High traffic WordPress architecture using AWS Lightsail

Here is how I built a high-performance WordPress website in AWS Lightsail for aier.org.  While simple low-traffic blogs can be hosted on a shared hosting service or a cheap VPC, if your site hosts millions of visitors each month, you will need a more ambitious service oriented architecture.

The key to high-performance WordPress is a service-oriented architecture that splits the application into independent layers.  Amazon provides a reference architecture for high-performance WordPress hosting on AWS.  While this is a great start, it’s expensive and complex to manage.  My approach is similar, but uses a lot fewer services and is much cheaper and easier to maintain.  I also included important performance and management optimizations such as a dedicated editor server, and git-based deployment.  I also used AWS Lightsail and Cloudflare to get significant cost savings versus AWS’s reference architecture.

High-performance WordPress requirements for my project:

  • Lower the cost of hosting from well over $20K/year to under $1500/year while supporting many millions of monthly users.
  • Keep backend 100% available and fast regardless of traffic.
  • Highly available and highly scalable architecture: easy recovery from failure, and ability to quickly scale without any downtime.
  • Minimal administrative management overhead (the servers should maintain themselves after I set them up).
  • Minimal configuration – the server should be set up with just a few commands: I promised to build this out in two hours.
  • Git-based deployment process. Deploy website updates via git merge.

Process

Below, I explain why I used specific tools and configuration, then I’ll provide one technical details to help you do the same.

  1. Configure a basic WordPress hosting environment
  2. Migrate or build your WordPress site
  3. Upgrade the hosting environment for scalability
  4. Configure analytics and alerting tools

Continue reading “High traffic WordPress architecture using AWS Lightsail” »

Search Engine Optimization: Proven Strategies for Nonprofits in 2019

According to a recent survey by Zogby Interactive, the Internet is by far the most popular source of information and the preferred choice for news ahead of television, newspapers, and radio. The majority of Americans now prefer the Internet as their primary and most reliable source of news. Specifically, online publications are preferred over social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

If your mission is to influence opinions, the web cannot be ignored. You must achieve an effective online presence to be a part of conversations that matter. To discover content online, two sources dominate today; social media and search engines, specifically, Facebook and Google.

Publishers need to understand search engine trends to stay relevant

Google and Facebook dominate referral traffic to nearly all news sites today. As dynamic tech companies, Google and Facebook and constantly tweaking their algorithms, so online publishers need to stay informed.

Because the exact algorithms used by search engines and social media sites are secret and ever-changing, a mythology has arisen around the field of Search Engine Optimization or SEO. There are numerous online debates between “white hat” and “black hat” SEO “experts” who recommend and criticize technical tricks to improve search rankings. Because search engines and social feeds have the power to entirely kill most online businesses and publishers, an adversarial attitude dominates the thinking about SEO strategies.

Content is still king in online publishing

The reality is that content is still king. Creating interesting and relevant content that people want to watch or read is still by far the most important factor in the success of a website. The goal of search engines and social networks is not to destroy independent publishers or ruin businesses, but to provide value to their users by showing them the most relevant, reputable, and quality content. Content is key, but it needs to be organized and presented in a way that is easy for search engines to find it, understand what it’s about, and assess its quality.

Google and Facebook want to be your partner, not your adversary

It’s critical to understand that Google and Facebook want to tell you exactly how to be successful on their platform. Their need for secrecy on the details of their algorithm comes mainly from the need to deter malicious actors that attempt to get more traffic than the quality of their content merits. Google and Bing will tell you exactly how they see your website and suggest how to improve your search visibility. They want to work with publishers to promote higher-quality content and rewarding experiences for users.

As a publisher, Google’s Search Console and Bing’s Webmaster Tools is your most valuable asset for improving search performance. Furthermore, on-site content changes (“onsite SEO”) usually can have far more impact on search performance than external tweaks to search engines and link-building (“offsite SEO”).

Continue reading “Search Engine Optimization: Proven Strategies for Nonprofits in 2019” »

How to safely store Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies

I’ve seen people lose their Bitcoin in every way imaginable, and I want to help you avoid the most common mistakes. Are you thinking long-term? Will your storage medium last 10 years? Will your family be able to access it in the event of your death? Have you considered that the same events that will cause Bitcoin to go up in value may cause you to lose control of it?

