spenser's life

🌎 What's going on in my world.
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Tschüss Germany
It's nearly Halloween (one of my favorite holidays (although tricker treating isn't a thing in Germany)). I've been getting back into the normal groove of things just in time for us to leave. Alex and I are moving back to California in early December - we'll be staying near Sacramento for a little while before heading to the east coast to check out a more permanent location (finger lakes area of NY for starters).

Many things prompted the move, but a big one for me is finding a little more permanence (living out of a couple bags for nearly two years can be draining). I haven't been back to the US for quite a while so it'll be nice to visit everyone again (and be in an environment where you really understand folks) - I have high expectations for reverse culture shock 😂. I'm going to be leaving the gig I have here in Germany and hopefully taking some time between jobs to figure out what the next thing is.

It's been so long since I've written, so I have quite the stockpile of cool links:

- Detained is an amazing and nuanced mini-documentary series which fills in the history of US immigration detention centers (starting in the 50s) with amazing interviews of folks who are in this space every day.
- Smart, Rich, and Free is a data-filled essay series about human macro progress.
- The American dream is alive in China is an interesting and uncommon perspective on -recent progress in China.
- In the era of for-profit passion projects, the creed of compromise is an interesting write up on why you should have unproductive hobbies.
- This amazing video of a dreaming octopus.
- A short clip of how Warsaw stands still for one minute every August 1st (so surreal).

I hope all is well in your world! 💌

Back to Berlin
I landed in Berlin the weekend before last after an intense experience in Tunisia, after a short trip to Southern Italy (Ostuni to be exact) to visit some friends.

I think, generally, when someone asks you about an experience with 'how was it?' you feel compelled to say 'good' or 'bad,' however visiting a place that is so different than what you're accustomed to makes such a simplistic evaluation impossible.

In the end, I met a ton of brilliant folks, was able to hang out with the amazing think.it team (in their amazing office villa), and got to get visibility into a very different way of life (although less different than you might think). I learned a ton and am so grateful to have had the experience. I'm far from an expert, but here are a few things I noticed:
  • Traffic lanes are mere suggestions (seeing people driving on the lanes/shoulders was commonplace and the traffic situation in general was chaos to an outsider)
  • Everything was extremely cheap (it's about 3 to 1 dinar to euro/dollar ratio, so a 20 dinar meal (which would be quite expensive) is about $7). It's a closed currency, which has all sorts of interesting economic/societal implications.
  • There are stray cats absolutely everywhere (which NYC might prefer to the rat problem). None were aggressive - most of them knew that people were the source of their survival.
  • Civil services are a work in progress. Trash covered residential streets, and seemingly-common bureaucratic institutions aren't fully established (apparently bribery is still commonplace). This has an impact on everything.
  • Modernity is present (despite what most of my photos represent). As an ignorant American, I didn't quite know what to expect when I got there, but there are high-class dining experiences, bougie french bakeries, amazing recreational facilities, theme parks, shopping malls, etc. (Bizarrely enough, Chilis and Papa Johns are two of the American exports)
  • The freeway system is intense and modern. Cars are almost the exclusive way to travel in Tunis (public transportation is still poor). Although traffic routing may not be optimal during peak times, the highway/freeway system seems newer and looks more efficient than what we have in the US.
  • It never felt dangerous. There are police, people are civil and kind, and obviously nobody wants chaos. I'd guess that the most dangerous thing you can do in Tunis is be in a car (which we had to do a lot of). The headlines of this region mainly feature terrorism, which is unfortunate (especially considering the statistical impact of terrorist activities worldwide).
  • There were far fewer homeless people than you'll find on the streets of SF (Just wanted to throw this out there)

🖼Here are some photos from the trip.

I've never thought so much about how hard it must be to kickstart a society/structure/economy that feels so dependent on outside resources and influence. There is a tremendous source of promise among the intelligent, progressive, and insightful young people that will be holding the keys to the castle soon. There is still a ton I'm not familiar with (especially when it comes to history, culture, and customs) but I'm sure I'll be back one day (preferably when it's cooler).

