The Little Yellow Toolbox

Workshop #1

Workshop #1

This past week marks a serious milestone for me: the completion of two shiny, new workshops. Prior to this glorious milestone, I was only ever dealing with an unruly pile of tools. Two distinctly different piles, in fact.

The first pile began about 20 years ago, and it started with a little yellow toolbox I got for free from the local hardware store for buying a gallon of motor oil. Or something dumb like that.

Over the years, that pile slowly grew: a wrench set here, a hammer there, a needed palm sander, a jigsaw, miter saw, and skill saw, a nice cordless drill, a couple old milk crates to hold some of this stuff. A couple more toolboxes to compliment the original yellow one. That sort of thing.

We moved from the city to the country last year and with it came some serious downsizing (1500 square feet to 600 square feet and not one closet!). As usual, that tool pile started out in the back seat in some hard-to-reach spot I had to drum up.

But this time it had to be different: instead of slaving away at the desk to make enough money to pay the contractors, part of the master plan was to free up enough time so that I could learn and do the necessary renovations myself. At a fraction of the cost, of course.

And for that to happen, that tool pile had to be accessible. And well organized. It had to be turned into a workshop.

The Other Tool Pile

Workshop #2

Workshop #2

Coincidently, my other tool pile got started right around the same time that I received the little yellow toolbox. This pile started with a little C++ in CMPT 101 here, and a little Calculus in MATH 101 there, a little bit of linear algebra here, and whole lot more computing languages there.

I eventually ended up with a degree in my hand (I might equate that to the milk crate that held the saws, I suppose). And just like the good construction worker showing up on time with his hard hat and steel-toed boots, I spent over a decade being paid to employ the tools I had in my second pile.

Looking back on all those years, I now realize how much I was holding myself back by doing this. As a hired hand, it is only possible for you to accumulate two things: the money you are given, and the knowledge you gain.

By no means am I saying those aren’t important things. Of course they are.

But to really gain success, a person needs to be given more than just those two things for their hard work. Among other things, they need to be given more freedom than they are almost certainly getting. And they need to be able to retain and reuse the work they have already done. And they need to be able to use it for their own benefit – not the person’s benefit that’s paying them.

To do this, I needed to be the lightbulb-changer-gone-bathroom-renovator: I needed to transform that second pile of tools into a proper workshop too.

Workshop Construction

Similar to the tool piles of yore, interestingly, construction on  both workshops began right around the same time: Spring 2014. While a tree or two was being cut down in the back yard, a Perforce server was being setup. While holes were being dug, physics code was being written.

While walls were being built, interfaces were being designed and implemented. Then re-implemented. While a roof was being installed, a help system was being added. And while doors were being hung, a teaser video and website were being built.

I am now setup so that I can head out to the workshop and build something much more quickly and easily than ever before if I want. Like a table. Or a new kitchen. Or whatever.

And also, I can much more quickly and easily (relatively speaking) put out another app idea that I want. Because I wrote all the code and I know how it all works. I get to do whatever I want with it, reuse it how I feel. I know what it’s limits are, and I have thought of a long list of other things it could easily do, with only a little bit of modification.

I won’t be given a timeline by someone else, and then told they’re going to reuse all the work I did for them last time, and now I need to spend a whole bunch of time doing something else for them.

Instead, I will say, “if we just spend a bit of time doing these few things to what we have already built, we will then also have this great thing to market and sell to a whole other audience”.

Finally, my tool piles have been turned into workshops.

Posted in Life | Tagged , | 7 Comments

The Lifestyle Engineering Models Of Data and Lore

lifestyle-engineeringI took a course back in my second year at university called Software Engineering I. It was a requirement for the program I was in, and turned out to be one of the heavier duty courses I would end up taking. It offered me my first taste of writing real, actual software.

Needless to say, it was a lot of work.

As part of the course curriculum, we learned about two software engineering practices that are in actual use in the real world: the Waterfall Model, and the Spiral Model.

The Waterfall Model

The Waterfall Model was a bit of a first attempt by its inventors at adding structure to the process of building software. Briefly, the software development is broken down into five separate stages: requirements gathering, design, implementation, verification, and maintenance. As each stage of the process is completed, the development team advances to the next stage. Previous stages are generally not revisited. What is done is done.

This method tends to be the goal for large, monolithic pieces of software that have a well-defined set of requirements. I spent the summer working on a new air traffic control system back in the nineties. This was the engineering model in use for that project.

More often than not, the Waterfall Model tends to be not much more than a programmer’s pipe dream these days. The world changes too quickly for the ideology to flourish. By the time requirements are figured out, designed, and half developed, the initial ideas are out of date. The model no longer represents reality at that point, thus it is rarely an effective way to produce quality software today.

If I were a betting man, which I try not to be most of the time, I would bet that Lore, Data’s older evil brother, was built using the Waterfall Model.

And if I were building a self-diagnosing piece of software like Lore, I would likely create it in such a way that it employs the same model I used to write it with.

The Spiral Model

The Spiral Model for developing software borrows much from the Waterfall Model. Essentially, it is the first half of the Waterfall Model, except iterated upon over and over, until the truest possible design is agreed upon. After which point the second half of the Waterfall Model is executed.

