Life Skills

/Life Skills

Life Without Things

I am in Costa Rica, in the middle of a month-long stay, and I wanted to write a bit about my experience so far with the lack of “stuff” in my life.  I am renting a house on the beach at the very end of a long “road” that runs along the beach.  The house is great, but doesn’t have air conditioning (or heat), window shades, indoor showers, a dish washer, an oven, a disposal, a TV, a stereo, or any of the 10,000 items and appliances that I have at home. It’s a large open concrete and wood structure on top of a small hill, nestled in the jungle, overlooking the ocean.  It’s airy and takes advantage of the incredible ocean front views, and the near-constant breeze.

The kitchen has no measuring cups or teaspoons, and only a couple dull knives and basic pans.  Only three of the of the cook top burners work, and none of them allows much fine control of the heat.  Half of the lights don’t work.  If you close up the house, it becomes unbearably hot.  If you open it to allow the ocean breezes through, you also invite all the local wildlife in.

IMG_5106My workspace has my laptop sitting on top of an upside-down basket (so it’s at eye level), on a wooden table out on the porch, and a decidedly un-ergonomic dining chair to sit in.

I’m not complaining.  In fact just the opposite!  Instead of missing my Xbox and my motorcycles and my perfectly controlled temperature home, I’ve been finding some serious freedom and peace here.

I wake up around 5-5:30 AM, when the sun comes in the open sliding doors of my bedroom and the temperature starts to climb.  I walk down and swim in the ocean.  Then I shower outside on my deck overlooking the jungle.  I eat a small breakfast of soy milk and granola every day.  I’ll drink some watered down iced tea that I made hot the day before, and then put in the fridge overnight to chill.  I work best while it’s still reasonable cool (less than 90 degrees), from 6 AM until 2 or 3 PM.  The internet has been upgraded since I arrived and is now only 60 times slower than my connection at home, instead of the 1,000 times slower it was initially.  I’m still able to work, and even do some video calls with my team, but it means no downloading big installers or streaming Netflix or Hulu.  Everything I do online just has a little more care taken about how much bandwidth it will use.  In the heat of the afternoon I’ll usually take another dip in the ocean (although at that point the ocean feels about as hot as the air (90-95 degrees).  I’ll either work (slowly as my brain feels pretty cooked from the heat) or read in the shade.  Then I’ll usually try to go to a yoga class in town, cook dinner, and either work a little in the evening (usually on personal projects) or just read. I’m usually in bed by 8 or 9 PM and sleeping shortly after.

IMG_5154I do all my cooking with a cast iron frying pan, a pot, and a metal spatula.  At night all food stuffs have to be in the fridge or put in a cooking pot and locked in the cleaning closet.  Otherwise raccoons come and take them, usually leaving a mess.  It’s the jungle so insects are everywhere.  I’ve stopped caring about mosquitos, flies, bees, or ants.  Scorpions and LARGE spiders are the only roommates I try to evict.

I normally listen to music all the time.  I have Sonos at home, great headphones at the office, a killer sound system in my car, a nice turntable in my library, and usually there’s music around me any time that I’m awake.  Heck, my bathtub has speakers in it.  But here, while I have listened to music on my laptop a couple times, the vast majority of the time it’s just me, the ocean surf, and the howler monkeys.

Honestly I could have brought less stuff.  I have two pairs of sneakers, but I’m almost always barefoot or wearing flip flops.  I don’t need any long sleeves, or jeans.  If I could give up on shaving and beard management, like so many local ex-pats have, I could cut my toiletry kit in half (but I can’t seem to let it go).  I don’t need my GoPro, as I only went diving once and the visibility was quite poor.  There’s nothing to see snorkeling really so I could have left my mask and snorkel.  I think if I was re-packing for this trip I could probably be living out of my backpack and my camera bag.

