Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down!
And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there.
I’ll tell you how I became the pariah of a town called #Boulder.
So I’m going to tell you about the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my life, so far. While it wasn’t so bad in itself and could’ve been much worse, it was moreso the circumstances of my life in which it happened that made it so terrible. This occurred in Boulder, CO in July 2013, immediately after I had moved there from Denver.
A few people have heard parts of this story. Some have heard all of it. But I’m tired of retelling it. I want this in its entireity, in one place. I have dealt with this on my own long enough and I want to get it off my chest. If you helped me during this time, I cannot thank you enough. I am so glad the people at Boulder Fuse and SSD, the Boulder Hackerspace, were trying to help me out.
My life was extremely chaotic at this time. I didn’t feel good. I was depressed and extremely stressed. I’m pretty sure I had some psychosomatic symptoms, where the level of stress and my emotional states were actually causing me physical problems as well. At the time, I thought it was the bedbug poison that surrounded me at home. I did not feel like myself and stopped physical activites like skateboarding because of this wierd feeling of weakness in my nerves/muscles. It was probably self-induced by my state of mind, but I was spending hours of time on Wikipedia looking into ALS, MS, etc, but couldn’t find anything that matched. At one point, I had pins and needles in one leg, though it wasn’t falling asleep. Anyways …
So what’s that like? You know, being a * Pariah?*
Picture yourself, having just moved to a new area an hour away, though you’re 25 hours from home. You’ve been living in Colorado for 4 months now and you’ve made a few good friends in Denver. But, you’ve just moved to Boulder after having a severe case of “the grass is greener.”
Then, three weeks after you arrive, your new roommate, who you barely know, informs you that your new apartment has bedbugs. At the end of June, he leaves for the Rainbow Gathering in Montana, leaving you alone. You could go if you want. However, you don’t have much desire to hang out with thousands of hippies doing fingerprints of acid until they shit themselves. Instead, you’re interviewing for a new job and need to get your shit straight in preparation.
So … there’s certain things that happen to me … and I don’t think they happen to other people …
You’re a fairly quiet person, very introspective. And you haven’t had a chance to make real friends yet. By real friends, I mean the kind of people you feel comfortable asking to help you deal with some serious problems. Problems which would would surely mean these true friends would have to be willing take on some pain in order to help you out. And sometimes you just don’t know how to ask for help.
2013/7/7 View from the roof of the Boulder Hackerspace
I took this picture on the first day I got paid and the day I started new job at JumpCloud. Things were starting to look up, but there was still no light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m starting to write a bit too much, so I’m going to try to sum up how the situation impacted my life first. Then I’ll go into more details, including what happened. I was psychologyically traumatized by this. As in PTSD. Maybe I wasn’t in a warzone, but 6 to 12 months afterwards, I was constantly reliving these situations. Constantly replaying memories and ruminating, trying to establish what I could have done to limit the impact of these situations. Trying to figure out what I did wrong, why I deserved to go through this.
Bedbugs are like an STD. It’s like an STD, where you don’t even have to fuck someone to * fuck * someone! Instead of being sexually transmitted, it’s more like ‘reaching-out-for-help-transmitted’ – in my case, I couldn’t ask for help without hurting those people who gave me help!
Basically, I ended up in a situation where I was isolated and had no support network. I even lost my phone right at the worst time and had a hard time contacting my family for about three weeks. I had to deal with this severe problem that I was deathly afraid of talking to anyone about, since I likely couldn’t prevent this infestation from spreading.
Coworkers at Boulder Fuse.
I was working at an extremely cool coworking space in Boulder at the time. Boulder Fuse, a great place, run by great people. I was afraid of getting them infected – and may have, since these bedbugs can hitch a ride on your belongings. So to combat this, I wanted to minimize my time spent at home.
So, I adopted a 48-hour sleep schedule: this would mean I’d spend only half my days at home. On alternating nights, I stayed awake at the Boulder Fuse’s amazing office, fueling passion on my projects with adderal and countless packs of American Spirit.
