26 Pieces Of Advice To My Past Self

    I recently turned 26. I’m no sage, but I’ve picked up a couple of lessons in my time. Below are 26 things I would tell a younger me if I could.

    1 Read more material that endures. Posts and videos are ephemeral. They come and go. Seek out knowledge and stories that have survived years, decades, or centuries.

    2 Write as much as you can. Write anything. Document your days. You’ll love flipping through old journal entries, and seeing what you were doing. Trap your anxious and messy thoughts on paper, so they don’t consume your mind. When confronted with something hard, think through it in writing. It will slow you down, and allow you to evaluate your thoughts more clearly.

    3 You have an aversion to conflict. You can feel it in your bones. That’s okay. Stay in it, and realize there are many ways to work through conflict. Guide the conflict into a style that you do well with. Conflict can be important, so do not avoid it when it is necessary. Stay calm and explain yourself clearly, even if you need to tremble through it.

    4 You have a guilty conscience. This is good because it means you have a sense of morality but beware of people who will try to use that against you. If someone or something is making you feel guilty, pay close attention to the motives.

    5 Smile, make eye contact, and when you ask someone how they are, really ask them.

    6 The world is lonely without a community that shares your values. As soon as you realize you do not have this, find it. Or make it.

    7 You can become a good public speaker. Like conflict, you feel like you need to run from it, but the truth is you must do exactly the opposite. Seek out opportunities to speak in front of others. It will be uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the better you will get. And absolutely practice beforehand, winging it is a terrible idea.

    8 Stay open. Much of the good in your life will come from opportunities you didn’t foresee at all and had no control over. You might miss them if you keep too tight a grip on what you think you need.

    9 Related to the above, don’t forget how much you owe to God and luck. You think you know this, but you cannot comprehend its depth.

    10 Remember that every lie you tell will be accompanied by a confession, or worse, an exposure. Think of this anytime you consider lying, and do not do it. Lying is like smoking, it builds up tar in your soul.

    11 Remember that it’s temporary. In the midst of anxiety, it will feel all-consuming and never-ending. It isn’t so. It will end.

    12 Everybody is fascinating if you ask. So ask, then listen.

    13 Initiate connection in your marriage daily. It will not initiate itself.

    14 Step up and lead. Getting everyone’s opinion and deciding by majority may feel inclusive, but it is not leading. You will need to make tough, uncomfortable, and even unpopular calls. Make them and then bear them.

    15 You so desire to be better that you will have a tendency to believe all feedback you receive. Some feedback is neither valid nor helpful. Don’t get stirred up over it. Recognize it for what it is, and move on.

    16 Say what you want. Especially to your managers at work. People don’t know what you want if you don’t tell them. Most people will try to help you get what you want if they know what it is.

    17 Never disbelieve in what you are capable of. You will learn to love olives. And you will become a master diaper changer. If you can do those, you can do anything.

    18 Nourish your curiosity. You do a good job of exploring new things and not caring so much if others think they’re weird. In fact, relish in the confused gaze you get when you tell people about your new abstract hobby or interest. Keep doing that.

    19 You follow rules really well. Try breaking them more.

    20 Just because everyone is doing it, does not mean it’s good for you. You are allowed to completely cut yourself off from things that are not good for you.

    21 Don’t get too obsessed with being better or doing better. You’ll lose sight of now, which is bad because it’s always now. Be present. Accept what is.

    22 Start developing habits to maintain your health. Your high metabolism will not last forever, and avoiding the doctor will only cause more problems later. Get a primary care physician, see a dermatologist, and keep up with the dentist.

    23 Don’t be ashamed of your age. People use age as a proxy for competence and trustworthiness, so these assumptions will not be given to you easily. Be honest about who you are, and what you are, and lean into your strengths. Wherever you are, you are there for a reason, even if you feel out of place.

    24 Please take yourself less seriously. Not everything needs to be about “finding signal” or doing better. Have fun and be goofy. Don’t forget how to take it easy, this seems to get a little harder for you each year.

    25 Go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. It’s amazing how much better life feels this way.

    26 Be less selfish. Think of others more, and make a system to do so if it does not come naturally.

    A Recommendation for Trying AI

    The following is a message I shared with my organization today.

    In light of NASA’s push to train up the workforce on AI, I wanted to share a tool that I’ve been using in my day-to-day. This is a simple tool that would be a good introduction for folks who haven’t been using AI much.

    Perplexity AI is a conversational AI assistant and search engine that provides citations for sources it is using. You can also specify whether you want it to only search through academic journals, Reddit, or other sources.

    I’ve been using this about as much as I’ve been searching for links with Google. I’ve been using it for research, learning new things, troubleshooting other tools I use at work, etc. The cited sources help me to see where the answer is coming from, to judge whether I should trust it or not. And it’s really easy to use. Just type in a question you want an answer to, and it will give you cited responses.

