Poignancy, below the surface

I started getting emotional a half hour ago. I can rise above it, but it remains a poignancy, just below the surface. 

Annual retreat?

My wife asked me if I wanted to go to “our” synagogue’s annual retreat. She said they just decided that the topic will be politics. I could feel frustration swelling in the back of my brain, and said, “If they ask me to speak for an hour, I’d be happy to go. But I’m not going to spend money and a whole weekend just to try to interject a few comments or questions and feel frustrated all weekend.” She said “Okay, okay, I got it” and walked away.

Continue reading

Am I enlightened?

I started a comment on Facebook: “Being an enlightened iconoclast…” And someone called me on it, thinking I was bullshitting them. Was I?

What’s Enlightenment?

Enlightenment is basically knowing yourself as the actor, not the character, and knowing that your “understanding” of the world is created by your warped, inaccurate, erroneous, always-approximating and generalizing mind. An enlightened human is still human and at times, human dramas and emotions arise with a very tight grip. But over seconds or minutes, one can remember it’s all a mind-trip and detach from the drama.

It also means knowing “my property” is a cultural understanding, as is, “my hand” and “money.” The reality comes from our point of view, not from the objects. Stuff exists, but each “object” or idea is an interpretation. There’s no magic- one can’t fly. On the other hand, the meaning of “one can’t fly” is invented.
In particular, the notion of “me” is invented. We usually pick up the cultural definition, that given by others. But when you’re enlightened, you realize that “I” can be “Rand” or “my family” or “American” or “Human”. It’s really a choice. And like it’s purported to be, spending time dwelling in “me” being “everything” is a wonderful way of communing with “God”, without needing to anthropomorphize.

Enlightened inside a Western character

At the same time, I’m a westerner, living a life as a husband, father, employee, etc. Being enlightened, I have some choice about how involved I get in the normal, cultural, mundane life. Trying hard, in a marriage, a job, and/or as a parent, it’s difficult to be detached. It’s sort of lousy to be detached, too.

When you go swimming, it’s important to get wet. When running, sweat and breathe hard. The same thing in life- it’s important not to stay detached. Dancing is much more fun when you get into it and boogey down. Living life involved is much more rewarding.

But one can easily get trapped inside a persona and its limits. There’s anger and suffering too. I prefer to let those go.

When I was a kid, I skied. When you ski, if you’re too careful, you go slow and it’s not too much fun. If you go too fast, you can lose control and wipe out. It’s best on the edge.

Living on the edge of a character

I didn’t purposely come up with the ideas of PeopleCount. I was studying myself and politics and saw the bullshit of my own understanding- our cultural understandings. My background as a problem-solver helped. So did my inclination as an iconoclast. Once I saw the solution I was impressed. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. But it needs to be done. So I began.

I’m not rich. It took me a while to detach enough to part with my salary to work full time on it. I did a fair amount of new thinking about the meaning of money. Is a guaranteed retirement more important than a healthy planet for my kids?

During that time, most of my family members were too fearful to be very supportive. There was plenty of drama. It was very challenging to be their rock and come up with the money necessary to keep two kids in college, cars repaired, expensive Obamacare health insurance paid for, etc, etc. My family and friends couldn’t support me much- I was working lots of hours on it and needed people beside me for hours. I needed partners, not 5-50 minute conversations with people who were holding back.

Being cut on the cutting edge

I found myself depressed at times. I’m a great problem solver, a fair mathematician and a pretty good software engineer. But business planning and marketing were a stretch. Networking and relationship-building seemed to be way beyond skill set. I failed a LOT. It hurt. I gave it everything I had at times. It was enough to open old scars that had been mended and closed for years.

The emotional pain built up. At times I had extreme depression. I even had a few bouts of crying for hours at a time. I had thoughts of suicide. Being enlightened, I knew not to take them seriously, but their emotional strength was enormous. They were extremely compelling.