What is the best way to store Bitcoin?

In 2019, a hardware wallet is unquestionably the best way to store Bitcoin. There are three good options: Trezor, Ledger, and KeepKey. I prefer the Trezor, but pick any of them, then write down your seed on paper, and put that paper in a safe.

What’s your excuse for not using a hardware wallet?

Most of you are not using a hardware wallet. You keep Bitcoin with an exchange like Coinbase, or an app running on your phone or desktop. But these come with major risks:

Will your Bitcoins survive the shift to a Bitcoin economy?   

Bitcoin is an extremely risky investment. If Bitcoin goes up tenfold or a hundredfold, what will come down? It could be the dollar’s value. It could be the banking sector. It could be the entire global economic regime. We have no idea how governments will react: will they try to ban Bitcoin, confiscate it, or embrace it?  If you are relying on someone else to keep your Bitcoin safe, will they survive that change?

Don’t trust exchanges and other third-party custodians

Mt Gox logoWhen you buy cryptocurrencies, you are betting that our economy will experience a dramatic shift to digital money. We have no idea which businesses or apps will survive that shift or how long it will take. Imagine if you had to pick just one company to bet on the future of the Internet during the dot com boom. Are you smart enough to pick Amazon.com rather than AOL or Pets.com? The only thing that you can trust to survive almost any economic upheaval is a backup stored on paper (or even better, metal) under your control. 

Don’t trust desktop or mobile wallets

Most people who decided to keep their Bitcoin in an app came to regret it. Bitcoin Core took a few hours to sync in 2013 but now can take weeks -if your Internet is fast enough. Multibit was a great wallet in 2015 but now doesn’t work on many computers.  Many people who you got Bitcoin in 2010 forgot the password they used by 2019.  Modern computers are notoriously insecure.  Key loggers and remote access trojans can record your keystrokes and copy all your files. At one point in the lifetime of Windows XP, it only took a few minutes for the average computer to become infected once exposed to the Internet. Operating systems today are much more secure but are you willing to bet that someone won’t find a catastrophic Windows zero-day exploit when the Bitcoin market cap is $1 trillion?

Don’t trust file backups

Did you know that DVDR’s can fail in as little as five years?  Flash drives might fail after 10 years – we really have no idea how stable flash memory is over the long term. Hard drives last 3-5 years when used, and we don’t really know how long they last in storage, but the oils will dry up and the motor bearings will eventually fail. Archival grade gold DVDR’s are supposed to last 100 years, but will you still have access to a DVD reader in 2030? In short, we have no idea which digital storage mediums are safe for the long term, so all your Bitcoin wallet backups might get corrupted.

Don’t trust paper wallets

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Paper wallets and brain wallets were good for their time, but I know many people who misplaced their paper wallet or forgot the exact phrase they used for their brain wallet. Some people who used a paper wallet found out that it could only be decrypted using the exact browser used to make it. Paper wallets and brain wallets also compromise your privacy by forcing you to keep all your Bitcoin in a single address.

What about my altcoins?

Trezor and Ledger now both support many coins and hundreds of tokens, so you have no excuse not to use them for your entire portfolio.  Both Shapeshift and Exodus now work with hardware wallets to let you visualize and manage your entire portfolio.

A BIP-39 seed is the way to go

Hardware wallets today use a BIP-39 mnemonic code for generating deterministic keys. A BIP-39 seed phrase is a list of words (usually 24 for a hardware wallet) which generates an infinite number of addresses.

BIP39 codes are supported by many different coins besides Bitcoin. While something better than BIP39 may come along, it’s very likely that as long as Bitcoin is around, there will be some implementation of the BIP39 algorithm to restore your wallet. You’ll be able to get your Bitcoin back even if the company that made your hardware wallet is long gone.

Keep your recovery seed safe

You can generate the seed completely offline and without usinTrezor with Cryptosteelg a computer – just plug in your hardware wallet directly to a power source.  Instead of paper, use a Billfodl or CryptoSteel to keep your recovery words protected against fire or flood.

