EQ: Emotional Intelligence, 3 Brain Theory & Leadership

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. A skill now highly regarded as a necessity for great leaders. Traditionally analytical skills measured by IQ tests were considered as the pinnacle of leadership missing probably the most important quality of a leader, EQ.

Recently I gave Daniel Goleman’s book called “Emotional Intelligence” a spin. In his book, Goleman explains how emotions play a much greater role in thought, decision-making and individual success than is commonly acknowledged.

Let me explain.

Paul MacLean – 3 Brain Theory

Dr. MacLean said we do not have 1 brain but 3. Each brain evolved over time one by one over the older brain until there were 3 distinct brains interconnected with their own purpose and function. This is called the Triune Brain Model.

The 3 brains – starting in the center

3 brains - primitive, emotional & rational

1st – Reptilian (Primitive) is at the brain stem, root brain. This controls breathing, heart and organ functions. It is a part of the brain which cannot be reprogrammed since it regulates your body. Its goal is to make sure you stay alive and reproduce.

2nd – Limbic (Emotional) sits over the primitive brain and is impulsive and powerful. It controls how you feel to certain stimulus. Knowing something is right in your heart. It connects information to memory and works best during emotionally charged context. It serves the primitive brain giving pleasure to natural survival needs.

We like to believe that our decisions are based on our thought but in reality they are based on our “emotional state of mind”, how we feel at the time.

It’s important to know that there was an emotional brain long before rational brain.

3rd – Neocortex (Rational) is the newest part of our brain and is also referred to as the “thinking brain”. It sits on top of the emotional brain and it controls higher level processes such as logic, reasoning, creative thinking, language etc.

Neocortex tends to be swamped by the brains beneath it, especially the emotional brain on which it sits & connects to directly. The emotional brain is known to hijack your rational mind when it its basic needs for survival & reproduction are threatened sending a storm of messages to the lower brain to execute pre-programmed instructions in a fight or flight response. E.g. Fear sends stress signals to all parts of the brain immobilizing the body.

I’m sure by now you can see the importance of the 3 brains and their impact on us and people we lead.

A Japanese tale

There is a nice Japanese tale about a samurai and a zen master. The samurai wanted to know the difference between heaven and hell. The monk replied to the samurai “I have no time to waste with a lout like you”. The samurai flew into a rage and pulled his sword in anger yelling “I could kill you for your impudence!”. “That”, the monk replied “is hell”. Startled, having realised what the monk said the samurai put his sword away, bowed and thanked the monk for his insight. “And that” the monk said “is heaven”.
This illustrates the crucial difference in getting caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are getting swept away by it.

Socrates injunction “know thy self” speaks to this keystone of emotional intelligence. Awareness of ones own feelings as they occur and self-awareness as an ongoing attention to ones internal states – being aware of our moods and thoughts about that mood.

How to manage your emotions?

Here are a basic set of set of steps you can follow to learn to control your emotions and in turn understand the emotions and drivers of the people you lead.

  • Cease and challenge the emotion (e.g. anger) before reacting to it.
  • Realize that you cannot stop emotions flooding your mind. Emotions happen too quickly and outside your rational mind. But you are in total control of how you will react.
  • Have an open mind and realise that you may not understand the other story where the emotion was triggered. The situation might not be as bad as you perceive it.
  • Each thought triggers more emotions. So use the power of distraction to stop it.

Why is this important?

  • We are all affected by the 3 parts of our brain in making and dealing with decisions and people.
  • As a leader understanding how this affects you is fundamental in understanding your followers, those that you lead. How can you lead people if you do not understand basic fundamentals of how your emotions drive your world. Understand 1st, then apply.
  • Being an effective leader means you understand that people are emotional creatures and at times can get swamped by their lower brains in response to various environmental triggers.
  • Intentions and Behaviours are 2 different things. Behaviours are sometimes triggered by lower brain functions. Never make conclusions based on them, rather on the “true intentions” of the said individual, their rational mind. Have an open mind.

Emotional Intelligence

Before you can be effective at this you must understand your own emotions better just like the samurai in the Japanese tale. Once you learn to manage your emotions you will have a profound deep understanding of the people around you and how to best respond, motivate, lead and inspire them. That my life explorers, is true Emotional Intelligence.


Goleman in his book on Emotional Intelligence shares great stories and examples on EQ. If you haven’t already, spend some time immersing yourself in this knowledge. You will be surprised what you learn.


~ Ernest

TED: 8 Things that Lead to Success by Richard St. John

After seven years and 500 interviews, analyst Richard St. John isolated the eight things that lead to success.

Richard St. John did a fantastic presentation at TED which I’m sharing here with you in a summarized format. Further down in the post is the actual video of Richard going over these points. Even though what is being said is nothing revolutionary, it’s still good to be reminded of what it has taken others to be successful.

In summary

What Leads To Success?

In detail


“I’m driven by my passion” – Freeman Thomas (car designer, Daimler Chrysler)

Do it for LOVE Not MONEY

“I would pay someone to do what I do” – Carol Coletta (radio producer, Smart City)


“It’s all hard work. Nothing comes easily. But I have a lot of fun.” Rupert Murdoch (big cheese CEO)


“To be successful put your nose down in something and get damn good at it.” Alex Garden (game developer)



“I think it all has to do with focusing yourself to one thing.” Norma Jewison (filmmaker)


“Push yourself. Physically, mentally, you gotta push, push, push.” David Gallo (marine scientist)


“I always had self-doubts. I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t smart enough. I didn’t think I’d make it.” Goldie Hawn (actor)

“It’s not always easy to push yourself. My mother pushed me.” Frank Gehry (architect)


“It was a privilege to serve as a doctor” – Sherin Nuland (professor of surgery, Yale)

Millionaires serve others something of value.


“I had an idea – founding the first micro-computer software company…” – Bill Gamest (software guy)

Listen, Observe, Be Curious, Ask Questions, Problem Solve, Make Connections.