However, today I’m proud to say that I haven’t smoked a single cigarette in 14 months!
So I only made the trek home when it was necessary. Sometimes, I passed out on the creekbed outside, during the day. When I returned home, I only reluctantly slept in my bed – a pretty amazing mattress my friend had left in his place for me. Instead, I slept outside on the patio!
Wow, your place on Craigslist looks great!! You look pretty cool yourself. We could be great friends. You don’t mind a few bedbugs do you? All you have to do is burn your furniture and clothes while you pay hundreds of dollars for a terminator to visit several times. Meanwhile, for months you infect all your friends and neighbors that live close by. No biggie, right?
While I didn’t have any furniture, I was also afraid of this problem following me to the next apartment I found myself in. I ultimately found myself homeless immediately after starting a new job. I had plenty of money, but I was so busy, I couldn’t search for an apartment. Not to mention that I didn’t have a car. After my first lease was up, I stored my belongings – which, thankfully, was no more than I could [barely] carry at one time – in my friend’s pickup truck. Rain or shine, it don’t make no matta.
The week I moved out was the EXACT time that I lost my phone!!! I really can’t use enough exclamation points to identify how this is the perfect WORST time for this to happen!
2013/8/2 Shooting Star - taken at the beginning of my homelessness.
For a period of three weeks, I had a really tough time finding a place to stay. Remember, I had only lived in Boulder for a few weeks! I started sleeping at the office. I tried to keep it on the D/L, but my manager at Jumpcloud put an end to this pretty quickly, for insurance reasons. My manager and teammates recommended getting a hotel, just until I could sort things out.
I stayed in a hotel for a few nights at a time. This was especially annoying, as it ate into my savings for a lease on an apartment. The hotel kicked me out after a few nights. And so, instead of searching for an apartment, I found myself, alone, dragging everything I owned in Colorado along with me around Downtown Boulder. To my workmates, I’m pretty sure I looked like a pathetic piece of shit who couldn’t even handle the most basic needs in his personal life. A great first impression for a new work environment, doncha know?!
2013/8/13 - Hot Tub at the Foot of the Mountain Motel
In this picture, my hat’s inside out, showing the Mandelbrot patterns inside. It’s what’s inside that counts, right? I was lucky enough to get a room here. I remember that at this time, all the students’ parents were in Boulder, helping their kids move in. This made it really difficult to find even a hotel room!
Oh, and I was suffering from a bout a Irritable Bowel Syndrome for those few weeks. Another great impression, right?
My manager at Jumpcloud wouldn’t let me keep my stuff at the office – again, for insurance reasons. So, I occasionally found myself storing my possessions openly in the parking garage below our office, while I was at work. I got to the point where staying at the hotel was completely eating up my savings for a place, so I had to do something else.
I found this blanket I could use, which at night I carried with me to the outskirts of Boulder. Rain was my worst enemy and I slept under the open sky. And amazing, I didn’t lose my mind through all of this, which I attribute to my Buddhist beliefs. I told myself that I was camping and that I should appreciate the chance I got to do this because – let’s be honest – I’m not the guy who usually goes camping. I love the outdoors, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t usually prompt myself with the opportunity.
A picture of the exact spot I camped at, above that twisted pine. In Boulder, camping is illegal.
Actually, one of my pipedreams is technology that enable us to work remotely on a mountainside … like techno-hippie hermits …
Anyways, so how was I showering? Luckily, my colleagues had recently suggested we all get a gym membership, so I showered there. How was I changing? I kept extra changes of clothes and underwear in my desk! Additionally, these became particularly useful when, for whatever reason, a toilet exploded on me at work after I took a shit!! So, again…
So … there’s certain things that happen to me … and I don’t think they happen to other people …
Anyways, for at least a week, my schedule was the following:
- 6:00am: Wake up and walk back into Boulder.
- 7:00am: Arrive at the office before anyone else and find some clothes I had stashed in my desk.