Whereas the Waterfall Model tends to ignore change, like it didn’t happen, almost with an attitude of, “you made your bed, now you have to sleep in it”, the Spiral Model attempts to incorporate change at the earliest possible stage. Almost inviting it. Attempting to mitigate difficult modifications at a later stage in the process. Thus building the best, most appropriate end product possible.

It is the basis for most modern day software engineering processes and projects. It of course has it’s fair share of problems too, but there is no question that it is a much more effective methodology when it comes to building software.

And of course I’m sure you can guess where this is headed: it is in all likelihood the development methodology used to build and run Lore’s younger, non-evil brother, Data.

Which Lifestyle Engineering Model are You Running On?

And now for the hard part: Data is in the minority. Not just because he is a robot, but also because he runs on the Spiral Model.

Everyone starts life by learning the basic skills. We then go to school to learn about something we are possibly not all that interested in mastering. Because we are simply too young to know. We finish school. We start a career. We buy a house. We have children and watch them grow up. We keep at the career even though we likely don’t enjoy it. We pay the house off. We finally retire. We travel a bit. We work in the garden a bit. We die.

It is completely human nature to live by the Waterfall Model. Likely because us humans love to accomplish things. We don’t like admitting failure. At all costs, we avoid going back and changing what we thought was once right. That can be embarrassing! Not to mention a lot of work to fix.

But the truth is, the Spiral Model is the lifestyle engineering approach we should aspire to. Always evaluating. Always actively looking for ways to improve things. Then incorporating them at the earliest convenient time.

Is this house really the ideal place for us to live? Maybe it is time to move on. Will I enjoy spending the next twenty years working my career? Maybe it is time to find a new one. Or a way to not have one at all.

Do I love walking my friend’s dog? Maybe it is time to get my own dog. Do I feel good when I exercise? Maybe I should get a bike and use it to get places. Do I hate living pay check to pay check? Perhaps it is time to ditch cable and daily cappuccinos.

Don’t be afraid of change. Relish it. Use it to your advantage. That is the key to engineering your ideal lifestyle.

Posted in Life | Tagged | 3 Comments

The Stock Market and Antarctica are About to Part Ways

stock-market-volcanoUs humans are terrible at comprehending the vastness of the geological time scale. To paraphrase Neil Degrasse Tyson from the new series Cosmos, which I highly recommend everyone watches:

“If we change the scale of time such that the Big Bang happened at the beginning of the day on January 1st of a given calendar year, and the end of the day on December 31st of that same year is right now, all of recorded human history (ie. starting with caveman paintings) was over the last 14 seconds, and Jesus Christ was born 5 seconds ago…”

It is fun and useful to employ a metaphor like this so that we are able to even begin to understand the vastness of this time scale, but we can’t truly comprehend it. Not when our average 80-year lifespan is only 0.0000006% of the above imagined year.

The Earth’s Ice Age Cycle

Discovered through the analysis of ice core samples from Antarctica, our planet has been on a rough, 125,000 year cycle of brief periods of warmth followed by long periods of coldness. For a very long time. Here is a graph of the global temperature over the past 425,000 years:


Global Temperature over the Past 420,000 years

The trend is pretty clear when you stand back and look. But again, it is difficult for our little brains to truly comprehend this behavior without the visual assistance. It is just too grand, and we are just too small.

Interesting where on that graph we are sitting right now, isn’t it?

The Stock Market

From what might seem like left field, here is a graph of the S&P 500 (America’s top 500 companies on the stock market) for as far back as I am able to show:


The S&P 500 since 1950

Another interesting picture, isn’t it? Again, look where we are now! What is going to happen next??

My Crystal Ball

I glance at the financial headlines each morning and night. Not for a long time (that might make a person go crazy), but long enough to notice that the people analyzing things so often seem to have trouble comprehending reality. Seemingly similar to our inability to comprehend the geological time scale. One minute someone is reporting how healthy the US economy is, the next minute someone is reporting the Great Correction is upon us. Sometimes it looks like a barn full of headless chickens (the sky is falling??) running around bashing into each other.

Ack! Who to trust? Who to believe??

My guess is this. Feel free to believe me if you want, I would love it if you did, but keep in mind I’m just a dude. One that enjoys sitting in the hot tub with a glass of bourbon while pondering the bigger things in life.

We have fucked with the planet’s environment. There are way too many of us doing way too many bad things to it. It will continue to cycle between hot spells and cold spells, like it always has, but the expected behavior of the above graph dropping next is not going to happen. It is going to rise next. And then once enough of us have died off due to that happening, it will continue it’s hot/cold cycle on a downward trend until hundreds of thousands of years from now (perhaps millions?), it will be back to the cycle it is currently on.

The stock market is going to drop. Drastically and very soon. Just like you would expect from that graph. True, we don’t have the historical data we have with the global temperature to prove it, but we have rich people with control over the dials that can make it happen when they want. And when the stock market drops, rich people get richer. So it is going to happen very soon.

Contrary to traditional thinking, I would try to beat the stock market at this one. Pretend you are one of those rich people getting richer. Buffett is not the only one that can successfully play that game.

How to beat it? If I were a person holding on to assets that are affected proportionately by the stock market, which is virtually everything other than gold and silver, I would do everything to change that. Very soon, if possible.

And then when it drops, I would buy up as much as I could afford.