Cool things I've stumbled upon:
- An amazing article about research into new forms of life that extract electricity from rocks (we're glimpsing further and further into our evolutionary past)
- A cool visual guide to what's recyclable and exactly why/why not (So many things I thought were recyclable actually aren't)
- What is the internet anyway? A 1994 Today Show clip that will induce lols
- A crazy interesting interactive article on how the US utilizes it's land
- A short video interview of the scientist responsible for capturing a giant squid on camera (I'm sure you've seen the clip). Not only is the feat impressive, but the story behind it is actually insane.

Hope all is well in your world!

Off to Italy & Tunis
Hi all,

Alex, Miles, and I got back from Sweden and had a week to rest before we're seeing some friends in Bari and then over to Tunis (working from Think.it HQ). It'll be my first time to most places, so I'm excited.

Some highlights of the Scandinavia trip were meeting up w/ friends in Norway (we went on an amazing fjord tour), the Oslo natural history museum, the hike to the top of some mountain in Norway (the guide was this amazing lady who immigrated to the US from the middle of nowhere, Russia to work at a McDonalds and was full of incredible stories). There's a bunch of stuff I'm forgetting right now.

Here are some photos from the trip.

On the way back to Berlin, Finnair put our luggage on another flight coming back to Berlin, so we ended up waiting > 8 hours across two days in a 'lost' luggage facility (attached to Tegal airport) which makes the DMV truly feel like an exceptional customer service experience. We saw people cry, mobs start to form, and the children eventually hacked the display ipads at the front of the building and started watching Youtube. It was really an experience (but we got them both back just in time to leave again).

Cool things I've stumbled across:
- A hilarious font inspired my gerrymandering
- An inspiring short about a conservation effort in New Zealand
- Some amazing old footage of a woman talking about the beginning of television
- An article about why it took so long for us to get the bicycle going
- A great list of famous writers who found their fame after the age of 35
- A rad video about bonobos, a less talked about fellow primate

I'm also currently obsessing over this site: solar.lowtechmagazine.com. The server is run on solar and the content is really amazing and well researched.

Hope everything is good in your neck of the woods!

Scandinavian Swimmers
Hello from Norway 🇳🇴 (Bergen to be exact)!

Alex, Miles, and I just got in to Norway last Sunday (from Helsinki). Miles got 'confiscated' at the Norway border for not having a specific worm treatment and had to be in isolation for 24 hours. As unfortunate as that whole situation was, the people involved at the border were really patient and friendly and I have yet to run into an unpleasant person in Norway (yet). The number of electric cars here is pretty amazing - a likely glimpse into the future.

Finland was also really chill - it seems like a lot of people were out of Helsinki for the summer, so it was pretty empty. It just so happened there full-blown amusement park like a block away from us, so we spent an amazing day there (I confirmed that I'm still terrified by ferris wheels fyi). There was no security at the park, so we just walked in and had to ask people where we actually pay, which seems to sum up the very trusting culture they have there.

People's English in these parts is amazing and I continue to feel like a buffoon for only knowing one language. We're missing the Berlin food prices fo sho (our pizzas the other day cost of €60 (shame on us for getting the side salad and garlic bread)).

📘 I read through the Wisdom of Insecurity (by Alan Watts - a short read and well worth the time). In addition, I've stumbled upon SO many interesting things since the last newsletter so here are a few:

Btw, I'm now sending this newsletter out via neobub.com (a small web thing I built a few weekends ago). It's still in the experimental phase (as far as features go), but If you want to start a newsletter or blogthing of your own, feel free to use it. I'm also using this new platform as a way to try and improve my writing skills through a nearly-daily blog/newsletter/thing I'm calling Maybe I'm Wrong (here's the first video review hot off the press).

Hope everyone is staying cool! Let me know what's going on in your neck of the woods.

Sun Sun Go Away
I hope everyone is doing well!

Berlin is starting to get warmer, and the sun is rising at 5AM and going down at 9/10PM which is wreaking havok on my sleep (is that how you spell wreak? or havok?). Alex's parents just left town after traveling around Europe a bit and we're gearing up for a small visit to Norway, Finland, and a few other places for June/July to escape the NON-AIR-CONDITIONED heat in Berlin.

I've been spending most of my weekends working on Ooze Saga (my 'game' project) and exploring some new (to me) games (Elder Scrolls Online is stunning and Risk of Rain is painful) in an effort to intentionally slow down and be less obsessive w/ productivity (we'll see how that goes).