- 7:15am: Run to the gym, luckily a few blocks away – because I like to keep it simple.
- 7:30am: Phony 15 minute workout to justify being at the gym to take a shower.
- 7:45am: Quick shower.
- 8:00am: Back to the office to arrive early, which admittedly was a change of pace.
- 9:00am: Work for a while.
- 6:00pm: Get off from work. I liked to stay late. I didn’t have anyone else to hang out with really.
- 7:00pm: I stayed close to the office, so I could return after everyone left. To search for apartments, not catch up on work.
And for the rest of the night, I would desparately search listings on Craigslist, while just as desparately trying to find somewhere to stay with that night. Most of these listings were were out of my price range. Or at least exceeded my current savings at the time – I could afford to live there, but couldn’t afford the security deposit. And this is all occuring at the same time University of Colorado Boulder is returning to school, increasing the amount of competition for places to live.
2013/6/25 - View from the Boulder Fuse patio, which was my office away from the office.
I even had to wear my swim trunks at one point because I hadn’t had a chance do laundry. I used the excuse that I was going tubing with some friends later, which I was. It was one of the few times I got to see friends from Virginia. I felt pretty fucked up for not being able to let them crash at my place, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell them what was really going on! I didn’t know them too terribly well.
Admittedly, a lot of this is my fault for not taking care of finding a new place earlier. However, I was seriously overwhelmed by my new job and the moral delimma that bedbugs posed. Fortunately, after about 2 weeks of being homeless, I had found my next place. I wasn’t able to move in just yet, but my new roommate was generous enough to allow me to store my stuff in his garage. I cannot emphasize enough how this simplified my life at the time.
Also, being briefly homeless also cleared my conscience. My stuff had been outside in my friends pickup truck for several days; it’s probably in the clear. And after a few days of camping, there was no possible way that I could transmit them to my new roommate, right? Phew, what a relief. No longer a pariah!
2013/7/30 - The day before I have to move out.
My apartment complex neighbor across the way had Tibetan prayer flags hanging up and it got me thinking. The day before I moved out, I posted this pic following on Facebook, along with the following caption.
Tibetan prayer flags give me this warm fuzzy feeling. To me, they mean that no matter how cold things may seem or how far up you are, someone’s been there before. And that’s a relief right?
Acting Against My Beliefs
I had recently become more enthusiastic about embracing Buddhism. Many of these ideas had come to save me from much of the pain I had experienced in my life, years prior. I had learned that the pain I was experiencing was really a result of the cage my beliefs had constructed around myself. All I had to do was reshape my beliefs and I could escape. Briefly studying aspects of Buddhism had provided me with tools that I had found infinitely valuable, over and over again.
I had even begun to try vegitarianism, except for eggs and fish. And if you know me, this is a huge step for me, not easy at all. While I don’t each much pork or beef, it’s a huge change in my habits. However, being vegitarian is moreso a conclusion of Buddhism than a foundational tenet, as some believe. That is, if you truly act as one with the beliefs of Buddhism, you would be vegetarian because you desire suffering to end for all sentient life. Yet, there are many more important insights about life and its experiences that most would likely accept before finding themselves there.
Yet suddenly, I found myself alone in a situation where I could easily escape, supposedly, if I might just forsake one of Buddhism’s most important conclusions: that all forms of life are sacred. Even those forms of life which you’d rather not have to deal with: parasites and disease bearing life. All I had to do was poison my apartment – although there is no guarantee this would work because bedbugs are notoriously difficult to eliminate.
Additionally, there are the karmic consequences of selfishly acting on my own beliefs. Failing to act would allow this infestation to spread to my neighbors, forcing them to commit the same sins I had forbid myself to commit. It would create the exact same situation for others. And maybe this aspect of the problem seems silly to you – just $#@!’ing deal with the problem already – but to me, this was yet another aspect of the already severe problem I was dealing with!
I spent many nights at home balling my eyes out over this issue. Partially because it opened my eyes to the possibility of similar problems which cannot be defined in black and white.