Check back here when the big drop happens if you are interested to see what I am buying.

Disclaimer: I am in no way attempting to actually correlate the temperature of the planet with the stock market. The time scales are obviously worlds apart. That said, I also wouldn’t say the two aren’t in any way related. Plus, the comparison made for a good story.
Posted in Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

Forget About Retirement and Live the Good Life Now

retirement-riskRetirement is a word I have been hearing all too often since our move out to the country last year.

  • “So like, are you guys retired now?”
  • “I wish I could live the Good Life like you guys.”
  • “Some of us have to work for a living you know…”

Apparently people think there are two ways to live one’s life: enduring the daily grind, or being retired.

Honestly, I want to say I wish I retired with this move. But the truth is, I don’t know that I ever will want to retire. Not in the traditional sense, anyway.

What is Retirement

Most of us were taught that adult life is roughly divided into three phases:

  1. Going to school so that you can get a good job
  2. Getting a good job and working hard at it to eventually bring down your cost of living (read: paying off your house), along with creating some form of passive income (ie. employer/government pension and/or personal retirement fund)
  3. Retiring and living off said income, so that you can finally be free to do nothing but whatever it is you actually want to do in life (which very well might be nothing by then)

This basic, three-phase plan is how most of our grandparents lived out their lives. It is also how many of our parents lived or are living out their lives now. It makes perfect sense that we would be taught to do the same thing. And as a result, most of us are in fact attempting to do the very same thing.

The Problem with Retirement

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t really work the way it used to.

By that, I am referring to the fact that the employer/government provided pension plan is becoming less and less of a possibility these days. There are of course some exceptions still out there, but there is no question that they are becoming fewer and far between. Honestly, I am afraid of where that trend will lead to by the year 2040, around the time when I am sixty five.

Not to mention the fact that paying off your house (or owning one at all!) is becoming less and less of a reality for many.

And so our generation learned the habits of the previous generation who lived by a different set of rules. One where you didn’t really need to know about how to save up for retirement, your employer did that for you. And it was relatively easy (or even possible!) to eventually do away with the largest portion of your cost of living.

This all puts us in a bit of a bind today. Most of us aren’t getting employer-provided pensions, ever, and most of us have no idea how to save and invest for ourselves either. Not to mention the fact that you may never own the house you are living in.

Another reason I’m not particularly a fan of retirement is, it can sometimes be associated to no longer contributing to society. You are done contributing. You already paid your dues, and now it is time to do what you want to do. Payback time. This association is clear, the way I hear many people ask me the aforementioned questions.

And the last thing I will mention, which has always been a major issue with the three phase life plan, and hopefully most people already realize this, you end up spending your healthiest years doing what you don’t necessarily want to be doing, in hopes that one day you can actually do what you want to be doing.

Which for a number of reasons, might never come.

Financial Independence is the New Name of the Game

Don’t get financial independence mixed up with retirement. Retirement means you don’t work. It might even mean that you can’t work. Even if you want to.

Financial independence on the other hand means you don’t have to work if you don’t want to. But you probably do work sometimes. In some form.

Just like retirement, there are two sides to financial independence: spending less to live, and earning money, some of it likely passively. The difference is, with financial independence you choose to work when necessary, in order that your spending needs are met.

For me right now, I would call myself “financially-less-dependent-than-I-used-to-be”. I am certainly not making more money than I used to. But I am making more of it passively than I ever have before.

Much more importantly, I have brought my cost of living down to an all-time low. So if I want to spend three months working on an idea without getting paid for it (yet), I just need to buckle down and stop drinking pints at the pub while I do it. On the other hand if I want to take off to Asia for the winter, I will need to pick up a temporary contract somewhere along the line so that I can fill that gap as necessary.

Moving forward, the goal is to continue to live cheaply while working on ideas. Until I have enough of them working for me that I no longer need to pick up contracts when I want to go to the tropics because it is cold here. And then I will be truly financially independent.

And then I will really be living the good life.


Posted in Life | Tagged | 7 Comments

Community Like it Was 1985

community-beach-fireLike many people I know, I spent the first half of my life living in a small community. Not yet having lived in a big city back then, I was very unaware of the differences between small town versus big city living.

For example it was quite normal to leave all our doors unlocked. House doors and car doors. And our car keys sitting in the car’s ignition too. How else was my dad supposed to remember where they were?? We could knock on our neighbour’s door and ask for that missing ingredient for the night’s meal.

I worked to save up for a Sony Walkman as a nine year old. Pushing our lawn mower down the street to mow many of the neighbourhood lawns. It kind of blows my mind to think about that now, looking at the youth of today. Although, I would argue that it is probably not the youth to blame most of the time.

Those sorts of things stopped around age eighteen for me. Right around the time I moved into the city.

I must say, I lived in East Vancouver at that point in time, and as far as community in the city goes, it was actually pretty good. Especially if you’re an old Italian man and you play bocce ball.

All joking aside, we did actually know a few of our neighbours. We probably could have even borrowed that cup of sugar if we needed it.

But then as though I was trying to find a way to extinguish all sense of community from my life, I moved away from East Vancouver and into my first apartment. Loud music (mine) was answered with a broomstick being banged on the roof below my feet. Angry letters were left under peoples’ doors as a means for lodging complaints.

