Blog Post Archive

Fear is a tricky. Ultimately unavoidable in any meaningful endeavor, whether we're talking business, creative, relationship, or life.

We learn from culture and personal experiences to treat fear as bad, a purely negative experience. Feeling fear is treated as unwelcome, unwanted, and absolutely not a feeling to solicit or risk intentionally.

Yet fear shows up before the most important challenges and worthy objectives we want to conquer. One way to tackle fear is to "feel the fear and do it anyway," which is an aspect of a good approach to handling fear. Simply by acting in the face of fear you do improve your ability to do the same again the next time.

But even with that it's possible we're still treating fear as a negative experience, something to push and suffer through to get to the good stuff.

What if it wasn't all negative? If experiencing fear was an integral part of the experience? Treating fear as your friend who tells you when something is worthwhile, or where your current boundaries lie—and whether you're pushing too far or not pushing enough.

Flipping fear from a negative sign to a guidepost for growth is an incredible way to shift the feeling in the moment from discomfort you just want to run away from to a feeling to dance with. Fear may be a challenging dance partner, but that's the type that forces you to grow the most. By letting go of your need to feel strong, utterly in control, and confident but acting anyway you open up the possibility for the highest experession of yourself. Going with the flow, instead of resisting it can take you to places you would never imagine.

My route into this experience, one which I'm still learning to embrace, is by putting myself in the path of physical fears. When you step up to a jump, try a movement that risks you falling flat on your face, or anything else that triggers a "whoa now, that looks like a bad idea, let's maybe not do this" response from your lizard brain (the amygdala) you've entered a dialogue with your fear. That fear is an adversarial ally, and now it is your task to ask it whether what it's telling you is a bad idea is just a bad idea because you're uncomfortable...or because it is genuinely beyond your current abilities or capacities? Through repeated practice the answer each time becomes clearer.

Do that often enough and your fears shift from loathed adversaries to welcomed partners in the process of pursuing your best life.

Cleaning up some hacked Wordpress sites recently reminded me of why I had shifted my own sites away from it and onto simpler tools which create static sites—in other words, just pure HTML/CSS/JS loaded directly in the browser, no server side processing required.

The original impetus for my own move was to remove the headaches and hassles around securing and maintaining Wordpress sites; note though that you could substitute Wordpress here for any other popular framework, particularly a CMS (Content Management System), Wordpress just happens to be a big target due to it's popularity. It isn't that Wordpress is bad, full-stop, but instead that I wasn't using any of the features that would have made the costs of maintaining it worthwhile.

[Sidebar: Amusingly none of the features that I would find useful enough to choose Wordpress were what Wordpress was originally built for, namely blogging. It's evolved far away from it's original purpose as a blogging tool; one of the reasons why this blog began on Ghost.]

How will someone use your site?

Will they be reading articles, watching videos, listening to podcasts, or more broadly consuming what you create? Or will they (also) be interacting with either your content or each other?

Only the latter justifies a dynamic site, because it requires a form of user authentication and user accounts to make it work.

[There's a third case here, around eCommerce, but that's far more dependent upon the project's size and type of products being sold. There are solid 3rd party services that can handle transactions without needing to manage a store directly on your site.]

I was listening to Gretchen Rubin discuss her new book on habits on a podcast. She pointed out that people tend to gravitate towards one of two general approaches towards making habit changes, which can be referred to as all-or-nothing and everything-in-moderation.

There are strong advocates in both camps, arguing either for absolute rules and no deviation whatsoever or the more laissez-faire approach of allowing for some flexibility in behavior using the 80/20 rule or another similar system.

The problem comes in when we run into a compelling argument or tactic for behavior change, whether it’s coming highly recommended from a friend, a well-regarded book, or a multitude of other sources and fixate on that tactic as the “right” solution. The reality is that there are as many tactics as there are individuals, and what works for that friend or author may be wrong for you. These aren’t new ideas, but the point that caught my attention is how we try to force habit changes using one of these two approaches when that particular approach may not actually suit our personality at all.

The funny thing is that philosophy and personality can conflict. I’m a good example. I love the idea of flexibility and adapting my behavior to the changing situation, but this rarely works well for me when it comes to creating new habits or removing old ones. If there’s any sort of bend in the rules, my willpower typically fails and I end up bending too much.

Thus, for myself, I find that I'm firmly in the all-or-nothing camp for the bulk of habits, doubly so if we're talking about food. I was vegan (full story later, promise) for two years in college and never had issues with breaking from that diet, despite constant ribbing at lunch from co-workers about all the meat I was missing out on (honestly, still not sure how I managed to pull this off for two years...I'm such a carnivore). Having an absolute commandment—“thou shalt not break this rule ever—feels surprisingly easy for me. I just say "no, I don't eat that" and move on, with plenty of willpower to spare.