“Persistence is the number one reason for our success.” – Joe Kraus (co-founder, Excite)

Persist to Failure to CRAP = Criticism, Rejection, Assholes, Pressure.

What leads to success? – Passion, Work, Focus, Persist, Ideas, Good, Push, Serve

Video: Richard St. John: Secrets of success in 8 words, 3 minutes

Yerba Mate Tea – Drink of the Gods

This tea rocks! If you had enough of caffeine jitteriness or its addictive tendencies, want to quit adding sugar to your tea or not a big fan of green tea but would love something that has both the power of black tea and the health benefits of green tea then look no further then Yerba Mate. It’s refreshing and energizing and has a nice list of health benefits.

“I reached the place of our vibouac by sunset and drinking much mate, soon made up my bed for the night. The wind was very strong and cold, but I never slept more comfortably.” – Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle, 1936

What is Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate is a green leafed shrub, original of subtropical South America. It’s popularity is due not only to it’s exotic taste, but to it’s potent health benefits. It has been the drink of choice of the Guarani Indians in early colonial periods. More on Wikipedia here.

Yerba Mate - Drinks of the Gods

Health Benefits of Yerba Mate Tea

Here are a good bunch of great reasons you should be drinking this tea:

  • It’s rich in vitamins, minerals and full of antioxidants – yerba mate offers a higher concentration of polyphenols to pack a punch in the fight against free radicals,
  • Works as an appetite suppressant,
  • Due to its thermogenic compounds it helps you burn more fat by elevating your metabolism,
  • 100% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee but no side effects like the jitters or yellow teeth stains &
  • Promotes cell survival better than red wine or green tea. - Hard science sources

How does it look

Pictures speak louder than words. Here are some of the pictures I took of the tea.

Yerba Mate - Cruz De Malta

Yerba Mate - Cruz De Malta (the leafs)

Where to get it?

Yerba Mate is a lot harder to acquire in store due to lower awareness of this great tea. However there are few places online which sell Yerba Mate for basically next to pennies. Amazon as always has a good selection – notice the special Yerba Mate tea gourd for drinking this tea:

Yerba Mate - Cruz De Malta
Cruz De Malta 1/2 Kilo Yerba Mate
Yerba Mate - Rosamonte
Yerba Mate Rosamonte x 500 g Argentina Green Leaf Tea Loose Herbal Bag 1.1 lb


If you are in Australia, “Natures Green Gold” proudly introduces South America’s secret of well-being and vitality to Australian homes. Visit their website for Australian locations to pickup Yerba Mate: http://www.naturesgreengold.com/. Thanks to Nathan Hesse for sending me this link to help our Australian readers in acquiring this fantastic drink locally.

Tim Ferriss

Timothy Ferriss, an American author and public speaker speaks highly of Yerba Mate and it’s benefits in how it had helped him write his 1st NY Times Best Seller book called The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.

“2. Biochemically Fine-Tune. I found by accident that my best sessions all followed a specific ratio: 3 cups of yerba mate tea for each glass of wine consumed.” – Tim’s blog

Further reading

If you would like to learn more about Yerba Mate Tea then I highly recommend you read the links below. There is a wealth of information there. Alternatively send me a message and I will happily respond to your questions.

I love questions, so ask away!


Links mentioned in this post

Stories submitted by Yerba Mate loyal customers:

“I drink Yerba Mate every morning. It is my way of waking up and greeting the day. It gives me an energy that is not a ‘hyped up’ feeling but rather like a natural energy that comes from a healthy lifestyle.”

Nancy Smith, Registered Nurse, Reno, Nevada More…

“When I sit down to paint yerba seems to give me the mental clarity and focus that I need in order to create to my fullest potential.”

Scott Cranmer, Artist, Audubon, New Jersey More…

“When my doctor suggested I give up black tea and coffee a year ago, I switched to drinking Green Tea for the perceived health benefits. However, I found it somewhat unsatisfying as a morning beverage. Luckily, I discovered Yerba Mate and I’ve never looked back. I began ordering my yerba mate from Nativa for their great services and prices (just one-third of what I was paying here in BC). Since switching to yerba mate, I experience none of the jittery side effects of coffee, sleep very well and just generally feel great!”

Jim Sutton, Family Therapist, Vancouver, British Columbia More…

Buddhism: How to Tame your Monkey Mind

Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly.

This is your mind – the monkey mind

Monkey Brain

Monkey Brain

I’m sure we can all relate to this. You lay down in bed wanting to relax / sleep but you mind is so busy you can’t stop thinking about a hundred things at the same time. An hour passes by and you still can’t sleep. Living in a busy world has its toll on our mental state. This toll is what the Monk’s call “The monkey mind”.

How to still your mind – Meditate

The single most effective way to still your mind (rid the monkey mind) is Meditation. Of course you can disconnect from society and go on a holiday but this doesn’t teach you how to manage the monkey mind rather temporarily escape from it.

Meditation is a great way to relieve anxiety, manage stress, and focus your mind.

There are many sites describing different methods (some overcomplicated) on how to meditate. The complexities scare the masses and they try to deal with it another way. The truth is that it’s very simple. Forget about those 300 page books and just do this:


1. Find a quiet place away from all distractions.

2. Get into a Lotus sitting position. As shown to the picture to the left. This is the statue in Bangalore depicting Shiva meditating in a Lotus position.

3. Close your eyes and start “deep breathing“. In through your nose and out through your mouth. It doesnt matter to what count you do it as long as you are breathing properly – using your diaphragm. If you aren’t not sure how to breath deeply read my post on breathing here.

4. Focus on each breath. Imagine the air coming in as pure white energy which gives you life. Imagine the exhaled air as black poison leaving your body. Did you know that the respiratory system is actually responsible of getting rid of 70% of the body’s waste.

5. Keep on doing this over and over. Your monkey mind will soon cease the wilderness and come to a standstill. When you reach this stop, you will experience “inner peace”. A feeling that cannot be explained, only felt and experienced. Enjoy this state for you have found yourself.

At first, start with a 15 minute meditation session and increase this up to an hour or more only when you are comfortable meditating for longer periods of time.

