Does someone have to become poor for you to become rich?

I recently read Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust , Why that is a Problem, and What to do About It.

Dream Hoarders is a book with a good point hidden in a really annoying lecture.

The premise: Because of our society and our culture, the upper middle class is becoming a hereditary station in American life, not the meritocracy we imagine.

The author’s flaw in logic: In order for poor kids to become rich, rich kids need to become poor. He seems to believe that people cannot become upper middle class unless people leave the upper middle class. He’s obsessed with the way he measures classes, by the top 20% of income earners or the top 10% of wealth holders. I believe instead that class could be measured by what you are able to do or what you have access to. I don’t believe only a certain percentage of people should be allowed to read or go to college.

The annoying part: The author believes the book’s audience is the upper middle class (which seems reasonable) and he uses the first half of the book to lecture them about how they are keeping out poor people by ensuring their kids’ success.

The good: In the second half of the book, the author actually gets to some potential solutions that are not “sink the rich”. These include:

  1. Better birth control. If people can plan families better, they will have kids when they can best plan and take care of them.
  2. Home visits. The early years make a huge difference in a person’s life and home visits can help make sure parents have the support they need.
  3. Better teachers. Our best teachers go to our best schools. We need a way to incentivize them — or make it worth their effort — to go to schools that serve more disadvantaged students. The author says a good teacher can make more of a difference than smaller class size or even more funding.
  4. Cheaper college. The author argues against free college and against plans like the 523 college plan which he says benefit the middle class. But he still argues we need more affordable colleges for everyone. He also argues that the bar is rising and you need a graduate degree to distinguish yourself.
  5. Zoning. In the US, schools receive tax money from the neighborhoods they serve. This means that wealthier neighborhoods provide more funding for their schools. The author argues for more mixed neighborhoods so that poorer families have access to better schools as well as better networks.
  6. Legacy admissions. The author argues that legacy admissions — giving preference to alum’s kids in college entrance — is really hurting our meritocracy. The author was really upset about this one. I wondered if it had impacted him or if legacy admissions just really seemed ridiculous to him.
  7. Open internships. The author argued that internships should be treated like jobs and subject to laws like minimum wage. Otherwise, only those that can afford to live in New York City or San Francisco and work for free will be able to take advantage of them.

I also really liked the author’s point that a meritocracy works when all kids come equally prepared to opportunities. It’s not enough to give all kids the same opportunities, we need to make sure they have the same preparation for those opportunities.

If parents watched math tests like they watch sports

Photo by A Healthier Michigan

I’ve been watching kids sports for 12 years now and I’ve seem some crazy behavior from parents. Every once in a while, I wonder if there’s some way to channel all this extra energy and support into academics.

What if parents followed their kids’ math tests like they follow their kids’ football games?

Whenever I mention this possibility at a game, parents give me a blank look. No one laughs, no one explores the idea, they just look at me like I don’t get it. Which obviously I don’t.

Most parents cheer on their kids during games. I’ve seen them cheer on base hits, yell with delight when they catch the ball, support their kids after heart breaking poor plays, hug them after falls, cheer them on during new accomplishments, celebrate wins, pay for extra coaching and spend time practicing with them.

Some times the support is not so positive. I’ve listened to parents yell non-stop at their kids. “RUN. RUN. RUN. THROW IT! DON’T DROP IT. SLIDE!” (I always wonder why the parents just don’t play themselves.) I’ve seen them chew their kids out after the game for bad plays. My favorite was the dad yelling “LOOK LIKE YOU’RE HAVING SOME FUN OUT THERE!”

But what is clear through this all is that parents really, really want their kids to do well in sports and they are willing to spend hours each week driving them to practices, watching them play and giving them advice.

Sports are typically events with an audience

I think it’s great parents support their kids and I understand that team sports are about entertainment. That typically sports games have an audience. And that the audience enjoys watching the game and cheers on their team. However, the experience changes drastically when the audience member has a vested interest in single player’s success. When they feel they are responsible for that player’s success. Suddenly it’s not hoping your team wins but it’s doing everything possible from the stands to make sure your player wins. And to make sure your player does not lose. And since you aren’t playing the game, you reduced to encouraging and yelling. And paying for extra coaching afterwards.

