Hacking Spanish

Hola. Como Esta. Mas cerveza, por favor?

The above is approximately 25 percent of my conversational spanish. I’ve always been bothered by the my monoglotism, so I’m challenging myself to do something about it. I’m going to learn spanish before I turn 31. In the spirit of doing everything half-assed optimizing my effort, I’ve decided to ‘hack spanish’, which is to say, cheat. In my life I’ve taken 3 years of academic spanish, 3 of french, and can barely say hello in either.

A couple years ago, I happened across Fluent In 3 Months, chronicling the adventures of Benny the Irish polyglot. In a few short years, Benny became fluent in 8 languages! His secret (schtick) is that you have to speak from day 1.

Tim Ferriss, the famous lifehacker, also seems to think that 3 months is plenty of time to learn a language, His method says deconstruct the language,  learn the basics, memorize some words, and start speaking.

Lastly, In college, I met a guy who said if you memorized the top 1000 (based on frequency of use) words in any language, you could understand 80% of that language, whether written or spoken. It turns our that the research does bear this out.

My approach is a hybrid (mutant?) of the above. I’m going to using spanish as much as possible everyday, pick 1 day each week that I speak only spanish (caveat: personal time only, don’t want to get el fired-o), and have a weekly conference call with other spanish learners and speakers to talk speak spanish with a group. There are 110 days until 2014, so that means I need to learn 9 words a day in order learn the 1000 most used words in spanish by the end of the year. In order to understand how the language works, I’m going to write a couple ‘dissection’ blog posts to cover that. Additionally, I’m going to chat with people on language learning, so I can have multiple perspectives.


Top 1000 spanish words flashcards (I’m not sure where they’re getting the frequency counts used for this words, this link might change.)


Becoming an Entrepreneur, Part 3

  (This post is the third in a series where I recall my development as an entrepreneur and try to put the lessons to paper. There will be 4 posts in this series.)

  During my junior and senior years of high school, I had a paid internship in the enterprise technology section of our state’s administrative division, so between a relatively active social life, work, and school (listed here in order of importance) I didn’t have too many entrepreneurial adventures.

Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” Conrad Hilton

    My internship ended the week that I graduated high school, and after the ceremony on a Saturday night in early June, I was looking forward to a summer of lounging around before starting college in the fall. Instead my mom informed me I had a job interview the following Monday. To my dismay the interview went well and I started work on Wednesday. I have been gainfully employed ever since, with the notable exception of six months dedicated to a start-up PC repair business.

    I started RFC Computing in July of 2004, with $5,000 in savings. I paid for a six-month lease on a storefront, bought some furniture, traded work for advertising, and waited for the money to roll in. I was young, and the shop was lonely, so I invited two of my recently unemployed friends to come work with me. We made a little money right out of the gate, and it would have been plenty for one or two people, but split three ways, it made for a lot of tension. Often, at the end of a project I’d pay them and not myself. I should have told them what was going on, but I didn’t. Over the next couple of months we all began to resent each other.  When the business ended, one friend left town, and the other one didn’t talk to me much for a few years. Though all the friendships have been mended, the memory still stings. Turns out it wasn’t just the mismanagement of my own friendships that led to RFC’s demise.

To build my client base, I returned to a familiar business tactic and used my parents’ network.  They referred a prominent lawyer in our community, somebody I admired and even considered a mentor. I knew I didn’t want to let him down. Over the last couple of months I had been losing a lot of sleep. I knew I was running the business and my friendships into the ground and I wanted to redeem myself by impressing the lawyer. We had been getting by on Dell warranty work and printer installs, when the lawyer mentioned he needed some data recovery and database work. I saw an opportunity to break into a new market, and a chance to tackle a tough problem, so we took the job. The DB stuff was easy, but the data recovery took weeks-literally hundreds of hours. When the job was done, I looked at the invoice, and the hours were nuts; I knew it had taken all the time I billed, but it didn’t seem right–so I reduced it down to around 60 hours–less than half of the original time, but still $4,000.00. I sent the bill off, confident that I was on the path to success. The next day, the lawyer called me in for a meeting. He was polite, but wanted to know why it cost so much. I was completely unprepared to defend myself, and just stammered something about our hourly rate. He paid me, and it was clear he wouldn’t hire me again. Looking back, he just wanted an explanation-and I owed him one–but at the time, I was crushed. I left the office, threw my tie in the trashcan, and started looking for work.

