

Oh, wait — yes, I too can be awesome. And I will.

You Can Do It

One thing I hate is to hear someone say “man I wish I were… (thinner, richer, whatever..er)”, or “I want _____ more than anything in the world”, and then do nothing at all about it, nothing to improve his/her situation.

That person is lying to everyone, and probably most importantly, lying to (him|her)self. The fact is, if you really want something, you’ll find a way to make it happen.

Want to be thinner? Change your damn diet and start exercising. For me, becoming a vegan, getting serious about lifting weights and starting Parkour all at about the same time have completely changed my life. I’m not saying anyone should follow any particular diet or lifestyle, but eating McDonald’s, Sonic and even Subway (gasp!) ain’t gonna cut it if you’re fat and want to lose weight. In fact, you’ll probably have to stop eating out. Also, if you consume a lot of beer on weekends, that will have to go as well. It may seem like a drastic change, and indeed it is, but…

“No one will ever change until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.”
— Jack Daniels

Want to be richer? Start researching how to be richer. Google it, click on some links. Follow links on those pages to other pages. Read the right books.

Wanna learn to play the guitar? Go to a music store, buy a basic guitar, and inquire about lessons. Even if the store doesn’t give lessons, they can point you to someone who can.

Or maybe you’d like to learn a new language? Take a look at Benny, he’s learned 7 and he’s still not finished. Go buy a book on your language of choice. Take classes at school/college/university. Ask a friend to help (nicely!). Check out the (free) resources on the net: check out livemocha.com or ielanguages.com.

But know that whatever it is you want to do, it’s not going to fall into your lap. Because…

“Nothing in this life that’s worth having comes easy.”
— Dr. Kelso

Make It Happen – Today

Much like Ozzi in the example above, you’ve got to put in the effort if you want to reach your goals. But if you really want to do it, you will. I promise. 😉

With the power of the internet, pretty much the entire knowledge of the world is at our fingertips. The old excuse “I don’t know how” is no longer valid.

So please, stop lying to me, everyone else, and above all, yourself. If you really want to do something, just go do it.

All the good things you want to do in your life have to be started in the next few hours, days or weeks. — Tom DeMarco

If you get nothing else out of this, please, take action on something today — whatever it is you want to do, no matter how big it is. Because if you don’t, you may never get around to it.

Stop merely living, start surviving. Go. Be. Do epic shit.

Photo by Tyson Cecka

Another redesign

Switched themes again, this time so that the site would have a responsive theme. The theme is a default WordPress theme, ‘Twenty-Fifteen’ by Automattic. It’s got a large default font, is clean and responsive… I’m not looking for much in a theme, and this one ticks off all the boxes, for now.

Also, hope to have some more posts up soon. I’ve got a few projects in the works, namely, my consulting site, nathanmarley.com and some book ideas that I need to flesh out. Also working on a Northwest Arkansas local cleaning service business that I’m running with my wife, Maid in NWA.

So hopefully, this blog will see some changes soon, as well as a lot of new and interesting content.

Principles

Gandhian Principles in Kannada
Gandhian Principles in Kannada

Today I was talking with a vegan friend (I’m vegan as well) who mentioned that she had received a casual offer of work at a food truck. She said that she was considering doing it, because it would mean some extra income and she is tired of doing what she is now.

I asked her if the food truck served meat products, and she said that yeah, it does. It struck me as odd. For the non-vegan people reading this, a statement like that from a vegan is kind of disconcerting.

The vegan lifestyle is characterized by non-consumption of all animal products or by-products, up to and including all meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese… anything that comes from an animal (even honey).

So I was a bit stunned that my vegan friend had so casually mentioned that she was considering working at a food truck which serves meat.

For me personally, as an ethical vegan, I could never support any business which explicitly supported the harm or exploitation of animals for any reason, especially one that requires killing them (obviously meat requires the death of the animal supplying it).

I automatically correlated her vegan-ness with the standard vegan principles. Having strong principles is so important to me, that someone claiming to be something, then nonchalantly considering violating the principles of that something just for a bit of quick cash really confused me.

Maybe she doesn’t have principles, or consider them when making decisions.

It occurred to me then just how important it is to have a defined set of principles, and to stand solidly on them, even be willing to stake your life on them, because if not, then it’s just too easy to be blown whatever direction the wind takes you at the time.

In Principles, Ray Dalio defines them thusly:

1) What are principles?

