Wednesday, January 28, 2015

what the burglary taught me

about four months ago, i received a phone call from my wife.  she was a bit frantic and said that something wasn't right at our home.  she opened the back door, saw dog food all over the floor and the living room seemed a bit out of order.  she grabbed our dog, who was sitting on the couch, and left.

i immediately headed for home.  it seemed that we were burglarized.

upon entering the home, i armed myself and then did a quick walk-through in our home.  the hardest hit part of our home was our master bedroom.  a couple of the kids' rooms were burglarized, but not as bad as the master bedroom.

the master bedroom was a complete disaster; wrecked, overturned drawers, broken glass window, broken perfume glass - it was very shocking.  one window was broken and another was left wide open.  i don't wish anyone to go through this experience - it's very violating.

after the initial shock, my wife and i began to count our blessings:

no one was home at the time; no one was hurt

our dog was unhurt (we've heard of burglars maiming or killing dogs)

our hard drives that had all our journals, documents and scanned pictures, were not stolen

and that was it.  in a matter of a minute, we summed up what was most valuable to us, with regard to things we can touch.

a lot of jewelry, including my wife's wedding ring, was gone.  i admit, those losses were painful.  but a lot of the other stuff was not too painful to lose.

again, i don't wish anyone to go through this experience or something similar such as a house fire.  but the idea of simply having everything taken away from you, is a good mental exercise.  it helps a person to hone in on what truly is important in life.  once you have identified that, focus on it and remove all the other distractions.

post script
just a brief word about the external hard drives.  i learned that had those hard drives been stolen, we would have lost of lot of personal documents and pictures.  one of the first things i did after we recovered, was to buy an on-line back-up account.  now, in the event the hard drives are stolen or destroyed, i will not lose those important files.

Friday, January 23, 2015

change your thoughts, change your life

changing your lifestyle, whether you're trying to minimize possessions or to lose weight, requires that you change your thinking.  you can attempt to minimize your possessions or to eat less and exercise more, but if you don't change your underlying thoughts and desires, you may fall back into old ruts.

the science behind meditation and affirmations is solid.  time and time again, it has been proven that if you change your thoughts, you will change your life.  as the internal changes, the external begins to conform.

a well-known quote by buddha says, "all that we are is the result of what we have thought. the mind is everything. what we think we become."

the process to change your thoughts is amazingly easy.

the first step is to write your positive, present-focused affirmation.  for example, if you intend to minimize your possessions, you may write, "i am a minimalist."  or "i am living minimally."  another example, if you are trying to lose weight and become fit, you might write, "i am fit and healthy."

once you have your list of affirmations, set aside some quiet time two times a day, for about 10 minutes.  repeat the affirmations and visualize yourself in that perfect state.

that's it!

soon, you'll notice your attitude and desires changing.  as these change, your actions begin to move your will and soon your life around you begins to conform to your thoughts.

image source: reynante martinez

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

what if you could give yourself a raise?

while playing taxi driver for my daughter and her friends this morning, i heard a news report about getting a raise - by moving closer to your work.

currently, my family of four kids has two cars.  between all the different places we need to be at the same time (two jobs, after school activities, three different schools, etc), two vehicles are needed.  as i write the word 'needed', i cringe a little.

due to my employer's recent consolidation of office spaces, i now know, for the remainder of my career, where i'll be working.  therefore, i did a little thought experiment to think about what life would be like if ...

... we moved closer to my work.
... we sold one of the cars.
... we bought a smaller home.

if such a plan could be pulled off, my commute would possibly be 15 minutes or less.  my wife would probably need to drive me to work or i'd need to carpool or i'd bike to work.  an extra 30 minutes per work day would equate to more time spent together as a family.

if we lowered our mortgage (by buying a smaller, more efficient home) and if we sold one of the vehicles, we would save several thousands of dollars per year (rough estimate of about $10K).

to flip that into "getting a raise terms", if my boss said that i just got a $10K raise, we'd be ecstatic!

currently, fear is what is preventing us from pulling this off.  life is so flexible now.  we can come and go as we choose.  that little bit of freedom would be lost.  the other constraint: the kids and the really good school district they are in.  we are in such a good spot, it's hard to give that up.

it's a dream.  i'll keep talking about it and dropping hints here and there and i'll see where it takes us.


see: "ditching your commute is the happiness equivalent of a $40,000 raise"
see: "the true cost of commuting"

Friday, January 16, 2015

seneca's quote

"it is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor." - seneca

i lived in guatemala for a time.  it was a privilege learning one of the mayan dialects and living among the k'ekchi in alta verapaz.  sometimes, i long to go back to coban and live that simple life.

