No one will notice

No one asked you to write. And no one will care if you stop. If you succeed, no one will notice. It’s a rough, heartless business.

~ George Higgins

I’m not “in the business” [of writing for money] thank-you-very-much. However this terrific little aphorism is also perfectly true of writing for personal reasons on a blog. I often remind myself of that first bit; no one asked me to write.

But write none the less do I.


Like architecture?

Most importantly, I think we need more software that’s done—not allof it, just more of it. Just like we’re always going to have prefab buildings to serve a particular function at a particular time, software that continues to change and improve pushes us forward and is absolutely necessary. But maybe it’s ok for that app you’re working on to be done. And by going into it with a realization that it’s going to be done some day, you might even make something that lasts for decades.

~ Rian van der Merwe, from

It’s taken me a long time–like, maybe, right up until about ten minutes ago… It’s taken me a long time to realize just how much I enjoy creating physical artifacts. I built a bunch of universes worth of stuff with Legos as a kid, lots of model airplanes, and a scratch-built glider that I flew untold hours. With the help of various others, I built a complex shed from plans I purchased, and a small retaining wall that solved a fundamental problem with how our home was built 60 years ago.

The internet and computers clicked right into my obsession for understanding things and for making things work. The ephemeral nature of the digital things I’ve built, or been involved with, over the years is a big positive; it enables one to take big swings with vastly reduced down-sides. On the other hand, it’s ephemeral.

I know exactly where and when I became inspired to start this, my web site. The inspiration arose from within me. At the time it was because I felt I had something to say—something to share. At the time I already had a long established personal website which I tossed in the trash bin and started anew. It turns out, I now see, that what I really had was the ongoing urge to think and learn and to build something as permanent as is possible on the internet.

Today, it may well be that I do have something unique and interesting to share. (…or it may be I don’t.) But I’m quite certain that the thinking and learning I lured myself into, day after day as I built this site one post at a time, was without exaggeration the smartest thing I have ever done (and will continue to do.)

Are you too called to create?


It’s only five sentences!

As Vonnegut said, if you can’t write well, you probably don’t think as well as you think you do. There was something about a particular project that wasn’t clicking for people. I couldn’t describe what was wrong—why I couldn’t communicate clearly. The more I talked to key confidantes, the more I tried to explain it, and the more I listened, the more convinced I became that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I didn’t have something straight in my thinking. So I asked for a meeting of minds to craft a clear explanation. To write it clearly, I believed I would need to clarify my thinking.

Four people sat down to write a better description of a project. It took over four hours to write five sentences. They’re not particularly complicated sentences. The affect—the change in my perspective, the things I now see have been done wrong and need changing… The affect is vertiginous. I’ve begun sharing the sentences with key confidantes. I’m letting them set and I’m picking them up at intervals to see if their power persists.

Forget about my five sentences.

What’s something you could solve, improve, or take to a new level if you sat down and crafted five perfect sentences?

Could you do it in four sentences? …how about three? …two? …what about one?


Being a great guest

(Part 5 of 5 in series, Parkour Travel)

This post is entirely rules, tips, and ideas about how to be an insanely great guest in someone’s home. It’s organized into three sections. The first two sections are meant to get you thinking about how your host, and other guests, perceive you. The third section is focused on the day-to-day details of living in an unusual space. It’s meant to get you thinking about solutions to problems, and ways to make travel more enjoyable.

tl;dr: Empathy.

For my purposes here, empathy is the psychological identification with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another person. I’m not suggesting that you must continuously empathize with everyone. I’m suggesting that empathy is a tool that can be used to inform your plans and behavior. Simply put, artfully using the soft skill of empathy will transform you into a great guest.


What’s wrong with the world

I’m not sure that’s worth linking to. But it is the article that sparked the thought that became this post. So, hat-tip where hat-tip is due.

You’re probably familiar with the common definition of the word “doldrums”: A period of stagnation or slump, or a period of depression or unhappy listlessness. But the common definition comes from the actual doldrums, which is a place in the Atlantic Ocean, more generally referred to as the “Horse Latitudes.”

Here’s the thought I had: I’m in the doldrums.

I’m not in the internally-generated, mental state, that the common definition implies. I’m in a place in my life which is the doldrums.

Old-timey sailors discovered a huge area of the Atlantic Ocean where the winds and sea are unreliable. Once a few explorers got stuck there, “in the doldrums,” on sailing ships, they shared the knowledge with others. Everyone quickly learned to avoid the Horse Latitudes because that place made things difficult.

Long ago I developed the twin skills of self-awareness and self-assessment and set about a long—and ongoing!—journey of self-improvement. But these days, I seem to be stuck in my journey. Why? I’m in the doldrums. I’ve navigated myself to a place which makes things difficult.

Bonus: How did sailors of old get out of the doldrums? When faced with mass dehydration, (it doesn’t rain much in the doldrums,) they’d tie their huge sailing ships to their tiny row-boats, and take shifts towing the ship.


On writing

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly–you don’t need more criticism, you need more writing.

~ Seth Godin

Thank you. …don’t mind if I do. Coming up on 8 years on this blog, and well over 2,000 posts. :)

Writing here has been useful on two fronts: First, when I do have to write something in some random context, le voila! …every day I suck less at writing. Second, writing clarifies my thinking. (My thinking needs a lot of clarifying.)


Heating with math

Something a little different today: I’ve been considering switching to heating with gas and I recently ran some numbers.

tl;dr: I will be continuing to heat with solid fuel.