    A lot of the other big LLMs are good too, and each have there own strengths and weaknesses. Perplexity would be happy to tell you what they are!

    Some others I’ve tried are:

    How to Write a Kickass Article

    I would like to note that as I write this, I am not following the advice contained within whatsoever.

    I want to write better articles. I want to use them to reason and think. I would like to do some research and link to sources, so that my articles have some ground to stand on and they provide real value.

    To this end, I’ve been doing some research on writing a good article and I made the cheat sheet below for myself. I don’t plan to follow this dogmatically, but it will help me remember what to focus on in different stages of my writing. The following is primarily a reframing of the essay app’s writing guide, because its advice resonated with me the most of what I found online.

    How to Write a Kickass Article

    1. Read to get ideas.
      • Books
      • Articles
    2. Give yourself plenty of time to write.
    3. Make an outline to start.
      • Shoot for 10ish bullets. Any bigger and it is hard to see the flow of the argument.
    4. Write a bad draft - remember producing and editing are different activities.
      • Produce, produce, produce.
    5. Write more than you think you need, then chop it down.
    6. Edit it.
      1. Rewrite every sentence.
      2. Reorder until it makes sense.
      3. Reread the whole thing.
      4. Refine, refine, refine.
    7. Create a new outline - Try reconstructing your argument from memory. What you remember is the good stuff. The rest might be crap. Ponder that.
    8. Cut and paste from your old outline into the new one.
    9. Make sure you have hyperlinks in the text for citations.

    Experimentation Is Where the Fun Is At!

    My new shipment from The Goulet Pen Company makes it feel like Christmas!

    Six pocket notebooks and sixteen different colorful ink swatches arranged on a light wooden desk

    I ordered their notebook sampler and got a random ink sample set for free.

    Read More →

    An Analog Blog Post

    A journal and Lamy Safari fountain pen on a dark stained wood table

    The following was transcribed from the pictured journal entry. I used Google Lens and a LOT of editing.

    It has been easy to not make time to write recently. “Busyness” is the main culprit, but I’ve also been spending time with its less boisterous sibling, distraction. And so here I find myself, back at the roots of my writing practice. The journal. I’ve missed the empty page. The empty screen is nice too, in my writing software of choice, but I can’t help feeling the weight of the myriad windows/apps/messages vying for my attention. So I’ve returned to my empty page. It welcomes my attention and thought, but does not compete for them. It is an escape in plain sight.

    Read More →

    Check the Categorization of Your Domain in Cloudflare Radar to Make Sure Federal Employees Can Visit Your Site

    My blog is available on the NASA network now! For anyone else who wants their site to show up on a federal network, make sure you scan your domain at CISA uses Protective DNS, and Cloudflare is the provider behind that service. After scanning the URL, check the security tab to see if there are any security risks.

    Read More →

    Is this a blog or a node in a botnet?

    I finally found out why my blog was blocked on the NASA network! Cloudflare had it categorized as a DGA Domain, so they thought it was an autogenerated domain that was part of an evil botnet 🤦‍♂️ I’ve submitted a request for Cloudflare to recategorize it under “Personal Blogs” so it doesn’t show up as a security threat any more. I guess my last name does look a little suspect and not quite like a real word someone would use for a domain…

    Compound and Leverage

    Compound and leverage are powerful forces to move us toward our desired outcomes.

    I’ve been thinking about these two forces and how they can be used not only to improve finances, but they also apply to other areas of life.

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    NASA's First Agile Technical Interchange Meeting

    Yesterday was NASA’s very first Agile Technical Interchange Meeting! NASA is becoming agile 🚀🏃‍♂️💨

    I learned how Agile is applied outside of my discipline, web software, to improve how we build hardware and integrated systems, particularly in the systems engineering discipline.

    Read More →

    Now 2024-05-05

    Also available on my /now page

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    Introducing Fed Meetup

    Now that we are out of the pandemic, federal travel is back in full swing. Federal employees are flying cross-country to get together and meet on various topics to do their work more effectively. I see this, especially at my organization, NASA. Just this winter I flew out to Kennedy Space Center for the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance Face-to-Face with more than 50 other colleagues to talk about where the organization is going and to do workshops together. We do these twice a year.

    Read More →

    A Day In My Life At NASA

    On days like today, I marvel as I reflect all the awesome things I get to do in my role here at the NASA Safety Center.

    Today I…

    🐛 Hosted a “bug hunt” for the new app we launched last month, having the whole development team try to break the app to catch bugs before they become an issue.

    🌒 Spoke with someone from the Human Landing System program about their interest in using a fishbone (Ishikawa) diagram to identify what could cause the lunar lander to tip over during landing. This is a problem that has plagued recent commercial lunar landings, and we are looking to support these use cases in our new app.