Why this works?

In a previous post I said “conscious mind creates the belief and the subconscious mind then executes the belief”. If your conscious mind is too busy with thoughts rushing in and out on s daily basis then how are you to send a consistent message to your subconscious mind on where you want to be in life and / or the level of success you are pursuing. Simple answer is you cannot. Your brain will filter all the noise and miss the key points.

Stilling your mind is the key here. So that you can consciously make clear and concise decisions and to tell your subconscious what you really want out of life.

Extra benefits – Bigger Brain!

The experts at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) have found that meditation helps build a bigger brain. Click here to read the article on this scientific finding. They used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of people who meditate and people who don’t and found that certain brain areas – specifically “the hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus” – were significantly larger in people who meditate.

“We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in mindful behavior,” said Eileen Luders, lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. “The observed differences in brain anatomy might give us a clue why meditators have these exceptional abilities.”

Because these areas of the brain are closely linked to emotion, Luders said, “these might be the neuronal underpinnings that give meditators’ the outstanding ability to regulate their emotions and allow for well-adjusted responses to whatever life throws their way.”

This alone is a good reason to meditate. Gain a competitive edge today! … for free.

Let’s speed this up – how to make it work quicker

If you are impatient, like me, then you may be asking “Ernest, how do I speed this meditation process up?”. I too had this question and finally found the answer – Isolation Tank. After 20-40 minutes of floating in an Isolation Tank your conscious mind will come to a stand still and you will get to see and hear your subconscious mind. What does this all mean? – I explain in detail this natural wonder here:

There are also other methods like using the Silva Method to help with switching mental states. I will cover this in future posts and share with you free special audio to get you started instantly.

Here are other audio resources I use to get the extra edge

The Secret Universal Mind Meditation – This one is great to fall asleep to. As you sleep your subconscious mind will absorb the positive messages. This is my favorite.

Brainwave Meditation – The easiest way to meditate during the day.

Awakening Kundalini – Kundalini is the name for the extraordinary powerhouse of cosmic energy that resides within you.


Until then, silence your monkey mind and enjoy the inner peace.


Developing the Leader within you by John Maxwell

Few of us are natural-born leaders, according to John C. Maxwell, the author of Developing the Leader Within You. Fortunately though Maxwell teaches us that the traits that are the raw material of leadership can be acquired. As Maxwell explains “You supply desire and I will show you how to be a leader”. So I immersed myself in this book on developing the leader within me. You can grab the book from Amazon.


“People don’t want to be managed, they want to be lead.” ~ John C. Maxwell

I have often found this point fascinating even before hearing it from Maxwell. A leader is someone who people will look up to because they aspire or see quality in that individual which they would want to see in them self. These people “want to be lead”. The leader must be good at managing them self before they are ready to start managing and leading others.

Maxwell speaks of Bruce Larson whom describes a leader as the one to take a place at the front and be able to handle the turbulence while the rest (those that are lead) are honking affirmations.

This draws similarity to how a flock of birds with a pack leader at the front breaking the air while the rest of the birds follow in sync. Nature it seems has engraved a form of leadership into all species on this planet. We just need to develop a desire to grow into those shoes.

He who thinketh he leadeth and has no one following him is only taking a walk. ~ John C. Maxwell

Leadership is defined as “ability to get followers”. If you work backwards from this you can figure out how to lead. It’s not a position (status / title), but to get followers. Status leaders exhibit frustration as they try to get followers.

This shadows the fact that leadership and the ability to influence others is vital to have successful relationships, a successful job or business and your overall satisfaction with life. The question you need to ask yourself is “What kind of an influencer will you be”.

The very essence of all power to influence is getting the other person to participate. ~ Harry A. Overstreet

The Lego blocks

Here are a few pieces of knowledge you might want to consider when building your influence and ultimately leadership:

  • Leadership is built like a set of lego blocks, from the bottom up.
  • Leadership begins with the heart not head.
  • You cannot lead people without loving them.
  • We want people to be results orientated.
  • Integrity keeps people. Charismatic personality draws people.
  • You gotta love em before you lead em.
  • Problems never stop but people can stop problems.
  • Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it!
  • A leader is great due to the way they empower others.

5 levels of leadership

The following are John Maxwell’s five stages of influence that individuals move through when building their leadership quality. Advancement to the next level can only happen once an individual has excelled in the present level.

1. Position - you start with a title and a level of authority it gives you.

2. Permission - people begin to follow you because they see something within you. This is the true beginning of influence with your followers.

3. Production - people inspire to become like you and thus try to produce at a higher level based on what they see you doing for the organization.

4. People Development - you have followers because of value you brought into their life.

5. Personhood - people follow you based on who you are and what you represent or stand for. This is the pinnacle of leadership here and a small amount of leaders reach this point.

Excellent leaders:

  • Great leaders-the truly successful ones who are in the top 1 percent-all have one thing in common. They know that acquiring and keeping good people is a leader’s most important task.
  • Create an excellent environment & believe in their team.
  • Know human needs. Being able to separate a behavior from intention is key in understanding people.
  • Control big 3:
    • finance,
    • personnel, and
    • planning.
  • Avoid 7 deadly sins:
    • try to be liked not respected,
    • not asking team for advise and help,
    • taunting personal talent,
    • not keeping criticism constructive,
    • not developing a sense of responsibility in team members,
    • not treating everyone same way and failing to keep everyone well informed.

Maxwell reminds us that to always make yourself available to your people.

What motivates people:

  • Significant contribution by allowing people to purse a cause that will have lasting impact.
  • Goal participation by giving ownership to your people.
  • Positive dissatisfaction by inspiriting positive effective change.

What demotivates people:

  • Public criticism.
  • Manipulations tearing down the walls in a relationship.
  • Insensitivity by not listening to your people.
  • Discouraging personal growth by feeling threatened by the success of others.

Developing the Leader within you

Becoming a great leader only happens once you set your goal and fuel it with a strong desire. There are great qualities of a leader one can always mirror from leadership stories, mentors, people we aspire et al and practice those qualities which ultimately can become your new habits.