I then moved from the three-story walk-up to my first hi-rise where people almost always avoided eye contact at all costs. I couldn’t even get to know the neighbour above me if I tried. The elevator wouldn’t allow it!

Yes, the more neighbours you have it seems, and the closer to you they live, the less you can or want to interact with them. Funny how that works, isn’t it. It is clear to me now that for humans to be healthy and happy, they necessarily need their own space. More space than most are willing to admit. My guess is that is because so many have invested their life savings on the apartment in which they live. Apartment owners are in a position where they understandibly can’t admit that they dislike being surrounded by neighbours in all three dimensions.

But it is obviously true if you have ever lived in an apartment hi-rise.

Community Like it was 1985

But then a year ago for me, after the second half of my city-dwelling life up to that point, a funny thing happened: I moved back to where I came from. Figuratively, that is. Not geographically.

We are getting to know a few of our neighbours now. Like it was 1985 again. And we like them a lot. They look after our cats when we go away, and we walk their dogs when they’re too busy.

Don’t get me wrong, some of our neighbours are total and complete assholes. That is a universal that never changes. But at least here, they let you get to know them well enough to find that fact out. Sometimes very directly.

We go to the beach in front of our place and have illegal beach fires. But it’s okay because people usually aren’t out to get us here, unlike how it always felt to me back in the city. Do you ever think about why so many laws and rules seem to go against what most people actually want to do in this world? I do. It bugs me a lot.

Like us, our neighbours out here are human. Not that they weren’t back in the city, but here they seem to realize that they also might want to have an illegal beach fire one day. Clearly, with the extra breathing room out here comes a relaxation over that obsession with the rules.

God I hate rules sometimes.

When I walk to the mailbox and a car passes by, we wave at each other even though we have never met. I don’t know why. I guess because we have something in common that is different from most other people in the world?

I haven’t locked our door since we got back from Asia two months ago. Literally.

I walk to the neighbours’ house sometimes with nothing but the clothes I am wearing, two cans of beer, and a headlamp so a bear doesn’t attack me on my way home in the pitch black. When was the last time you left your house without your phone, keys, wallet, purse, and what-have-you? It is surprisingly satisfying. You should try it if you haven’t since the advent of the cellphone.

Society has changed drastically over the past couple of decades. Hopefully we can all see that and agree on it. It is pretty undeniable. And through much of that period of change I was incredibly worried that all the hoopla had managed to find a way to crush all sense of community and neighbourliness.

What a relief to find out that is actually not the case.

I recently read a book called The Happiness Project, and although it wasn’t my favorite book of all time, it did have many great points and was well worth the read. One of those points was about community. And how feeling apart of one is a key component to one’s happiness in life.

Interesting. I don’t doubt that at all.

Posted in Life | Tagged | 5 Comments

New Things are for Wusses


The new in place of the old!

About a year ago I started noticing some oddness coming from our fridge. Every time it wanted to turn itself on, it would make four or five attempts at it before giving up. Then it would try again after a rest, perhaps five minutes later, at which point it might or it might not have found success. Similar to a grandpa trying to make it out of his lazy boy after the evening news every night.

After a couple months of this, I decided it might be a good thing to deal with while it could still be dealt with on my own terms.

This older, white fridge was one of the senior members of our arsenal of tired and aging stuff. But despite that fact, I decided to make an attempt at going the frugal route, and resisted the urge to spend a month’s wages on a new machine that does the same job as the old one.

In I called a technician.

For a hundred bucks he sorted out the issue, though admittedly he did have to return for a second (free of charge) go at it.

But, within a couple months she started acting up once more, this time in a more serious manner. Like, coming home to thawed meat, ice cream and loaves of bread in the freezer. Only to be space-age cold by the morning, and not shutting off for another day after that.

In a last ditch effort we called the technician once more, but as expected he didn’t sound overly optimistic this time.

We got word that Sears was having a sale and so decided to go check it out. Six hundred dollars for your basic, white, replacement fridge. “Not as bad as I thought…” I murmured in the store. To be honest, I was surprised to see they even still make basic, white fridges like our old one anymore.

But then the inevitable began: only fifty more for the silver exterior. But then this other one has the freezer on the bottom for only another hundred (it is difficult to try to work out why that costs extra money). This one over here has Spanish doors. Or whatever country it was. And before we knew it our ideal model was eleven hundred dollars, before taxes, delivery, and the extended warranties we would soon have to battle.

I was quite surprised to learn that the typical fridge I see in most kitchens costs more like two to three thousand dollars. Nowhere near the ‘cost-conscious’ eleven hundred dollar bill we were contemplating.

Luckily we were short on time that day, so were forced to leave before signing on the dotted line.

Old Things Can be New Things Too

After even more perusing through Craigslist, possibly my favourite website on the internet, I was forced to give up trying. Nothing remotely good in my area was turning up. Possibly the thing I miss most about living in the city is the wonderful catalog Craigslist has on offer, right at your doorstep.

Like a bullheaded blogger trying to maintain the integrity of what he preaches, I kept fighting the urge.

To the secondhand store I went. And with great optimism for some reason. I have no idea why. Somehow I must have known what was in store for me.