Your values are what you consider important, literally what you “value.” Principles are what allow you to live a life consistent with those values. Principles connect your values to your actions; they are beacons that guide your actions, and help you successfully deal with the laws of reality. It is to your principles that you turn when you face hard choices.

His next statement on why they are important is also apropos to the situation:

2) Why are principles important?

All successful people operate by principles that help them be successful. Without principles, you would be forced to react to circumstances that come at you without considering what you value most and how to make choices to get what you want. This would prevent you from making the most of your life. …

It’s possible that my friend hadn’t considered operating by principles at all — that she was just reacting to the circumstance … without considering what she (maybe?) values most. Or it’s possible that I’m just wrong — and she values money, and experience working at a food truck more than animal welfare. I do tend to see things as all-or-nothing, so maybe I should just get used to seeing things along a spectrum instead. Maybe she’s not quite as hardcore along the “vegan hardcority” spectrum. Maybe I just made up that spectrum.

Really I just think it was a good example to write about the importance of having principles and living life by them.


photo by balu

Open Financial eXchange (OFX) is Broken (Online Banking Security is a Joke)

Hacker Rene

Am I the only person in the world who thinks that it’s utterly ludicrous that we have to give our passwords to sites like Mint.com so they can help us keep track of our spending habits? Surely I can’t be the only one. It’s like giving away the keys to the kingdom.

It kind of irks me a little that if I want to use a site like Mint.com to track my spending habits and help me keep my budget in line, I have to give my username and password over to them.

In fact, the way the underlying technology works, Mint.com must keep our passwords stored in their system. Not just a hash, but the passwords themselves, since that’s what they have to use in order to access our bank account info. They are stored encrypted, no doubt, but the have to be decrypted in order to be used (see below).

Mint.com has worker programs, “robots”, if you will, which log in to our bank accounts the same way we do (well, not really, but I’m simplifying for the general public), so they have to be able to authenticate as ‘us’. But the problem is, those username/password combos aren’t read-only. Mint.com may tell you that they have read-only access, but that’s just not true. Anybody who hacks Mint.com’s database, and is able to decrypt those passwords, has full access to the corresponding bank accounts.

The technology which enables this log-in that Mint.com and other financial websites use, is called OFX, which is short for Open Financial Exchange.

The part that requires the username and password for every transaction is described in the OFX ‘security’ page (emphasis mine, and BTW, what a fucking joke):

Authentication enables the recipient of a message to verify the identity of the sender. For example, a financial institution or third party processor authenticates a customer by requiring the use of a password and user ID with each transaction. A customer’s application authenticates a financial institution or third party processor by verifying the institution’s digital certificate.

That technology was developed about 10 years ago. (The website looks about 10 years old too — just take a look.) We’ve evolved since then. Technology has evolved. Why the hell has the banking system not caught up yet? (Hint: it’s not in their best interests to improve the security of your bank account. They would have to pay the cost of securing your account, while not seeing any reward for it.)

This should immediately set off red flags for any information security professional. An obvious way to mitigate this risk is to simply enable customers to generate a read-only API key on the bank end, then give out that read-only API key to any party that they wanted to share their info with, on a read-only basis. This would be true read-only access. But that is something that banks themselves would have to implement, and they’re too busy raping the general public with ridiculous fees for things like debit cards, and simply having a deposit account in the first place.

The Solution

The solution? A successor protocol to OFX which requires banks to implement read-only API key access, and which can be controlled by customers, e.g. by allowing depositors to generate their own unlimited number of API keys, read-only or not (depositor’s choice).

A standard has to first be put in place. It would specify that usernames/passwords are no longer allowed, period. All account access would be via API keys, which would be generated on the bank end, controlled by the clients (depositors), and either read-only, read-write, or other combinations. They could be extensible so as to plan for the future.

Then, make all the banks follow the standard. Fines of $XX,XXX,XXX per day after a X-year grace period which allows all banks ample time to convert from OFX to the new standard, NOFX (New OFX).

Hell, I don’t know. Just something. But please, do something to protect the people, instead of just considering the up-front cost of implementation. (There are hidden costs of not implementing something like what I’ve suggested, but most individuals and businesses won’t see them until it’s too late).

Note: This solution isn’t going to happen. This is just an ideal scenario. The banking system is going to be transformed, but not from the inside, not by anyone who had anything to do with this. Technologies like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and trustless systems are going to render insecure protocols like OFX useless. The funny thing is, it’s because the current system will never change which is the reason why it’s going to be pre-empted and destroyed. The market will find a solution.