claudiolassala

Claudio is a Principal Consultant at Improving Houston. He has been developing software for 25+ years. When not building software, consulting with clients, doing presentations, delivering training, or hanging out with his family, he can probably be found working on his music.

Homepage: https://claudiolassala.wordpress.com

On Failure

An artist I look up to is Devin Townsend. He is an amazing singer, prolific songwriter, hilarious in his performance, and a great mind.

Months ago, I’ve run into the Devin Townsend Challenge video. From its description: “Get a unique insight into Devin Townsend’s creative process in this two-hour video where he records a completely new track from scratch.” I was intrigued and am glad I’ve watched the whole thing. It’s not everyday we get a chance to witness a brilliant mind at work.

Devin’s albums and concerts are always very polished. Everything looks and sounds flawless. This is one of my favorite songs and performances by him: Devin Townsend’s Kingdom

The most important thing I got out of his “challenge” was his transparency into his process. He didn’t try to make anything look or sound perfect. He showed how he fails many times until he finds what he’s looking for. He also shows how he uses certain building blocks that have worked well for him, which are part of his musical fingerprint, so new creations come out a little easier.

I then found this great article:

Devin Townsend’s Advice to Younger Musicians: “You Need to Learn How to Fail Efficiently”

The title of that article alone already makes me sit back and think about it.

How much effort goes into trying NOT to fail? That’s a waste of energy. We’re not likely to get it right the first time. And even if we do, what do we learn from it? I don’t know who said this, but it’s a good quote: “It’s only failure if you don’t learn from it”.

A few weeks ago I’ve put up a dartboard in the house. Say I walk up to it, throw the first dart, hoping to hit the bullseye, and it doesn’t come even close. I can get frustrated, say I suck, throw the 2nd dart, and do even worse. Or, I can throw the 1st dart accepting that I may not hit the bullseye, but being aware of things such as how I’m holding the dart, how I’m aiming, how much force I’m using to throw, the dart’s trajectory, etc. Then I see the result, and try it again, learning off the experience I’ve just had, coming up with a new plan (throw higher, softer, relax the arm, etc.) and then there’s a good chance the 2nd throw will go a little better. Rinse and repeat.

So, as Devin says, we need to learn how to fail efficiently, so we aren’t afraid of failing, and are better equipped to give our best and learn with the experience.

I love this quote from a TV show I’ve never watched:

“Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” – Jake, “Adventure Time”

We all have a tendency to see successful people and get frustrated when we can’t repeat their success. We compare our beginning to someone else’s middle. We don’t think of all the roads they tried to get to where they are. I think of Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek hugely successful book, and how it was rejected 25 times, before he finally got an offer from a publisher. 25 times! We are always afraid of failing one single time, let alone 25 times.

Here’s a great 5-minute talk on Why You Need to Fail, by Derek Sivers.

There are many things I want to do, many goals to pursue. I’ll add a task to each one as a reminder to ask myself “how can I fail efficiently?”.

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There Once Was a Magazine…

I have mentioned about the importance of technical communities for me. This month, I take a moment to reflect upon something I was doing related to communities 20 years ago: in January of 2001, the first issue of RapoZine was released!

Still living in Brazil at the time and participating in a community that craved for content in Portuguese for Visual FoxPro, I got together with two other members of the community to put out this little magazine. Leandro W. and I would each write half of the content, and Nilton P. would take care of the website where people could subscribe.

We’d print out the pages at whichever company we were working at the time, and mail it out to the subscribers. Simple and easy. Nothing fancy needed. The community was craving for content! For that first issue, we also enjoyed an article contributed by Ellen W., from CoDe Magazine.

In its first year, we had about 120+ subscribers.

It was a ton of work to get monthly content written and put out like that. That’s how I got started on technical writing.

The name RapoZine was a combination of “Raposa” (Fox in Portuguese) and “magazine”.

When the printing and mailing costs got too high, we eventually alternated into a digital version. The articles were created in HTML, compiled into a password-protected EXE file, and a download link was sent to the subscribers. I need to dig up some old backup files… I may still find some of those issues here.

With my plans to move to the US in 2002, I didn’t have time to keep the magazine running. Fortunately, the main worldwide FoxPro community at the time, the Universal Thread, which also had their own electronic magazine, UTMag, approached me to join forces, and we merged UTMag/RapoZine for the community. The magazine became free for all, and published in three languags: English, Portuguese, and Spanish! The Universal Thread had a great system to allow translators to collaborate and get the content out. I continued as a co-editor and coordinator for the translation team. About a year later, the Univeral Thread acquired RapoZine, and I stepped away to pursue other goals.

When I was reading Richard Branson’s autobiography last year, and learning about how he started his professional life with Student Magazine, it got me thinking back to RapoZine.

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2020: Annual Review

Time for my traditional Annual Review, which started back in 2015. While some people, understandably, have strong reasons to completely erase 2020 off their minds, I have worked hard to build great memories in the midst of everything that was going on.

So, let’s start from where my 2019: Annual Review ended. At the time, here are the things I said I was working towards:

  • Continue Growing Beyond the Track
  • SportBike Track Riding
  • Solid initiatives at Improving
  • Get better at Spanish

I can check all those boxes! Each one of those are covered below.

What went well in 2020?

Continue growing Beyond the Track: a beautiful, professional logo has been created. I’ve printed cards, which members of my community give out to other riders they meet at the track, strengthening our networking. A new banner has been made for us to fly it at the tracks. The community is growing closer together, great friendships are forming, more and more people are stepping up to help produce content for the monthly meetings (which have successfully continued as online events). Members of the community are making custom leather suits and having the BTT logo put on it. We train together, we grow together.

SportBike Track Riding: I had to adjust the path to achieve my riding goals, and it worked out great given the constraints. I’ve received coaching, and as it turns out, it seems like I’ve also been coaching.

Solid initiatives at Improving: the initiatives I’ve been involved with have been working out well and are growing, and I am very excited and energized to keep working at it.

Get better at Spanish: One of my goals was to give my first talk in Spanish. in June, I experienced synchronicity at its best, as Improving acquired iTexico, and we were joined by 300 professionals whose primary language is Spanish. I gave the talk in December.

Blog posts: I’ve set a new personal record in number of posts published in a single year in the 16 years since I’ve started this blog. Most important, several posts have triggered great conversations, recommendations, networking, thoughts that inspired new posts.

Music: I’ve set a new personal record in number of songs I’ve recorded and published in a year, by putting out two cover songs and three original songs.

Virtual Brown Bag: people have been asking me over the years if I’d be bringing the VBB back. My good old friend George was up for it, and we’ve been hosting the weekly VBBs since April!

Book Reading: I’ve cranked up my reading habits up a notch and set a new personal record of books read in a year. I’ve read some great ones, focused on building my book library, improved my book reading, read some great titles, and my slots for reading-time are something I look up to every day.

Improving’s handle of the situation: I am so happy to be a part of this company. Our leadership’s handle of such a tough situation has been top-notch and inspiring. The care for our people, not just our employees but also our families, the way we lean in to help our clients, the quick shift to continue offering value through weekly virtual events, the way we’ve reinvented ourselves to keep offering high-quality consulting and training. The list goes on and on.

What’s with all those personal records? Those were deliberate. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have worked hard to make sure I’d have great memories to remember 2020 by. Whenever I go through challenges and hardships in the future, I can always come back to this post and remind myself that I have what I need in me to overcome adversities. I do have more highlights, but those are to be kept in my personal records.

What didn’t go so well?

No steady workout routine: much like in previous years, I haven’t been able to keep a steady workout routine. I did really well for several months having a great daily routine, but then I got out of it. I coming up with a plan to tackle that.

Cancellations due to the pandemic: there wasn’t a lot I could have done about this one. Fortunately, I believe I handled it well; the most important things were simply postponed.

Eating habits: both what and when I eat have suffered since the start of the pandemic. Fixing the when should be easy. Fixing the what, not so much for me.

What am I working toward?

Book reading: I plan to keep the same daily habits I’ve sustained since March, and adding a habit to review at least one previoulsy read book every month. I’m looking for lessons that have stuck with me, as well as those I haven’t quite grasped the first time through.

Sharpening technical skills: Most books I’ve been reading aren’t technical. For that end, I plan on going through at least one Pluralsight course every month.

Blogging: I plan on putting out at least one blog post every week, to any of my blogs (this one, the music one, or the Beyond the Track one).

Publishing my book: I want to see the book I’ve been working on published this year. Since this is my first book, it’s been a fun project, learning a lot of things, having frequent conversations with my co-author, and taking my writing skills to a new level.

Keep growing Beyond the Track: similarly to last year, I’ll continue actively working both on my riding skills, as well as growing my community, as well as the experiences I provide it.

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2021 is Here: What’s the Excuse Now?

A lot of things didn’t get done in 2020 because it was deemed as the main blocker to everything; somehow, the year was perceived to have such power.

I kept myself thinking “Comes January 1st, how is it going to be different?”.

So here we are, it’s January 1st of 2021. What’s the excuse now?

When I opened the notebook to do my journaling this morning, coincidentally, I was presented with this quote at the top of the page (and no, this notebook isn’t calendar-based):

In life you can have an excuse, or you can have an obstacle that is an opportunity to learn and to grow. Observe your thoughts and throw away your excuses! – Dean Graziosi

Since the pandemic started I was decided not to wait for things to get better; instead, I had decided to make things get better, however possible. As I look back, I’ve succeeded at times, I’ve failed at times, but I never stopped. And that’s how I’m continuing on.

No excuses!

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Leveraging Constraints

When we’re constrained, we have a chance to get creative. This is a topic that keeps coming up, and I have been thinking about how this has applies to my life.

I hadn’t heard of Dr. Seuss until I moved to the US. I enjoyed reading the back story to his Green Eggs and Ham book, in which he took on a bet that he could write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words.

Somewhere else (I can’t find the source now, but I believe it was on a blog post by Tim Ferriss), there’s the question of “how would we do that if we only had one third of the resource?”, so 1 month instead of 3, $10k instead of $30k.

In his autobiography, Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to be an actor, but was told he’d never make it, because he had a name nobody can speak or spell, a thich accent, and a huge body that won’t look good on camera. He used those Underdog Advantages in his favor. The Obstacle is the Way also talks about this idea.

More recently, I’ve read the following in this book: “Imagine a Being who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. What does such a Being lack? The answer: Limitation.

I think back to when I was a kid and video-game magazines started to give away cheat codes that turned us unbeatable. After trying it on one or two games, I realized I quickly lost interest in those games. What was the point of playing it if I can do everything effortlessly?

When I got injured last year and it took me 3 months to be fully-recovered, I made a point to myself of pushing through it regardless of my physical limitations and pain during that time, and ended up being more productive than during the months leading into it.

In 2020, with the limitations imposed by the pandemic, I’ve once again focused on a system that allowed me to push through it, and got a TON of valuable things done, which mightn’t be the case if the year had just been a smooth sail.

I’m now experimenting with creating self-imposed constraints on a number of projects and tasks.

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My Favorite Quotes in 2020

Back in 2017, I’ve put out a blog post about Quotes that Inspire Me. As it turns out, I’m still using the same sources for quotes I was using back then, but I’ve also added a couple more (I may share the new ones if they stick around with me a little longer).

Below is the list of quotes I’ve enjoyed the most in 2020. As I review them, I realize they have inspired many of my blog posts.

Enjoy!

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” – Cyril Connolly

“Most people quit because they look how far they have to go, not how far they have come.” – Anonymous

“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create.” – Jana Kingsford

“Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.” – Haruki Murakami

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” – Fred Rogers

“Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” – James Clear

“He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.” – Jean-Luc Godard

“A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals character” – (I don’t know the author)

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” – Anaïs Nin

“Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.” – Ben Okri

“Do not wish for an easy life. Wish for the strength to endure a difficult one.” – Bruce Lee

“There are seven days in the week and someday isn’t one of them.” – Unknown

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” – Eckhart Tolle

“‎Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of others, instead, seek what they sought.” – Matsuo Basho

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” – Vince Lombardi

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

“You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.” – James Clear

“Don’t write to sound smart. Write to be useful. If you’re useful over a long time period, you will end up looking smart anyway.” – James Clear

“It’s a job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Vision is the bottleneck of talent. Most talent is wasted because people do not clearly know what they want. It’s not a lack of effort, but a lack of direction. There are many capable people in the world, but relatively few that focus on what matters.” – James Clear

“There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela

“Ask yourself, who do you want to be? Figure out for yourself what makes you happy, no matter how crazy it may sound to other people.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” – Bill Nye

“Go beyond yourself rather than beyond others.” – Unknown

“It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the business of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.” – Stephen Covey

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions – not outside” – Marcus Aurelius

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Do You Want Good or Bad News First?

How often are we asked “I have good news and bad news: which one do you want first?”. Whose decision is it to define news as either good or bad? How about we simply say: “I have news. Would you like to hear it?”

What’s good for one person, may be (it often is) bad for another:

“YES! Great news: my team has won the championship!”. I know, you team beat mine. Good for you, bad for me.

“Woohoo, I got a new job!”. I know, that means all of the other candidates didn’t. But hey, maybe one of those candidates ended up landing an even better job. Better for whom?

“Sir, you arrived too late. The gate is already closed and you can’t board flight 123.
“What? << insert an endless list of bad words and insults here >>”. Bad news?
Thirty minutes later: “Breaking News: flight 123 has crashed, claiming the lives of all people on board

Bad News (“can’t get on the plane“) turned to Good News (“I didn’t die!”) for Mr. Dirtymouth?
Good News (“we boarded”) turned to Bad News (“we died”) for all passengers who got on the plane?

Relaying news to others without loading it with our personal bias is a very hard thing to do. Our choice of words, the intonation, the emphasis, the body language, the facial expression… all of those things can influence howa person receives and perceives the news. As if our constant struggle with the story we tell ourselveswasn’t hard enough.

Learning to take a step back and separate facts from interpretation and judgment requires a constant deliberate practice.

Your first reaction is usually outdated. – Derek Sivers

Is that good or bad news? We’ll see (yet another great post by Sivers).

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Time Will Pass Anyway

“Slow progress? So what, time will pass one way or another.” I don’t remember where I’ve read that quote, but I always think of it. Much like this one, which I’ve read on The Artist’s Way:

Student: “But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?”
Teacher: “Yes… the same age you will be if you don’t.”

Not far from what I’ve shared about the Search for Perfection.

When I release my latest song, an old friend told me this: “I see your videos and think they’re really cool, and I feel envious because I can’t get my stuff together like you do.

That comment inspired this post, which contains some of the things I’ve shared with him…

The main riffs for that song were written 10 years ago. I wrote the main ideas for the lyrics 5 years ago, and I finished the main structure of the song around the same time. I started recording the song in April this year. I’ve only finished lyrics, vocals, guitar solos around September/October, and the song was finally released in November.

Ten years.

I have many other songs that have been in-progress for years now: 5 years for two of them, 13 years for another, and there’s one sitting in the backburner that goes back to 1995.

Do all of my songs take that long from initial conception to release? No. Sometimes it takes me as little as 2 to 3 months. No specific reason; I may just feel like I have all of the parts and so it happens I have the time to get it all done quickly.

However little time I have, I record song ideas on my phone and store it away in a backlog. I write ideas for lyrics and put it away. Every once in a while, I listen back to those ideas, and if I feel an urge to work on any one of them, I make the time and make some progress. Sometimes I may be able to wrap it all up within a month, other times it may take me years. No biggie.

For me, it’s important to get it started, get the ball rolling. When it’s done, it’s done. Time has passed. Progress has been made. Results have been achieved.

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The Search for Perfection

“Perfection” has an expiration date. Yesterday’s perfect may be today’s “meh”.
I watched Tony Robbins’ interview with Shaun White not too long ago. When they mentioned Shaun’s Perfect 100 Score at the 2012 Winter X Games, I looked for it on YouTube. To me, it looked stunning. It’s just unbelievable that people can do that. As I scroll down the comments, I see this one: “Probably a 93 today”.

A perfect score yesterday won’t guarantee a perfect score today. Not without work towards progress. Yesterday’s competitors will learn from that perfect score. I like this sentence I’ve read in The Obstacle is the Way: think progress, not perfection.

Year’s ago, I’ve read Derek Sivers’ summary of the Art and Fear book. This passage has stuck with me:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be greaded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weight the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

“Better good today than perfect tomorrow”, comes to mind.

I keep those things in mind whenever I see myself with tons of ideas but not starting them because I may not have what I consider ideal to get it done (“not enough time”, “not enough money”, “not enough skills”, etc.).

I have been putting out many songs over the last several years. Every time I’m working on a new one, I may think “if I learn how to play the drums better”, “if I learn more music theory”, “if I learn how to sing better”. But I’m getting better at realizing I’m falling into that trap and quickly shifting into getting it started, working on it, getting it done, and moving on. Next time, it gets a little better, and so it does the time after that. Instead of waiting 10 years to have the perfect song (which I know won’t happen), I get done however I can, with whatever I have.

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Work Soundtrack

I enjoy having some music playing while I work; even more so if I’m using the Pomodoro Technique. But I’m very specific about my work soundtrack!

If what I’m doing the requires deep thinking, I need instrumental music. Most often, that’d be classical music (Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Bach, Chopin, Paganini, are among my favorite), but it may also be World Music (Kitaro is my top favorite). For shallow thinking, I may go with guitar albums by Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Steve Morse or maybe movie soundtracks.

When I already know what needs to be done (either because I’ve finished the deep thinking mentioned above or because the task is just busy-work), then I crave some high-energy music (usually heavy metal, but it could be some other things I have in my music library).

Here’s an example:

I’m about to implement a user story. I set two Pomodoro sessions: one session to read through the user story and acceptance criteria, review mockups, etc, and another session to write my specs for it (only the Given-When-Then statements). My soundtrack consists of classical music.

Now I’m ready to write the actual tests and just enough code to make them pass. The soundtrack may be some fierce heavy metal, as I blast keystrokes on the keyboard. As I do this, I may practice the “sing and read” speed reading techinique; as I sing my favorite songs, I read through my tests, write code, read what I wrote, and eventually read it again in preparation for some refactoring.

Do you have a soundtrack?

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