   For nearly 3 years, aside from selling my old stuff on ebay, I didn’t do anything ‘business’ related. I should have picked myself off the floor and tried to keep moving, but instead I took a desk job and resigned myself to the employee lifestyle.

Lesson #7: Silence is not the right answer – People don’t like to be left in the dark, and they can tell when you’re not saying something. Bad news can only get better if you share it. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by telling the guys we didn’t have any money and letting our client know how the project was going before the final bill.

Lesson #8: Don’t just give up. Failure should be active, not passive – I failed, not the business. Quitting was the path of least resistance, so I took it. Woody Allen said that “80% of success is showing up”–I say the other 20% is sticking around.

Lesson #9: You can’t please everybody, and you’ll probably piss people off.- It is the hardest thing to get used to, and I agonize over it constantly. Every time I piss someone off, it gets a little easier! 

Becoming an Entrepreneur. Part 2

  (This post is the second in a series where I recall my development as an entrepreneur and try to put the lessons to paper. I think there will be 4 posts in this series.)

  Reeling from the demise of my snow shoveling partnership, I resolved to stick to solo endeavors for a while. Over the next few years I shared a paper route, mowed lawns and shoveled driveways, worked holidays at a sporting goods store, summers for a construction crew, and during my junior year of high school, I worked as a linux intern for the State. I was always on the lookout for a good opportunity to make money, and tried quite a few of my own ventures.

Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.Richard Branson

  In the summer before high school I worked as a gopher for a marine service center, and I hated coming home tired and covered in oil. One evening, while waiting for my internet time (it was cheaper after 7pm) I was perusing the back pages of a Boy’s Life Magazine (a monthly magazine for Boy Scouts here in the US), where I read a quarter-page ad enticing me to “Make Money, Earn Prizes, Sell Cool Stuff”… intriguing. I sent five dollars to the company, and in 4 to 6 weeks I had my sales kit. The stuff was the kind of things you’d find at a dollar store, but I was pretty sure I could sell it. It was the middle of summer, so I started going door to door in the evenings, trying to get people to look at my catalog. It was slow going, so I started bringing it to youth group and scouting events. After a couple weeks, I had enough orders to process, so meticulously filled out the order forms, calculated shipping, and then my commission… On $200.00 in sales I made $4.00, wait, that can’t be right, lets recalculate that, nope, still 4 bucks. By my count, I had worked for about a dime an hour. Well, on to the next thing.

  Since I usually only had half an hour a day of internet access-I could have had more, but my parents made my internet access time proportional to my GPA- I had to find stuff to do with my PC for the other 23 and a half hours, so I took it apart. And I put it back together. I reinstalled Windows 95–a lot. I went through every dialog and program I could find. I played around in the registry. I got really good at breaking and fixing things. Once my parents got used to the occasional downtime, they thought it was pretty cool, and they told their friends. One evening, my dad came home from work and asked if I could look at a friend’s computer sometime, the printer wasn’t working. I jumped at the idea, partly to see if I could actually solve a real problem, and partly to show my parents that I wasn’t just “playing” on the computer (they did-and still do-regard anything that wasn’t homework as playing). Sunday afternoon my dad drove me over to his friends house and I fired up the machine while the adults talked about fishing or something. I fiddled around and got it working in about an hour. I told them I was done and showed my dad’s friend; Steve, how to fix it if it happened again. As we were about to leave, he asked how much I wanted. I had no idea, and I stared blankly at my dad for some clue as what to say. Sensing my confusion, Steve handed me a $20. I had just had my first consulting customer, but not my last. Sunday afternoons became my office hours, and I made about fifty bucks a week for years.

Lesson #4: Do your homework– It can be crushing to pour your heart and soul into something, and then find out that you did it wrong, someone else did it, or you’re not going to get the reward you were hoping for, these can often be prevented by research and planning.

