The Broken Shovel

Unkie Gomie and I broke a shovel transplanting a tree a few weeks ago, and I was going to throw the shovel out and buy a new one.

Then I changed my mind, manned up, and decided I’d fix it instead.

This involved doing a bunch of things I love doing, like cutting and carving:

And burning (to get the old handle out of the shovel blade):

And drilling and fitting and hammering (had to drill a narrow pilot hole to make sure the nail hit the pre-existing hole on the other side of the shovel collar):

And grinding and filing (so I didn’t have a nail sticking out, which looked awesome but would have posed a serious hand-stabbing problem):

Result: a badass fucking shovel that escaped the landfill and is ready for another decade of abuse! Same blade, same handle (6in shorter) + a nail to hold the blade in place. The nail was pulled out of the floor joists in my basement where the previous homeowner had been hanging tools (I hope).

Fixing this shovel was one of the funnest projects I’ve had in a long while. There’s something wrong with me because I don’t get an appetite for this type of work. I don’t know I miss it. Then I do it, and it’s like I’m a crack addict, totally focused and inspired. Fully in the zone. Hours melt away and I don’t notice. Then I’m finished and I feel like all is well with the world, and my life couldn’t get any better. Just from fixing a shovel.

I don’t get it. But I like it.

 

Retirement Progress Report 1

nail figures

I’m currently stuffing my face with a bagel slathered in butter and dunked in baked butternut squash soup. I’m drinking cold homo milk fresh from the fridge. My legs are sore from having just played hours of ultimate frisbee. My mind is silent. It was in programming mode today building this javascript calculator and now it seems happy to be idle. Lia, Isla and I biked to Little Lake and fed the ducks, played, and sang the ABCs dozens of times. Today was damn near exactly what I’d like every day to be.

Thinking about that, I catch myself not appreciating the day for what it was. Recently I’ve caught onto Mustachianism and become infatuated with saving more aggressively for retirement (defined as the point I no longer have to work but for sure will keep working on certain things). This mindset is problematic in that it has me preoccupied thinking about the future more than ever before. This is good if it gets me to invest instead of wasting money on dumb things, it’s bad if it clouds my ability to see the moment I’m in. There’s a lingering fear that if I stop thinking about it, I’ll backslide into old habits and not change my behaviour at all.

Overall I’ve got it pretty good. I enjoy my work, mostly, and I’m already living how I’d like to be living. So why save for retirement at all? Why not just keep doing what I’m doing if it’s enjoyable?

The answer, for me, is about a core principle that I wrote as a note to myself late one night in Hawaii:

Always move toward greater freedom and happiness.

More net worth means more freedom. Debt is the opposite (unless it’s “asset” debt). The happiness part is in my head.

I think of saving for retirement as a very difficult challenge presenting a massive payoff. I played around with this compound interest calculator to figure out where my current rate of saving was going to land me in 14 years. I currently buy $200 of Mutual Funds every month. That puts me at $62,000 by the time I’m 45 years old. Not horrible but not retireable either. Further tinkering with the compound interest calculator indicates that Lia and I will need to sock closer to $20k annually if we’re to hit our retirement goals. It’s just doable on our current income, but we’ll have to be much more intentional about our spending than we’ve ever been before. Sushi once a month instead of once a week. Not buying a bunch of drinks at the bar on a random weeknight. Not buying expensive toys whenever I want.

The only question left is: Which do I value more? Being in a position to retire 20 years early or grabbing sushi/drinks/toys every time I get the urge? I really hope it’s the retirement option.

I’ve heard there’s a lot of power behind making goals public, and providing measurable evidence of one’s progress or lack thereof. And it’s probably true because I’m really second-guessing whether to proceed with this or not. In kicks the Neil Gaiman quote I really love:

The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.

Remembering that quote always makes me man up and take the risk.

So here it is, in black and white for everyone to see: our progress toward retirement. I’ll post an update quarterly, with actual figures. This holds me accountable to at least two other people, Kyle and Tyler, both of whom I know read these blog posts religiously.

And the numbers are…

Rainy Day Savings: $3,436

TFSA: $2,631 

Mortgage: $169,878

Our first priority is to save $20k in a savings account for “rainy day” situations/seriously slow times at Butter/etc. Once this $20k layer of fat is in place we’ll be able to invest in mutual funds with the confidence that we won’t need to sell them prematurely out of a sudden need for cash. For those of you interested in tracking our progress, “rainy day” money is what we’re currently trying to save up.

After that, you’ll be able to track the growth of our mutual fund holdings because they’ll be getting all spillover once the “rainy day” account hits $20k.

I’ll report back on this again in July!