I highly encourage you to read leadership stories of other great leaders like my all time favorite Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way. If you want a place to start then John C. Maxwell’s Developing the Leader Within You is ideal to understanding what Leadership is all about. Enjoy your journey and please share your experiences in the comment section below.

~ Ernest

Best of Twitter from @ernestsemerda for October 2013

This Best of Twitter summary features the most relevant Tweets and stories I shared on my Twitter account (https://twitter.com/ernestsemerda) in the month of October 2013. Posting these tweets here on The Road To Silicon Valley blog allows me to expand on some of the ideas in the tweets and comment / express my thoughts in a deeper and more meaningful format than within the constrains of a 140 character tweet.


If you like what I posted here feel free to follow me on Twitter => @ernestsemerda <= and let me know what you think.

It’s official. I am part of the Bay Area Bike Share Network :-) Read more about this cool healthy and disruptive program on my previous post. Use the 30 min limit of this great service as an “excercise motivator” to peddle hard burning those calories. When you hop on a bike think excercise not just a A to B transport.

Another cool weekend at Foothill College sipping in information and learning new stuff. I have in the past covered in detail Silicon Valley Code camp in 2011 here and in 2012 on Raising Capital by Bruce Schechter from Band of Angel. Worth going at least once to experience this.

What’s hilarious about this whole new movement against sitting is that scientists have been saying this for years. Read Brain Rules by John Medina if you want to see for yourself. John Medina is a development molecular biologist and has summarized all scientific evidence that passed his “grump factor”. ‘Sitting is the new smoking’ — 60% of Americans suffer from Silicon Valley Syndrome. Get off your ass and ride a bike!

I am a big fan of flat orgs. The fat cats of yesteryears love hierarchy because they crave power. Today’s smart leaders are realizing that hierarchy structures create fear driven cultures. Not good for a company which is to compete in today’s competitive and fast changing landscape where talent is in short supply. Watch RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us for a fast intro to Daniel Pink’s book Drive and you will get the idea behind the no managers movement.

Good lessons here. Don’t build shit because you have a gut feeling or some super human power. Use data to determine what needs to be built and whether what you did before is worth keeping or killing. Learn from data. Be data driven. Lean Startup approach. I find that people who do not use data is because they are lazy or do not know how to read data to make better decisions. Both are unacceptable since they get you no where – read The Myth of ‘I’m Bad at Math’ below.

Scott Adams is a farken genius! Basically failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight. Your goals are most likely all about some sugar coated ferry tales. Adams basically says go out there and get shit done through a systematic approach. If you chase goals you constantly are riding a Sine wave and need to reset your expectations. People who use systems do better.

This is a good one! Having gone through all sort of roles in my 13 year career I have seen shitty managers which had no clue about software engineering micromanage their employees because they believed that typing away at a keyboard was work. #lol Design always starts in the head, then whiteboard/paper then discussions then more thinking then some prototyping before finally setting in to code. Code is a very small part of building something great.

Good reason why you should sleep more or use Melatonin to optimize your sleep cycle. Software Engineers are notorious for sacrificing their sleep to smash away through code to get shit done. The most productive time for a Software Engineer is mostly in the evening with close to 0 interruptions. There is also something in the air knowing you are one of the few folks awake in your hood. However, manage your sleep if you want to retain those super duper cells that make you a kickass software engineer.

Aussie lingo and humour. Definitely the perfect way to describe the ideal startup team.

This has to be the best implementation of education and gaming that I’ve seen in a while. Too many educational startups focus on content delivery. Well that has already been done by a hundred other startups and beaten to death by cookie cutter startups. So what is next? How do you keep someone engaged while learning? This is where CodeCombat comes in. They teach you JavaScript by forcing you to code to get through the levels killing your enemy and getting through obstacles. Not to mention these guys got into YC13 Winter at Startup School 2013. Superb work guys!

Are you using GSDfaster to Get Stuff Done Faster? This is a pet project of mine that has been shaping over some time now. It grew out of my own need for a better system of managing notes. After reading David Allen’s GTD book I was inspired by the GTD concept and built a product which suits me. Yap it was initially just for me until friends wanted to use it too. So I opened it up on iTunes for anyone to grab. Check it out and let me know what you think.

There you have it. The debate has been settled with hard numbers. You may recall that Python’s The Zen of Python basically tells you to use under_score for identifiers in your code. Hint hint Python ;-)

This finding is great. I hate it when people use the excuse of not being a maths person as an excuse for their laziness or shortcomings. Hard work = Results. Isn’t this what your parents told you when you were in school! Never too late to learn maths.

I’ve been quiet vocal about this monstrosity. Not just because the website is poorly written breaking most accepted programming fundamentals but because it cost so much and what was delivered is a total mess. There have been excuses from those responsible for delivery from “Facebook wasn’t built in a day”.. well Facebook didn’t have $300m to build it either .. to nonsense like complexity of back end systems. When you build real products they are all complex and will grow in complexity over time. Which is why you need people on board that have a history of delivering complex systems not mediocre individuals that talk a lot but fail to deliver. Everyone is an expert until they have to deliver something that works.

Those that know me well know how strong my passion is for the Python language. For years I have been championing Python as the language of choice if you must choose between the sea of languages out there. I have a intro to Python post here if you want to get started:  or take a peek at my rant about why PHP is a house of horrors. The sketch I did on a whiteboard might give you a clue where to focus your learning energy. Check it out.


And that wraps up the month of October 2013. There were obviously more tweets but these are the most relevant to this blog. I encourage you to follow me on Twitter if you want to be entertained and educated on the world of Tech, Silicon Valley and other ramblings.

~ Ernest

Bay Area Bike Share: a new regional transit system

Bay Area Bike Share bike sharing system has arrived in San Francisco and the South Bay Area and I’m loving it! Ready to ride?