Because they are universal, a BIP-39 seed is also the best way to secure your legacy for your family, so consider adding instructions to locate your recovery seed in your will.

If you are concerned about the security of your seed words, you can cut the list of 24 words in half and keep them in two places.

Never type your seed directly into your computer — even just to print it on paper because your handwriting is bad.   Remember that hardware wallets will never ask you to type your seed directly into your computer.  When restoring your seed, they all use some kind of indirect entry method (such as entering the words out of order) to protect against keyloggers.

So, what’s your excuse for not using a hardware wallet for your Bitcoin?

 

Originally posted at WalletRecovery.info

Why you should embrace the abundance mentality

Why are some people successful — financially, socially, and romantically, while others stagnate and never amount to anything?

The Abundance Mindset

Successful people share many traits, but I think one key attribute is the abundance mindset.

The abundance mindset sees the universe as full of opportunity — for friendship, love, and financial success. By contrast, the scarcity mindset sees everything as a fixed pie and leads to hoarding, envy, and stagnation in every aspect of life.

Think of the friend who forms a circle around them a party in any city, the successful serial entrepreneur, the man or woman who fearlessly starts genuine conversations and asks their romantic interests out on a date — what do they have in common? They recognize an opportunity in any form, and they are not afraid of failure because they know that life is full of chance to achieve their goals.

The Scarcity Mindset

By contrast, think of the failures you know. People you met decades ago who ended up in a dead-end career, unable to form or keep romantic relationships, and still living paycheck to paycheck. What do they have in common? In their relationships, they see the value as fixed and scarce. They bicker with their spouses and their coworkers over responsibility, budgets, and commitments because they see relationships as a tit for tat game over a fixed pie. Instead of using their relationships as a foundation to build value, they wear down their romantic and business partners and sabotage their success — yet they are too afraid of finding someone else to move on.

Learning to identify opportunities, and getting the ability and confidence to act on them is a skill, though some of us come by it easier than others. It starts the same way: with the philosophy that the world is full of opportunity if only we can learn to recognize and take advantage of it.

Resources are scarce. Opportunities are not. People hoard resources because they see the world as fixed, and by extension, they see their nature as fixed. Believing that you are incapable of change is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Abundance and Minimalism

For me, minimalism is an important aspect of an abundance mentality:

The homes of the self-made wealthy people tend to be sparse: they contain only the objects that are necessary for who they are today. Whether it’s an inspirational work of art on the wall or utensils in their kitchen, their possessions serve a practical purpose for who they are now. They do not need to hold on to the objects that embodied who they were yesterday.

Poor people and those who did not earn their wealth, on the other hand, stuff their homes with everything that they ever were. They have no confidence in their ability to find opportunities for either material success or self-growth in the future, so they hoard possessions both in case of material and spiritual shortage. Why spiritual? If you view the world as scarce in spiritual fuel, you must hoard all the symbols that have ever defined you. Think of the middle-aged man with his self-esteem and self-identity still linked to the things he did in high school or college, rather than pursuits he has now.

The same thing happens with romantic relationships and friends: abundant people focus on friends and partners who add value to their lives, whereas scarce people hang out with energy-draining friends and relationships that go nowhere.

Embrace Abundance in All Aspects of Your Life

The abundance vs scarcity mentality applies in many aspects of life: for example, time preference is the preference to enjoy goods sooner rather than later. People with a scarcity mentality have a high time preference and struggle to save their salary for the future. People who save for their future have a low time preference because they can imagine the life of abundance that will result from forgoing current consumption.

Whatever savings they do have, people with a scarcity mentality keep mostly in cash because they attribute their own scarcity mindset to markets and entrepreneurs. Likewise, they vote for politicians who redistribute the wealth of others rather than create an environment that fosters wealth-creation.

The scarcity mentality also causes an unhealthy lifestyle, since the scarcity mindset is unable to visualize the future benefits of a healthy diet, and focus only on the pleasure of immediate consumption.