Do you know that 14% of high school students contemplate suicide? 7% attempt it. Personally, I don’t think non-enlightened people should try extreme emotional trips, like adolescence…

Once I had a small injury and discovered the relief that a bit of stabbing pain can give. I  understood first hand why some people “cut.” Depression is real, and it meant parts of my mind were taking the circumstances very seriously. With work and support, I handled it. Life isn’t serious- that’s a choice. But knowing it’s a choice and applying it in the midst of depression are very different things. The latter takes enlightenment.

Enlightened credentials

My claim to enlightenment is supported also by 4 years of a correspondence course on the subject- a westernized, non-spiritual interpretation of an Eastern tradition that explores the depths of ego.

Plus I’ve taken many courses in applied self-study from the top-rated educational organization in the field. It comes to a bit more than the amount of class time and homework involved in a full year of graduate school. But when you consider that I studied my life from the perspective of these courses first over a very enlightening 4 years, and then again over a 5 year period, and then actively during my 5-year adventure with PeopleCount, I’d say it’s more like the work involved in a PhD and a 10-year career. 

10,000 hours is needed for mastery. That’s about 5 years of full-time work. I’ve put much more into it.

Calling myself enlightened is certainly bullshit. I say it’s enlightened bullshit. YMMV

Introducing Rand and PeopleCount

I have a plan for transforming politics.

What I saw: Politics is poorly designed

Democratic systems are inadequately designed. In particular, the US system. It wasn’t a bad design. It had some good parts. But it was “version 1.0.”

When it began, corporations as we know them today were illegal in America. Lobbying was deeply taboo. There was little information of any kind for citizens.There was nothing like “big media”. And there was nothing in the design of our political system about political parties. Over the next 240 years, much changed. Politics adapted. A few times, a few new laws changed some small things. But our system was neither fully designed nor redesigned.

It sorely needs it. While wealthy interests have learned to control politicians, citizens have not. If our elected officials were accountable to citizens many things would be different, and in wonderful ways.

Introducing political accountability

What is political accountability? Few people have an adequate answer. Most say it happens in voting. Americans vote and our politicians are not accountable. Elections do give accountability.

An employee is accountable to his or her boss. A student is accountable to his or her teacher. Accountability is a relationship. Why do we accept political accountability without this relationship? Because we mistakenly think nothing more is possible.

What specific things can politicians do to actually deliver accountability. Very little. Some try hard. A few make enormous efforts. None deliver. They can’t.

How can we change politics to allow politicians to deliver accountability? (Hint: no laws need to be changed.)

And how can we change politics to allow We, the People, to do hold them accountable?

Politics should be designed for accountability

These questions led to the answers of PeopleCount. I have designed a communication system to make politicians accountable to citizens in a way that rewards politicians. And it lets people hold politicians accountable in a way that rewards citizens.

Today, citizens disapprove of Congress. Many of its laws few people want. Instead, Congress could be our representatives creating laws that we desire. Instead of politics being something that frustrates people, it would be our way deciding what we all want. Instead of government being remote bureaucrats spending our money, it would be how we organize ourselves to build the future we want.

Introducing Rand

I’m a guy that was born in Seattle and went to college at Stanford. I studied applied math and computer science around 1980, but what I loved was problem solving. I stayed in Silicon Valley and worked. As a hobby, I studied how our thinking limits what’s possible for us. I married and had two kids and a career.

A few years ago, I was frustrated and resigned about politics. I used my hobby and found that our thinking was limiting what’s possible for us in politics. I used my problem solving skills and put a solution together. I tried to put together a team and launch a product. So far, I’ve failed. But possibilities abound. Join me.

My Political Philosophy: Reluctant Pragmatism

Why reluctant pragmatism? Let’s start with the question: What’s true?

What’s true? What’s right?

What’s true? My guess is that God knows. Or more accurately: Only God knows. Some people think God tells us. If that’s true, we, as error-prone humans, can’t reliably listen. Evidence: lots of people try very hard to find the truth and end up with very different ideas.