Bike Area Bike Share is in the business of sharing economy. Centered around a human-powered transport we all take for granted, your average pedal bike (bicycle). Bikes are not new but the execution here of Bay Area Bike Share program is. It can potentially disrupt (and with time eliminate) polluting transport machines like Muni, Taxi and Bart.

Let’s face it, human-powered bikes are a great innovation and will never be replaced. In almost every European country, bikes are outselling new cars. That tells you something about the change occurring around us. Ride a bike!

How Bay Area Bike Share works

You pay $88 for an annual membership and get a digital key to unlock any Bay Area Bike Share bike. When one is available. I will get to that later too. The catch is you have to return the bike into any Bike Area Bike Share dock within 30 minutes or end up paying overtime fees ($4 at the time of writing this). Beware, This is advertised as “30 minute free” or as I like to call it, exercise motivator.

So your annual membership is the right to access to the bike network. As soon as you undock a bike you have 30 mins to get your ass from A to B fast so you don’t pay the overtime fee. This doesn’t stop you from dropping your bike off at another docking station and re-docking it again. I am sure this 30 mins time limit also keeps the bikes circulating, which helps with availability.

The Bay Area Bike Share stations are situated in SF’s Soho & Financial district and also at popular suburbs in the South Bay Area like Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Jose etc.. and growing. So your transport needs are sorted.

I highly encourage you to download the Bike Area Bike app to see where the docking stations are in relation to you, bike availability and free docks to return your bike into. I recently switched to using the Bay Area Bike app after the Cycle Finder app proved to be too unreliable. There is also an API you can tap into if you want to build your own app.

Saving of 50% from my foot commute

For me this bike system has shed my foot commute by 50%. Nearly 40 mins on a typical day. Yes I used to walk on average 15K steps a day. But replacing my walks with foot & pedal power I still get a lot of exercise in half the time. In fact I feel like I have a better work out on a bike.

I really believe that every employer whose staff travel on foot or public transport to and from work should offer this benefit. It’s a no brainer. It is a small price to pay for employee’s happiness. Yes riding a bike will make your employee happy – from the exercise which releases endorphins to less stress getting to work on time / making that Bullet Caltrain so they can be home with their family sooner. It’s an all round win. A happy employee is a productive employee.

Pros of Bay Area Bike Share program

  • Go green! “In the Bay Area, the transportation sector accounts for more than 50 percent of air pollution overall.”*
  • No need to worry about locking up your bike at a station or on the streets.
  • No need to maintain a bike. Sharing economy baby! And if your bike has problems, there is a button on the docking station you can press to notify Bay Area Bike Share maintenance people.
  • Have you seen all those bike owners on Caltrain with their bikes stacked according to town they are getting out? And then watching nervously that no one nicks their bike. Yes it is a pain and going on Caltrain with your bike is painful.
  • Exercise! Riding a bike spikes your heart rate which is great for burning fat and cardio workout. Unlike walking, jumping on a bike and paddling hard through the city is a great heart accelerator.
  • Get to places faster. Faster than Muni in San Francisco. Bikes are a great way to accelerate foot transport without the traffic component.
  • It’s dirt cheap. $88 for an annual membership is cheaper than catching public transport.

Improvement / Ideas

  • Availability. Demand vs supply. I’m starting to see the 2 x docking stations in SF Caltrain empty more frequently when I exit the train during morning peak hour. A better system for managing inventory might help here. Maybe some data scientist from Uber can help.
  • Better cycle apps. Cycle Finder app is unreliable – buggy and went offline after a buggy build made it to the iTunes store. The Bay Area Bike app is better but the API which they use must be delayed or not real-time since after getting advised that a docking station had availability I found it did not and had to haul my ass back 2 blocks to another docking station to drop the bike off.
  • Better API. Open up the API with real-time data including rider GPS location. This way any developer can go nuts creating apps which not only track their biking habits but can also build a commute scheduling system to ease the pain of availability. I can already see a nice app which integrates Moves app API with Bay Area Bike Share API. Yeah!
  • Gamification. Now who wouldn’t mind finding out they are in the top 10 for say San Francisco fastest cyclists or most miles travelled in a week. A mobile app or even a website interface which would allow rides to see their standing against all the other Bay Area Bike Share riders. Then take it a notch further and do cities i.e. LA vs SF. Now it’s getting interesting.. which city is the most healthiest based on users riding, miles travelled etc… this would create some healthy competition.

If you want to learn more about this program and sign up visit the Bay Area Bike Share website. They also have a Tumblr page here where photos of the bikes and users are posted every week.

Happy Biking!
~ Ernest

Sun Tzu’s Art of War: outwit your enemy with your mind

The Art of War is a series of Chinese military treatise written by Sun Tzu in the 6th century BC. Sun Tzu was a warrior, philosopher and the greatest military mind in history. His teachings are based on Warfare but can be applied to business and personal life. His teachings are said to have predicted the outcomes of World War, Civil War and Vietnam.

Sun Tzu helps teach us to know our self, to know our strengths, our weaknesses and what we are capable of doing on the battlefield. He constantly reminds us it’s as important to cultivate a deep fundamental understanding of our adversaries so that we can better achieve our objectives. That is powerful and timeless!

The Book – Art of War


The Story

The story begins with the ruler of the Chinese state of Wu whom agonises over a hostel neighbour Chu which wants to invade with an army of x10 (10:1) more then Wu. The King of Wu summons Sun Tzu to help. To demonstrate to the King that he is capable of turning anyone into a soldier, Sun Tzu uses the palace women as examples by showing them manoeuvres. Out of the women, he chooses 2 as the platoon leaders to make sure discipline is observed in their unit. When Tzu orders the exercise to begin the women laugh. Tzu says, maybe my instructions we not clear enough, so he repeats them. 2nd time the girls still giggle.

Sun Tzu says: “If instructions are not clear and commands not explicit, it is the commander’s fault.”

So… if the orders are unclear then it is the fault of the general that the troops did not obey. But if the orders are clear, and his orders have been clear, it is the fault of the subordinate officers that the orders are not obeyed. Sun Tzu has only 1 way to convince the troops that he is serious. He executes the subordinates’ officers infront of the rest.

