Traveling Ryo Problem

Nikki and I are sitting at the dining table, trying to figure out how we’re going to get where, when. We’re going to Chicago in early May, Japan in late May, Europe in early August, Nevada in late August, and we’ll be homeless (i.e. couch surfing or camping) in between. We can fly places, but then we have to leave the car, which is non-trivial (or trivial and expensive). Then there’s also the question of “packing.” If we drive to Chicago for Scav Hunt, then fly to Japan, I’ll need to pack for a road trip to Chicago (camping gear), for Scav Hunt (power tools), and for an international trip which will include a wedding (nice clothes?). NP Complete? Definitely.

Speaking of which, I should get back to talking to Nikki about this instead of blogging.

Thinking about money

I haven’t had to think about money for the last few years. The fact of it is, I earned more than I needed, and I’m not an insane spender to begin with. But after a few years of being able to afford pretty much anything I wanted (except for that 160 acre plot of land), I started thinking that my relationship to money had gone out of whack (I mean, who’s hasn’t?). Part of the reason I decided to be unemployed for a while was to re-examine my relationship with money, and scarcity is a good opportunity for such re-examination.

The first step in this experiment is to gather data, and simply pay attention to my spending (something I haven’t had to do in a while). To establish a baseline, I spent money like I have been for our inaugural trip to Seattle and Portland. Our expenditures were as follows:

Food            397.95
Lodging         524.24
Parking         100.75
Gas              98.99
Entertainment    56.85
======================
Total          1298.78

This was for 2 people on a 7 day/6 night trip, and what stands out is our rather ridiculously high food and lodging costs. Including parking fees (common in cities), our lodging cost over $100 a night, and we spent close to $60 a day on food (this included a couple of $60+ meals, and one $100+ meal). This wasn’t unreasonable when I was working, and we’d travel on vacations. But now that traveling is what we’ll be doing most of the time, we’ll have to be a little thriftier. I’ll try to post similar tallies of future trips, but this’ll be our baseline.

Work Life Balance

Quitting one’s high paying job and spending some time traveling and living off of savings might sound like a stupid thing to do. I used to be much more of a conservative person, in terms of life decisions, but changed my mind when I read some research indicating that people don’t regret not working enough and do regret not playing enough. This same research was cited in this recent New York Times article about work life balance, which I thought was worth sharing.

In one study, these consumer psychologists asked college students how they felt about the balance of work and play on their winter breaks.

Immediately after the break, the students’ chief regrets were over not doing enough studying, working and saving money. But when they contemplated their winter break a year afterward, they were more likely to regret not having enough fun, not traveling and not spending money. And when alumni returned for their 40th reunion, they had even stronger regrets about too much work and not enough play on their collegiate breaks.

These days, I don’t understand why people spend their younger years working and saving money so that they could do what they want when they’re old and dying. I would rather enjoy life while I am fit in mind and body, and work in an office when I can’t do much else.

Leaving a mark

snowshoeing

snowshoeing

We’re in the Rockies with some friends (2 from Chicago, 4 of us from SF), staying in a cabin and going snow shoeing. We’ve gotten some fresh snow up in the mountains, and snowshoeing is a perfect way to enjoy the fresh snowy wintery forests.

There’s something oddly satisfying about leaving a track on fresh virgin snow. I suspect this stems from some primal urge to leave a mark on this world, to say “I wuz here,” to give ourselves the illusion that our existence matters. It reminded me of what Kara admitted to Lee in the Battlestar Galactica finale, that her greatest fear was not death, but being forgotten. When I was a kid, I read a lot of biographies of (mostly Japanese) historical figures, and I too once aspired to be someone who wouldn’t be forgotten. I spent years stressing over accomplishing something great enough to deserve (or reserve?) a place in the hallowed halls of The Unforgotten. It is probably no accident that many religions promise an eternal (or at least another) life after this one to appease this common fear.

animals pee to leave a mark

animals pee to leave a mark

Recently, I realized that this quest for immortality, if not in flesh then in name, was an ultimately futile exercise. Some people are remembered longer than others, but civilizations crumble, written records are lost, memories forgotten, species driven to extinction, and planets incinerated by expanding stars that they orbit. No matter what you do, no matter how famous you become, you will be forgotten eventually, if not sooner, then later.

That is not to say that life is meaningless, or that it is pointless to strive to achieve great things. Rather, it is my belief that we should value our lives and the lives of others, regardless of the ultimate outcome. Even if the end result is death, anonymity, extinction, annihilation, incineration and atomic decay, we possess the ability to value life, fleeting as it may be. In other words, while many religions teach that we should be good in this life so that we could deserve a better spot in the next life, we could just as easily choose to be good in this life, even if this is the one and only life we live. In fact, if this is the one and only life we get, it should be more reason to treat it well, live it fully, and help ensure others can do the same.

New Header Image

The "studio"

The studio

If you’re reading this on the actual site (as opposed to a feed reader) you may have noticed that the banner image at the top of the page has changed. I spent a couple of hours today creating that image, so I’m going to talk a bit about it.

First Version

First Version

My first attempt was pretty basic: my MacBook and my Marlin 39a, an iconic lever action rifle that’s over a hundred years old in design. To fill some space, I sprinkled some 22LR ammo. As a background, I used a coffee table/trunk I built myself.

