If you want to be happy, I think I figured it out…

“happy pills”by theseanster93 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim, and end of human existence.” I used to think to achieve this: I had to do things that made me happy.  I was searching for things that I could add to my life, like seasoning salt. This day doesn’t feel that happy, so, add some drinks, some friends, and presto—I got happy! 

What happened was that I was distracting myself with things that made me forget what I should be doing.  And it made me less self-aware.  I stopped thinking about why I was feeling a certain way. I was entertaining myself, but I wasn’t happier. I guess you can’t get happiness by chasing after it.

As a computer programmer, I like to think about things logically: cause and effect. Put something in and get an output. If this, then that. Simple. Add things to the mix, and they result in something that we can measure and track. How in the world can I do that with happiness? Enter Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

I have realized that happiness is a side-effect, and one that’s not necessarily intuitive. I can’t always track how it happens; it just appears out of nowhere like a ghost and disappears just as fast. I wanted to find a way to guarantee it, to create it. It wasn’t until I looked at the things that created happiness as a side-effect, that I realized that the times in my life I’ve found happiness are when I’m serving others and being useful, honorable, and compassionate. When I’m kind to others, I walk away feeling a real sense of happiness. That’s deep. Like the other day, I helped this guy buy a new suit of Arabic clothes.

I had some ridiculously good Pakistani food last night, and my friend “BK” was telling me a story about a guy who was unhappy with his job and where he worked. He spoke to the HR person who helped him realize that he was good at his job, and that he loved the job that he was doing. The source of his unhappiness was that his career was plagued with gossip, time-wasting, and backstabbing office politics.

She challenged the guy to walk around the office while carrying a full glass of water. The only requirement was that he had to walk around the office three times without spilling a drop. If he did spill, he’d have to start the challenge over. It didn’t take long, but the guy succeeded and made it around the office three times. He made it past all his co-workers who whispered and wondered what the heck was going on, but he did not pay any attention to them.

When he got back to the HR person, she asked him, “How did you feel? Did you get caught up in the back-biting office politics and gossip?” He responded, “No, of course not, I focused on the task of getting around the office with the water, not on the other stuff.” He paused for a second and looked across at the smiling HR person and said, “Oh, I get it–thank you, I needed that.” He finally understood that his problem wasn’t all the bad behavior he was observing; what he learned was that if he stayed focused on his task and his job, then none of that other stuff would matter.

Back to life, our lives, to be exact.  Maybe you don’t need to carry a glass filled with water around your office, but what’s the task that can help you change the way you see reality and get you into a positive place?

Recently, I’ve been living in Saudi Arabia and have had a chance to reset some of my habits and create some new ones. Going to the Middle East wasn’t something that I was doing for my happiness; it was much more business than anything else. And I knew being away from my family was definitely going to make me unhappy. So I needed to arm myself with some things to do to make myself happier. If I am going to have to be away from the people I love, I at least should bring back something that I have achieved. I should come back better.

I’d read somewhere to start each morning by writing three things I was grateful for in a journal each day and to see what happens. So I started doing that, and at first, I found it to be easy, and it became transactional. Wake up, go down to the hotel’s mezzanine level, drink three cups of coffee, eat a big breakfast, write down three things I was grateful for and then go to the university where I was teaching. 

What I didn’t expect was it to work. And I realized that some mornings I’d become filled with emotion and really internalize the feelings of gratitude–those were the days that I felt the most significant effect. I learned that not only did I have to write down and think about what I was grateful for, but I also had to feel the emotions that go along with it. I had to feel the gratitude and be thankful for it all at the same time. I couldn’t fake it or just be frivolous about it. 

So that’s it, that’s my secret. 

If you want to really find happiness in your life, you should try to start your day with gratitude. You have to feel the emotions and bask in the healing energy that is created when you do it. It’s not a magic trick, but when you do it right, the effects are magical. You’ll sing your way into the office, and your day will be better. Give it a shot; you’ll be grateful you did.

Reaching out to the Educational Technology Community: BlockCerts

 UBTech is the largest educational technology conference. An additional benefit is that Coding Dojo was able to meet with dozens of CTO, IT Managers, and other technology based staff throughout the education community.

We introduced ourselves to this new community and attend the workshop with three strategies in mind. The first is to align ourselves with Coding Dojo’s values and give something back to students by sharing the research that Tim and I have been working for over a year.

Dan at UBTech 2018 – Las Vegas

The UBTech conference was our first really coming of age in regards to researching new offerings. We wanted to begin that with something technical, cool, and exciting.

