ashleynewman

  • From now on I will write blog posts in list form 📝
  • Pros of writing in lists
    • Brevity
    • It’s a lot quicker to produce
    • Visual organization of content 👀
    • Lists don’t have to use sentences and I don’t want to waste time with grammar 🥸
    • I personally have trouble intaking walls of text
    • It’s weird 🤪
  • Cons
    • It’s harder to show personality through lists
      • Perhaps emojis can help with this?💡
    • It’s weird 🤪
  • That’s it!

Kevin from the office

I’ve recently created and employed a new habit tracking system that has visibly improved my life. It has helped me exercise consistently, choose reading over scrolling, improve my motivation and focus at work, and go to bed earlier. As a result, I’ve been feeling a lot more accomplished at the end of the day which puts me in a good mood. The bonus of this system is that it has also made me more conscious of my spending habits. This has been especially useful with the current pandemic prices (I also now live in Silicon Valley where potatoes and eggs for brunch can easily cost $25 👎).

The System

The first thing I did when coming up with this system I call Kozukai (“allowance” in Japanese) was think about the different habits I wanted to have in my life. These habits could happen multiple times a day to ones that happen every few days. Then I assigned dollar values to each of these habits, balancing the importance and frequency when coming up with figures. For example, some of my habits include:

  • Exercise: $8
  • Read: $2
  • Pomodoro focus session: $2
  • In bed by 1am: $5
  • Take a walk $2

To explain the reasoning for some of these values, let’s take exercise and pomodoro sessions. With exercise, I run about 4 times a week, so the frequency is quite low relative to the other habits. I’m also training for a half-marathon for my next birthday so it’s a very important habit. As a result, I’ve assigned it a high, very rewarding dollar value. With pomodoro sessions, though very important, I tend to do somewhere between 10-12 sessions during a workday, and so the frequency is very high. As a result, the habit has a low dollar number.

Kozukai website

Each time I perform one of these habits, I record it and have a running total of all the cash in my Kozukai bank. I’ve created a website to help me keep track of this, but you can also use a spreadsheet if you want (I did for the first two weeks when I was experimenting and tweaking the system). The cash that I accumulate ends up being my “for fun” money that I’ll pull from when going to restaurants, buying concert tickets, paying for trips, etc…. Thus, I also track the money I spend and subtract it from the banked cash.

Why This Works

Kozukai works well for me because:

  • It’s simple and requires little effort (especially with the Kozukai Habit website!)
  • It helps me prioritize habits
  • It’s rewarding to see the bank value go up
  • It makes me more conscious about how much money I’m spending (a $25 brunch requires 13 pomodoro sessions 😵)
  • I feel that I earned what I purchase
  • If I want to make an expensive purchase, it forces me to be on top of my habits and come up with new habits that are very rewarding (both in money and life improvement)

Some Considerations For You

If you want to try out the Kozukai system there are a few considerations that may be helpful to remember. First, these monetary values I’ve come up with are catered to me and my income, so you will need to adjust. In addition, you may need to adjust values after creating them if you find that they are too rewarding or not rewarding enough. Second, I recommend keeping the system positive instead of negative (e.g. taking away money if you perform a bad habit). Adding negativity will only make the system less fun and less motivating to keep up. Finally, I encourage you to tweak and modify the system to cater to you and your lifestyle. Part of the reason Kozukai has worked so well for me is because I’ve come up with it myself.

I hope you’ll try out the Kozukai method and find the same success as I have. If you have any feedback about the system, kozukaihabit.com, or want to chat, please send me a message at ashleynewman@protonmail.com. Thanks!

How I Reward Myself with Good Habits.md Displaying How I Reward Myself with Good Habits.md.

My favorite podcast No Stupid Questions has a new episode on the importance of enthusiasm that I really enjoyed. The listener contributed segment of the episode brought up how SpongeBob is the perfect role model for enthusiasm. I grew up watching a lot of SpongeBob SquarePants so this caught my attention. As a result, I decided to re-watch the show (it holds up well) to observe his behaviors. Below are my observations of the sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea.