To Sun Tzu, war is a matter of life or death.

This is the principle of his teachings. Once understood everyone from leaders to soldier will be motivated to succeed. Tzu appoints new officers and now the women follow his orders. Sun Tzu has proved his point to the King and is awarded a 30,000 army to fight an army 10x larger using his master work teachings of Art of War.

500bc bamboo strips which the teachings to success were written on.

3 key principles that unify his philosophies

  1. “Know your enemy and know yourself and in 100 battles you will never be in peril.” – intelligence is key.
  2. “To win 100 battles is not the height of skill – To subdue the enemy without fighting is.” – outwit your opponent.
  3. “Avoid what is strong. Attack what is weak.” – do not go head to head in battles.

The Story – continued…

Instead of waiting for Chu’s army to attack Wu, Sun Tzu invades Chu. But not head on. With brutal speed and efficiency attacking Chu outposts (a gorilla attack approach attacking smaller & weaker forces). This keeps Chu shifting forces between locations to protect their outposts tiring Chu’s army and gives Sun Tzu a better understanding of his enemy. Manoeuvre, surprise and deception are key here for Tzu. Greatest armies in war have always been won by brains not force. The board game Go can teach us something important here. It is more resource efficient to capture most territory with least number of stones.

Some great quotes from Sun Tzu

“In war, numbers alone confer no advantage – Do not advance relaying on sheer military power.” – Sun Tzu

“Know your enemy and know yourself and in 100 battles you will never be in peril.” – Sun Tzu

“There are five fundamental factors for success in war – Weather, terrain, leadership, military doctrine and most importantly – moral influence.” – Sun Tzu

“Put the army in the face of death where there is no escape and they will not flee or be afraid – there is nothing they cannot achieve.” – Sun Tzu

“It is essentials for victory that generals are unconstrained by their leaders.” – Sun Tzu

“The winning arm realizes the conditions for victory first, then fights – The losing army fights first then seeks victory.” – Sun Tzu

“When troops flee, are insubordinates, collapse or are routed in battle, it is the fault of the general.” – Sun Tzu

And so through preparation, deception and indirect attacks.. using his mind to fight the war, Sun Tzu outwitted the army of Chu and won the war. If you are interested in more detail I highly recommend you read this amazing book The Art of War. War leads to disaster – financial and human suffering. Sometimes the best way to win is to not fight at all. This is Sun Tzu’s ultimate secret!

~ Ernest

Vitamin D3 Deficiency: how to stay healthy & feel better during flu season

Winter is upon us in Silicon Valley and you know what this means? Shorter days, less sunlight, more coughing & sick people on that daily commute. More flu going around! Oh and not to mention more advertising to get a flu shot to stop you from getting sick.

So this post should hopefully make you a tad uncomfortable and hopefully educate you about a powerful yet forgotten supplement during the flu season… Vitamin D. All this while you get bombarded with advertising & doctors screaming for you to get the flu shot. What the hell is in a flu shot anyways? Is a Vitamin D supplement a better alternative? Read on and decide for yourself.

Vitamin D deficiency


Most of us are suffering from Vitamin D deficiency and we don’t even know it.

  • Current research has implicated Vitamin D deficiency as a major reason in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, and more.
  • Kevin Rose & Dr. Weil M.D. covered Vitamin D deficiency as a major cause of disease in detail here, and
  • The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey a group of researchers concluded that having low levels of vitamin D (<17.8 ng/ml) was independently associated with an increase in all-cause mortality in the general population. If you want to read more about Vitamin D click here.

“Vitamin D” isn’t even a nutrient! It comes from the sun, not from nutrition. – GRC

Vitamin D isn’t really a Vitamin like Vitamin C rather more like a powerful steroid hormone in our body which lays an important role in the maintenance of several organ systems. Critically important for the development, growth, and maintenance of a healthy body, from birth until death. Your primary source of Vitamin D is sun exposure followed (to a lesser extend) from food.

Vitamin D inexpensively promotes health.- GRC

Why the deficiency?

Ever since we started spending more time indoors we have been inadvertently starving our bodies of Vitamin D. We spend less time outside in the sun and more indoors working, driving to work instead of walking in the sun with the few exceptions on the weekends out and about. During the typical work week you will be hard pressed to get more than 45 minutes of good sunlight on your skin. But still then only your face and hands are exposed to the sun and possibly covered with sunscreen because as you may have heard… the sun is dangerous and you need to “slip slop & slap” – Aussie health slogan to cover up from the sun.


Vitamin D isn’t the only benefit we are missing out on by being indoors. In January 2010 I covered the issue of low LUX and it’s connection to depression and what to do about getting this corrected today without denting your wallet. This revealing post is located here – it goes hand in hand with this post and is highly recommended.

Setting people up to die

Vitamin D Science has a problem: Vitamin D is very inexpensive and cannot be patented.- GRC

Just go outside in the sun and get adequate amount of skin exposure or cheap (about 2.4 cents per day) supplements and you are ready to kick on. No pharmaceutical company wants to even think about investing any sort of money into trials or marketing of Vitamin D because it’s not financially rewarding. Instead when the flu season breaks, you will smell the fear created by these conglomerates to the tune of N1H1 and all its cousins and a need for immunization. Did you know that N1H1 flu shot had limited testing in Australian labs (6 weeks to approve) before hitting the shelfs. Yet so many people jumped to get the injection of something only few know what it contains. The message is simple,  pharmaceutical companies want to “keep you by” and NEVER to cure you or prevent any form of illness. Because there is no money in that.

Curiously absent from all the health advice being handed out on the swine flu by the White House, the CDC, the WHO and even the FDA is any mention of Vitamin D or other natural remedies that offer enormous protections from influenza infections. It is a well-known medical fact, of course, that influenza always gets worse during the winter months North of the equator and the summer months South of the equator (which are really called their “winter” months). This is because as sunlight hours lessen during the winter, the people living there become vitamin D deficient and are susceptible to influenza infections of all kinds. Read more about this in literature here.