What if we followed our kids’ school achievements with that same amount of energy? What if we spent hours watching our kids practice and compete in English essays and Geometry tests? What if we stood over their shoulder during tests and yelled “Great sentence structure! Love that adjective!” and “No! No! No! That’s not a division problem. Add! Add! Add!”

I’m sure it would help our kids do better in school, don’t you?

Originally published on Medium.

No Doors Podcast: How to have Difficult Conversations with your loved ones

How to have a productive disagreement with your loved ones in a way that you can stay friends with them.

How to have a productive disagreement with your loved ones in a way that you can stay friends with them.

0:38 If I were you …
1:50 Lose the anger
2:13 Don’t try to change their mind
3:07 Talk one on one
4:08 Keep it short
4:45 Summary

You can also listen to this podcast. Or subscribe to the podcast No Doors on :

Why People Don’t Contribute to Your Open Source Project

I just listened to Mike McQuaid‘s FOSDEM talk, Why People Don’t Contribute to Your Open Source Project.  If you are interested in communities and how they grow, I highly recommend you take a half hour and watch it.

Some of the things I got from the talk:

  • I get asked a lot what the difference between a contributor and a maintainer is. Mike does a great job of explaining it around minute 4:00. Contributors are people who write code or docs or do triage for your project but who need help from others to get their work included. Maintainers are people that review and merge contributions.
  • You should users as your source for contributors. The type of contributor that is not a user is not likely someone you want.
  • Once maintainers are not users, they are not likely to continue contributing. So if you stop using your project, you need to start recruiting someone else to maintain it because it’s unlikely that you’ll continue to maintain it.
  • Most maintainers are talked into it. Nobody thinks they are qualified at first.

I did wonder what Mike would think about open source software projects where most of the contributors are people paid by a company to work on it. There are projects that are unlikely to be used by individuals, that are primarily supported by paid contributors. Do the same rules apply?

Do not mention time when giving a talk

One of the challenges of public speaking is timing your talk.  And paying attention to that timing without distracting your audience.

Do not mention the time to the audience.
Do not say you only have 5 minutes.
Do not say you won’t take up too much of their time.
Do not point out you finished with one minute left.
Do not mention you are running a couple of minutes over.
Do not ask for a time check.

If you focus your audience’s attention on time, they will think about time, instead of the topic you’d like them to be thinking about.

The one exception is if someone is waving a huge placard saying you have 5 minutes left, distracting both you and the audience. In that case, nod to acknowledge them and go on with your talk.

You should focus on leaving your audience with one key message. And that message should not be how you are delivering your presentation unless your talk is about presenting!

How do you rate books?

Every time I rate a book, I struggle with what I’m rating it on.

Both Amazon and GoodReads use a 5 star system. If I loved the book, that’s easy. However, what if I liked the book except for the ridiculous stereotypical romance that was a minor theme. Do I ding it half a star? What if I read a romance and it’s really well written and the character development is good but I hate romances? Do I rate it on how good of a romance it is? (Maybe pretty good.) Or on how well I liked it?(Maybe not at all.)

And it depends on who I’m rating it for: me, friends, potential readers or authors. If these ratings are just for me, maybe to remember how I like a book or for some system to recommend books for me, then it’s simpler. I’ll rate it based on much I liked it overall. But these ratings are also for our friends to see if books are good. And if you leave your rating on Amazon, it’s used to make recommendations to potential purchasers. I’ve also had authors reach out to me and ask me to write a review because I’ve rated their book.

I really want a rating system with many more subcategories. Readability, character development, plot, dialog, descriptions, … And each category of book might have an additional subset of categories. Nonfiction books might have an accuracy category. Science fiction books might have a universe category.

How do you choose to rate a book? Do you just pick a star rating based on how you feel? Or do you have a system? Who are you rating it for?

It’s u̶n̶acceptable to not know it all

It’s become unacceptable to not know it all. And in today’s world of information overload, that’s not ok. It’s not doable, so we are fooling ourselves.

I find myself silently thanking people who look confused when some famous person is named or some incident is mentioned or a meme is laughed at. Keeping track of all the current affairs is getting harder and harder and the looks when you don’t know what they are referencing are getting more and more incredulous.

