Online communities

Every day we use online communities to help us figure out what restaurant we want to eat at, determine what spatula we want to buy, or discover new memes to make us laugh. But too often I find that most people are simply consumers of versus contributors to these communities. Going forward, this is something I’m going to change for myself.

I’ll start off by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the current five star rating system that most reviews use. Or, better said, I’m not a fan of the way most people use that star system, which is typically to rate things either one star or five stars. Logic would tell you that most things should be three starts and only truly exceptional things would be five or one. A brief glance across a few products on Amazon or listings on Yelp would tell you that that isn’t true.

The system is supposed to work like this:

⭐️ - I hated it.
⭐️⭐️ - I disliked it.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ - I liked it.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ - I really liked it.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ - I loved it.

Based on the way most people review things, that would mean that people have incredibly strong feelings one way or another. (I guess that’s not totally surprising. See: political climate.) That simply isn’t a good representation of the world though. I find this particularly frustrating when it comes to book reviews on Goodreads. I like (three stars) most books that I read. Very few do I really like (four stars) or love (five stars). If I dislike (two stars) or hate (one star) then I’ll probably stop reading before I’m done anyway. But if you look at Goodreads, an outsize number of books have four or five star reviews.

This problem is even worse when it comes to restaurant reviews. I know people who won’t eat at places with anything less than four stars. If you think about it, that’s madness. It is basically saying that you’ll only eat at places that are truly exceptional. That may be fine individually but it leads to businesses not being able to survive unless they are truly better than everyone else. That leads to a zero sum, race to the top game instead of driving a diversity of selection.

I’m a bigger fan of the way Foursquare does ratings. (Yes, I still use Foursquare.) Instead of stars, their scale is:

❤️ - Liked it
😐 - It’s okay
💔 - Didn’t like it

Additionally, instead of reviews, they have tips, which are supposed to be short little bits of information instead of ranting essays. That typically leads to more positivity as well.

Reviews themselves are only one part of the online community ecosystem that we use. Think about the pictures that we see, links to websites, operating hours, prices, locations on a map, etc. All (or most) of that was added by humans who are interacting with the physical world to make the online world more helpful.

Then there are truly online communities like Reddit, Dribble, and forums. Again, most of us simply consume from sites like these rather than actually contributing. Upvoting only minimally counts. Most people have never actually created a post, including myself.

In order to “fix” some of the polarization that I see online I am going to be the change that I want to see in the world by actively participating in online communities rather than just absorbing them as they are. I am going to write more balanced reviews, contribute photos, correct maps, and join in actual conversations. Here are just a few of the places I plan to be more active:

  • Foursquare

  • Goodreads

  • Yelp

  • Amazon

  • Reddit

  • Tesla Motors Club

  • Wikipedia

  • OpenStreetMap

  • Google Maps

  • Zooniverse

  • 23andMe

I’m looking forward to being much more of a participant instead of just a lurker. And I’m curious to know what communities you find interesting that you want to contribute more to as well.

A brave new world

Life without Facebook

The promise of the internet was an open and free place where anyone could share and exchange ideas with anyone in any part of the world, instantaneously. While that ideal has largely played out, what most people failed to predict was how that information was going to be controlled and profited from.

The early internet was difficult and clunky to use. Browsers like Netscape and Internet Explorer allowed millions of people to get online easily. Companies like Geocities and AngelFire provided fairly simple ways to build a website while ICQ and AIM connected people directly through chat. But all of this was still mainly used by nerdy early adopters. What was needed was an even easier way to create and share content.

MySpace pioneered the field of “social media” but its infinite customization, while a great reflection of a user’s personality, led to a disjointed and confusing user experience. Facebook (originally The Facebook) entered the fray focused on college students with a standardized, easy-to-use product that included photos, status updates, and a social graph of friends and acquaintances.

Fast forward only a handful of years and Facebook is now one of the world’s largest companies by market capitalization and has over 2.8 billion people using at least one of their core products (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger) each month. This single company now essentially controls what information a good chunk of the world sees, from friend’s photos to news stories to advertisements, just to name a few.

