My future commuter (flying) car

Lately, I’ve been spending most of my time up on my property, but have been driving down to San Francisco every couple of weeks. Depending on the stops I make, it can take six or seven hours for the trip, which isn’t too bad for a day’s drive, but it’s long enough to discourage me from going on short trips. Though my city-to-woods ratio may vary depending on how much free time and/or money I have, I will be living a dual lifestyle for the foreseeable future, and this long “commute” has been something of a headache for me.

Fortunately, a solution is on the horizon: flying cars will soon (finally!) become a reality! The Terrafugia Transition has been approved by the FAA, and will apparently be available next year. Once I come up with $200k and get a sport pilot license, this’ll be the perfect solution for getting to my property and out to the city. The Transition supposedly gets 30MPG on the road, and 5 gallons per hour in the air. It flies at 115 miles per hour, which means it’ll take a little over 2 hours to cover the distance between San Francisco and my property, burning a little over 10 gallons of gas. That’ll cut transit time to a third, while consuming less gas than it does to drive! The best part is, the Transition only needs a third of a mile of runway, so I can take off and land directly on my property if I build a landing strip (which is actually permitted by zoning codes). There’s also an airfield about 20 minutes away from my property as well, not to mention, nice long straight empty county roads nearby, where I can land and drive to my property without ditching the plane and switching to a car.

This is really exciting because it opens up new lifestyle possibilities that currently aren’t practicable. For instance, a flying car like this would totally make it feasible for me to live on my property and commute to Silicon Valley a couple of times a week, or perhaps for a few days a week. Sure, $200k for the plane and 20 gallons of gas per trip ain’t exactly cheap (not to mention the maintenance costs), but it’s sure as hell cheaper than buying a house in Silicon Valley (average home prices are around $500-700k). Also worth noting is that flying cars like these can be parked in regular parking spots, which alleviates the need for expensive tarmac or hangar spaces at an airfield (which, if I understand correctly, is one of the big recurring expenses that makes private plane ownership prohibitively expensive for many).

While the manufacturer seems to currently have rich hobbyist fliers in mind, use-cases like the one I outlined above will ultimately decide whether flying cars remain toys for the rich, or become ubiquitous transportation options for the masses like their grounded predecessors. I’ve been working on a longer article about how, contrary to popular thinking, modern technology could (soon) make rural living comfortable, practical, cheaper, and more efficient. This seems like another piece in making that a reality.

Originally seen on Boing Boing

It’s a bird! It’s a bed! Wait, it’s an earthquake shelter!

In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January, I’ve been thinking a lot about earthquakes, especially now that I’m living in an old building in San Franciso; a dense city in one of the world’s most earthquake prone regions. Having grown up in California and Japan, earthquakes aren’t unfamiliar to me. I can remember at least two tremblers when I was a kid, where my parents raised us in the middle of the night and lead us under the dining room table as our home rattled around us. My grandmother’s house was destroyed in the Kobe earthquake in ’95, though she fortunately survived unscathed.

After I moved into my apartment in January, I had to re-build my bed frame, as I’ve always done. Bed frames are so cheap and easy to build, yet so expensive to buy. So building one, to me, is a no-brainer, though for this latest version, it occurred to me that an extra beefy frame could also make a nice earthquake shelter too. It makes a lot of sense. First of all, I spend about a third of the day in bed, which means there’s about a one-in-three chance that I’ll be in bed when an earthquake hits (and a better than 50% chance that I’ll be home). Secondly, a bed frame already needs to be fairly sturdy, and the bed frames I build have ample space underneath for storage, which would make an ideal space to take shelter. All I’d need to do differently is to reinforce some parts, and then stash supplies underneath. You can see some of the results below:


Above is a picture of my frame, mid-construction, flipped upside down. It’s basically a two-by-four frame with one-by-six slats on top. As you can see, the main improvement I made was to reinforce the legs in both axes using diagonal supports. Although not visible in the picture, I reinforced the cross beam in the middle since it spans 50+ inches and is only supported on both ends.


Here’s a close-up of one of the corners, where you can see the front head-board post stick up vertically. The 2-foot long leg and head-board post are both attached to both diagonal supports.


Here you can see the bed in its final place and configuration. You can see that there’s ample space underneath. I also placed the bed in the corner, where the walls will hopefully provide a little extra support, and also where I have a 2nd door that might give me an exit route. Under the bed, so far, I’ve stashed a 1 gallon bottle of water, a full 7 gallon water cube filled with tap water (which I’ll need to rotate every so often), and 2400 Calories worth of energy bars. That won’t last me forever, but should I survive the actual quake, that should keep me alive for a couple of weeks.

The next step is to shore up my supplies. For instance, I need to figure out what I’d do with waste products. I also might want a flashlight, some candles (because nothing warms up one’s heart like a candle light), maybe a space blanket, something that’ll make noise (or a SPOT) to alert rescuers, and so on and so forth. Most of these supplies would be good to have, even if my roof doesn’t fall on me.