In I walked to finally find our new, modern-aged, stainless steel Frigidaire staring at me. Three hundred and seventy five dollars plus sales tax. Note the beauty of buying used things at a lower cost: the unsettlingly high number of options are far fewer, and extended warranties and that sort of jazz inherently melt away, since the whole thing is less of a concern if it breaks. I realize this is probably the opposite feeling most people have towards used things. But remember – I can buy at least three of these fridges before it totals the cost of that ‘cheap’ one from Sears. Chances are good that I will beat the house on this bet.

In any case, my determination finally paid off!

Like the last fridge, the new one doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. Or any for that matter. Luckily, I have never let the burden of having to bend over slightly to retrieve the cold milk, or manually fill ice cube trays get into my head. I would say keeping yourself happy with the basics is a good rule to have, in general.

Instead, I have to be content marveling over how I saved over eight hundred dollars, every time I look at that shiny, silver machine beaming at me from the corner of the kitchen.

It really isn’t difficult to do.

Posted in Life | 1 Comment

Your Body is Amazing!

your-body-is-amazing-homerI recently picked up what was to be a two week contract for a company back in the city where I used to live. And as expected, two weeks very quickly turned into three weeks… but I could work the third week from home. And then the third week inevitably turned into, “We have plenty of work you could do for us remotely. You might as well stay on indefinitely if you want. You can work from home…”

It is shockingly difficult to not have a job when you are likable enough to get through life, and you have some idea how to program computers. Or do anything else, for that matter.

This was in fact the first Monday to Friday job I have had since my Great Escape two Januarys ago. And two things have really stood out since I started my intended brief return.

Two-Day Weekends are Really Fucking Short

Stupidly short. The graph of weekend-days vs. weekdays on a scale of zero to seven is not even close to a linear relationship. A three day weekend is nowhere near fifty percent better than a two day weekend. It is more like three hundred percent better, if I had to put a number to it. Whatever that even means.

I am currently giving 70% of my days to someone else. I get the 30% that is left over. I get home Friday evening after having worked the week, and before I know it I am back drinking coffee at my desk Monday morning. Waiting for the next Friday once more. It’s crazy.

Actually what is crazy is how people just accept it and live with it. Some people even say it is the way it has to be. I have known for years that the Green Party advocates a four day work week. I can’t imagine ever voting for another party again, after this recent rehash of the five day work week.

Don’t get me wrong – my sentiment has nothing to do whatsoever with this particular job. The job is easily as good as any job I have ever had before. Except the pay is ferociously better this time. So the job is better I suppose. That is why we work after all.

The problem is that this job’s format is broken, like it is with virtually every other job that exists. It is not suitable for the human body, so the human body is forced to adapt.

Your Body is Amazing

For years I worked the Monday to Friday slog. Forty or fifty hours a week. Sometimes sixty or seventy. Perhaps even eighty a couple of times. Like Loverboy said, I was working for the weekend. If I were to be getting one at all that week. I was never a fan of it, but it didn’t feel that bad. Not like it does now, now that I’m not used to it.

On my first day back at it this time around, I arrived around 9am and sat down at the pile of furniture and computer equipment that was to be my new and temporary desk. I was still tanned from our recent trip through Asia. My eyes could barely even keep focused on all the little words and symbols I was being forced to sift through. Let alone understand anything beyond what time the guys usually go out for lunch.

My co-worker attempted to tell me all the ins and outs of the system as we worked together to setup my computer. Actually, he didn’t attempt to tell me. He told me. But I could barely here him over the Bob Marley still spooling through my head on repeat. Somehow I managed to fool him into thinking I got it all, but I think I blew my charade over the next few days, as I asked him questions about every single thing we had already gone over on that first day.

By the time two o’clock finally rolled around that first day, I started to develop a pretty solid headache as my eyes and brain continued their intrepid struggle to keep focused. 5:30pm couldn’t come fast enough. But eventually it came.

And then the next day? Similar. Except a little easier. The pain delayed itself maybe thirty minutes.

And then perhaps another thirty minutes the following day.

And then before I knew it, I could make it through the full eight hours that was expected of me, relatively focused, and relatively free of pain. I was back in it. Right where I left it over a year ago. That’s not to say I feel good at the end of the work day. I don’t at all. I am mentally exhausted. Just like I was at the end of every day a year ago. It’s just that my body has managed to find a way to cope with what I am putting it through.

I am still trying to figure out if being accustomed to living in this clearly unnatural state that I have had to build myself up to is a good thing or a bad thing for a person. As any reader of this blog ought to expect, I am inclined to say no, it’s a terrible thing for a person.

But maybe it’s like a weightlifter having his body all unnaturally bulked up? Except its your eyes, brain, heart and jaw muscles?

Posted in Life | Leave a comment

Wealth and the Theory of Relativity

wealth-relativityOn a recent trip through Myanmar, we had a number of opportunities to visit the local hill tribes and experience a different side of the country. The ‘real’ Myanmar, as people love to say. Twice we ended up doing just that, and together they likely form the highlight of the entire four month trip through SE Asia. Not just the three weeks we were in Myanmar.

I can’t even begin to tell you how warm and welcoming these people were to us. One proud mother looked like she might cry as she showed us photos of her daughter. At the first village, we were invited into four separate houses and drank in total probably two liters of green tea each, and ate in total likely three pineapples each. No joke. Turning down the offer was simply not an option, and my mouth was actually bleeding by the end of the day. It felt awful.

