The State of the Justin

The President gave us the State of the Union Tuesday night. I figure it’s time for the annual State of the Justin.

New House

I’ve always been proud of the fact I was lucky and able to buy my first home when I was 20. My mortgage broker at the time joked I could buy a house before I could buy a beer. It turns out, I’ve still never purchased a beer.

On Tuesday we moved from our home on Adina Ct. to a much more historic home in Irvington on Spencer Ave.

I’ve always wanted to live in Irvington. Even when I bought the last house I wanted to live in Irvington but couldn’t afford to.

A nice young guy purchased the old house as his first home and I wish him well.

Jeremiah and I are looking forward to inviting folks over once we get all the boxes unpacked.

I’ve lost 32 pounds

InBody Scan ResultsI weighed myself this morning. The scale reported back at 149.9, which is 33 pounds less than I was in the fall.

Most people immediately query, “How’d you do that?” and “Did you even have that much weight to lose?”

Apparently, yes, I had that much to lose. It says something that 183-pound me was considered fine (albeit medically overweight by about 15 pounds). My body type is one that packs fat around organs as opposed to just on my frame. If anything, I was in more danger than the folks that carry it around their exterior.

Losing it was pretty simple: don’t eat like an idiot. I’m 30 years old, so I can’t just eat everything and the cardboard box it comes in anymore. I’m okay with that, but didn’t struggle like some people. I long eschewed sodas and fast food. But I ate a lot of bread, desserts were mandatory, and I consumed a lot of dairy in the form of cheese and creams.

Eliminating bread, getting used to fruit for dessert, and removing cheese did most of the work. I don’t miss the bread so much. I still desire a good chunk of cheesecake, but can resist. And leaving cheese off things really doesn’t impact the flavor of anything that much. Except pizza. I miss pizza. And chimichangas…

I recognize my superpower is the ability to miserably say “no” to things. It scares Jeremiah how easily I can flip to, “I just don’t do that anymore.” If that’s not your superpower, it’s going to be harder, but you can do it.

Workouts at Naptown Fitness have become routine. On Tuesday morning I had to close on two houses and move between them at 10 am. I woke up at 4 am and took the bus to the gym so I could get in a class.

Doing SWIFT (sort of a P90x/jump training/cardio hybrid) classes for 45 minutes at least 5-6 times a week is mandatory. I put it on my calendar and am incredibly defensive of that time. Meetings get placed around it, phone calls don’t interrupt it, and I’m better for it. Doing classes at 4 in the afternoon is one of the best parts of my day.

If you’re an office worker, you might find that doing a workout is satisfying because you get clear goals and finish lines. White collar work is often void of that. I like this challenge precisely because it’s hard, but defined.

And in case you think that your trip to LA Fitness is fine: the benefits of a class are tenfold. It’s awfully hard to stop and rest when the guy next to you is plowing through his work. So much so I now seek to position myself next to men and women who are as good or better than me in a class.


I read or listened to 47 books in 2017. So far this year I’m about to wrap up my fourth.

My favorites include Grant by Ron Chernow (Trump’s presidency doesn’t mirror Andrew Jackson. It mirrors Andrew Johnson, which came after Lincoln. And Ulysses S. Grant may be one of our most underrated historical figures.). I also immensely enjoyed the trilogy that is Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.

Two books have actively changed the nature of my life and work. The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande talks about the benefits of using checklists in everyday work. His thesis: there’s too much knowledge for any single human. So write down and double-check.

Deep Work by Cal Newport is equally impressive. I wrote about this over on the SuperPixel blog.

If you’re one of those people on the outside looking in at readers and wondering how they do it: the Indianapolis Public Library is wonderful. The online library delivers a good number of books to Kindles, too.  I certainly don’t buy all these books. But I do maintain an Audible subscription. Commuting on a bike or a bus is a great way to get in some extra reading time.

Slowly, then quickly at SuperPixel

SuperPixel continues to grow slowly and organically, but the work has rapidly increased lately. I still struggle with The E-Myth (short for Entrepreneur). The balance between having a scalable business that runs itself versus being a solo-preneur or nearly a solo-preneur is hard in my line of work. I recognized late last year there are almost no big, nationwide service provider businesses. There are no chain attorneys or franchise physicians. There are networks and small clusters trying, like in dentistry or in medical groups. Big corporations sell products and widgets. Or services that masquerade as products, like insurance. The only service businesses I can think of is True Green and Merry Maids. Both of which involve low-wage work.