The myth of the goldfish-sized attention span

The idea that attention span is shortening, particularly among younger generations is a myth, and the claims are not backed by any evidence. The idea of an “average attention span” is a myth, as there is no such thing. Attention span is very much context-dependent.

Even within particular contexts, such as driving or listening to a lecture, there is zero evidence of a change among the public or between generations. By the way, there is also zero evidence that goldfish have a short attention span. The “eight-second attention span of a goldfish” is completely fabricated. Goldfish memory IS extensively studied, simply because the fish are easy to breed and keep, and in fact goldfish are known to be able to perform the same kind of learning as mammals and birds, and don’t have any specific learning or memory deficit.

It is true that shots and edits in film and media are getting shorter, but this has to do with changes the preferences of editors and tastes of consumers, and especially (in my opinion) much higher expectations among young people about the visual quality, animation, and compelling narrative in the media they consume. If the content is good, young people will binge-watch Game of Thrones or Stranger Things for days at a time.

Further reading:

Facebook Libra’s cold reception from Congress validates the need for Bitcoin

The hostile reception that Facebook’s Libra coin received from Congress should be viewed as a validation of the need for Bitcoin.

As a fiat currency pegged stablecoin, Libra offers little threat to the U.S. dollar’s monopoly. To Libra users, it would be little different from PayPal, Alipay, Apple Pay, Google Pay, WeChat, Zelle, or the dozens of other peer to peer payment platforms around the world.

Yet Libra threw the powers that be in such a panic that President Trump was pressured into tweeting a condemnation of Libra and a Congressional hearing was swiftly organized. Rep Brad Sherman compared Libra to the 9/11 attacks, which in case you forgot, killed several thousand Americans.

I certainly have my reserves about both Facebook and Libra, but a “blockchain-enhanced” payment network that competes with Paypal is hardly the terrorist event of the century.  It is highly unlikely that President Trump wrote his rant against Libra himself – his tweets were likely scripted for him as the party line against potential dollar competitors.

What’s crystal clear from this episode is that anything which is remotely a threat to the U.S. dollar’s dominance as the world’s reserve currency will be swiftly neutralized.

This is precisely why a peer to peer, decentralized network like Bitcoin is needed: any centralized challenge to the dollar’s dominance, by a company or nation-state, is likely to face swift retribution from the United States government. The U.S. economy relies on the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency to keep issuing new debt to sustain our unsustainable budget deficits.

Libra is currently little more than a vague white paper and a few lines of open source code, yet legislators like Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Maxine Waters are demanding that the project be shut down before the concept has even been fully flushed out.

It is clear that when U.S. dollar regime inevitably collapses – be it next year or decades from now, the U.S. government will not allow any organization within its reach to develop an alternative that can safeguard American’s assets. The government relies on its ability to collect (dollar-denominated) taxes to pay interest on its enormous debt and fund its unsustainable fiscal commitments.

This makes it all the more essential (for those of us who wish to safeguard our life savings and ensure an economic recovery based on sound money) to support decentralized, borderless, and censorship-resistant alternatives like Bitcoin. While Bitcoin is certainly not entirely immune from legislation, it is substantially more control as can be seen in countries such as VenezuelaChina, and India, where it is still widely used despite being banned.

Don’t blame markets for obesity

For nearly the entirety of human history, the chief concern of most people has been getting enough to eat. The invention of capitalism finally enabled the majority of people in market-based societies to focus on higher pursuits. Yet capitalism is now widely blamed for causing obesity – because of the availability of fast food, “food deserts”, or simply because markets incentivize products to make food as delicious and cheap as possible.

Whether or not you are a fan of free markets, it is personally important for you to understand why this idea is wrong:

The ultimate cause of obesity is not that we eat too much food, or that we lack access to healthy food, or that our food is simply too delicious. The cause is that we eat the wrong foods. The reason so much of the food in America is so unhealthy is mostly due to bad science enshrined in agricultural subsidies and government-issued guidelines.

Regardless, if you are overweight (and over 70% of us are), you need to know that the cause is not due to your genetics (our grandparents weren’t all obese), a failing of morality or willpower, or the capitalist system.