I care. I really do. I care who leads our country. I care about all the issues facing us. I care about who (and what) is influential today. I care about all the people negatively (and positively) affected by daily events. I care about all the people affected by our changing political climate. But I can’t keep track of them. And I certainly can’t be educated on all of them and be a good advocate for the right thing all the time.

It used to be that you were well educated if you knew your political leaders, their competition, the capitals of every country, the name of their leaders and their basic political structure. In addition, you usually also knew about major conflicts and the top issues facing every region.

Now you are expected to know about hundreds of famous influencers, thousands of issues and millions of affected people.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep track of *all* current affairs and do my job and raise my kids and stay healthy. I can’t advocate for all the worthy causes out there. And that’s ok. However, I need it to also be ok for everyone to ask “dumb” questions. When someone doesn’t know what’s going on in Alabama, it should be ok for them to say “so what just happened in Alabama?” and not get incredulous stares that they haven’t been following their Facebook feed.

We seem to have decided that it’s not only important for everyone to know everything but it’s important for everyone to share their opinion about every major happening on social media or they aren’t supporting the cause. It’s like people feel as if they aren’t a good person if they don’t like or share every worthy announcement. Like they aren’t a good person if they aren’t informed about every trending topic. (I’ll ignore for now whether or not the trending topics are actually representative of current affairs.)

I make sure I make educated votes. I try to follow the high level news. I read the newspaper and my social media feed every day. I ask questions in conversations when I don’t understand all aspects of the issue. I speak out when people seem to be forming opinions based on missing information. And I try to be brave enough to ask questions when I have no idea what people are talking about.

Let’s focus again on the level of news that lets us all make a difference, not the level that makes us all feel like it’s a full time job to stay in touch with the world and so we tune out because we already have several full time jobs.

Originally published on Medium.

Chefs don’t believe in Four Burners

I read the Four Burner theory and I call bullshit.

Mozillians cooking.

The Four Burner theory says that your life can be represented by a stove with four burners, one each for family, friends, work and health. The theory goes that you can only do two of them well because a chef can only pay attention to two burners at once. So you can do great in your career and with your family but you’ll be in poor health. Or you can be in good health and have great friends but your career will suffer.

What kind of chef came up with that theory?

Any good chef knows you plan out your meal. You know when to start each dish so that you can do the labor intensive things in a series of moves. You might start by chopping everything for one dish, move to sautéing another set of ingredients all while water is coming to a boil. You think about all the dishes before hand, go to the grocery store once, plan when you are going to start each thing and make sure you have the appropriate pans. Execution is important but it is only possible because you planned. You can have a four burner meal with the right planning. It just takes planning, practice and experience.

You can have a four burner meal with the right planning. It also takes practice and experience.

The same with life. You plan your career, your family, your friends and health.


You can’t dictate how each quadrant of your life is going to go but you make a plan for how you want it to be and you figure out what you need to do to head in that direction. If you want to get in better physical shape, you can sign up for a Crossfit gym. If you want to lose weight, you read a book on nutrition. If you want a better relationship with your kids, you can schedule time to hang out with your kids in the evening. If you want to progress your career, you can sign up for a programming class.


Just like the chef doesn’t start all the dishes at once, you don’t tackle all four areas of your life at once. Maybe you spend 3 months focusing on getting in shape. You sign up for a regular yoga class twice a week and weight lifting twice a week and you work on making it a habit. Once that’s done, you work on the next thing while making sure you can keep your fitness habits. If you fail (you burn the dish, i.e. stop going to yoga), you start over. You practice.

Learn tricks

Chefs learn techniques, they get better at what they do. You learn what works for you in life. You get better at communication at work. You learn what time of day your kids are most willing to hang with you. You learn what type of exercise you like. You learn which friends are best to go out to eat with and stick to your nutrition plan. You learn by trying. And maybe you can’t try something new on each of the four burners at once, but over time, you’ll accumulate techniques for each of the areas of your life.

Like a good chef, your plan for life can encompass more than two burners. It just takes time, some planning and lots of practice.

Originally published on Medium.