Any company that grows to this size so quickly in an industry that hasn’t existed before is bound to make mistakes and Facebook has made some fabulous ones. At some point in their history, they had a choice about what kind of company they wanted to be. They could become good stewards of the internet’s information and customer data by building a robust ecosystem that encourages competition in their industry so that they can compete fairly. Or they could become a profit-seeking monopoly who only cares for their bottom line with little regard for the impact of their products on society as a whole. Unfortunately, they chose the latter.

In a healthy capitalist democracy, a company like this should be punished. But Facebook operates all across the globe and in many places that are neither capitalist nor democracies. Very few legislators even understand how Facebook works let alone know how to control it. And consumers can’t simply vote with their wallets because the product they use is “free.” The only real option is to stop using Facebook products altogether but for many people Facebook is the internet. It’s time to take back control.

For me, that starts today. As of a little over a month ago, I have deleted all of my Facebook product accounts (after downloading my data). I’ve long had a personal website and blog but dissemination has always been a challenge. Thankfully, I’m not the only individual or company frustrated with this state of affairs so many new ventures are sprouting up to change the way information is published and the business models around it. I have chosen to use Substack as my main tool going forward.

If you’ve made it this far you’re probably wondering why you received this in the first place and what it means. Well, you’re getting this email because you’re someone I’m close with or might have an interest in things I post. I’ll mostly be writing longer-form articles on a variety of topics every 1-2 weeks. But I’ll probably also post shorter updates, photos, and the like as well too. All of this will come directly to your inbox. If you don’t want to receive these anymore you can simply unsubscribe (I won’t be offended). Better yet, if you think others might find my ramblings interesting you can have them subscribe at kjbrazil.co.

I hope this new format proves to be enjoyable for both my readers and myself. Your feedback and criticisms are always welcome. I also hope it’s the start of new ways to share information online that brings us back to the original vision of the internet as a free, open, and globally connected place.

Onward and upwards for 2020.

365 days of Stoicism

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

On January 1, 2018 I started reading The Daily Stoic, a page-per-day book filled with insight from some of the great Stoics like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, and Zeno. I’ve always been interested in Stoicism as it is one of the more practical philosophies that aligns well with today’s work in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and the growth mindset.

Below are handful of excerpts from the book that I highlighted along the way and which I will continue to refer back to for inspiration and knowledge.


By controlling our perceptions, the Stoics tell us, we can find mental clarity. In directing our actions properly and justly, we’ll be effective. In utilizing and aligning our will, we will find the wisdom and perspective to deal with anything the world puts before us.


Control your perceptions. Direct your actions properly. Willingly accept what’s outside your control.


The more things we desire and the more we have to do to earn or attain those achievements, the less we actually enjoy our lives — and the less free we are.


Today, let’s focus on the three areas of training that Epictetus laid out for us. First, we must consider what we should desire and what we should be averse to. Why? So that we want what is good and avoid what is bad. It’s not enough to just listen to your body — because our attractions often lead us astray. Next, we must examine our impulses to act — that is, our motivations. Are we doing things for the right reasons? Or do we act because we haven’t stopped to think? Or do we believe that we have to do something? Finally, there is our judgment. Our ability to see things clearly and properly comes when we use our great gift from nature: reason. These are three distinct areas of training, but in practice they are inextricably intertwined. Our judgment affects what we desire, our desires affect how we act, just as our judgment determines how we act. But we can’t just expect this to happen. We must put real thought and energy into each area of our lives. If we do, we’ll find real clarity and success.


Today, when you find yourself getting anxious, ask yourself: Why are my insides twisted into knots? Am I in control here or is my anxiety? And most important: Is my anxiety doing me any good?


We should enjoy this brief time we have on earth — not be enslaved to emotions that make us miserable and dissatisfied.


The world can control our bodies — we can be thrown in jail or be tossed about by the weather. But the mind? That’s ours. We must protect it. Maintain control over your mind and perceptions, they’d say. It’s your most prized possession.


On tough days we might say, “My work is overwhelming,” or “My boss is really frustrating.” If only we could understand that this is impossible. Someone can’t frustrate you, work can’t overwhelm you — these are external objects, and they have no access to your mind. Those emotions you feel, as real as they are, come from the inside, not the outside.


There are two ways to be wealthy — to get everything you want or to want everything you have. Which is easier right here and right now? The same goes for freedom. If you chafe and fight and struggle for more, you will never be free. If you could find and focus on the pockets of freedom you already have? Well, then you’d be free right here, right now.