When you eat a healthy diet, your body naturality self-regulates the hormonal signals for hunger and satiety to keep you at a healthy weight. It takes years of eating bad foods to cause chronic hormonal imbalances that lead to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and the majority of chronic lifestyle diseases that we deal with today.

I’ve written about the hormonal cause of obesity and what a proper diet consists of elsewhere, but it is also important to understand that you don’t need to shop at premium grocery stores like Whole Foods to eat well.

Organic and groceries considered “health foods” today have only been around for a few decades thanks to health food venture capitalism from people like Whole Foods founder John Mackey. (Follow this link to listen to his story, and you might be surprised about the pro-market views of America’s leading hippie food promoter.)  Food that is objectively nutritious can be found cheaply in most anywhere America, even if it comes in a can on the shelf of a Dollar Store.

Experiments such as “30 Days of Gas Station Food” prove that you can find decent food even if you shop exclusively at gas stations.

If there is interest, I would like to conduct an experiment: identify some staples of a healthy diet, then match them one for one between Whole Foods and Dollar General. I suspect that the building blocks of a nutritious diet can be found in most fast food venues, gas stations, and even “food deserts.”

Don’t dismiss Bitcoin just because of its wild price swings

There are valid reasons to criticize Bitcoin, but price volatility is not one of them. 

Why does the price of Bitcoin change so much from day to day? The answer is simple: the value of Bitcoin derives almost entirely from speculation on future adoption of Bitcoin rather than practical use. Bitcoin speculators are betting on the likelihood that Bitcoin will become offers a credible alternative to fiat paper money or commodities like gold.

No one knows the future, so many individual market participants speculate about the future using the information available to them. They will naturally disagree and change their opinions over time as new knowledge becomes available.  Good and bad news such as statements by governments, thefts from exchanges, or new startup ventures provide new information about the future and so influence the price.  Traders also react to the predictions of other traders. This is how price discovery works in any market. Those who make successful predictions earlier and more often will accumulate more Bitcoin, thus rewarding those with the best judgment. 

If you think that the Bitcoin trading is driven by too much hype, consider that the world’s economy currently hangs on the rants of President Trump’s reactions to the latest Fox News broadcast, and how the Federal Reserve reads the tea leaves of the market this week.

By contrast, crypto traders are ultimately responding to the long term success or failure of the Bitcoin ecosystem. This process of information discovery is always messy, but it is not any more arbitrary than the fake drama of the political news cycle.

Many critics of Bitcoin consider the fact that Bitcoin is a speculative asset as sufficient reason to dismiss it. But all entrepreneurial initiatives are speculative at the start. Bitcoin is like any early-stage startup. One investor claims a 10% stake for $1 million for a valuation $10 million, while a later round might value a $10% stake at $100 million. As a startup proves that its technology and businesses model is sound, and begins to make profits, it’s market cap grows. As profit transitions from potentiality to an actuality, the market capitalization becomes more stable. We are seeing a similar process with Bitcoin, except its ambition and potential is far larger than a startup, so the process takes far longer.   

Bitcoin will achieve price stability when a large portion of Bitcoin’s market cap is used for practical purposes rather than speculation. The practical value of Bitcoin is as a means of exchange and store of value.  

Can we track the adoption of Bitcoin as practical money? Yes. When Bitcoin was invented, only a few highly technical users had the skill to make Bitcoin transactions. Over the last 10 years, the cryptocurrency ecosystem has grown and evolved. Bitcoin is now easier to use, safer to store, and the number of businesses who accept it is in the tens of thousands.

Still, in all but a few narrow use cases, it is still more convenient to use more traditional payment networks. That’s normal — monopolies are broken not by assaulting their business model head-on, but within narrow edge cases where it is easier to build a superior alternative. In the case of Bitcoin, it is already a viable option for cross-border money transfers from nations with currency controls, trade in black and grey market goods, funding of politically incorrect institutions, and of course, criminal operations. In developed countries with robust financial networks, Bitcoin is only used by its most devoted followers, as the traditional financial system is still far easier to use.