If you find it easy to set a new rule—as long as it's black and white with no wiggle room—and stick to it seemingly without effort, you're probably better suited for all-or-nothing strategies. If you feel constricted by rules without room for any deviation and can follow an 80/20 (80% adhering, 20% not) style rule without frequent lapses that edge closer to 50/50, then you're probably more of an everything-in-moderation person.

(Of course, to make this more confusing, these aren't absolutes. Odds are, there are some arenas where your typically preferred strategy just doesn't feel right for you.)

Let's look at the case of me and chocolate. If I buy chocolate and bring it back home, the odds of that bar surviving for two days are slim: I’d say one day...except I know from experience that 80%+ dark chocolate in large doses is so not a wise idea if I want to sleep at night. If I know it is in the house, it's gonna get eaten. Thus my favorite habit hack for all-or-nothing types, particularly around food, is to not keep anything in the house you are trying to avoid. Shaping the environment in your favor makes maintaining discipline far easier.

In contrast, perhaps your experience with chocolate is different; it's easy for you to savor a few pieces after dinner, and saving the remainder for the days to come doesn't require much additional willpower to achieve. In that case, having a specified daily or weekly limit, say two pieces per day or one bar per week, is likely to be more of what you need to stick to the habit.

Neither approach is absolutely right, and neither is wrong. The answer is in what works for you. If you reflect on your own experiences and past successes and failures in changing habits, I bet you can see which of these approaches works better for you in most cases.

The question is: which are you? All-or-nothing? Or everything-in-moderation? Knowing that, you can structure your habits accordingly.

Well, that took longer to complete than expected (as always). After experimenting with Docpad for a while I stumbled onto a number of other static site generators, finally selecting Hugo. Hugo's speed—it regenerates the whole site (all 140 pages) within ~1.5 seconds—combined with the flexible structure convinced me to give it a go.

Hugo's speediness is undoubtedly due in part to Go, as in Golang, a newer language originally developed at Google. The beauty of Hugo has been that I've not had to become a master of Golang to understand it. Hugo's templating resembles AngularJS or Handlebars in its love of double curly braces {{ .Title }} and similar setups. Fairly intuitive, although I'm definitely still learning.

For screenshots of the site, head over here or the live site here. Update: all sites I maintain, including this one are currently using Hugo + Netlify.

Design Details

The switch from Wordpress to Hugo is a forward-looking attempt to minimize the amount of maintenance I have to do on the site, and to enable faster changes. While finishing the site took several months—working typically at most an hour a day on it—the process of iterating on the design and testing features was super quick.

Almost all of the testing took place locally, on my computer, and with Hugo's speedy page regeneration I was able to make changes very quickly, without having to debug strange bits of PHP or Javascript code in the process.

Otherwise I went straight from a super simple hand-drawn mockup of the site structure to building out a prototype HTML version within Hugo.

For a while I had the silly idea of coding all the CSS by hand, but that created resistance and getting started on that part of the project was delayed weeks because of it...then I used Skeleton as a base and everything went a billion times faster.

The bulk of designing was getting the initial layout working within the CSS, done through Stylus, and then tweaking it as needed. All done mobile-first, of course.

The one major pivot was with the grid system. Originally I used Skeleton's built-in grids, but I wasn't happy with the way it was working across the entire site, so I switched back to using Jeet, which integrates nicely with Stylus.


What I'm particularly enjoying now is how I can push new posts and changes to the site. I still do all my writing and code locally, testing it without even necessarily needing an internet connection. Once I've finalized the new changes all I have to do is use Git to push the newest changes to the server, and a script will automatically run Hugo to regenerate the folder. Fantastic.

Future Plans

The one major downside to a static site is the lack of a search function. Right now using a Google custom search is a good work around...but Hugo now supports data files (JSON specifically), which should in theory allow for an intuitive site search that still doesn't require a database. We'll see soon(ish) enough.

All in all, while there's certainly a learning curve, I highly recommend Hugo for building a CMS-free site. While I'm enjoying Ghost for this blog, there's a distinct possibility of transitioning this to Hugo as well in the future. Futzing with logins and updates just gets in the way of writing when you're doing this solo.


Yup, decided to transition this site onto Hugo as well, with a new design! In some ways less fancy than the original theme (no jQuery animation tricks added as of yet) but I like it. There's plenty of work to be done around making pagination prettier, adding some CSS animations, and gradual tweaks to typography and styling, but it's a good start.