If your happiness is dependent on accomplishing certain goals, what happens if fate intervenes? What if you’re snubbed? If outside events interrupt? What if you do achieve everything but find that nobody is impressed? That’s the problem with letting your happiness be determined by things you can’t control. It’s an insane risk.


“We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead we say, ‘I’m going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.’” Today, not tomorrow, is the day that we can start to be good.


by pouring ourselves fully and intentionally into the present, it “gentle[s] the passing of time’s precipitous flight.”


Turning his eyes earthward, he sees how comically small even the richest people, the biggest estates, and entire empires look from above. All their battles and concerns were made petty in perspective.


Succumbing to the self-pity and “woe is me” narrative accomplishes nothing — nothing except sapping you of the energy and motivation you need to do something about your problem.


There are two kinds of people in this world. The first looks at others who have accomplished things and thinks: Why them? Why not me? The other looks at those same people and thinks: If they can do it, why can’t I? One is zero-sum and jealous (if you win, I lose). The other is non-zero-sum (there’s plenty to go around) and sees the success of others as an inspiration.


The next time you face a political dispute or a personal disagreement, ask yourself: Is there any reason to fight about this? Is arguing going to help solve anything? Would an educated or wise person really be as quarrelsome as you might initially be inclined to be? Or would they take a breath, relax, and resist the temptation for conflict? Just think of what you could accomplish — and how much better you would feel — if you could conquer the need to fight and win every tiny little thing.


But consider one technique he’s used as he’s gotten older: he takes a candidate to breakfast and asks the restaurant’s manager to purposely mess up the candidate’s breakfast order. He’s testing to see how they react. Do they get upset? Do they act rudely? Do they let this little event spoil the meeting? Do they handle the inconvenience with grace and kindness? How you handle even minor adversity might seem like nothing, but, in fact, it reveals everything.


No need to be too hard on yourself. Hold yourself to a higher standard but not an impossible one. And forgive yourself if and when you slip up.


“On those mornings you struggle with getting up, keep this thought in mind — I am awakening to the work of a human being. Why then am I annoyed that I am going to do what I’m made for, the very things for which I was put into this world? Or was I made for this, to snuggle under the covers and keep warm? It’s so pleasurable. Were you then made for pleasure? In short, to be coddled or to exert yourself?”


For getting angry is also a weakness, just as much as abandoning the task or surrendering under panic.


It’s not enough to just not do evil. You must also be a force for good in the world, as best you can.


We tell ourselves that we need the right setup before we finally buckle down and get serious. Or we tell ourselves that some vacation or time alone will be good for a relationship or an ailment. This is self-deceit at its finest. It’s far better that we become pragmatic and adaptable — able to do what we need to do anywhere, anytime. The place to do your work, to live the good life, is here


the person who perseveres through difficulties, who keeps going when others quit, who makes it to their destination through hard work and honesty? That’s admirable, because their survival was the result of fortitude and resilience, not birthright or circumstance.


You have two essential tasks in life: to be a good person and to pursue the occupation that you love. Everything else is a waste of energy and a squandering of your potential.


If real self-improvement is what we’re after, why do we leave our reading until those few minutes before we shut off the lights and go to bed? Why do we block off eight to ten hours in the middle of the day to be at the office or to go to meetings but block out no time for thinking about the big questions? The average person somehow manages to squeeze in twenty-eight hours of television per week — but ask them if they had time to study philosophy, and they will probably tell you they’re too busy.


You don’t have to believe there is a god directing the universe, you just need to stop believing that you’re that director. As soon as you can attune your spirit to that idea, the easier and happier your life will be, because you will have given up the most potent addiction of all: control.


“When you are distressed by an external thing, it’s not the thing itself that troubles you, but only your judgment of it. And you can wipe this out at a moment’s notice.”


You’ll always be a medalist, and you’ll always know what it feels like. No one can take that away — and it would be impossible to feel more of that feeling.


When there is something we prize — or someone that we love — we can whisper to ourselves that it is fragile, mortal, and not truly ours. No matter how strong or invincible something feels, it never is. We must remind ourselves that it can break, can die, can leave us.


We’re all here and we’re all going to leave this earth eventually, so let’s not concern ourselves with petty differences in the meantime. We have too much to do.