Who the Fuck is Mr. Money Moustache?

I’m currently in love with Mr. Money Moustache. Thanks Daniel Gomez if you’re reading this. Anyone interested in retiring earlier than they ever thought possible and living really well should get their eyes all up in his shit. Here’s an excellent blog post by Mr. Money Moustache to get you started: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/02/22/getting-rich-from-zero-to-hero-in-one-blog-post/

Lia and I have just reworked our budget in order to divert much more of our cash into indexed mutual funds. Our goal is to live on 40% of what we earn and invest 60%. With this somewhat aggressive model in place we could be in a position to live off the dividends of our investments in 15 years. Now, our lifestyle is also much more frugal than most, but hey, we’re stoked about it! And yes, we did just spend 3 months in Hawaii blowing all of our savings… so maybe this is also a major subconscious backlash to that.

A 3 Question Algorithm for Risk Taking

I’m listening to The Top 10 Distinctions Between Millionaires and the Middle Class and here’s an awesome formula for taking risks it presents:

When deciding whether or not to take a risk on something, consider these 3 questions:

  1. What’s the best thing that could happen?
  2. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
  3. What’s most likely to happen?

If you can handle the worst outcome, and the most likely outcome brings you closer to fulfilling your goals: do it.

Otherwise, don’t.

15 Foot Waves out of Nowhere

The crazy thing is the ocean was flat for an hour before it suddenly tried to drown me.

There were maybe 20 of us in the lineup waiting for a wave, and nothing was happening. Maybe 3 guys caught waves in that first hour. I was starting to think about paddling in a little bit and catching a smaller wave breaking closer to shore and calling it a day. But I didn’t. Like everyone else, I was waiting for the big waves to come.

A couple days prior I’d caught the biggest wave of my life. It was 8 feet, maybe 10, I don’t know exactly because I didn’t see it. I just remember the feeling of being picked up and staring down a massive hill of water as I popped to my feet and dropped down its face, dug in my heels and turned right before hearing it detonate behind me. Then I full-on screamed, I couldn’t help it. I was narrowly avoiding being crushed by a school bus of water. It was the best wave of my life.

Just like all the other guys, I was staring out to sea, watching for the first big waves to come. Then one came. There was a bulge on the horizon, darker than the rest of the ocean. Everyone watched it without much interest because the first wave is usually the smallest. The second, third, and fourth waves have all the power. The shitty thing is because of the up and down motion of the ocean, you only get to see one wave at a time. As one passes below you and lifts you up, you see over the hump and there’s the next one. Maybe it’s small, maybe it’s the biggest wave you’ve ever seen in your life. You don’t know until the last wave passes.

When you’re at the bottom of a big wave you don’t get to see much of anything. This is where nightmares form. I watch the guys at the top of the oncoming wave, and if they go from a relaxed, sitting position to urgent paddling, I don’t even question it. I paddle out like my fucking life depends on it before I’ve even seen the next wave, just based on everyone else’s reaction. Paddling out to sea is how you get over a wave before it breaks. You can paddle over a wave while it’s still forming. But once it breaks, you’re pretty much fucked.

You only have 20 seconds between waves, so acting early is good. When I saw those front guys start paddling as quickly as they did, I knew the time for sitting around was over. I just gave it as hard as I could toward the oncoming waves. Cresting the second wave, I looked over it and was fully terrified. What I saw was a dark wall of water, 15 feet high. The wave was already vertical, and as wide as the horizon. I barely made it over that one and there was another one right behind it. I had enough speed to get over its shoulder without being devoured, but the guys behind me weren’t as lucky. With a loud BOOM and a few seconds of blowback water like torrential rain the wave broke just as I crested it, annihilating all the surfers paddling behind me. I looked back over my shoulder and saw boards everywhere, random heads and harms thrashing in the churning foam. The wail of a jet ski as the lifeguard hauled guys out of the water.

“Look at that!” Someone said. He was off to my right, a bit ahead. He was pointing way out to sea. I looked at where he was pointing and saw a wave far off in the distance to our left, the biggest wave I’d ever seen in my life. It looked 20 feet high and was breaking out on the horizon. It was so far away and the waves around us were so loud we couldn’t hear it, which was terrifying. Like watching an atomic bomb go off and but with no noise.

Seeing a wave that big breaking that far away meant we didn’t have a lot of time before something similar was going to happen where we were. So we paddled, the two of us, like animals. Big waves came, and we got over them. I couldn’t tell how big, but the guy said 15 feet. My eyes were probably pretty wide because he looked at me and said, “We maybe have 10 minutes or so before that happens again, and if it does we’ll get washed back to shore. If it gets bigger though, to 20 feet, we’re not getting in here. We’ll have to paddle to Waimea.”