That doesn’t mean that we will not see a sudden and unpredictable shift in which Bitcoin suddenly overtakes traditional financial networks. The Western banking system suffers from major and intractable structural faults and is ripe for disruption.  By contrast, here is a single Bitcoin transaction worth $670 million dollars with a total fee of $7.82.  Imagine how much more effort and due diligence a banking transaction of this size would take. A transaction to buy your morning coffee with Bitcoin comes with the same level of security.

We’ve seen how countries like China evolved from a cash-only society to one entirely dominated by mobile payment apps for practically all applications in just a few years.  With Whole Foods, Home Depot, and other major stores now accepting Bitcoin, virtually all millennials using smartphones, and growing instability in the global fiat money regime, the currency marketplace could be ready for disruption. Or not. The “flippening” between the dollar and Bitcoin could be decades away. The point is that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with speculating on the possibility of a Bitcoin-based economy and global monetary standard if you believe (as I do) that the technology is fundamentally sound and capable of evolving to handle the business of 7 billion people.

Why does the price of Bitcoin change so much from day to day? The answer is simple: the value of Bitcoin derives almost entirely from speculation on future adoption of Bitcoin rather than practical use. Bitcoin speculators are betting on the likelihood that Bitcoin will become offers a credible alternative to fiat paper money or commodities like gold.

No one knows the future, so many individual market participants speculate about the future using the information available to them. They will naturally disagree and change their opinions over time as new knowledge becomes available.  Good and bad news such as statements by governments, thefts from exchanges, or new startup ventures provide new information about the future and so influence the price.  Traders also react to the predictions of other traders. This is how price discovery works in any market. Those who make successful predictions earlier and more often will accumulate more Bitcoin, thus rewarding those with the best judgment.

If you think that the Bitcoin trading is driven by too much hype, consider that the world’s economy currently hangs on the rants of President Trump’s reactions to the latest Fox News broadcast, and how the Federal Reserve reads the tea leaves of the market this week.

By contrast, crypto traders are ultimately responding to the long term success or failure of the Bitcoin ecosystem. This process of information discovery is always messy, but it is not any more arbitrary than the fake drama of the political news cycle.

Many critics of Bitcoin consider the fact that Bitcoin is a speculative asset as sufficient reason to dismiss it. But all entrepreneurial initiatives are speculative at the start. Bitcoin is like any early-stage startup. One investor claims a 10% stake for $1 million for a valuation $10 million, while a later round might value a $10% stake at $100 million. As a startup proves that its technology and businesses model is sound, and begins to make profits, it’s market cap grows. As profit transitions from potentiality to an actuality, the market capitalization becomes more stable. We are seeing a similar process with Bitcoin, except its ambition and potential is far larger than a startup, so the process takes far longer.

Bitcoin will achieve price stability when a large portion of Bitcoin’s market cap is used for practical purposes rather than speculation. The practical value if Bitcoin’s is as a means of exchange and store of value.

Can we track the adoption of Bitcoin as practical money? Yes. When Bitcoin was invented, only a few highly technical users had the skill to make Bitcoin transactions. Over the last 10 years, the cryptocurrency ecosystem has grown and evolved. Bitcoin is now easier to use, safer to store, and the number of businesses who accept it is in the tens of thousands.

Still, in all but a few narrow use cases, it is still more convenient to use more traditional payment networks. That’s normal — monopolies are broken not by assaulting their business model head-on, but within narrow edge cases where it is easier to build a superior alternative. In the case of Bitcoin, it is already a viable option for cross-border money transfers from nations with currency controls, trade in black and grey market goods, funding of politically incorrect institutions, and of course, criminal operations. In developed countries with robust financial networks, Bitcoin is only used by its most devoted followers, as the traditional financial system is still far easier to use.

That doesn’t mean that we will not see a sudden and unpredictable shift in which Bitcoin suddenly overtakes traditional financial networks. The Western banking system suffers from major and intractable structural faults and is ripe for disruption.  Here is a single Bitcoin transaction worth $670 million dollars with a total fee of $7.82.

Imagine how much more effort and due diligence a banking transaction of this size would take. A transaction to buy your morning coffee with Bitcoin comes with the same level of security.

We’ve seen how countries like China evolved from a cash-only society to one entirely dominated by mobile payment apps for practically all applications in just a few years.