The number of years we manage to eke out doesn’t matter, only what those years are composed of. Seneca put it best when he said, “Life is long if you know how to use it.” Sadly, most people don’t — they waste the life they’ve been given. Only when it is too late do they try to compensate for that waste by vainly hoping to put more time on the clock.


“Think of the whole universe of matter and how small your share. Think about the expanse of time and how brief — almost momentary — the part marked for you. Think of the workings of fate and how infinitesimal your role.”


Consider this the next time you feel self-important, or like everything rises and falls on what you do next. It doesn’t. You’re just one person among many, doing your best among many. That’s all you need to do.


As fun and exciting and pleasurable as these pleasures are, it’s worth putting them in their place. You don’t get a prize at the end of your life for having consumed more, worked more, spent more, collected more, or learned more about the various vintages than everyone else. You are just a conduit, a vessel that temporarily held or interacted with these fancy items.

Goodreads random next book selection

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

I’m a huge fan of Goodreads. Every book that I find even remotely interesting goes on my “to-read” shelf. I also mark what I’m currently reading (usually synced from my Kindle) and rate most things I’ve ever read, past and present. It is a pretty indispensable tool in my reading life.

I love being able to see what my friends have read and what they think about books I’m considering reading. I also love the idea of having this giant digital bookshelf that doesn’t take up any space. After over eight years of using the service, my shelves have become quite large. As it stands right now, I have 572(!) books that I want to read. These span a wide range of genres like science fiction, business, sports/running, self-improvement, and other random fiction. But when I sit down to figure out what to read next, I often don’t know how to choose.

To make my life a little bit easier, I decided to use the Goodreads API to pick out one random book from my “to-read” shelf that I hopefully will want to read next. If I don’t, I just ask again.

Here’s how you can set this up yourself:

  1. Create an API key at https://www.goodreads.com/api/keys.

  2. Grab your Goodreads ID. You can find that by going to your profile and looking at the number that precedes your first and last name in the profile URL. For example, mine is 4640588 from https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4640588-kyle-brazil.

  3. Use the following cURL command in your terminal and replace your own API key and ID.

curl -X GET 'https://www.goodreads.com/review/list?v=2&key=YOUR_API_KEY&id=YOUR_ID&shelf=to-read&sort=random&per_page=1'

Using this, you will get back a not-so-pretty XML response with one random book from your “to-read” shelf and all the info you need about it like the title, ratings, summary, and links to Goodreads. Note: In order for this to work your shelves must be public. Otherwise, you’ll need to use OAuth.

So, based on all of this, what will I be reading next? The Catcher in the Rye! Something I’ve, surprisingly, never read and a classic.

2019 Race Calendar

Emotional moment after finishing the 2018 Broken Arrow Skyrace 26K, my first race back since my accident.

This past year has been filled with a lot of fits and starts when it comes to running. There was exciting progress at the beginning of the year followed by some injury setbacks and a lack of leg strength. Somehow I was still able to return to racing mid-year but then things came crashing down again. After taking a bit of time off to recoup both mentally and physically, I started building back my base and figuring out how to move forward. Now I am entering 2019 with my first race calendar planned out in over two years.

At my core I know I should be grateful that I’m able to run at all, let alone be racing or striving to get back to where I was. But there is a big part of me that just won’t accept that and wants to keep fighting to become an even better runner than I was before. This year, if everything goes to plan, I will be attempting my return to the ultra distance at one of my favorite races.

Before I list out the races, I want to acknowledge my amazing “team” that has helped me get back to where I am today and who continue to push me forward to becoming a stronger athlete:

In 2019 I will be mainly focused on getting back to the trails with a little bit of road racing mixed in. For at least the first half of the year I will be sticking close to home in California but if things go well I’ll be looking for some further flung adventure races towards the end of the year. To be fair, you really can’t beat spring and summer racing in California and my list of destinations doesn’t disappoint.

FOURmidable — Half Marathon

Auburn, CA
Februray 17th

Montana de Oro — 36K

Los Osos, CA
March 9th

Bay to Breakers — 12K

San Francisco, CA
May 19th

Broken Arrow Sky Race — 52K

Squaw Valley, CA
June 22nd

Looking forward to pinning on a bib again soon and hope to see you out there on the courses!

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