His job is his calling

SpongeBob cooking

SpongeBob loves his job as a cook at the Krusty Krab. It’s a part of his identity and something that he cares a lot about. He is constantly honing and improving his skills. Whenever he is in front of the grill, it is his world and nothing else matters. He can only do this because he loves being a cook. It’s well known that he and Squidward don’t get paid much, but becoming rich isn’t a priority to SpongeBob. He was able to find a job that makes him happy and it pays him enough to live the simple life he wants. This is something we should all strive for.

Balance in life

Even though he loves his job, SpongeBob does good in finding hobbies outside of work. Jellyfishing (underwater version of catching butterflies) is something he does regularly with his best friend Patrick. Catching and interacting with Jellyfish brings him great joy, even to the point where he tries to live amongst them. Having hobbies to take your mind off of work and the stresses of life is very important not just for sea critters, but also humans.

He is persistent

SpongeBob sucks at driving. He sucks so much that he constantly fails to get his driver's license, causing his instructor Mrs. Puff great distress. Despite this, SpongeBob keeps trying and trying, most notably with a positive attitude. Successful, happy people have this same characteristic of being extremely persistent. They do this by not letting failure and the prospect of failure bring them down. It’s okay to suck, it’s not okay to give up if you really want it.

Friends and family

SpongeBob does well in managing his relationships with his friends and family. He has close friends in Patrick, Sandy, and Squidward, while also having friends all over town (think of Larry the Lobster and Perl). He also visits his parents every so often and loves them very much. It’s important to live life with good company, both to share laughs and sometimes to share sorrows.

Creative despite judgment

SpongeBob signalling imagination

There are two great episodes where we can see SpongeBob’s creativity shine. The first is when he and Patrick use their Imagination to have endless amounts of fun with an empty box. Despite Squidward’s doubt and criticism, they stay true to their creativity and have a day filled with wonder and laughs.

In another episode, SpongeBob creates colorful Krabby Patties. Mr. Krabs, owner of the Krusty Krab, doesn’t believe in his invention and scoffs at the idea of it being successful. But SpongeBob doesn’t care. He creates his own burger stand and sells tons of colorful Krabby Patties. His confidence and willingness to be creative allow him to be successful. These are surefire characteristics that will get one far in the real world.

Be weird, live in a pineapple

A lot of what SpongeBob does can make a viewer ask “Why?”. I’d imagine if SpongeBob could respond, he would reply with “Why not?” and then do his wonderful gaggly laugh. Being weird and doing abnormal things is fun. It also makes you question the norm and allows you to pave your path. You only got one life, why not live in a pineapple?

Bring others up, don’t let them get you down

Squidward mad at SpongeBob and Patrick

Squidward is the opposite of SpongeBob. Boring, judgy, and unpleasant. Despite this, SpongeBob still loves to hang out with him and (tries to) involve him in his activities. He does everything he can to brighten Squidward’s day despite Squidward always bringing down the mood. This is something that requires practice and great patience and is extremely admirable. Have SpongeBob’s attitude towards life and those around him. Don’t be a Squidward.

SpongeBob SquarePants may be a silly kid's show, but it has a lot of important life lessons. Emulating positive characters like SpongeBob can improve our lives tenfold. So whenever I am feeling down or lost in life, I remember to ask myself, “What would SpongeBob do?”.

Thanks for reading and here are my other blog posts if interested!

I watched Morgan Spurlock take on his Super Size Me challenge many times growing up. For some reason, seeing him struggle to only consume McDonald’s for an entire month always captivated me. Spurlock finding something he’s curious about and experimenting even when people don’t quite understand why is something I really admire. And because I recently moved across the street from a McDonald’s, I decided I would do my own mini Super Size Me challenge.

I was pretty excited for this challenge as I’m not a regular McDonald’s go-er. Before moving so close to a McDonald’s, I only went around twice a year to get some chicken nuggets or fries. My “McIgnorance” made me look forward to seeing what made McDonald’s such a powerhouse in the fast food industry.

I started the challenge with similar rules to the ones in Super Size Me, but on a smaller scale: for one week I would eat only McDonald’s. I figured a whole month was way too long to keep me interested and motivated. But half way through the challenge, my body wasn’t liking the lack of fruits and vegetables, and so I had to change the rules. Instead of three meals, I did two meals of McDonald’s per day with a supplemental non-Mcdonalds meal. Remember, I’m not a hardcore investigative journalist like Spurlock, just a curious programmer looking to spice his life up for a week.