Setting foot in these villages was like stepping into a Tolkien novel. Terraced rice paddies on the outskirts, people working the land closer to town. Cows, goats and chickens wandering freely, hobbits running about frolicking. Everyone seemed as happy and content as can be.

Well, maybe they were children playing. Not hobbits frolicking.

Vancouver, Canada, the city where I spent the past twenty five years living my life, is in stark contrast to the villages of rural Myanmar in many ways, of course. There are many places in the world I could have chosen for comparison’s sake, but the fair city is undoubtedly the place I am most familiar with, and there is another reason for its choosing that will soon become apparent!

Obviously the materials and methods chosen for building structures in Vancouver are very different, there is a far greater network of roads and other amenities, the weather and environment are very different, etc, etc, etc. The list of superficial differences between Vancouver and rural Myanmar would surely be as long as my arm if I were to go over even half of them.

But if we can look beyond the surface for a minute here, the list would probably not be nearly as long as you might be thinking: people are mostly happy in Vancouver too, I think (well, that is a debate that ought to be the topic of another post). In both places people eat and drink well, they have jobs, they have shelter over their heads when they sleep at night (actually, the percentage is probably higher in rural Myanmar for that one). People in both places play games and sports with one another, they have plenty of friends and family, and they admire and enjoy the beautiful surroundings that they live in.

In short, the majority of people living in both places seem to have fulfilling lives that they live.

A Great Contrast in Economics

As it turns out, according to the World Bank, twenty six percent of people living in Myanmar are currently living below the poverty line. Which they now define as ‘surviving on no more than $1.25 per day’. I have no doubt that most of the people we saw in those villages make up a significant slice of that statistic.

And now for the starkest contrast of all: it was recently deemed by the Economist that Vancouver is now the most expensive city to live in in North America. Even more so than NYC or LA. In case you live in Vancouver and haven’t bothered to look at how much money you chew through on a daily basis, I have done the work for you using my old self as an example. And the answer is about $150 per day.

Back when I was living in Vancouver, assuming people living in rural Myanmar spend most of what they earn, I was spending money at a rate 120 times greater than the people we saw living seemingly happily in the villages of rural Myanmar.

That seems insane to me now, looking back on it all.

Wealth is not an Absolute

When people talk about being ‘wealthy’, they are inevitably considering only half of the equation: how much money they have. Or perhaps how much they earn. Or have the potential to earn. Money ‘in’, whichever way you want to think about it.

The problem is, money ‘in’ is completely irrelevant, useless information if you are ignoring the other half of the equation: money ‘out’.

The millionaire investment banker who burns her money away driving her Ferrari between the stock exchange and her New York penthouse, is no wealthier than the Burmese farmer who breaks even walking his donkey and cart full of pineapples from the field to the market in town once a week.

Why? Because wealth is not an absolute. It makes no difference that you earn six figures, if you have little to nothing to show for it at the end of the year.

Wealth is a Relativity

Wealth is in fact a function of two numbers: money ‘in’ minus money ‘out’ (it would be a nice excuse if it was as complicated as E = mc², but unfortunately it is much simpler than that). Wealth is what you have left after you’re done spending some portion of what you earned. It is money ‘out’, relative to money ‘in’.

Since leaving the city for the country, I have made way less money. But I have also spent way less money. So in the end it has made no difference to my wealth. But I will let you in on a little secret here: my plan is to eventually make as much money as I was when I was living in the city. In effect, I will be two to four times as rich, if and when that day ever comes!

Towards the tail end of our trip through Myanmar, we met a really awesome, older Canadian couple on one of the islands in Thailand. They live in a house in southern Saskatchewan that they paid $15,000 for. Like, recently. Not in the 1960s. He told me their hot water tank broke five years ago, and they just got it fixed this past summer. Can you believe it?

Ever hopped onto and taken a look at what houses go for in Nova Scotia?

Here is a fun thought: every single person reading this post right now, absolutely has the ability to quit their job tomorrow, and never work another day in their life. For real. It just means things would have to be done drastically different from now on. Like finding a happy little village in the mountains of Myanmar to go spend the rest of your days in (you would need to come up with around $20,000 over the next 45 years to do that, in case you were wondering :).

Posted in Life | 1 Comment

A Hierarchy of Owls: My Escape Story as Published in the New Escapologist Magazine!

owls-magazine-coverIt has been just over a year now since we escaped city life and graduated to country living. Our cost to survive is now well less than half what it was. We breath fresh air. We enjoy a beautiful view of the sun every night as it sets behind the mountains opposite the water from where we live. We usually enjoy a cocktail as we watch it.

We have time to learn so many new things now: how to write a blog, how to build a mobile video game, how to create an online store, how to invest money, how to build a deck. Soon, how to self-publish a book, and how to renovate a bathroom.

With country living comes community. We have neighbours we know. Friends that live nearby. They come feed our cats when we go away. We walk their dogs when they go away. We enjoy fires on the beach together. We drink homemade beer at their house. And then we spend three minutes walking home.

We no longer lock our doors.

Sometimes we have to work still because we do have a few bills left to pay. But I can easily see that those days are numbered.