Lesson #5: Network- When I was a kid, my parents’ network was my network. Nearly every one of my clients was referred by my parents or a previous client. In the real world, you need constantly be making connections and enriching them.

Lesson #6: Constantly Learn- I did not want a computer so that I could get good at fixing them, I wanted to chat on the internet and play games. I just happened to like fixing them once I got one. I practiced daily for months on end, I read books and magazines, and asked a lot of questions.

Becoming an entrepreneur. Part 1

When do you get to call yourself an entrepreneur? Is the qualification success or failure?

    Recently, I’ve been trying to figure out where my entrepreneurial mindset developed, and the next few blog posts will be a look at that process and the lessons I’ve learned so far. I’ve always been exposed to the entrepreneurial lifestyle. My parents have started and owned a bunch of companies (mostly small and local, but sometimes bigger), and throughout my life I’ve always seen them working hard to build something out of nothing.  It was probably inevitable that I’d start something, and watching their successes and failures has certainly shaped my perspective on what it means to be an entrepreneur.

     I’m not sure I remember my very first venture, but by the age of ten I had a Kool-Aid stand on the side of California Highway 20E, in Lake County, California. Not every kid who sells refreshments is eyeing a future as a CEO, but I certainly felt like I was on that path. A Kool-Aid stand on the side of a rural highway has a pretty small market, so when you do see customers, you’ve got to make sure they buy. I realized early-on that variety was key, and I tried everything: more sugar, less sugar, free refills, lemonade, water, crackers, cookies, and anything else I could find in the kitchen when mom wasn’t paying attention. The stand was as short lived as the candy I bought with the profits, but the rush of receiving money directly for my efforts planted a seed. The next year our family left California and moved to Alaska, the last frontier.

    Alaska was less of a last frontier, and more of a move into the past. No franchises, no roads, no competition, and nothing for a 11-year-old kid to do (at least that’s what I told my parents…I guess little league, boy scouts, 4H, and youth group didn’t count). It was 1994, the Internet was new, the only ISP that worked in our little town was AOL, and I wanted in. Our family had a 386, but I wanted a Pentium with a modem. At the time, my mom worked for a small social service non-profit and my dad was running a marine service center, good jobs, but a new computer was pretty low on the household priorities list. If I wanted a new computer, I needed to earn it.

    I was lamenting this to friend from school, and he suggested we go into business together. He needed money too–his parents hadn’t recognized how much he needed a mini-bike–and so our partnership began. We racked our brains, and decided to go into the snow shoveling business. We knew that his neighborhood association had a rule that didn’t allow more than a few inches of snow to accumulate on steps or walkways, and that most people didn’t like to shovel snow. We shovel, you pay—this was our mantra. For most of November and December it worked like this: we’d go door-to-door, I’d ask if they needed their driveway shoveled, remind them of the snow shoveling policy, and If they said yes, I’d start shoveling from the front door, and he’d start at the street.  Equal work, equal pay, Right? When we were done, I’d collect the money and he’d put it in his locking cash box and we’d move along to the next house. Some days we made $150; a lot of money for a couple pre-teens.  By December 20th, we had $1150, enough for a mini-bike—so he bought one! He gave me what was left–about 100 bucks. “Next winter we can get your computer!” He said. I moped for a few days, and swore he’d swindled me. My parents were sympathetic, but they pointed out an important lesson I’d just been taught: If my friend and I had never talked about how to split the money, I should be as mad at myself as I was at him. In the end, I got a computer for Christmas, and $100 was enough to buy a modem, but the lesson stung none-the-less.

Lesson #1: Pay attention- To the customer, to market conditions; don’t get surprised by something you should know. I found out that my primary market at the Kool-Aid stand (neighbors and parents of friends) didn’t actually like Kool-Aid, and would gladly pay 50 cents for glass of ice water, long before water bottles were at every check stand.

Lesson #2: Have the hard talks early- One of the reasons you’re working with someone else is that they don’t think like you do. Don’t expect anyone to read your mind. Openness and honesty go a long way when the money doesn’t.

Lesson #3:
Money makes people weird, so get important stuff in writing- I think this one speaks for itself, and it should be a no-brainer for everyone involved. If someone isn’t willing to write it down and sign it, maybe you should not be working with them.