We have reached a point where the work we have is enough. Now I want to make it really damn good. I’m more interested in solving thorny business problems for clients this year than I am in making a website or two.

Onward and upward

My goals for 2018 look something like this:

  1. Compete in a Spartan race
  2. Compete in a triathlon – Happening in July
  3. [Personal]
  4. 100 consecutive workouts
  5. Generate $10k from book sales
  6. $10k in savings
  7. Pay off debts
  8. Funnel $300/mo. to retirement – $50 short currently
  9. Launch an email series
  10. Interview a President
  11. Walk 500 dogs
  12. Share a house with great friends
  13. Travel more with Jeremiah. D.C., London – I really want to see Bond in Motion
  14. Run for office
  15. 30 days of Whole 30
  16. $200k in annual revenue for SuperPixel
  17. White Water Rafting
  18. Hang glide
  19. Jet Ski
  20. Snorkel off the Cape
  21. Ski

In July I’ll be racing in the TriIndy. I wrote a book last year that I’ve asked a few people to review. With exception of the mortgage, we’re in good shape to have most debts eliminated soon. Savings to retirement is likely to increase later this year.

Today marks the end of Whole 30. And many other things on this list are in progress or coming soon.

I’m also participating in this March’s Polar Plunge with Crystal. You can donate here. If we make the fundraising goal I’ll post the photos.

Fixing Windows Hello PINs not working after a BIOS update

This weekend I updated my Lenovo Yoga Book’s BIOS to fix some sleep issues with the device. This BIOS update came through Lenovo’s website, along with some driver updates, and not through Windows Update.

After I updated I realized two things about changing the BIOS out from under Windows 10:

  1. Bitlocker will lock your device on reboot because it thinks something deep within the hardware has changed, and that is true. Make sure you have a Bitlocker key handy. This can be generated from the Settings or is tied into your Microsoft Account (so you can access it via a phone or another device). You can get that here:
  2. The Windows Hello PIN won’t work anymore. Try as I might, I kept getting an error with no error code identifiable online. Removing and re-adding the PIN threw me into a “Something went wrong” loop.

The solution to this was pretty easy and I’m writing it here to help anyone else in the future:

  1. Go to Settings > Accounts > Switch my account to a local account. Don’t worry, it won’t delete anything or change much.
  2. Go back and select “Sign in with a Microsoft Account” again. This switch from online to local or local to online and back again flips whatever’s needed in the security key and PIN settings to clear it up.

Once I did that it worked great. And the BIOS update from Lenovo is about two versions ahead of what’s in Windows Update. It fixes Yoga Book sleep issues where it requires a force reboot to load after hibernating. WiFi driver helps speed it up, too.

Mike Pence is not “Indiana nice”

I’ve always heard this claim about the Midwest being “Midwest nice.” More locally, “Hoosier hospitality” and “Indiana nice” might as well be on our license plates. But then a guy like Mike Pence comes along, and he’s just not a very nice man. He seems downright mean.

My grandmother used to say some people “had a lot of meanness in ‘em.” No one was safe from her scorn – Democrat, Republican, young, old, didn’t matter. Her litmus test seemed to be if you caused someone harm, damage, or were otherwise uncouth, you were mean. I feel the same way about Mike Pence. More broadly, it’s starting to feel that way about the entire Republican party.

When Pence was still Governor, I began to realize why a generation of people had begun to shift to the left and continue to stay there: everyone in my generation was taught more than any other to “just be nice to people.” I can’t prove it, but I’d bet 50% of Indiana’s brain drain problem is directly related to the politics of our State House. I’m not even talking about bag bans and Tesla sales. I’m talking about all the social cruft that strikes an entire generation as somehow mean, like a bully.

The Republicans aren’t doing a superb job of framing their agenda as “being nice.” And when someone isn’t “nice,” they’re probably being “mean,” and that’s very off-putting. The Democrats may just be better at hiding their meanness because the government can certainly be a bully to a lot of people the more it expands.

“Justin, this is ridiculous. Just because a bunch of sissy millennials can’t handle some toughness is no reason to coddle them,” you might say. If you did say that I would say you just proved my point by being a dick.

It doesn’t make a generation of people weak to be nice. It just means we don’t see a reason to push large groups of individuals away. Pence’s, and now Trump’s, Muslim ban, the wall, Sessions, the Supreme Court nominees, etc. are all just mean dick moves. Their downsides are worse than the potential purported benefit.