I started this blog when we made the big move out here. I wanted lots of people to read it. I still do. Not because I like to brag, like I am doing right now. But because I hope the odd person might read it and then make the same move for themselves. Because anyone is easily capable of doing the same thing.

Why do I care what other people do? Who knows. But based on all the shitty tabloids I see at the supermarket, I have to assume it is human nature.

Part of popularizing a blog is finding other, like-minded people out there to form a bond with. A secondary level of community, I suppose. And one such member is a publication out of the UK called the New Escapologist.

The New Escapologist has been around a number of years now and regularly publishes stories from many of the heavy hitters in this secondary community I speak of. For example, this new issue also contains a story by the guy who writes Raptitude.

I contacted the New Escapologist last fall asking if I could write a story for them, telling them who I was. Bless their hearts, they said I could, and didn’t even try to change it one bit when I sent it to them!

Without further adieu, here is my story. But do check out their website, and maybe even buy one of their issues. Maybe the latest one. So you have a hard copy of my first official publication :)


A Hierarchy of Owls

When it comes to making decisions, I have always been a person of logic. If ever I wasn’t able to use logic to make a decision, perhaps because I didn’t have enough information or felt too emotional about the choice, every effort would be made to delay the decision until a time when logic could be used.

This way of thinking appears to me to be quite contrary to the vast majority of the population who spend the best years of their lives unhappily working at meaningless jobs, and wasting their earning potential on meaningless toys. All because we live in a society that requires this type of lifestyle and consumption in order to keep functioning. To my way of thinking, spending your life doing something you don’t enjoy in order to keep up with everyone around you is downright illogical. As a result I find myself politely going against the grain more often than not, not necessarily on a social level, but undeniably with the bigger decisions I make.

My Wise Old Owl

I can recall having a newspaper clipping in my room as a young boy (I think my dad had cut it out and given it to me) describing ten ways to be a better person. Number one on the list sticks with me to this day: Be like the Wise Old Owl. In case you are unfamiliar with the rhyme of the Wise Old Owl, it goes like this:

The Wise Old Owl sat in an oak,
The more he saw, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard;
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird!

Unbeknownst to me at the time of course, but pretty clear to me now, the Wise Old Owl is very much a bird of logic: likely hypothesizing, perpetually observing, and undoubtably deducing. As I later learned, those are the fundamental, logical steps of the Scientific Method, and so it now makes sense why número uno in the top ten list has always stuck with me.

My life, it seems, is a sort of multi-tiered science lab run by a hierarchy of owls. I have my Barred Owl on the lab floor making the daily decisions – how about I save three bucks and make a free coffee when I get to work instead of stopping to buy one en route, and why don’t I run home from the office instead of driving to the gym and running less effectively on the spot. Then there is my Spotted Owl in the lab office making all the mid-level decisions – do I need the latest iProduct to be as cool as my friends, does it make sense to be spending $800/month on a brand new, fuel-saving truck when a used one will save more money in the end. And then of course there’s my Wise Old Owl perched on the catwalk above the lab overseeing the operation (he’s a Great Horned Owl in case you’re wondering) – what is my ultimate goal? Am I happy? Is it possible there is no purpose to any of this at all?? That sort of stuff. As he should be, the Wise Old Owl has always been the dominant bird in my lab’s flock.

I suspect my Wise Old Owl made his grand hypothesis sometime back around the time of the newspaper clipping, and spent the next two and a half decades quietly observing. I can recall a number of experiments he must have been undertaking: the serious questioning of my university degree after a semester-long break in Asia, a one year hiatus across Africa where I spent my thirtieth birthday, and then the early-mid-life discovery that there are a great number of people out there actually living the life that I’ve always felt I should be living.

He then came to his great deduction: it was time to start living that life. ‘Big changes, spring 2013’ would become my chorus around the spring of 2012, which gave me one year to analyze and figure out how to mobilize.

And so it would be: I quit my job at the end of January, 2013, and spent the next month packing up our city home, and moving to our country home. It’s been a year since my escape, and I haven’t spent a day looking back with regret. I have no idea what hypothesis the Great Owl is working on now. Perhaps he’s just taking a much-needed rest after the conclusion of a near-lifelong experiment. Time will tell.

The Fear of Change

Deep down I always knew the only logical choice was to leave most of what I had behind, and move on to what I knew was right. It’s a shame that it took me so long to actually make the change, but at least I still have half my life ahead of me. It really is never too late!

It seems the fear of change, an illogical, but common phobia, can be blamed for the delay; funnily enough I’ve always considered myself one to embrace change, but I guess sometimes even I have a hard time listening to what my owls are telling me.

I don’t think it is a question of whether or not other people have their own flock of owls working for them, I’m quite positive everyone does. It’s more a question of whether people are listening to what their owls are trying to tell them. I truly believe that if more people were heeding the words of their Wise Old Owls, we would see a lot more Escapists out there, flying free from the shackles of society!

Posted in Life | 1 Comment

Passive Income: How to Stop Trading Hours for Dollars

passive-incomeI may be the furthest thing from an expert on the topic of passive income. Or anything else, for that matter. But it is possible that this will be the most important post I ever write for someone out there. Anything is possible, right?