With less stuff, and less options, life is simpler.  There are far fewer choices to make.  I’m spending a lot less time being entertained, and a lot more time thinking and soaking up my natural surroundings.  My sleep schedule is governed entirely by the sunrise and how tired I am.

Don’t get me wrong, when I get home I’m sure I will be THRILLED to make use of my fully stocked kitchen, drive my car (which I love), take a hot bath, turn on the air conditioning, watch a movie, and all that.  Those things are still nice and have value to me.

But it’s nice to know that I don’t need them, and that honestly life without all the luxuries and accessories can have its advantages.

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Shaving – Double Edge Safety Razors

Shaving Essentials

Aside from a short lived bloody stint using a straight razor 15 years ago, I’ve always been a Gillette multi-blade vibrating light-up twitter-enabled razor kind of guy when it comes to preventing myself being mistaken for a rabid bear.  In a recent effort to look like less of a mess I started researching how to deal with razor burn, a constant issue for me.  My facial fur is thick, grows fast, and I pretty much always had some minor razor burn on my neck (mostly where the hair decides to grow in the opposite direction from it’s facial brethren).  One of the big recommendations was to switch to an old-fashion double edge safety razor (DE).  The thought is that the 5+ blades on the modern Gillettes are overkill and scrape up your skin 5 times as much and hence are more prone to causing razor burn and skin irritation.

Thanks to Amazon a couple of days later I had a Merkum long handled safety razor, a pack of Merkum platinum double edge blades, a nice badger fur brush, a stand for the razor and brush, and a container of Taylor of Old Bond Street sandalwood shaving soap.  It’s been a couple of weeks with the new setup, and I love it.  Here’s why:

The Ritual.  Shaving is no longer something I rush through in the shower, whipping the Gillette across my face as quickly as possible while squinting into a foggy mirror trying to see what I’m doing.  Shaving is a 5 minute exercise, with the goal being quality not speed.  The warm washcloth to re-wet my beard post-toweling off after the shower feels relaxing and luxurious.  Some people use essential oils on their towel for further indigence.  I haven’t tried that yet, but I will.  Wetting the badger fur brush, and using it to whip the shaving soap into a light foam.  The scent of the sandalwood.  The application of the shaving soap to my face, using the badger brush to lift my stubble and apply a full coat of the scented soap.  The warm water heating the razor.  Smooth deliberate shaving strokes.  One per blade side, then another rinse in the warm water.  Repeat as needed.  The feeling of the heavy well manufactured razor, the impossibly sharp blades.  The fact that you don’t put any pressure on the razor, you just let it’s own tiny weight, and the samurai sword-like blades do exactly what they’re designed to do.  Washing off the remainders of the soap with the towel.  Then doing another face wipe with the washcloth, this time soaked in cold water to close the pores and seal everything back up.  It’s 5 minutes spent alone, indulging myself, focusing on myself, using well made tools, to do something so essentially male.  I look forward to it every morning when I wake up.

The Shave.  Once you get the hang of the safety razor, the shave is fantastic.  Close, smooth, no razor burn, clean looking.  The scent of the sandalwood sticks with you.  It’s by far a better shave than what I was getting previously.  If you really want the best possible shave, then do it twice.  Also, figure out which direction your hair grows and make sure you take any directional changes into consideration as you shave.  For me, I have a strip on my neck that grows upward, whereas everywhere else things grown down.

The Cost.  This is just icing on the cake, but you can get extremely high quality blades for $0.25-$0.50 per blade.  That means you can swap blades once or twice a week (depending on your beard’s steel-dulling abilities), getting a great shave and spending much less than you would on the 5 blade cartridges which can easily run over $5 each.

I would recommend the switch to anyone!  Also it’s worth asking your father or grandfather if he has his old safety razor, as many of them are the sort of equipment you could easily pass down through the generations.

Worth Reading:

July 23rd 2012 Track Day at Loudon, NH

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Driving and Drive

Driving and Drive

This is a two topic blog post written hilariously late.