The Toxicity of Our City
Another aspect of the dilemma is that I’m a “chemophobe.” In other words, I do not want to have to live in a home with neurotoxic chemicals. My roommate brought home bedbug poison and they don’t even list the chemicals in that stuff. If you know that many bugsprays and mosquito repellants contain neurotoxins capable of contributing to Parkinson’s disease by interfering with your body’s dopaminergic systems, you’re going to be pretty wary of unlisted chemicals which are probably neurotoxic or poisonous to humans, too.
After all, life evolved in similar environments and much life has common ancestry. While not necessarily true, what is detrimental to one species or form of life is often toxic to others. Our genes and systems are more similar than we realize. It’s actually epigenetics and the expression of genes which accounts for the diversity of life and NOT the genes themselves!
In other words, various forms of life are built with “lego pieces,” which are mostly the same. It’s how these pieces are snapped together that makes the difference. Some branches in the tree of life contain unique pieces, but we share many of the more important pieces. There are many exceptions and this reasoning can’t be used to determine a specific safety profile or general scientific policy, but it’s still a useful generalization. More on this topic in a separate article.
Taking it back a few months, and I’ve just lost the coolest job that I’ve ever had. I worked at Weedmaps, where I happily worked with a team of great people. Best of all, I felt that I was working for a company where I could be myself. While we obviously couldn’t smoke at work, I didn’t have to hide my marijuana usage from other employees. I wasn’t afraid that marijuana usage would be politically used against me. I was contributing to an industry I was passionate about. Everything was perfect.
Well, there was “that one guy” who I thought was being a bit manipulative, divisive and political. However, I’ve learned that this is usually the rule and not the exception. Whenever you’re in an environment where there’s an incentive for people to gain advantage – or avoid losing their job – you’re going to end up with some political players like this.
If it’s just that one guy, then your problems really aren’t that bad. If you deal with these people in the right way, you can come to an understanding, though it may not be easy. Mostly, you need to make sure everyone sees how interactions are playing out between this person and others. Again, more on this topic very soon.
So, I lost this job after a new manager came on board and they switched technologies from Ruby to Java. A few Ruby guys were let go, all at the same time. I saw it coming, but they gave us a great severance package. I didn’t want to leave, but are you really going to argue much when you walk out of the door with like $5,000 and your last paycheck on the way?
A Chance to Work on my Awesome Music Startup Idea!
This was the middle of May, right before Startup Week Boulder. At the time, I wanted to use this extra cash as a means of feuling my own startup, Oscillate. I had this idea since October 2011. It would be like a Github for music, where producers could collaborate on new tracks.
Instead, I chose to help someone else work on their startup idea. This was Nei.ghbor.Net. It was for a distributed, meshnet application platform. Meshnet is really amazing technology and could completely circumvent the possibility of NSA surveillance! There are amazingly unique possibilities for this technology.
It’s too bad the Nei.ghbor.Net blog is offline now =/ Otherwise, you could get a better idea of what we were working on. Oh wait – HERE IT IS! – God bless your heart, Internet Archive. Sometimes, it really pays to think ahead. Thankfully, I thought of visiting the site on the Internet Archive in July 2013 … You know, just in case :)
Certainly, this was revolutionary and more important than the music startup I was working on. Plus, I have the mindset that I can do anything and achieve anything, so I’m more likely to follow paths with high-risk and high-reward. We just needed to find the most basic implementation of this technology – the Twitter of MeshNet, if you will.
I love Twitter because it’s like the “atom of web applications.” What I mean by this is that Twitter is like the simplest web application. It is so simple that you could say the product was like an indivisible set of features that composed the simplest thing you could do on the internet – share 140 characters. Because of this, you could never replace Twitter by genericizing or imitating it. It’s already the simplest thing that anything like it could ever be and it has already established market dominance there.
Therefore, it’s secure in its position, so long as Twitter never extended its featureset to become something it’s not. Additionally, the only way for Twitter to be endangered from the outside is to be out-compete it by swaying it’s user base and pulling them to other similar web applications, like Facebook.
