Car-Free (Mostly)

While I prefer the book, there is an entertaining scene in the movie version of Never Cry Wolf. The bush pilot Rosie responds to his passenger’s concern about the engine quitting during mid-flight, while climbing out of the cabin, with the following quote.

What’s wrong?!  I’ll tell you what’s wrong: Boredom!  And do you know the cure for boredom? Adventure!

–Rosie, in Never Cry Wolf

While nothing interesting comes from the mundane and normal, maybe safety should hold a higher ranking than Rosie is giving it.  Nonetheless, I like the counter-intuitive logic involved.

I sold my car about a month ago.  I sold it because my car felt like more of a liability than a joy.  It has nice environmental implications.  Going car-free has nice financial advantages.  Going car-free means less hassle too.  Those are some nice effects, and they factored into my decision.

I ultimately made the decision based on the fact that I like cycling, as a form of transportation, more than driving; I don’t need a car in my current situation; AND, I have a back-up car I can use, Dre’s.  So, I’m mostly car-free.  I use her car regularly about twice a week.

It took me a month and a half to sell my car (and about 2+ years of mental deliberation and motivation-mustering).  I followed the advice I found on the internet: make sure the car is mechanically sound, clean it, detail it, and then list it for sale using multiple mediums.

  • Mechanically sound: After having a (false) low-tire pressure sensor on my dashboard for about a year, I finally figured out that my full-size spare was setting off this alarm.  (The alarm system works with each tire with RF technology: good to know.)  $0.75* of compressed air fixed the problem.  I also had two dents removed for $150.  To me, watching this guy remove the dents was the equivalent to what others find from watching football or baseball while sitting in the front row.  The artisan, if you will, had such an impressive technique and a depth of knowledge from his years of experience that he made it look simple.
  • Clean it: I spent two weekends in a row cleaning for about 6 hours from each session.  This was the genesis to my recent cleaning as a workout, as it is both gratifying from both an endorphin perspective as well as from a visual accomplishment.
  • Detail it: Even though I cleaned it thoroughly, I had a professional detail my car for $150.  I took the day off work and spectated.  Another artisan full of tricks.  I truly enjoyed this experience too.
  • List it: I used autotrader, craigslist, and parked it with a sign next to a busy street.  I had the most interested buyers from autotrader; the most communication from craigslist; and, a big goose egg from the sign.

*I recently filled up Dre’s tires from 30 psi to 35 psi with 20 cycles from my (bicycle) floor pump.  So going forward, I think it’s easier to pump 4 tires x 20 cycles = 80 times than it is to find 3 quarters and drive to the gas station.

I ended up selling the car to a millwright who needed a new vehicle to get to work.  I like to think he will be more excited about using it than I will.  (I also believe I recouped the $300+ I put into the effort as I pulled in $1000 more than I was expecting for the sale based on Kelly Blue Book information and gut feeling.)

The key learning I had from this experience was that 1) cleaning is a good workout and 2) it’s more fun to drive something clean and mechanically sound.

There’s some coordination involved, for times I want to use a car — using Dre’s, bumming a ride, or renting a car  — but it’s not boring!

In fact to generalize, I think the easiest way to add adventure is to take away comfort (and may I suggest not compromising safety ;)).  One way to do this is to plan “next time” to do it yourself.  There’s lots of areas where you can remove service costs: cooking, repair, entertainment, vacation plans, etc.


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Power Workouts

This week I lifted 3500 pounds within the duration of the Spice Girls’ Wanna Be song.  I’ve been going through a Spice Girls phase recently, but that’s not important.

In 1 set, I lifted 100 repetitions with a 35 pound kettlebell, using the swing.  Here is the kettlebell swing, with the usual electronic background music found in workout videos.

To work myself up to 100 repetitions, I used a density training plan:

Sets Repetitions Total (Sets x Reps)
25 8 200
20 10 200
17 12 ~200
14 14 ~200
13 16 ~200
1 100 100

I started each set on the minute, so the first row workout took 25 minutes, the second row took 20 minutes, etc.  I did this 3 times a week, progressing to more repetitions when it felt relatively easier.  Total, it took me 4 weeks to get through to the final 100 repetitions in 1 set.