Don’t get me wrong – everyone’s kind of a dick some of the time. Left-leaning folks love shows like The Daily Show and Full Frontal precisely because they’re mean. They poke at people in a way that you’d never do to someone’s face. Bill Maher is mean. Sean Hannity and others on the right are mean.

Pence, and certainly Trump, come across as that kind of person. A sort of faux-niceness that’s him just pushing people in ways they don’t want to be. That is against the grain of what it means to be “Indiana nice” where we stay out of the way, help when people ask, and kindly say hello and smile when interacting with others.

As an aside, I find anyone who blindly supports a specific party, votes straight ticket, doesn’t question everyone and everything, and anyone who lacks some level of empathy to be psychopathic. That can’t be healthy. In what other endeavor do we do that? Do you only drink one beer? Do you only ever always and forever buy one brand of batteries or toilet paper?

I can support a lot of reform efforts that Democrats largely don’t like. I can get behind a lot of issues that Republicans generally don’t like. And I can feel at home with a good chunk of the Libertarian party because they’re increasingly just, “Leave people alone, and be nice.”

Don’t be mean. Leave people alone when they want to be left alone. Be Indiana nice.

The Misery Index

When I first started my business in 2009 I had a working theory of why I’d be successful, at least as far into the future as I could predict: no one else will be willing to live like I do to beat me on price.

Other web professionals seemed almost decadent in their desire for the usual working wage. I, however, was not. I thought the market was clearly trending toward a world where web developers were overpriced. Graphic designers could maybe hold out a little while longer because “good taste” can’t easily be transferred to software or services. But most people don’t care. So neither should I.

Where everyone else had to meet payroll, student loan payments, car payments, credit cards, and had a desire to go out and pay for restaurants, drinks, and vacations, I had none of that. I still don’t. I make more money than I did 6 or 7 years ago, sure, but my prices are still lower for what we provide. My conservative estimate is we under-charge by about 60-80%.

I began to think of it as a “misery index”. That guy in Avon re-selling templates dirt cheap to customers won’t last because he’ll eventually have a kid. He did and left the business. That guy in Carmel I met at the networking event selling overseas labor for cheap won’t last because he lives in Carmel and will clearly want nice things, like a fancy car. He posted a photo of his Lexus online and left the business about a year later. That developer I see online from time to time in Greenwood won’t last because he’s over-extended on his house. I know how much he charges and how much that mortgage costs. He didn’t last and eventually took a full-time job after the IRS caught up to him.

Instead, there I was (and still am) the one who doesn’t go on vacations. I use the library. I ride a bike in the winter and take the bus in the rain. When I lived alone I ate half a tuna sandwich for lunch and the other half for dinner. I never did student loans, opting to quit when I realized the price was too high. I don’t buy much over $100. I’ve never purchased an alcoholic drink at a restaurant in my life because of the cost. I bought a lousy house in a do-nothing part of town because that’s what I could afford (and am hoping it will help me make rental income when it’s paid off). In total, I could live on $700 a month in income.

I could outlast a lot of people over the years simply because “I can be more miserable, for longer, than the other person.”

And I was a miserable person because of it. Internally I hated everything. I literally kept working almost out of spite just to prove myself right to only myself.

Obviously, everyone’s experiences are highly subjective and vary wildly. I’m not exactly a cancer-stricken drug mule in Somalia. Don’t overthink this. Everyone forms opinions based on experiences.

Today marks 15 years since my mother died. That’s framed a lot of my opinions on things. But I’ve also come to realize my opinions on most things aren’t worth sharing because my life has had to be hyper-realistic. It literally makes people uncomfortable.

“Oh please, that’s impossible, Justin.”

If you ask me whether people deserve health insurance or not, I skew straight to the notion that most people aren’t that important. I could die right now and it wouldn’t matter at all to the world. A few people would mind for a short while (I imagine). Thus, the only sensible solution is that frequently people will just die and everyone else will move on.

See. Now you’re uncomfortable.

I keep the possibility of being “friends” with most people at a safe distance because I assume they’ll move (far) away and we’ll never see each other again. You laugh at that, but it’s happened too many times with my closest friends. I’ll just let people stay as casual acquaintances. It keeps the misery index consistent.

I saw a tweet the other day that kids on SNAP (food stamps) deserve to have popsicles just as much as any other kid. “No they don’t,” I thought. “They should get used to never having nice things now. It’ll prepare them for life.” People always want things. I’d like a swimming pool. I don’t get to have one. You may think that’s an apples and oranges comparison, but what difference does it really make? Because one’s cheaper to you than the other?