Larger update (2019 edition)

Much has changed in terms of the plumbing of this site and my others. While all of them are still built using Hugo, since writing this I've transitioned all of my hosting to Netlify, and as part of that transition changed the build process to be based on their Victor Hugo boilerplate. As part of that transition the two major changes have been to my CSS pre-processor, from Stylus to PostCSS (I love the modularity, though sometimes getting specific plugins to function can be finnicky) and my task runner and builder from Gulp to Webpack. Overall I'm happy with the new setup, as now I can simply push changes to my git repo staged, in this case, on Bitbucket and Netlify automatically rebuilds the site each time it detects a change, plus gives me logs of errors if anything in the build process fails. So far so good, with the only significant challenge I'm finding with this method is cleanly updating the Victor Hugo boilerplate files (package.json and sometimes the webpack config) without losing my own changes to the tooling. Doesn't happen often but it does add a few hours of tinkering when it does cause issues, but that's the life of anything that relies on Node packages for functionality.

I won't usually put in video editing stuff, as it tends to be straightforward. However today was a bit of playing around with fonts for the intro along with some subtle music syncing to a short clip.

...or is it? I've been busier with After Effects now that I've officially begun helping with the VFX side of the film I referenced in the last post. For that I've signed an NDA so the actual projects and experiments I'm working on right now for it I'm not sharing here.

What I can share are some of tutorials I'm working through to learn my way around certain effects which I've been modifying to suit the desired style—currently working on titles.

With that, here's project 5, following on Video Co-pilot disintegration tutorial.

Project 5

Time to complete: ~2 hours

(Note: in this case the above demo is for a simplified version of the final tutorial effect. There were a bunch of further steps to add particles, smoke, and green screen compositing that I didn't wrap up).

The escalating complexity of a project like this is amazing. The final composition for the video there had approximately 12 layers, with many of those containing pre-compositions with even more layers inside them. For the effect I'm actually creating for titles right now there are around 20 layers at least, and that's without creating a title fade effect yet, which will likely double that.

I'm gaining massive respect for professional visual effects artists through all of this, and I've barely scratched the surface of what's possible with After Effects...let alone programs like Cinema 4D or Nuke.

In a couple months I'll be able to show the real results of the team's collective efforts on the film. ;)

This project drifts away from motion graphics towards visual effects. I've been participating and helping with an indie film over the past several months, including editing. We're working our way through that but there's also a huge amount of VFX work to be done with it being a sci-fi film.

So this project of learning motion graphics and After Effects coincides nicely with that, and presents a fantastic challenge to apply the skills to something more real.

With that, I worked on creating a shockwave effect, based on this tutorial. I doubt I'll use it specifically for the movie, but the techniques have potential applications for sci-fi effects.

Project 4

Time to Complete: 2:30 hours over two days.


After Effects, from a learning perspective, is an odd tool/skillset. In many other programs learning the fundamentals of the interface and how to create an efficient workflow is often much of the actual challenge. All the extra tools, effects, filters, and such are just bonuses to be learned over time.

But with After Effects it seems that a critical piece of being good at it is understanding the bevy of effects you have to work with, how to manipulate them to achieve a desired effect, and how to combine effects together to create compositions with greatly magnified complexity.

This project is a perfect example. The entire thing is built around one effect, Fractal Noise (anyone who's used Photoshop a bit would recognize them as Render Clouds). Animating the fractal and then applying a Polar Coordinates effect to transform a linear effect into a radial one...

...and then continuing to stack on effects, duplicate versions of the shockwave; layering on more and more complexity with each pass.

There's a unexpectedly large room for creativity here even in the subtle modifications on what are basically generative algorithms. I'm quite curious to see how I'll be able to push creative boundries within this frame as time goes on.

What an odd week. Ended up away from my computer (unexpected, in a good way, road-trip to D.C.) or otherwise without real time to commit to opening up After Effects and thus am a bit behind on new projects.

But before that happened I ran across an awesome new resource for tutorials, where I found this Polygon animation tutorial:

It looks slick, but is far less complicated to create than what the end product would suggest.

Project 3

Time to Complete: ~2 hours.

Decided to do this whole tutorial in one-go and make my own customizations to it on the fly. The end result is this:

  Not too bad. I can tell I'll be re-using the principles and effects used for this animation—and potentially doing more of these with similar shapes—for future projects.

Things to learn & improve:

  • Adding sound effects.
  • Better use of time remapping. Even after a few tweaks the slow down around ~2s in isn't great.
  • Experimenting with different shapes. The method covered allows for any vector shape to have the effect applied to it.
  • Better use of textures. There is a subtle grain to the background (I used a rice paper texture), which could be improved with a more distinctive texture.