The advantages of power workouts using this density path type are both in efficiency and effectiveness:

  • it combines both aerobic and anaerobic exercises
  • it takes very little time to complete the workout
  • it builds strength for doing strenuous work in a short period of time, which is power
  • it requires a minimum of equipment
  • it is versatile; you could do body strength exercises, sprints, throwing cement blocks, lifting bags of sand, …

The disadvantage is that it is relatively boring to do one exercise for a month.  The other disadvantage is that passersby saw me humping the air with a weird object while I was in my garage listening to the Spice Girls, if you consider that a disadvantage and not good advertising!

Overall, I am quite happy with this method.  I think it is a good match for my interests.  I feel stronger and more capable of lifting, carrying, chopping, as well as sitting around in an office chair.

This month I am going to move on to the kettlebell clean, which is a little more challenging.  I don’t know if there is an end.  I think the primary thing I am going after is to increase ability and skill on one or two focused exercises each month, so strength is improved in a more slow, but intense, way.

I should note that I just learned about kettlebells.  I’m surprised about their lack of popularity, as they seem like a good tool to cross train for many different sports.  My main goal is to be capable of doing strenuous, physical work for one 8-hour day at a moment’s notice [for the Zompoc].

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Technical Advantages of Modern Housing

I recently watched Jeremiah Johnson, a 70s movie based on a man who removes himself from society to live in the mountains.

There is a scene where he essentially decides to stop wandering after months of drifting.  He decides on a plot of land near a river.  And for the next few moments in the movie, he builds a log cabin in the time span that appears to be somewhere between 2 weeks and 2 months.

The movie doesn’t detail the design or give the viewer a tour of the finished house.  I’m guessing that his house is a one room shelter, very simple in design.  It lacks heat, a kitchen, and a 3 car garage.  For the argument’s sake, let’s say he could render all the comforts he wants within the next 5 years, while still maintaining his hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

I paint this picture because my first reaction to the scene was wonder and shock, in observing that he could just build a house. My current model of a house is *at least* a 15-year mortgage, if not the even more popular 30-year option.  Not even to mention utilities, taxes, HOAs, and the basic human need of cable television.

It takes 3 to 6 times longer to provide for one’s housing than it did before modern conveniences.

Even though today’s houses are more comfortable and convenient than the house Jeremiah built, I question the intentions of technology in our paradigm, including banking.  The “advantages” seem to have a superfluous amount of comforts, or at least it seems to be holding Westerners back rather than providing a more efficient method.

Is this too much of a naysayer or pure analytic view?

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Out from the TV Rebound

I think I rebounded out of the television withdrawals I was having a few months ago.  It is interesting for me to read that post now:

There’s less background noise (both audio and visual) that either needs to remain silent or requires an increased amount of conversation. It also requires finding new mind-numbing idleness or totally eliminating them.

Another alternative is to find more outside the house events, and possibly spend “the cable bill” on alternative entertainment.

In fact I did just that.  I created a big list of books I wanted to read (and for me, reading books spawns an out-of-control* desire to read more books).  I have so much “to do” — which is now damn near my entire library’s economics section (if you’re keeping track at home, circa 330 in the Dewey system) of books — that I’ve forgotten about television as an outlet.  Of course, I still watch movies, play boardgames, and high five, so I’m still keeping it real.

*Out-of-control in terms of exponential growth, unrelated to the withdrawal and rebound chemical dependence theme in these two posts.

My main conclusion is that it’s easy to not watch television by focusing on the positive alternatives it allows: for me, gettin my literate on!

More generally, I think the easiest way to make a drastic change is to focus on the positive alternatives which align more meaning to one.  Sure, cutting cable for 25 years can allow me to have $132,000 in the future.  But for what, to buy 27.5 years of cable television in the future?

Many see cable as a luxury and some see it as a waste, like in the link above.  But, the link above does not answer why it is a waste.  For me at this time, it’s a waste because television is a less engaged life.

Specifically, I think I will get more out of learning a new subject that interests me than watching an infinite stream of football games, pop culture, etc.

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Oten Results

I had 4 goals for Oten (the year 2010), recorded here.  My goals were broken into four compartments: learning about electricity, qualifying for the Boston Marathon, setting a budget, and reading 4 big books.

I’m not sure what my impetus for these goals was.  However, I know my driving force lately has been to feel more human: that is developing skills and knowledge, over just experience.  Maybe I had a Jonathan Livingston Seagull moment.