With Whole Foods, Home Depot, and other major stores now accepting Bitcoin, virtually all millennial using smartphones, and growing instability in the global fiat money regime, and the currency marketplace could be ready for disruption. Or not. The “flippening” between the dollar and Bitcoin could be decades away. The point is that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with speculating on the possibility of a Bitcoin-based economy and global monetary standard if you believe (as I do) that the technology is fundamentally sound and capable of evolving to handle the business of 7 billion people.

Why I try to ignore the news cycle and focus on my own success first

The idea that the public should be well-informed about local, regional, national, and global events is misguided and harmful.

It stems from the fact that in a democracy, every citizen can theoretically influence events on a global scale through the vote. The implication of this is that every citizen is ethically obligated to stay informed on the issues in order to make informed votes.

However, this standard is both impossible and harmful. The vast majority of people are busy with their personal lives and must already consume and process a huge amount of information to stay competitive in the modern world. It is impossible for non-intellectuals to keep up.

The impossible standard of the “informed citizen” leads to constant disillusionment of intellectuals with the public. The result is a perceived gulf between the “educated” intellectual elite and the “ignorant” working masses, who the elite feels must be ruled for their own good through a mythology of invented, ever-escalating crises, posed by as immigrants, rogue nations, abortion doctors, greedy landlords, corrupt CEOs, etc.

It is impossible for the average citizen to make a truly informed decision about a single local candidate, the interaction of national candidates with complex issues.

During the last election cycle, I met a fellow dad in the park who gave me an election flier, as he was running for a position as a local judge. I went to the link on his flier and tried to make a list of pros and cons.

Pro: he’s a nice guy, friendly and doting dad. Con: he’s a Democrat, along with all the other bad positions Democrats hold. Pro: he is a fellow secular Jew, which means we probably share views on many issues. Con: he’s a secular Jew, which means that he probably supports “social justice” and many other things I oppose.

I don’t remember the specific stances on his election site, but after reviewing them, I still felt completely unqualified to support or oppose his candidacy.

I am aware of my own ignorance and know that no matter how much attention I paid to the news, I could not even make an informed decision about a single local election, much less state or national roles. I had a long list of reasons why Trump and Hillary would both be terrible presidents, but ultimately, I could only make a wild guess about which one would be worse.

It’s impossible to make informed votes in a political system where the elected representatives have arbitrary power to disregard constitutional principles and the rule of law after they are in office.

Politics is impossibly complicated, and a distraction from the ongoing task of being successful in life. It’s intentionally addictive, as politicians compete to invent new and more urgent emergencies to grab the public’s attention. Politicians and the intellectual elite work with the media to manipulate the news cycle to direct attention to their pet issues, so that all news becomes politically radicalized. I have noticed how people who become immersed in the game of political theatre can hardly focus on the difficult job of reaching their own goals and maintaining the events that affect their own lives in context to political alarmism. It’s much easier to blame their failures on their preferred political scapegoats.

This is not to say that I advocate complete ignorance of politics. I believe in certain civic responsibilities — not because I live in a certain country, but simply from a selfish desire for a better life for myself and those I care for. Among these, is the duty to assist in emergencies, to testify against criminals, to serve on a jury when asked, and to speak on behalf of principles which make our civilization possible and denounce those who erode it.

I follow and engage in political causes only where basic social principles are at stake. For example, I believe that everyone who values American values, civilization, and just law ought to denounce the vicious campaign against immigrants.

Aside from such cases, I believe that unless politics is your career or primary hobby, you should ignore the news cycle to the maximum extent practicable in your life, and instead focus on being educated in areas relevant to the success of your personal projects.

5 Things You Need from Your Job to Advance Your Career

Your job won’t always be your dream job. Sometimes you’ll take on projects you don’t like, work with people whose company you don’t enjoy, or get paid less than you think you’re worth. Sometimes, your focus will be on getting by until you find your next gig or get promoted. However, no matter what you do, there is almost always more to gain from your work than a paycheck.