    🥗 Ate a fantastic salad with my team at the café in the new Research Support Building at NASA Glenn Research Center

    🤹‍♀️ Consulted with a co-worker about how we could use Microsoft Delve to surface Reliability Engineers in the agency with unique skills that could be shared with others in that discipline.

    📊 Reviewed the Science Mission Directorate’s system for tracking risks to inform how our team will build an agency-level tool that surfaces elevated risks from the mission directorates.

    👬 Demoed our API for mishap data to a group building a Digital Twin of NASA facilities. Mishap data could be layered with information we have on aging infrastructure to build a compelling case for which areas of NASA’s infrastructure are in the most need of attention.

    And that all is just the tip of the iceberg! Looking forward to tomorrow!

    A Brief Thought On A Recent Bout of Resistance

    Gotta get back on the ol' blog! I’ve been working a bit on a draft of an article, but have been having some resistance to finishing it. Do I keep it long and playful like it is now, or cut the fluff and get right to the message?

    I’ve been pondering this question, and I think the right answer is to just get the dang thing out into the world. Have fun writing it. The style does not matter. Either way, it will be a hit with some people and a miss with others. And that doesn’t matter anyways. I want to write for me to work through things and hopefully that helps others along the way. But if not, fine!

    Just write Jake!

    Text Message Triage

    Me: “Oh, I need to respond to that later.”

    Text Message: cries softly as it floats into the void, never to be seen again

    Read More →

    To Be Good, You Must Be Dangerous

    “They see they can and must stand up, because they begin to understand how genuinely monstrous they will become, otherwise, feeding on their resentment, transforming it into the most destructive of wishes. To say it again: There is very little difference between the capacity for mayhem and destruction, integrated, and strength of character. This is one of the most difficult lessons of life.”

    - Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life

    To be good, you must be dangerous.

    Much of my life, I equated dangerous with bad. But I have come to realize that a chief aim of the good ought to be to increase their dangerousness. This is necessary when operating in and around evil.

    A capacity for evil is not inherently bad. Your capacity is morally neutral, but it is up to you to wield it appropriately. C.S. Lewis illustrates this well when answering the question of why there is evil at all:

    “‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of—the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all.”

    - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    Jesus makes this point too, when telling his disciples that they ought to be wise as serpents. This is potent imagery considering it was a serpent that caused the fall of man.

    “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

    Matthew 10:16 ESV

    He implores them to wield the wisdom of the serpent with the innocence of the dove. Why not just tell them to be innocent as doves? Because to be good, you must be dangerous.

    This then, is the aim of the good: to be cleverer and stronger and freer. To be dangerous.

    My User Story Template

    Below is the template I created for writing user stories.

    # User Story
    As a...  
    I want...  
    So that...  
    # Description
    # Acceptance Criteria
    - bullet criteria
    GIVEN setup  
    WHEN action  
    THEN result  

    I write a lot of user stories for my team, and they need to be clear, to the point, and verifiable. This template was born out of a need for consistency in how user stories were defined and written and aims to give a development team the bare minimum they need to deliver a hot, fresh slice of valuable software. Nothing here is ground-breaking, but it serves as a foundation for defining work when building software.

    User Story Statement Section

    First, we start with the traditional user story statement.

    As a
    I want
    So that

    This forces the author of the story to be clear about who wants what, and most importantly, why they want it.

    For the As a clause, try to be clear about a specific type of person. If your description can conjure up a mental picture of a distinct archetypal user-type, you’re doing it right. Avoid writing simply As a user at all costs. We’ve all done it, and we should all be ashamed.

    In your I want section, describe one want. If you are tempted to have more than one clause here, you might consider if an additional user story is warranted.

    With the So that clause, focus intently on the unique value this will provide to your archetypal user-type. This is the hardest clause to write, but also the most important to do well. It’s value may be obscure to some, because it does not directly contribute to the “spec” of what needs built. But this is your chance to clearly define the impact of this work to be done. It breathes life into the code to be written, and gives your designer, developer, tester, etc. a clear reason for doing what they’re doing.

    Description Section

    This is your chance to go into more detail about your user story. What should the user-facing phrasing be? What data are we working with?

    I often will take a first pass at this providing as much important context and detail as I can from the product perspective. Sometimes, a developer will go into description after I’ve written it and add a subsection for Technical Details to go more in depth on any technical nuances to the user story that should be considered during development and testing.

    Acceptance Criteria Section

    Acceptance criteria gives the team a clear basis to know when they are done with a user story. It is something we can point to and either say “Yes, we accomplished what we wanted to” or “No, this doesn’t do everything we needed”.

    I write acceptance criteria one of two ways, and sometimes I use both.

    Bullet Syntax

    Acceptance criteria can be a simple bullet-list. This is more often the case for smaller user stories, or ones that are more technical. This can be a simple, useful tool to include any non-functional requirements that need to be met to accept the user story.

