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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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Working from the Beach part 5 Wrap Up

I’ve returned from Mexico after working there for a month.  As you can tell, I didn’t keep up with the blog writing during the second half of my stay, but I wanted to write a bit of a wrap up about my first attempt at working from an exotic locale.  I settled into a generally good routine, waking with a swim, working in the morning either from the rental house or from the local coffee shop Choco Banana.  Lunch, another swim, and then working the afternoon on the patio of the house, watching the pool and fountain.

I was very productive and was able to work quite effectively.  I had to work within the limitations of the available bandwidth, but email, con-calls, SSH sessions, VPN, etc… all worked well.  If anything I worked too long days.  As a small company, growing fast, there’s always plenty to do and I have a hard time stopping sometimes.  I was more relaxed than I usually am at home.  Even though I was working normally, I didn’t have to worry about bills, household chores, fixing the cars, or the majority of the normal day to day stressors that we may not even think about AS stressors.  But the absence of them was very noticeable.  I also generally lost touch with most of my friends and family.  This left me with very little to think about or worry about day to day: work, eating, swimming, spending time with my wife, going to the beach, reading in the hammock.  It was generally all about the current moment.  As a result of having less stress and less worries in my head, I felt more focused, more productive, more creative, and happier than the normal day.
Coming home was a real mix of things I was looking forward to about home, things I’d been missing, and also not quite being ready to leave behind all of the wonderful aspects of living in Mexico.  I’m thrilled to have my own bed, my Xbox, FIOS, my car, to be going into the office, seeing my team and many more things.  I miss my pool, my relaxed attitude, and some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had.
I’m looking forward to trying it again, somewhere else.  Possibly Bali, South Africa, or who knows where.  I’d like to try a city some day, although I know the costs will be higher.  If you have the ability to work from home, then I highly recommend that you give something like this a try.  Think it though, plan it out, but just TRY IT!
I’m happy to answer any questions about this type of working travel.  [email protected]


Working from the Beach part 4 – One Week In


Now that I’ve been working from Sayulita for the past week, I wanted to summarize some of the important things I’ve discovered so far:

  • If you turn on data roaming on your iPhone to use the Maps to get from the airport to your rental, be sure you’ don’t have the App Store auto-update turned on shortly after iOS7 is released, or you may rack up 1.2 GB in international data charges while you drive….
  • The internet here is SLOW.  Extremely slow.  It gets worse in the late afternoon and evening as people come home from work and get online in the town.  My early schedule is a benefit here.  Overall I’ve adapted to the lack of bandwidth, and it’s not a hindrance to most of my work.  I would be hard pressed to download an 8 GB heap dump for analysis, however email, SSH, SVN, Skype, Campfire, etc… all work fine (you just have a be a little patient sometimes).  Checking actual network speeds will be something I do for any future trips like this.  
  • I’ve switched from my cell phone to Skype for most of my day to day phone calls and con calls.  It’s worked well as far as I can tell and saved me a good bit of money.  It’s still not free however.  I may switch to using Bria on my iPhone and our VOIP account as it should be a little cheaper.
  • While my plan to start the days early has worked pretty well, the plan to end the day early as well has struggled.  There’s too many con-calls scheduled for 4 PM or 5 PM and too much going on to make it easy to knock off after 8 hours.  I need to be better about this.
  • It has been tough on my wife being essentially alone in a strange town while I’m busy working.
  • We lost power during a storm.  It wasn’t for very long and the same thing happens in Boston as well, but depending on where you’re going, and how time sensitive your work is, it’s something to be aware of.
  • Being able to jump in the pool and do a few laps does amazing things for refreshing your mind.  A short walk at home would probably do the same, but the office isn’t super conducive to that type of thing.  
  • I’m a lot better at putting the laptop away, and not compulsively checking email/etc… on the phone all night than I am at home.  I’m not sure why, but it’s great!
Overall I’m getting tons of work done, am focused and not distracted, and communication hasn’t been an issue.