As a long time New Englander, someone who grew up in and learned to drive in the snowy mountains of Vermont, and someone who has a very strong interest in driving and motor-sports, I consider myself a great winter driver.  I’ve spent several days in Seattle (those few times it actually snowed) laughing at the ineptitude of Seattle drivers in the snow, and generally fared quite well driving around Massachusetts and Vermont regardless of the weather and conditions.  I always run good snow tires, and (until this latest winter) have all-wheel drive vehicles.

In spite of all that, every time I go to Winter Driving School I’m completely blown away by how much more I learn and how much improvement I make as a driver.  The Winter Driving School I attend is a two day event in New Hampshire, organized by the local Audi group, and put on at the Team O’Neil Rally School in Dalton, NH.  There are many winter driving schools in the area and anywhere in the world there is snow, so I’m sure you can find one near you.

The best part of Winter Driving School is that anyone can do it.  It doesn’t matter what type of vehicle you drive, how old or young you are, how much experience or lack thereof you have.  Anyone can do it.  And learn a TON.  Each time I’ve gone it’s been a wide mix: teenagers who’ve just gotten their licenses, semi-professional rally or race car drivers, grandparents.  Women and men, girls and boy, driving everything from specialized rally cars to modified Audis and Subarus to stock station wagons to SUVs to pickup trucks to Geos.  You name it, I’m sure someone has driven it there.  And everyone learns a TON!  With an instructor riding in your passenger seat, you can work at your level, focusing on whatever you want to or whatever your instructor sees as your weakness.  You can go as slow or as fast as you are comfortable with (and safe with).  You can do tidy three point turns or snow flinging all-wheel drifts.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who drives – of any age, gender, ability, experience, and vehicle.

Learning to drive better in the snow is important for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, snow and ice can be treacherous and being able to handle whatever comes up makes you a much safer driver in the winter, for you, your family, and everyone you share the road with.  Secondly, all the physics and vehicle dynamics in the snow and ice are the same as they are on the dry pavement in the summer, just at different speeds.  That means you can practice and improve on how you handle skidding or sliding or otherwise losing control of your vehicle at low speeds with the safety of snow banks around you, and apply those same skills/understanding/reactions during high speed dry pavement emergencies.  The exactly same stuff applies.  This is also true for non-emergency race track behavior.  Winter Driving School has made a HUGE difference in my abilities on the race track in the summer.  It’s the best off-season training you can do.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to attend a winter driving school this coming winter season!

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On a barely related note I watched the movie Drive recently.  I was really impressed with the movie.  I felt like the direction, cinematography, and use of the soundtrack and score to set the mood and drive the story really was an amazingly well done effort.  Its a very unusual movie, unlike most movies I’ve seen, and very worth watching.  It does have some heavy violence in the 2nd half of the movie which, strangely for me, I felt actually detracted a bit from the movie.  Typically I’m all for lots of action and combat in movies, but in this case I wish the director had left out a few scenes and graphic details which I felt cheapened or at least distracted from the usual high quality of the rest of the film.

Driving my car on a race track


Two weeks ago I took my Audi S4 up to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for an Audi group track event. Spanning two days the event was a mix of classroom learning and track time, usually with an instructor in your passenger seat, coaching and giving feedback and advice as you drive around the track, pushing your car and yourself.

It was awesome!

Other than the winter driving school I attended this past winter, this is the first performance driving event I’ve done in my car, and my first one on a track. I took my Ducati on this same track about 10 years ago (which was also an amazing time). I learned an amazing amount about driving, and my car. I really pushed my car and myself and had a fun time doing it. I also met some great people from all walks of life and driving all types of cars. Hopefully it won’t be my last time on the track!

Thanks to everyone who put the event together, my awesome instructor Mark, and everyone I met there who made the experience that much cooler.

You can see video from another car in my group here (you actually can see my car right at the end when they’re pulling into the pit):