I finished two great books since the last newsletter.

The Body Keeps the Score was one Alex showed me. It covers a lot of ground related to psychology, physiology, and trauma - it continuously shocks you with amazing information and brings a broader understanding of how trauma effects our culture and society. I  highly recommend it.

David and Goliath is an old one I just got around to. Most interesting was the big fish little pond topic - how the worse students at the top colleges tend to drop out/change majors because they're comparing themselves to the best students of the world (resulting in fewer science/math majors, despite clearly being capable). Of course, this makes me think that the internet is a REALLY big pond so we're drawing comparisons and setting expectations for ourselves compared to everyone in the world, simultaneously. All of Malcom Gladwell's audiobooks now remind me of extended episodes of revisionist history, which is a cool podcast he does, if you're into that kind of thing.

ALSO I'm not a regular listener to this podcast (Alex is), but Armchair Expert had on Esther Perel, who is an author/therapist who deals primarily in romantic relationship? I had never heard of her before but DAMN ITS SO INTERESTING. It's long, but covers a TON of ground, bringing up ideas and concepts I hadn't thought about before - it's absolutely worth a listen.

Rad links
- How Mr. Rodgers wrote for kids (a case study on copy refinement)
- The trap of turning hobbies into hustles
- What changed my mind about climate change
- The internet might become a series of dark forests
- Neurofeedback can zap away our fears (The body keeps score talks about this 'treatment' method and the results are kind of insane (but you can't wrap it up in a recurring pill you sell so maybe it'll stay under wraps))

Let me know what's going on in your neck of the woods!

Chopsticks and Nudity
It’s been a few weeks since I got back from Japan. Alex and I were there for two-ish weeks with Silas (my brother) and Izzy (his gf). We visited Tokyo, Hikone, and Kyoto.  Our Hikone visit included staying in a traditional Japanese lodge (ryokan) with shared bath houses using buckets and natural spring water (the nudity was weird, but the baths were awesome (I felt like those hot spring monkeys)).

Overall, Japan was an incredible experience and an awesome (and alien) place. When you mix Japan’s level of automation/technology/modernity with it’s cultural isolation and history you get something very special.

A few things stood out to me:
1) The adherence to rules, which resulted in spotless and safe public places, unlocked bikes everywhere, and extremely polite interactions might cultivate a darker side that visitor’s aren’t privy to (hikikomori, Japan’s suicide rate, and their seemingly antiquated  relationship with gender). “There are too many rules” was something I heard from locals a few times. We can't really know what that's like through the lens of tourism.
2) The cost-benefit calculation, as it relates to automation and business investment, operates on a different time scale than we’re used to in the US. You get the impression that the early investments in business (and public) infrastructure is not expected to pay off in a 10, 20, or maybe even 100 year timeframe. They’re playing the long game and you can see the pay off clearly with their public transit and general physical quality of life. Doing things right the first time around is not an ethos we’re familiar with in the tech world 😂.

TLDR; it’s worth the trip if you get a chance.

We also just got back from Amsterdam, which was a cool trip except that my bag got stolen on the train from the compartment right above my head (2 laptops, bose headphones, glasses, etc.). The police woman at the Amsterdam police station said it happens a lot (AND, by the way, the amsterdam police station was a great experience).

📚 I just finished Lost and Founder, which is an absolute must-read for anyone in the startup world (ESPECIALLY if you’re a founder).

Now, I’m off to figure out how taxes work while working in the EU - wish me luck and let me know what's happening in your world!

Happy New Year
I hope everyone had a happy new year!

The last half of this year has blown by at the speed of light. Alex and I stayed in Berlin for the holidays and had pizza, potato soup, and a lot of long distant facetimes. So far, the winter hasn't been that bad (famous last words, I'm sure) - I'm looking forward to the new year as the startup hires more and things get a little less hectic. We have some awesome friends stay with us (who were also from the states) for New Years and we experienced the absolute insanity that is Berlin new years on the streets. I haven't watched The Purge, but it felt like what I imagine it to be like.

I'm giving up on new years resolutions because they don't seem to work for me, but I'm excited to see what the new year ahead has to offer. I've been working recently on a weird multiplayer web collectible game thing: oozesaga.com(it's kind of like a massively multiplayer board/card game), which has a few hundred people signed up so far.