after years of buying and chasing a big home, multiple cars, multiple televisions, getting the latest and greatest gadget, the latest fashionable clothes, a second home, a boat and countless other possessions, people are beginning to realize that this lifestyle is nothing but a dead end; it does not bring joy or contentment.  it only brings anxiety.

the people i lived with were not without problems.  but many humble families i lived with had found genuine happiness and contentment; and they did not possess much.

constant craving is not sustainable and does not bring joy.

finding balance and focusing on what matters most is both sustainable and will bring a person contentment.

image source:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

do it now

do it now.

these are powerful words.  i remember the day these words rang out in front of my eyes; and the vibrations of the ring have never stopped.  i was sitting on an airplane waiting for it to take off.  i pulled out one of the magazines in the seat pocket and was thumbing through it.  this magazine had several 'motivational posters' it was selling.  one of them was a picture of a big blue ocean wave with the words 'do it now' underneath.  i was so impressed, i took the magazine, cut the picture out and had it laminated.  i kept it with me for several years before losing it in a move.

while searching for that picture, i came across another quote.  this one is attributed to paulo coelho, who wrote the alchemist.  the quote was: "one day you will wake up and there won't be any more time to do the things you've always wanted.  do it now."

it is sound advice; especially when you are a person drowning in debt, clutter and a sedentary life.

the character andy dufresne, in the shawshank redemption said it best, when he was faced with seemingly insurmountable odds: "get busy living, or get busy dying."

indeed there are barriers which prevent us from getting things done.  however, almost all of these are psychological.

the way you get over those barriers is to simply do it now.  just get out the door.  just start on it.  just start cleaning up that clutter.  just dump that un-needed stuff in a bag.  just make the choice to do it.  once you have that little momentum going, the magic happens and you begin to feel really good.

image source: themebin (with a little modification i made)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter

Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital WeaponCountdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

really fascinating book. i read parts of this book when ran articles on it. i finally bought the book after reading "the intercept" article (

in summary - nation states are using viruses/worms to infect programmable logic controllers (PLCs), which are pieces of smart hardware that open and shut valves along with a plethora of other activities in power plants and other types of manufacturing centers.

the book said this was the first time this has happened, but then it went on to give dozens of examples of how PLC hacks have occurred before.

in summary; when president bush didn't want to invade or start a war with iran, they found other options for taking out the nuclear activities in iran. they used reconnaissance hacking tools to gather information, including hacking legitimate digital certificates, and then created a missile type hacking tool and then launched it on iran. the US and Israel modified the hacking tools several times. The mission was so long, that Obama inherited it and even expanded and accelerated it.

but, unwittingly, symantec, adblokada and others discovered the hacking tools and were able to reverse engineer the hacking missile. when they published their findings, the US and Israel stopped the program (or at least the parts where they were still "gathering information"). Also, an inside source said that the revelations of symantec and others did not stop their missions; that the government has more advanced tools now.

bottom line - our digital world will becoming increasingly less stable as the Internet and Cyber Space have become battle grounds. this could eventually impact the general public in numerous ways, from loss of banking information to death (think nuclear plants or chemical plants or oil refineries or power infrastructure being sabotage).

these problems keep a lot of people up at night. and if you have a creative imagination, reading this book could keep you up at night too.

happy sleeping!

Friday, January 9, 2015

retirement on a ranch?

i don't plan to own a ranch, but i'm happy to visit one
about a year ago, my boss announced he was about to retire.  he worked his 30+ years in corporate america; sitting at a desk day after day.  he was and is very wealthy, but as far as i know, has no "heirs" or children.

as his retirement day approached, he shared his plans.  the central pillar of his retirement was his ranch.  he bought several acres of rural land and planned to build a mansion on it.  when i saw his architect's rendering for the first time, i was amazed and in awe.  it truly was a beautiful and extremely large mansion.  i estimate the mansion was at least three times the size of his previous home; and the acreage of the ranch must have been ten times or more the area of his suburban footprint.

he went through with his plans.  i received an email from him this week which included a picture of the mansion.  it should be completed in another six months as only the walls are up now.

he has plans to raise chickens, to farm part of the land and to raise and maintain an orchard.  i don't think he grew up on a farm, but apparently he is enamored with the idea of ranch living.

to this day, i still can't fully grasp how he and his wife, who are in their 60s (or at least approaching 60), plan to maintain all that land and mansion.  my father grew up on a farm.  my cousins owned hundreds of acres of farmland and i often worked with them on the farm.  and i can tell you from my father's experience and from my cousin's experience that once you do manual labor for any amount of years, you come to the conclusion that it is better to work with your brain than with your hands.