Nei.ghbor.Net just needed an app like that – the simplest, most basic application that could run on our platform. If we could define and provide the platform, coupled with the simplest app, then we could put the app together. This was MY reasoning behind the concept for Shout! – the app our team at Hack4CO put together.
Additionally, Shout! (and nearly all Meshnet apps) would be anonymized, a la the Secret app, which didn’t come along until later. That is, it wouldn’t require to use authentication to use the app. That means you can connect with people that you don’t already know, which was a limitation I had found annoying with current web applications.
I can’t take credit for the whole Shout! idea, but it was my idea that it would be the simplest meshnet application. And one of my concepts was for a cross between Twitter and Foursquare.
2013/6/29 - I worked the Frozen Banana Stand at one of Boulder Fuse’s Riverside events.
Look at me ^^ I started a business =)
So, what was Shout!, anyways?
Shout! would show you what’s going on in your neighborhood. It was like an anonymized cross between Twitter and Foursqure, where users could search their local area for other people shouting. That means they could see other users posting shouts within a search window of their local area: within 5 blocks, half a mile or 5 miles from them – even if you did not ‘follow’ that user.
Users could easily see shouts from people at the bar down the street, where a live show was being played by that band they’d never heard. Everyone’s shouts would be posted on a map that people could view to see what was going on in the local area, even if they didn’t follow these people. Obviously there were many problems that we would need to solve, including spam and technical challenges.
And the best part? Shout! was meshnet – none of this data would touch the internet! That’s what was revolutionary. It would be relayed through intermediate devices and it would not touch the internet. However, I didn’t realize just how technically challenging it would be, but I gave up my best opportunity to work on my music startup so far to work on it anyways. After our team attended Boulder Startup Week, I suggested that we couldn’t afford not to move up to Boulder. The grass there was sooo green! But really, in retrospect, this was a huge mistake. I should’ve just tried to find a job in Denver, where rent is half priced, and then worked on my startup until then. But I took the risk and paid the price.
Other great Meshnet applications include: decentralized wikipedias for sharing ideas off-net (this was my friend’s idea) and apps to allow protestors to communicate in the event of, say, Egyptian tele-communication shutdowns. You literally can’t stop it. Mwa haha! Also, unbeknownst to us at the time, a great Meshnet app called FireChat later did just that! FireChat was used in the 2014 protests in Hong Kong!
You will see widespread meshnet. It might be 2020, but it’s coming. Or so says professional über-nerd, Van Jacobson, all the way back in 2007. And he works at Google!
Also, Apple included Meshnet in iOS 7. So the capabilities are coming. But there are some incredibly, incredibly complicated problems to solve. Some of them are practical problems, some of them are very technical – like new routing protocols that just aren’t there yet. Some of the problems are in the business models – today’s apps monetize through advertising and by utilizing Big Data. In meshnet apps, your data never touches central servers – and IMO that’s the best part. But, whats the incentive to make these apps, if monetizing is going to be incredibly complicated?
Phew, my point there was to demonstrate why I thought it would be worthwhile to give up development of my own app.
Sometimes, I forget how amazing it was to briefly work on this project. It’s the fuuutuuurrree, maannnn </heady-techno-hippie>
Sooo… Did Ya Ever Move to Boulder?
At the time, my friend, who was also working on Nei.ghbor.Net, said his brother was moving out of his place in Boulder. I could get a really good deal on it, but I could only live there for two months. A really good deal, as in basically $1000 for two months for a 2BR apartment in a town where you can’t find a 2BR for less than $1300 for one month. Now, if that isn’t an offer you can’t refuse, I don’t know what is. I paid for two apartments in June to cover the one I had in Denver! When I was unemployed and not receiving unemployment – something I have never received by the way.
2013/6/16 My Desk during this time, at Boulder Fuse. Before I had found out about the bedbugs.