To some of you, this all might seem like excessive paranoia. But the thing is, in case you haven’t noticed, earthquakes are real. They happen, possibly without any warning. But the other thing is, just a tiny bit of preparation could go a long ways. Reinforcing my bed frame cost less than $10 in extra lumber, and maybe an extra hour of construction time. A $1 container of water could keep you alive for an extra week or two. One of the last guys to be pulled out alive in Haiti survived under a desk, off of soft drinks, booze, and snacks for 11 days. So, the little things are nothing to laugh about, and the question shouldn’t be Why?, but Why not?. Finally, if you’re still not convinced, this rather sobering article about earthquake preparedness in the US might be a good read.

Finding a Home in the Urban Forest

As I indicated at the end of my last journal entry, I left Serenity Valley for the winter (rest assured, dear readers, my hut in the woods adventures will resume in a few months). The reason for leaving was almost entirely financial — I’d simply run out of cash… and credit. Without cash, I couldn’t prepare my hut for yet colder and wetter climates. Without cash, I’d have to choose between paying this month’s payment on the (small) loan I took out to buy the land, or health insurance. Not to mention, you know, car payments, food, gas, cell phone, and all those other recurring expenditures.

Yes, the reality is, even though I “lived” in the woods in a $600 hut, I was still not completely free. I still had shackles in the form of bills1

So, I came out of the woods, and headed back to Silicon Valley to start a short-term consulting gig I had waiting for me. The gig is part time, and I can work from pretty much anywhere, so in theory, I don’t have to “live” in Silicon Valley. But I want to. I lived here for 4 years before I moved away, and the roots I established during those years still remain here. I have friends here. My shooting club is here, as are shooting ranges. And, besides, if I’m working in tech again, it makes sense to be here. Oh, and it’s nice and warm here too 🙂

But there’s one problem. Having built a $600 hut in the woods, I’m having a hard time justifying paying for an apartment or room. For those of you not familiar with the area, a 1 bedroom apartment starts at around $1000 here. If I share a place, I might pay $600 instead. Per month. That’s a new hut I could be building every month.

I recently did some calculations, and realized that I’d paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 in rent during the 4 years I lived here. Some people will argue that that’s why it makes sense to buy a house. Sure, if you considered money to be the most important resource, then buying would likely save you a ton of money. But to me, money isn’t the most important resource; time is. And buying even a cheap condo in the area means taking out a huge mortgage, that would take 15, 20, 30 years to pay off. That’s 15, 20, 30 years of financial obligations. That, to me, sounds like a 15, 20, 30 year prison sentence. I’m not going to prison, just to put a roof over my head2.

So, I’m trying to find the equivalence of my $600 hut in this (sub)urban forest. I even considered buying land out here and, yes, building an actual hut. But that’s simply not feasible. Land around here is scarce and insanely expensive, and, not to mention, I’m pretty sure I’d have city inspectors swarming me the instant I erected a single two-by-four without a permit.

Rather, the same way my hut was an exercise in minimalism, I’m trying to apply the same idea here. That process starts by asking the question, “What do I need?” For starters, I need a place to sleep. I have that covered right now, since my “employer” has graciously offered to look the other way if he were to find me sleeping at the office. Then, what else do I need? I need to bathe, occasionally. Here’s a dirty (literally) little secret: I can go for days without showering before anyone notices. Last night I borrowed a friend’s shower. Perhaps I can keep rotating between various friends’ showers… Or maybe I’ll get a gym membership, to use the showers. What else do I need? I could use a kitchen, so that I don’t waste money eating out. Well, except, maybe I could live off of sandwiches, and eat out occasionally if I wanted a warm meal. Sandwiches don’t require a kitchen to make, and are cheap.

So I have all of the above covered, without paying rent. But there’s one thing missing: it’s that sense of home you get from having your own place. Partially, it’s about privacy. Partially, it’s about freedom. And partially, it’s purely psychological. Whatever it is, it’s somewhat unsettling to not have that. On the other hand, I’ve been practically homeless for the last 3 months, except for when I was living in my hut, and I’ve become accustomed to that feeling. At least, accustomed enough that I wonder if it’s worth paying hundreds of dollars a month to make it go away.

There are also smaller inconveniences. For instance, I went to the range yesterday, and then didn’t have anywhere I could go afterwards to clean my rifle. I probably could’ve done that at the office, especially since there’s nobody there, but there’s a bit of a resistance to bringing an AR-15 to a place of work. Along similar lines, I’ll eventually need a place to setup my reloading equipment. One of the last things I did before moving out of my apartment back in April was to load as much ammo as I could. Nikki and I loaded something like 700 rounds, in between packing up the apartment and hauling things to the storage unit, but now that I’m shooting again, I’ll probably go through that in a month or two. But I don’t need an apartment to clean a rifle or reload. Maybe I could rent a storage unit and setup my reloading bench in there — if I ignore that clause about no hazardous materials…

In any case, I’m still at that stage where I’m looking at various options, and weighing the pros and cons. I’ll keep y’all posted on how things pan out…

Footnotes:

  1. I should note that my total combined (non-cash) financial assets are still greater than my obligations. In other words, if I liquidated my non-cash assets, I could pay off all my debt, and thus “buy” my freedom.
  2. Comparing a mortgage to prison might be a little harsh, since you can get out of mortgages, either by selling your house, or by simply foreclosing. But I imagine there’s a huge mental barrier for that, and I’d rather not build a prison in my head either.