It’s also important to note that I did this challenge during the Coronavirus Pandemic. During this time McDonald's reduced their menu. This limited my choice for meals to either be a burger or something fried (or a dessert if I was feeling wild).

Throughout the experiment I tracked all the nutrition information, money spent, and trash produced.

Nutrition

I tracked my nutrition easily using the McDonald's Nutrition Calculator. On a regular two-meal day, I consumed on average just over 1600 McDonald’s calories. With that, I normally capped out on my recommended saturated fat and sodium intake for the day. I was almost always lacking potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, which my non-McDonald’s third meal of the day helped supply.

Example nutrition for a two-meal day - 1640cal, 20.5g saturated fat, 10g dietary fiber, 29% calcium, 37g total sugar, 50% iron, 140mg cholesterol, 0% vitamin d, 40% potassium, 2050mg sodium Above: The nutrition facts for a day I ate a McChicken + fries for lunch and a Big Mac + ice cream for dinner.

I did unsurprisingly feel pretty sluggish and nauseous during the experiment. This is most likely because of the amount of oil I was consuming through the fried food. I also felt constantly full even though I wasn’t actually consuming a lot of food, which I attribute to having a high-in-fat diet. The combination of not over-eating and staying within intake recommendations showed I could be decently healthy (based on nutritional recommendations) with the two-meals-a-day McDonald’s diet (again, not a nutritionist). That said, I would no doubt feel miserable.

Money

McDonald's app

I ordered all my meals through the McDonald’s phone app, which always had deals and helped keep the cost down. I never exceeded a total of $10 for my two meals per day, with an average value being around $7. The best value I got was $2.04 for a McChicken and large fries.

These low prices are both a good and bad thing. Obviously, spending less money on food is a good thing. But as a friend (who did this challenge with me) pointed out, when you can get a burger and fries for less money than a head of broccoli, that’s a pretty good indicator of larger societal problems. I won’t get into it too much since I’m not an expert in economics and nutrition, but the ease of access to non-nutritious junk food over nutritious food is a big reason for the health issues happening in the US.

Trash

The amount of trash produced during the week hurt me just as much as the junk entering my body. Because of the pandemic, everything I ordered had to be taken out, which meant large amounts of packaging were used.

All my trash that I produced during the week

Of the 1.6lbs of trash produced, only the paper bags had a label on it saying that it could be recycled if dry and clean. On the plus side, a lot of the materials used for the packaging seemed to be made from recycled materials.

One annoying thing that happens all the time when getting take out is the amount of extra napkins restaurants give you. Sometimes they give you an entire tree’s worth of napkins, and most of the time it goes straight into the trash unused. Interestingly, during my week eating McDonald’s the amount of napkins I received was very inconsistent. Sometimes I got no napkins, other times I got a massive stack. At the end of the week, I ended up having 67 extra unused napkins..

Looking Back on My Week

You need to experience unhappiness to know happiness.

The highlight of the experiment was the happiness and excitement that I felt after it was over. Being able to choose what I was going to eat and not limit myself to experiment rules cheered me up. The fact that I could eat things that had color was amazing (pretty much everything at McDonald’s is a different shade of brown). That’s not to say that I regret doing the experiment—quite the opposite. It’s important to take things away from your life once in a while. It lets you see what you are taking for granted and appreciate it when you reintroduce it back into your life.

To finish, here are some extra random things that I learned from this experiment:

  • Big Macs are pretty awful. I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to put an extra slice of bun in the middle of a burger.
  • I REALLY dislike the shredded lettuce found in the McDonald's burgers. They are super limp and tasteless... yuck.
  • To receive my order as I enter the restaurant, I need to complete the in-app order as the street crossing turns green.
  • McDonald’s sells oatmeal for breakfast. At first I thought it would be a pleasant break from the grease, but they put so much sugar in the oatmeal that it was almost inedible.
  • The McDonald's app does not work on a jailbroken iPhone. However, spoofing tweaks that hide the jailbreak do work (though the app will become very unstable).

Thanks for reading and here are my other blog posts if interested!