Next Week

Going forward I want to try working from one of the coffee shops downtown for an hour or two at least a few days this week.  A change of pace would be nice, plus they make a great iced soy chai!  And for lunch I can walk down to the beach and get fish tacos and watch the waves.  Hard to argue with that.

I want to try to be better about quitting for the day after 8 hours (or less!?!?).


Emma and I recently took a trip to London and Prague.  I’ve been to London before, although it was many years ago, but this was my first time in Prague (or really anywhere in Central Europe).  I’ve actually wanted to visit Prague for over a decade.  I was actually trying to plan a trip and was looking at flight options when the big flood in 2001 happened and suddenly it was off the menu as a tourist destination for a while.  We ended up with a lot of miles on British Airways as part of a credit card promo, and discovered that you can stop at any layover point on your trip without additional costs.  I.e. we could fly to Prague via London all at once (with an hour or two layover at Heathrow) or we could stop in London for four days on each end of our trip, with no added costs.  So of course we made it a three segment vacation.  London for four days, Prague for eight days, London for four days.

It had been about a decade since I had been to London, and I think it was Emma’s first time, so we really did all the tourist stuff: Big Ben, London Tower, Buckingham Palace, the War Cabinet and Churchill Museum, Harrods, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, and more.  We had a great time, stayed at some great hotels, ate some great food, and walked all over the city.

Prague is an amazing city.  It’s a city of beautiful buildings. The architecture is unlike anything either of us have ever seen, anywhere.  Old, beautiful, detailed buildings are everywhere.  Almost every building takes your breath away.  It has a mini-Eiffel tower.   It’s a city of history.  The city’s history goes back over a thousand years, with some of the buildings dating back a millennia or longer.  It was the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor.  It has castles.  It has cathedrals.  It’s a city of really crappy customer service.  My only guess is this is a result of it being a post-communist country, and perhaps no one there actually has any idea what customer service is supposed to look like.  The standard Czech response to any question is a dramatic sigh, often accompanied with some serious eye rolling.  Ask your waitress for the check?  Expect a sigh and an eye roll.  Ask your hotel’s concierge if you can get ballet tickets?  Expect a sigh, an eye roll, and then him telling you “no”, but you can walk 20 minutes to this vague area and find the ticket place and figure it out yourself.  It’s unending and really sort of hilarious.  In the tourist areas many restaurants will have people standing out in front, with a menu, who’s job it is to try to entice tourists to come eat there.  80% of these people are Czech.  They stand, with arms folded, the menu closed and tucked under and arm, and glare at everyone as they walk by.  I’m not kidding.  At first I thought there were just people who were pissed off waiting for late friends to join them.  But no, they’re employed to lure people into the establishment.  The other 20% are foreign and do crazy things like smile, talk to people, tell passers by about their lunch specials, and show people the menu.

We walked through the old town, saw the Astronomical Clock, saw tons of churches, cathedrals, toured castles, climbed the mini-Eiffel tower, walked through the Jewish Quarter, along the river, saw the ballet, walked some more, took the train into the countryside to see another castle (with bears!), walked more.  It was a really great trip, and Prague is an amazing city.  I’ll post some photos soon.

Los Angeles

I just got back from my first trip to LA. I was there for a week, working the first half, and exploring the second half. Overall it was a great trip! Did some shopping, visited the La Brea Tar Pits, went out to a crazy club night with a burlesque show, walked from the Santa Monica Pier down through Venice Beach, and ate lots of good food.

The Pros:

  • Amazing amazing cars everywhere! I have never seen more Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, BMWs, Mercedes, tricked out Range Rovers, and more.
  • Beautiful People Wearing Amazing Clothes and Shoes.
  • Great weather! It was mid-70s and sunny the whole time.
  • Great shopping. Dangerous shopping.
  • Very friendly people. We made friends everywhere we went.

The Cons:

  • The Smog.
  • Super slow 3G data service.
  • The focus on appearance over getting things done.
  • The one-up-ing race of cars, clothes, etc…

I wouldn’t want to live there, but I am looking forward to visiting again!