What’s taxation? Some Libertarians strongly feel that taxation is theft. Some people think that taxation is simply the price you pay to be able to safely mine the economic system. And the more you extract from the mine, the more you’re leveraging the system- so a higher-percentage of that extra wealth should go toward maintaining the system as taxes. Who’s right? They both feel they’re right.

What’s freedom? Some people want the freedom to raise the minimum wage in their cities. They think and feel that raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. But the Alabama legislature wants employers to have the freedom to offer whatever wage they want, so they passed a law denying this freedom to their cities. They felt strongly about it, too, and they had more power. Do people (like cities), have the right to structure their community and society?

What works?

To me, a better question is: What works?

To discover what works, I’m a realist and a reluctant pragmatist. Like most people, my first impulse is to go with what I see and think and feel are right. And when I’m challenged, I feel affronted!

But I’m a realist. Judging the reality of things out in the world is actually quite difficult. So I have a discipline of looking at my own systems of thought and seeing how they arise out of my own views. I make sure I see that my filters are coloring my view. I’m bright and decently educated so my views are pretty wise, but they’re still my own human, fallible views, tainted by my views. “Realism” tells me: the imagine I see through my view are inventions. They’re my own creations. They are not reliable for judging what’s real.

Emotions, anger, defensiveness, ego, then reluctant pragmatism

Lots of people seem to like expressing “what’s right”. They like the feeling of having their emotions validated. The first validation comes from the satisfaction of expressing. Then from hearing their own words and tone. Mostly, we then look harder through our own narrow views and express whatever’s consistent. And we love when audiences with similar views respond in agreement.

What’s real? It’s real that my self-righteous anger belongs to a human. I, too, have narrow views, defensiveness and ego. I practice seeing my brain’s self-consistent truths as invented. What’s real is that my own views initially feel better. But with ever-dwindling reluctance, I turn to pragmatism.

A wise, well considered, well thought out solution feels better.

After I recognize the drama, I listen for what works. Knowing I’m seeing the world through my own limited view, I listen to others. I consider a variety of views and look for what works in each.

Maybe my high-IQ is a hindrance. When my words articulate a truth, I usually hear the lies in it, the limited view, the insufficiency. Other views arise. And soon after, if I let my brain wrestle with it, I begin to see the faults, some truths from other views, some hidden deeper. Long term, a wise, well-considered and well-thought-out view feels better to me.

To move forward, we need more pragmatism from both the people and our politicians. We need positions that acknowledge and deal with prevailing truths. We should pragmatically create a desirable future.

Single Founder Challenges

Entrepreneurship is challenging. In the last post, I said it isn’t for wimps. I was working mainly alone, and then about a month after I hired an off-shore team to start design and development, I found two co-founders.

Then the team was eviscerated

First, the offshore development team stopped working. We interviewed other teams and a one started work, but we had lost almost two months. A few days later, the CTO had an accident and had to drop out to recuperate, so I took over as CTO. But I no longer had time for sales.

And then the CMO got hit by a personal calamity as well. He’s been only able to put a few hours a week into it since then. And then the offshore team proved to be poor, so I had to fix some of their code and find a new team to help with the rest and fix the user interface. The upshot: more long months of work.

The challenge of being a single-person team

What’s difficult for me is both managing and working. At the high level, there are so many things to manage- the code I’m working on, my developer’s code and challenges, the testing, creating sample data, the site content, the messaging, the outreach to voters, outreach to politicians, preparing for deployment, planning the next phase of coding and even working with my CMO on his deliverables.

Everything disappears when I dive into coding or working on the book or even writing a blog. Someone contacted me recently who might help with fundraising, so I’m bringing him up to speed and helping him prepare his plans, too. And there’s a set of UI (user interface) problems my developer is stuck on, so I’m trying to find someone with more expertise to help out, on a quickly vanishing budget.

It’s just what there is to do

Lots of people tell me it’s impossible. Often I feel stressed, tired, exhausted, failing, and worse. But I let it go. I tell myself it’s close. It’s just what there is to do.

