I don't enjoy travel anymore April 1, 2019

I'm sitting in a condo I rented for a week-long personal retreat in Bend, Oregon. My partner is on her way to Mexico for a vacation with her friend, so I figured I'd take this week as an opportunity to get out of Portland for awhile and change my surroundings.

So far, I don't get it.

Bend is fine. I've heard great things about it. It's scenic. There's a bustling downtown full of fun things to do. There's a charm here that's not found anywhere else. Et cetera.

But I didn't sleep well last night. I spent an entire day packing, driving, unpacking, and grocery shopping. I left the home I'd made for myself in Portland—a carefully curated collection of systems for living—and decided it would be a good idea to leave all of that for a slightly different version of the same place.

I can see the allure of wanting to produce landmarks in your memories. Things you've done that you'll remember forever. That makes sense to me, and I'm sure I'll remember the time I spent a week in Bend more than I'll remember the relative monotony of the weeks before and after.

But I'm beginning to realize that I just don't enjoy travel like other people seem to. It's not only that I thrive in routine, even though I do. I think too it's that I thrive in the act of homesteading—in building systems for living that encourage economy and reliability. Travel is completely antithetical to that ethos. It's wasteful, inefficient, and exhausting.

Kudos to you if you enjoy traveling. I used to. I just need to make space for my changing needs and desires. Travel used to be something I loved. Now I'm not so sure.

Summer vacation March 28, 2019

This year, the stars have aligned to give me the opportunity of a lifetime: I'm taking a summer vacation.

After five years of persistent saving, planning, building and dreaming, I'm in a position where I'm able to take the months of May through August away from client work to indulge in personal pursuits.

My plan has a few key objectives.

I want to learn to become comfortable with boredom and uncertainty. By making myself unavailable for client work for a period of a few months, I think I'll be able to sink my teeth into some sweet, sweet boredom. I'll wake up and my day will be unstructured. I'll have to define my own objectives. I'll be free to write, to read, to sit and stare out the window.

I'm excited to practice reducing my day-to-day expenses. With the luxury of full, empty days, it's unlikely I'll have the knee-jerk idea to just go out to eat instead. Not constantly serving clients, I'll be armed with the decision-making capacity to become an even more effective home economist.

I want to enjoy Oregon's lush and diverse landscapes. So often during the summers have I wanted to venture out to explore Sauvie Island or take a day trip to the coast, only to be pulled back into client work and unable to enjoy its majesty. This summer, I want to give myself permission to explore unencumbered.

And as well, I'm eager to push the big reset button on my life and business. I've engaged in flurries of writing about and promoting my business, but making it a full-time job for a few months ought to bring about some massive changes and allow me to see things more clearly than when in the day-to-day cycle of client work.

School's almost out. Time to play!

Do it slowly February 1, 2019

In the pursuit of having what we want now, we often set ourselves up for never having it at all.

Risking your entire savings to start a company wrecklessly means you've compromised your security in the pursuit of rapid growth, instead of growing slowly while maintaining other sources of income.

Buying a Mercedes on credit (or worse, leasing it) will get you the car you want now, but your future self might not be able to afford the payments. Buying a lightly used Mercedes with cash from the person who bought theirs new on credit, only when you can afford to do so and maintain your financial independence, will mean you can drive a Mercedes forever.

Trying to deadlift 400lbs when you haven't set foot in a gym in a decade means you're likely to wind up doing irreversible damage to your body. If instead you work with a trainer to learn how to deadlift 90lbs safely, and over the course of several months, you'll eventually get the strength you desire.

Marrying the person you just met online six months ago might get you a spouse now, but you're less likely to have built a foundation of trust. You're more likely to divorce, or worse, spend your life with someone whose company you dislike.

The true reward of living is in the process—not the outcome. The gratification from having exerted effort to achieve life's rewards is far greater than the rewards themselves.

A chicken with its head cut off January 28, 2019

On my path toward financial independence, I notice my financial awareness comes and goes in waves.

At one extreme, I'm devoted to my frugal lifestyle. I cook at home. I only go to cafes for $4 coffee when I'm meeting friends. I invite friends over for dinner. My partner and I cook. I take inventory of my things and use what I have.

But then, there's the other extreme. I call it the chicken with its head cut off extreme. I mindlessly buy $4 coffee after $4 coffee while I work, distracted by the tiresome surroundings of a crowded cafe. I go out to lunch at restaurants whose food is great, but which has worn on me as I've eaten there so many times. I buy clothes not out of necessity or comfort, but to evoke a sense of fashion. I buy gadgets to fill a void in my heart that could have just as easily been filled by a ten-minute meditation.

In the FIRE community, there's rightful enthusiasm for the position of f*ck you. But at the mindless, consumption-oriented end of the spectrum of financial acumen lies a different position: the position of f*ck it. The proverbial chicken with its head cut off.