Now you’re even more uncomfortable.

This is because so many messages tell us we can change, we can do anything, we can have whatever we set our mind to. No you cannot. Deep down, we all know that’s not true. Not everyone gets a fancy car or a nice childhood or their favorite spot at the table. Deplorable things will happen. If it knocks you too far off a high point your misery index won’t be able to handle the change.

Not everyone can just “change their mindset”, either. Because if that were true you’d just tell depressed people to change their mind. That shallow trope never imagines that science might show chemical imbalances that are nearly impossible to diagnose, treat, or correct. Sometimes, things just are.

Your disagreement to this is fine. It also doesn’t matter. Your life experiences were just different. Like the the amount of water in a small well, your misery index is set at a different level.

Indianapolis landscapers should be considered hellscapers.

The funny thing about Indianapolis is how you can bump into people in ways like you might think of in a small town. I guess it’s not impossible a person in Chicago or New York might randomly see someone around town in the course of a day’s errands. But I think it happens more here.

To give you an example I met a guy for coffee one afternoon. I can’t even remember where or why I extended the invitation, but it was probably Facebook. After seeing this guy’s name in a few circles about some website work I figured it was worth a chat. I make it my business to know people in my business.

We meet for bad coffee and service at Mo Joe’s and we talk about the usual niceties. He’s from El Paso, Texas. Works for a local shop that makes websites for high end service groups. In both cases he’s simultaneously more southern and more webby than me. Which is annoying.

Before we go he mentions his boyfriend was at the table right behind me the whole time. Not coincidentally, of course, but we took a few moments to talk about his work. Turns out he’s interested in freelance architecture design that’s more approachable and affordable for average people.

We part ways and a few weeks later my ash tree in the front lawn dies. Those two facts aren’t related, but I also have no proof they aren’t.

And in the funny way Indianapolis ticks, I saw these two guys a couple more times. Once on my bike on the way home. Then again twice in one weekend at two distinctly different places miles apart from each other.

The whole time my ash tree continued its slow death slide into being a literal stick in the ground.

In pursuit of finding a guy to cut down and replace the tree I discovered that the people who cut down trees aren’t the people who put them in the ground. Those seem like obvious lateral business moves to me, but I’m not a lumberjack or a landscaper.

After finding a bunch of quotes from landscapers and tree removers in the range of $500-$1000, these were all far higher than I valued such a service. So applying a process I call “encouraging people to do it for less”, I managed to get a guy to do it for $375. Henson’s Landscaping did a fine job of chopping down the tree and grinding out the stump. I just wish I could have gotten them to give me ideas on the “landscaping” part of their name. But they never returned my call. Like about a dozen other places in town. It was starting to become a vast hellscape of broken promises. I wasn’t indicating anything other than “I have a house. I’d like some landscaping.”

So I turn to calling all kinds of places for quotes on landscaping. All the ones that showed up in trucks with logos on them were immediately out of the running. Too pricey with too much overhead. I know how much guys like me cost, and someone has to pay that logo designer.

And in step with Indianapolis’ modus operandi, these two guys I met for coffee popped in my head. “I bet they know people who know things about trees.”

Turns out they know things about trees. Joey Ponce and Brian Burtch, both operating under the banner of “City in Green” came out to the house and gave me 100% more than at least a dozen other places around here would: in that they actually came to the house and gave me a quote. No other landscaper seemed to bother giving me the quote or showing up when scheduled. Brian’s a licensed architect with his firm NEON Architecture, so the quote even had schematics of my house and property lot. Which was both helpful and creepy.

I like hiring people who operate at small scale. They care more and are way more affordable, but are the hardest to find. I got lucky bumping into these guys.

Brian and Joey gave me an estimate, they stuck to it, and we were able to split things into phases to meet the seasons and my budget. This weekend they came out and replaced the death hole in my front lawn with three new trees. A red maple, dogwood, and eastern redbud. They’ll grow quickly, look good, and they’re not ash trees, so they stand a solid chance of not being eaten alive by supper.

City in Green's first project

Next spring we’ll throw down phase two: a mulch bed off the front of the house with native grasses and plants. And by “we” I mean them while I stand around remembering how much I don’t like to be dirty and Jeremiah makes dinner.

As it turns out this was their first landscaping project. You should be their second. Because this is how Indianapolis works and and stays looking nice.