It seems to me that the world needs this, a way for people to figure out what they want together, peacefully and constructively. And a way to work together to deliver it, using accountable representatives. And I seem like the only one who’s willing to take a stand and do whatever needs to be done.

And, I’m not alone. My CMO is making progress. And this new guy seems like he’ll improve our chances for funding. He can’t work for us long without funding. But if we can get some, he seems like he’ll be able to take over outreach and sales. So if I can get us to launch and get people to the site, we should have the traction we’ll need to get some attention. Probably even enough for a successful crowdfunding campaign. And that’ll be enough to fund us, or provide enough so others are willing to pitch in.

If you read this, please add your name to our announcement list. I may be able to launch this thing without too much help. But your participation will be needed. You’re the one that’ll be using PeopleCount to make our government of, by and for the people.

Startups are not for Wimps

My mom, who is now 87 years old, has been repeating a phrase a friend told her: “Growing old is not for wimps.”

I’ve been burning out a bit, the last few weeks. It’s harder to concentrate, harder to be productive. I’m tired, but sleeping poorly. There are fewer and fewer tasks between me and launching, but the slower progress is disheartening. But entrepreneurship isn’t for wimps, either.

Single-founder startups rarely succeed

I happened to recommend the Better Ventures site to a friend. I looked at it again, briefly, and saw their “approach” page, where they say that one of the things they look for is “Two co-founders, one  technical. Ideally CEO and CTO.”

And I recall a question on Quora about starting a company with a single founder. The advice was:  Don’t. So I guess it’s appropriate that it’s hard.

Even with multiple founders, getting a startup going is difficult. 90% fail. Even worse, see this article on The Single Founder myth. He finds some exceptional reasons why a single founder might succeed. None of them apply to me, though.

I mostly failed to find partners.

My original plan was to find partners. I failed, for 4 years, mainly because I’m not very social. I’m by no means a recluse. I just rarely made friends at work. People seem to like me- I just don’t really care for small talk, sports or popular culture. So I rarely went to lunch with people. And I have a poor memory for the details in people’s lives. I guess I’m lousy at relationship building.

I actually found a potential partner last summer. He was young, though, and decided he wanted to do something he thought was bigger, and do it as a non-profit.

Then I found partners…

This past January I found two part-time partners. One was to be CTO (chief technical officer). She seemed perfect- she had even managed off-shore teams before. The other is my CMO (chief marketing officer).  I was going to focus on sales. I was going to also help with product design, outline the algorithms we needed, and find vendors for some technologies we needed, but I expected to hand these off to the CTO to finish them. I also had two books to finish, the blog to build up, and the deployment to plan for. It was still a lot of work, but three people seemed to be a solid team.

Things were looking up. This is continued in the next post.

Am I Okay?

I posted a joke on Facebook, that my wife drove off with another man to Reno. I thought I clarified: She went on a car trip. Her first stop was to pick up our younger son from college (the “other man”). Their next stop was Reno. If you’re connected to me on Facebook, you can see her photos from many places, including the Grand Canyon.

Am I Okay?

I heard from a friend that there are rumors about my well-being. One person asked on Facebook, “Are you okay?”  My answer:

This is hard to answer. I am working as hard as I can on this, trying to balance communicating- both asking for support and doing some marketing- and working on the software and the site contents. I try to keep on the healthy side of exhaustion and maintain healthy emotions, but am not always successful. I don’t want to seem desperate or in despair, and I re-center myself when those thoughts and feelings arise. Similarly, this is financially taxing, but we’re still eating and paying our bills. At the same time, I don’t want to be dishonest and say “Everything’s fine.”

The struggle

Entrepreneurship can be very taxing, especially for those who are neither wealthy nor young. The only thing that could be harder is for someone who doesn’t have good connections, which seems to be my case as well. Many things in my life are borderline in many ways – like my emotional and financial health and the health of my marriage. At the same time, I’m okay and I’ll make it.

