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DaedTech Digest: Practice Makes Perfect When Walking Away from Homes

It’s Friday again, making it time for another digest post, in which I recount my traveling circus of a life.  Last week I addressed one my least favorite logistics: the mail.  Today, I’ll address something that inspires less annoyance in me: my house(s).

What Do You Do with Your House When You Leave for Months at a Time?

First of all, I should explain something quickly.  We actually have two houses.  We lived in Illinois forever and, about 5 years ago, bought a lake house in Michigan.  More recently, we’ve switched residence to the Lake House and have our townhouse in Illinois on the market.  With my travel schedule the last 5 years, I was hardly ever there anyway.

I mention this because having an unoccupied second home for a long time provided us with lots of practice when it comes to leaving for a long time.  And it’s really not as hard as you might think if you rarely move.

I can summarize the checklist this way for a cold weather house:

  • Shut off the water to the house and turn off the water heater.
  • Set the thermostat to something really low, assuming it’s winter.  In summer, just turn off.
  • Make sure you don’t have any perishables anywhere.
  • Some kind of security or home automation system probably wouldn’t hurt.
  • Call utilities or services, like your cable, and ask about a seasonal plan.

Wait, Really, That’s It?

And, honestly, that’s kind of it.  It might sound cavalier, but there’s just not that much to worry about.  Vagabonding doesn’t require a lot of luggage for us, relatively speaking, so it’s not like we’re prepping for a move.  It’s more like a vacation.  A really, really long vacation, but a vacation.

It helps if you have family around to check on the place from time to time.  We do in Illinois, so that’s nice.  But if you don’t, you can do what we do in Michigan and pay a cleaning service to come do a sanity check of sorts: bring in any mail and walk through the place looking for problems.

And, that’s all we do.  It took a lot of practice walking away from a house for a season, but we got there.  These days, we’ll pack up for a month or two the way a lot of people would for a weekend trip.  And it all works out just fine.  It lets us do things like this:

Picks

  • First of all, I’m sort of embarrassed to say this, but I’m engaged in a random throwback to my college days in the form of playing Diablo 2.  It’s been a good 15 years since I played it, so I was expecting a ghost town.  Instead, I found that tons of people still play, they’ve been continuing to make changes in gameplay, and they just “reset the ladder,” making it a good time to start up again if you once loved this game.
  • I stumbled across a link to a site that helps people create and answer RFPs.  Full disclosure, I have not used it at all.  But it seems like a great idea and you free agents out there should probably at least give it a look if this is how you obtain business.
  • I’m reading a fantasy book called “The Fifth Season,” which takes place in a bleak, post-apocalyptic seeming world.  I’m finding it very enjoyable.

The Digest

Have a good weekend!

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Politeness or Bluntness in Code Review? Settling the Matter Once and for All

These days I make a living producing content (or, increasingly, running a content operation).  As a result, social media and blogs have become more of a broadcast operation for me than a source of information.  Still, I had occasion recently to meander out of my bubble and observe a debate about code review etiquette.

The Code Review Etiquette Conundrum

Here are the two sides of that debate, paraphrased in my best attempt to inject no subjective bias.

  • Code reviews can tend toward depressing and demoralizing for the reviewee, so make sure to include some kind of positive feedback.
  • Manufacturing compliments is patronizing, so just stick to the facts and action items.

For the remainder of the post, I’ll use the relatively value-neutral framing of “subtlety vs. directness” to refer to these relative positions, with the idea that a continuum of sorts exists between them.

This incarnation was just the most recent.  I’ve seen this debate a lot over the years, and I’ve certainly spoken about code reviews before:

So, as you can probably infer, I would be more likely to come down on the first point in the debate: be polite.  That’s not only my natural preference (politeness or just not doing them), but the product of my personal background and culture.  That’s a strong statement, so let’s but a brief pin it and then unpack it in detail.

We Assume the Subtlety vs Directness Question is a Conscious Choice of Personal Style

Reading the premise of this post, you probably start forming inner monologue immediately.  “Would it really kill you to just be nice for once?”  Or perhaps, “why would we waste a bunch of time beating around the bush with insincere games?”

That monologue then turns into the right way of doing things.  “Being nasty and constantly negative causes corporate turnover and makes our industry toxic, so we should stop.”  Or, “all of these games waste time and dilute the review process, hurting our production code.”  So think pieces on the subject become like this one about “spare me the compliment sandwich.”  You naturally think that your style is the right one and then seek to argue that everyone else should adopt your correct approach.

Code Review Rendered Trivial: The Ethnic Theory of  Plane Crashes

This looks a lot like the way we reason and argue about coding style.  But subtlety vs. directness is not that at all.  It’s heavily cultural.

Years ago, I listened to an audio book called Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell.  It’s a fascinating book, but what’s relevant here is its seventh chapter (summarized in detail here).  And now, anytime I hear a debate like this about code review, I think of Gladwell’s book and about Colombian pilots.

