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Articles by Josh Niederer...

On Important Things

From looking at the average person in the US, it's clear that buying things is important. From cars to seasonal decorations, advertisements are constantly asking us to buy as many things as we can. The reason there are so many advertisements is because so many people want to buy things. Everyone seems to have a hole in their pocket, perpetually wanting to purchase the next thing that catches their eye. Aren't the things we have already enough? The two possessions that are most important are the body and the mind and we usually take them for granted. The body and mind are too often overlooked and taken advantage of.

What's more important: the upkeep or your car or the upkeep of your body? Most people would say that the upkeep of both is important but say that the body is more important than the car. That all would be said right before they hit the all you can eat buffet and polish off the last soda in the twenty four pack. In life we are given one body. That one body is ours no matter what. Cars, on the other hand, are temporary. I'll drive my 2012 Jetta for a while then get a new car when it stops working. My body will be mine until I die, there is no replacement body waiting for me after I'm done with this one. When looking at it like this, I see no reason not to treat my body as well as possible. From eating clean to getting adequate exercise daily to sleeping enough, the body needs constant upkeep in order to stay healthy. We need to make time to perform these actions.

Everything I said about the body, also applies for the mind too. As much as the body is overlooked, the mind is even more overlooked. I read somewhere long ago that the average person doesn't read a single book a year after they get out of school. Without reading, learning, or working it somehow, the mind becomes weak. It needs stimulation just like the body does. Critical thinking skills evaporate when not used. It's amazing to think about how averse most people are to thinking and learning new things. The benefits of a sharp mind are everywhere.

The more physical stuff we have, the more clutter we have. There's a line from the 1999 movie, Fight Club, that speaks to this idea. Tyler Durdan says: "The things you own end up owning you." I believe this idea is true. The more things we have the more obligations we have for spending time with each of those things. Each thing requires some form of upkeep. Houses require cleaning and maintenance, so do vehicles and pretty much every other thing we can buy. Through minimizing the things we have, we can simplify our lives and free up more time to take care of ourselves.

I'm not a strict believer in pure minimalism. Having some things can improve our lives, but I do believe in minimizing the number of things we have, to a point. Through improving the body and mind, and spending the majority of the time working on them, there is little need to buy the next gadget that comes out or a fancy car to impress everybody. Through spending time on the body and working it hard, it becomes equivalent to a Ferrari. Building up the mind and using it to think of new ideas can replace the need for the next iPhone or similar technology. Rather than buy new things, enjoy time with the ones you have.

Published on 4/18/2016 3:45:58 PM

On Starting to Wake Early

For as long as I can remember I've always went to bed late and got up as late as I could. I'd estimate that my average bed time was 1 AM and I'd usually wake up around 8 AM. This wasn't too bad of a schedule but I felt tired quite a bit. So in February I decided I'd start going to bed at 10 PM and start waking up at 6 AM or earlier. The results so far have been great, but nothing has changed too dramatically.

Prior to setting the 10 PM bed time, I didn't have a strict sleeping schedule. Typically I'd just go to bed when I looked at the clock and thought, "Oh shoot, I need to get to bed!" Then in the morning, I'd wake up to the sound of an alarm. There was no set pattern, and I think my quality of sleep suffered because it. With the set bedtime it takes a lot shorter amount of time to fall asleep and I don't think I've ever had to get up in the middle of the night. Before I'd wake up in the middle of the night a couple of times a week. Now I don't wake up until it's time to get up for good, and I never have to use an alarm.

From a productivity standpoint I think things have been the same, outside of the times that I'm active. When waking up early, I usually get off to a productive start on personal things then head to work. When I get up late, I head straight to work and focus on my personal stuff late in the evening. Either way, a similar portion of things have gotten done. Waking up in the morning has been less chaotic since I'm not working hard right before bed. Another thing that is possible when going to bed early, is that I can sleep in as long as I need to and won't be late for any obligations I may have. Some days it's nice to get extra rest.

All in all, I think waking up early has been beneficial. The better quality sleep is the key selling point for me. If I can continue using this sleep pattern for a long enough time, I think the benefits could become even more pronounced. Being able to consistently get as much sleep I need and to have a well-defined schedule should have important health benefits down the road. Feeling alive and energized in the morning is a great feeling. Now I get to experience this daily. Without the set schedule I felt energized most mornings, but it wasn't every day. 6 AM used to be something I didn't look forward to, now it's one of the most pleasant times of the day.