now, i am not against ranch or farm work or any other kind of manual labor.  many people derive a lot of happiness and satisfaction from manual labor.  but by and large, my experience has been that it is a very demanding life and in many cases fatal.  i lost an uncle and three cousins to farm work; not to mention the fingers and other appendages lost from tractors, equipment and accidents.

my retirement plan has a few requirements, which, i believe, are sustainable and focused.  my wife and i want to live near our children; or at least live near a travel hub that will quickly get us to our children (and grandchildren).  there are no plans to have a large retirement home.  if ever we receive visitors, there will be ample hotels near by.  and where we live should be within driving distance of a nice golf course or two.

manual labor is simply not in the cards for my retirement.

picture source: unique homes

Monday, January 5, 2015

habit 1 for 2015

as i've mentioned before, i broke my ice cream habit last year.  despite breaking that habit, i believe i've replaced it with another bad habit: eating just as many calories of sweets.

so the first habit i plan to break in 2015 (and replace with a good habit) is to not eat sweets for a month.  sweets are any candy, cookies, cake, pudding or any dessert-type food.

this morning at work, i chatted with the office admin in the coffee bar.  she was looking at a box of delicacy cookies someone had brought in.  obviously the person who brought this box of cookies into the office didn't want the box at their home!

as she was reading the packaging, she said each cookie "only had 150 calories, surely you can eat one today!"  i replied, "but if you apply that kind of thinking 360 days a year, you'll get fat!"  it's true: the "just once" trap is just that - a trap.

when i ate ice cream without shame, the process typically went like this:  pick up a half gallon on thursday ("hey, it's almost the weekend!")  i'd eat a bowl thursday night.  friday rolled around and after a hard week of work, i'd veg-out in front of the tv and eat two bowls of ice cream and then polish it off!  saturday afternoon after a long day of exercise, yard work and cleaning, i'd stop by to pick up another half gallon.  saturday night was a 'celebration' of a hard day of work.  then sunday evening was the last day of freedom before going back to work and "i don't want this ice cream sitting around on monday, so i better finish it so i won't be tempted."  i would not eat ice cream on monday, tuesday or wednesday; but then thursday would come and the cycle would repeat.

when i promised not to eat ice cream back in august, i motivated myself by saying i won't eat it for a year; and if i achieved that goal, i'd reward myself with a new bit of technology (new tablet).  people said i was too extreme to quit ice cream all together.  but knowing myself, it had to be all or none.  a week passed; no ice cream.  two weeks passed; no ice cream.  a month passed; no temptation of ice cream.  two months passed and i wasn't even thinking of it anymore.  to this day, ice cream has absolutely no sway on me.

i was successful in breaking this habit because i wanted it and i focused only on breaking this one habit.  i didn't try to break or add any other habits at the same time.

and now i will do the same with all sweets.  for one month, i will not eat any sweets.  in place of sweets, i will allow myself to eat either a small cup of yogurt or a piece of fruit.

after i successfully complete this habit, i'll move on to finer habits in february, march and onward; developing one habit per month.  for more info about this method, i'll refer you to Leo Babauta's "5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015."

Friday, January 2, 2015

minimalism isn't new

joshua becker tweeted an article from, thelala this week, entitled 'why minimalism should be your 2015 resolution.'  the article gives a lot to chew on and had some good advice.

what was the most memorable about it was this snippet:

Simple living has been around for centuries, and it hasn't always been the Amish and the monks taking a Spartan lifestyle. The post-World War II economic boom brought with it a slew of consumerism and the “American Dream”: get a good job, have a big family, get a nice car, and settle into a white-picket fenced house. Along with this came the whole “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that has stuck around to this day. In the 60s, hippies and communes sought to break this material living, but before them the Greek Epicureans and followers of Thoreau sought to break the cycle.

this reminded me of a conversation i had with my dad about minimalism.  he will be 88 years old this year.  he grew up on a farm which had no electricity for most of his years living at home.  while talking with him on the phone one day, he asked me about minimalism.  i explained its a counter thought to the consumerism that pervades today's society and that it focuses on what's most important in life as opposed to possessing things.  he kind of chuckled and said that is how he lived most of his life and that a person couldn't get much more minimalistic than living on a frontier farm.

the author of the aforementioned article lists many 'minimalists' from the history pages.  there is one more that is a little less-known but perhaps was the first 'minimalist' of the 20th century.  he wrote several books about finding true happiness.  his most popular book was "as a man thinketh"  all his works can be found for free on-line at The Free James Allen Library.

although a lot of new content about how to live minimalism can be found on the internet today, there are still other authors who have walked this path before, hundreds of years before we were born.  their advice and guidance are just as valuable today.

other links to consider:
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The Amish Lifestyle