In the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about how my mentality towards life has evolved ever since I graduated college. In many instances, I was so sure of what my future needed to look like, and thus put very specific expectations on myself. Doing this has been both depressing and exhausting.

I do think it is important to have long term goals. The process of identifying what goals I want is important for myself to know what I value. But what I have come to realize is that it is also important not to let myself be tied down to goals that I have created in the past.

I've been caught up in the mentality that these goals are so important to my life that they end up affecting my mood and overall satisfaction. I've admitted to a few people that if I go through a day without completing steps towards such grandiose goals like starting my own business, I would feel like that day was a failure.

This is a negative mentality that is completely unfair to myself. Taking a day off to pursue my other interests shouldn't result in a failure. In fact, it should be celebrated. If I think about what a goal should be, it should be the end result of what I truly want to do, and what I think is meaningful enough to provide me satisfaction. What a goal shouldn't be is something I think I need to do or what I think will result in other people being impressed.

This realization goes beyond just goal setting. The more I go through life, the more I find my beliefs and values changing. And similar to goals, it can be dangerous to hang-on to ideas that I no longer really believe in.

So something I've introduced in my life is the concept of Inner Flux (this is a term I've coined myself but the idea of it probably is not very original). The basic idea of it is that human minds and mentalities are constantly changing, thus are in flux. Accepting and acknowledging this fact I believe is really important to personal growth and overall satisfaction in life.

I've always seen myself as someone who was pretty headstrong about the ideas and beliefs that I declared were correct. These ideas included politics, lifestyle choices, and as I mentioned before, goals. I don't necessarily believe that being headstrong is inherently bad, but it can make it really difficult to change an opinion or a desired life trajectory. This can result in working towards ideas and achievements that I might no longer believe in. When I'm stuck in this situation, it's really hard to feel satisfied with how life is going in that moment.

So there are two things that I have changed in my life that I feel has made me overall happier and more content with the way I am living. First, allowing myself to do things because I want to do them at that moment. Whether that is starting a new project, continuing an existing project, or even allowing myself to turn off and enjoy watching a show or playing video games. For this to happen, it's important for myself to trust that eventually, because I am doing the things that I want to do, the goals that I truly do want will be achieved and those goals that I superficially created will be exposed and won't be forcefully worked on.

The second thing that I have changed in my life is acknowledging that most of the ideals and values that I currently hold are a result of what I currently know and the environment that I am in. This acknowledgement makes it way easier to change my opinion in the future if my knowledge and environment changes. It's unreasonable to hang-on to ideas of the past when circumstances have changed and I have evolved as a person.

Allowing myself to welcome this Inner Flux takes a whole load off my shoulders. This weight that I created in my mind would bring me down when in reality it was something that I was creating and thus was something that I could stop. Letting myself be myself allows me to trust that this will result in myself becoming someone who I will be happy with and proud of in the future.

Before I start, I would like to point out that most of the information in this piece can be found in Edward Snowden’s new book Permanent Record. It is a really fun and interesting read, so if the content in this article peaks your curiosity (and inner digital anarchist), I highly recommend reading the book. Just make sure you buy it with cash and offline so the government (and Amazon) can’t track you 😉.


Edward Snowden is a pioneer in the efforts towards modern privacy. He, and many others in the community, have numerous reasons why privacy should matter to you and those you are connected to. What I am talking about in this post is one of his more frightening and convincing argument to why privacy matters today and for the future.

Brief History of Modern US Surveillance

In 1970, American Intelligence officer Christopher Pyle revealed to the public that the American Army was spying on the US public. This then led to the New York Times publishing an article detailing various dubious activities that the CIA was involved in throughout the 1950s-1970s. These activities were dubbed the Family Jewels.

Some of the operations in the Family Jewels included illegally kidnapping a KGB defector, wiretapping and surveying syndicate columnists and muckrakers (journalists who sought to expose corrupt companies and government officials), warrant-less breaking and entering of former CIA member’s homes, illegally opening mail that was to and from the Soviet Union, funding and supporting of behavior modification human experiments (lots and lots of drugs!), various attempts of assassinations on world leaders, and spying on thousands of US citizens who were part of the anti-war movement.