I’d like to think my interests here are that electricity is becoming less of a want and more of a need.  So I think now, while electricity is relatively cheap is a good time to learn about it*.  Also, buying simple mechanic devices without electronic controls is becoming a novelty, thereby increasing my desires all the more.

My biggest efforts here were getting Technician and General Ham radio certifications.  I made it about halfway through studying for Extra Class before I let life get in the way.  I really enjoyed studying for these tests, as it provided a refresher and practical application in electronics.

On the practical scene, I learned how to solder.  I replaced the original wire nuts in my aquarium light switch with soldered connections.  No big deal, if you can draw you can solder.

Overall, I’m pleased with my progress, but I admit it lacks anything with depth or creativity.

*Somewhat related, here’s a neat Doomsday prediction gone wrong article.

Boston Qualifier

Here my goal had a slightly more than ego-basis.  This year I found that one gets a much more solid understanding after trying to implement what he learns; that is practical experience is as valuable as theoretical.

I failed in the end result, but I think I became a much more knowledgeable runner this year.  In terms of end results, I did PR in the 5k and half-marathon.  I’m happy with my efforts and learning. My favorite running book this year that helped increase my knowledge just as much as it helped my motivation is George Sheehan’s Running to Win.  (Terrible title, but very practical information.)

I won’t be trying for a BQ any time soon, but I don’t plan to put this goal to bed forever.


Serendipitously, I read Your Money or Your Life soon after making this goal.  I think this book creates a logical framework to ensure that you’re in a good feedback loop with one’s spending: that is not too much or too little, but a nice Goldilocks amount to ensure efficiency yet maintain personal growth.

4 Big Books

This past year I reclaimed my lost interest in reading making this goal a walk in the park.  If you’re keeping track, four books I would consider big (classics or dense textbook-like) that I read are:

I ranked them in my personal liking.  So, I got that going for me, which is nice.  As in the introduction to this, my goals going forward are still to acquire more skills.

Perhaps without as much structure in the goals though . . .

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The Upside Down Airplane Flight

As with most nerds that are connected to the internet, I read xkcd regularly. Ever since this comic posted, I’ve had a nagging sense to figure out the answer.

After reading Stick and Rudder, I figured it out.  Basically, once you turn the plane upside down you need to hold the yoke forward (like a dive*) to overcome both the weight of the plane as well as the (negative) lift of the wing.

*Actually, to dive in a plane you need throttle back.  Holding the yoke down will actually make you temporarily dive then you will speed up and come to a level flight, if you hold the yoke constantly forward.

I’ve always had a natural interest in flight.  If you have too and you like theoretical mechanics, I recommend reading the book.  There are a lot of things that go against common sense in flight.

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Security in the Internet

I recently created a couchsurfing account.  The concept of having a network of strangers to share housing is quite foreign to American culture (this land is my land!).  I think it’s a great use of the internet, leveraging its strength in networking.

Probably the first thought of using is for having a place to stay when you travel.  I’ve now done this once.  However, I really enjoy hosting people in my apartment.  Hosting is a sort of way of traveling vicariously for me.

Hosting strangers also transitions my normal (boring) week night into a more interesting social scene.  I can’t say I’ve learned anything profound through couchsurfing, but it seems to bring about adventurous, down to earth people.

Here are two pictures from my couchsurfing stay in Palm Springs.  The room we stayed in is a casita: literally meaning a little house in Spanish.  Without a question, I would rather couchsurf at this location than stay in an isolated hotel room.

In our host's backyard, overlooking the San Jacinto Peak during a fall sunset.

Our bed for the night in the casita.


In addition to the location, we had great conversations with our hosts.  One was yoga instructor really into the law of attraction and positive thinking.  The other is an economist for a Spanish speaking television station in Palm Springs, where he puts “everything in terms of how many tacos one can buy.”

I concede that up until now I have presented a convincing story advocating couchsurfing.  What lacks is the backstory that my contact is a Palm Spring’s all male, clothing optional, yoga instructor.  Sometimes you need to take a risk though.

I think it’s a low risk to take because of the accountability on the site.  You can rate your past experiences . . . one bad rating and I don’t know how much longer you would be able to use the medium.

For anyone looking to surf, it’s generally expected that you bring something in exchange for the place to stay.  I cooked dinner for our hosts in Palm Springs.  People will often bring a bottle of wine, beer, or something as a token of exchange.

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