But the prevention is so simple. All it takes is good daily exposure to the sun and some Vitamin D supplements to protected you and your family from the common flu and other degenerative diseases. Sounds easy, cheap and feels alright, right? Nature has all the answers but we sometimes fail to see past the smoke.

If you want to read more about Vitamin D uncovered and some great videos visit this site: http://www.grc.com/health/vitamin-d.htm

Vitamin D levels – getting yourself tested

Vitamin D is measured in ng/mL. You can find out your levels by getting blood work for 25-hydroxyvitamin D from your local doctor. Make sure you specifically ask for Vitamin D check when getting full blood work.

Your Vitamin D levels should be 50-80 ng/mL year-round. If they are not you need to act quickly and get them up.

Here is a good chart from Office of Dietary Supplements National Institutes of Health on Adequate Intakes (AIs) for Vitamin D:

ng/mL** nmol/L** Health status
<10-11 <25-27.5 Associated with vitamin D deficiency, leading to rickets in infants and children and osteomalacia in adults [4,13]
<10-15 <25-37.5 Generally considered inadequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals [4,13]
≥15 ≥37.5 Generally considered adequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals [4]
Consistently >200 Consistently >500 Considered potentially toxic, leading to hypercalcemia and hyperphosphatemia, although human data are limited. In an animal model, concentrations ≤400 ng/mL (≤1,000 nmol/L) demonstrated no toxicity [11,14].

When I got my levels checked in January 2010 they were dangerous low at 13 ng/ML!

Sure I spend a lot of time indoors but I also walk outside for around 1 hour a day. Still this isn’t enough. Therefore fast action to get this corrected was required.

Best ways to ensure adequate levels of Vitamin D

  1. If you are low, start with 50,000 IU tablets for 8 weeks. Your local doctor should give you a prescription for these if you are in the dangerously low zone.
  2. Regularly receive midday sun exposure in the late spring, summer, and early fall, exposing as much of the skin as possible (being careful to never burn). Beware of the times you can do this safely when UV index is less than 3. Especially if you are in Australia / NZ where the the hole in the ozone layer has spread.
  3. Take Vitamin D-3 (5000IU) per day for 2–3 months, then get a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. Adjust your dosage so that blood levels are between 50–80 ng/mL (or 125–200 nM/L) year-round.
  4. Get blood work done regularly to make sure your levels of Vitamin D are in the safe zone.

So there you have it. Simple strategy to get your body back on track naturally fighting the common flu and protecting itself from other common diseases.
I am currently supplementing my lack of Vitamin D with 50,000 IU tables and will follow through with the Vitamin D-3 (5000IU) post the 8 week supply.


I’ll leave you with some interesting notes I found online about Vitamin D – a conspiracy you say:

  • Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers report that people with low vitamin D may face increased risk of peripheral artery disease. Symptoms include narrowed arteries, pain and numbness, impaired ability to walk. This problem is associated with significant disease and death.
  • Circulation magazine reports that those with low levels of vitamin D had a 62% increased risk of heart failure. Those with adequate levels of Vitamin D lowered their risk of colorectal cancer by 72%.
  • People who live in regions with high amounts of direct sunlight have lower incidence of Type 1 diabetes, prostate cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer and and multiple sclerosis. Sunlight on your skin produces Vitamin D.
  • The Mayo Clinic Health Letter reports that 93% of patients ages 10-65 with musculoskeletal pain were Vitamin D deficient. Elderly women taking Vitamin D had fewer falls and better leg strength.
  • Vitamin D researcher, Dr. William Grant, reports that 15 types of cancer — colon, esophageal, gallbladder, gastric, pancreatic, rectal, endometrial, prostate, breast, intestinal, bladder, kidney, ovarian, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkins lymphoma — are associated with low Vitamin D levels. He also notes that adequate levels of Vitamin D can reduce your risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis an dother common diseases.
  • Professor Robert Heaney reports that raising Vitamin D levels in the body from 29 ng/m to 38 ng/ml can reduce your risk of getting cancer by 70%.
  • Our bodies make Vitamin D from sunlight hitting our skin, but our ability to do so diminishes four-fold from age 20 to age 70. This is why most people are Vitamin D deficient. This may be the reason so many people break their hips when they fall, have unexplained muscle pain, have heart disease, diabetes or hypertension.
  • For years the “recommended” dose of Vitamin D was 200 iu daily. Today, the recommendations from researchers are in the area of 2000 – 10,000 iu daily. The worse your health is, the more you require.
  • Big Pharma is hard at work on a drug the mimics Vitamin D. When they release it, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be a push by Big Pharma to get the government to restrict the potency of natural Vitamin D or they will outlaw it using the guise that it is actually a hormone, not a food.

Further reading material:

“Vitamin D” Research – What and how the world is beginning to learn about the importance of “Vitamin D”

Dr. Weil Interview: Geek Health Issues

Case Study: Medlert.com on Atlassian’s OnDemand Software Development Tools

The original version of this post I first published on Medlert blog here on the September 24th, 2013. Reposting here incase readers of The Road to Silicon Valley (#TRTSV) missed it.

I am a Co-Founder & CTO of a San Francisco based startup in the health sector called Medlert. Medlert gets you the fastest medical emergency response when using our mobile apps connecting through Medlert’s emergency platform. You can learn more about Medlert here: https://www.medlert.com/medical-emergency-alarm-system-features

Like many startups in the early days, we experimented a lot with a different set of software development & collaborative tools to manage bugs, chat, project management (agile stuff), document storage, code repository etc… that long list of stuff you gotta do to keep the wheels of the machine greased up. Like many, we found the defragmentation of multiple tooling and login accounts a nightmare. More work than it’s worth. Even though most of these tools were free, the overhead was not worth it.