    Gherkin Syntax

    When it makes sense, I write acceptance criteria in GIVEN, WHEN, THEN format. This lays out a very clear path for manually testing the user story, and this syntax can be used for behavior driven development. It becomes an executable spec that we can use directly in our automated tests.


    Here’s an example of a user story I’ve written recently:

    User Story

    As a case owner or admin
    I want to add users to my case
    So that I can collaborate with others
    And determine appropriate access levels for CRUD operations


    link to mockups

    The scope of this ticket includes setting up roles in the application. See the roles matrix for the case-specific roles in the application.

    Add a button in the top right to add case members (see mockups, only visible for case owners and admins).

    Owners and admins can add other members. The owner can add Admins, but Admins cannot add other Admins.

    After clicking the button, the user selects a person and a role, and then can save them as a member to the case. After saving, the new member should be displayed in the case members table.

    The role options will be…

    • Case Roles
      • Admin (CRUD, only visible to case owner)
      • Contributor (CRU, D data they created. Can remove items from diagram)
      • Report Editor (R, U report section)
      • View Only (R)

    Note that “Owner” is not one of the role options, because the owner is whoever created the case and there will only ever be one owner per case.

    Acceptance Criteria

    GIVEN I am a (owner, case admin)
    WHEN I add a member as a contributor
    THEN the member is displayed in the case members table with the contributor role

    GIVEN I am a (contributor, report editor, view only)
    THEN I do not see the button to add a member

    GIVEN I am “case admin”
    WHEN I am selecting the role for a new member
    THEN I can not select “case admin”

    While this template helps define the user story, it is important to remember that the user story is a placeholder for conversation. If you write this up and then immediately push it to your team to work on it, you’re missing the beauty of the user story. Bring your draft of the user story before the team and then have a conversation about it. Invite ideas and questions from others on the team. Define and come to a common understanding of the problem to be solved, or the value to be delivered. Then determine how you will bring forth that solution or value.

    If you adopt this template or some variation of it, reach out to let me know!

    Who Am I?

    I am the outlaw.
    I am the innocent.
    I am the sage.
    I am the jester.

    I am the everyman.
    I am the ruler.
    I am the caregiver.
    I am the explorer.

    I am the hero.
    I am the artist.
    I am the magician.
    I am the lover.

    I am the slave.
    I am the master.
    I am the giver of life.
    I am the wreaker of havoc.

    I am the one who decides.

    I am you.


    I added a blogroll to my site! I had been thinking about creating this for a while, and the new recommendations feature in gave me the push to finally do it. I added it to my navigation links, but… it’s getting really crowded up there. I may have to do something about that, but I want people to be able to find my blogroll, and putting a link in any of my other pages didn’t seem quite right.

    For now, it is just a list of sites, but I’d like to add little one-liner descriptions of why I like each site. I’ve had a lot of fun discovering blogs through the blogrolls of others, and I’m excited to start to share my own recommendations! My list will grow as I discover new blogs. Right now I’ve been finding a lot of interesting blogs by clicking around at and These are awesome resources to find independent folks sharing from their own space on the web.

    My favorite way to discover sites though is through personal recommendations. The more organic, the better. Here’s my rank order of favorite ways:

    1. A personal 1:1 recommendation - “Jake! You gotta check out….”
    2. A link in a post I’m enjoying (falling down a rabbit hole)
    3. A blogroll on a personal site
    4. A blog listing site (like those linked above)

    If you have some blogs I need to check out or other ways of discovering blogs, I’d love to hear about them!

    Remember To Live, An Interactive Haiku

    days lived
    more to go
    remember to live!

    Input your own numbers into the haiku above as a reminder to yourself to live!

    For the first box, calculate your_age_in_years * 365

    For the second box, calculate your_expected_max_age_in_years * 365 - first_box_value

    Originally I had hoped to make this much more dynamic so that you could input your current age and expected max age and I would handle all the calculating behind the scenes, but alas Javascript doth not jive with Markdown.


    I’m adding a new category on my site for haiku. Most of these will be quick micro-posts, but others may be longer. I have an idea for an interactive haiku but I’m not positive how that will work since my posts are published in Markdown. It should be a fun mini-project!

    To my chagrin, I tend towards rule-following, so most of my haiku will follow the 5-7-5 format. I would like to experiment outside of those lines from time to time.

    Here are some haiku I’ve been workshopping in my pocket journal:

    whatever you do
    must matter so you enjoy
    whatever you do

    I will be faithful
    all of my days are for you
    no one else will do

    flowers dance in wind
    clouds amble along slowly
    people collect likes

    quite peculiar
    is the love of a small child
    pure, strong, undeserved

    oh you fool! live more!
    think often of your deathbed
    it is near, not far

    look how far I ran
    so far to be same old me
    right where I began

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