The Colombian pilots landed intensely in the subtlety camp.  The air traffic controllers at JFK airport in New York were decidedly direct.  And a completely avoidable tragedy ensued because of the impedance mismatch, so to speak, between these interaction models.

The Colombian pilots told the air traffic controllers that they were running low on fuel, and that they needed to land.  But they didn’t say (or yell) that they had an emergency on their hands, when, in fact, they did.  So the air traffic controllers reasoned that there was, in fact, no emergency and continued to put them off from landing.  The plane ran out of fuel and crashed.

If this approach can’t find easy resolution in a life or death situation, what hope do we have around a Github pull request or an IDE projected on the conference room flat screen?

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DaedTech Digest: Neither Snow nor Rain Stops the Mail, But Moving Around Tends To

Welcome, once again, to my meandering little corner of the internet.  Blogging feels good ever since I announced an utter lack of purpose beyond self-amusement.

In that vein, let me once again chronicle life on the road through a Friday digest.  Last week, I answered the question of whether or not vagabonding was expensive.  Today, I’m going to talk mail.

Before I do that, though, I want to invite you to please feel free to fire away with questions.  You can Twitter ’em at me or Facebook ’em at me, or email ’em at me through my contact/about page, or really whatever you like.

How Does Mail Work when You’re Gone for Months at a Time?

This is another question people often ask about our travel lifestyle.  I mention that we took off for Mississippi before Thanksgiving and only briefly stopped at home before Memorial Day.  And then they wonder how, even in an increasingly digital society, what happens to all the mail.  How does that work?

Well, in short, it works… not well.

First of all, let me just say that I kind of, for the most part, hate physical mail.  There are exceptions, of course.  I enjoy hand written notes, gratefully appreciate cards and gifts from friends and family, and feel pretty positively toward any checks made out to me that float into the mailbox.  But those things are pretty rare compared to bills, junk mail, notices, and the dump-truck full of stuff I get from the government as an owner/partner in 3 different incorporated businesses.

If I simply did nothing, this stuff would pile up in the mail box and it would get angrier and angrier in tone with each passing week.  So I have to do something.

Enter: A Mail Opening and Forwarding Service

One could hold the mail.  But that just kind of moves the problem to a backroom in the local post office.  We could also get ourselves a PO box anywhere we go and setup forwarding.  But, first of all, that takes a while to kick in, and secondly, you can’t actually start the forwarding until you arrive and get the PO box, creating a situation where 1-2 weeks of mail get “lost” (really just piled up on your doorstep or in some forwarding loop)

So we do the least bad thing.  We have a mail forwarding service that you could think of as a digital inbox.

The way we do this is to start the forwarding a while before we leave, ensuring that we miss nothing.  The mail starts to arrive at the mailbox the service assigns to you (ours is in Santa Barbara or something), and they photograph it, open it, and scan it for you, putting it into something that looks an awful lot like Outlook’s inbox.  We then browse our physical mail this way, telling them to shred it, hang on to it, or forward it somewhere as necessary.

(As you can see, I’m not kidding about all the government stuff. But take that, US Department of Commerce — to the recycling bin with you!)

Typically, we do snag a post office box or else use a service like this one in OB to receive critical mail, such as client checks or what-have-you.  This is also handy for when we need to order packages, since AirBNB residences generally do not let you receive packages (though long-haul stay people will often kind of shrug and say, “meh, go ahead.”)

Doesn’t Mail Get Lost?  Does This Work Well?

I do need to point out, though, that this is all pretty error prone.  I mean, sending and receiving mail isn’t exactly bulletproof when you live in the same place for 10 straight years.  We don’t stand much of a chance.

Things get lost.  We’ve had a check from a client caught in a weird infinite forwarding loop for a month.  You get the occasional nasty-gram reminder of something you never received in the first place.

But c’est la vie.  Imperfection with the mail is a small price to pay, in my opinion, for working in places so remote and so beautiful that mail seems like sort of a petty annoyance.  Especially when I mostly don’t want it anyway.

Picks

  • Dice.com interviewed me for a post about exit interviews.  So that’s kind of fun.
  • I hosted a multi-day meeting this week, conducting some business made easier by a whiteboard.  Lacking a whiteboard, however, we made use of disposable dry-erase “post-its.”  We stuck 4 of them to a large window, where they held for 3 days, serving as a perfectly functional whiteboard that we could just throw out at the end of the week.

The Digest

And, as always, have a good weekend.

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Content Marketing Strategy with or without an Audience

A while ago, I wrote a blog post containing side hustle ideas for software developers.  A lot of those ideas centered around content, rather than, say, writing software.  I did that on purpose.  Writing software will let you procrastinate.  Get out of your comfort zone instead.

In response to that blog post, I got a reader question, which is below.  But there’s a natural follow-up to that question.

Your ideas in the blog post for side-hustle-ideas-software-developers really inspired me.

Can you give any tips on how to market the content we create? especially for the ones with no audience.

So let’s look at that today.  You’ve got some content that you’re creating.  How do you market it?