Also, we're going to Japan in Feb so send me recommendations and/or connect me with english speaking helpers!

Rad links:

Poland in the 80s
NY in the 30s

Here's to the next 3 months of adjusting to writing/typing 2019 on everything. Let me know what's happening in your neck of the woods!

Fall in Berlin
Fall is officially here - the weather is changing and the trees are changing colors. It's quite beautiful, and this will be my first 'real' winter as a California kid (my coworkers can't wait to see my misery 😂).

I don't think I've wrote since we took our trip to Venice, which was amazing. It's an unreal place, so it makes sense that it would be swamped with tourists. We got a chance to talk to some locals and find out more about the history through some tours and exploration, which is incredible. Best of all, the trip was a super cheap/short flight from Germany.

Still working lots - another developer and I have been working to relaunch the product for over a month and it's not alive and in the wild - always a satisfying experience. I'm working on a handful of other projects when I find the time.

I've also got back into podcasts now that I have a commute (about 30-40 minutes door to door, but living here makes it hard to imagine not having an amazing public transit system). Lots of How I Built this and Hidden Brain (this episode is a good one).

PS - If you find yourself in Venice, try the Almond cake at Rio Maria.

Hope all is well in your world - let me know what you're up to.

❤️ Spenser
Nothing of Interest
I have nothing particularly interesting to report this month - still getting adjusted to the life in Germany, which shifts from exciting to daunting on a daily basis (although things are generally much easier and more normal as of late). The unbearable heat wave has ended - they don't put air conditioning in anything here because they aren't used to the heat, which makes it worse.

The new job is the smallest startup I've worked at so far (4 people) so there are a lot of moving parts and there's a lot of hard work ahead to grow the business. It's been most interesting to get to know locals on a closer level and see how folks grow up to see things differently which permeate through society and day to day life (home buying, the economy, social welfare, money, politics, etc.).

Also, we went to a screening of Harry Potter with a live orchestra playing the music, however we didn't think to check what language the movie was in, so our German skills got 1% better (Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens, if you were wondering 😂). You can tell they tried to get voice actors that mirrored the OG actors, but Alan Rickman's voice cannot be replaced. It's interesting to think about the translation process for something like Harry Potter, which is a world already made up of non-real things (for example, they translate the word pixie, but not all of the spells).

I finally caught up with 2006 and finished Freakanomics, which is rad of course, as well as Outliers and Tipping Point.

Hope all of you are doing well.

In Berlin
I'm officially settled in Berlin! Alex and I made the journey a little over a week ago now, stopping over in Connecticut at a friend's place to cut down the trip and get some much needed relaxation from the chaos of packing up your life in a few duffel bags (the pets appreciated it too). Their family house in CT was amazing - we got to visit their new bb and NYC while we were there (my first time)!

Our jet lag is just now wearing off and we've both started our new gigs (I'm on day 2 at loanlink.de (rebrand incoming)). The company is doing online mortgages for Germany, which isn't really a thing yet (which seems to line up with the larger trend of digitizing services that have been digital for some time in the US). I almost have my subway commute figured out without the aid of google maps. I've lucked out in finding such a great set of folks to work with.

We also were able to land a great apartment in neukolln. Everything in the city and, to a lesser extend, in the way people live is still net new to me, which is exciting and almost overwhelming at times. We're still acclimating to the language barrier, which hasn't provided any huge challenges so far and Berlin is currently going through an unseasonably hot heat wave (so we're told) which has been no fun without an air conditioner (A/Cs are apparently pretty uncommon here). Also, the food is SO cheap!

All in all, it's been a super exciting adventure so far and I am excited to see how it shapes up.

What I'm Consuming:
- 1944 (Just a coincidence that I'm reading this breakdown of WW2 events, some of which happen to involve Berlin)
- Grand Designs (Netflix)
- Derren Brown: Miracle (Netflix) Derren Brown got a Netflix special. Every show of his I watch seems to top the one previously, and this is no exception.

I also recently discovered Libby, which is this super rad app that takes your library card from anywhere in the US and allows you to check out ebooks for your kindle and also includes audiobook!

I saved some stories from the trip to Berlin on instagram, so feel free to check them out.

❤️ Spenser
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