I’m committed that my marriage survive, too, but it’s not completely up to me. This is very stressful on my wife. In December I estimated the launch would be in March and April and told her it would definitely launch by June 7th. Due to lousy off-shore software teams, the first “half” of the software wasn’t finished till early May. It was only 60% done and the quality was dismal. A third team proved useless. Since then, I’ve been working with a fourth team and have built or rebuilt many of the parts myself. We still have about two weeks of work left and I need to also finalize the site contents (questions, answers and the about/FAQ/etc pages). So there’s still a lot left to do to get to release 0.5.

Give 1 Minute of Support

It would help a ton if you’d give minimal support– take 1 minute to add a comment to the first post of PeopleCount’s Facebook page saying something like “I expect to use this in July”, or “If you build it, I will come.” Or, “I’ll hold you accountable for transforming politics.” Or some expression that you’re counting on PeopleCount being delivered, and you’ll try it out when it’s done.

To show more support, add your name to our announcement list.
To show more support, donate a few dollars.

If you won’t even give 1 minute, please read at least articles 2-4 of these 6 blog posts. And then send me an email about why 1 minute is too much for you. Or call me. The worst thing you could do is to silently not participate.

Most Americans say that politics currently is a very negative, frustrating experience. PeopleCount can remedy that. Please, show some support.

I’d make the Character Honorable

In previous posts, I looked at what I’d want to happen if I were writing my life’s story, and what the situation is now, to get a clue about what I should write next. And what I saw is that I can only write the next few minutes about what my part is, what my main character, Rand, will try to do. So a better question is, who should he be? What should his character be like?


If I were writing the story of who I am, I think I’d make the character honorable. He might make mistakes at times. When my wife is upset and doesn’t want to talk with me, should I insist on talking to her? Or should I make the hard decisions myself? The path isn’t always clear. And more than occasionally, people are disappointed, even yelling! It’s not always easy to see the honorable course of action from the middle of life’s drama.

But I want to write a story about a hero. Someone who did his best to make it all work out. And at each step, he did what he could to handle everything. He made some sacrifices at times. Even with his health and his family and his finances, and even with delivering PeopleCount. I’d have to write that he had lots and lots of failures. He tried not to break his promises, but he could rarely keep them. He tried not to make impossible promises, but they seemed possible.


I’d want him to be courageous. Everyone has fear. Courage is acting in spite of it. I’d want him to be an adult about his emotions. He would make a priority of doing the right thing.

And when he broke his promises, he’d own up to it. Even if he couldn’t keep his word, he’d honor it. And sometimes he failed to keep his word because he was frail or weak or a really good reason would come along. When he realized that, he’d reprioritize and clean it up as best he can.

Even when things didn’t work out, over and over and over again, he did what he could, what he knew to do, what he saw to do. And he asked people as best he could for what he needed. He got a ton of rejection.

What Story of our Future shall we Write?

I think I’d write that he was self aware. That he know that he was the author of his life. He kept going back to the question of, how do we want to write the story of our future?

Clearly, the story of the past is that a healthy political system didn’t happen. Things in America got worse and worse and worse. Economic problems, endless war, a really lousy health care system, and a completely dysfunctional party system and government. What was possible happened. We can’t look there for guidance- that’ll just lead to more of the same…

What shall we write next?

What stands between us and a country we can be proud of?
What stands between us and a government we believe in?
What stands between us and a political system we believe in?

It’s mostly our cynicism. Please, give that up and join me and Rand, my character. We can make a system that works.

Seriously. We can. Please put your name on our announcement list and donate a few dollars.

What would the Next part of my Life’s Story be?

This is the second post of 3 about me creating the character of Rand and writing his story. What should the next part be?

The Story so Far

So, let’s pretend that I’m writing the real story of my real life. What happened so far?

At age 54, Rand invented most of the ideas behind PeopleCount. After four years of failing to find partners, he finally tried to do it all alone. Or mostly alone (he paid for a year of coaching last fall, and there are a few people he can talk to, and one guy has said he’d be a marketing partner, but he’s mostly busy with other things at the moment. And four people donated $50!).