All these revelations (which was only made officially public in 2007) led to an investigation on the CIA, NSA, FBI, and IRS. This investigation was led by the Church Committee, formally the United States Secret Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities – what a name…), and the committee established the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, also known as the FISA court.

The FISA court’s main job is to oversee the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. What they do is provide warrants to US government groups that want to spy on a person of interest. Though they have a very important job, the FISA court is extremely lenient on giving out warrants. Out of 34,000 requests over 35 years, only 11 have been denied. That is a rejection rate of 0.03%!

Nevertheless, after 9/11, fear was everywhere in the US, and with that, President George W. Bush created the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP). This allowed the NSA to do telephone and internet communication surveillance on foreign entities without going through the FISA court.

In 2007, Times revealed to the public what the PSP was doing, and this led the ACLU to challenge the Bush Administration in court. As a result, the Bush Administration claimed to have let the program expire, but in reality, two more pieces of legislation were passed: the Protect America Act of 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. These two acts expanded the NSA’s power to not only spy on foreign agents, but also on domestic entities, both without a warrant. These NSA overreaches were not rectified once President Obama was in office, a personal disappointment Snowden points out in his book.

What is the Government Interested In?

The US government isn’t really interested in what memes you are sending your friends, what kind of flaming and trolling you are doing on Youtube and Reddit, or the nudes that you are sending to your partner (although there is a section in Permanent Record where Snowden describes his co-workers keeping score whenever they did come across a nude photo in an innocent civilian’s messages and emails).

What the government is really interested in is your metadata. Metadata is the data about your data. The government is interested in who you are talking to, when you are talking to them, which church you go to on Sundays, what ethnicity groups you are hanging out with, and where you are sleeping and waking up everyday.

All the metadata that is collected from you helps inform the government on who you are. No longer is there ever a need for a US census, as the government now has an up-to-date record of who their citizens are. This includes what race they are, what religion they follow, how many people live with them, their economic status, and daily movement patterns.

So Why is this Scary?

The first real events of mass surveillance happened in 1926 and 1933 where the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany took a census of their population. They claimed that they were doing this to get an overall statistic of their citizens, but their intentions with that data was quite devious.

The Soviet Union used the data to show the Soviet elite how large the Central Asian heritage population was. This, according to Edward Snowden, “significantly strengthened Stalin’s resolve to eradicate these cultures, by ‘reeducating’ their populations in the deracinating ideology of Marxism-Leninism”.

The census Nazi Germany conducted was unique as it was the first to use computer technology. With computers, it was able to easily and efficiently identify its citizens with a card that had holes representing who they were as people. Notably, column 22 was the religious rubric, with hole 1 identifying the person as Protestant, hole 2 being Catholic, and hole 3 being Jewish. With this information, they were able to easily set out to purge the Jewish and Romany people from the Reich’s population.

What the United States has now is far more dangerous. With the up-to-date metadata census data that is now of permanency (aka your Permanent Record), the US government has the potential to do far worse than what the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany could even dream of doing.

And you may be thinking to yourself that the US government in its current state cannot be compared with the Nazis, and I would agree with you. But this data is permanent and we cannot be 100% sure that someone in the future, much like Hitler, won’t decide that a group of people in the US are the cause of all America’s problems. And if that were to happen, the entity of power will have an ultimate person detector to scope out whomever they deem as America’s problem. Whether that be immigrants, Blacks, Asians, LGBTQ, the poor, a certain religion, or cat lovers, they will know where to find you, your family, friends and colleagues. The only safe location for you and your loved ones will be a signal-less deep underground bunker that I hope you start digging after reading this article.


If you enjoy afflicting a sense of paranoia on yourself, make sure you pick up a copy of Permanent Record. It goes through Edward Snowden’s life leading up to his infamous whistleblowing and reveals some really interesting facts and secrets, while providing some comedic relief once in a while. In additions, the last few chapters describe his escape from Hong Kong and reads like a spy movie. Amusingly, after the book’s release, the US government filed a lawsuit against Edward Snowden for breaking non-disclousure agreements and China has censored the book. That’s how you know it’s an important book and I hope it will increase awareness and conversation about privacy in the modern age.

Want to start a conversation? Feel free to email me at ashleynewman@protonmail.com.