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



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.

we broke free on a Saturday morning…

I broke free on a Saturday morning
I put the pedal to the floor
Headed north on Mills Avenue
And listened to the engine roar

–from “This Year” by the Mountain Goats

Nikki and I left town on Saturday morning, and headed North towards Seattle. This is our first post-funemployment trip, timed to coincide with her birthday next week. Why Seattle? Well, we were here last year and we liked it. That’s why.

The drive up was pretty familiar to us, since we’re taking the same route we took last summer when we drove to Portland. Except, we had to cover the extra 250 miles to Seattle in the same time period (2 days), so we pushed ourselves a little harder. Nikki even put her day-old learner’s permit to good use and drove for a bit in California.

On long days on the road where you’re just pushing to cover mileage, the highlights are of course, those few precious meal breaks. We were pretty lucky on the way up, and managed to avoid gas station food or chain restaurants.

For dinner last night, we took the first exit after surprisingly noticing a low fuel gauge, which happened to be exit 76, Wolf Creek. After having an attendant fill up our tank (silly Oregonians), we decided to try the only decent looking eatery in town, at the Wolf Creek Inn. Apparently this inn used to be a coach stop on the Portland-Sacramento route or some such, and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. We were seated right next to a warm crackling wood fire, and served warm home-baked bread. The entrees weren’t exceptional but decent for the price, and I enjoyed the old fashioned all-wood decor and general atmosphere, especially after a full day on the road and rainy weather outside. Seeing how the only options are either fast food or chain restaurants for that stretch of the I5, I would recommend the Wolf Creek Tavern if you happen to pass by the area and are looking for food and warmth.

We crashed for the night in Roseburg, OR, only because that was the first town we came upon after I decided it was too dark and rainy to continue. For breakfast, I did a local search for “diner” on my iPhone, and picked Digger Don’s Diner, the only real diner in the result set. Located at the edge of town in Sutherlin, Nikki’s first response was “I hope we don’t get shot in there.” In spite of the conspicuously large American flag outside and the lack of parking space, we braved on into Don’s domain. DDD turned out to be the kind of local diner you don’t see very often any more. Most of the clientele appeared to have roamed the earth around the time of the dinosaurs, and one particularly old fella snoozed contentedly in a pool of biscuits and gravy. The waitress –a true-blood diner waitress who calls everybody “hon”– seemed to know everyone else by first name except for us, but that seemed to have no discernable negative impact on the friendly service we received. Nikki had some tasty oatmeal, and I decided to prepare myself for another long day of driving with a 3-egg veggie scramble on hash browns with a giant pancake as a “side”. The scamble had lots of chunky broccoli, and the pancake had a perfect spongy texture. Combined with the Sunday issue of the Oregonian, we had ourselves a quite satisfactory breakfast that lasted us basically until Seattle.

Finally, as the title of this blog includes the word “rifle” in it, I am obliged to report that a random Wal-Mart we stopped in had .22LR ammo in stock, unlike the one in Mountain View I frequent. I purchased 2 boxes (650 rounds) of Federal Automatch, and a box of Federal Bulk Pack (550 rounds).

What if?

I had an unusually hard time falling sleep last night. My mind kept whirring with all sorts of things that could go wrong. What if I end up in a coma before I can elect COBRA coverage? What if I get a flat tire while going 80 miles an hour on the freeway? What if I accidentally hit a pedestrian while driving in an unfamiliar city? What if the economy totally craps out and I can’t find a job when I need to? What if, what if, what if?

These are all good questions to ask when you quit your job and decide to live off of savings for a while. On the other hand, it seemed like the anxiety I was feeling was a little blown out of proportion (seeing how I’m normally not a very anxious person). Somehow being employed gives you a sense of security, which doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. True, spending 8 hours a day in an office cubicle where all possible hazards have been removed, is probably safer than, say, spending a day outdoors. But I am just as likely to get in a car accident if I’m on the road, regardless of my employment status. The economy will or won’t tank, regardless of my employment status. I could fall ill, regardless of my employment status. Hell, you could even lose your job against your will. Life is full of risks, and there are ways to mitigate those risks, or at least make those risks tolerable, but being employed isn’t one of them. Having health insurance, is. Having auto insurance, is. Having warranties on expensive and vital stuff, is. Having a marketable skill is, and so is being wise about money. A job can help achieve all of those things, but at the end, it is merely a means, not the ends.

Laptop and a Rifle

I quit my job at Google today. The place considered to be the playground, mecca, paradise for engineers; I quit. Was it as good as they said it was? Sure, for the most part it was. But after 4 years in Silicon Valley–3.5 years at Yahoo! and another half a year at Google–I got tired of being a corporate software engineer. One day, I looked out the window, and realized there was a whole world out there. I decided I wanted to go out and experience it.

I am embarking on a journey, with a laptop and a rifle. The laptop, because it’s been my ticket to freedom, will keep me in touch with the world, and be my ticket back to civilization when I am ready. The rifle, partially because I’m passionate about guns and shooting, but also because it symbolizes the rugged individualism and deep desire for independence that burns in my heart.

So, with a laptop and a rifle, I will go. This blog is a chronicle of my journeys.