Second Version

Second Version

Although I was pretty happy with the Marlin, I decided to try the M1 Garand, another iconic rifle. The Garand was the standard military issue rifle through most of WW2 and the Korean War, and should look familiar to any war movie buff. Ultimately, I decided it conjured the wrong impression. I made a few other changes in the 2nd version, which I did end up keeping. One was a different orientation for the rifle, and the second was to display my blog on the laptop (yay recursion!), and the third was to use larger .308 Winchester rounds to fill the space.

Third Version, revision 2

Third Version, revision 2

I switched back to the Marlin, and things looked pretty good. But something didn’t feel quite right. I went out to run errands, and realized that the wood panel background was a little boring.
Final Version

Final Version

Since I had a target from a match today that I was planning on photographing for a post on my gun blog, I decided to stick that in the background. The target also added a sense of seriousness, and sportiness. I liked it. Cropping the image to fit the dimensions required by the blog’s template was somewhat challenging, but because I composed the image with cropping in mind, it turned out ok. Here’s the final product (click to see super-high-res version):

Final Version Cropped

Final Version Cropped

On Stuff

This post was written on March 16th when we were in Seattle, but I’d forgotten to publish it.

We spent most of the day walking around downtown Seattle, and going into various nifty little stores. We went to 3 or 4 book stores, a toy store, a record shop, a comic book store, a military surplus store, and one or two others that I probably can’t even remember. It was fun, but I felt a little weird to be constantly seduced by shiny merchandise, only to be jerked out of that fuzzy feeling of desire by another voice in the back of my mind.

Labels found at a used book store.  My two favorite things together!

Labels found at a used book store. My two favorite things together!

That voice is reminding me that in a few weeks, I’ll be moving out of my apartment, and will only be keeping what I could carry with me, or fit in a small storage space. In theory, this shouldn’t be hard. After all, when I arrived in Silicon Valley 4 years ago, all my earthly possessions fit in my car. But that’s since mushroomed to over a dozen car loads’ worth of stuff, and now I have to think about getting rid of things.

As it turns out, getting rid of things is hard. Sure, there’s the psychological aspect to it, what with sentimentality and all. But it’s also difficult logistically. You can’t fit a dozen car loads’ worth of stuff in the apartment dumpster. It won’t fit. You also can’t just dump it on the side of the road; that’d be illegal. Of course, there are people who will come out with a van and carry all your shit away, but they usually just take your shit to the landfill, which is far from ecological. Personally, I’m a big fan of reuse/recycling. While I could give stuff away to Goodwill or Salvation Army, I’m thinking of trying to sell as much of my stuff as possible, seeing how I’m unemployed and all.

The problem with selling stuff is that you begin to think about the monetary value of your stuff. And then, start thinking, why did I pay $200 for that bookshelf when its current market value is $20? Did I really get $180 of value out of it? Anyway, I’ve been doing that kind of ROI assessment on a lot of my stuff, and now when I think about buying anything, I can’t help but wonder how much I’d be able to sell it for, and whether I’d extract comparable value out of it.

It’s an interesting exercise, and a sobering one too. Take, for example, the MacBook I just bought. I paid $1250 and another $250 for AppleCare, for a total of $1500 (I bought it from Oregon so no sales tax). Now, in a few years, I might be able to sell it for, oh, $700. Will I get $800 in value over the next 3 years? Probably. I can do contract work using it, and even if I charged a modest $40/hour, that’s only 20 hours of work over 3 years. I’m sure I’ll get more than my money’s worth. Or that $2000 rifle I bought? Unlike laptops, rifles don’t lose value very quickly (if at all), so I could turn around and sell it for $2000, or more, if I take good care of it. But how ’bout that $17 paper back book I contemplated getting today. I’ll read it maybe once, and I’ll be lucky if I could sell it for $8.50. Will I get $8.50 worth of value out of it? Well, $8.50 is cheaper than a movie ticket, and it would keep me entertained for several hours. On the other hand, why pay $17 when I can get it used for $8.50? Or that $45 game? How much value will I get out of that?

Of course, this line of thinking can easily be taken to extremes. I mean, why pay $30 for a nice meal when I could eat at McDonalds for $3. Do I really get $27 worth of value? How exactly do you attach monetary value to, say, a tasty meal, or not eating crap? Or to traveling? Or to hobbies, or acquiring experiences and skills that aren’t immediately marketable?

The answer is, quite often, you can’t. Even if you can’t buy happiness, it’s an undeniable truth that the things that might make life worth living often cost money. The important lesson here is to remember that correlation does not equal causation. Just because the things that make you a little happier often cost money, doesn’t mean spending money makes you happier. I think it’s important to pause before opening the wallet, and ask yourself “Is this really going to make my life better?”

For instance, that $750,000 dream home you just bought, and will spend the next 30 years paying for. Will it really make you happier? I sure hope so.

Recent Book Acquisitions

We spent a lot of time in bookstores in Seattle and Portland, and I’m pretty sure we went to at least half a dozen used bookstores this trip. I managed to restrain myself, and only bought 3 books:

  • Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich — Part of the reason I decided to quit my job and be unemployed for a while was to think about jobs and money and such. I’ve been fortunate enough to have insanely high paying jobs, but many people in this country are less fortunate. I’m reading this book to learn more about the realities facing the working poor.
  • A Good House by Richard Manning — One of my goals this year is to buy some land and build a cabin on it. Manning did basically that, and wrote about it. I came across this book while looking for A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan (of Omnivore’s Dilemma fame), which is similar.
  • How to Put Up Your Own Post-Frame House and Cabin by Alan Roebuch — I found a used copy of this 1979 book at Powell’s in Portland. Manning’s book is long on narrative and short on technical details and howto, so this seemed like a good reference to have.