Published on 4/17/2016 9:21:30 PM

2016 Cubs Review Eleven Games In

Eleven games into the season one thing is clear: the Cubs are great. The Cubs have won nine games and lost only two on the young season. What's more impressive though is how they've won their games. The Cubs aren't simply winning; they're dominating. Their current average runs scored per game is sitting at 6.50, second in all of baseball (the Cardinals lead the league with 7.30, the Twins are last at 1.90). They're currently only allowing an average of 2.70 runs a game, which is tied with the Royals for third best in baseball. This team is performing at an elite level in every facet of the game.


The word everyone is using to descridbe this offense is "relentless." They never give up at bats and are always ready to strike. I get the feeling that they are never out of a game with the way the offense can pile up a lot of runs in a hurry. The lineup is currently walking in around 14% of their plate appearance. The high walk rate pushes the team OBP up to .371, which is tops in the league.

On an individual performances front, the Cubs are being led by the strong performance of leadoff man Dexter Fowler. Fowler is currently slashing a robust .424/.558/.667 (AVG/OBP/SLG). These numbers won't hold up over the full 162-game schedule but they're fun to look at. Outside of Fowler's performance the numbers are pretty pedestrian. Lots of great OBPs but everyone else is hitting under .300. Timely hitting and on base skills are leading this team to offensive success. It's scary to think about how good this team could be if the regulars start to hit like they can.


As impressing as the offense has been, I've been even more impressed by the pitching. Each member of the starting rotation has been solid to great. Off the top of my head I can only recall one bad pitching performance, John Lackey (6IN 6 ER) in a 14-6 victory against the Diamondbacks. The starting rotation has pitched well enough to keep the team in every game so far. The bullpen has been dominant too allowing a total of 7 runs across 26.2 innings. It's been fun to watch these guys pitch. Lots of strikeouts with very few walks.


Addison Russell and Jason Heyward have played some amazing defense so far. The rest of the team has passed the eye test so far on defense too. With the exception of the four error game in the April 14 loss to the Rockies, the defense has only made two errors.

What's to Come

So far the Cubs have controlled the strike zone both at the plate and on the mound. One of the major goals of the Epstein-regime has been to acquire players that control the strike zone. This goal has finally come to its full realization here in 2016. The Cubs will continue to take walks on offense and prevent walks on defense. This will lead to more wins. The Cubs likely won't be able to sustain their .818 win percentage, but will likely stay over .600 for the rest of the season. The rest of April is fairly soft and the Cubs will start hitting more and continue to win lots of games this month. It's plausible that they get out of April with 20 wins. Estimated Record: 18-6.

Enjoy the best moment of the 2016 season so far below.

Published on 4/16/2016 10:00:50 PM

On Picking Skills

I've written a lot about the importance of acquiring skills, but haven't touched at all on what type of skills to acquire. In an ideal world I'd recommend acquiring every skill possible. Since life doesn't last forever though, we can't acquire every ability out there. In the real world, we typically have to pick and choose skills based on need. When deciding what to focus on learning, always pick things that play well anywhere. Focus on learning things that never fall out of style. Things like math, problem solving, and communication skills will never stop being important, these are the type of skills worth dedicating time towards working on.

Earlier this year the Governor of Illinois pushed through an Executive Order to join all State of Illinois departments of Information Technology into one bureau called DoIT (Department of Innovation and Technology). This merger is going to bring many disparate parts into one unified organization. The reason this is relevant is because there will be a push for standardization across the organization. From the programming languages used to the types of networking tools supporting the infrastructure, things will be changing. From my standpoint, I'm not worried at all. My software development skills will work in any environment. As a developer, I feel my best skill is problem solving, which is a tool agnostic ability. Whatever language or platform of the week is decided as the target environment will be fine for me. Others who have let their skills stagnate may face an uphill battle.

Picking the right abilities to learn, though not quite as important as actually building them, is of immense importance. Focusing on the wrong skills offers less flexibility and future value. Think of the Cobol programmer or the Open VMS expert. These skills, having fallen out of favor for almost all new development projects, offer much less flexibility than they did in the past. To continue to learn and practice these skills would likely close a large set of hypothetical doors in the future. On the other hand, if they're focusing on the underlying concepts and continually staying up on current technology the doors are once again open.

That's not to say that all skills have to be work related. Skills outside of work are vital to improving wellbeing. It's important to have hobbies that enrich the experience of living. These skills may not have the best monetary return on investment, but they will have just as big of an impact on wellbeing. These activities are perfect to create variety and strech the mind in different ways that your day job can't. Pick abilities that jump out to you. Try as many different skills as it takes to find some that are worth pursuing.

Below are my criteria that make a skill worth picking. If a skill doesn't meet any of these criteria it's probably not worth diving into.

  • Timeless (the skill will still be relevant in 100+ years)
  • Provides Value
  • Creates Happiness/Enjoyment
  • Improves Health

Published on 4/15/2016 10:25:40 PM