In striving for financial independence, we tell ourselves we're on a path toward "freedom." But the very notion of freedom is meaningless if not properly defined. After all, the position of f*ck it, the position of a chicken with its head cut off—that sounds awfully free. It's doing whatever you want whenever you want to. And fundamental financial independence ideal—the idea that you'll be hyper-frugal and save today for a better tomorrow—sounds like the opposite of freedom.

So maybe "freedom" isn't the right word. Maybe what we're striving for is autonomy. The sense that we're in control of our lives, as much as we can be. That we're free to say no. That we control our time, even if that means we relinquish the convenience of meals out and the perceived prestige of fancy cars.

Would you say a chicken with its head cut off is autonomous? I don't think so.

God is everywhere January 27, 2019

Atop Spencer Butte

This weekend I took a solo retreat down to Eugene.

I climbed to the top of Spencer Butte and did something I don't do usually do: I sat and looked.

I'm always so distracted taking pictures and texting my friends about the alleged majesty of it all that I don't even stop to look. When I did manage to pry my eyes up into the distance, what I saw was divine. It was God staring me in the face.

Not the Christian God or the Muslim God or the Jewish God or the Hindu God. Just God. The unknown. The mystery. That sense that there's more than we see.

I'm working to see God in more of what I do each day. To pause and notice the little magic working itself in everything.

That awe I feel when I look my partner in the eye.

The warmth of a meal among friends I haven't seen in a long time.

The way I feel when I pick up the phone to call someone I love and tell them that.

That feeling when you shut the laptop and decide life is too short to spend all of it twitching your fingers into a machine.

That. That's God.

I have to get ready January 21, 2019

Which are the shoes that are perfect for any and all weather conditions and activities? When I find them, I'll finally go outside.

What is the perfect apartment to rent? That one apartment that balances cost, square footage, location, and amenities in a way that sparks the same romantic euphoria as the gaze of a new lover. It's a place where I'll store my hundred things, curated to spark joy, with not a touch of excess. It might take me decades to curate them, but once I do I'll start living.

Which backpack balances versatility, size, aesthetic, and function such that I can use it for travel, around town, my gym bag, and as a grocery sack? I'm not sure yet, but once I am I'll finally go on that trip.

What is the best way to brew a cup of coffee? What delicate ratio of beans and water and grind setting and water temperature and vessel and roast will achieve the proper setting for the perfect cup? Until I find it, I'm not interested in having you over for coffee. It's not ready yet.

Which car will excel both in the city and on the highway, will be great for going grocery shopping as much as climbing mountains off-road, and will double as a campervan in a pinch? If you have any leads, let me know because I'm not sure I want to go on any trips until I've found it.

How much money do I need before I start doing the things I want? That just-right amount that gives me a perfect annual income at a safe 4% annual withdrawal rate. Once I have it, I'll finally get to do everything I want.

But until then, I have to get ready.

Break things down January 20, 2019

In software engineering, it's not technical prowess that most often prevents projects from being completed on time and within budget. It's lack of clarity.

If features and tasks aren't understood by all stakeholders, both in their content (the what) and purpose (the why), there's a risk those invalid assumptions become real code.

One habit I've developed in the course of my career is breaking things down. I'm not afraid to dissect and extract everything from a set of requirements until I'm confident I can execute their implementation with precision.

In practice, that means taking an epic feature specification, i.e. "As a payroll administrator I want to be able to view a payroll summary report" into all of its smallest divisible parts as separate tickets in your project management software:

  • I want to see a list of my employees
  • I want to see all of my employees take-home pay
  • I want to see my total payroll tax for the pay period
  • Et cetera

Managing multiple tickets for one feature might create a bit more project management work, but it enables team members to discuss each component of the feature separately and in-context.

Imagine if you hadn't broken down the original user story, and imagine you wrote the all of its requirements in a single ticket. If there's a question about more than one of the requirements (which, there will be), you're now forced to engage in a disjointed discussion thread about all of the questions all in one place. This is confusing and difficult to parse in the long-term.

By creating multiple tickets, you're able to have more contextual discussions about razor-thin specific topics. I can discuss what exactly it means to see "a list of my employees", and it won't be ambiguous which requirement I'm referencing because the discussion is contained within its own ticket.

This also enables you to track the progress toward completion more granularly. Instead of the "doneness" of the epic feature being represented as a binary state ("done" or "not done"), it can be represented fractionally (four out of nine tasks completed). This is powerful in representing progress to stakeholders because it ensures them you're making progress, even if some aspects of the feature are more effort-intensive than others.

The next time you're writing functional requirements, ask yourself whether there's a way you can break it down further. Your team will be more equipped to ask questions and you'll be more equipped to track progress.

What it's like to have a crippling fear of flying January 18, 2019

People who know me closely know I have a crippling fear of flying. I've avoided boarding planes since 2009, and haven't flown since 2016.