The second strategy is that we research and understand the needs of the other educational institutions. We wanted to get involved with as many meaningful discussions with others that provide technical advice and consulting.

The last strategy was to develop relationships that could lead to corporate partnerships and other offerings.

We implemented the first strategy with the luncheon/workshop we hosted for over 20 participants from various colleges and universities. They were interested professors and technology providers for their institutions.

There was a strong desire to learn more about blockchain, decentralized digital identity, and digital certificates. Our presentation was very well received and we had an active group with many questions. The discussions that followed the workshop were revealing and uncovered a clear interest and demand for the type of digital certification we are using.

From our interactions we can see that providing general information on blockchain is in high demand, and once potential users learn the difference between blockchain technology as a digital ledger and crypto-currency, they can easily see the value and potential for this type of technology.

The workshop gave us some great insights into the types of clients within the education community. That combined with the networking and contacts we made with other participants was extremely valuable.

Here’s a link to the presentation.

Creating Verifiable Digital Certificates for Coding Dojo Students Using Blockchain

Here’s an article I wrote for Coding Dojo’s blog last year before we started the blockchain effort there. We are still working on launching a course for companies to train their employees and familiarize them with blockchain technology.

One thing I love about working at Coding Dojo, it is that we are 100% focused on the success of our students. From the day that Michael Choi asked me to open the Coding Dojo in Tysons Corner, Virginia, just outside of DC, I have had the pleasure of helping hundreds of people succeed.

Part of the “special sauce” that we use includes a significant amount of research and development. We focus on the coming trends and things that make people really serious about technology and learning. That is the magic in teaching others, there is so much there to explore and so many explorers.

Why Blockchain?

Getting involved in blockchain was a no-brainer, it is on the bleeding edge and hot. Giving our students insight into a  new technology and being the first to implement a bitcoin-based digital certificate in the boot camp industry is a huge win for our students and team. Anything we can do to highlight their struggle and give them credit is important to us, so we made it happen.

Coding Dojo is using Blockcerts to develop our digital certificate platform. Blockcerts is an open standard for creating, issuing, viewing, and verifying blockchain-based certificates. These digital records are registered on a blockchain, cryptographically signed, tamper-proof, and shareable. The goal is to enable a wave of innovation that gives individuals the capacity to possess and share their official records. The initial design and development were led by MIT’s Media Lab and Learning Machine. For ongoing development, this open-source project actively encourages other collaborators to get involved. We sent our instructor, Tim Chen, to MIT to work directly with the BlockCert team and the project’s founder. He came back and worked with the Tysons Corner team to develop our current process. See our students’ digital certificates here: certificate.dojo.news

Our students spend hundreds of hours of their time to complete our program. For institutions that have workshops and programs that give people skills, get in touch with us! We would love to assist you to develop a similar platform for your students. Giving people a verifiable “proof of work” is vital for them.

Major re-design for MY NASA DATA

The MND website has gone responsive! Gone are the klunky fixed width themes, now MND looks great on mobile. It’s interesting how just by making an extremely responsive theme, the website looks great on really any platform. That’s really the whole idea.

So we had some issues with our data viz tool, we didn’t get hacked but the software we use did get hacked in another organization. For security purposes, we pulled the app and worked on it ourselves. After about 3 months of coding, and re-coding, and working with the security folks, the original developers and others, we got a clean scan and the app was back online. During that time, I also thought that the site needed a face lift, and the first theme was really a collaborative effort–I wasn’t the one who picked all the colors etc.

Anyway, the new design features captured video from the International Space Station, through their incredible HDEV (High Definition Earth Viewing) experiment. It’s comprised of 4 HD cameras that are mounted on the ISS. You can see live video there through their Livestream.


Year Developed: 2010-2013

Client: NASA – Science Direcorate, Langley Research Center

Platform: WordPress

Design: Custom WordPress Theme

Notes: Since 2010, I’ve worked as the technical lead for the MY NASA DATA project, guiding the development of the website from a basic ‘homemade’ PHP CMS, to what it is today–a modern multi-faceted WordPress website that integrates a plethora of web technologies.  The website provides data visualization services for over 250 data parameters, integrated Jquery and DBA scripts, serving around 20,000 visitors per month.  Focusing on SEO, I’ve doubled the number of visitors to this website in one year.  This is currently my main project.

URL: http://www.mynasadata.larc.nasa.gov/

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