Waimea was a couple miles away.

“Yup I think I’ll go in then. Are you going in?” I asked.

“Ya we can go together.”

I was pretty fucking happy to have this guy with me. The jet ski was still rescuing people. We paddled for a bit and eventually the jet ski came to check on us.

“IT’S CRAZY OUT HERE!” The lifeguard yelled. “THAT CAME OUT OF NOWHERE!” Then he pointed at me and shouted, “DO YOU WANT A TOW IN?”

“YES!” I shouted back at him. Pretty god damn sure I had never looked so happy about anything in my life.

The lifeguard checked with the other guy, who shouted “I’M A DISTANCE PADDLER, I’LL JUST PADDLE TO WAIMEA IF IT GETS BAD!”

“YOU WOULD!” The lifeguard replied. They apparently knew each other.

I paddled my board onto the raft thing on the back of the jet ski and grabbed the rubber half-rings mounted to it. The lifeguard watched me do this until he was satisfied that I was sufficiently attached to his vehicle, then wasted no more time in absolutely pinning it back toward shore. We were in the air as much as we were in the water.

“WHEN I SAY LET GO, LET GO, OK?” The lifeguard yelled over his shoulder.

“OK!”

I expected him to slow down, but I guess you can let go of a jet ski at a pretty fast clip and you just flop around in the water a bit. Anyway that’s what I did because he didn’t slow down much, and when I surfaced I was only 30 feet from shore. This distance I panic-paddled in no time at all, and was on solid ground again at last.

I found Lia and from the look on her face, she’d been pretty worried. She gave me a big hug. Isla gave me a hug too, but it was her normal hug. She didn’t seem to have noticed that her dad was as close as he’d ever come to not coming back from surfing. I was very shaken up from the whole thing, and was still a bit in shock that evening. I definitely had that feeling of a near death experience where it’s hard to think about much else for a number of hours. I was dazed. Like I didn’t really know what to do next. I still feel that way a bit. Some things seem to matter a lot more, and some things seem to matter a lot less than before. It will probably wear off over time.

Here’s a surfer catching a big wave at Sunset Beach (where all this happened):

Why Finishing Books is Usually Bad

I have mathematical evidence that finishing books is a bad idea most of the time. Unless you love every single book you read, you probably shouldn’t finish most of the books you start.

It’s easy to tell when you love a book – you can’t put it down and before you know it, it’s over. But the majority of books I’ve read were at least somewhat arduous to finish, and I’ve always felt like I was supposed to finish every book I start.

We can probably blame school for this, training us to persevere and suffer through material we couldn’t give half a fuck about. If a book was “decent” I’ve always stuck with it. What I’ve noticed though, is that merely “decent” books are actually worse for me than the truly “awful” books are. This is because I quit reading awful books right away, and tend to finish the decent ones – wasting a shitload of time I could have spent reading fucking amazing books.

We are no longer restricted by the god damn limits of the physical world and the piece of shit library card catalogue and our ability to manually and painstakingly search for fucking amazing books.

With the power of algorithms to match us up with massive databases of books available to us online, we should not be settling for anything less than total perfection every time we read.

I did the math to figure out what my own numbers looked like, and it appears as though there is an infinite stream of insanely awesome books on Audible for me to consume. I just need to stop wasting time on the “decent” ones.

Here’s how I figured out that my own infinite stream of perfect books actually exists:

I looked through all the books in my Audible library. Since 2010 I’ve listened to 118 books, and loved 25 of them. 25 “perfect matches” for me. So it appears that I love about 1 out of every 5 books I read. Out of Audible’s 180,000 title library, let’s say their algorithm finds that I’m only a good match for 1% of the total books available. That cuts the total down to 1800 books I’m initially matched with. Now, if I only love 1 out of every 5 of those books that still means there are 360 perfect matches for me on Audible right now!

At my current rate of listening to 17 books per year, it would take me 21 years to get through this new pile of 360 “perfect match” books. During this time, new “perfect” audiobooks will be recorded at a rate far greater than the rate I’m able to listen to them. With 43,000 new audiobooks added to Audible every year, and with me loving only 1 fifth of 1% of them, that’s still 86 new books per year added to my queue. I’d have to listen to 7 books per month, at 8 hours per book that’s 2 hours per day of listening. During the past 7 years I’ve averaged only 22 minutes per day. So I could listen 5x harder than I currently do, and still not get through all the perfect books available to me.

You can see where I’m headed with this. No more fucking around with less than perfect books.

My new policy: if a book sucks even a little bit I immediately return it (online) and start listening to another one. This process repeats until I find one I can’t put down.