Day 4 & 5

Day 4 consisted of 2 TSDs and a transit to Dawson City. We (i) missed a turn in the first TSD that screwed our score on the first section, but Peter made up time and we did fine for the rest of our competitive stages. The transit to Dawson was beautiful, and we were looking forward to a nights sleep and a trip to Inuvik and then Tuktoyuktuk. We woke of at six and fueled up and headed out by 6:45. The road was a little sketchy, but we got into Eagle Plains at noon–in time to find out that the road was closed for at least 24 hours. Defeated, we headed back to Dawson City. Tomorrow we’re going back to Whitehorse to re run the TSDs, so we may get a chance to improve our standings.

Current standings: 13/25 overall, 2nd in class.

Day’s 2&3

Day 2 was a fizzle, the ice race was cancelled due to too much snow in the track and the 2 TSDs we cancelled due to accidents (not rally participants), so the day was basically a drive to New Hazelton from Quesnel in the snow. Pete and I drove the route from the other last Monday, so the scenery wasn’t new either,but it was still pretty. Even though the TSDs were cancelled, the routes were still an option for folks who wanted to do them. A few cars tried, and one of those cars hit a tree and was knocked out of the running. The driver and co-driver were ok, but the car is out. On day three, we tackled the Cassiar Highway. We made good time, and drove through some really striking scenery, though I don’t know that I’d call the whole thing a ‘highway’–more of a wide backroad. For most of the day we ran with car 25 and that’s who you see in the pictures that isn’t us.

Day 1

We started in Kirkland this morning, then headed up to Whatcom county for our first TSD (timed, competitive). The TSD was the part that we were both pretty nervous about, so we checked and double-checked everything and asked a lot questions, and went for broke. It went pretty smoothly, so we were pretty sure we screwed something up! The next 300 or so miles were transit, do we had a lot of time to think about the evening’s TSD. We arrived early (like by 1.5 hours) and had to wait around for our start time. For the second TSD we were doing really well for the first several controls, but at around 2/3rds in, we came up on a stake truck that was impossible to pass, so we were a minute late by our calculations. We finished the last 75 miles into Quesnel, and waited for our scores. We did awesome(for us) on the first TSD (18.1, lower score is better), and we were right about the second. Our position at the end of day 1 is 11/25. Tomorrow we have an ice slalom and 2 TSDs, so wish us luck.

Prince Rupert to Seattle, 21 hrs.

We got off of the ferry Monday morning at about 6:30am pst, and after a cheerful 20 minutes at customs we were on our way. The long drive to Seattle was pretty uneventful, but the weather was snowier than expected. Tuesday we took care of some last minute work and then went downtown for some burgers and a monorail ride. Today we headed to Kirkland for tech and registration and met some of the other cars, and put on our decals. I’ll try to post pictures of the other cars everyday so you can get an idea of what we’re up against.

Animals- 2 coyotes, 2 otters, one sheep(the kind with twirly horns), lots of cows, horses, and bison.

Fuel: approx 50 gallons.

Ferry & Ketchikan

I woke up a lot last night as it was pretty rough (at least for a land lubber like me) and after a crappy night of sleep, I got out of bed at 630 and realized that I was seasick, really seasick. Breakfast was a no go, so we spent the morning walking around the ship and checking out the scenery. Early in the afternoon I was hanging out in the forward lounge and met the ship’s Purser, Maggie. She was interested in the rally, so we talked about that a bit and also about the iPad, which really is perfect for a trip like this. The ship got into Ketchikan at about 4, and Pete and I walked to Safeway and checked out the mall. We got back to the ship in time for dinner, but just as we sat down Maggie stopped by to invite us on a short tour of town with a few other passengers, so we put away our soup and headed up to the parking lot. We got to see the Totem Bight, Creek Street, and a lot of stuff in between. We stopped at the Sourdough Bar and checked out the shipwreck photos that cover the walls there (also got our yearly fill of secondhand smoke, as you can still smoke in bars here).

All in all, a pretty good day. I don’t know if I’ll be able to post tomorrow, but I’ll try.