Additionally, he said that he’d be moving in with me in a few weeks and that we’d work on the Nei.ghbor.Net startup there. I stressed that we need to put together an MVP quickly to get funding. Otherwise, I’d run out of money. From May to June, I hung out a lot at the Boulder Hackerspace and saw my friend several times there. But it didn’t look like he was going to move in. Running out of money and uncertain of the future of our situation, I started looking at jobs and I found one in time. So, I more or less needed to pull back from Nei.ghbor.Net and start focusing on my new job.
Started Working at Jumpcloud
Got Fired From Jumpcloud
When I got fired from Jumpcloud, it was almost a relief. I had plenty of time to quit, but I’m not a quitter. And to me, losing one opportunity may just be the beginning of something greater. So it actually was pretty relieving.
And at least I had a place to stay. Things had been much worse and I would be OK – I had enough fund to survive for two months. Maybe I lost my job, but it wasn’t so bad. There were plenty of tech jobs in Boulder. And when I worked at Jumpcloud, it seemed like people were throwing jobs offers at me. But, not so much afterwards.
This is not what I was used to, as a talented Rails developer. I didn’t get it, but for the jobs I was interested in – like SendGrid and a few others – I couldn’t get past the phone screen. I’m not sure what the problem was. There were other opportunities, but I am very, very picky when it comes to finding a place to work. I would much rather not work at all in most cases.
Software is something I do because I love it. Working at a business doing software means that I’ll spend all day working on what your business needs, which hopefully is something I love working on. However, when I get home, I’ll likely be too mentally exhausted to work on the software and technologies that I want to. I’ll be restricted in what technologies I can invest the time learning and I probably won’t have the time or energy to take Coursera classes. So, you see, there’s a major economic opportunity cost to having a job!
And so, after all this, I quickly fell into a pretty bad depression. I had forsaken my inner peace long ago by this point and it was really tough for me. I was stressed that I would let my new roommate down by being unable to pay rent and putting him in the awkward position of having to kick me out. This was a guy who was extremely knowledgeable about Buddhism and taught me a ton. I really looked up to him – and he even introduced me to Kendall Musk, Elon Musk’s brother, who is changing the world in his own way. Kendall Musk, who own’s Boulder’s The Kitchen, is working on changing how restaurants source their food, working on making it easier to support the local food economy.
My roommate tried to help me out by offering me a job at the business where he worked. However, I was afraid that it was too far away and, worse, that I would let him down he might look bad. It was a position working with Java, which I don’t have too much experience with. I was just starting to get into Clojure at this point and if I had be smarter, more grounded and more confident, I would have pursued this opportunity and everything probably would have worked out. After all, Clojure was based on Java and it would have been a great opportunity for me. However, I was shortsighted and terribly hurt by this point, feeling almost like an abused dog.
I tried to start working on Oscillate again – remember that amazing music startup I was telling you about? Just one of the best ideas I’ve had and certainly one of the most fun. I went to Denver Startup Week in September 2013 and tried finding investors, but I didn’t have an MVP. The business idea was very difficult to articlulate & validate to people who didn’t have very much music production experience. I networked with a lot of business guys and Ruby developers there.
In October 2013, unbeknownst to me, a high profile Ruby developer and the founder of the GroupMe messaging service founded Splice. Splice is pretty much exactly what I wanted Oscillate to be – so that’s a little depressing. And I didn’t hear about it until June 2014 on a Ruby Rogues podcast. Needless to say, I was not pleased. However, some ideas are just fated to be and I didn’t act fast enough. These are the best ideas by the way – ideas so good, there’s no way that someone’s not going to build it.
I should have started on Oscillate in 2012, immediately! However, I just didn’t have the support around me that I needed at that time. And I never really have been able to time everything right – to get the opportunity and resources set to roll at just the right time.
I’m seriously being overlooked here.
There’s more to this story
Including what happened after I had to move out of Boulder. Seriously, it’s a bat-shit insane story – the $#@!’ing craziest thing that EVER happened to me. It’d be funny if it wasn’t true. But I’ll have to include that in another post.