And with less fan fare here's the second project! Like the first it ended up taking three days (sessions as it were) of work.

Unlike the first this was following along with a specific tutorial on creating trailer titles. The original source tutorial examples had a metalic and gunmetal vibe, so I went looking for a short quote that might work.

The Book of Five Rings is always a good source for philosophical quotes on fighting, and thus this one felt perfect.

You can only fight the way you practice.

In spirit of the quote, and of the endeavor, the final product has similar contours to the tutorial's subject matter, but in the details I went my own way. With creative projects you learn far more from following with the technique while exploring new directions with the substance of the work.

The changes in this case were by chance. I didn't like the lens flare effect that was originally called for, and substituted a paper texture for the background. The burn-in effect was a total accident when trying different blending modes which ended up creating nice beginning and ending transitions.

Next project may be a cool lower-thirds animation.

A thirty day challenge is an excellent way to build a new habit (and highly recommended), but to learn a new skillset?

You need more time. While thirty days will lay the foundation, via the habit, of practice, it most often takes longer to get past the novice stage where everything you make or do feels subpar.

As an experiment I'm extending the focused period of practice to ninety days. The first thirty will still serve to build the scaffolding of habit along with a passing fluency with the tools (in this case Adobe After Effects). Beyond that it will shift to creative exploration and application; pushing the basics further and further.

Admittedly the skill I'm interested in, motion graphics, is not one I haven't tried before. I have flirted with the skill a few times but never consistently practiced it, and thus I never got past the awkward first twenty hours of practice and learning.

It took some inspiration in the form of a tutorial to flip my mindset. Before I believed that doing anything cool in After Effects was hundreds of hours in the future, but after watching that I realized it was possible to create amazing effects far sooner. Stunning? Probably not, but good enough to have a sense of forward momentum.


A challenge like this wouldn't be useful without a daily habit to provide structure. In this case, because even the smallest of projects is quite time consuming, the daily challenge is not to create one thing per day, but instead to spend at least 30 minutes a day working on a project.

On top of that my sub-task is to make use of at least one new technique on each project. Mine are sourced from the course I'm following along with (from the same author).

The first project

This one took three days to create.

The phrase is inspired by Seth Godin and his book the Icarus Deception.

Techniques used: fly-bys, 3D text layers, and track mattes.

A bit less dynamic than I'd prefer. On the short-list of techniques to work on are working with cameras and creating more natural motion paths.

What skill do you want to learn?

For just about anything, especially technical skills, there's a resource out there on the internet to get you on the path. Access to instruction is rarely an obstacle now.

A few resources I've used and recommend for learning new skills are:

  • Skillshare - Exceptional for design skills in particular.
  • Treehouses - The best site I've run across to learn development and web design. I spent ~60 hours on their Front-End Development track and learned much from it, even from materials that were mostly review for me.
  • Tutsplus - They cover the broadest range of skills of these first three and have more courses on specific subjects, particularly within design and most importantly for me with audio/video.
  • Fizzle - Business training on the whole. The video production is top notch (one of my inspirations for learning about motion graphics, actually).
  • Coursera - University courses, so it can be trickier to find the exact topic you're looking for, but great when you find them.

Along with those MIT OpenCourseWare and Lynda are loaded with options, although I have yet to explore them myself.

I'm the type that enjoys being alone with my thoughts. Yet I still find it hard sometimes to be okay with choosing to do something alone instead of being social.

Yet there seems to be a powerful connection between time spent alone, with our own thoughts, and creativity.

Forest Bathing

An idea garnered from conversations with a friend. Both of us, from time to time, feel a pull towards a natural space—to relax, to think, to move away from the noise and distractions of daily life. But it's not so much about escaping all noise, I think, but rather about creating the space for our own noise; our inner voice or whatever you prefer to call it (intuition or otherwise).

By allowing for the time and space to mentally wander one seems to open the doors to greater creativity and discovering synergistic solutions to whatever is preoccupying your mind.

In my own case it's those times when I find a quiet space (usually in nature, if I can) or walk through the woods that I gain the greatest clarity or get those little creative insights—jotting them down in a notebook in hopes of finding a use for them later.

But, and maybe this is partly because of some stigma against intentional solitude, I find that I don't proactively create these quiet spaces. Instead they are sought once I can't not do so, because I need to de-stress to avoid feeling overwhelmed or uncertain.

Lately I have created that space more frequently and feel far better, on average, than I have in the past, despite plenty of stresses to worry about. Turns out there's a bunch of good research on the subject, so to end this (still) open-loop of thought I'll leave you with a couple of excellent articles to explore: