The Advantage of Constraints

Constraints have an image problem.

All too often, the word “constraints” conjures up images of frustration. A quick google image search of the word “constraints” results in pages of figures chained down and locked up.

Our culture easily perpetuates the idea that constraints are something to be viewed negatively. We are led to desire endless variety and superfluous choice; a culture very much at odds with constraints.

An idea that is seldom shared is this: constraints can actually improve our lives. We’re bombarded with excessive stimuli at every corner, making it tricky to navigate the relentless onslaught of options we encounter on a daily basis. We’re often stuck with too broad a spotlight, and we need to narrow our focus if we want any chance of making a decision or starting a project.

Deliberate and carefully placed constraints can be effective tool to help guide our creative and our professional endeavors.

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An Overlooked Art Form: The Quotation

Quotes have become commonplace in our everyday lives.

They’re on our billboards. They’re on our tee shirts and phone cases. They’re in the final lines of our emails. Ask anyone for their favorite quote and they will surely rattle off a line or two.

But given their ubiquitous nature, quotes are oft-forgotten as an art form, even though they occupy a unique space in the world of artistic mediums.

As an art form, the quote is distinguishable from other mediums through it’s derivational nature, it’s contextual freedom, and it’s portability. These inherent qualities create a high density platform for expression of the shared human experience.
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Extraction Part VI: Conclusion—Metaphors

Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the final post in a series examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the five variables affecting coffee extraction: temperature, brew ratios, agitation, time, and grind size. The manipulation of these variables allows us to control the brewing process.

Parallels between these variables and the variables that impact our everyday lives can easily be drawn:Scannable Document on Jul 3, 2017, 10_31_50 PM

Connections

While the exact comparison may differ from person to person, the point is this: there are variables in our lives that we have control over, and the interaction of those variables determines the end result of our work.

Focus may be hard to conceptualize. Balance may seem difficult in practice. Curiosity may seem arbitrary or random. Whether or not these specific variables resonate with every individual is not important.

What’s important is the process of thinking about the variables we can control in our lives and how they interact with each other. Think of a set of intensity sliders that allow us to increase or decrease each variable.Scannable Document on Jul 3, 2017, 10_26_37 PMToo much or too little intensity can produce undesirable results; brewing at the extremes can lead to over-extraction or under-extraction. Working to find the optimal balance will leave us better than before.

Metaphors

Metaphors provide tremendous insight into our lives, and they’re beautiful because they bend. A metaphor is not an exact definition; it’s a pliable framework.

Finding metaphors that allow us to improve our understanding of ourselves and the world around us helps us lead better lives. Coffee extraction is one that resonates with me, but it certainly does not have to resonate with you.

There is no “one” perfect brew recipe, there is no “one” perfect metaphor for life, and there is certainly no “one” way to live a fulfilling life. Which metaphors work for you?

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Extraction Part V: Grind Size and Deconstruction

Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the fifth in a series of six posts examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.

Grind size—the resulting particle size of coffee beans after grinding.

A coarse grind creates few, but large chunks of a coffee bean. There is less total surface area and more time is required for the water to penetrate and dissolve flavor compounds. A fine grind creates many, but small chunks of a coffee bean. There is more total surface area and less time is required for the water to penetrate and dissolve flavor compounds.

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Extraction Part IV: Time

Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the fourth in a series of six posts examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.

Temperature, agitation, brew ratios, and grind size are variables which we can directly affect, though we often need tools and technology to do so.

•We can alter the temperature of our water by applying more heat or allowing it to cool.
•We can alter the ratio of coffee to water by adding more or less coffee.
•We can alter the amount of agitation by increasing or decreasing the frequency of our pouring and stirring.
•We can alter the surface area of our coffee by changing our grind size.

The very nature of each of these variables allows them to be altered. The fact that these variables can be easily manipulated is what differentiates them from time.

Time itself cannot be altered; time will pass regardless of what we do. We can only alter what we do with our time. Read More

Baye’s Theorem and Intuition

Last week, we discussed Bayes’s Theorem briefly. We used a simple example of walking into a classroom and observe three people wearing different shirts.

This week, we are going to utilize this same example, but we will examine the mechanics of what’s happening through the lens of Bayes’s Theorem.

To do this, we will take a quick look at Bayes’s Theorem and then use its predictive insights to shed some light on our previous example and provide additional understanding of our own intuition.

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Extraction Part III: Agitation and Curiosity

Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the third in a series of six posts examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.

Agitation—the introduction of turbulence to coffee grounds, usually through stirring or pouring.

Increase the agitation to improve the circulation of coffee grounds and water. As circulation improves, coffee’s flavor compounds are more quickly and easily dissolved as each particle’s total surface area is constantly exposed to circulating water.

The extraction rate increases.

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Extraction Part II: Ratios and Balance

Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the second in a series of six posts examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.

A brew ratio—the amount of coffee used in relation to the amount of water used.

Increase the ratio of coffee to water, and there are more water molecules than coffee particles. As the number of water molecules increases, they can now dissolve more flavor compounds from the coffee. This increases extraction because the water dissolves all of the flavor compounds, even the undesirable ones. Read More

Extraction Part I: Temperature and Focus

Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the first in a series of six posts examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.

Temperature—the intensity of heat present in a substance.

Heat water up and its particles begin to move much more rapidly. This increase in movement speeds up the rate at which coffee’s flavor compounds are dissolved into water.

The extraction rate increases.

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What’s the use of assumptions?

We make assumptions hundreds of times a day. We make them when we enter a coffee shop. We make them when our paths cross. We make them when we receive an open-ended text from a friend.

The assumptions we make drive the decisions we make. Whether or not we choose to interact with someone is often based on the assumptions that we’ve made of them.

Flawed assumptions wreck our chances of meaningful connection, but accurate assumptions have the ability to help us wade through the seemingly endless number of choices we encounter.

We’re going to make assumptions, and understanding the role that assumptions play in our lives while working to improve the accuracy of those assumptions will lead us to more meaningful connections.

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Anything is better than walking

My parents have been unbelievably influential in my life, but I often take their influence for granted. More and more, I find myself repeating their aphorisms and maxims as reminders to myself in times of stress and hardship.

My subconscious seems to be deeply rooted in these aphorisms used by my parents. Whenever I’m frustrated or upset I’ll hear one of my parents’ advice echoing in between my ears, without any deliberate attempt of my own to recall it. Most often, these phrases are linked with memories of an activity or an event in which I heard them.

Mountain biking with my Dad is an activity that has reinforced many of these aphorisms within my mind.

I’ve learned countless things from my Dad, but a lesson that has stuck with me stems from his reminder that “anything is better than walking.”

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Kendrick Lamar and the ability to unite the human experience

Kendrick Lamar is a phenomenal storyteller.

He understands that human emotions are complex, but he also understands how to elicit those emotions from his listeners. Kendrick’s song FEAR. is the epitome of his ability to employ his own story in an effort to help the listener better understand their own.

While the manifestations of our fears may differ, Kendrick illustrates three elements of fear that affect all of us, regardless of circumstance.

These elements bond the emotions that stem from our experiences; they illustrate the similarities in the human experience rather than the differences.

A closer look at the elements of fear presented by Kendrick can help us better understand each other and help one another embrace love rather than fear.

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Will you become a plaything of circumstance?

Timing has a profound impact on our lives.

Viktor Frankl has a notion of the human ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. When describing this power, Frankl explains that we control how we react to any situation, and our responses determine “whether or not you would become a plaything of circumstance.”

A plaything of circumstance: a being moved through life at the will of the circumstances they encounter. A reactive, rather than a proactive being.

An innate ability to choose our response is empowering; however, this belief has a tendency to incite negative connotations towards circumstance. The decision to submit yourself to circumstance can be just as empowering as the notion that we possess the ability to choose our attitude.

Frankl declares the power of refusing to become a plaything of circumstance, but there is also importance in our power to allow circumstance to play its role in our life.

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How Effective Listening Relates to Baseball

The catcher does not try to launch a 98 MPH fastball in response to the pitcher’s 95 MPH fastball. The catcher simply focuses on catching and framing the pitch before tossing the ball back; the catcher does not attempt to one-up the pitcher.

The active listener follows in the catcher’s footsteps, focusing on understanding the content rather than thinking about how they can one-up the speaker.

There’s an implicit system for a favorable outcome in a game of catch and in a conversation. The system hinges on a mutual understanding of the roles in the process.

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Icebergs

By the time the Titanic’s First Officer ordered the ship to divert course and avoid the obstacle, it was too late. The unsinkable suffered from the unthinkable. The Titanic’s right side had struck an iceberg, piercing five of its watertight compartments. As water filled the now faulty compartments, the ship sank slowly. Over a thousand passengers perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.

90% of an iceberg lies beneath the surface.New 2 Read More

Music and the Suspension of Disbelief

The suspension of disbelief is the linchpin of a fictional narrative’s success; without it, a great deal of film and literature would be unrelatable and thus ineffective. The essential idea is that the audience must temporarily accept fiction as reality to connect with the art.

Though the concept is most frequently discussed in terms of film and literature, we actively engage in suspending our disbelief when listening to music. In doing so, we are able to heighten our experience and truly engage with an artist’s work.

The application of suspended disbelief to music enables us to expand our perspective and further connect with the music, providing us with the opportunity to improve our worldly understanding.
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Memories

Humans are complex and unbelievably difficult to understand. Fundamental truths about human nature can be conveyed through nearly anything, but fiction proves to be an ideal medium for the illustration of truths, as the writer occupies the role of a master of destiny. If desired, a writer can amplify the effects, feelings, and ideas in hopes of conveying some truth. As readers, we must suspend our disbelief to engage in the alternate world, and we can learn a great deal by doing so.

Haruki Murakami’s writing is a quintessential example this; Murakami’s books are extraordinary journeys through the bizarre, in which he illustrates deeper truths of human nature through his manipulation of reality.

In his book Kafka on the Shore, Murakami offers a beautiful explanation of memories. In stereotypical Murakami fashion, the plotline is a tour de force of intertwined character development and otherworldly treks. An interaction between two central characters, Miss Saeki and Mr. Nakata, allows Murakami to illustrate his understanding of memories. An anguished older woman, Miss Saeki, attempts to explain memories to Mr. Nakata, an admittedly mentally weak and sweet older man who has no concept of what memories are. Murakami offers a simple and elegant description of memories:

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”

Wow. That’s powerful.

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Perceived Relativity of Time

 Relativity of Time

Between the ages of ten and twenty years old, I doubled the length of my existence. My repository of memories and experiences multiplied, and my potential reference points expanded. Five minutes now appear more fleeting than they did ten years ago. As I increased the amount of time I lived through, I experienced an effect on my perception of the length of time.

Each additional day that we live, the moments that constitute our days become relatively more transient.

This is not merely a subjective feeling; it can be quantified. At the age of ten, I had lived for around 3,652 total days, meaning that one day constituted roughly .027% of my life. At the age of twenty, I had lived for around 7,305 total days, meaning that one day constituted roughly .013% of my life. Thus, the relative value of a day in my life had decreased doubly between the ages of ten and twenty.

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It’s important to note that the relative values apply to each day of our lives. Not only is the current day valued at .013% of my life, but each preceding day (at any point in my life) is also equivalently valued at .013% of my life. Hence, the relativity of time should be approached with a present-oriented mindset. As each day passes, the value of each day diminishes; however, only the present day exists within our circle of influence. We cannot change the events of an earlier day, and thus the consideration of the diminished value of past days is irrelevant.

It is only useful to focus on the relative value of a day in terms of the present day, as that is the only day for which we have influence over.

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Starbucks and the Means to an Experience

A playground for coffee lovers

The enormous doors swing outward, and I’m thrust into the 15,000-square foot Starbucks Reserve Roastery. This building is massive. While a glance to the right reveals a whole bean scooping table and an eclectic gift shop, my attention is drawn ahead to the copper varnished Probat roaster, situated within footsteps of the lively café bar. The sheer size of the building is reminiscent of an old train depot, yet Starbucks maintains its defining ambiance and familiarity.

A queue wraps around the bar, and upon approaching the register a Barista greets me with an attentive smile. This Starbucks location churns out plenty of pour-overs and single-origin brews, but it’s certainly no stranger to those customers yearning for an extra pump of syrup or this month’s seasonal, sugary treat. There’s an implicit atmosphere of acceptance created—Feel free to order what you want, be it an 8oz Clover brewed Ethiopian or a Smoked Butterscotch Latté.

The waiting area at the end of the bar provides a few moments to observe the building from another angle. After a short wait, a barista calls my name and carefully delivers my beverage on an elegant wooden server. As I make my way down the concrete steps to the seating area, I notice that everyone around me appears to be equally as enthusiastic for that first sip. I gravitate towards the back corner and settle upon a couch; the perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee leisurely while gazing upon the copper plated contraptions and wooden furnishings throughout the massive building.

The coffee is quite good, but it’s not the best cup I enjoyed during my recent trip to Seattle.

So why am I still consumed by my visit to Starbucks Reserve? Read More

Beyoncé and the Auditory Double Entendre

An Idiosyncratic Hook

My sister sent me this message out of the blue the other day:

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While she was merely pointing out an idiosyncrasy within the English language, I immediately thought that she was referencing Formation, Beyoncé’s controversial banger from last year. My sister is absolutely infatuated with Beyoncé, so it was a more than reasonable assumption.

Formation was the first single from Beyoncé’s superb album Lemonade, and Khalif Brown (Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd) is given writing credits for the hook:

Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, ’cause I slay

Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, ’cause I slay

After receiving my sister’s text, I couldn’t get this hook out of my head, and I was drawn to the potential connection between this idiosyncrasy and the lyrics. The song’s theme is centered around the notion that women and minorities must unite to secure their place in the fight for social justice, rights, and liberation—a subject that lends itself to the application of this literary quirk quite well. Read More