Preamble: We have already deeply insulated our attic, upgraded insulation in the walls which were opened during some remodeling, and replaced all windows and doors with modern versions. (Our house was originally built in 1954.) This is the obvious first place to begin improving heating your home.

Electricity: My electricity costs $0.0758 per kWh. I can basically turn on my electric baseboard heaters and this is what I’d pay (per kWh) to heat our house.

Methane: This is the proper way to heat a home in northern climates. Unfortunately, “street gas” is not present in my neighborhood. One block over, yes, here, no. They would install it for me… if I’m willing to pay the entire cost to rip up the street and put in the gas main.

Propane: Chemistry geeks know that propane has about 12% less energy per molecule compared to methane. But generally speaking, appliances (my gas cooking stove, a gas heating appliance I would need to buy/install) can be adjusted to burn either fuel. Anyway. I already have a small propane tank that serves my cooking stove, so I would “just” need a larger tank — possibly MUCH larger, possibly so large that safety ordinances would require me to put it underground. Anyway. My propane costs me $5.999/gal — if you know about petroleum, this is an incomprehensibly high number. Meanwhile, 1 gal propane = 27kWhr of energy. And a gas heater (I’m imagining replacing my wood stove with an appliance that sits in the same space) is effectively 100% efficient at turning that gas into heat. So simple math shows that propane would cost me $0.222/KWh — about THREE times the cost of electricity.

Firewood: This is MUCH harder to compute. First off, I have to estimate how much energy is available in the wood I’m burning; that’s affected by species of wood, and how it’s seasoned and stored (because the MORE water in the wood, the more heat is “lost” to vaporize that water and send it away up the chimney.) Some factors to consider: Where I live, there are several readily available “fuel” species of trees that are sustainably available. I’ve found a reputable supplier who is not hauling it long distances and provides me the right sizes etc for what I want. I also have the absolute best imaginable way of storing the wood in “cribs” that expose it to air drying while having it under cover.

So I’m guessing 20 million BTU per cord. (A cord is a stacked, pile 4 feet tall, with a foot print of 4×8 feet. Technically, it’s a pile of 4-foot LONG logs, 4 feet high and 8 feet wide on the ground. A true wood heating system is a separate unit outside that is meant to take 4 foot long logs. I purchase ~16″ pieces split, which still makes the 4×8 foot print computable. I digress.) Good fuel species can be up to 30MBTU/cord. So I’m being conservative with 20.

20M BTU is 5,861 KWh. I pay $300 per cord (fellow Pennsylvanians just twitched because that is pretty expensive — 225 or 250 is typical — but this is excellent wood species, all cut and split to the correct sizes for stove fuel, delivered early in the season, and dumped exactly where I want it. As usual, I digress. So math happens leading to $0.0512 / KWh. Even if I figure-in that the wood stove is only 80% efficient (we have a great stove made in Scandinavia which really does exceed 80% efficiency when operated correctly), that only bumps the cost up to $0.0639 / KWh.

Update in 2019: My electricity costs $0.07039 per KWh. (That’s down about 1/2 cent.) I’ve a new firewood supplier, with the price down to $225 per cord. That’s $0.038 / KWh, and still only $0.048 / KWh at 80% stove efficiency.

And finally some references…


Simplicity in 2018

Paring down one’s possessions and schedule are go-to ways to seek simplicity because they are outward, accessible, concrete actions that produce fairly immediate results. Their weakness, when practiced as their own ends, however, is that they lack a set of overarching criteria for how they should be carried out, as well as intrinsic motivation for following them through.

Practicing outward moves towards simplification, without this set of criteria, is like placing spokes in a wheel, without connecting them to a hub.

Simplicity needs a heart, and its center must be this: having a clear purpose.

~ Brett McKay

Throughout 2017 I’ve been slowly paring down. Fewer physical things sure, but also changing out some things and hobbies and projects and people. Can I eliminate one? Can I replace two of something with a simpler one?

I’m a “systems” person. I get things done via the observe, orient, decide, and act loop. For 2018 I’ve no delusions of rewiring my brain and kicking all my systems and processes to the curb.

I’ve realized, (far too recently,) that I need to take more time to “zoom out” and to take the time to consider how the really big things in my life fit together. Do they fit together? What if some really big component of who I am — even if it’s a great, fine thing — doesn’t fit with the rest of everything? What should I change; everything else, or that one great, fine thing?

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do love to spend the indoor, chilly, winter season thinking about the big picture — and now, perhaps a bit more of the really big picture.

Goodbye 2017! I will look back on you fondly.



§14 – Precommit

(Part 26 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

The devil is in the details?

On one hand pre-committment gives you the power of hindsight; the power of having a higher view point– the executive-level view. You can sort out all the nuances and make an objective decision. But the downside is that you’re intentionally surrendering the ability to make flexible, quick decisions down the road when your day-to-day passions might lead off in a new direction.

Do I want to be sacrificing following my passions?

I’ve attempted — sometimes even “done” :) — big projects where I’ve invested a lot of time up-front thinking, planning, and then started off on the journey. But later, in the midst of the journey, I started to have doubts. Not small, nagging doubts, but well-founded, objective doubts. When that happens I’m faced with letting go of the sunk cost of the prep work that went into the pre-committment. I start thinking, “Look at all this planning I did. Look at how far I’ve come! This doubt must be unfounded.” And suddenly all my pre-commitment is working against me. Granted, the original intention of the pre-committment is to make it easier to achieve my goals, but it can pile on sunk costs, or worse, pile on guilt, which never serves me.

In the end, it seems I simply have to know myself: These days, a 30 day challenge is something I can probably do, but 100 days will probably become a drag.

The devil really is in the details.