In fact, I have been wanting to write this post ever since the inception of this blog. It forms one of the key cornerstones of this new life I am currently trying to build. And anyone else wanting to take a stab at something similar should understand the basic concepts of passive income.

What has taken so long to write this if it is so important?

Me writing about passive income at this stage in the game feels a bit like me getting my white belt in Tae Kwon Do (the default one you are given at the start of training), and then writing a book about Tae Kwon Do. A tad premature. Or at least that is how I felt for a long time.

But I guess it could make some sense if there were people out there who had never heard of Tae Kwon Do. Or did not understand any of the benefits of practising it. In other words, you do not need to have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do for it to be okay to tell people all that you know about it. Whatever that may be.

Similarly, I have taken perhaps ten yoga classes in my life and have told many people I think it’s a great thing to do, and that they should do it. I certainly don’t need to be a yoga master to be able to say that.

So why all of a sudden now?

Passive income is something that requires a great deal of time and energy to get setup. Perhaps years, even. And my waiting until it is working for me to say, “See – it works!”, is too late for this blog and its followers. People need to be in the know now, and hopefully the interest of a few will be piqued and they will have a go at following suit.

But I will be sure to write that “See – it works!” blog post when the time comes. Don’t worry.

Passive Income: A Definition

From Wikipedia, passive income can be very broadly defined as:

“…an income received on a regular basis, with little effort required to maintain it”

After copying, pasting, and re-reading it a few times, it doesn’t seem like there should be any surprises there. It is exactly what it is, after all. I quite like that definition, in fact, it forms a great baseline to start from.

What the definition lacks though is any reference to how to achieve this outcome. That of course is the hard part.

But what it all boils down to is, getting away from directly trading hours of your life for money at some x:y ratio. Instead, you invest extra time and/or money in the beginning setting things up, then continue to reap the rewards long after your initial investment has passed. This concept should be nothing new to any entrepreneurs out there.

A few examples should help us to move forward from here.

Examples of Passive Income

There are many types of passive income. Interestingly, the classic, old-age pension fund is itself a form of passive income! Unfortunately though, you need to trade thirty to forty prime years of your time for it. Not good enough for me.

Some other examples:

  • A stock and bond investment portfolio that you preferably self-manage
  • A YouTube channel, or a blog like the one you are reading right now that sees enough visitors to earn a little cash (Don’t worry, this one does not. Yet.)
  • A book you wrote and published
  • A rental suite in your home that you manage
  • A website or app that you built or had built
  • A business, potentially online but not necessarily, that you setup and made yourself the middleman for

And so on.

Again, the concept is nothing new here. It just needs to be thought about in a new light.

Nano Streams

Perhaps the biggest hurdle causing people to reject passive income as a reliable source of income, is the unlikelihood of finding one, single stream the makes enough to live on.

That is where the idea of ‘nano streams’ comes into play.

Similar to the way some people earn income living in small towns as I’ve come to learn, the idea is you generate multiple, smaller streams of income that add up to a whole. A big enough whole to live on.

As a potential, very loose scenario, a person might be earning money from five of the six streams noted above. If they can get their spending down to $30,000/year, and we assume an even split between the five for a moment (which of course is highly unlikely), each stream needs to generate $500/month.


Many people seem to think that quitting your job and attempting this sort of thing is a risky prospect.

It is actually the opposite: holding on to your one job that pays for everything is far more risky. Lose that one income stream, and you are in trouble. Losing one of your passive, nano-streams won’t be nearly as detrimental if done right (refer to the above scenario).

And remember, you can always go back to what you were doing before if you can’t make it work out. I promise you that.

My Plan

I am currently working towards five of the above noted income streams:

  • Investing the money we just earned from selling our house
  • Renting one of our cabins on airbnb which goes towards all maintenance and improvements on the property
  • Working on a video game that is due out later this year
  • Working on converting my year-long Africa blog into a three-part, self-published series of books
  • Building an audience on this blog so that I can potentially one day make a little on the side from ad revenue. (Of course this blog is anything but passive. It is in fact quite a lot of work. Lucky for me, I enjoy doing it.)

I have many, many other ideas for the future too, but one thing at a time of course. Or five, I suppose.

If ever you thought I was planning on moving to the woods and retiring as a hippie after I quit my job, hopefully this section will set things straight once and for all!

Your Homework

Much of it comes down to figuring out what you specialize in. What you are good at.

For me, I’m good at both saving and investing money, I enjoy writing, I love traveling, and I can somewhat program computers. Hence, my above stated goals that I’m working towards. I have other specializations too that I plan on capitalizing on later.

So. What are your specializations? What do you have a lot of knowledge about? What are you good at? Most importantly, what excites you?

This isn’t something you can just look at the ceiling right now for ten seconds and come up with an answer for. You need to reflect for a while about it. Put the distractions away. Go for a walk. Sit by yourself on a park bench for a while. Pour yourself a whiskey and go ponder on your balcony. Or something like that.


Love it or hate it, or him, The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss was what first got me thinking on these terms. It is a great book and you should read it if you have any interest in any of this. Which you probably do, if you got this far.

Pat Flynn is also the Man when it comes to this stuff. He is the creator of the Smart Passive Income blog which you can find a link to on the Blogroll at the side of this blog.

There are many, many books on the topic these days. The $100 Startup is a notably good one.

Posted in Life | 7 Comments