Many employees think of their salary as the sole value they derive from their job. Career growth requires a deliberate focus on personal growth to prepare yourself for the next rung on your career ladder. Here are five goals to focus on in your work:

A story is a narrative that you can use to demonstrate the value you created for your organization. Stories are much more powerful than a list of responsibilities. A responsibility is blindly following what your manager tells you to do. A story shows that you have the understanding, initiative, and follow-through to create value for your organization.

Let’s say you work at a pizza parlor. A responsibility might be “I made pizzas, ran the cash register, swept the floors, and closed the restaurant.”

A story could be:

I started out washing dishes. After two weeks, I learned how to mix the sauce and throw the pizza, and was able to handle all the kitchen duties on my own on weeknights. After a month, I offered to close the restaurant so my manager could see his son’s little league game. He taught me how to run the cash register, and soon after, I was able to run the pizza parlor on my own when needed.

This story demonstrates ambition, progression, and responsibility. It adds context, credibility, and an emotional element: Every restaurant manager wishes for someone reliable to trust when he needs to attend to personal matters. I did not approach my first summer out of college with this attitude, but I did master pizza-making and created a veggie stromboli that was added to the menu.

Imagine how many more entrepreneurs we would have if every college student approached his summer job with the goal of running a small business. Don’t start writing your story when trying to write your resume—your story should be the most important consideration when you decide which opportunity you want to pursue.

Skill-building is the second essential goal you need from your job. Building skills requires your attention when looking for a job and an entrepreneurial attitude when on the job. Especially when you are starting out, it is often worth it to sacrifice salary in exchange for skills.

My first job out of college was to build a customer relationship management platform for a small machinery sales business and run their IT operations. It didn’t pay much, but I had complete freedom to architect a software solution to the business, which I then abstracted into a software product we sold to another company.

 I wasn’t paid much that year, but I gained tremendously valuable experience for my career that would not have been possible for a junior developer on a large team. After a year, I was able to jump right into a mid-level role and more than double my salary.

No matter what your boss or HR says, it is up to you to build your toolkit. Be on the lookout for developments in your chosen field and try to steer to projects that build on that. Some of my peers in software worked themselves into a career dead-end by jumping into high-paying roles for major corporations that involved arcane and proprietary programming languages. Despite years of experience, they had trouble moving on because their skills were too specialized to be interesting to anyone else.

Your salary is a reflection of how much value you create for your organization. If you want to increase your compensation, you must increase your value to your employer. Do what your boss asks first, but then discover what builds value for your employer and focus on that.

Consider making the value you create visible within your company as part of your job description just as much as the work you are responsible for completing.

The fourth asset you need to derive from your work is your social capital. The best leads for your next opportunity will come from the people who see you at your best—your coworkers. Use your time at the office to establish connections with peers, mentors, and influencers who will aid in your career.

Even lunch should be a strategic tool to advance your career. Don’t have lunch with the same people every single day: Use it as a mentorship or networking opportunity by inviting someone from your organization. Don’t gossip, complain, or brag—talk about some work you are excited about or ask for advice—and find people older and more experienced than you whose advice is worth asking and who can vouch for you when your name comes up for a new project.

Finally, you should find a job you love. Especially when you are young, make your job your primary focus in life.

This is not to dismiss the value of family, friends, etc., but as far as goal-pursuit is concerned, you need to prioritize your career. If you come in the morning tired from video games, partying, reading books, or engaging in other hobbies, think hard about your life and your time management. Schedule your social life, put time limits on games, and sip your liquor; do whatever it takes.

Write the story you want to tell about your job. Discover what skills your market finds valuable. Build social capital with mentors and influencers.

Cut out the non-essential junk in your life so you can come in and perform like a rockstar every morning. You’re not a kid anymore, and you need to start adulting ASAP. If you can’t get sufficiently motivated about your job to do that, create opportunities to combine your hobbies and your career.

Making your career your primary purpose in life does not mean working more hours. Not only is overwork counterproductive, but it is also often the excuse to avoid taking the few, uncomfortable steps needed to actually make progress in life.

Write the story you want to tell about your job. Discover what skills your market finds valuable. Build social capital with mentors and influencers. Finally, find work that you find truly satisfying.

Originally posted at FEE.org