Three different teams offshore software teams promised to build the software and failed. So now he’s working hand-in-hand with a small 4th team. Unfortunately, he can’t afford a team that knows how to do it all already, so they’re still figuring some parts of it. Currently they’re a bit stymied by the security layer.

So Rand now finds himself with little money, an upset wife, bills to pay, the software’s stuck and he’s so, so tired. But the software’s really close to working. (For the last 5 weeks, it had seemed 2-3 weeks away. Now it seems like it’s 1-2 weeks away, maybe.)

New Pressure to Quit

The pressure to quit, from my wife, is getting more intense. Six months ago I was pretty sure we’d launch in March, so I forecasted that we’d certainly know by June. I picked June 7th, because I really really wanted PeopleCount to make a difference in the California primary, at least.

How do I want the next part of the story to go? Shall I ditch my wife and devote myself to PeopleCount? Shall I drop PeopleCount and devote myself to my wife as global warming continues to envelop the planet? Shall I go back to pretending “I’m just one guy- I can’t do this alone”?

I’ve tried telling my wife I made lots of commitments. Shall I keep the forecast I made for her- shall I honor it like, not just a promise, but the most important promise? Or shall I keep the commitment to billions of others that PeopleCount will launch and create a new possibility for humanity’s future?

What story shall I write next?

I know what story I want to write. That Rand and the developer (and his designer and tester) finish the software in time to launch on June 7th.  (But they postpone it two days to get past the election-news cycle.)

But that’s in five days!  I’m going for it, but it doesn’t look likely…

In a sense, I can only do what I can do. So the question becomes: Since I’m creating the character, who do I want him to be?

If I were the Author of my Life Story, what Story would I Write?

If I were authoring “The Story of my Life”,
I’d create a story about a Life that made a Difference

Imagine that this life I’m living was the story of my real life. And that I could only have one life, so it was important to make it a good story. Imagine I was the main character in my story, and this was the only character whose story I could write. What would I want the character to do?

I’d want the character of the story to make a real difference

I’d want him to make a big impact. I’d want him to solve a real problem, a big problem, if there was one. In fact, that sounds like the story I’ve written. About 35 years ago I found a profession as a problem solver. And I loved it when my work made a difference. But it wasn’t a huge difference. For years I was stymied by lack of opportunity to make a big difference.

A few years ago I saw one. I was careful and studied it and looked at it from all angles. I talked to lots of people about it. I looked for backing and a team and funding. I found almost none of them. But it still looks like a phenomenal opportunity for our country and the world. For humanity. And not pursuing it seemed, and seems, cowardly. I didn’t want to write a story about a coward…

What should the character be like?

When I was a kid, Rand had serious rejection issues. To pursue PeopleCount, I realized Rand would have lots and lots of rejection. So I wrote into the story that Rand got over that. It was tough- he didn’t get over it completely. But he always kept going.

I decided the character would discern between fear and danger. He’d keep going despite lots of fear. But he’d go carefully, or as carefully as he could. And he’d distinguish myth from truth. Where other’s see the truth about politics, he realizes they’re all myths. When people say that their cynical attitudes are realistic, he’d know that cynicism and realism are different, as few people do.

He’d be committed to a Higher Truth

I wanted the character to be committed to a higher truth. Almost all the truths people “know” are myths- most of them conflict with other’s myths. But it’s true that we’re human, that we’re limited. It’s true that the truth we see is just the truth we know how to see. It’s true that we’re arrogant and prideful, that we know just partial truth yet are often self-righteous.

And I decided that the character wouldn’t take it personally. If he took it personally, the story would end up being a psychodrama- not a part I want to play, nor helpful for making the difference he wants to make.

I wrote him into situations that many think are delusional. But I make that okay with him. He’d take it in stride and with good humor. It’s just another head trip, not worth ruining the story over. (And he truly wishes others didn’t have to believe it at times- but they’re writing their own characters…)

What would the next part of my story be?