How To Return An Amazon Audiobook

A reader, one of my 3 subscribers actually (Tyler Steeves) asked me how to return Audible Audiobooks, and I sensed a YouTube video opportunity.

Audible allows you to return a handful of books online before you’re locked out of doing future returns on your own, but that’s not a big deal because you can return an audiobook through the Audible chat system in roughly 3 minutes.

Life Change = Feeling Stupid and Incompetent

Last night I was working on a code problem and not getting anywhere with it. I had to write some code (an algorithm) to convert a sentence into “Spinal Case” like this:

“My name is Ryan Lowe” = “my-name-is-ryan-lowe”

The problem was there were several other conditions that my code was failing, like when the original sentence was “myNameIsRyanLowe” or “My nameIS-Ryan lowe”. The algorithm needed to figure it out no matter what format of original sentence was entered.

So between 9pm and 11pm I failed over and over to get it right – feeling profoundly stuck and frustrated. All the while my morale was dropping and thoughts like, “You’ll never get this, it’s too hard” crept closer and closer to establishing themselves permanently in my core belief system. This is the important part, because if that had happened I might have stopped learning code and just gone back to doing the code I already know and am comfortable with. And that would be have been bad.

The problem with change is this: it’s easy and comfortable not to change or to change in a negative direction, it’s hard as fuck and extremely uncomfortable (mentally and sometimes physically) to change in a positive direction.

I don’t know why this is but I’ve noticed it in myself and it’s a pain in the ass. Any time I embark on a serious mission of positive change (such as learning difficult code) the road of progress is fraught with signs that read “You’re just not suited for this” and “It’s more efficient and profitable to continue to perfect the code you’re already good at.”

These thoughts seem to be an automatic reaction to my immense psychological discomfort while trying to grasp new and abstract coding concepts. Concepts that I struggle to even somewhat understand, and that struggling makes me feel both stupid and incompetent. Feeling truly stupid and incompetent is so uncomfortable for me that I’ve already given up at learning 4 other coding languages prior to this attempt. Each failure has hardened the core belief that I’m just not all that good at abstract “back-end” code and I should stick to the stuff I’m good at (design and “front-end” code).

Yet here I am, back at the drawing board and trying for a 5th time to “get it”. This time I’ve made more progress than ever before, been more consistent in studying, and have come to truly grasp some of the concepts that have baffled me in the past.

So what’s different this time? A couple things have helped a lot. The first is knowing that learning something new hurts a lot, especially when I’m not picking it up with ease. Knowing that I will be in a constant struggle and want to quit helps me not quit because I’m prepared for those feelings in advance. They still suck, but at least I’m more aware of them and can be cautious of their ability to sway me towards giving up (again).

The second thing that has helped is being aware of the idea of my own personal “depletion” throughout a given day. Smart sciency people have figured out that our inner “wills” become depleted throughout the average day as the weight of life grinds us down and weakens our resolve.

Events like dealing with a difficult client or arguing with a family member do actually decrease our ability to be our “ideal selves” and increase the likelihood of our self-destructive behaviour.

This knowledge suggests we should do the hard things first, like work out in the morning. We are far less likely to have the resolve to work out at the end of the day after having dealt with all the other crap.

The good news is our depleted “will-power” levels reset every morning, after a good sleep. So if something feels impossible, I’ve learned to just leave it the fuck alone for the night and to give it another shot after I’ve slept. It has worked for me in the past, and it worked for me again for the algorithm problem. This morning, with a fresh tank of “I can fucking do this” in my head, I solved it in under 10 minutes.

And, for now, I feel neither stupid nor incompetent.

How To Breath Like A Mermaid

In Hawaii there are a lot of people who are very good at being in the water, which often involves being involuntarily underwater for long periods of time. Last week I went surfing with a guy who had spent 17 years as a pro bodyboarder. Here’s a picture of him escaping death (photo credit):

When a man can hold his breath for almost 6 minutes, I immediately respect what he has to say on the subject. There’s a lot to practice to get to that level, but fundamentally there’s also a method anyone can use to significantly lower their heart rate (a skill I previously thought required becoming a monk and years of meditation on a mountain somewhere) and subsequently prolong breath-holding abilities.

They call it “breathing like a mermaid.” This method is employed by free divers hours before entering the water, as well as by professional surfers, bodyboarders, and probably the full gamut of aquatic athletes.

You do this:

Big, quick inhale (only a few seconds) followed by long exhale (a minute or more). Try it. I found it really difficult to exhale continuously for over a minute, but I could see how hours of breathing like this would train lung capacity and slow down my heart rate.

And now you know how mermaids breathe: quick in, long out.