In a nutshell, it really sucks. As somebody who is in awe at the engineering marvels of the modern age, the fact I cannot use the safest, fastest form of travel ever devised runs counter to my entire ethos. It feels inconsistent.

I've avoided going to see my family. I make excuses for why I can't come see my friends in other cities. I say I don't see the point in world travel. I do; I'm just terrified of it.

In the weeks preceding a scheduled flight, I'll become agitated and irritable day-to-day for seemingly no reason. I'll spend hours Googling flight fatality statistics. I'll envision the worst possible scenarios: Total engine failure, bird strikes, the wings falling off, whatever. It doesn't matter how far-fetched. It's going to happen to me. I know it.

I've had a full-blown panic attack right after getting on a plane and forcibly left the plane right on the runway. I've schemed how I'm going to secure a rental car to make my return flight.

When you have a phobia, no statistics about the safety of air travel can help. 1 in 7 million? I'm that 1. I could talk to the pilot and they could seem friendly, but that's probably because they're drunk. They're gonna kill us all.

I've tried hypnosis, meditation, therapy, books about air travel, exposure therapy, and positive visualization. I've read books and listened to seminars. Nothing has worked so far.

I'm planning a trip to see my family all the way in Florida. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time I'll learn to trust the process. I'll realize death is inevitable, and to live a safe life devoid of meaning is worse than death itself. The humble act of boarding the plane might reverse a decade of irrational behavior.

Just maybe.

If you're unsure, split the difference January 13, 2019

Too often I'm tempted by the one of the two most extreme options when making a decision. When you have a goal, it's alluring to pursue it to the exclusion of everything else.

Want to become financially independent? Sell everything you own, live in a van, and save 80% of your income. Happiness and lifestyle in the present be damned.

Want to lose weight? Go on a no-carb diet, even though carbohydrates are necessary macronutrients.

Want to run a business? "Hustle" for 16-hour days and don't pay attention to your family or friends.

This kind of all-or-nothing thinking is, for whatever reason, incredibly attractive. But it's not realistic or possible. Instead, what if you split the difference?

Become financially independent in just 17 years without dramatically compromising your lifestyle by saving 50% of your income.

Lose weight by balancing a healthful, low-glycemic diet with regular exercise every day.

Build a business slowly and sustainably in your spare time, doing something you enjoy.

It takes longer, sure. But just what were you planning on doing afterwards, anyway?

Building a maintainable capsule wardrobe for men January 11, 2019

When it comes to clothing, I favor timeless, well-crafted pieces over the cheap thrills of fast fashion and whatever's in style. I enjoy looking good because it helps me feel good. Often I've found myself resentful of replacing functional clothing with new clothing only to impress others, but impressing others can be a functional pursuit if it improves feelings of self-confidence and self-worth.

Being that I'm a frugality and resourcefulness fanatic, the idea of buying more clothes is burdensome and frought with indecision. I've therefore sought to codify a series of pieces that are well-constructed, timeless, and easily purchased online so I can replace them without hassle.

A capsule wardrobe is a method of curating a wardrobe according to staple garments that can be mixed and matched to produce several different outfits. Mine currently consists of approximately:

  • 10 pairs boxer briefs
  • 10 pairs socks
  • 2 pairs jeans
  • 2 pairs joggers
  • 10 tees of different colors
  • 4 button-down shirts of different weights and colors
  • 2 sweatshirts of different colors

Out of these, I can build numerous different outfit combinations. Because there's a stocklist of clothing to have on-hand, it's easy to re-stock garments whose appearance has degraded.

I have a few favorite brands and pieces that I've settled on as my current favorites for re-stocking. My criteria for them is that they are durable, comfortable, and that I feel attractive wearing them.

Unbranded Brand Raw Selvedge Jeans

I've owned a couple pairs of Iron Heart jeans and have been impressed with their quality, but my last pair developed holes in the crotch within a year of purchasing. Because of this, I decided to try other options, since Iron Heart jeans can run almost $300.

I did some research, and I found exactly what I was looking for. The Unbranded Brand makes 14.5oz selvedge denim jeans with no branding or embellishments, at a third of the price of Iron Hearts. I love their no-frills attitude, focusing on craftsmanship over style.

Everlane Tees

After American Apparel shuttered all of its stores, I scoured the web for a decent source for basic t-shirts at a reasonable price. So far, I've settled on Everlane. They've got a pretty wide variety of colors and cuts available, and their clothing is ethically sourced with a transparent supply chain.

I'm not entirely impressed with their durability, but that might be more the result of me washing and drying the shirts on regular cycles and more often than is necessary.

Merrell Shoes

I'm on my third pair of Merrells and have continued to be impressed with their well-compromised mix durability, style, and comfort. I just bought a pair of their Annex Trak Lows and so far they've been fantastic.