Good set of software development & collaborative tools need to:

  • Minimize overhead – be complementary not a headache to get things done
  • Easy to use – one consistent experience with minimal ramp up period to get staff using it
  • Integrate with a common industry project management life cycle – think Agile
  • Accessible anywhere – web based (cloud) single sign on (SSO) over a secure connection
  • Affordable for any team – especially for small teams in the early days

The search

I am an Aussie, and strangely enough I have never heard of Atlassian until few years back when working in Silicon Valley running the Coupons.com International Engineering team. There I got exposure to early Atlassian tools like JIRA, Confluence et al.. and they started to slowly grow on me. I still didn’t like the fact that we ran these tools internally and had to have people manage them. The cries of Tomcat brought shivers down my spine.

When we kicked off Medlert (The Fastest Emergency Response) I admit I did not think Atlassian. I wanted everything for free and so we ended up using host of other free tools like Asana, Pivotal Tracker, Trello, Google Docs etc etc… That quickly changed as mentioned pains of defragmentation & integration made me revisit Atlassian website, finding Atlassian OnDemand. There it was, a single hub/solution to solve our pains. A cloud based offering package with all the tools we needed in 1. Win!

Atlassian OnDemand

We started with the free month trial and today are a happy paying customer. The pricing structure is ridiculously cheap for what you get. The diagram below depicts our use of Atlassian tools with more of the Atlassian suite of tools coming online (gray circles) in the next few months.


Tools used at Medlert to get stuff done faster

How we use Atlassian OnDemand at Medlert


JIRA – tickets

JIRA is a very powerful tool for ticket creation, management & tracking wrapped in an Agile software development process (sprints, stories and epics). Complementary to it, JIRA Agile formerly “GreenHopper” allows us to manage knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery through Kanban boards. This proves us with a very high level overview of what is in the next release, being worked on and completed.

We have about a dozen “Projects” ranging from iOS to Corporate site to Platform setup in JIRA. This allows us to separate tickets into their correct channels and gives us a high level visibility across Projects, Individual contributors, Status of tickets, type of tickets like bugs/improvements etc. My favorite are Burndown charts and Velocity charts when it comes to planning. We can see work load, progress and team’s ability to resolve commitments per sprint.

Confluence – knowledge base

Confluence is a wiki used as a knowledge base. In the early days we used Dropbox & Google Drive. As the team grew this didn’t scale too well with our needs. Confluence is a great replacement with security down to the user level for sensitive knowledge.

We now store all our documents, discuss product designs using the threaded commenting features and document everything directly in Confluence. For newbies coming on board all they have to do is point their browser to our Confluence hub to find all they need to come to speed.

With JIRA integration any ticket pasted into Confluence gets automatically recognized and connected. Very neat and allows anyone within the company to move between the knowledge base wiki and related tickets.

HipChat – chat client

HipChat is not just a chat desktop & mobile client between teams but also a communication tool for services. All those circles above send appropriate messages to their designated rooms. The beauty of this is that you can just hang out in HipChat and see the company’s activity from all the tools we use. For example:

  • JIRA’s activity stream gets sent to our “Alerts” room in HipChat.
  • Confluence activity stream also gets sent to the “Alerts” room in HipChat.
  • ZenDesk customer support requests get streamed to our “Customer Support” room.
  • NewRelic, a 3rd party server & app monitoring tool, pushes Red Alerts to our “Alerts” room too.

Now this isn’t a replacement for those tool’s notifications. The right people still get those but it helps to keep everyone in the company who is interested at anytime updated on what is going on. More on other integrations here: http://help.hipchat.com/knowledgebase/topics/10037-integrations

We also have dedicated rooms for when working with contractors and other rooms for specific topics like:

  • Firehose: when making releases and/or system updates this is where all the activity happens.
  • Platform: for platform discussions and sharing of notes,
  • Product & Marketing: for as the name implies, sharing ideas around product & marketing
  • and few others.

Bitbucket – git source control

Having previously used GitHub we found BitBucket just as good if not better due to the integration between JIRA tickets and source control.

BitBucket has a feature called “Hooks” which allows you to associate an action to a change in the repository. For example, when code is checked into a Medlert Repository, the email service fires an email to Medlert Admins informing them of the checkin with a link to Bitbucket. Same hook sends a notification to HipChat Alert room. Instant visibility of activity on the Medlert Repositories.

You can use the shell command or Atlassian’s SourceTree GUI app to manage your Bitbucket repository.

An example: a typical day in the Medlert office

Medlert staff is geographically spread. As tickets are created in JIRA (either automatically from other tools or manually) in their appropriate Projects, the project leads manage the ticket life cycle. A ticket life cycle can follow an Agile process of being scheduled into a Sprint or addressed immediately based on severity. When the Agile process kicks in, the Project lead (which could be an engineer) will work within JIRA Agile to push everything along.

As JIRA tickets are completed, watchers (anyone with a vested interest in that ticket or its creator) gets notified via email. Also a Kanban board gives further insights into progress.

As JIRA tickets and Bitbucket code repository checkins happen, all notifications are also sent to HipChat via Hooks. All Medlert employees have visibility of this activity. HipChat is great and we use it daily for communication in private and public rooms vs clogging up email.

Most Releases are done ad hock. Our fault tolerance infrastructure and release process allows us to push & reverse code using automation. All the way to the relational database which is structured around code models. As releases happen emails go out to the admins updating them of start and end builds.

Now we never push releases directly to production. There is a staging environment, a scaled down mirror of production, which is used to do UAT (User Acceptance Testing) by actual users we recruit via UserTesting.com.

Our infrastructure tools from NewRelic to AWS monitoring paint a picture of hardware & application health throughout the whole process.

Atlassian Summit

Atlassian Summit - Collaborative ToolsThe beauty here is these tools can be used in many different ways to cater for your needs. I’m sure there are things I could improve on or change here. That I’m looking forwards to in a weeks time when I attend the Atlassian Summit to not only learn about cool new features but also find out from others how they are maximizing this investment. Lookout for me at the Summit.

I’ll be sporting a Medlert white shirt and Medlert gray jacket. Say G’day!

I hope this post has answered and provided you with insights into how Atlassian OnDemand tools can be used to help your startup move fast. Any questions please comment below.

~ Ernest