Introducing the Marketing Funnel

Now, I should point something out.  The question doesn’t explain whether the content we’re talking about marketing is the paid content (e.g. the side hustle of writing a book or making a course).  It could also mean any content, including stuff you post to your blog.

I’m going to approach it here as if we’re talking about both.  And that’s because you should be thinking about both.

What we’re talking about here is the idea of a marketing funnel.  If you write an eBook or build a video course, that’s ultimately the content that you want people to see and pay for.  But going straight for the metaphorical jugular with your audience rarely works.

How often do you say to yourself, “here’s a person I’ve never heard of — I’ll just give them $99 for a video course.”  Probably never.

You need to build trust by offering value.  Start a blog and post about similar things that you cover in your book.

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DaedTech Digest: Vagabonding as the Last of the Big Time Spenders

In last week’s digest post and vagabonding life chronicle, I talked about eating while living this lifestyle.  Today I’ll answer a more blunt question that people often wonder.  Isn’t that expensive?

The answer is “it has been, but it doesn’t need to be.”

Was This Past Winter Expensive?  Goodness, Yes.

I guess if you’re going to do experiential blogging, you have to open the kimono more than you might normally, in polite conversation, the way I did here once, when explaining why it is that I have money.  So, in that vein, let me explain last winter.

To do that, I actually have to start with last summer.  It was last summer that I decided to “retire” from life as a traveling consultant (and, by and large, from the corporate world in general).  Through a combination of business and real estate dealings, my wife and I had created what I’ll call an advantageous capital situation.

Basically, we had enough money in a bank account to start Hit Subscribe and have 6-9 months without income not be a problem.  We were gambling on the business’s eventual success.

What actually happened was that Hit Subscribe almost immediately provided enough revenue to be sustainable as our full time job.  So I spent last summer decompressing from years on the road, working 2-3 days week, and considering myself “semi-retired.”  Then fall came, and we started hustling in earnest to hire and to grow the business.

As our admittedly self-indulgent reward, we decided to live it up for the winter.  Our intent all along was to go somewhere warm.  But we decided to go somewhere warm in style.

And so we spent the winter in AirBNBs that were right on the water.  I mean, literally.  We spent more than 3 months in an Ocean Beach San Diego condo where Pelicans flew right outside our window as if they were commuting on some kind of Pelican freeway.  And yes, this was quite expensive.  It was expensive to live in the places we lived, and in terms of our activities, food, and entertainment, we weren’t exactly price averse.

No pelicans passing at the moment, but here’s me taking in a pretty nice ocean sunset from the back window of the place we lived in San Diego.

 

Does It Have to Be Expensive?  Not So Much.

So last winter wasn’t necessarily sustainable, from a lifestyle perspective.  But that doesn’t mean that next winter won’t be, or that you couldn’t vagabond for a relatively reasonable rate.

There are a lot of travel bloggers out there that chronicle their world travels on a shoestring budget.  That’s not me, and it won’t ever be me — I’m more of an abundance mindset sort of person.  I’d rather spend my time hustling for extra money than hustling to make the money I have go further.  But we will make a different set of decisions on upcoming travel adventures.

If you decide to uproot and go elsewhere, you have the option of going to places that are both warm (or whatever it is you’re after) and not overly expensive.  You could spend $5,000 per month on an AirBNB in Key West.  But you could also visit the gulf shore in Alabama or drive to Rosarito, Mexico and stay in a beach house for $1,550 per month or an ocean-front condo for $1,300, respectively.  This becomes even more affordable if you’re willing to live a life of constant transit and you dispose of a rent or mortgage that was probably comparable to those figures in the first place.

You Can Save Beyond Just Rent

Also bear in mind that these are all-in price tags.  You’re not paying for any kind of utilities, house maintenance, or the general headaches of having your own place.  It’s all someone else’s problem.  Add to that the idea that, as a purely remote slow traveler, you pay almost nothing for gas or wear and tear on a car.  A lot of expenses go away.

And when it comes to day to day life, you don’t necessarily need to eat out or do all the expensive things on the town.  Get a lot of groceries and cook with local ingredients.  Go to places with a lot of natural beauty or otherwise free/cheap entertainment nearby.  Jogging up and down the beach or hiking a nearby trail generally costs nothing.

Slow travel, much like life in general, is as cheap or expensive as you make it.  Last winter we made it expensive.  In the future, we’ll make it less so.

But, if unsustainable, it was fun while it lasted and, in a nod to that, here’s a shot of us taking in the Montana mountains from a hot tub, enjoying a Napa Valley wine.

Cheers!

 

Picks

  • I’m going to pick ASP MVC in general.  I haven’t done any meaningful web development in several years, and now I’m building a little app in my spare time for Hit Subscribe.  There’s a lot of out of the box stuff in Visual Studio that makes it really easy to create starter views pretty effortlessly and then tweak to taste.  It’s great for the business owner who is probably too busy for it to make sense to write code, but who is doing it anyway.
  • This Facebook post about a bot writing an Olive Garden commercial.  You won’t be sorry.

The Digest

And, as always, have yourself a good weekend.